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Brand Portfolio: James Free Jewelers



Brand Portfolio: James Free Jewelers


Published in the May 2012 issue.

James Free Jewelers
Dayton & Montgomery, OH

Michael Karaman, owner of James Free Jewelers, says this is the year he will seriously begin to court online shoppers. He hired a company to redesign the website, which is scheduled to launch in late May. But his target audience isn’t confined to his traditional regional customer base of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

“We’re trying to achieve national recognition and national customers,” Karaman says. “We’re going to reach out to people looking for a piece of jewelry anywhere and everywhere.”

Sara Johnson, director of digital marketing, says that James Free carries recognizable brands, associated with luxury and quality. “We want to stay true to our roots, but we really do have the quality and presence of a lot of higher-end brands,” Johnson says. “Why not go national?”


Johnson has spent much of the past six months spearheading a redesign of the website that will move strongly into e-commerce. She is one of four marketing employees for James Free, who work closely with Pierce Mattie Public Relations in New York. The marketing and advertising focus is split between an emphasis on upscale designs available at James Free for core customers who are about 35 to 54 — and secondarily, affordable bridal for the younger customer.

“Today in business, you have to be original,” Karaman says. “This is what I tell my creative people: You have to be so unique or witty that people laugh at it or remember it as something different. It keeps you top of mind.”

One branding message James Free would like to consistently convey is that “We will take care of you from generation to generation,” Johnson says. “Parents, children and grandchildren from the same families are all part of the customer base. We make sure each and every customer knows that whatever you buy from James Free, you are 100 percent protected and have peace of mind.



James Free’s brand portfolio is rounded out with promotions and frequent events, including private dinners with designers. David Poe of TW Steel shows Bengal pride with Who Dey, the official mascot for the Cincinnati Bengals during an in-store event.



Head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals Marvin Lewis is presented with a TW Steel timepiece, compliments of TW Steel and James Free Jewelers. TW Steel representative David Poe and Cincinnati store manager Michelle Randle accompany him in the presentation.


Signature rich-hued ribbons paired with plush jewel boxes and gift bags use the James Free branded colors and play up the logo. The paper and ribbon come from France, and each package has a wax seal. Sales associates all get lessons in the art of gift wrapping to make sure the look is precise and consistent.



The marketing team sends out three e-mail blasts a week on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, highlighting trends, says Johnson, who also handles Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts for James Free. The blog features input from the whole staff so that a variety of voices and outlooks is well represented.


A 40-page print catalog is published in November, for which the in-house marketing team schedules fashion shoots and photography. The catalog also features trend articles and is available online in PDF format.


National visibility is important as James Free reaches out to a wider audience. Sara Johnson, director of marketing, works closely with Pierce Mattie Public Relations in New York. The marketing team visited New York early this year, meeting with fashion editors to tell them about the James Free brand and its national initiative.


“Bridal is a totally different customer,” Karaman says. “They are first-time customers. You have to attract them and speak their language and give them what they’re looking for. They like radio, TV and billboards.” Johnson says her goal with bridal customers is to relay the message that James Free is not as exclusive as they might fear. “We work with every customer and give them the best for their budget. You can buy a $1,500 engagement ring. We try to engage them young so when they come back and want to upgrade, they have the confidence to return.”


James Free promotes its affiliation with well known brands while extending offers to holiday and summer shoppers.


James Free is known in Dayton and Cincinnati for its designer brands and fine watches. Billboards are also a good way to reach bridal customers.





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Hosting a going-out-of-business sale when the coronavirus pandemic hit wasn’t a part of Bob Smith’s game plan for his retirement. Smith, the owner of E.M. Smith Jewelers in Chillicothe, Ohio, says the governor closed the state mid-way through. But Smith chose Wilkerson, and Wilkerson handled it like a champ, says Smith. And when it was time for the state to reopen, the sale continued like nothing had ever happened. “I’d recommend Wilkerson,” he says. “They do business the way we do business.”

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