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Chuck Kuba: Sell Like You’ve Got Nothing To Sell

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Think making a case for jewelry is tough? Try opera tickets.


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

I spent over 15 years in not-for-profit management, mostly hawking tickets for theater, opera and symphony orchestra performances. Now, that may not seem like a big deal until you consider ticket prices could average over $100 and at one of the venues there were 3,420 seats to fill every night. The nightmare of the industry is that if you sold every ticket, every night, you’d still only make half your nut. The rest would have to come from gifts, grants and contributions. And what exactly were we selling for that $100 bill? Well, if it was Wagner, about a week in the dark at an ear-busting decibel level; Puccini, sobs at the curtain; and if you chanced upon a performance of Berg’s Wozzeck, you’d probably be cured of ever wanting to go to the opera again.

So, what’s it all got to do with selling jewelry? Well, the textbook definition of marketing is “To determine what the public wants and then work out how to give it to them at a profit.” Just that simple, right? Not so fast! In the performing arts, the product is determined by the artistic staff and then it’s up to the marketers to convince the public they want it. And don’t forget, we were dealing with an intangible that lasts a moment, not a lifetime. The lessons I learned there have contributed heavily to any success I’ve mustered in the jewelry business.

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In 1990, I made the switch. It’s a long story but suffice it to say that my family’s been in the jewelry industry in one form or another for over three-quarters of a century so, it was somewhat natural that I would eventually go back.


“In the arts, it’s up to the marketers to convince the public they want the product. And don’t forget, we were dealing with an intangible that lasts a moment.”


As for the lessons I learned from hawking opera tickets, here are a few I picked up from some of the smartest people in advertising anywhere:

First, “Birds of a feather flock together.” When doing direct mail, buy a list of folks in the surrounding neighborhood of a great customer and tell them about it without using names. The U.S. Postal Service has a “door-to-door” direct-mail program plus many others that companies don’t even know exist. What I would do is take the name of a season-ticket buyer or cluster of ticket buyers in a community and then drop a direct-mail piece to their neighbors about how the guy next door was going to the opera. What is it they know that you don’t? Or, don’t get left out! Or isolate selling points about the season that could draw them into at least phoning the ticket office. It worked well and it’s worth exploring with USPS as to area availability. If it works for season opera tickets, it can work for expensive jewelry.

Second, whenever possible, use the theater of the mind. It’s a phrase I first used back in 1967, but it really works. Nothing can compare with asking a woman to close her eyes and imagine the perfect engagement ring and then describe it to you. It’s magic.

Third, don’t give up on the concept of unique selling points. Some years back I had the daunting task of selling tickets to Prince Igor. It hadn’t been done in the U.S. for many years, was virtually unheard of, and it’s in Russian. Then I remembered that smack dab in the middle, there are the Polovtsian Dances, the tune that Tony Bennett co-opted for his hit Stranger in Paradise in 1953.
There was my unique selling point. We played it as background music in the ads. Everybody said “I know that opera.” Heck no they didn’t but I wasn’t about to tell them. We sold out to 96 percent capacity.

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There’s little new in the above. But if you’re like me, it’s easy to forget what works, at least in principle. Keep looking for those unique selling points of your store, the ring, the diamond, your craftsman. Somebody’s going to say, “I know that store!” And they’ll tell others. Let me know when you get to 96 percent of the market.


Chuck Kuba owns Iowa Diamond in West Des Moines, IA.

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