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Holiday Fast Risers

Eight jewelry stores tell how they engineered huge improvements in sales last holiday season.

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RACKING UP double-digit gains from a low base set during the meanest recession in living memory is one thing. Doing it in an economy that has stabilized is another altogether. Here, eight fast-rising jewelry stores tell how they engineered huge improvements in sales last holiday season. In some cases, their better performances were driven by something minor like a website adjustment. in others it was the result of an all-out marketing blitz. In every occasion, though, the owners also focused on getting the day-to-day things right, like ensuring gift cards reached the hands of their best customers, perfecting checkout procedure, and making those phone calls. Yep — it’s about working hard and working smart. Hopefully, these stories will give you inspiration to get though the tough slog ahead.

The Christmas decorations had yet to be taken down, staff had barely got their breath back from the 2011 holiday rush, but Ann Foley-Collins’ thoughts were firmly on the year ahead. The just-finished year had been OK for Glee Gifts, but with more preparation, she was confident a much better result was within her team’s grasp.

“I told my staff that Jan. 1, 2012, we are practicing every day for the next 11 months to do our best in all areas to increase sales. I said practice so if there were hiccups from January to November, we would be better prepared to handle them during our busy Christmas season. That meant better staffing, better product, better customer service, better merchandising.”

Foley-Collins ensured that during busy times staff stuck closely to their strengths-based roles, be it cash-wrap, manning the Alex and Ani/Chamilia counter, or working the sales floor. She drafted scripts to bring consistency to the way the phone was answered, and increased training across the board, from customer service, to sales, “to even a little bit of buying.”

One of the biggest improvements came from getting cash-wrap organized.
“There so much to be aware of. Staff knows whoever is on cash-wrap has a very important job. She needs to be transactional yet friendly,” says Foley-Collins, noting that at one point during the 2012 holiday season there was a line from the cash-wrap to the end of the store, but that all the sales were processed smoothly.
The result of Glee Gifts’ focus on the small things was a huge improvement in performance. By the end of 2012, Glee Gifts had enjoyed its best December with sales up 67 percent from the same month in 2011.


Landline Lubber

Don’t suggest to Buddy Bear that there is much in the way of accidental success in retail. Getting it right has to do with hard work, keeping your customers happy … and a helpful economic cycle.

“There is no luck in retail. Luck is having your name picked out of a hat,” says Bear, whose store Buddy Bear Jewelers in Merion, PA, enjoyed a more than 25-percent increase in holiday season sales in 2012 from the previous year.
Bear attributes the sales growth to the return of high-end spenders who were ready to purchase again at his predominantly custom-design business. “I just helped them along with good old gumshoe sweat equity,” he says.

Bear, a winner of dozens of jewelry design awards during his 40 years in the business, says he has tried every form of marketing over his career, most recently social media, but believes nothing beats the landline in his office.

“I just do old-fashioned phone calls and personalized service. I have always kept impeccable notes and records and especially customer follow-ups,” he says.
Bear says he has noticed a shift in the dynamics of retail toward the Internet. But his own website is used primarily as a showcase for his work and to give him a Web presence.

“Do what you know best. Stay away from what’s trending now, you will just be like the next guy. If you want to reach your clients, use a landline.”

Give and Get Back

A lot of stores pay lip service to the idea that the holiday season is about giving. At Continental Diamond in Minneapolis, MN, it’s a core business strategy: Give and give … and if things play out well, you shall receive.
So there are unique gift baskets worth more than $150 for the store’s best customers.

There’s social-media giving, via a Facebook competition that distributed free theater tickets and gym subscriptions in the week before Christmas.

There was high-powered giving in the form of a customer appreciation party attended by seven of the most popular Minnesota Vikings.

And there was the little stuff that goes on all year.

“We do a lot of small things for free that experts and small thinkers would charge for. Cleaning, checking stones, lending special pieces for special occasions, a free battery once in a while and even charging cost or N/C on a repair when it is a smart thing to do,” says Jimmy Pesis, who owns the store with his wife, Helain.

“We also called many of our clients this year with ideas and reminders for Christmas,” he says. And for the top 100 customers there was the added inducement of a gift basket waiting for them that contained coffee, mugs, cookies and other goodies from CityKid Java, a local nonprofit.

The Facebook promotion garnered roughly 300 new fans in less than two weeks, for an investment of $300. More importantly, it exposed the store to potential new customers. “The goal with each partnership promotion is to seek out other businesses that are after the same demographic in terms of luxury,” Pesis says.

The string of marketing events pushed December sales up 25 percent over the same month in 2011.

Heading into the 2012 holiday season, Patty Gallun Hansen wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic. 2011 had been a sluggish year, and much of the local community was still in a recessionary funk.

Then, a quote attributed to Ted Turner came bubbling up from distant memory.

Says Gallun Hansen: “Frankly, I was just so tired of everyone being down emotionally as well as fiscally, I was becoming down too. So I decided the Patty Pity Party needed to be over and said to myself, remember Ted Turner’s quote.”

That quote? Asked the secret to his success, the founder of CNN famously answered: “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise!”

“I didn’t have any control over the economy so I had to think about the things I did have control over and could change — advertising was it!” Gallun says.

Dorothy Gallun Fine Jewelry has always done a lot of marketing ahead of each holiday season, including in-store events and running ads in local lifestyle magazines. But in 2012, Gallun went for broke. Never mind waking up early, she hardly went to bed.

She organized a string of events from before Thanksgiving through until Christmas Eve including “appraisals while you wait” ($10 each item; limit three items), a Fabulous Fun Fashion Week featuring costume jewelry, a trunk show of “spectacular colored stone and diamond jewelry,” a Vintage Jewelry Week, and a Jewelry Design Week (where she assisted customers to design jewelry using their own gold and stones with the store’s Gemvision software). She increased her advertising in local publications, and hit every home in a two-mile radius of her store with a direct-mail card that offered 20 percent off all purchases. “That really brought the people in,” she says.

Gallun Hansen also beefed up her online presence, posting fun facts or photos to the store’s Facebook and Pinterest pages and joining Instagram and LinkedIn. She even opened an Etsy store to sell her antique and estate jewelry. And she wasn’t done yet. Inspired by another mid-shower brainstorm, she struck up alliances with her dentist, lawyer and other local professionals to distribute gift cards. “My dentist was actually putting them in his billing statements!” she says. Along with the direct mail, these gift cards generated the best response, she says.

And the result of all that hard work? Much as Mr. Turner had promised. “It was the best Christmas season we have had in our history — and we’ve been in business since 1950!” says Gallun Hansen.


Starfish, gold and a simple sketchpad led to Mark Tanzi’s 2012 holiday success.

Tanzi, a Sacramento, CA, area appointment-only retailer, as well as a designer, manufacturer and wholesaler, says his profitable formula, which saw sales surge 29 percent in December 2012 over the same month in 2011, came about simply by playing to his strengths.

To begin with, as Tanzi continued to welcome an influx of gold and jewelry sellers to his store, he began to question his own assumptions about their motivations.

“In theory, I would think someone coming to me had a need for the money and I started realizing that wasn’t always the case,” he says. So when he made an effort to sell them something as well, he was often successful, which meant that “either they were incredibly weak and spent the money as soon as they got it, or they weren’t really in need of the money, they weren’t down and out.”

Second, he began to stock less merchandise and tailor his sales approach to a conversation over a sketchpad and a pencil.

“I ask them, ‘What would your dream piece of jewelry be like? Tell me exactly what you’re looking for.’ I wasn’t trying to sell them something I had in stock or that I happened to have sold 90 times already.

“That sent us down the full custom route, which increased profit dramatically.”

Finally, for customers who weren’t looking for custom, he began promoting his wholesale sealife collection. Already sold in every major vacation spot in the country by his wholesale clients, he makes it available to his retail clients, too. Retail makes up about 50 percent of his business.

In particular, people can’t get enough of his starfish designs. “I can’t tell you how many starfish people have bought. Make it any size, any color stone. Our No. 1 driving force for our sales is our starfish, whether it’s the $99 version or the $2,000 version.”


BENCH PRESS

The website of Scottsdale Fine Jewelers proudly declares that the store’s bench is at “the heart and the soul of who we are and what we do.”

It’s no idle claim. The 35-year-old store has a team of jewelry designers, master goldsmiths and Swiss-trained watch technicians.

But the back room’s central role in the business wasn’t matched by a prominent position on the website. That oversight was remedied ahead of last year’s holiday season, with a new homepage built around two large stylized photos of a jeweler setting a stone in a ring and another one repairing a watch.

“The other change that had site visitors calling us and stopping in was putting ‘Come into the store for a consultation’ inside a circle,” the store’s owner, Scott Lefcourt, says. “Showing our tag line (‘Be You, Wear You’) under our name had a positive effect, too.”

Lefcourt believes the adjustment to stress the store’s repair and custom services was the main factor behind a 25-percent increase in sales in the holiday season over the same period in 2011.

“(The change) brought in more new customers from outside of our immediate area for both repair and custom and we saw an increase in engagement rings,” Lefcourt says. He estimates that 35 percent of his customers now come from outside his store’s natural catchment area.

 

LESSONS LEARNED

“Most think being a Monday morning quarterback has no value. I think it does if you learn from it,” says J. Dennis Petimezas, owner of Watchmakers Diamonds and Jewelry in Johnstown, PA. “Some of the best things we did over the last 40 years came from the mistakes we had made.”
And by the last quarter of 2012, Petimezas was ready to put into place many of those lessons. They included:

  • Premiums with purchases, starting at a $10 iTunes card and rising to an iPad for big-ticket purchases. “It’s about increasing the dollar value for them, not discounting,” Petimezas says, adding that tech gifts help bring in the younger crowd as well.
  • A “Buy a diamond get a free rifle” promotion in November right before deer season. “We got a double-dip. It equaled Black Friday and had resonance into December,” he says, adding, however, that given the heated debate about guns he may not repeat it.
  • No strings-attached gift cards for his best customers in $25, $50, and $100 increments. The key is to use your POS system to track and qualify your best customers, he advises.
  • A humorous, sometimes cheesy (Petimezas prefers “tastefully tacky”) series of radio ads that included faux celebrity endorsements. While some of the ads had their origins in a beer session with a few buddies, all were tested on a focus group and designed to “grab and get people smiling.”

“Many of the ideas came from my peers — hybrids, if you will, of successful campaigns they did, implementing ideas from seminars at trade shows and, just good old ‘working without a net’ marketing,” Petimezas says.

While 2012 sales came in just shy of the store’s record high, Petimezas had 25 percent more cash in his pocket thanks to a much-improved margin, which in turn was driven by record diamond sales.

His diamond approach was three-pronged. At the lower end, he added clarity-enhanced diamonds (“more bling less kaching”), while in the middle he brought in a privately branded 89-facet diamond called the Brilliant Star 89, which offers dramatic light performance with less focus on color and clarity (as well as better margins and a point of differentiation). And at the top end, he promoted his Perfectly Cut diamonds for the customer who wants “the Cadillac with all the gold trim.”

Petimezas views his approach to business as a combination of getting the micro (personal service) and macro (strategy) right. And never standing still. “The business is changing and the pie is getting smaller. But if you embrace change, and aggressively market, you’re going to get a bigger slice.”

< Owner Michael Rumanoff of Rumanoff’s Fine Jewelry in Design in Hamden, CT, says his formula for success in the last quarter of 2012 was a result of solid decisions in the areas of inventory selection, attention to customer service and marketing, too, in the form of a popular scratch-off coupon sale.

“Our inventory selection was our best ever,” he says. “Alex and Ani has been incredible every month. Last month (June 2013), we did $72,000 in retail with $28 to $58 bracelets. Some people don’t want to deal with those price points because they think it’s too time consuming, but if you get customers in the store, they will see you have Tacori and Hearts On Fire, and that you do engraving and watch repair, and they will be back.”

Other hot sellers include Sylvie bridal, Michele watches, Pandora and Rumanoff-branded items, including diamond studs and a watch line.

Rumanoff’s kicks off the holiday selling season with a three-day scratch-off sale, sending postcards to customers on their mailing list. If customers bring in the card and select an item, they scratch off the card to view their discount, which ranges from 10 to 20 percent. The event has a festive air, with an open bar and food.

In December, he also launched a customer-reward program, with which customers receive a 2 percent credit with any purchase that can be saved up and used on a future purchase.

Lessons: Expert Advice for Fast Risers

CONSIDER GIFTWARE: Rex Solomon says giftware, including Waterford and Lladro do well in his store, Houston Jewelers in Houston, TX, accounting for about 10 percent of sales. They also occasionally sell flatware and baby gifts.

YOU CAN’T MELT HIRING MISTAKES: Do you have the right people or are you still living with hiring mistakes? Identify your “stars” and your “stowaways?’ says David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy. “Now is the time to fix it, to make sure you’ve got the right people in your business. Set the star as a benchmark and expect everyone else to meet that standard. If they don’t, your options are to tolerate, terminate or train them, he says.

KEEP STAFF ENERGY HIGH: Cathy Calhoun of Calhoun Jewelers in Royersford, PA, makes sure that her store is staffed well enough that her sales people never work more than 46 hours per week, even Christmas week. Why? “They are more pumped up and have more energy that way.” She’ll add four temporary staff members to her full-time staff of eight, but those part-timers have prior experience in the store and are not starting fresh every year.

BE GRATEFUL: Adopt an attitude of gratitude and reinforce the positive. Be thankful for every day and every person you work with and every person who walks through the door, recommends Kate Peterson. Do you really appreciate every minute? An attitude of gratitude brings about a measure of pride in what you do.

SHOW BIG: Bring out the most spectacular piece you’ve got. Customers want to spend money. The biggest reason the average sale has not grown faster, is because we sell under $500 items because someone said that is what the customer wants. Assume every person in your store wants to see the best you have. — Peterson

 

Santa Says: How Fast-Risers Can Rock the Holidays

Check the fire before heading down the chimney. If you’re on edge, if something is dragging you down, your whole team goes down with you. Think decisions through to their logical conclusions. Most times of the year, if you have a problem, you can slap a band-aid on it. This time of year, you need a solution — fast.

Keep a wonderful workshop. It’s hard to make an experience wonderful for your customers if your employees don’t feel it’s wonderful to work for you. Keep your environment comfortable, upbeat and happy. Bring in a bag of candy. It’s amazing how little things make a big difference. Focus on the people around you as well as the tasks.

Choose your reindeer partners wisely. Distribute work fairly. Give the right tasks to the right people. We tend to hire people who are most like ourselves, so remember the advantage of diversity.

Share the load. It’s the best time of the year to delegate.

Rally the reindeer. Schedule staff training every week between September and Dec. 15. Then have a 10-minute recharge every day before you open your doors.

Share the milk and cookies. Recognize that each person makes a difference. It’s not just about the people on the floor. Do right by those who do right. We get busy and forget, but how hard is it to say `thank you?’ Take a post it note and stick it on your computer screen that says “thank you.” Look for what makes people happy and offer incentives.

Guiding the sleigh should be a joint effort. Be both a leader and a follower. Every day you’ll meet someone who knows more about something than you do. Don’t be afraid to learn from the people around you.

Good things come in your packages. Little gestures are important. The names on the box make a difference. The wrapping and ribbon matter. Make sure everyone in the store knows what your brand promise is. Offer little gestures. It could be gift-wrapping. It could be a little something extra in the bag.

You better not cry; you better not pout. Look for the solution rather than at the problem. Whining begets whining.

Believe. You must believe you’re making a difference in someone’s life. Believe in yourself, believe in your team, believe in the effort. Believe in that feeling in your gut that you’re making a difference to someone.

 

Holiday Sales: The Brain Squad Speaks

What did you do last year that had the biggest impact on holiday sales?
  • We went back to advertising diamonds, better color, and bridal as opposed to beads and silver. — Dorothy Vodicka, The Gem Collection, Tallahassee, FL
  • We run our holiday sale starting the first week in November, before all the after-Thanksgiving sales. Last year it worked better than ever before. It generates cash flow early and we still do the business anyway in December. — Frank Salinardi, Linardi’s Jewelers, Plantation, FL
  • For Christmas 2012 we switched from a bulk mail flier to Every Door Direct from the U.S. Post Office. The response was phenomenal! — James Sickinger, Sickinger’s Jewelry, Lowell, IN
  • We brought in a few lower price points in colored jewelry, strengthened our bridal assortment with larger diamonds set into rings; brought in prototype bridal lines, changed our marketing to three dominant radio stations and advertized consistently the same branding message. — David Blitt, Troy Shoppe Jewellers, Calgary, AB, Canada
  • We had prizes for the most sales weekly. This was based on hours worked and transactions. The prizes were items staff picked themselves. — Ila Manner, Golddiggers, lock Island Jewelers, RI
  • I put up a Christmas tree with garland made from copies of $20 bills and decorated with flowers and butterflies. This reminded customers that $20 down was all it took to set aside an item for their Christmas! Worked phenomenally well! — Lora S. Wright, Southern Jewelers, Sanford, NC
  • We spent hours practicing “personality matching.” Certain employees mesh better with specific customers, so we make sure to educate each employee on how to pick up the signals necessary to pair up each customer with the best employee for them. — Morgan Bartel, Collins Diamonds, Liberal, KS
  • Last year we tested Pandora radio and had four commercials a day. We felt the success so signed up for the entire year. — Marc Solomon, Solomons Fine Jewelry, Plainview, NY
  • We sent gift cards to our top 200 customers with amazing returns. We plan to send them out even earlier this year to avoid holiday overload. — Denise Oros, Linnea Jewelers, La Grange, IL

Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at [email protected].

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