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Eileen McClelland

GOB Sale Is This Jeweler’s First Discounting Event in 46 Years

At 74, Buddy Bear says it’s time to retire his long-running, one-man show.

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Buddy Bear

THROUGHOUT 46 YEARS in business, Buddy Bear never had a sale. He just didn’t like the idea of discounting.

But he knew when he decided to retire this year, he’d have to have his very first, a retirement sale that wrapped up June 29 in his Merion, PA, store, Buddy Bear Jewelers.

One practical reason he’s calling it quits now, at age 74, is because the building was being sold and he didn’t want to commit to a long-term lease.

Another reason is that tastes have changed, and he has had a tough time selling his statement designer pieces to millennials.

“Millennials who do come in are not customers who understand me,” he says. “I’m a dinosaur. They don’t want my one of a kind, large pieces.”

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Bear’s given name was Harry Bear, which hadn’t gone over well in elementary school. Instead, he began using his nickname, Buddy. He had initially planned to name his store, Harry Alan Jewelers, a combination of his first and middle name because he thought it sounded more sophisticated for a jewelry store. But after his family and friends protested that idea, he relented and stuck with Buddy Bear Jewelers.

Bear, a longtime member of INSTORE’s Brain Squad, specialized in designing what he calls “transformers,” jewelry that can be taken apart and combined with other pieces to create an entirely different piece. Bar pins can come apart to become earrings, jackets, or pendants for pearl necklaces. Bracelets can become rings. He also spent years engineering and perfecting hinges that allowed pendants to lie beautifully on the neck.

“Up until three years ago I did my own manufacturing,” he says. “I cut my teeth on making one-of-a-kind pieces. You have to be creative. I didn’t copy stuff. I made my own models. I didn’t want to be influenced.”

Now millennials tell him they want to design their engagement rings themselves, but what that means, Bear says, is simply a CAD/CAM project. “I didn’t want to have to reinvest and learn that. And the mark-up in diamonds is so darn little now that you make your money on the mounting. All I can do is show them 35 styles of halos from a catalog. But it becomes too much work for so very little money.”

Being a one-man show got old, too, and he had fought some health issues in recent years.

“Had they not sold the building, I was struggling any way and I was killing myself,” he says.

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“It used to take me two and a half hours to set up and one and an hour and a half to break down every day. I’d get here at 6:30 or 7 in the morning just to get ready to open at 10. In the last three or four years, I could sit here for a week and only see the mailman.”

Before decided to retire, he had cut back his work days to four.

A low point in his career was the 1999 robbery that wiped out half a million dollars in inventory, including customer repairs. “They caught the guys and I went through the trial he says.

Still, he says, despite the challenges and tribulations, he has loved his long tenure in the business, which he first learned from his father-in-law in Miami. He’s particularly proud of the jewelry industry design awards he piled up throughout the 1990s, including honors from the AGTA’s Spectrum Awards, the American Pearl Design Competition and the Pennsylvania Jewelers Association.

“I got a great deal of satisfaction out of winning awards within the industry,” he says. “It meant that fellow jewelers have respect for me. I’ve made a lot of good friends.” He’d also been a member of the American Gem Society for 22 years and is an alumni of the GIA.

Another highlight was working with customers to design special pieces he knew they would cherish as heirlooms.

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“I’ve had people get engaged in the store. I’ve had couples break up in the store. If you’re in the business long enough, you have that happen.”

When it came to the retirement sale, he knew he couldn’t go it alone. He was referred to sale-event expert Chuck Frey of Charles Frey & Company, who came to the store to meet Bear and prepare for the sale. It turned out to be the perfect fit for Bear. “We had a connection from the beginning and it’s the best thing I ever did,” he says. “The supervisor they sent me was like sending me a brother. Joseph White has been in the industry for decades. So charming. So many sales he made I never could have.”

Bear’s best advice for fellow jewelers?

“It doesn’t matter what decision you make,” he says. “The most important thing is to make a decision. Then put all of your energy behind it. Too many people make a decision and then are unable to put the work behind it to make that succeed.”

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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Deb Schulman says once she and her husband, Ron, decided to retire, she could feel “the stress start to leave.” The owners of B. Alsohns Jewelers in Palm Desert, California, the Schulmans had heard about Wilkerson over the years and contacted them when the time was right. Wilkerson provided the personalized service, experience and manpower it took to organize their GOB sale. “We are so impressed with the way Wilkerson performed for us,” says Ron Schulman, “I’d send high accolades to anyone who was interested.”

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Eileen McClelland

What I Learned From INSTORE’S America’s Coolest Stores This Year: 13 Ways to Be Cool in 2020

The most important lessons we learned from the country’s very best stores.

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BE CHARITABLE. “We say we will give you as much money as you want if you’re representing the local chapter of the Cancer Society,” for example, says Rod Worley of Mucklow’s Jewelry in Peachtree City, GA. “All we ask is that you have people come into the store and sign the book.” The “book” is a list of names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers. “We donate based on how many people the charity sends in and we get everything we need to contact them in the future.” They’ve been able to reduce advertising costs while building their mailing list. They give away tens of thousands of dollars to 30 to 40 charities each year, boosting their community profile in the process and guaranteeing foot traffic.

BE COLLABORATIVE. “We all know the projects, what’s going on, and what’s coming up,” says Ronnie Malka, co-owner with her husband, David, of Malka Diamonds & Jewelry in Portland, OR. “It doesn’t feel compartmentalized.” That approach also creates opportunity for growth. Chloe, who works in the showroom, says Malka offers the friendliest atmosphere of anywhere she has worked, as well as enormous growth potential and pride in values. “It gives me satisfaction learning-wise and experience-wise, knowing what the jewelers have to do to have a certain outcome for whatever kind of piece we’re making,” she says.

BE DISCRIMINATING. Northeastern Fine Jewelry of Albany, NY, has an office in the Diamond District of New York. “We’ve never been one to just order stuff and ship it in,” says Vice President Gregg Kelly. “We like to look at things ourselves and have the first pick of diamonds. We’re picky when it comes to buying. And it gives us a nice edge to pick out what we want and pass those savings on to the consumer based on our buying ability,” says Kelly.

BE FLEXIBLE. Jamie Hollier at Balefire Goods in Colorado, offers customers loaner rings to use to pop the question, allowing the couple to have the element of surprise for that special moment while ensuring that everyone can take part in the design process for artisan and custom engagement rings.

BE GRATEFUL. Give thanks. Croghan’s Jewel Box in Charleston, SC, sent thank-you letters to more than 15,000 customers. “We wanted our letter to just say thank you … not ask for anything, not promote anything, just a good old-fashioned snail mail letter with sincere gratitude as its only purpose,” says owner Rhett Ramsay Outten. “We were BLOWN AWAY by the response. We received many thank-you notes for our thank-you note! We even sold a few pieces to people who were not customers but received the letter because they lived in a home that at one time was inhabited by one of our customers. We were even invited on a podcast to discuss the power of gratitude in business at a high-tech convention called DigSouth!”

BE HANDS ON. Viviana Langhoff at Adornment & Theory in Chicago, invites her custoemrs to monthly workshops where attendees learn hands-on techniques that help them create and appreciate the art of metalsmithing and other accessory-based techniques. She’s hosted workshops on ‘How to Make a Silver Ring’, ‘Shibori Dying: Make Your Own Scarf’, as well as ‘How to Read Diamonds’. These workshops have helped cultivate community and further the customer experience. Not to mention, everyone has a great time. “I love hearing the store filled with laughter,” Langhoff says.

BE HELPFUL. Reis-Nichols knows how to draw a crowd. “On a Saturday, we’ll do over 100 watch battery replacements and it’s all for charity,” says owner William P. “BJ” Nichols. “The feeling is it’s good having a busy store. We’ll have the large fashion retailers across the street refer their clients to our store for watch battery replacements and we tend to keep them as clients. And it lets the customers know we believe it’s important to give back, and they’re not just helping me buy my next luxury car.”

BE HOSPITABLE. At Bere´ Jewelers in Pensacola, FL, the bar boasts local craft beers on tap and eight large-screen LED TVs playing sports, fashion videos and brand information. They also offer wine, champagne and bourbon. The children’s play area is stocked with LED TV, toys, books, puzzles and original paintings of sea creatures. An 18-foot granite community table is the center for meetings, events and for customers to relax with a hot cup of coffee or cold beer. Owners Barry and Laura Cole offer their space to local charities for events and board meetings, too.

BE LITERATE. At Talisman Collection in California, owner Andrea Riso has discovered the power of the pen, er, blog. “We have over 120,000 customers and tens of thousands of social media followers,” Riso says. “It grows by an average 18 percent per quarter at minimum. Contrary to the industry standard, we do more with written word in outreach than with video or photography. We provide a narrative and a dialogue for which photos or videos are an afterthought. This makes the marketing extremely personalized and genuine. We’ve found that blog entries sell more jewelry and gems for us than signage, print ads and social media ads.”

BE MAGICAL. Hillary Randolph, owner of Wear Your Grace in Santa Fe, is focusing on gemstones and custom-creating talismans using labradorite and rose quartz. They’re marketed as being an essential element of everyday protection. “Being in Santa Fe with all of our ‘woo woo,’ people love it,” Randolph says. “This necklace you’ll put on in the morning with intention and walk out the door knowing you have your talisman, that you’re not not alone — you’re protected. The jewelry line that I am creating is the core things we need as women to feel safe, protected, guided, grounded, but it’s also an individual connection.”

BE PHILANTHROPIC. In 2014, to celebrate 100 years in business, New England’s Day’s Jewelers made the decision to raise $100,000 for Jewelers for Children. The campaign launched with voluntary participation from all Day’s 138 employees primarily through weekly payroll deduction. With generous contributions and a great deal of hard work from employees, customers and suppliers, the firm contributed $102,000 to JFC in January 2015.

BE PROACTIVE. Randy Mitchum, owner of Mitchum Jewelers in Ozark, MO, takes the initiative when it comes to hiring, keeping an eye out for stellar service in the community. “We do have a wonderful staff, a dream team, but it’s taken a long time to build that team,” he says. “I hear about someone or am referred to someone and I approach them, rather than just a random person coming in to apply. I try to think about how are they going to get along with everyone. We’re so busy all the time and there’s no time for personal drama.”

BE RESOURCEFUL. At Yaf Sparkle in Manhattan, owners Yaf Boye-Flaegel and Torsten Flaegel use an in-house photo studio every day for model and product shots. In fact, 99 percent of marketing is created in-house. Social media is important, but they also rely on phone calls and postcards to share news of an event, a promotion or a specific gemstone that could be of interest. “Our newsletter marketing resembles our in-store experience,” Torsten says. “We don’t take ourselves or our product too seriously. Our love for local is what ties us all together. This is where we met our customer, and this is where we will see her again.”

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Eileen McClelland

Gemfind’s Data Mining Has Potential to Predict the Future

New subscription service available for trend forecasting.

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EVERY TIME CONSUMERS click on a piece of jewelry on a retailers’ website, they leave tantalizing clues behind about shopping trends that have the potential to predict the future.

Alex Fetanat, CEO of GemFind Digital Solutions, has found that because of the digital services the company provides, particularly website management, diamond sourcing apps and e-commerce functions, they have access to a rich source of data. The company, which connects 400 retail jewelry clients with 124 jewelry manufacturers and 60 to 70 diamond suppliers, is able to track hundreds of thousands of consumer clicks each month.

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“We generate reports based on historical searches and clicks on every website we manage,” Fetanat says.

That data can determine what’s trending and what people are searching for in terms of diamond size, cut and clarity. And because the search for a diamond engagement ring typically takes 30 to 90 days, the data can be used to predict shopping trends. It can also be focused on a specific geographic area.

Generating reports based on that consumer data is a new service that Gemfind is offering in the form of a subscription service as well as an in-depth analysis.

Fetanat says the service can be invaluable to diamond cutters and sightholders as well as retailers. “If they see what consumers are searching for and clicking on they will be able to better curate a list of what’s needed in the market rather than just randomly buying things. When you know what consumers are searching for, you can better stock inventory and grow sales through effective target marketing.”

For example, a semi-annual report published recently by Gemfind reveals that:

  • Forty percent of diamond searches are for VS1 and VS2 clarity. This may indicate that few consumers understand that an SI 1 or even an SI2 can be just as beautiful and brilliant as a VS diamond, indicating an opportunity for education on the retail level.
  • Most popular color search is G, followed by H and F. The predominance of the G-H color range shows that consumers understand diamond color and pricing for those colors in comparison with the DEF range, which is a function more of rarity than beauty.
  • Most popular diamond carat weight is 1 carat to 1.25 carats; .75 to 1 carat make up the majority of the remaining consumer searches.
  • Searches for round diamonds continue to dominate the market, but ovals have been increasingly popular, overtaking both cushion and princess for second place. Square cuts, representing cushion, princess and Asscher each represent about a fifth of consumer diamond searches.
  • Most consumers do not search for diamond cut grade, but of those who do search for cut the excellent cut grade predominate. Because excellent cuts are expensive and rare, consumers are unnecessarily constricting their search in this area. That indicates the consumer needs additional education on cut grade.
  • Consumers searching for loose diamonds tend to focus their search in February and March, which covers both Valentine’s Day and spring proposals.
  • Overall, consumer knowledge of GIA and other diamond grading laboratories is very limited. But those who do search for certificates understand the value a GIA certificate gives a diamond while having little to no knowledge of other labs.

To receive a trends report each quarter, visit www.gemfind.com/trends-report; for more information, call (949) 752-7710. To order a copy of the full report, visit https://info.gemfind.com/gemfind-diamond-consumer-trends-report-2019-0.

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Eileen McClelland

Longtime Jeweler Eases Into Retirement but Still Loves ‘Placing Beautiful Things With the Right People’

Jo Rosenblum King prepares to auction a treasured collection.

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Jo’s parents, Earle and Isobel and Jo Rosenblum King

JO ROSENBLUM KING is one of the first jewelers I got to know after I joined INSTORE in 2007. I met her at the Houston Jewelers Breakfast, a group that generously took me under their wing, and she helped me embark on assembling a fine jewelry wardrobe by selling me my first strand of pearls, which, true to her clienteling super powers, she remembers 12 years later.

Jo and her local “competitors” taught me that jewelers who cooperate can learn a great deal from each other. It was inspiring to see that collaboration in action as they traded advice, jokes and gems over waffles or scrambled eggs at the crack of dawn. It helped me understand, too, how INSTORE was a type of jewelers’ breakfast for retailers who might otherwise feel isolated.

Jo told me this week that although she did more or less retire a few years ago, she still has jewelry in her vault that she plans to auction. She wants to get the word out about that, because she wants each cherished piece to find the right home.

Since she joined her family’s business as an adult, her favorite part of selling jewelry was placing her favorite pieces in nice homes. “I began to feel like an adoption agency,” she says. She made sure they were presented in the best light possible, too, once packaging a charm bracelet of baby shoes (one for each of seven children) in a doll house. “Sometimes you had to go all out with certain customers and buy things to create a magnificent giftwrap,” she says.

Jo grew up knowing the value of personalized customer service.

Her parents, Earle E. and Isobel (Billie) Rosenblum opened a mom and pop store in a downtown Houston office building in 1955 when downtown was still the center of the city’s commerce and populated with well-heeled oil-industry types. One of those Houston clients, a rancher, had bought a new Cadillac and wanted CZs set in the fins. They took on the job, but had to make frequent repairs because every time they visited the gas station, some CZs would wind up missing.

Earle and Isobel expected all of their children to work in the family business when they were growing up.

“We wrapped gifts to earn money,” she says. “We all spent summers and Christmas working in the store. My brother, my sisters, we all had to wait on customers. But as an adult I never had anything to do with it until they asked me to come help with the jewelry store when someone was on vacation.”

Suddenly, retail jewelry became a calling and not a chore.

“How bad can it be when you’re surrounded by beautiful things?” Jo says.

Earle died in 1996 and Jo bought Isobel’s share of the business in 1999 and moved into a retail space at the Hilton Houston Post Oak in Houston’s Uptown neighborhood.

The space was tiny and narrow but Jo loved to fill it with hand-picked treasures and enjoyed meeting hotel guests from all over the world while continuing to nurture local relationships.

Her customers always appreciated her honesty about what looked good on them, or not so good.

And she enjoyed expanding their horizons and their appreciation of fine jewelry.

“Expanding their expectations was my favorite thing,” she says. “They’d come in with a little bitty earring and I’d bump them up and up to larger sizes. I liked finding things that looked good on them. I do have a good eye for that. I miss going to shows and picking out things that my customers would like.”

Jo doesn’t recommend retiring “cold turkey” and so she has continued to meet with long-term clients as a jewelry consultant since she closed her retail doors four years ago, while appreciating being able to sleep later.

Things had changed in the jewelry business at that point and competition had become incredible. “Everyone who ever managed a jewelry store would go out and open their own. There were so many jewelry stores,” she says. “When my dad first started there were a handful and Houston wasn’t half as large. But customers would trust you, they would assume you gave them a good price because you had been their jeweler forever. Now they want to buy it online and then see what you think of it, because they trust you.”

“It was a nice career and a lovely business, placing beautiful things with the right people.”

Now she’s decided it’s time to sell the remaining jewelry from her collection, those special pieces still looking for just the right home.

For more information about Jo’s Fine, Fabulous and Funky Jewelry & Gift Sale, which goes live on Nov. 1, visit liveauctioneers.com.

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