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OMI Gems President Builds Rock Star Following as a Jewelry Designer

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Niveet Nagpal, above, and at far left, has become a personal jewelry adviser to clients of Ben Bridge Jewelers in El Paso, TX, thanks to skillful relationship-building at trunk shows.

WHEN MARY TODD-MCGINNIS, a Ben Bridge Jewelers vice-president, caught a glimpse in a trade magazine of an opal ring designed by Niveet Nagpal, president and head designer of Omi Privé, she was struck by its beauty and got on the phone immediately. This, despite the fact she’s not a buyer for the flagship store in El Paso, TX. 

First, she asked the store’s sales associates if they thought they had a customer for this distinctive piece. When they enthusiastically said yes, she called Omi Privé. Although the wholesale company was on its way to exhibit in Las Vegas, she convinced them to send it to her and if it didn’t sell immediately, she’d return it in time for the show.

Ring in hand days later, a sales associate called an opal-loving customer, who had never spent more than $800 on a piece of jewelry before. But she was so entranced by this one-of-a-kind opal ring that she wrote a check for $16,000 on the spot.

“It struck me that you don’t always know what you need before you see it,” Todd-McGinnis says. “As jewelers, our job is to create those wants and needs.”

Before long, she invited Nagpal, who has won multiple prestigious jewelry-design awards, to preside over two-day Omi Privé trunk shows at the store. The magic continued. Now he appears regularly and has developed close relationships with many of the store’s best customers, who have suddenly developed unprecedented deep pockets.

Todd-McGinnis realized that she needed to build excitement and create events to drive traffic into the store, which is in a strip mall. The trunk show was called “Night With Niveet,” and Nagpal quickly became a rock star of gemology and jewelry design in El Paso.

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“He has become quite a celebrity among our cadre of customers who attend,” she says. “They want to hear about how he acquired a certain gemstone. They get one-on-one time with him and with our sales associates, and with me. And we talk about the craftsmanship involved. It builds the value of the pieces.”

Nagpal stays in touch with his El Paso “groupies” by text and phone at all hours and knows what’s going on in their lives. “It’s not just a business transaction. There’s an emotional connection,” he says.

There’s lore and legend associated with the events. One customer, who had a bit too much to drink, loved the jewelry so much that she almost left the store with about a million dollars worth of rings on her fingers. But eight months later, she bought her first Niveet original.

Nagpal even made a pendant to commemorate a husband and two cats. The customer originally wanted the ashes of her loved ones made into a diamond. But once Nagpal suggested incorporating the couple’s wedding bands into a pendant designed around a colored gemstone he chose for her — with symbolism that honored both cats and husband — she was happy to change her plans.

Nagpal said the relationship he has been able to develop directly with consumers drives sales for the store. Before attending a “Night With Niveet,” none of these customers had ever spent more than $5,000 for a piece of jewelry. Now, inspired by their friendship with a rock-star designer, they regularly spend $20,000 to $40,000. One sale was over $100,000.

Their attitude about buying jewelry has completely changed.

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“Usually, they would come shopping for a gift or occasion with a number in mind,” Nagpal says. “But once they begin to understand the value and the rarity of the pieces, it becomes a very personal thing. It changes their mind-set. It’s more about what speaks to them, a custom piece, a gemstone, a piece already made. It’s an emotional attachment.”

His success working with customers in El Paso is based on communication, trust, honesty, and a great working relationship with the store.

Scenes from “Night With Niveet” at Ben Bridge Jewelers.

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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Best of The Best

Milwaukee Jeweler Launches Diversity Internship Program

Store owner was inspired by mentoring program for underprivileged teen girls.

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TOM DIXON, owner of Schwanke-Kasten Jewelers in Milwaukee, like many a jewelry storeowner, is frequently asked for donations to community causes. Often, he’d respond by donating a piece of jewelry. But the whole process lacked a cohesive goal and sometimes fell short of expectations.

“It seems sometimes like we’re spinning our wheels, giving things to people who maybe need it, but in general it tends to be more affluent groups asking for donations. I thought, let’s re-evaluate it and do something that’s meaningful with underfunded projects in Milwaukee where we can really make a difference.”

Dixon devised a framework for donations with the acronym EACH to benefit initiatives in the areas of education, arts, community and health. “Instead of giving everyone who asks $100 or $1,000, we can start a foundation and contribute some meaningful time and value and sweat equity.”

Dixon also believes there’s a racial divide in the city and a lack of diversity in the jewelry industry. The racial divide hit home when his store made national news in 2015. Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson told the media he’d been racially profiled when he visited the store to look at a Rolex. Due to what Dixon describes as a misunderstanding with police about Henson’s dealer license plate and a series of suspicious calls around the same time of the pro basketball player’s visit, employees decided not to use the buzzer system to open the door and instead called the police.

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Dixon says everything possible went wrong leading up to that fateful moment, and other jewelry storeowners have told him it could easily happen to them, too.

“It was a circumstantial situation,” Dixon says. “We apologized. That was never in our hearts. But it made us want to say, ‘Here are the things we’re doing to try to make a change.’”

He wants to make a difference not only in the community but also in the jewelry industry by cultivating potential local talent. So he launched a paid internship program to reach out to young people of diverse backgrounds, who wouldn’t normally apply for jobs in his store. The focus is on young college women looking for summer jobs.

He teamed up with Milwaukee-based PEARLS for Teen Girls, which he describes as the most inspiring, remarkable organization he’s encountered. Last year, the group mentored 1,618 underprivileged girls across all racial and ethnic groups. Of the young women in the program, 100 percent graduated high school and were on track for college. PEARLS stands for Personal Responsibility, Empathy, Awareness, Respect, Leadership and Support. One of the important goals of the organization is to prevent teen pregnancy.

Dixon is working with Danita Bush, college and career readiness manager for PEARLS, who supports girls and young women as they navigate job, college and scholarship applications.
Dixon offered two paid internships this past summer to graduates of the PEARLS program.

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PEARLS will help him reach out to young women who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to the jewelry industry. Dixon can offer sophisticated training in cooperation with high-end brand partners that include Roberto Coin and Rolex. He’d also be interested in sending interns to the GIA for education if they express a serious interest in pursuing jewelry as a career.

“Maybe we’ll get someone who really sticks and becomes part of our staff,” he says. “I’m open to finding artistic people to learn watchmaking or goldsmithing.”

“When I go to trade shows, I notice the lack of diversity. It’s an issue that we have got to deal with. I’m going to try to deal with it in my own world, here.”

Schwanke-Kastan Jewelers in Milwaukee.

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How Three Retailers Go the Extra Mile for Bridal Customers

Jewelry retailers go the extra mile for wedding customers.

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Lock ‘em Up and Throw Away the Key Fakier Jewelers, Houma, LA

When Greg Fakier and his family designed their elegant new destination store in Houma, LA, (an honorable mention winner in the 2018 America’s Coolest Stores contest), one thing that appealed to them about the central downtown location was that it looked out over a Louisiana bayou. The location inspired the Fakiers to build a pergola overlooking the water, which is a romantic location for engagements and associated champagne toasts. They also built a gate to which couples could attach engraved locks to commemorate their love. After attaching the locks, couples hurl their keys into the water as part of the sentimental ritual. Since the store opened, Fakier has also invited couples who shopped for their rings in the past to participate. Everyone who attended the grand opening joined in the fun, too. The practice is inspired by the European custom of attaching “love locks” to public objects, most often bridges, fences and gates. The store’s design has a European flair, as well.

During the store’s grand opening, Greg and Manon Fakier invited everyone to try out the pergola. 


The Book of Love Mark Michael Diamond Designs, Maple Grove, MN

Mark Michael travels to Antwerp, Belgium twice a year with the IJO buying group. While there, he personally selects diamonds for clients who ask him to find the perfect centerpiece for their engagement ring or new jewelry design. Two years ago, he decided to make the experience even more intimate by taking photos of the diamond buying process for each client. The team then creates a 20-page personalized hard cover book featuring the story of their diamond and presents it as a gift to the couple with their diamond once it is set. The personalized approach adds an extra layer of customization to the diamond-buying experience, which customers have appreciated. With 83 Google reviews and a five-star rating, they’re doing something right!

 

Mark Michaels chooses diamonds for his customers during an IJO buying trip to Antwerp.


Design Cents Caleesi Designs Jewelers, Austin, TX

Caleesi Designs is known for its can-do spirit and customization. Usually, customers bring in heirloom diamonds to incorporate into engagement rings. But sometimes, custom requests can be more challenging. Owner Stephan Werbeck recently was asked to incorporate into an engagement ring a quarter that had been flattened by a train. The couple had tossed a quarter onto the train tracks during their first date and retrieved it after it was smashed. That coin then acquired symbolic, sentimental significance. The customer is a machinist, who made the ring out of steel. Werbeck was then able to inlay the edges of the quarter into the ring shank. Because the resulting effect was coppery, he used a rose-gold bezel to complement the quarter. He also sold them a diamond for the center. “It turned out to be stunning and it meant a lot to them,” Werbeck says. “I didn’t know what to expect, but they were beyond happy that it all came together the way it did.”

Stephen Werbeck inlaid the edge of a smashed quarter into an engagement ring at his customer’s request. 

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You Won’t Believe the Smoking New Concept That Has Clients Flocking to This Jewelry Store

Stucki’s humidor fires up jewelry-shopping experience for guys.

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James Arbaugh traded his office for a humidor.

What do shoppers want to find in a jewelry store? Experts say they’re looking for an experience and an interesting story. At Stucki’s in Grass Valley, CA, men are finding both in a surprising new way.

James Arbaugh, owner of Stucki Jewelers with his wife, Nicole, gave up his office to move onto the sales floor and streamline his work routines. This left some space in need of a purpose. So they transformed the former office into an in-store humidor and created an extraordinary experience in the process. Christened the Phoenix Humidor, it’s become an entry point for affluent customers.

Results have been impressive in terms of increased foot traffic, a social-media bonanza and word-of-mouth enthusiasm. “What we found is it brings our customers in multiple times, even on a weekly basis,” James says. In the first six months, the inventory had a full turn. Within 12 months, cigar sales will cover the cost of inventory and renovation.

There are lots of good story-telling opportunities to go with the venture. For one thing, Stucki’s has been around since 1904 and in its current location since 1978. The humidor is named Phoenix, with a nod to the history of the building, which was once the Phoenix Drug Store. Arbaugh was able to acquire the original circa 1930 store sign. Customers have brought him a collection of local Gold Rush matchbooks from the early 20th century, which add to the sense of place.

Cigars, James says, are traditionally given as gifts to celebrate the same kinds of moments marked by jewelry — the birth of a child, or a holiday, for example.

The Arbaughs built up their business in cigar accessories, such as lighters and cutters and travel cases. Staff can easily design personalized bachelor party gift sets featuring cigars, engraved decanters, glasses or lighters.

Stucki’s partners with wineries and vineyards for cigar and wine pairing parties and classes, providing more opportunities for storytelling and creating memorable experiences.

The humidor has been advertised through social media, along with word of mouth and direct email marketing to a list of customers who have attended events. Phoenix has its own web page, phoenixhumidor.com, for collecting emails and sending out invitations and news of product launches.

“We have already seen so many jewelry sales because men who had never been in our jewelry store before came in for cigars,” says Nicole. “The momentum and energy that the Phoenix has generated for Stucki has been beyond our expectations.”

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