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Illinois’ Jack Lewis Jewelers Shares Its Branding Formula

Owner John Carter works to make esteemed local brand more fun and inclusive.

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JACK LEWIS JEWELERS in Bloomington, IL, had long been known as the upscale anniversary store, the place to go to upgrade to a 2- or 3-carat diamond. An enviable position, perhaps.

But when John Carter, who first worked at Jack Lewis at age 16, bought the business in 2011, his goal was to make it more fun and inclusive.

The region’s corporate jobs were attracting younger people, and the bridal market, he believed, was largely untapped.

So not long after he bought the store, he set up a meeting with Joshua Shull, owner of Joshua OneNine Marketing House. Shull had grown up in Bloomington and knew Jack Lewis well. In fact, he had bought an engagement ring from Carter several years earlier.

“Jack Lewis owned the heritage position in our marketplace,” Shull says. “Everyone had heard of Jack Lewis and what came to mind was class, luxury, impeccable quality and a charitable and service role in the community. It was the upscale local jewelry store where you went to buy your wife of 30 years an expensive necklace.”

But when Shull arrived with that mind-set, Carter had other ideas. The store’s interior was in the midst of a renovation and Carter wanted to rebuild the marketing plan as well.

“When we sat down in the showroom and he told me that Jack Lewis was going to be a bridal store, I was surprised,” Shull says. “I said, ‘You realize that turning Jack Lewis into a bridal store in the mind of the public is like trying to turn around a massive ocean liner that has been going in the same direction for 80 years?’ But the bridal market was largely untapped, and they wanted to tap into it.”

Shull’s challenge was to help Carter rebrand the store as a place where budget-conscious 20-somethings would feel like they belonged without alienating traditional shoppers.

Carter was especially frustrated with the persistent threshold-resistance he encountered.

“If somebody comes to us and they’re celebrating an engagement, I don’t want them to ever feel that if they want to spend $500, that’s somehow beneath us,” he says.

Shull and Carter considered how best to tweak the brand identity toward affordable.

“The first temptation is just to start shouting ‘PRICE,’ like a car dealer, with deep discounts and special-offer coupons,” Shull says. The other temptation is to be kind of energetic and ridiculous — the Red Bull, Bud Lite, Doritos approach — kind of shock the public into changing their view of you. But I grew up in this area and none of those choices felt right.”

The key was honoring what Jack Lewis had been while pivoting toward what it wanted to become. “So we settled on this idea of ‘meaning’ as the bridge between the past and the future,” Shull says. “As in, a diamond ring means something, you buy it for a reason. The emotional connection with jewelry is true at any age. A lot of our competitors seem to forget that, when they talk about size and selection and price.

“We could easily pivot to talk about bridal in those terms without betraying the brand we spent 80 years building.”

Carter says that when he first met Shull, the marketing man sat him down and asked him some “very odd” questions. “He asked me, ‘If Jack Lewis were a song, what song would it be? If Jack Lewis were a car, what car would it be?’ I told him it was like a Cadillac and I would like to see it be more like a Porsche. I wanted it to be not quite flashy, but high quality; not fast, per se, but evolving. What has had to evolve more than our industry has in the past five or six years?”

Before bringing in Shull, marketing was just one of Carter’s many responsibilities. “But I’m a salesperson at heart and as salespeople, we’re always chasing the next, new, shiny thing. So, before Josh, it was like throwing a noodle at the wall and seeing if it would stick. Now everything we do ties in to the theme. Josh keeps me on message.”

The results have been significant. “We’ve noticed a large increase to bridal traffic and sales, largely as a result of radio ads,” Carter says. “In our two years of the new campaign, we feel like we’ve successfully emerged as a bridal store.”

BRAND COMPONENTS

Jack Lewis Jewelers logo

THE LOGO

“I love the old logo,” Carter says, “but the old logo was very difficult to read. Jack Lewis started as a watchmaker and a hand engraver, and the old logo was very scripty. It was basically his signature. It was a great concept in the ’50s and ’60s, but it was time for a fresher look. But the one thing I learned from the logo concept is that nobody cares about the logo as much as you do.”

SOCIAL MEDIA

The website was updated, but the company posts news of events on Facebook, which is more interactive. “I see how much time people are spending on social-media sites, so it’s more valuable to put our time and effort into those,” Shull says. “I see the website as a destination for information.”

RADIO ADS

“Radio seemed like the best mechanism for that 23 to 27 year old core we were trying to go after,” Shull says, The radio ads are infused with Carter’s personality. “He’s kind of a big deal in our little town. He’s connected all over the place. He is the perfect mesh of silly and serious. He’s not afraid to be goofy, but he can also be serious and sentimental when he wants to be.”

WEDDING RING PLAYGROUND

Carter has had the term, Wedding Ring Playground, trademarked. The freestanding island with a case of rings out in the open and an iPad attached to the table, encourages couples to try on rings. Combined with the Solitaire Sandbox, this store feature creates the fun environment Carter had dreamed of and is the topic of much of the business’s radio promotion, with the underlying message, “Jack Lewis knows what it means to be young, in love and on a budget.”

Jack Lewis treasure hunt

FINDERS KEEPERS

Shull and Carter hide packages all around town in predetermined locations. The attached note says “Congratulations! You’ve found one of 30 packages hidden around Bloomington/Normal….” They make a social network game out of it and only promote it on the store’s Facebook page. All of the clues, comments, and player feedback happen there. It creates an enormous buzz in the community, teams are formed, and it offers a fun activity for parents to do with their kids. They added more than 700 Facebook Likes from a recent event and drew hundreds looking for the final prize. “The very last prize we hid a little too well,” Shull says, “and there were a couple hundred people who showed up at the same location at the same time and nobody could find it.”

Jack Lewis billboard

BILLBOARD

These days at Jack Lewis, there’s a Solitaire Sandbox and a Wedding Playground, where solitaire diamonds start at $299 and go up to $1,000. Growing relationships with young customers is meaningful to Carter, and offering affordable bridal jewelry is a good way to begin building those relationships. “What I’m most proud of is that just because a diamond is $300 doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just smaller. The quality that the Jack Lewis name conveys is very personal to me. I grew up in this town and I grew up in this store. I started working here when I was 16. I know the quality expectations that people have, and I want to be sure that we honor the heritage of the store while taking it to the next level.”

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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