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Commentary: The Business

Emerson Robbins: Brand Assassins



Brands can lift your store ? or kill it, says Emerson Robbins

YOU MAY NOT KNOW IT, but if you carry any branded merchandise in your store, then you have a partner in your business. And that brand can be a ?brand enhancer?, helping to build your reputation in your community or a ?brand assassin? quietly ?attacking? your good name.  

Most of us understand that our brand is simply our market’s perception of what our company is all about. Everything we do defines what our brand is.  

In the jewelry industry as in most retail industries, the merchandise that our store or stores carry is an important part of our brand. The ?brand? names that are in our stores in many ways help define who we are. It helps customers to form opinions about our company.  

So when you stop to think about it, our branded vendors are in many ways our ?brand partners? ? kind of like that old adage, ?you’re known by the company that you keep.?  

This is especially true if your store carries designer brands. 


Many stores carry a line like Rolex or David Yurman for the prestige that it lends their store as much as for the merchandise that they may sell.  

Whether you intended so or not, you have, in fact become a ?brand partner? with every branded line that your store carries.  

And as anyone who has ever had a partner knows, the partnership relationship isn’t always an easy one.  
What if your ?brand partner? doesn’t share the same goals that you do? 

If they do, it can be a wonderful mutually successful partnership and they indeed become a ?brand enhancer?.  

However, if they do not, you can find yourself being held hostage by a ?brand assassin?. 

For instance, what happens if the designer line that you have invested thousands and maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars in, suddenly decides to start selling one of your main competitors? Or if your ?brand partner? elects to sell their brand on-line or to an on-line discounter? Or your ?brand partner? doesn’t deliver that special order when it was promised and because of their delivery malfunction, you end up disappointing your customer. Or if the q


uality of the merchandise from your ?brand partner? isn’t up to snuff. Who does the customer hold responsible for these snafus? You guessed it ? YOUR STORE!

What if the brand you carry makes a classic marketing blunder and introduces a less prestigious product that undermines its own brand? For example, what would happen to the prestige of the name Lexus, if Lexus decided to introduce ?Lexus Lite? and compete with lower priced automobile brands like Kia or Subaru?  

We all know that if that happened, the affluent car buyer wouldn’t find the Lexus line nearly as prestigious and it would change the Lexus brand forever.  

Or what if Lexus started to distribute their new cars at small lots all around your town; dealers with names such as ?Honest Joe’s Deals on Wheels? or the like? 

It’s pretty obvious the impact that would have on the brand. These are examples of some of the things that can turn a ?brand partner? into a ?brand assassin?.  

In the jewelry industry, there is a growing trend for national chains to upgrade. As a result, many of the big chains are beginning to seek out top brands to give their own brand more prestige. The Catch-22 here is that once these designer brands are sold at the big chain stores, they often begin to lose their cachet with the more affluent customer. With the big-box national chain carrying the line, that same brand that you carry may no longer be the prestigious, exclusive brand it used to be.  


But how many designers or manufacturers have the vision or the integrity to turn down that big mega-store order from the big-box chain? 

How many of your ?brand partners? will stick by independent stores like yours instead of selling out their name to national chain stores? 

And what does it mean to carry higher-end exclusive merchandise if it can be bought at national chain stores or online at lower prices? 

Your own business is going to be judged to some degree by the other stores who carry the same lines as you.  
Independent retailers had better start asking themselves if they’ve aligned themselves with the right ?brand partners?. Otherwise, you may someday find yourself with thousands of dollars or more of merchandise that you feel compelled to get rid of. Or you find your own brand losing its cachet because you’re sharing the same merchandise as the big-box chain store down the street.  

So what to do? Some would say don’t sell branded merchandise at all. While that may work for some stores, it definitely won’t for many others.  

The best answer is this; when you take on a brand, recognize that you’re in fact, taking on a partner.  
As such, it’s imperative to make sure that you and your partner agree on your goals and share the same integrity and regard for each other’s mutual best interests. 

Of course, it’s always a good idea to get your agreements in writing.  

However, like any contract, the agreement is only as good as the parties that agree to it. So the bottom line, is choose your ?brand partners? well. Make sure they’re honest, fair-minded, reliable and trustworthy. Make sure they sincerely care about your business and that you in turn care about theirs. Choose them as you would a partner in your business because they truly can enhance or assassinate your brand. And above all, be the gatekeeper of your brand and don’t compromise when it comes to your company’s reputation.  

It’s your ticket to success. 

In 1993, EMERSON ROBBINS co-founded Robbins Bros., The World’s Biggest Engagement Ring Store, with his brother Steve in Southern California, and in 1999 moved back to Seattle, where he was born, to found E.E. Robbins, The Engagement Ring Store.

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