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Brand Portfolio: Edmund T. Ahee Jewelers

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A low-key, long-lived
approach to branding

Edmund T. Ahee Jewelers adapts to big change
while safeguarding its traditions

By EILEEN McCLELLAND

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This article originally appeared in the May 2015 edition of INSTORE.


When John Ahee, vice president of Edmund T. Ahee Jewelers, surveys the media landscape these days, he can’t help but note how rapidly things have changed since he started placing ads for his family jewelry company when he was just a teenager.

Now, at age 50, Ahee navigates that landscape by outsourcing ad placement and social media campaigns to experts, since it’s become far more complicated than choosing between a handful of radio stations and network TV channels.

“So much has been diluted that it’s hard to pinpoint,” he says. “Every time we think we have it just right, it changes a little bit. If you haven’t changed your business promotion in the last 15 years — and changed it regularly in that period of time — you’ve got to be really struggling.”

The chosen formula is a mix of social, print, billboards, radio and a beautiful catalog produced in-house.

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Ahee’s positioning statement is “Celebrating life’s special moments for three generations,” which fits with the brand message he’d like to convey — a graceful blend of quality, continuity, philanthropy and hospitality.

As for quality, more than half of the jewelry sold at Ahee is made in house, with carefully selected diamonds and gemstones.

As for generational appeal, Ahee’s 85-year-old mother, Bettejean still works in the business as do some of his nephews. Of 30 employees in the business, 14 are family members.

The fact that all seven children of founders Edmund and Bettejean Ahee, as well as many of their grandchildren, chose to work in the family business helps the store appeal to several generations of clients and reinforces the business’s commitment to the community.

As for hospitality, greeters open the door for customers, and a pianist plays a baby grand, underlining the elegant ambience in the 6,850 square foot store.

And, in the area of philanthropy, the family has a long-standing tradition of giving back to the community, raising $6 million for a local soup kitchen, alone, because, according to the store, “everyone deserves a chance to celebrate life’s special moments.”

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Being in an affluent area has meant that business has been fairly level, without frenzied increases or precipitous declines in sales.

Shoppers are a mix of conservative, very affluent, men and women, but the mix skews slightly to men.

The brand message might well be one of transformation and optimism as well.

Founder Edmund T. Ahee, John’s father, lost his own father when he was just 12. Forced to drop out of school, he went on to open his first jewelry store in the lobby of his uncle’s bowling alley in 1947, selling fine jewelry, clocks, watches, small appliances, vacuums and giftware. Edmund died in 1999 and customers still tell the Ahee family how they bought their wedding rings from Edmund in the bowling alley.

The flourishing business moved from Detroit to Grosse Pointe Woods in 1968 and into a building that began its life as a De Soto dealership. It was later named the town’s first landmark.

While the business has always had a measured approach to publicity, its tradition for quality still gets noticed, most recently by a popular Discovery Channel TV show called “How It’s Made,” which will focus on how a diamond ring is made at Ahee, from design to execution.


BRANDING ELEMENTS AT
EDMUND T. AHEE JEWELERS

Jewelry store branding from Edmund T. Ahee jewelers

THE BIG BOW
“We always wanted to wrap the exterior of our store with a bow for the holidays, but we wanted to make sure that it would be perfect,” John Ahee says. “We found a very creative landscape team and worked on designs and plans for months. The result is a burgundy velvet ribbon that wrapped around our entire 6,500 foot building with an oversize bow above the entrance. The bow was so custom that the team had to install it from the top of the roof in 3 foot sections … and then hand sew over 100,000 LED lights. The reaction from the community was overwhelming. People came in or called our store every day expressing how much they loved the bow and how much it added such a holiday spirit to our community. There were unexpected traffic jams in front of our building frequently as drivers slowed down or stopped to see the spectacular bow.”

AWARD-WINNING HOSPITALITY
The Ahees, admittedly nuts about customer service, were delighted to learn the company would be the first retailer in the world to receive the Five Star Five Diamond award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. After they contacted the local newspaper to share the good news, it went viral. “We were inundated with emails, calls and letters of congratulations from all over the world,” Ahee says.

Jewelry store branding from Edmund T. Ahee jewelers

SOPHISTICATED WELCOMES
One of the brand messages Ahee conveys is hospitality and quality. A pianist welcomes shoppers by playing a baby grand piano near the store’s entrance.

Jewelry store branding from Edmund T. Ahee jewelers

COMMUNITY ACTION
Thirty-two years ago, Edmund and Bettejean Ahee started the “Capuchin Souper Summer Celebration” to raise funds to provide meals to Detroit’s less fortunate. Now the event annually attracts several thousand clients to Comerica Park. Edmund always felt that it was more important to give than to receive. So his children (all seven are in the family business) continue his tradition of philanthropy, raising $6 million for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, founded during the Great Depression. “A lot of my father’s friends stood in that line,” John says. “When I was 18 he told me, ‘Thank God you may never have to know what it’s like to not know where your next meal is going to come from.”

Jewelry store branding from Edmund T. Ahee jewelers

LANDMARK STATUS
The store itself was once a DeSoto dealership.

Jewelry store branding from Edmund T. Ahee jewelers

GOLD STANDARD PACKAGING
Packaging is elegant, understated and distinctive, reflecting the brand.

PERFECT IN PRINT
Target customers are affluent and conservative. The brand message is one of quality and hospitality.

Jewelry store branding from Edmund T. Ahee jewelers

DIGITAL SUPPORT
Ahee outsources digital advertising and social media, but makes sure the company stays up to date.

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Store Brands Its Nautical-Themed Identity

A quest for a canoe started it all.

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WHEN ERIK AND LESLIE Runyan were planning interior design for their new store in Vancouver, WA, they were browsing in a store in Portland, OR, and happened to see a light fixture they loved: a hollowed-out canoe hanging upside down from the ceiling, with lights mounted inside. That led to a quest for a canoe chandelier of their own. After searching for weeks, they found a handmade wooden canoe for sale atop a houseboat on the Willamette River near Portland. “I drove my boat to it, Leslie and I hoisted it up, and so began its journey to Vancouver,” Runyan recalls. “The seller had no reason to suspect that I was going to put three holes in it and hang it upside down!” The resulting work of functional art, crafted by Steve Strong of Strong Construction, set the tone for the nautical-inspired store on the Columbia River as well as a branding campaign. The canoe is a powerful symbol for Runyan, for several reasons. The river, Runyan says, and access to the ocean, created Vancouver and define both city and store. When not running the store, Runyan can be found crewing aboard motor yachts from Mexico to Canada as a licensed Merchant Marine 100-ton captain. “These moments are my inspiration,” he says.

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Themed Parties

Events “Under the Canoe” have included Chamber of Commerce “After Hours” parties and receptions for artists during Art Walk Downtown Vancouver events.

The Gift of Gab

Erik Runyan says even his talented staff fits in with the nautical theme, since they are all great storytellers, an important attribute to have when engaged in high-seas adventures or a canoe ride down the Willamette River.

Under The Canoe

The novel canoe chandelier became the center of a marketing campaign. “Promoting all of the good things that can happen ‘Under the Canoe’ is fun and will continue to grow,” Runyan says.

Under the Influence

A branded wine label is part of the ERJ branding plan. “It gives me great pleasure to open and share a bottle with a customer or send them home with some to enjoy later,” Runyan says. They also introduced Wine Wednesdays, when light appetizers and local seasonal wines are served.

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All In, Online

Most of ERJ’s advertising dollars go to the Internet. “SEO, SEM and social are how you can find me now. I am ‘all in’ looking for a connection with future customers of ERJ. My web traffic has quadrupled for the efforts put toward Google, Yelp and Facebook. Our blogs discuss both diamond education and proposal tips.”

A Catchy New Moniker

In addition to the Under the Canoe branding campaign, the use of EJR, rather than Erik Runyan Jewelers, helped modernize and transform branding for the century-old business.

Almost Seaworthy

The nautical branding theme is smoothly integrated with the store’s interior. Other nautical notes found throughout the store include an operational ship’s wheel, plank wood flooring, welcome aboard sign, custom compass rose wood floor medallion and visibly marked latitude and longitude coordinates. The 18-foot ceilings add to the feeling of openness and room for adventure.

Making an Impression

ERJ’s ad images include the canoe symbol as well as the compass symbol, which is integrated into the ERJ logo.

Canoe Talisman

Erik Runyan is in the process of developing canoe-themed jewelry.

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Kentucky’s EAT Gallery Aims to Feed the Soul

Brand identity tied to neon sign.

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MAYSVILLE, KY, IS A PICTURESQUE town of about 9,000 on the banks of the Ohio River. For much of the 20th century its downtown was home to Morgan’s restaurant, a popular diner with a classic neon sign that spells out EAT.

When it became a jewelry gallery, new owners Simon and Laurie Watt kept the sign, lost the food and gained an eclectic collection of art, jewelry and other treasures. In its current incarnation, EAT stands for Exquisite Art Treasures. The owners showcase one-of-a-kind pieces from jewelers around the world and create natural stone and pearl jewelry in-house. It’s an unusual but distinctive brand identity for a jewelry store. “New people in town get confused and we do get the occasional person who comes in and looks around and says, ‘Isn’t this a restaurant?’ But overall, it’s a clever play on a vintage sign. The name does a lot for us. It makes people curious,” says manager Katherine Cotterill.

The store’s tagline, appropriately enough, is “EAT Gallery: We feed your soul.”

Maysville is not far from Lexington, KY, and just about an hour east of Cincinnati, OH, which has a thriving art community. So to reach the artsy denizens of Cincinnati, they’ve targeted independent movie houses that show foreign films and other independent films for a marketing campaign. Movie-theater advertising brings in more potential customers than anything else they’ve tried. Cotterill created a 15-second video showing actual products available at EAT Gallery that runs before every movie.

Advertising on National Public Radio takes the form of sponsorship and offers some information on the history of the building and “the business that houses jewelry and treasures from around the world,” Cotterill says.

Social Media

Manager Katherine Cotterill, left, organized a contest called Thankful For, in which customers were invited to share what they were thankful for and why. The winner was given an original painting. Other contest winners have been awarded swag bags.

The Sign

The name EAT Gallery (Exquiste Art Treasures) comes from the neon sign (pictured above) that has hung on the front of the building for over 60 years.

Direct Mail

Glossy postcards for trunk shows and special events feature beautiful photographs of jewelry found in the store. Cotterill, who once worked for a Maysville portrait photographer and took some photojournalism classes in college, also handles most of the store’s product photography in-house using a lightbox and lamps she stores in the gallery’s basement.

Gem Gossip

Influencer Danielle Mielle visited EAT Gallery as part of Gem Gossip’s jewelry road trip series.

Theater Program

Maysville has a group called Maysville players, the oldest continuing theater group in the state. “We do a big glossy full page in all of their programs. We definitely stick to very artsy kind of organizations and groups, because all of the jewelry is handmade. When they leave with something, they have a story,” says Cotterill.

Packaging

EAT Gallery’s bags are likely to bring comments and boost brand visibility wherever they go.

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How Regional Jeweler Meets Customers Where They Live

Lately, the company is focused on data-driven geo-fencing.

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BERNIE ROBBINS JEWELERS’ marketing strategy, fueled by a savvy, full-time staff of four, is ever-evolving. Lately, it’s focused on data-driven geo-fencing. “We’re trying to be more relevant to the audience we want to attract,” says CEO Harvey Rovinsky.

Geo-fencing is, in essence, a virtual perimeter drawn around any space. Potential clients within that geo-fenced area can be targeted for certain events, such as bridal events, in the store. So Bernie Robbins can concentrate on a geographical area they believe has a strong potential for bridal customers, and then the marketing department will know in real time whether or not it’s working. They’ll be alerted when someone they’ve targeted walks into the store. “We are a brick-and-mortar location, so return on digital ads is usually an impression or a click,” says Peter Salerno, digital marketing manager. “But in this circumstance, we can see that someone is walking into one of our physical locations because of it.”

In the past year, geo-fencing and behavior-targeted social media advertising have become a larger part of the company’s media budget. Shifting the advertising to be more data driven has increased the ability to deliver advertisements to people who will actually be interested in them. “Every day, we grow our database and develop a better understanding of our potential customers,” says Cristin Cipa, director of marketing. 

“I can’t overestimate the value of marketing,” Rovinsky says. “We commit very significant resources to it. We look at ourselves as a marketing company that happens to sell jewelry.” One staffer in the marketing department spends two days every week taking professional photos of jewelry to use on Instagram and the website. 

Says Rovinsky: “We still do clienteling by telephone and text. Here’s what we’re not doing: newspaper and TV. We still do radio, outdoor, and we do one city book. Other than that, it’s all things digital.” 

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Billboard

“Our clientele is busy and on-the-go; they are looking for visual and easily digestible content,” says Cipa, citing the example of a co-op Cartier billboard. “Regional billboards are still a large part of our media budget. With five locations across Pennsylvania and New Jersey, we cover a large geographic footprint and believe that strategically placed billboards continue to reach our geographic targets.”

Influencers

Bernie Robbins has increasingly engaged with “micro-influencers,” people in a range of age demographics who live in the community, have strong social followings, but also have a real relationship with a network of potential local customers. Influencers are recruited for their authenticity, a word Salerno describes as the big, sexy word for 2018. 

Print

A co-op Forevermark ad in Philadelphia Style magazine focuses on a classic engagement ring that, thanks to clean branding, is allowed to simply pop off the page. “Forevermark engagement rings are stunning and we loved aligning with their elegant language, ‘It’s a long journey to become the one,’“ says Cipa.

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Social Media Strategy

Bernie Robbins adapts its brand voice to its social media audience. “We know we have to have a strong presence on Instagram to engage with our younger customers,” Cipa says. “Our brand voice on Instagram is slightly younger and tends to be more playful. We are selective and only post professional, clean-looking photos.”

Regional Promotion

Leveraging key regional happenings is key to the company’s marketing strategy. Bernie Robbins owners Harvey and Maddy Rovinsky, lifelong fans of their hometown team, the Philadelphia Eagles, offered fellow fans a dream proposal story by giving away two tickets to the 2018 Super Bowl LII to the first couple who purchased an engagement ring valued at $50,000 or more. The giveaway launched on a Monday, and by the end of the week, they had a winner — Bob Wanum of Doylestown, PA. Married for more than 30 years to the love of his life, Teresa, Bob proposed a vow renewal during the big game. 

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Butterfly Packaging

The signature butterfly packaging, which represents joy, hope and love, has been an iconic part of the brand for 50 years.

Branded Champagne

Bernie Robbins’ branded champagne is served for special occasions and during events.

Chic at the Shore

Bernie Robbins has hosted the event series, Chic at the Shore, in the Somers Point, NJ, location every summer for years, publishing a magazine to highlight the events and the jewelry. In 2017, the marketing department bolstered the branding by sending out email blasts and launching a digital flip book, which lives on their website and allows consumers to browse at their convenience. “Our loyal consumers love the weekly events hosted all summer long,” says Cipa.

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