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Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution

Imaginative concepts modernized the jewelry retail experience.

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What’s the value of a good idea?

In the rapidly changing landscape of jewelry retail, your good idea could revitalize your business, if you have the vision and courage to put it into action.

In 1998, it was a commonly held belief that by 2019 we’d be driving flying cars. Little did we know that the cars wouldn’t (yet) be flying, but rather that we wouldn’t be driving them. Autonomous cars — highlighted in recent Consumer Electronics Shows — are poised to disrupt an industry that hasn’t changed much since the first combustion engine was added to a push cart in 1808.

Our point is this: progress is inevitable. Change is a part of life, and our industry, much like the automobile industry, is on the verge of an evolution. The independent retail jeweler has the opportunity to be a self-driving car… or a horse-drawn buggy.

On the following pages, you’ll find examples of how innovators with a variety of different backgrounds are experimenting with their own good ideas to embrace change in jewelry retail. Read up. Be inspired. The (r)evolution is now.


Rony Vardi

Customers Commit to Catbird

Catbird — the Brooklyn, NY, jewelry boutique with the reputation for appealing to the coolest of celebrities (Meghan Markle, for one) and blowing up trends like stackable rings, multi-stud earrings and delicately layered necklaces — introduced an idea last year that appeals to its most loyal of followers: jewelry you can’t take off. Really.

The retailer is selling a Forever Bracelet, a barely there 14K gold chain bracelet for $94, that solders directly onto the wrist. The custom-size chains are available at Catbird’s Welding Annex in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood.

It’s inspired by the idea that many women have favorite pieces they never want to remove. Rony Vardi, Catbird founder and creative director, told Elle Magazine that she never takes off her Catbird Greco Lariat, for example.

“For years, we had been playing with the concept of permanent jewelry,” says Sriya Karumanchi, manager of marketing and communications for Catbird. “Once we acquired a set of welders for our studio, we started to experiment. In the beginning, it was just our jewelers zapping each other and the rest of our staff. Now, almost all of us have a permanent chain on our wrist.”

The idea of offering the jewelry to Catbird’s customers was brewing for some time, Karumanchi says. “We tested it with a ‘one night only’ event a year ago — and that had a really big turnout. Seeing that this was something people wanted from us, we were able to build out a welding annex space that’s open Friday through Sunday.” During the soft opening, they welded about 30 bracelets within a few hours.

“The jewelers who weld the bracelets are also in-house bench jewelers, so they really merge that piece for us: a behind-the-scenes process that is now part of a customer-facing experience.”

Catbird is ethically minded, and boasts cool brick-and-mortar locations and seamless online shopping. Everything a millennial (and her younger sister, too) dreams of.

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Jennifer Farnes

Profit Sharing Sparks Jewelry Revolution Jewelry Works

Jennifer Farnes, founder of Revolution Jewelry Works in Colorado Springs, CO, is an innovator across the board — in operations, marketing and customer service. But she points to profit-sharing as the best idea she’s implemented. “It’s shocking to me that businesses (of any kind) are still operating on a commission basis. Profit sharing makes the dynamic of my business completely about the end-goal for everyone under my roof. We celebrate wins together, joke about weird situations, feel loss, and work as a complete unit for each client that comes through the door. If we make the clients happy, and make money, then at the end of the year we all reap the benefit of doing good work.”

“Other business owners look at me like I have a third eye when I explain our profit-sharing structure, except one local restauranteur who adopted my model exactly. He is opening his third restaurant in five years, solely with the profits from the businesses he already is running under my model.”

Revolution Jewelry Works specializes in custom design with an average sale of $1,200. Farnes believes strongly in spending 15 percent of gross income on advertising — with a priority on movie theater advertising as well as radio and TV, but only stations her team listens to. She also runs a business that is completely transparent to her staff, and treats them well — offering paid time off, a 401K plan and competitive salaries, which, not too surprisingly, keeps them around. “We have lost only one employee to a job change,” she says.

Those strategies are working for Farnes, who reports that in 2016, 2017 and 2018, Revolution Jewelry Works was recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in Colorado. While only six years old, the company has exceeded $1 million annually in revenue and so far is realizing sales that are 45 percent up over last year. ”My opinion is; if you’re not succeeding, you’re doing it wrong,” she says.


Soha and Aubree Javaherian

Soha Is A Different Way to Diamond

Retailers Soha and Aubree Javaherian are not working in a huge market in Madison, WI. On the other hand, Madison’s residents tend to be young and open to new ideas, such as the ideas that propel Soha Diamond Co., a self-funded startup with no employees.

Soha Diamond Co. is a click-and-mortar design studio that sells only laboratory-grown diamonds. It’s opposite, Soha says, from what most other jewelers do: “Usually they build a beautiful store and take a lot of pride in it — and the website is an afterthought.”

To build their company, though, Soha and Aubree launched their website first. Although it was up and running by the fall of 2017, it took 18 months to build their e-commerce site to the point that they considered it to be polished, presentable and functional enough to begin building credibility.

Then came the appointment-only design studio, which they opened in an office building. “We find about 50 percent of sales comes from each — half from the design studio and half from online sales. The biggest challenge we have in Madison is that it’s not very common to find a jeweler in an office building. It’s a brand-new building in a nice new part of downtown, but our name is not on the outside of the building. So we are really reliant on the web.”

Soha is a graduate gemologist and a 10th-generation jeweler whose last name means “family of jewelers.” Aubree has a background in wedding planning. They’ve also found success getting out of the office to meet potential clients at wedding trade shows and expos.

When they meet customers in their office, Soha and Aubree can tell from their body language if they are a little hesitant. “We don’t put any pressure on them,” Soha says. “There are no physical products they can buy and walk away with. Everything we do, no matter how nominal, we are making it to order. Generally, our clients are relieved.”

An integral part of their strategy was to sell only lab-grown diamonds, moissanite and lab-grown colored gems. “For us, it’s a very technical sale. We have to go out of our way to describe what these items are, and what their value is. We didn’t want to be a jack-of-all-trades.”

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DUSTIN LEMICK

Third-Gen Jeweler Modernizes Appraisal Process

Dustin Lemick is a third-generation jeweler who became frustrated by what he sees as a lack of in-store technology in the jewelry business. After he earned his graduate gemologist certification, he found himself in charge of appraisals and claim replacements for insurance companies. “I realized there are some serious issues here. Communication between the insurance companies and customers was horrible.”

After talking with other jewelers, he came to believe it was an industry-wide problem. “Appraisals haven’t changed in forever, and retail jewelers are getting left behind on the technology front,” Lemick says.

So, together with partners, he launched Briteco, a business concept wherein a new type of personal-jewelry insurance is tied to a user-friendly appraisal software program. He began his efforts by moonlighting after hours, but after a few months, it became clear he had to either make it a full-time enterprise or let it go. He considers his decision to go for it to be one of the best he’s made in his career. “We built a full-fledged insurance company with notable investors and an incredible insurance partner in 48 states and D.C. I hope to launch with approval in every single state.”

The software is intuitive, fast, and it really works, he says. “It’s designed by jewelers, so we completely understand how this needs to function.”

It’s free to qualified jewelers. Algorithms will give jewelers guides for what the pricing of the appraisal should be. Once jewelers complete the appraisal with an easy-to-use online form, the consumer is sent a text message and an email saying, “Don’t forget you need insurance.” They click on a link to get insurance, go through four short screens answering questions that take two to three minutes, and they then have A-rated insurance.

“I believe that millennials and gen Zs still want to go into stores,” Lemick says. “They just want technology to help assist in the process.”


Justin and Heather Knapp

Markette Six Creates Online Store For Designers

Justin and Heather Knapp worked for Apple for years, traveling to launch iPhones in 60 countries. That globe-hopping led them to begin a treasure hunting habit, bringing home collectible souvenirs, which often took the form of gems and jewelry.

Inspired, they decided to strike out on their own to create an online treasure-hunting experience of their own, and recently launched Markette Six, a secure marketplace to sell one-of-a-kind pieces, including jewelry, watches and gemstones. The platform aims to support jewelry designers in telling their brand stories, while being supported by the Knapps, who bring their branding knowledge to the jewelry industry. The site is clean, structured and replete with layered storytelling. “Jewelry is a personal reflection of who you are, whereas online is impersonal. It’s hard to have people trust you,” Justin says. “Storytelling can make all the difference.”

The goal is to let the pieces speak for themselves. Navigation and design are inspired by the aesthetic of sites like Design Within Reach and Lonely Planet.
Markette Six is targeting small- to medium-sized designers for its platform. “We’re looking for originality,” Justin says. “They’ve created a brand and stories about why they have designed what they have designed. Sometimes, they are one of a kind, but always they are things that have stories and will speak in an online setting. You become more emotionally invested when you know the designer and the story behind the piece itself.”

Markette Six holds the funds on behalf of the buyer, notifies the designer of the purchase, and the designer sends the piece to Markette Six. Every piece is received by Markette Six and evaluated by an independent lab in Portland, OR, for authenticity. “That’s a very important step for us to make sure they feel comfortable buying online,” Heather says. “Designers can decide if they allow for returns, and if a client does return it, it is sent back to the lab to make sure it is still authentic and not damaged. We’re never going to hand a customer over to the designer to deal with or vice versa.”

They launched in November 2018, about 19 months after devising a business plan. “Our biggest focus is building the relationships, finding the right partners and building those partnerships that will grow with us,” Heather says.

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THOMAS MANN

Cool Store Winner Packs His Bag And Goes Home

In 2018, Thomas Mann sold his Magazine Street buildings, closing the New Orleans location that landed him on the cover of INSTORE with a 2016 America’s Coolest Stores win. The next step in his revolutionary jewelry career was to regroup into his own home, which contains his shop, gallery and party space. He even shares his kitchen with gallery guests.

He has created an interactive experience where jewelry display and artwork are integrated into living and dining areas. “Because the gallery space is tiny, we’re going to turn every space into exhibition space. Even the decor is for sale,” he says. Every detail of his gallery is an expression of his design aesthetic, from the jewelry furniture and displays he designed and built himself, to the work of other jewelry artists he selectively curates.

His staff comes and goes, often arriving while Mann is still asleep. “People bring their dogs. It has a homey feel. This is where we live and work. There’s no curtain between the two.”

Angele Seiley, who runs the business and marketing side of the operation, says visitors are delighted when Mann comes out of his workshop, meets them in the gallery and then shows them around the space.

Before he moved, he had watched foot traffic decline in his former Magazine Street location. Now, an estimated 10,000 cars a day pass by on busy Tchoupitoulas Street, which connects the Central Business District with Uptown New Orleans.

Mann, a jewelry artist, sculptor and painter, has operated on the cutting edge of art-jewelry design for decades, inventing a distinctive style that initially incorporated found objects into his designs. “I came up with a peculiar look at the right time and the right place for an audience that was ready to receive it,” Mann says. “I wanted to make it as technically fulfilling as possible at a price that most people could afford.”

More Revolutionary Ideas
From Retailers on the Cutting Edge

Clicks, Bricks and Custom Keep Green Lake Growing

Green Lake Jewelry Works’ entire business model represents a retail revolution. Owner Jim Tuttle replaced traditional sales staff with artists who consult with clients to create custom engagement rings in colorful stores with bench jewelers visible behind walls of glass. That design conversation sometimes begins and often continues online, where shoppers are invited to use a personal design page with a collection of notes, quotes, inspiration ideas and contact information for the designer with whom they worked. They can pick up where they left off the following week or even in the next year. They incorporate live chat, reviews, engagement stories, video-sharing services and a thorough explanation of the custom process into a digital presentation optimized for mobile display. The next step is to engage the customer through a design blog staffed by artists. Both locations, in Seattle and Bellevue, WA, also employ full-time photographers to shoot finished goods, loose gems, wax models, sketches and stages of work, which can be shown to online and in-store clients. Whether online or in-store, design is a carefully considered process. Most in-store customers visit five times.


For D&H Jewelers, Seeing is Believing

Partners Shawn Higgins and Lindsay Daunell founded D&H Jewelers in San Francisco in 2011 on a commitment to sustainability and responsible sourcing. For the building, they used LED lighting, bamboo walls and recycled doors, restored the wood floors and made displays from discarded material. The sycamore bar top was salvaged from a construction site. Sourcing presented more of a challenge. Higgins and Daunell personally verify every source of jewelry, gold or gemstones. They have traveled to mines in Botswana and Sri Lanka and manufacturers in Canada to verify ethical claims. Ninety percent of their gold is reclaimed from consumer electronics.


At Cut Fine, the Emphasis is on Quality and Yes, Cut

Matthew Patton and his wife, Evan, set out to appeal to the youthful bridal market of Baton Rouge, LA. Their goal from the beginning was to sell the best-cut diamonds and gemstones they could find and showcase them in the highest quality settings they could buy or manufacture. The name of the store offers the opportunity to educate customers about the importance of cut when assessing a diamond’s quality. About 80 percent of the business is custom engagement rings. Now Matthew, a pocket knife collector, has started a second brand, a business called Slice, to sell high-end custom pocket knives almost entirely online. They sell for $1,500 to $16,000 and are made to order by expert knife makers all around the world. “There are only a few countries we haven’t shipped knives to,” Matthew says.


Marks Jewelers Turns Store Design Upside Down

Marks Jewelers in Montgomeryville, PA, completely reimagined the layout of the traditional large jewelry store with the location it designed and debuted in 2016. Each unusual feature of the 15,000 square foot store is designed with a practical reason behind it. The Diamond Diner, for example, affords couples a comfortable, intimate way of choosing a ring at the same time it creates a more effective selling environment. Shoppers are seated in booths, and diamonds are both safe and easily accessible for showing. The gem lab is on a “stage” that is three steps taller than the booths, so the diamond manager can keep tabs on what’s happening in the booths, keep an eye on the movement of diamonds and assist in the sale as needed. It’s resulted in a higher closing ratio, say owners Jim and Dareen Brusilovsky. Also innovative are the spacious fashion lounge, where shoppers can relax and enjoy a drink, and multi-purpose modular cases that can be reconfigured for trunk shows and other events.


Embedded Consultant Shares What He Learned at Mucklow’s

Rod Worley manages Peachtree City, GA’s Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry as a successful business for owner Robert Mucklow, who has retired from the day-to-day business. But Mucklow’s is also a laboratory for Worley, who has used the store to test innovations in marketing, merchandising and management and now shares his insights with other retailers on a contract basis.

Worley is president of consulting company Four Grainer LLC and host of “Inside the Jewelry Trade Radio Show”.

Worley developed a community-outreach program based on charitable giving, through which all marketing funds are channeled with the goal of getting people in the door. It’s worked so well that Worley wrote a book about it — A Reason To Chant — and created a portfolio of marketing and management options that he shares with other retailers on a contract basis. Four Grainer sets up the program, trains the staff and contacts local 501(c)3 charities. Worley’s company also drives traffic to clients’ websites by establishing retailers as the thought leader for jewelry, bridal planning, women’s health, fashion and beauty. The ultimate service is total store management, which allows the owner to retire within 90 days while retaining complete ownership and drawing their salary. “We put a leader in place that has the skill set needed to grow the business and support that leader through continued training and supervision,” Worley says.


Bitcoin on the Bayou

David’s Antiques & Jewelry, owned and managed by Sharona Edly and her mother, Ester, in New Orleans, decided to start accepting Bitcoin as a means of payment in 2013. “We think it’s a revolution,” Ester says. “It’s a new, global currency, there’s no government behind it; it’s run by the people. We believe in the system and the idea behind it.” The store deals with people from all over the world, adds Sharona. “It’s pretty much like accepting cash, but even better because it cannot be counterfeited. It has low transaction fees and we enjoy the playfulness of it. Our first Bitcoin purchase was by someone who traveled from Austin, TX, specifically to buy his wife something using Bitcoin, an amber necklace for his wife.”

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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Cover Stories

The Big Survey 2019: Buying & Selling

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11. What are the three best performing brand-name jewelry lines that you carry?

COMMENT: Gabriel and Stuller made it a three-peat, claiming the top two spots in our rankings for the third year in a row.
2019 RANK / BRAND2018 RANKCHANGE IN RANK
1. Gabriel & Co. (64)1
2. Stuller (41)2
3. Allison-Kaufman (29)4up 1
4. Hearts On Fire (18)3down 1
5. Simon G. (15)20up 15
6 tie. Pandora (14)6
6 tie. Ostbye (14)10up 4
8 tie. John Hardy (13)9up 1
8 tie. Lashbrook (13)15up 7
10 tie. Benchmark (12)8down 2
10 tie. Frederic Duclos (12)11up 1
12 tie. Roberto Coin (11)23up 11
12 tie. Sylvie Collection (11)22up 10
12 tie. ASHI Diamonds (11)23up 11
15 tie. Berco (10)23up 8
15 tie. Tacori (10)outside top 25
17 tie. ArtCarved (9)7down 10
17 tie. Le Vian (9)outside top 25
17 tie. Officina Bernardi (9)outside top 25
17 tie. SDC Creations (9)15down 2
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12. What are the three best performing watch brands that you carry?

2019 RANK / WATCH BRAND2018 RANKCHANGE IN RANK
1. Citizen1
2. Seiko2
3. Rolex4up 1
4. Bulova3down 1
5. Belair5
6. Beringoutside top 25
7.Tag Heuer8up 1
8. Shinola 17up 9
9. Tissot7down 2
10. Breitling12up 2
11. Obaku 9down 2
12. Reactor 12
13. Omega 12down 1
14. Movado 10down 4
15 tie. Fossil17up 2
15 tie. Michele12down 3
15 tie. Oris15
15 tie. Victorinox Swiss Army10down 5
15 tie. Tudor 15
20 tie. Caravelle20
20 tie. G-Shock20
20 tie. Nomos 20
20 tie. Pulsar 6down 14

13. Excluding sapphires, what is your best­selling colored gemstone in terms of total sales value?

2019 RANK / WATCH BRAND2018 RANKCHANGE IN RANK
1. Ruby1
2. Emerald4up 2
3. Topaz3
4. Opal5up 1
5. Amethyst2down 3
6. Tanzanite7up 1
7.Tourmaline 6down 1
8. Aquamarine 8
9. Garnetoutside top 25outside top 25
10. Morganite9down 1
COMMENT: Just out of the top 10 in descending order were peridot, blue zircon, and pearls, all at just under 1%; “Others” accounted for about 3%
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14. As a store owner, what did you earn (salary + share of profit) last year?

COMMENT: Jewelers in the Southwest reported the highest income levels with 35% making $150,000 or more a year. Those in the Mid-Atlantic reported the lowest incomes with 37% making less than $40,000.

15. What were your total sales last year?

Less than $100,000
5%
$100,000-$249,999
9%
$250,000 to $499,999
20%
$500,000 to $999,999
26%
$1 million to $1,499,999
15%
$1.5 million to $2,999,999
13%
$3 million to $5 million
6%
More than $5 million
5%

16. What jewelry or watch brand would you most like to add to your cases?

The king lives: Rolex was the runaway choice for the most wished-for brand. Overall, watch brands were more desired by retailers, likely because those brands are more recognized by consumers due to massive marketing budgets. The most wanted jewelry brands were Gabriel & Co., David Yurman and Cartier, in that order, followed closely by designer Alex Sepkus.

  1. Rolex
  2. Tag Heuer
  3. Omega
  4. Patek Philippe
  5. Gabriel & Co.
  6. David Yurman
  7. Cartier, Citizen, Fossil, Tudor
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17. What do you think will be the next breakout category in jewelry?

Top 10 responses:

  1. Lab-created diamonds and finished jewelry. (“I think we are already seeing it and it is anything with laboratory-created diamonds.”)
  2. Yellow gold (“Yellow gold has been hot, but with the current prices I am not sure.”)
  3. Color (Also described as rare, exotic and bold. Spinel was mentioned more than once.)
  4. Silver (including silver fashion with lab-grown diamonds)
  5. Custom and custom bridal
  6. Stackable rings and bracelets
  7. Men’s jewelry (Fashion, engagement rings and precious metal wedding bands were mentioned.)
  8. Pearls
  9. Avant-garde or alternative bridal, including anything asymmetrical
  10. Pre-owned jewelry, including vintage jewelry, updated estate jewelry, repurposing old jewelry and restoration of a customer’s jewelry

Other ideas mentioned by more than one respondent:

  • Ania Haie jewelry
  • Basics (including solitaire studs, line bracelets and diamond hoops)
  • Tiara bands
  • Sturdier designs, such as heavy, weighted rings
  • Minimalist jewelry, especially earrings
  • Smart jewelry
  • Hand-made, artistically designed jewelry

General responses:

  • “Hell, I don’t know but I always sell a crap load of diamond studs and diamond wedding bands every Christmas, year after year.”
  • “Who cares? We are in the Midwest where trends come in slow. But everyone needs repairs and loves custom.”
  • “Please God, anything but another bracelet line. LOL.”

18. Jewelers remember sales for a wide variety of reasons. Sure, sometimes it’s a big sale, but more often, it’s the occasion or the circumstances of the purchase or the inspiration behind a custom piece that ensures the sale will always have a place in your memory.

special delivery. A black opal of exceptional quality showed up in my mail with the note to make a “large custom ring” in 18K gold. A regular customer just sent it and said, “Make me something beautiful.”

a meaningful gift. A farm couple celebrating their 50th anniversary bought a $150 10K gold and sapphire ring. The emotion of the couple was more rewarding than anything else. It was not much, but it was what they could afford. It was what it meant to them that was so special.

a son closes the sale. A 1-carat diamond for a 50th-wedding anniversary. The husband did not want to spend that much, and the son told him his mother was worth more per year than the cost of the ring. He paid cash on the spot.

a last wish. A first-time customer came into our store and told us that a friend had recommended us. She asked if we made jewelry on the premises and we told her that we did. She then showed us several pieces of gents’ jewelry that she had brought with her and asked if we could use both the stones and the gold to make new pieces. She needed several ladies and several gents’ pieces. If memory serves me correctly, 13 in total. We came up with the designs and she gave us the OK to proceed, provided we could finish all items in five days. She explained that she had just come from the hospital where she had been visiting her dying father and that he had given her the task of taking his jewelry and converting it into multiple pieces so that he could give each of his loved ones a piece to remember him by. Needless to say, this project took center stage and was completed on time. He died three days after he got to give his gifts. She has become not only a fantastic customer, but also a friend.

it’s personal. Both of my daughters’ engagement rings.

a sentimental favorite. The ones I sold to my wife before we started dating.

a wild request. A custom pendant to hold an elephant eyelash.

a bonus. A 5-carat diamond sold to a client to put into his ring. I took what I made from the sale and bought my dream car, a 1966 GTO trig power convertible.

a turning point. For three years running, a middle-aged couple, not married, came in during a local festival. They looked at stones and talked about a custom “not-wedding, not-engagement ring”. By the third year it had become a joke because they thought it was as unlikely that they would buy a ring as it was that they would get married. I got them very excited about a trilliant purple sapphire and made a custom ring. After they came to pick it up, he proposed on the steps outside the store. This is the only experience I have had where the process of shopping for jewelry was the turning point toward actual marriage.

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is this a practical joke? A dealer who bought six pieces I thought would be buried with me and who paid full price.

the best revenge. My best customer walks in and requests the most expensive item available to walk out with. When asked for what occasion she was buying this item, she says, “To teach my husband a lesson; he bought us a new tractor as our anniversary gift. Then he told me I wasn’t allowed to drive the new tractor. So, he will learn not to get me a gift I can’t use.”

a lasting lesson. I had just started in the business and an older gentleman walked in the store, not well dressed and not particularly well groomed, and wanted to look at something for his 25th anniversary. He was carrying a cigar box under his arm. Not being well trained but remembering the 25th was silver, I showed him several sterling pieces. I could tell we weren’t connecting, and he finally indicated he wanted something nicer. He picked out a beautiful white gold and diamond pendant worth 10 times what I was initially showing him. As he came to the counter to pay, he opened his cigar box. It was full of cash, from $1 bills to $100 bills. He had been saving money for years to pay for this piece. It is still one of the best sales lessons I’ve ever had!

a layaway legend. A gentleman put two rings on layaway ($79 and $89) for his wife and daughter for Christmas gifts. He paid $4 every week. They came in on the 26th to have them sized. They were so thrilled, you would have thought he had spent thousands.

the last gift. I recently had the opportunity to sell a custom designed ring to a gentleman who was about to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary. His wife had been battling cancer off and on for the last five years. She wasn’t doing too well. His 50th wedding anniversary was on the 29th of August. It was supposed to be done on the 22nd, so no concerns. I received a text asking me if we could bump up the due date to the 17th because his wife had taken a turn for the worse. I said we would have the ring ready. It wasn’t easy, and required some sacrifice from our team, but we made it happen. I delivered it to him on the 17th of August. He was happy to be able to give it to her at the big celebration that evening with family and friends. I just got word this morning (August 24th) that his dear wife passed away in her sleep last night. I am happy he got to give her this last gift with so much meaning and that we were able to be a part of it.

a beautiful gesture. A bracelet given to the widow of a suicide victim, engraved inside with the names of 20 friends and the phrase “may you always be surrounded by a circle of friends.”

a dream piece. A necklace I saw in a dream. I woke up, drew it, created the piece, called a customer in another state and told him his wife had to have it. He bought it and she loved it.

more for her money. A little girl about 5 years old with her piggy bank in hand, wanting to get her mom a diamond heart for Mother’s Day. She had just under $10 in coins. The project was completed just in time for Mother’s Day. Best sale ever!

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Big Survey

The Big Survey 2019: Big Data

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THE BIG SURVEY 2019

Big Data

Gabriel & Co. is king. Earnings for many jewelers have flat-lined. And customers — and almost as often staff — are still confounding. Those are some of the broad takeaways of the 2019 Big Survey. Dig in and enjoy our analysis of data provided by 802 North American jewelers.

Utah’s jewelers were most concerned about the impact of social media on their personal lives: 75% said it had been negative. In a possible related finding, Utah’s jewelers also checked review sites most regularly, doing it daily or every few days. Jewelers in Maine were the least likely to check what people were saying about them online.
California had the highest number of multiple-store owners: 23% had two stores and 3% had three or more.
Arizona led the way in e-ccommerce with 71% saying it contributed a moderate or substantial portion of their sales (meaning more than 10%).
Texas contributed the highest portion of big city stores to our survey (23%) among U.S. stores. (Canada actually had the most in North America at 29%.)
Wisconsin could possibly change its moniker to the Surprise State: Only 15% of its jewelers said their performance this year was in line with expectations. The rest were either doing better or worse than expected.
Jewelers in Iowa were most excited about lab-grown diamonds (63%), while jewelers in New York were most alarmed by their emergence (48%).
Canadian jewelers are most likely to be asked about a diamond’s origins (83% say it happens regularly) while in the U.S. it was California that holds that distinction (70%).
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1. How well is your business performing in 2019 compared to your expectations going into the year?

Far below expectations
2%
Below expectations
23%
In line with expectations
46%
Above expectations
24%
Way above expectations
5%

2. How many stores do you operate?

3. Where is your store located by region?

Northeast
17%
Mid Atlantic

 

5%
Midwest
31%
Southeast
21%
Southwest
9%
Mountain (Rocky Mountains)
4%
Northwest
(including Alaska)
3%
West (including Hawaii)
5%
Canada
5%
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Cover Stories

12 Imaginative Ways to Reach Today’s Fickle Holiday Customer

Ideas to make sure stressed out shoppers find your store … and what they’re looking for.

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Consider the holiday shopper: stressed, confused, possibly hungry and above all, in search of a friendly face.

What will that harried consumer find in your store? Solutions or more stress?

Make sure your store is a relaxed environment where shoppers know they can unwind, take their time, enjoy a snack and a drink, and find a cheerful someone to greet them immediately and help them ASAP.

“That in itself can make all the difference,” says Tammy Benda of Bottom Line Marketing, who reminds her retail-jewelry clients that the holiday hustle can be as overwhelming for shoppers as it is for retailers. Impersonal Internet shopping, although a convenience, is missing that human touch that only you, their personal shopper, can provide. “That’s very important during the holidays because you’re not just competing with other jewelry stores, but with purses, clothes, electronics, home improvement,” she says.

Here are some ideas to make sure those stressed out shoppers find your store and find what they’re looking for when they get there.

1Make it fun to visit. Have an ugly sweater contest among your staff and ask your customers to vote on a winner. Ask customers to submit their own ugly sweater photos on social media, Benda suggests.

2Feed them. Jennifer Farnes of Revolution Jewelry Works in Colorado Springs, CO, is planning a food-truck event. “Most highly rated food trucks have a big and loyal following on social media,” she says. “It’s a great way to promote local restaurateurs while exposing their regulars to our business. Also we are trying to put together a live music event featuring local individual musicians all day long, with hors d’oeuvres and drinks.”

3Spend money on social media to target not only your customers and their friends, but lookalike audiences as well. “A lot of businesses say ‘I have 10,000 followers on my Facebook page.’ But Facebook is not going to deliver your ads for free,” Benda says. “There is far less organic reach during the holidays than at any time of year because there is so much competition.

“Make sure everyone who goes to your site is retargeted. When they get to your website, follow them around and virtually say ‘I know you are looking for an engagement ring, this is why you should buy an engagement ring from us,’ and then list all of the reasons why buying that ring from you is the best choice.”

4Be human in your marketing. In other words, be the human being that that customer wants to come in and talk to. Have your staff appear in videos showing their favorite gifts under $500. Put a personality on your social media, a smile, a welcoming voice.

5Experiment. If you’ve always done things one way with middling results, consider trying it a different way. Tom Schowalter of Miners Den Jewelers in Royal Oak, MI, plans a big sales event each November to kickstart the holiday season. “In the past, we mailed over 20,000 direct mail cards; last year we did everything via email, text and Facebook and we got a bigger response.”

Lacey Madsen of Lacey’s Custom Jewelry in Bismarck, ND, has hosted ladies nights and men’s nights, as well as remounting, vintage and loose-gemstone events. This year, she experimented in September with a preview event, inviting customers in to help her select new holiday inventory.

Chris Wattsson of Wattsson & Wattsson Jeweler in Marquette, MI, is updating his holiday events, including the traditional ladies night. He’s found that wish-list conversions have been steadily declining, so this year’s event will target self-purchasing women and include a gift with purchase or a dollar amount off for a dollar amount spent. Soon after Christmas, he’s also planning a new event targeted at people who received jewelry online for Christmas and are looking for sizings and appraisals.

6Start early. Ellen Hertz, owner of Max’s Jewelry in St. Louis Park, MN, is scheduling all of her holiday trunk shows in November this year to capture holiday shopping dollars earlier. “One of the things I’ve heard a few too many times is somebody coming in for an event toward the end of the year, and saying, ‘Oh, I wish I had known, I already got a present for my wife or girlfriend or daughter.’ I don’t want to hear that anymore. So I’m going to jump start the holiday season. I’m not going to be obnoxious and horrible by putting out the glass ornaments and cards that we sell before Halloween, but Nov. 1 is turning into holidays in the store.”

7Save some energy for the homestretch. Try as you might to encourage early shoppers, it’s hard to change habits, Benda says. “Those last three days — Dec. 22, 23 and 24 — are going to be the craziest days no matter what you do.”

In addition to those seven tips, here are 12 more inspirational marketing ideas.


Say It With Dinner

Croghan’s Jewel Box

Family-owned Croghan’s Jewel Box in Charleston, SC, believes in the power of appreciation. Each year, Rhett Ramsay Outten and her team print a list of their top 100 customers in terms of dollars and frequency of purchase. “We choose something to send each of them with a handwritten note saying thank you for your business this year,” she says. “One year we partnered with an exciting new hotel in town and gave them a night and dinner on us. Some years we send a $100 gift certificate with a pretty ornament. It is a nice touchstone and people seem to appreciate being appreciated! It definitely brings them back in the store!”

Instant “Catalog” On Instagram

Max’s Jewelry

At Max’s Jewelry in St. Louis Park, MN, owner Ellen Hertz had been phasing out her printed holiday catalog in favor of a digital version; last year, she dropped the print version altogether. But this year, she’s going to deconstruct it into multiple Instagram stories. Hertz believes the new format will be more far-reaching. “The catalog in the past has brought us for the most part the same customers,” she says. “We had people come in who saw things in the catalog they liked, but by and large, those were our customers who were inclined to shop with us regardless of whether or not we had a catalog. I don’t know how many new eyeballs it reached. But Instagram is a good venue for us.” It’s possible they will also bundle the posts together at some point and make it a catalog. But if they do, that catalog will be digital. “Basically, it’s digital, digital, digital,” Hertz says. A year ago Max’s also launched an intense national digital branding and retargeting campaign. “My goal is to link people through those ads to those catalog stories,” Hertz says.

Customers Rock the Catalog

MJ MILLER & CO.

Every once in a while, a good idea stands the test of time.

Mike Miller of MJ Miller & Co. in Barrington, IL, has produced a holiday catalog for three decades that continues to be the best sales tool in his holiday marketing repertoire. The key to the project’s enduring success, he says, is the personalization that comes from enlisting customers as models; the models and their friends and families become instant brand ambassadors.

The 2019 catalog showcased 64 pages of jewelry worn by 24 of their customers. Each model is selected specifically to wear a featured piece of jewelry. “We look at the piece of jewelry and we think we know what will look best on a certain customer,” says Lynnette Solomon, special events coordinator. “We can envision a customer wearing it.”

They partner with a salon for hair and makeup, and the photo shoot is done at the store throughout June. Models, along with their friends and family, are invited to a champagne-fueled “Catalog Reveal Party” in September to view the finished product first.  “We are the talk of the town,” Solomon says. “Everybody wants to see who is in it and what they are wearing.”

MJ Miller enlists customers to model for a holiday catalog that’s mailed all over the world and celebrated with an invitation-only, catalog-reveal party.

If that hot commodity of a catalog is not in customers’ hands by mid-October, the phone will ring. “If it’s a day late, people want to know, `Where’s my catalog?’” Miller says.  And while the catalog has been online for years now, customers still prefer to hold this marketing marvel in their hands. So Miller keeps thousands on site and orders more from the printer as needed to meet requests that exceed the initial mailing of 150,000 copies. Most are mailed in the Chicago area, but the customer base encompasses all 50 states and 13 foreign countries, so this locally produced catalog has global reach.

“If they have an interest in it, we can overnight it to them,” Miller says.

“I make damn sure we never run out. We don’t have time for that!”

Unscripted Commercial Saves The Day

Barry’s Estate Jewelry

Barry Fixler of Barry’s Estate Jewelry in Bardonia, NY, would not call himself social-media savvy. His forte is TV commercials, in which he has invested significantly for years. So, when he decided to give away a $5,000 diamond engagement ring, he enlisted the help of a social-media guru. The first 150 couples to respond to the promotion by email would be entered in a chance to win the ring, but would be required to show up at the store for the drawing. By the day of the drawing, Fixler had set up a tent to accommodate 300 people with food, entertainment, heat, and a photo booth. Then he discovered that his guru had failed to follow up and invite the contestants to the event. “I expected 300 people and only 20 people showed up,” Fixler says.

Barry Fixler’s diamond-ring giveaway resulted in a spontaneous reaction that he was able to turn into a TV commercial with wide appeal.

But, turning to his tried-and-true marketing medium, he notified both his TV production company, (theTerry Snyder Co.) and a local TV station in an effort to salvage his marketing investment. That part turned out better than he could have anticipated. When a young couple won the ring, the groom-to-be knelt and proposed on the spot, and his bride-to-be said, “yes,” through her tears, all while the cameras rolled. Fixler was also able to use the unscripted, heartfelt moment in a memorable commercial. “That was a home run,” Fixler says. “It was a super, super hit. It brought more customers here. What I thought was a major bomb turned out to be a huge success.” 

Make Over My (Ugly) Ring!

Revolution Jewelry Works

Before and after photos of a ring that was redesigned for the Revolution Jewelry Works’ “Make Over My Ring” 2018 contest.

A few Novembers ago, Revolution Jewelry Works in Colorado Springs, CO, first partnered with a local TV station for a promotion called “Make Over My Ring.” Owner Jennifer Farnes had a good working relationship with the TV station, so much of the publicity was good will. “If you’re nice to salespeople, when opportunities come up, you can cross-promote,” she says. Contestants submitted photos of dubiously designed jewelry that they wanted to transform. TV viewers voted on the ugliest. The owner of the ring deemed the absolute ugliest would win a $1,500 makeover at Revolution Jewelry Works that included CAD design, casting and setting. That first year, voters chose a wedding ring with a missing center stone that was also afflicted with “monstrous channels” and an early ‘80s design. The winner used everything left in the ring to create a new cluster ring with a compressed halo. Social media followers as well as the TV audience loved it, and so the contest was repeated in 2017 and 2018, drawing steady attention to Revolution’s custom and makeover talents.

Geo-Fencing The Consumer

Seita Jewelers

Nicole Moret of Seita Jewelers of Tarentum, PA, has worked with Gemfind for the past year on digital marketing, and this will be the first holiday season they’ve used geo-fencing as a marketing tool.

Geo-fencing draws a virtual line around a perimeter and targets mobile-device users. “If a customer has walked into a location and their IP address is grabbed, then your ad is going to be served on any of 10,000 apps,” says Alex Fetanat, founder and CEO of GemFind. “The beauty of this is it’s a targeted marketing effort. You can geo-fence the location around a big box competitor or anywhere you think your potential customers will walk into. As they walk in and when they go home, your ads will appear on their apps for about 30 days. You can grow your brand awareness and it’s trackable.” 

Geo-fencing just makes sense, Moret says. “As a consumer, I’ve been geo-fenced myself. It gets the consumer what they’re looking for in a quicker and easier way. We target local businesses within 20 miles, some of the major areas, malls, country clubs, grocery stores and other jewelry stores to raise awareness that we’re here. We’ve had proven walk-ins from them and phone calls. Our general traffic from the website and online inquiries has increased.” The geo-fencing ads include a call to action — click to call, to get directions or to make an appointment. “We talk about selection. We do have a very large selection and we offer custom design. Engagement and wedding rings are always a top priority.”

Holiday Bling Box Has It All

Borsheims

Borsheims’ Holiday Bling Box 2019 is built around a coveted pair of diamond huggie earrings.

Since 2017, Borsheims in Omaha, NE, has offered variations on a theme of a gift collection that debuts in the holiday preview catalog. The 2019 Holiday Bling Box has a “chic-glam” theme and includes a Citizen rose-tone and white-ceramic Chandler watch, 14K gold huggie hoop earrings with a full carat of diamonds, a 14K white gold diamond line necklace and an Orrefors small Carat vase, all for $1,685. All items come packaged in a single box and wrapped in Borsheims signature silver with a burgundy bow.

Adrienne Fay, Borsheims vice president overseeing the customer-purchase journey, says the Bling Boxes were created as a response to research about what customers want. “Beyond saving customers time, they’re fun to give, fun to receive, and are a gift that will really be treasured,” Fay says. After experimenting with a variety of price points and options, they determined that focusing on only one option in the $1,000 to $1,600 range worked best. They choose one strong seller — such as the diamond hoops this year — and then add pieces to complement it. The other pieces represent the breadth of merchandise categories available in the store, such as giftware and watches. “People say they really like this one item, and all of these other gifts are a bonus,” says Fay. Sometimes the boxes are disassembled and given as gifts to more than one recipient.

Two Holidays At Once

Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry

At Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry in Peachtree City, GA, “Cover Two Holidays At Once” is designed to provide value for customer loyalty. The goal of the promotion is to extend the December holiday season into the Valentine’s Day season. During December, clients receive 10 percent of their purchase back in the form of a gift certificate that can be used from Jan. 9 to Feb. 28. During that period in 2019, the store had a 19 percent increase in the number of units sold, a 40 percent increase in average ticket price, and 56 percent increase in merchandise profit vs. the previous year.

“This promotion added significant value to the Mucklow’s shopping experience, strengthened our community relationships and increased bottom line sales in a traditionally slow quarter,” manager Rod Worley says.

Sleep In, Then Shop

Midwest JewelerS & Estate Buyers

At Midwest Jewelers & Estate Buyers in Zionsville, IN, no one’s in a rush on Black Friday. Doors open at noon sharp for the Sleep-In Sale. “Unless you have a $1 TV for sale, who wants to show up at midnight?” says Allyson Gutwein, store manager. To make it even more relaxed, employees wear pajamas to work and serve hot chocolate and biscotti to customers, who are invited to show up similarly attired. Customers who do wear pajamas are entered in a drawing to win discounts, the best of which is 50 percent off anything in the store. The staff got together and found zip-up onesies to wear in solidarity. “Last year I sold a very high-end ring while in pigtails and a reindeer onesie,” Gutwein says. “If you can sell a high-end ring wearing that, you can do it any other day.” Luckily, customers’ choice of pajamas have all been quite modest, and generally climate-appropriate flannel. “You do wonder if you try something out-of-the-box that someone’s going to take it too far, but there’s been nothing salacious,” Gutwein says.

Staffers wear pajamas to work for the Sleep-In Sale at Midwest Jewelers & Estate Buyers. From left, Allyson Gutwein, Emilie Ritchie and Alley Pontius.

Most important, Midwest Jewelers & Estate Buyers has a reputation for having fun.

Owner Brian McCall jokes that he hasn’t been invited to the event, possibly because no one wants to see him in pajamas, but Gutwein disputes that claim. “Everyone is invited,” she says.

Keep ‘Em Guessing

Toner Jewelers

Toner Jewelers promoted its “Guess the Weight of the Gemstones” contest on the front cover of a holiday catalog.

Last year, Alisha Moore and the Toner Jewelers team in Overland Park, KS, filled a wine glass full of random gemstones and displayed it in one of their cases. Then they mailed out thousands of catalogs. The front cover of the catalog promoted the “Guess the Weight of the Gemstones” contest. Customers could enter the contest once a day while in the store, but they were required to share their contact information. First prize was a $5,000 store gift card. “There was excitement about it when regulars would come in,” Moore says. “You couldn’t touch it or handle it, but people would stand there and do calculations. Other people in the store were asking what they were doing and would join them. The first place winner was a good client of ours, and yes, she made guesses every day. It was a good, no-pressure way for us to capture information.”

Big-Ticket Items – No Waiting!

Bernie Robbins Jewelers

If you don’t have it, they can’t buy it. A Bernie Robbins Jewelers customer recently spotted a 7-carat diamond ring in a case, loved it and bought it on the spot, which made owner Harvey Rovinsky ponder the vast potential of focusing on his luxury clientele. “We’ve identified a significant number of clients who have the ability to spend six-figures-plus, and we wanted to reach out to them,” says Rovinsky, who owns five stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Bernie Robbins’ luxe catalog introduces a high-end diamond collection pre-holiday
in an effort to romance luxury shoppers.

So the team at Bernie Robbins is launching a Luxury Diamonds line this holiday season, which Rovinsky believes to be the largest collection of 3-plus carat diamonds in their market. They’re also building areas in their stores to house fancy, GIA-certified diamonds in green, pink, blue and orange. Some will be ready to go: “We thought if we mount them and talk about them, we are selling rings and other jewelry, which is way different than selling a diamond in a paper,” Rovinsky says. They’re also producing a high-end catalog to accompany the Luxury Diamond collection. Each book costs $25 to produce. “Everything is funneling toward the holiday,” Rovinsky says, “but we expect this initiative to be a year-round thing.”

When Life Gives You Orange Barrels

Harris Jewelers

A promotion involving the color orange saved Harris Jewelers from an anticipated road-construction slowdown for the 2018 holiday season and beyond.

When a major construction project claimed the street in front of Harris Jewelers in Rio Rancho, NM, in fall 2018, Karen Fitzpatrick expected a 40 percent drop in holiday business. But instead, due to a fun promotion combined with an aggressive radio and Facebook ad campaign, she’s met her goal every month since then, even as the construction project dragged on for a year. 

Here’s the promotion she credits with her success: For every $10 spent in the store, including on watch batteries, guests receive an orange ticket (a shout-out to the orange construction barrels). Every Monday, Fitzpatrick and team draw 10 tickets, which are then posted on a wall in the store. So shoppers must return to the store by Saturday to see if they won. She clears out old inventory with the promotion, too, since winners choose from a showcase of wrapped jewelry gifts from the half-off case. “We have customers addicted to this,” Fitzpatrick says. Winners’ pictures are posted on social media. “I cannot tell you what a success this has been,” she says. “We even have an orange barrel, named George, with a tumbleweed head in our vestibule that we decorate for the holidays.”

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