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Best of The Best: From the News to the Sales floor (And Back)

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Best of The Best: From the News to the Sales floor (And Back)

Using the Great Recession as a wake-up call, a jeweler starts fresh

BY JULIE FANSELOW | Published in the September 2013 issue

Jewelry by Harold, North Liberty, IA

Jewelry by Harold, North Liberty, IA From a surefire promotion aimed at would-be grooms to an elaborate April Fools’ Day prank slyly hawking his goldsmithing and custom design skills, Harold van Beek is having the time of his life doing what he loves. A longtime jeweler in his native Netherlands, van Beek opened an Iowa store in 2011, and he’s been keeping himself — and his community — entertained ever since.

THE IDEA

Van Beek’s creative approach to marketing involves being attuned to what makes his business and community tick, and he says it’s something all store owners can do. “Thousands of jewelers say, ‘Buy her a diamond ring. She’ll love it,’” he says. “I want to be different.”

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THE EXECUTION

Iowa has a rich Dutch heritage, and van Beek is just the guy to play that up. Every day, visitors to his store are treated to Dutch coffee from one of the world’s oldest roasters, and twice a year, van Beek and his wife Astrid cook for customer appreciation days … not just windmill cookies, but also Asian-inspired dishes from the era of Dutch colonialism.

But van Beek really upped the ante last spring after Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands announced she would abdicate the throne to her son. Van Beek, still a member of the Dutch Guild of Master Goldsmiths, announced he had been selected to adjust the royal crown for the king-to-be. A local radio station went along with the joke, urging people in a mid-morning interview on April 1 to visit Jewelry by Harold and meet the queen, who was flying in to pick up the crown. But later that day on his Facebook page, van Beek broke the news that it was all a joke, adding, “I hope you can forgive me and that you have a smile on your face!”

Local broadcasters helped van Beek with another promotion. Last fall, Jewelry by Harold offered a voucher for a Remington shotgun to anyone who spent at least $1,999 on an engagement ring. Mark Carlson, a reporter for the local ABC affiliate, did a story about how the store was promoting “shotgun weddings.” As an emigrant from a nation with strict gun laws, van Beek was unfamiliar with the term, but Carlson’s report ricocheted around the world and van Beek wound up doing nearly three dozen interviews with national and global media, including Fox Business News.

THE REWARDS

Van Beek reports that the fall 2012 shotgun promotion contributed to an overall sales boost of about 25 percent over the same period the previous year, but it especially helped build his custom work, which he says “went up 700 percent, or something like that. It was crazy.”

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Sales got another bump from the Dutch royals promotion, van Beek says. A local businessman heard about van Beek’s project, and on the last day of March, sent van Beek an email asking about a custom-design job. “Since I did not want to make him think I was lying to him for his business, I told him it was a prank,” van Beek adds. “He loved it, came in and we designed a diamond pinkie ring for him.”

DO IT YOURSELF

Think about your own heritage and pay attention to current events when you plan your promotions. You can’t pull a prank about Dutch royalty, but chances are there’s something happening in your community — or in your unique background — that would lend itself to a fun, traffic-generating promotion.

On the flip side, be sensitive. Van Beek says that he likely won’t do the gun promotion again, partly because “after Newtown, people suddenly looked (at guns) in a different way.” (Of other stores that did similar promotions, one in Texas told INSTORE that it was uncertain whether it would repeat the idea, partly over concerns over an adequate supply of rifles. Watchmakers Diamonds and Jewelry in Pennsylvania, which successfully tried it in 2012 and is featured on page 78, is still deciding in light of the gun debate.)

When in doubt, do something light-hearted. “We always try and do something crazy,” says van Beek. “Never rule out risky ideas. They can be the best ideas ever.””

Julie Fanselow is a writer, editor, coach, and dot-connector. She was the founding editor of SmartWork Media's magazine for eyecare professionals, INVISION.

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Santa Fe’s Reflective Jewelry Aligns with Owners’ Ethics

Fairtrade Gold designation puts the focus on miners.

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Marc Choyt and Helen Chantler work to ensure their business aligns with their environmental and ethical beliefs.

MARC CHOYT AND HIS wife, Helen Chantler, of Santa Fe, NM, have been focused on green initiatives for decades, in all aspects of life.

“We bought land in northern New Mexico in the ‘90s, and there was a creek bed there that was badly eroded from over-grazing to the point that there were cliffs instead of gentle banks,” Choyt says. “We began to realize the impact we have locally and globally. That is a core value for us.”

Their business, Reflective Jewelry, a custom and designer jewelry studio, has been named Green Business of the Year by the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe’s Chamber of Commerce. “This is a great honor, especially given the industry we’re in and the fact that Santa Fe is a green business city,” Choyt says.

Reflective Jewelry is the only Fairtrade Gold jeweler in the United States, a certification they received in 2015.

“Though there are over 250 Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the UK, we are still the only Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the entire USA,” says Choyt. “We produce our entire two-tone line and much of our bridal collection in Fairtrade Gold. This supports local economies, alleviates poverty and reduces global mercury contamination for small-scale gold producers. Because it’s an international brand and is the only system that audits suppliers and jewelers, it is the best option to create a foundation for responsible jewelry.”

Fairtrade Gold was only one reason, though, that the city of Santa Fe recognized Reflective Jewelry. The shop uses LED lighting, washable cloth towels, biodegradable bags for shipping, organic dish soap and non-toxic floor cleaners. Jewelers use citric acid for pickling, fluoride-free flux, a soap-based solution for tumbling, sink traps for catching heavy metals, and vacuums that capture dust and compounds—all of which are recycled. Their landscape garden, once a concrete foundation, now has mature apricot and cherry trees and native plants fed by water channeled off their roof.

Chantler, an experienced bench jeweler, launched her jewelry design business in 1994, while Choyt led the sales effort, initially concentrating on distributing jewelry to 250 stores and catalogs.

By 2001, they refocused on online sales and their own retail store. Today, six people work in the shop and the store.

Along the way, they began using recycled metals in production, which was a logical place to start, Choyt explains, but doesn’t address the big picture. “Basically, gold is going to be mined, and that’s independent of how much is used by jewelers. If we’re going to really make an impact, we have to support small-scale mining communities.”

When Choyt explains to customers that the Fairtrade Gold designation is the same well-known global brand used for Fairtrade coffee and chocolate, they are “astonished that I’m the only one operating this way, out of a small shop in Santa Fe,” he says.

So while Choyt can point to numerous 5-star Google reviews and show clients the studio where the jewelry is made, he can also ensure ethical, fair-trade sourcing from mine to market, adding another level of authority and credibility.

“Certainly one of the most important elements of any jeweler is reputation. Fairtrade Gold is just another thing that makes people feel really good about buying from us,” he says.

When the U.S. consumer market adopts Fairtrade Gold, he says, hundreds of thousands (or possibly millions) of small-scale miners finally will find their lives improved.

“When this happens, we’ll be able to point to our small studio on Baca Street as one of the catalysts.”

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Borsheims Shareholders Weekend Demands All Hands on Deck

Hospitality crucial, no matter the size of your trunk show.

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PLANNING A TRUNK show this fall? What if your trunk show involved 100 vendors, as many as 35,000 customers and 25,000 catered meatballs?

Borsheims in Omaha, NE, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, meets that challenge annually with an all-hands-on-deck approach when it opens its doors each May to all of the company’s shareholders who want to come.

The jewelry store plays host to a cocktail party on Friday night and a shareholder shopping day on Sunday. Both events spill into the mall, which is closed to the public, and into the parking lot. “We really look at this from a hospitality approach,” says Adrienne Fay, director of marketing and business sales. “We want to thank the shareholders for their loyalty and patronage.”

This year there were 100 jewelry, watch and gift vendors, some of whom brought in products for their trunk shows that wouldn’t be seen anywhere else in the U.S., Fay says. “You’ve never seen jewelry cases as packed as they are during Berkshire weekend. We call it our Christmas in May. We do a transaction every 11 seconds during the weekend.”

STAFFING

For weeks leading up to the event, job descriptions blur as every employee plays a role from helping with catering to managing vendors. They hire additional staff for the weekend, ask corporate staff to work the sales floor and bring in runners and cashiers.

“The last thing we would want to have is someone standing around and no one able to help them,” says Jaci Stuifbergen, who guides Borsheims’ experiential marketing. “Everyone involved is a representative of Borsheims, from those setting up a large tent to those providing food and beverages. We want every caterer to represent Borsheims well and have the same customer-focused mindset that we do the whole time they are here.”

ENTERTAINMENT

Even though it’s a private event, shareholders are under no obligation to buy jewelry. So creating the right customer experience is vital in this, as in any, event situation. “Whether it’s a regular trunk show or during this event, the thing we want to provide is a really great experience,” Stuifbergen says. “We know they could buy this jewelry from other stores or on the Internet, but what we have to offer are customer service and knowledgeable staff. Complimentary alcohol never hurts!” she says.

It might be the only chance to convert shoppers. “It’s such a destination store that for a lot of people, this is the only time in the year, or maybe in a decade, that they come here,” Stuifbergen says. They set up two bars and two buffet lines in the parking lot under the biggest tent they can rent. Sunday’s party often features Bershire Hathaway CEO and Chairman Warren Buffett playing bridge or table tennis with Bill Gates, Microsoft founder. There’s also a live band and a magician. On Friday night, the caterer serves more than 25,000 meatballs.

BRAND IDENTITY

The shareholders, who are Warren Buffett groupies, want to buy anything that’s affiliated with him, from pearl strands with his signature on the clasp and diamonds with his signature laser-inscribed inside to affordable gift products stamped with his face or the company logo. Last year, they used a custom etching machine to inscribe personal messages inside the diamonds while customers waited.

DEBRIEFING

Almost immediately after the event, everyone in the company is asked for input and feedback, which is compiled into a seven or eight page document and carefully analyzed. Feedback has led to changes like improved security and gift bags for vendors as a token of appreciation.

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This Retailer Combined Diamonds with Donuts for a Sweet Event

Social media played a big role in drawing 50 new customers.

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DIAMONDS AND DONUTS are each desirable in their own right, but put them together and the combination proves irresistible. At least it did in April for customers of Bernie Robbins Jewelers, whose purchases hit seven figures in four locations over two days.

Owner Harvey Rovinsky said he had noticed “donut roll” events in other types of retail-store promotions and thought donuts would be a great draw to add to the Bernie Robbins promotional repertoire, which has included a Yoga Fest, a Chic at the Shore series of summer events and trunk shows, a student design contest and a high-profile Super Bowl ticket giveaway, along with a recent emphasis on social media, digital advertising and geo-fencing.

“We always want to do something that is different, unique, that people will talk about,” Rovinsky says. “In my mind, donuts go with everything, and they certainly go with diamonds. Because of what the marketing team put together, there was a story to tell besides this jewelry store and their diamonds. It was a way to make a jewelry store visit more fun.”

As it happens, the shape of donuts is even suggestive of a ring.

Integral to promoting the event was a “donut wall” for customer selfies, created entirely by the staff, who invited customers to decorate the donuts with bridal toppers.

Says Peter Salerno, digital-marketing manager: “The idea came in the form of having a part of the store that is more photogenic, something new and fun. Our sales staff used their own Instagram accounts to reach out to customers, and we also advertised on traditional digital platforms. It was a cool space, a departure from a typical jewelry store. It had interaction and on-site activation.”

Customers were invited to decorate donuts with bridal-themed toppers, adding to the in-store experience, during Bernie Robbins’ Diamonds and Donuts event.

The store also borrowed wedding gowns for display that the staff accessorized with diamond jewelry.

“We had champagne, flowers, and it smelled like a bakery,” says Cristin Cipa, director of marketing.

The sales event represented true value for customers, who shopped at up to 50 percent off for mountings, engagement rings and wedding bands, and saved up to 40 percent on a large selection of GIA-graded loose diamonds. Instant credit and interest-free financing added to the appeal of instant gratification.

While salespeople set up appointments in advance to ensure their best clients would visit, the promotion also lured 50 new customers over two days.

“We had cooperation from all of our staff — marketing, selling, support staff,” Rovinsky says. “We checked all of the boxes when it came to marketing and we did an enormous amount of clienteling. Sightholders sent us hundreds of thousands of dollars in diamonds for two days at great prices. It was a win-win-win — a win for our clients, for our salespeople and for Bernie Robbins.” The entire staff was given a bonus as a result.

As for timing, April is diamond month, Rovinsky says. “Is it a popular time for engagements? Who knows? But we made it into one.”

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