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If I Owned

For Kathy Ireland, Owning a Jewelry Store Would Be About Honoring Mothers

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I would begin by making certain that my store experience honored those customers who were my bread-and-butter, the ones you see day in and day out: the mothers.

In 1994, I became a mom for the first time and my life changed in many profound ways. Things like taking a shower suddenly became a luxury. I believe it’s absolutely heroic for a busy mom to make it into the store with everything she has going on. As a retailer, I would need to realize this and cater to this customer, or else become irrelevant.

I’ve got three children, and it takes every ounce of psychology sometimes to get my youngest into the car seat. Somebody needs a juice, somebody has to go to the bathroom — if I make it out of the driveway, it’s a victory. Then once you get into the store, you’re distracted. So I believe, if she’s made that heroic effort to come in, she needs to be honored. She needs to know that she’s being listened to, not placated. It needs to be well-lit, and it needs to be comfortable. And if she’s got her children with her, how wonderful would it be to have an area that’s safe and enclosed, built for kids and strategically placed where she can keep an eye on her children?

Maybe it would have a couple of sofas, maybe a little table with crayons and coloring books, and some children’s videos playing. Maybe there’s a toy box, or maybe there’s a treasure chest with some dress-up jewels in it. If the children are happy, their mother will be able to shop longer and actually be able to make a purchase.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into the store and I’ve seen something, wanted it, but you have a limited window of time — your kids are pulling you, and you’ve gotta go. As a jewelry retailer, I would want to make it easy, and fun, for both moms and their kids to be in my store. It can still be as high-class and luxury as I want it to be, but kids need to be part of that equation. 

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Selling jewelry isn’t just about selling to men anymore. Certainly, jewelry is a wonderful purchase for a man to make for a woman, but women are making more and more of those purchases for themselves. Women like to put themselves together, they know what looks good, they know what is going to coordinate with their outfit. I can’t understand any mindset that wouldn’t address the woman who’s going to be wearing the jewelry.

After all, she is ultimately your customer. For me, our customer is the most critical part of our design team. She gives me tremendous input, and I’m dependent on her.

Whether I’m at church, school, or the grocery store, I’m meeting moms all the time. We also put together focus groups with moms on a regular basis, and we even have children in our focus groups. And here’s what we’ve discovered about our customer: she doesn’t want autographs or hairstyle tips. She’s a busy mom. She cuts to the chase. She needs her solution, and she needs it now. You’ve got to work very hard to earn her trust, and then you have to work even harder to maintain that trust.

I’d be very mindful of the customer, how they work, what their needs are. When they walk into my store, what does it smell like? What does it sound like? All five senses have to be addressed. Maybe some freshly baked cookies that smell good, and mom’s had a full day, she’s hungry, and she wants a pick-me-up. I would make sure her children were safe, comfortable, and happy.

Generally speaking, I think men buy products, but women join brands. So you’ve gotta get it right for them. When you do, she’s extremely loyal.

Next, I would be sure to inspire my sales team at every opportunity. When I can share with our sales team the story behind each piece of jewelry, there’s an inspiration — where did this idea come from, and how did this piece come to be. That gets the sales team revved up and excited about selling it. And they’re able to communicate that message to our customer with great results.

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Customers have told us they don’t know if they’re going to be able to visit a lot of the places they’re dreaming of. Jewelry can take them to those places, just by putting it on. When you’re wearing a piece of jewelry, you feel different. It’s an emotional connection to a memory, or maybe it’s a dream, somewhere they’d like to visit. Salespeople have to understand this and help customers to see it not as a piece of jewelry, but as an emotional experience.

“Generally speaking, I think men buy products, but women join brands. So you’ve gotta get it right for them.”

To that end, I would make sure I had the right brands. Brands, I believe, succeed if they put thought into the selection process, they build a firm and existing relationship with retailers, and they protect retailers from unfair competition. Will a brand succeed if the product is inferior? Absolutely not — that’s the quickest way to destroy a brand. But when you get it right, I really believe women will embrace you and join you.

Brands can help make retailers a destination. I love when our brand is able to bring a halo effect to a store. I see it as a team effort, and I’m always happy to talk about other brands, not just ours. It’s about helping the retailer to be strong and healthy.

In the end, success isn’t about a single person — it’s about your team and its ability to meet customers’ needs with an incredible experience. I’m always taken aback when people refer to our brand as a celebrity endorsement. For me, that was never of interest — I wanted to be involved at a far deeper level with anything that had my name associated with it. Sure, I did okay way back in the last century modeling, but I wasn’t super. Some of the publications I worked for were pretty super, but for me, I always knew I belonged on the other side of the camera. I always tell our team that if any of us were depend- ent on any celebrity I had in the last century, we’d all be unemployed.

That’s why we intentionally started the Kathy Ireland Worldwide brand with a pair of socks. I knew that if women embraced what we could bring in terms of fashion and innovation to a pair of socks, we might be on to something. We recently sold our 100 millionth pair of socks. Our customers have been extremely loyal, but we do have to get it right.

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How can you be sure you’re getting it right? Ask for criticism. Compliments are great, but if you’re going to learn and grow, just bring it on. Work to develop an open and direct line of communication with your customers.

It’s a tough business. But there will always be a need for the independent retailer. Independents offer a level of service that the big boxes just cannot compete with. In the jewelry business especially, there are more storms coming. But when you have a solid foundation, you can withstand the economic and societal changes that are inevitable.

If I owned a jewelry store, my foundation would be based on understanding my customer and delivering a comfortable in-store experience. It would involve forging relationships with vendors that would support me. And it would include a team-oriented approach that inspires salespeople and brings passion and emotion into the sales presentation. 


This article originally appeared in the October 2007 edition of INSTORE.

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