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David Geller

David Geller: Break Into Custom Design

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Learn a new set of selling skills for higher sales, fatter margins.


Custom design can easily have a much higher average sale than product sales. Typically, a custom design ticket runs from $1,500 to $3,000. If you make a $1,500 sale from the case, it requires hundreds of thousands of dollars of inventory, whereas a $1,500 custom sale requires less than $10,000 in materials in the shop.

Profit margins from custom design sales are usually higher too, in a range of 50 to 65 percent compared to 44 to 55 percent for out-of-the case sales. Custom sales do, however, require a different set of selling skills.

Most sales either start with a customer saying, “I like that ring in the case but different.” For customers with no idea of what they want, show them your trade magazines (INSTORE is great for that) or use your own creative juices.

For a crash course on how to design jewelry with a customer, go to YouTube and search for “designing jewelry.” There are stores and schools showing the process starting with a sketch. The key to this process is confidence. Customers want to tap into your belief in your skills.

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As for the actual making process, there are several computer programs ranging from Stuller’s “Counter Sketch” to more sophisticated programs like Gemvision, Artcam, and 3D Space Pro), which allow you to create digital renderings that you can then show and discuss with the client. That creative interaction with the client is a great way to get her committed to “her” special project.

But how do you get customers interested in custom in the beginning? Advertising, of course, but in-store presentations and signage are a big help. You should be taking pictures of virtually every custom item you make. We did and put the 4-by-6-inch pictures in albums. We had 18 of them placed around the showcases and customers would just flip them open and say, “Oh my, did you make that? I want one!”

We also took an old computer and placed it under a showcase with just the flat screen monitor showing under the glass. It ran a constant slideshow of our designs. I’d edit the pictures and add the words: “We made this for a mother from her three daughters using Grandmother’s diamonds.”

The key to this process
is confidence. Customers
want to tap into your
belief in your skills.

Here’s how we started doing custom in the 1980s and how a small store that gets most of its income from shop sales could break into the business today: We dedicated several showcases to display waxes. That’s right, not gold rings but wax rings. I bought nice plastic boxes with foam inserts and placed six rings per box and displayed them in the cases. At one time we had over 1,000 waxes of rings, bracelets, pendants and earrings. Customers had never seen anything like it and would ask: “What in the world are those?”

“These are the molds we use to make jewelry,” we’d say. “Do you have old gold or jewelry lying around at home? If so bring it in and we can make any ring you see here with your gold for only $195 (setting and such is extra).”

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That started the conversation. Where did $195 come from? That’s the labor to pour the gold, file up, size and polish. I figured our cost to cast and polish at $35. Additional charges for setting and such made our average sale with these stock waxes $750!

If the client didn’t see anything she liked, then we pulled out the pictures and would start designing from scratch. Labor only for producing a wax, casting it and polishing starts at $400 and we added charges for other labor, metals, stones, etc. These truly custom designed rings had an average sale price of $1,500 to $3,000.

So start training the staff. Have them practice sketching pictures and you too can be a world famous designer!

David Geller is a consultant to jewelers on store management. Email him at dgellerbellsouth.net.

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