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WHEN IT COMES to elevating the experience for engagement-ring shoppers in your store, experts and retailers agree that personalizing the process and celebrating the occasion will deliver the best customer service for 2022.

Consider how your luxury clients are treated at other businesses in your locale, such as spas or salons, or how personalized their experience might be when visiting their accountants or private bankers, suggests Kathleen Cutler, luxury sales expert for fine jewelers.

Be ready to meet their needs and deliver the kind of luxury experience they’re used to. And don’t forget to appropriately celebrate their special occasions.

Oz and Brenda Hefner host wedding receptions.

Oz and Brenda Hefner host wedding receptions.

While some jewelers have reciprocal partnerships with bridal-related businesses or distribute discount coupons for local wedding services, Oz and Brenda Hefner, owners of Oz’s Jewelry in Hickory, NC, have managed to partner with themselves.

About seven years ago, the couple opened their party center, a colonial style house on four acres they converted from a restaurant. It can accommodate 200 wedding guests and was the site of their own daughter’s wedding. Their jewelry clients are eligible for a discount. And many are delighted to be able to check off another item on their wedding to-do list.

“That was the biggest reason for us to buy it,” Brenda says. “To have a place for our customers to get married. It’s just another service we can offer.”

Alternatively, if someone calls to book the event center for a wedding, the Hefners ask the couple if they have purchased their engagement and wedding rings yet. And if hosting their clients’ weddings isn’t quite enough, Oz is a licensed wedding officiant as well, ready and willing to perform the actual ceremony.

The Celebratory Spirit
of Experiential Retail

In Bismarck, ND, Tim and Sharon Ell and their team at Zorells Jewelry ring wedding bells for every engagement or anniversary celebrated at their store. It’s a sound that can be heard for blocks. The wedding bell tower sits next to a proposal garden with a wedding-chapel-style gazebo and rose garden for proposals and photo session, adding to the heightened sense of romance and celebration.

At Fakier Jewelers in Houma, LA, a wedding pergola overlooks a bayou waterway in a pocket park behind the store. Customers who purchase an engagement ring receive an engraved lock, which they can attach to the railing of the pergola while tossing the key in the water. The Fakier team also offers to cut a patented diamond for their clients, called “Momenti di luce,” which translates to “moment of light.” The diamonds can be custom cut into round, emerald, cushion and princess cuts, as well as oval and pear by special request.

Zorells rings bells for every engagement.

Zorells rings bells for every engagement.

Branham’s Jewelers’ Treasured Memories room is part of their East Tawas, MI location, and serves as a bridal party dressing room equipped with mirrors and makeup stations. The bridal party can descend an elegant staircase or gather near the fireplace for photos. The experience is free to customers of Branham’s and particularly appreciated by couples planning outdoor wedding at a beachfront location on Lake Huron, just across the street from the store.

Sales associates at Richter & Phillips of Cincinnati, owned by Rick and Eric Fehr, often give their engaged clients a thoughtful, personalized gift they’re not expecting, a customer-service campaign known as “Surprise and Delights.”

“These are unexpected gestures that make a big difference: a custom dinner for two at Cincinnati’s most popular, romantic restaurant, Sotto, for our engagement guests; a bottle of Richter branded bourbon for a Rolex customer; and much more,” says Rebecca Schaeper, marketing director.

Denise Oros directs proposal rehearsals.

Denise Oros directs proposal rehearsals.

The gifts are given at the discretion of the sales associate, who gets to know what the customer would like. “Unexpectedly gifting a romantic dinner for two to your customer who just sent in their ‘they said yes!’ picture feels like a gift above and beyond,” Schaeper says. “This person was already your customer, but this surprise delighted them beyond belief and now they are your walking advocate for life. That is an ROI well worth the investment.”

At employee-owned Kesslers Diamonds, which opened a new store in Grand Rapids, MI, in 2021, comfortable booth seating puts clients at ease and creates a sense of privacy for them to learn about and view loose diamonds and engagement rings. Kesslers sells only diamonds and diamond jewelry, and they celebrate special occasions with bottles of Champagne, of which they give out more than 4,000 bottles every year to newly engaged couples.

Hospitality and helpfulness should be top of mind, says Jennifer Hornik Johnson of Miller’s Jewelry in Bozeman, MT. “We have bought people shots, cocktails, beer, presented them with a bottle of wine or Champagne, helped plan the proposal, provided recommendations for local vendors, given engagement and wedding gifts and featured the happy couples in stories on our social media.”

Melissa Quick of Steve Quick Jewelers in Chicago commissioned a local mixologist to create a one-of-a-kind signature cocktail called the Steve Quick 35 that’s included as a take-home-drink kit in a gift bag for their annual spring wedding band trunk show. Among other perks is a coupon for free ring polishing so the Steve Quick jewelers can make the engagement ring look like new just prior to the wedding. They also make a donation to the non-profit Gem Legacy for each wedding ring they sell, but let the client choose which initiative they want their ring to support.

Private engagement or wedding design appointments with dinner are offered at Jewelry Set in Stone in Chelsea, MI, with the aim of providing a unique, intimate customer experience. Owner Stephen Kolokithas has dubbed the appointments the Date Night Diamond Experience.

“Customers let us know which of a selection of local businesses they would like to order dinner from and what they would like, and we take care of the rest,” Kolokithas says. “They get to have dinner in our beautiful space while our staff creates prototypes of the designs and showcases the diamonds available to them. This also promotes some of the amazing local restaurants in downtown Chelsea.”

Denise Oros, owner of Linnea Jewelers in La Grange, IL, has found that the right ring box, combined with an enthusiastic theatrical rehearsal, is a simple way to create a memorable shopping experience.

She encourages her customers to practice in advance of the proposal by opening the thin, lighted signature ring box in the showroom. “It is mandatory that you get down on one knee in my showroom and say the words, ‘Will you marry me?’ as you properly open the box,” she says.

Oros offers encouragement by “screaming with joy,” she says. “My diamond engagement customers, time and time again, repeat the story of their hilarious initial efforts.”

In addition to being humorous, the practice session really does take a lot of pressure off the actual proposal. She tells her customers, “I don’t want you thinking about how to open the box or where it is pointed. I want it to be second nature so that you see what you paid me for, the look of joy and surprise in her eyes when she first sees the ring of her dreams.

Faker Jewelers in Houma, LA, offers a romantic setting for celebrations.

Faker Jewelers in Houma, LA, offers a romantic setting for celebrations.

“A great engagement story is the result of a fun, collaborative process that increases knowledge and confidence, in what will create a forever customer,” Oros says. “Those boxes are worth every penny I spend on them!”

Blue River Diamonds in Massachusetts has two distinct personalities. One, a true downtown location, has little competition. The other, in a mall, distinguishes itself from myriad competitors by offering custom and higher quality goods. “We make it super easy to customize, and that really sets us apart from other places,” says operations manager and CAD/CAM designer Becky Bettencourt. The configuration of the store has also allowed the team to set up a slightly secluded bridal enclave that offers more privacy than other mall stores and is adjacent to the repair shop as well. The layout, she says, naturally created a quiet and calm bridal and custom room that blocks some of the commotion from the mall traffic.

“They want an entirely catered experience when they spend their money,” Bettencourt says. “They like seeing what other people are doing on Instagram and having that experience themselves. And getting to customize it even if it’s minimal customization; they feel like they’ve been a part of it.”

Prototypes associated with Stuller’s Ever & Ever bridal collection have also made bridal business boom for Blue River. If a prospective bride drops by to try on bridal styles, she can browse to her heart’s content with her friends by accessing prototypes through front-opening cases. “It’s a much more comfortable, fun way to try things on,” says Bettencourt. When they find something they like, the process can move three steps away to the laptop, where a sales consultant can explore options that are displayed on a big screen.

Stuller also offers capsule collections with a variety of non-traditional engagement ring styles, such as a collection of rings in a vintage-inspired style. Other themes are Art Deco, modern and whimsical assortments.

A semi-private enclave creates a niche for engagement ring shoppers at Blue River Diamonds.

A semi-private enclave creates a niche for engagement ring shoppers at Blue River Diamonds.

Appointments are key to a high close rate at L. Priori Jewelry in Philadelphia, which has three separate consultation rooms. Operating by appointment only and making completely custom designs ensures a pleasant and unique experience for the client, Priori says. They take pride in offering a premium experience from start to finish, from being greeted at the front desk to a post-proposal gift for every customer.

“We’re well prepared for every single appointment, and we know that clients who take time to book a 90-minute appointment are serious about buying,” says owner Lauren Priori. “Not only that, but our appointment rooms are quiet and calm, no noisy sales floor or hesitations talking about budget here.”

Gemstones are specifically sourced for each appointment based on what the client is looking for. “We let our customers know that we can make anything happen for them, design and stone wise,” Priori says.

At John Thomas Jewelers in Albuquerque, NM, engagement ring clients have the freedom to open drawers and look through as many as 3,000 samples. John Thomas Mead, who runs his retail operation from the third floor of an office building, operates with almost 100 percent alloy samples.

Branham’s Jewelers Treasured Memories Room is used as a dressing room for bridal parties.

Branham’s Jewelers Treasured Memories Room is used as a dressing room for bridal parties.

About half of sales represent custom rings made in house. Staff members are trained to be able to quote a custom job, no matter how complicated it may be, on the spot. A window in the wall between the showroom and design shop allows clients to watch jewelers create their dream piece and try on the wax created by the shop’s rapid prototype 3D printer.

Mead travels to Antwerp each year to hand select diamonds for clients, and each client receives a personalized video of the selection process along with a box of diamond-shaped Belgian chocolates.

Whatever the brick-and-mortar engagement experience, it’s designed to establish a relationship. That starts with respect.

“I respect my clients and their money,” says Jo Goralski of the Jewelry Mechanic in Oconomowoc, WI. “I can make margin on my custom work while saving my clients a ton of money. So we say, ‘Yes.’ ‘Yes, we will use your $2,000-an-ounce family gold.’ ‘Yes, we would love to incorporate your family diamonds.’ It keeps folks coming through my door.”

At a recent staff meeting, Kristi Widmar of Rasmussen Diamonds in Racine, WI, reflected on the importance of what her brick-and-mortar store has to offer.

“I always seem to get bent out of shape when someone comes at us with a ridiculously priced diamond that they found somewhere else. But then I think of what else we offer.

The team at John Thomas Jewelers presents an approachable front.

The team at John Thomas Jewelers presents an approachable front.

“If you were buying a brand new car, and the sales associate told you that if you paid just a little bit more right up front, you could have all the basic maintenance done on the car for free for as long as you own it, and you could come and get it professionally cleaned as often as you’d like for free, would you pay the extra? I’d be surprised if anyone turned that down. Basically, this is what we do. When you start to look at things from that kind of perspective, there really is no choice. Our guests cannot find a better deal somewhere else, and we can feel confident in that.”

It all adds up, says Joe Kirk of Kirk & Co. Jewelers in Milford, OH. “What sets us apart is how easy we make it for the client, especially the men who are coming in with no jewelry buying experience,” he says.

Design consultations are very relaxed. “We walk them through our process and tell them what to expect and let them decide if they want to lead or if they want us to lead. We never pressure a client to go over their budget, we tell them what they can get within their budget, and if they say they want bigger or better, then and only then do we show them the next level up.”

Included are appraisals, sketches, CAD renders, 3D wax models and photos of the piece.

“People are very comforted to hear that we will do the first sizing free, that they can come back as many times as they want for a free cleaning and to check that their stones are all secure, that we will rhodium-plate the ring for free for the first five years, etc.

“There’s not really any one thing we do to make it special. It’s a lot of little things that add up to a great experience.”

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Modernize
the Mind-Set

Elevating the experience also means recognizing an ever-expanding demographic in search of wedding jewelry. With that in mind, is it even OK to call it “bridal” anymore?

Difficult as the adjustment might be, it’s worth it to make the switch from bridal to “engagement” and “wedding.” “The word bridal is so ingrained, but changing terminology is the kind of sea change that will be beneficial,” says Cutler. “Make sure you’re not making assumptions. Try using the word ‘partner.’ These small things do go a long way.”

Why change, you ask? Perhaps a better question is this: Why exclude many customers, when anyone could be in the market for a wedding or engagement ring? It’s not just brides-to-be who are wearing engagement jewelry in 2022.

Severine Ferrari founded Engagement.com.

Severine Ferrari founded Engagement.com.

In fact, customers are more interested than ever in exchanging engagement rings, says Severine Ferrari, founder of Engagement 101. Moreover, some brides-to-be are proposing first to their would-be grooms. Others are selecting and even collecting multiple rings — engagement, wedding, and more engagement and wedding rings — to create a personalized stack. Of course, if retail jewelers recognize and promote these trends, it can mean selling many more rings of all types.

Chuck Kuba, owner of Iowa Diamond in Des Moines, IA, says selling two engagement rings to a couple, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, is a win-win almost beyond what he considered to be possible when he started out in the business. And word spreads. “They know when you’re not being judgmental,” Kuba says. “We treat everyone the same, and I think that’s why we get so many same-sex couples and non-binary couples.”

Ferrari suggests working to abolish the stigma associated with women proposing to men, while empowering them.

“Same-sex relationships were the trailblazers in double proposals, and now there are lots of double proposals,” Ferrari says. “Look at your blogs, your marketing, and make sure you are not too gender specific. Use the terms ‘your partner’ or ‘the person you love’; you can’t assume girlfriend or
boyfriend.”

Then, stock rings and watches that will work as engagement jewelry for a variety of people. That includes thicker, wider mountings for men with emerald cut or trillion cut diamonds. Reimagine signet and cigar-band style rings. “This is not a status quo generation,” Ferrari says. For non-traditional center stones, Montana sapphires, emeralds and blue and pink lab-grown diamonds are popular.

Jamie Hollier of Balefire Goods in Arvada, CO, presents all jewelry as unisex. “We believe everyone should be able to wear jewelry that brings them
joy, regardless of how others may label it.”

WEND Jewelry’s founder, Wendy Woldenberg, makes wedding rings in Seattle that are not gendered. “The jewelry industry is traditionally very gendered, but WEND is about what resonates with you.”

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Women Influence
the Purchase

With more women becoming engaged in their 30s than ever before, they are deeply involved not only in ring selection but also in budgeting for their own engagement rings as part of an established couple who may already be sharing a home, Ferrari says. “This change may mean the budget gets tighter as the more mature couple prioritizes buying a home. But the ring upgrade may come sooner than it used to come.”

Women are more involved in the selection process. They have had time to develop their own style; they know what they like.

Angela Karaguezian, CEO of Kirk Kara, who works with retailers during Kirk Kara trunk shows, suggests asking clients for a Pinterest board or photos of three or four favorites. That gives the customer who will be proposing the confidence to choose or design a more intricate and unique style than a safe solitaire. She also advises retailers to show off as much selection as possible from brands they carry on their website and make sure those styles are updated regularly.

Bettencourt spends a lot of time on Pinterest and Instagram and sets a Google alert for celebrity engagements so she can anticipate what customers
will be asking for. “When I understand exactly what they are describing, it gives the customer a big confidence boost,” she says.

Patricia Carruth, owner of Your Personal Jeweler in Detroit, a panelist at JCK Talks in Las Vegas in June, says when it comes to custom, although 90 percent of couples shop together, the ring recipient generally wants to be surprised by something, perhaps the addition of a sentimental detail to the ring.

Carruth says preferred styles among her shoppers include halo and baguette accents and fancy cut stones.

Privacy, at L. Priori, left, and in Kesslers’ row of booths.

Privacy, at L. Priori, left, and in Kesslers’ row of booths.

Shelley Brown, fashion and marketing director of the Knot Worldwide, says The Knot’s latest survey reveals that the median spent on engagement rings is $6,000. Preferred diamond shapes are round, 45 percent; oval, 19 percent (up from 11 percent in just one year); followed by pear, emerald and marquise, all of which are increasingly popular. Preferred alternative center stones are sapphire, morganite, aquamarine and moissanite.

It’s a good idea, Brown says, to make the wedding band part of the engagement ring design plan. Let your clients know what style band the engagement ring will work with, and better yet, design it to fit perfectly. It needn’t be an afterthought, and you can close the wedding band sale at the same time you sell the engagement ring.

Ferrari says salt-and-pepper diamonds, colored gemstones and lab-grown diamonds are all increasingly popular. Pear shapes are showing up everywhere and gaining some ground over oval.

Men want more diamonds and more texture in their own rings.

Kuba has 800 ring styles in stock. Among traditional male/female couples he sees, 85 percent of women do visit the store, either solo, with their boyfriends, or with friends. Kuba and team set aside at least 90 minutes to find out what she likes and determine her interests, hobbies and employment. An equestrian, for example, would be steered away from micro-diamonds or micro-prongs.

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If the couple visits together, Kuba wants to know the budget up front, sometimes asking the guy to write it down on a piece of paper.

“We don’t want to show anything to her that she will fall in love with that will far exceed the budget,” Kuba says. “The really good thing about that is they never ask the price after that. It takes them out of the realm of how much would it cost online and what does it cost compared to another ring.

“If you take it out of that realm, I can show her hundreds of rings and many diamonds, and she can pick anything that I show her.”

If the couple wants an element of surprise, the groom-to-be can select one of her top three or five favorite options.

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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Celebrate Your Retirement with Wilkerson

For nearly three decades, Suzanne and Tom Arnold ran a successful business at Facets Fine Jewelry in Arlington, Va. But the time came when the Arnolds wanted to do some of the things you put off while you’ve got a business to run. “We decided it was time to retire,” says Suzanne, who claims the couple knew how to open a store, how to run a store but “didn’t know how to close a store.” So, they hired Wilkerson to do it for them. When she called, Suzanne says Wilkerson offered every option for the sale she could have hoped for. Better still, “the sale exceeded our financial goals like crazy,” she says. And customers came, not only to take advantage of the going-out-of-business buys and mark-downs, but to wish a bon voyage to the beloved proprietors of a neighborhood institution. “People were celebrating our retirement, and that was so special,” says says.

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