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The Big Story: Hide and Seek





is a good place to hunt down elusive people, who for some reason have never had the good sense to just appear magically at your door, despite your earnest marketing efforts.

“Networking is important,” says Jim Alati, manager of Simmons Fine Jewelers in Boise, ID, “but it has to be something I enjoy doing as well. I’m a sports fanatic, I play ice hockey.”

Alati’s involvement with hockey groups regularly puts him in contact with 300 similarly minded fans. Inevitably, when one of those guys gets engaged or has an anniversary coming up, he thinks about the jeweler he already knows — Jim — and Simmons Fine Jewelry.

“I can’t tell you how many sales I’ve made from that,” Alati says. “A guy recently spent $12,000 on an anniversary gift.”

Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts says it’s time to rethink the old ways of marketing.

The Big Story: Hide and Seek


Simmons Fine Jewelers Boise, ID

The Big Story: Hide and Seek


Performance Concepts

The Big Story: Hide and Seek


Jae’s Jewelers Coral Gables, FL

The Big Story: Hide and Seek



Got Rocks Harrisonburg, VA

“The only way to reach any group is to go where they are,” Peterson says. “You can’t expect to continue to market the way you always have, to put ads in the same places and think you are going to miraculously see results. When you look at a market segment, what you’re really looking for is a group of people who have something in common. If you figure out what that is, then you have a good idea of how to target that market.”

Karen and Rob Hollis, owners of K. Hollis Jewelers in Batavia, IL, have found that what a lot of people in their community have in common is a love of wine and a need for a quiet meeting place. Their wine bar, which opened in October, meets both those needs. It’s open during store hours, and also to groups by reservation.

The Hollises charge for the wine, but reserving the event space is free. They have hosted book clubs, family parties, nonprofit groups, a yoga class and the Geneva Film Festival Committee for film previews, effectively bringing a cross-section of their community to the store.

“We make it a point to meet everyone who attends an event, spend some time with them socially and tell them our story,” Karen says. “Sales are always good during an event and we get many return visits for gifts, repairs and custom work.”

They market the wine bar through word of mouth and Facebook, as well as networking and nonprofit groups.


“It brings in a lot of people who don’t know about us and may never have walked into our store,” Rob says. “The wine is the draw, but it’s difficult for organizations to find places where they can just gather and socialize that isn’t in the middle of a really loud bar or restaurant. It’s a little more intimate than a lot of other public spaces. And people who are here and socializing are buying jewelry.”

He says the marketing experiment is paying off. “With broad-based advertising, all you can do is hope they find you. But with the wine bar, brand new people come into our store and learn about us first-hand; you can’t get that any other way.”

Jill Hornik of Jae’s Jewelers in Coral Gables, FL, is targeting a younger demographic by advertising the store’s non-branded jewelry designs on social media and in a local bridal magazine.

A Bridal Bonus program, created last year, comes with the purchase of every engagement ring she sells. Benefits include a champagne toast at the restaurant next door, a discount on wedding bands, free engraving of all three rings, and a pre-wedding-photo polish and rhodium plating. Also included are a referral program, and jewelry checks and cleaning for life. The package is valued at around $750, Hornik says.

Engagement-ring shoppers Hornik meets are looking primarily for a good listener. Millennials all have different ideas of the perfect engagement ring.

“Some just want a really impressive looking ring for a low amount of money,” Hornik says. “Some want a perfectly internal flawless diamond. We take the time, make them feel comfortable and educate them on the decision.”

Traci Hill, owner of Got Rocks in Harrisonburg, VA, is attempting to convert the 18- to 30-year-olds who tend to shop at chain stores (for convenience and store credit), by offering a relaxed, personal selling style and stressing quality.

“I’m in a small town and jewelry options are limited,” Hill says. “I’m showing these customers you can get better quality and a solid center stone if you give us little guys a chance.”

Many of the young shoppers she meets want an illusion setting, with small diamonds clustered to look like a larger center stone. She talks about the importance of putting their money into a single more valuable center stone. Then they will have a better trade-in value if they decide to upgrade, or a good quality diamond to remake into another piece of jewelry. The average center stone she sells is a half to a three-quarter carat.

She uses Stuller’s prototype line, Ever and Ever, and also works with a local jeweler who can customize rings using CounterSketch with a fast turn-around.

“The biggest thing is being really personable,” Hill says. “Don’t give up; don’t let the big guys run us away. There is definitely a niche for us, for the little guys.”


— women buying for themselves — are a market still under-served by a surprising number of retail jewelers, says Marty Hurwitz of MVI Marketing.

Start by at least employing women who can talk about style and fashion — rather than only “old men selling white diamonds,” Hurwitz suggests.

“In some stores, 90 percent of the sales team are men
and 100 percent are old,” he says. “They don’t have
anything that a woman would really want, so women end
up going to department stores and buying costume
jewelry because there are so many colors to choose from.”

Allison Leitzel-Williams of Leitzel’s Jewelry in Myerstown, PA, has brought new customers into the fold of her third-generation family business by using both the store and its merchandise as marketing tools.

The strategy has proved so successful she and her family were nearly overrun by customers in the fourth quarter of 2015, their busiest season ever.

“We hope to repeat and exceed that,” she says. “But we will have to look at new ways to approach staffing. We have a 1,200-square-foot store and we would have 10 to 20 customers at a time, which is awesome, but it’s somewhat unusual for a small family-owned fine jewelry store.”

Popular fashion lines, including Alex and Ani, reliably draw enthusiastic self-purchasing women.

“Traditionally, we wouldn’t have chosen to sell a bracelet line made out of recycled metals,” she says. “But we view Alex and Ani as a marketing effort. The majority of Alex and Ani customers are new, and we are reaching a much younger demographic. Our hope is to turn those younger purchasers into self-purchasers of fine jewelry and engagement-ring purchasers.”

Facebook and billboard marketing, as well as email blasts support the effort.

They’ve also introduced an engagement-ring kiosk display with a pull-cord system, so women can try on rings at their leisure. It attracts men, too, with an iPad attached to the display. “It’s not as intimidating as sitting down at a case and asking to see particular rings,” Leitzel-Williams says. “It’s been interesting to see how many people stop at that kiosk, even if they are in here shopping for other things.”


of Joshua’s Fine Jewelry in Russellville, AR, realized people in his town werecalling for businesses to boycott anyone buying anything for the weddings of gay couples, he wasHis mid-size town was conservative buthe had not considered it hostile.

Nathan learned from his dad, Chris George, store owner and part-time minister,
to treat everyone with respect and kindness.“Honestly,” Nathan says, “I don’t
understand how anyone would do business

So, last year, after the Supreme Court ruled on gay marriage, the Georges used a simple status update on their Facebook page to get the word out that they would not refuse service to anyone.

Then Nathan boosted the post so that about 10,000 people saw it. After that post

caught some initial, tentative interest, word of mouth quickly led to 10 big wedding

orders within about two weeks. The uptick in business has continued with little advertising effort since.

“People need to know that you will treat them with kindness and respect,” Nathan says. “They need to see that they can trust you. It’s about keeping your doors open to everyone and treating them with respect.”

It’s about
keeping your
doors open to
everyone and
treating them
with respect.”


Backlash was minor and consisted of a couple negative comments on the business’s Facebook page. “They said they disagreed with our position, but how can you disagree with being kind to everyone? Our particular position was if you are going to come into our store, we are going to wait on you unless you are a jerk, and then probably we still will wait on you.”

Nathan says his gay clients are not looking for a special line of jewelry, but simply want to do business in a friendly, open environment and be treated with the same respect accorded any other customer.

Milton Doolittle of Benold’s Jewelers in Austin, TX, says the LGBT community

is a natural outreach for him. “Being a gay owner, I have used my networking group and my social circle to bring in viable business in the community,” he says.

Doolittle advertises in a quarterly magazine for the LGBT community, where he’s also been featured in its editorial pages. He supports local LGBT community projects

“Mostly, in this community, it’s word of mouth that creates a very strong bond with the community and my store and staff,” Doolittle says. “I think that once one or two couples have a hugely grand experience in the store, word spreads quickly that this is a place where same-sex couples can come and shop comfortably
and securely.”



has made a concerted effort to reach
new customers based on net worth by printing 25,000 holiday catalogs and mailing them in target neighborhoods. (The average ticket at Simmons, a heavily branded store, is $2,200.)

It’s easy to assess the results, since the catalog includes a gift card, which is often returned by people who have never shopped at Simmons before.

Alati has combined direct mail with geo-fencing, which sends messages about branded jewelry to shoppers in a defined geographic area.

“We had a nice increase for the year, almost our best year ever,” Alati says of 2015.

People come back for convenience and service. “If they didn’t find what they were looking for, ultimately they wouldn’t buy here. We sold a Breitling the other day for $19,000 to a man who could have bought it anywhere. He could have flown to Vegas and bought it at a boutique if he wanted to. But he chose us.”

Alati also asks those satisfied customers to write Google reviews. He’s amazed by the number of people who read positive Google reviews and come in ready to buy.

The key to catering to the affluent, Alati has found, is to give everyone top-notch service. “We get some young kids in here who have done incredible in the software industry and have millions of dollars and you don’t know that. When they say they want to spend $25,000 on a ring, you think, ‘Yeah, right!’ but you never know.”

“The governor and his wife have shopped with me for years. We don’t treat him any different and he likes that. Everybody should be treated properly and have good service.”

Chris Wattsson of Wattsson & Watt-sson Jewelers of Marquette, MI, markets to families living in houses valued at $250,000 and above. “In this area that’s considered a high-value property — it could be a lakefront mansion — and we don’t send mailers to renters. So we know they’ve either retired here or they are working here.”

Because all photography is done in-house, Wattsson and marketing manager Victoria Leonhardt are able to track not only which images grab attention in ads, but also where those successful ads were placed. “If the pieces sell we can see where we featured the item in an ad,” Leonhardt says. “We can see if the pieces we pick are pieces people like. And people can bring in the ad or post, and say ‘I want this!’ And we will likely have it in the store.”

Those efforts — combined with a comprehensive social media campaign to reach self-purchasing women and young bridal customers — have helped significantly.

“It was our first year doing that kind of targeting and we had 20 percent growth in total sales over last year,” Wattsson says, while online sales soared 64 percent in 2015 over 2014.

Lex Harrison client development manager for Black Starr & Frost in Newport Beach, CA, says the store cultivates collectors of high-end pens, particularly David Oscarson pens, which have a starting price point of $4,500 for a fountain pen. A pre-Father’s Day event will feature a visit from David Oscarson himself.

Lawyers and CEOs in particular, seem to covet the limited-edition pens marketed as heirlooms and works of art, and handcrafted from sterling silver and 18K gold.

The company invites pen aficionados to special events in the store, and also encourages them to hang out every Friday evening on the store’s waterfront deck to drink Champagne and smoke fine Cuban cigars, also available at the store. “They come and talk sports and politics,” Harrison says. “We do it just to get them to come through our doors, so that when they think of jewelry they will be thinking of us.”

They are invited to bring along a friend or business associate. “Many weeks we get brand-new people,” Harrison says. “In our business, all it takes is one. We have items that are very affordable, and we have items that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. When they do need a gift they will come back.”

The store has partnered with a University of Southern California Law School alumni group, which meets twice a year at the store. Black Starr & Frost also buys a table at an annual award dinner for attorneys, sponsored by the Orange County Business Journal, and has the opportunity to display jewelry there, too. Advertising and marketing is done by word of mouth, special events, philanthropy, select Newport Beach magazines and direct-mail invitations.

They come and talk sports and politics. We do it just to get them to come through our doors.” — LEX HARRISON

Elysia Demers, ales and marketing manager for Barnhardt Jewelers, had an interesting challenge when she joined the company twoyears ago

For one thing, Barnhardt Jewelers is in downtown Spencer, NC, once a thriving railroad hub for the cotton industry. Unfortunately, in the 25 years the store has been there, all of the other businesses have closed, including the furniture store next door, which had been operating since the 19th century.

Demers describes the environment as desolate and abandoned. But by studying the demographics, she saw a marketing opportunity even here.

Being in a rural area, engagement behavior doesn’t reflect national trends or statistics. Couples tend to get engaged right out of high school. The biggest employers are textile mills and a truck factory, so customers tend to be blue collar.

Despite those challenges, engagement ring sales have soared recently, up 40 percent from 2013 to 2014, and 50 percent in 2015 over 2014.

Demers credits this success to a social media and cable TV campaign targeted at the guys who actually live in the area. With the help of a friend who has produced commercials for NASCAR, she developed a high-quality commercial with a horror-movie theme titled “It doesn’t have to be scary.” It shows a guy sitting with his girlfriend watching TV, but being bombarded with “horror” images, including a bridal magazine and a photo of a ring popping up on his phone. Then it shows the guy shopping in a relaxed environment at Barnhardt Jewelers, setting his fears to rest.

Other social media ads feature women doing “guy stuff” like working on cars, hunting, or playing a backyard game of football, with the theme “the couple that plays together, stays together.”

“There’s a low-pressure environment here and we don’t need to dazzle them with bright, shiny objects. We wanted to make it more relatable to somebody who would live in our area.”

Once these guys are in the store, Demers makes sure they aren’t left to wander in confusion.

“The bridal section is very comfortable, with upholstered chairs and stone accents for a masculine touch, and it’s separate so they don’t get overwhelmed by seeing case after case of sparkly things. It’s kind of isolated.”

Raising the cases by 2 feet made men more comfortable because they no longer had to lean down to look at rings. “That little tweak to body position has made a huge difference,” Demers says. “Now they don’t mind lingering.”

Another interesting deviation from national trends here is that very few brides-to-be ever show up in the store. They may be involved behind the scenes, dropping hints, but they are not shopping as a couple, or going out on their own reconnaissance missions.

About 15 percent of the guys, though, do bring along their mothers.

Demers begins the presentation by showing him a case of Lashbrook men’s bands to break the ice and give him an idea about what he might want for himself.

If a guy has budget issues, Demers encourages him to put his money into the mounting — to buy a beautiful setting and fill it with a moissanite, which can later be replaced with a diamond. That way, the bride will still get the look she wants.

Combining these strategies has resulted in a 90 percent closing ratio.

As business grows, Barnhardt Jewelers plans to move closer to the next town, which is not abandoned and where two competitors have set up shop.

But for now Demers and company have found a niche.

“We are four minutes from another city that has two jewelers. It’s a testament to our customer base and to our reputation that people will drive past two other jewelers to come to us,” Demers says.

“If you haven’t sold anything online yet,”

says Shane O’Neill, vice president of FruchtmanMarketing, “then you can certainly identify a population that will buy online.”

Although some jewelers do sell big-ticket items like engagement rings that way, it’s more practical to begin with under-$500 gift items, which are wildly popular online during the holidays or occasions such as Mother’s Day.

“Now you are opening your doors online, which have been virtually closed,” O’Neill says. “It can be a huge new business opportunity.”

E-commerce can be part of an overall digital strategy that drives traffic to your website through social media and search engine optimization. O’Neill says it’s an ideal time to begin because it’s much easier than it used to be to get great product images from vendors. It’s also a good idea to work with someone who understands the nuts and bolts of an e-commerce platform. Finally, make sure your site is optimized for mobile use, and that you allocate enough staff hours to maintaining product inventory that’s represented on the site.

And while you may not light the world on fire with sales initially, it’s a great way to build a foundation for future success.

“Over time, it really is very plausible that jewelry retailers do make significant sales online,” O’Neill says. “If you start to get into online sales, backed by a brick-and-mortar store, and reinforced by positive online reviews, it creates a level of trust for people to make online purchases.”


of MVI Marketing points out, making your independent jewelry store appear friendly to Hispanic shoppers — the fastest-growing consumer group in the country

— is as ridiculously easy as translating your website into Spanish, printing a brochure and a sign or two in Spanish, and hiring even one bilingual staff member. It’s much more than most of your competitors offer. An MVI study, updated in 2015, showed that 39 percent of Hispanic shoppers purchase fine jewelry at department stores, while 30 percent favor independent fine jewelry retailers.

“This is a vastly under-served, or I should say un-served, market, with very, very few retailers doing this,” Hurwitz says. Hispanic shoppers buy jewelry frequently throughout the year, for family occasions ranging from baptisms to quinceaneras. In addition, millennial shoppers in this group are looking for engagement and wedding jewelry at much higher price points than family gifts.

“They will come into the store but they want to see an online presence first, that will at least acknowledge who they are as a favorable demographic,” Hurwitz says. “The independent retailer has a bit of an opportunity, because the majors aren’t doing this either. It’s very clear to see how simple it could be.”


Prom Queens.

Offer local high schools a charm bracelet with a crown or with beads in school colors to the prom queen. “That is the girl that every other girl wants to be, and she’s wearing a piece of jewelry that is going to become a requested piece of jewelry,” says

Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts. Beads are easiest because they are easiest to customize to the school. And you’ll get their parents’ business, too.

The Neighbors.

When Kevin Seele built his new Kevin’s Fine Jewelry store in a Totowa, NJ, strip mall, he decided on a Tuscan theme. Why Tuscan? For one
thing, the store is in a community in which 75 percent of the population is at least part Italian. Ruth Mellergaard, a principal of Grid/3 International design team, researched a photograph of the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge in Florence renowned for its jewelry shops. Seele found an artist who painted a mural of the bridge for a feature wall and clouds on the ceiling over the center island. The artist also created a wall finish that looks like Venetian plaster.

Style Savvy.

Von Bargen’s Jewelry, which has five locations in New Hampshire and Vermont, has recruited groups of savvy female shoppers, with a target age of 35 to 55 years old. They invite bright, connected, articulate, fashionable (and preferably affluent) women to meet once a quarter, usually at the store, to influence marketing and buying decisions. Participants receive gift bags, including $100 gift certificates to the store, and sometimes gift certificates donated by other local stores. The group helps the business choose charitable events and decide where to focus advertising dollars. Its members become a shopping community in their own right and influence the buying decisions of their friends.

The Parents.

“In the past few years we have targeted the high school kids and their
parents connected to the school located directly across the street from our shop,” says Adam Langdon of Adam Michael Jewelry in Omaha, NE. “We have put ads in their newspaper, passed out fliers after school and offered a discount to these families. In addition we have a few brand ambassadors that go to the school that have been spreading the word and wearing some of our lower priced jewelry. It’s slow going, but we have seen some return. It is definitely helping us to gain relationships with these families and solidify us in the neighborhood.”

College Sweethearts.

David Gardner Jewelers in College Station, TX cultivates college students, including groups of sorority girls, with bridal events and a special website, whereaggiesgetengaged. com, which has separate sections for girls and guys. A recent promotion on the site proclaimed, “Get a TV with a diamond purchase!” Advice for girls? Drop hints. For guys, there’s practical proposal advice and a primer on the four Cs. David Gardner’s main website has a section called Aggie Engagement, featuring love stories about engaged couples, their rings and their wedding plans.



She Wanted to Spend More Time with Her Kids. She Called Wilkerson.

Your children are precious. More precious than gold? Absolutely! Just ask Lesley Ann Davis, owner of Lesley Ann Jewels, an independent jewelry store that — until the end of 2023 — had quite a following in Houston, Texas. To spend more time with her four sons, all in high school, she decided to close her store. Luckily, she was familiar with Wilkerson and called them as soon as she knew she wanted to move on to bigger, better and more family-focused things. Was she happy with her decision? Yes, she was. Says Davis, “Any owner looking to make that life change, looking to retire, looking to close, looking for a pause in their career, I would recommend Wilkerson. Hands down!”

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