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Best of the Best: Gift For A Wounded Soldier

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Robbins Bros, Montclair, CA

EVEN WHEN SURROUNDED by fellow soldiers in war zone, a Marine often finds himself alone with his thoughts — even if it’s just for a moment. “That’s when I’d look at my ring,” says Lance Corporal David Battle.

The ring, a simple titanium wedding band, was a symbol of his bride, Devann — Battle’s junior-high-school sweetheart, whom he had lost track of for several years, then met and fell in love with again, and finally married in June of 2004, just two weeks before he shipped out for Iraq. While it wasn’t an expensive ring, for Battle, the ring symbolized everything that mattered to him — home, Devann, their future together.  

But on one terrifying day last November, Battle’s habitual glance at his left hand was anything but comforting. While in a battle outside the Iraqi insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, the soldier was hit by gunfire in his left leg. Then, while being helped by a medic and another soldier, a grenade exploded 10 yards away from them. Feeling pain in his hand, Battle looked down to see his fingers “turned inside out” by the force of the grenade and the accompanying shrapnel.  

Says Battle: “I could see blood, flesh and bones.” In fact, the only thing on his hand that remained intact was the ring.

Battle was rushed to a nearby surgical facility, fading in and out of consciousness from the morphine he was given to ease his pain. There, his injuries were examined by surgeons who gave him even more bad news — in order to operate and save his ring finger, they would have to saw off the titanium ring.  

Despite the pain, the morphine, and the chaos, Battle made a choice — one he swears he would have made even in less chaotic circumstances. “I didn’t want anything to happen to that ring, so I told them to sever the finger,” he says. “I knew exactly what I was asking them to do.”

Battle’s finger was severed, and the operation was completed. But then, despite all the sacrifices he made to keep it, the wedding band was somehow lost during the course of the surgery.  

Says Battle: “It was a big loss … that ring meant a lot to me. But it would be selfish of me to think my ring was the only thing the surgeons had to worry about at the time.”

THE IDEA

Helping in a Difficult Situation

Battle’s sad, but in the end, romantically inspirational, story made national newspapers in November. Among those moved by the story was Steve Robbins, CEO of Robbins Bros., the self-titled “World’s Biggest Engagement Ring Store” with seven locations throughout California. Robbins was alerted to Battle’s story by several customers who spotted the story online.

Robbins, and the rest of the team at Robbins Bros., immediately knew they wanted to help Battle and his wife in some way. After all, says Robbins, “part of our brand identity is helping couples with difficult situations.”

Robbins asked Tracey Lyles, his company’s senior media services specialist, to approach Devann with the proposal of replacing her husband’s ring. “Tracey really connected with Devann, who knew our store,” Robbins said.

In fact, she knew it well. Oddly enough, Robbins Bros. was one of the jewelry stores that she and Battle had shopped to find their wedding rings before he headed off to Iraq. But “they [the rings] were a little too expensive for me,” Battle said.

THE EXECUTION

Money Was No Object

On December 17, money would not be an object. Robbins Bros. first conspired with Devann, telling her that they would give him his choice of rings to replace his lost wedding band. Devann would help by telling Battle that they were going on a surprise night out.  
Best of the Best: Gift for a Wounded Soldier

A limousine was sent to pick up the couple, and Battle was blindfolded, with no idea what to expect. When he got out of the car, and the blindfold was removed, he saw more than 100 people waiting for him: including Steve Robbins, as well as the Robbins Bros. customers who had originally alerted Robbins to the soldier’s story. Battle was greeted by applause and the sound of ringing bells.  

Says Battle: “When I took off the blindfold and opened my eyes, I said to myself, ‘I know that guy’s face’ [Steve Robbins’]. It was a big surprise for me. Not just the ring but to know I touched so many lives.”  

Best of the Best: Gift for a Wounded SoldierBut the surprise was also on Devann, who only expected “a few salespeople on hand to replace the ring”, says Robbins. “She had no idea what was in store”.
To replace Battle’s titanium band lost during his surgery, Devann opted for a men’s platinum and 18K white gold band valued at $900. Robbins Bros. then gave Devann a complimentary three-stone diamond pendant and a diamond cross for Battle’s mother.  

The crowd was treated to a professional singer’s rendition of country singer Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American”. But when the singer crooned Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” it was aimed at an audience of just two. The love song known by wedding singers from coast to coast was part of the couple’s first dance since they were married.

As the event began to die down Battle returned to a familiar looking display case that housed rings that still remained out of reach, even on two months of a Marine Lance Corporal’s pay. When Robbins asked Battle what he was looking at the Marine said, “I never could afford an engagement ring for Devann … she only has a wedding band.” That was all Robbins needed to hear then added a diamond engagement ring for Devann to the gratis jewelry list on the spot.  

Stunned by the sudden gesture, Battle then bent down on one knee (the uninjured one) and made an impromptu reproposal to Devann near the store’s Christmas tree. “It was so genuine and heartfelt,” Robbins recalls. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the store. It was a total love fest.”

THE REWARDS

A Feel-Good Story

According to Lyle, the event was also a big draw for the media — with coverage from CNN, local newspapers and television stations, not to mention local newscasts in many other metropolitan areas across the country.

In terms of expenses, the cost of the hotel, limousine and incidentals came to roughly $2,500. The total bill for the jewelry was $8,485. Other expenses were minimal: the singer was a friend of the store’s management team who performed at no charge and only light refreshments were served.  

For the amount of publicity received, the event was a big bargain. But beyond that, it was just an event that made people, and especially Robbins, feel good. Says Robbins: “What [Battle’s] story represents is hope in a cynical world. Here’s this young couple that represents love, commitment and sacrifice. This situation is inspiring to people all over the world.”

“I don’t think any jeweler could duplicate this one-of-a-kind event,” Robbins said. “The emails received from our customers are what helped us plan this whole event. That’s the [customer] rapport that comes with ‘good karma marketing.’ ”

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Best of The Best

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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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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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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