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Brand Portfolio: Elizabeth Blair Fine Pearls

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Brand Portfolio: Elizabeth Blair Fine Pearls
DAYTON & MONTGOMERY, OH

BY EILEEN MCCLELLAND

Published in the June 2012 issue.

Elizabeth Blair, pearl-jewelry designer and owner of Elizabeth Blair Fine Pearls, does not shout out her name in celebrity circles; rather she cultivates her upscale clientele with the understated elegance befitting her slogan: “Quietly collected by women who know.”

“I don’t need Hollywood to be successful,” Blair says. “Because I went to school in LA, everyone was giving me a hard time, saying ‘You’ve got to get on the red carpet, and I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ I have amazing women who have nothing to do with Hollywood who are wearing my jewelry. My jewelry is unique to the woman who wears it and very often one of a kind. And we match the jewelry to the person. It’s a very couture type of experience.

“My customer has been the same customer for the last 25 years, a woman of means who does not need to ask her husband for money to buy her own things. I have very, very few men clients buying things for their wives or girlfriends.”

Many of the women she reaches out to vacation in Harbor Springs on the shores of Lake Michigan, a popular resort destination for the Midwest’s affluent since the days of Henry Ford. Because Blair also runs a wholesale business, (Neiman Marcus carries her line), her store is open year round, but most of her retail business takes place in the height of summer. “We have the shortest selling season in America, Memorial Day through Labor Day, when the town swells from 1,500 residents to 25,000 ‘resorters,’ and we treat it like Christmas,” she says.

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“We work from October to May to prepare, and we advertise all year.”

Education runs through many of Blair’s marketing programs and includes themed events to celebrate a pearl’s country of origin, and private pearl parties. She does lectures off-site for groups of women and shows movies produced by pearl farms or the Cultured Pearl Association of America.

“It’s really a lot of education and conversation and very little selling in the beginning. The education produces an ‘aha’ moment for clientele, who leave with a new appreciation of pearls,” she says. It has also helped foster relationships with a client base — a who’s who of middle America — who can afford to shop anywhere in the world.

The approach appears to be working; Elizabeth Blair Fine Pearls enjoyed record revenues in 2011.

BRAND COMPONENTS

PACKAGING

She carries the Elizabeth Blair brand name into every detail of her business, etched into the glass on her showcases, imprinted in every ribbon and box and tag. So that customers — many of whom are on vacation — know where they are shopping at all times — in her store and not at a competitor’s. She doesn’t want to leave any room for confusion.

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WEBSITE

Her website is more infomercial than retail outlet thus far but Blair is contemplating e-commerce for a sub-category of her business called West Main Pearls, featuring products under $1,000.

FACEBOOK

Social media, so far, has not been her best investment in time. “It’s very overrated,” she says. “Our customer doesn’t do Facebook. Our customer is chairing charity events or jetting from one home to another. For my lower end, it might work, with repeatable designs at cash and carry price points. That might bloom at one point. Twitter and all that we don’t bother with.”



WINDOW DECORATIONS

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Window decorations change with the season. Blair plans events around a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, which takes place in front of the store, and for the summer gallery walk. The omnipresent logo is etched into the glass.

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Blair advertises in Traverse, a regional magazine with a national distribution, and seasonally, in the local newspaper. “Every month we have a new piece of jewelry in Traverse magazine, and people say they look forward to seeing what the piece is,” she says.

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Blair has an aesthetic background and is very opinionated about graphics. She has a degree in design from UCLA, where she studied photography, painting, clothing and even advertising. She manages her own message, hiring professional photographers to capture pristine images of her pearl jewelry that show them to their best advantage. She supervises all photo shoots, which are usually conducted in the store’s driveway on a bright, sunny day.

SOTHEBY’S AD

Blair takes out full-page ads in Sotheby’s real estate book. While a significant financial commitment, the ads have paid off for her with her target customer base.

INVITATION

The seasonal nature of the business has helped support one of Blair’s main marketing strategies: Pearls as a rite of passage for young women. “We promote what is becoming a tradition each summer — mothers or grandmothers bringing in their young girls for their first pearl earrings or pearl strand while learning pearl care.”

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