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Commentary: The Business

Building Something Cool Means Having No Regrets, Says Stephen Webster

The designer pulled out all the stops to stand out with his Beverly Hills boutique.

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PRIOR TO PENNING this column, I looked back at some of the columns written by previous winners of the INSTORE Small Cool and Big Cool jewelry stores in America. Each is a story of passion, dedication and determination (or blood, sweat and tears) to build and maintain stores that never stop compelling and engaging with their clients and communities.

As we all know, building a successful or indeed a “cool” store, no matter what the size, has never been about doing just one thing well. It may start with great product, but that is only the beginning. As jewelers, we have to build trust, offer not only outstanding service but develop almost telepathic relationships with clients, create unique and welcoming environments, and as if that weren’t enough, a brick-and-mortar store owner also has to be as tech-savvy as a 14 year-old, able to navigate the plethora of digital platforms and social channels, apparently without which no one any longer crosses your threshold.

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Despite all the above, we love it and continue to strive to be the best and the coolest.

My home is not America; I have, though, traveled across the pond on average every month for the past 25 years, growing not only millions of air miles but also my brand through an incredible network of independent and larger groups of retail jewelers across the USA, witnessing firsthand what it takes to stand out as a store.

When it finally became time to open my own boutique, I wasn’t attached to any one community, so I did what most domestic brands do and blindfolded, stuck a pin in a map of North America, at least I think that’s what other brands do, I might be wrong. My pin landed as far away from my home as it’s possible to get, the “City of Angels”: LA, right bang on the set of Pretty Woman, opposite the Beverly Wiltshire hotel on Rodeo Drive.

I believe there were 25-plus jewelers already on that famous drive, and unlike them, this was my first Rodeo. To stand a chance, the Stephen Webster store had to be different. Our jewelry was already different, so we wanted the environment to look as though the product belonged there.

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I’m proud to say that if it was anything, it was different. The etched concrete floor, the crocodile skin (effect) leather covered showcases, graffiti artwork and neons by famous street artists, and up the sweeping staircase on the second floor, the now-legendary NoRegrets lounge, where we showcased everything that makes up the extended world of Webster: chefs, sculptures, conventional and graffiti artists, photographers, a milliner, too many DJs and even a classical trumpet player. The NoRegrets lounge has earned its title.

Just like every neighborhood store, we earned every one of our clients. Due to the nature of local employment, we never knew who was going to walk through the door, and even though our policy is that everyone gets treated the same, I’m sure one can imagine that some of those Hollywood types do demand that extra mile and a half. Living exactly 6,000 miles away, we like to think we give it. It would be fun to know if any other store owners have such a ridiculous commute; I hope not, for their sakes.

Having our flagship store recognized as “cool” by peers from an industry I love and feel very much part of in a country I really should call home has been such an honor. You have no idea how cool it feels for my team in the US and also back in London, where to say we were voted the coolest big jewelry store in America is massive.

Stephen Webster owns his eponymous designer line and two boutiques in London. His Beverly Hills store, voted America’s Coolest Jewelry Store – Big Cool in 2018, recently closed.

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Commentary: The Business

How to Get Rich from Lab Grown Diamonds

Take a stand and make some noise about it.

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SOME JEWELERS WILL make millions from lab-grown diamonds. Some by going all-in, some by refusing to sell them at all.

It’s the very brouhaha that spells opportunity for aggressive jewelers who take a stand early, one way or the other, to exploit the dispute and cash in.

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If you want to make a boatload of money, be a catalyst for the debate. Go public in a big way for whichever position you advocate. If you sit on the sideline and “wait for the market to demand the product,” the parade will pass you by, and you’ll miss the windfall that could have come.

You can actually win by adopting any of three positions:

1. Become the lab-grown specialist in your market. Go all in and shout it from the rooftops and go public with all of the benefits of buying lab-grown diamonds that the average consumer knows little or nothing about at this point. Do that and you’ll have a torrent of intrigued customers flocking to your doors.

2. On the other hand, you may be able to do just as well by scorning lab-growns altogether. “We’ll never stoop to selling those assembly-line diamonds,” would be your cry, and you raise the alarm just as loudly about all the challenges they present the consumer. The pro-lab-grown consumers will desert you, but your high-brow, purist clients and prospects will reward you with their loyalty, their money and their referrals.

3. The third position is that of the fair broker. You take the middle ground but are just as aggressive in your advocacy. “Yes there are advantages and disadvantages of both lab-grown and natural diamonds. We’ll give you the straight scoop, and respect your adult ability to make the right decision for you.” This position probably doesn’t have quite the same “bigness” to its sales-generating potential. Middle of the road is mediocre. Extreme positions tend to render extreme results. But it is nonetheless a credible, reasonable and profitable position to take that can bring extraordinary results, if you market your position hot and heavy.

There will be jewelers in the same city who win by taking any of these positions. They’ll battle each other like crazy, head-to-head, and all three of them can win at the cash register.

Remember, some jewelers were scolded when they started buying gold, and warned that they’d be perceived as pawn shops. But many got rich doing it.

Same with Pandora. The sparkle is obviously off that bead now, but while it lasted, many jewelers who went all-in got rich.

I can’t predict how long either the controversy or the public’s appetite for lab-grown diamonds will last. Could be a blip; could be forever. But I can say that those who get in early and make the most noise will also make the most millions the soonest.

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Commentary: The Business

To Stand Out From the Crowd, Build a Real Marketing Plan

A scattershot approach won’t work.

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WHO CARES ABOUT fine wine and nice cars? We should all be drinking two-buck-Chuck and driving a practical car, right? It would be cheaper, and cloth seats are the new leather. And while we’re at it, forget about the Jimmy Choo stilettos. You can match a sensible pair of shoes from Payless with that skirt … think of the money you’ll save. So, why don’t we? Because you would never bring two-buck-Chuck to a dinner party. Nice cars are reliable and fun to drive. And Jimmy Choo stilettos … come on. What do all these things have in common? Image, reliability and brand recognition.

It wasn’t that long ago that people were adamant about being different, building their brand and separating themselves from everyone else. But now a dark shadow of complacency has settled upon us, fueled by cheap services. Most of this comes from the fast growth of digital media and the slew of small companies that have popped up offering services from social media to paid search and email marketing. With most jewelers still not fully understanding this “new media,” it all comes down to cost.

There are a couple of reasons for this; first is a lack of buy-in. Many retailers don’t really believe in social or digital media. They just know everyone else seems to be getting involved, so they probably should, too. As a result, they seek out resources who will do the work cheaply and with minimal marketing dollars behind those efforts. That’s also the No. 1 reason their efforts fail. The second reason is believing these services are all the same. They’re not. Posting on Facebook or managing paid search in and of itself is not marketing. Without a sound strategy with objectives, you could actually be doing more harm than good. You don’t really think you get that for a couple hundred dollars a month, do you?

It’s sad but true: you get what you pay for. Most of the time, it’s templates, spitball marketing, below average results and a lot of time on the hamster wheel. What does that say about your store and your brand? When we all get over the cheap services, cheap websites, cheap everything, we’ll realize that there is something about being different, building the brand and separating ourselves from everyone else. That’s the day we’ll look back on the Age of the Cookie Cutters, open a bottle of Chateau Margaux and say, “Let’s build a marketing plan.”

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Commentary: The Business

This Jeweler Says Brands Are Competing With Brick and Mortar

Retailer says he’s heard this story before.

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IN THE MID-90’S to early 2000’s, I had a few brands that I felt were strongly changing how they did business. Even though they were built by the efforts of independent retailers, they decided they wanted a bigger share of the market and opened their own boutiques and brand stores. The rhetoric back then was how they would benefit my store by generating more brand awareness.

These brands further “helped me out” by making special styles or special gift-with-purchases available only in the company brand stores. To compete, I had to offer a level of service or prices that was not sustainable. My store became a showroom for people to look and then buy from the company boutique. The final nail in the coffin? These brands told me that due to a decrease in the volume I was selling, I was no longer able to order all of the items the brand offered.

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Fast forward 15 to 20 years, and brands are doing the same thing by moving direct to e-commerce. This year, two companies told me not to worry because there will be differences that make it more desirable to come to my store. I have heard this story before.

There are two truths I feel these brands display. One, they want a larger piece of the market. Two, they want to turn brick-and-mortar stores into showrooms for their virtual product. It happens all the time: a young guy comes into the store alone or with his fiancée and wants to see some rings. They take their time, ask us for our expertise and suggestions. We show them product, and then they end the visit with accolades of how helpful we are and friendly to deal with, and, “Can you size my finger?” and “I want to look around at some styles online.”

Speak to almost any supplier, manufacturer, brand, etc. in our business and ask them how the recent trade shows have been for them. I hear over and over how tough it is and how they are considering moving away from the trade show concept. Ask retailers about their buying habits, and there has been a shift to purchase less. Why? Because so many brands have carved up the pie to take a piece for themselves while still two-facedly saying they support the retailer.

Then to condescendingly tell me your stats and opinions on how these new “initiatives” will move the industry forward and increase my sales makes me just a tiny bit pissy.

To quote the English poet John Donne, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls — it tolls for thee.”

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