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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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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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These Ocean City Jewelers Bury Treasure in the Sand

Promotional event benefits children’s charity.

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JUST IMAGINE HOW cool it would be to associate your business with the most popular activity in your community.

In Ocean City, MD, the beach, of course, is the focal point. And Park Place Jewelers’ Atlantic Avenue store commands its own share of attention in its prime spot on the boardwalk.

Along with diamonds, bridal and high-end branded jewelry, owners Todd and Jill Ferrante offer a wide variety of sea-life and nautical jewelry, particularly in their beach location — everything from sterling silver souvenirs to an exquisite, one-of-a-kind diamond mermaid piece. “We have to appeal to everyone,” Jill says, since everyone walks past on the boardwalk, even kids looking for souvenir charms.

They support myriad charities, from Coastal Hospice and the American Cancer Society to the Worchester County Society. And they have immersed themselves in the community by supporting local charities, hosting an annual Treasure Hunt at the Beach, and setting up pop-up shops during renowned fishing tournaments. The Treasure Hunt at the Beach has raised $25,000 over seven years for a children’s charity.

Here’s how it works. Participants donate $20 for the chance to dig in the sand for buried treasure, and everyone is let into the fenced-off area at the same time. Treasure ranges from loose gemstones and finished jewelry to the grand prize of diamond earrings. The treasure itself is not on the beach — little black treasure bags containing a tag describing the prize are buried about 4 to 6 inches under the sand. Odds are good; a maximum of 100 participants dig for 50 prizes, some of which are donated by their vendors or sold to them at a discount.

Treasure hunters can use only their hands to dig; no shovels or rakes. “We don’t want to make it too hard for them,” Jill says. “But they tell us in some cases it’s the hardest workout they’ve ever had, moving sand around for 15 minutes or half an hour!”

“Participants love it,” Todd says. “Once you find one prize, you take your prize up to the store, give the tag to the sales associates and they give you the prize.”

If all the prizes aren’t located within about 30 minutes, Todd launches into a trivia contest for the few remaining prizes.

This is the kind of contest that promotes itself. It’s listed as one of the weekend events on the city’s website. “A lot of people check that website when they’re coming into town,” Todd says. “We’re usually sold out before Saturday even gets here.” The hunt takes place once on Saturday and once on Sunday. Participants must register in person and make the donation in advance. It’s covered by the local newspaper and TV stations. People can watch the hunt from their balconies.

The event initially had to be approved by the mayor and city council.

After five years, though, it was considered established and only an annual permit renewal is required. Local sponsors sell refreshments along the boardwalk. “People have fun doing it and a one out of two chance of winning, all to benefit a charity that is close to everyone’s heart,” Todd says. “Being in business means giving back to the community.”

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