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The Big Story: Sparks of Brilliance




10 big thinkers
forge jewelry’s
in the fires
of innovation

Give the people what they want. That’s the message from 10 of the most successfully innovative business owners in the jewelry industry today. More than that, it’s what makes each of them tick. From a father-sons combo that leverages new technology to make Old World designs more affordable, to a retailer who makes worldwide shopping and shipping a cinch, to a tech exec who simply wanted to save women from missing phone calls, each of these leaders started with the desire to make people happy and took it further than most have the courage to.

And yet courage is the one key ingredient that most of them won’t mention. Why? Because fear doesn’t seem to enter into their decision-making in the slightest. Ylang | 23 co-owner Joanne Teichman, for example, admitted that they’ve made plenty of mistakes in trying out new things. “There are a lot of things that have come out, technology-wise, that I have jumped in and been first to market and probably didn’t need to do it. I always wanted to have all the bells and whistles on our website. Was it always the right thing to do? Not necessarily.”

Likewise, some of our innovators poured money and time into initiatives that weren’t guaranteed to succeed. Ritani president Brian Watkins remembers the uncertainty before the company’s clicks-and-bricks website became one of the industry’s biggest success stories. “2011 was a lot of late, late nights trying to lay in code. Having worked on this for about six months, we went down to the JCK Show and prepared for a private meeting with key retailers. I said, ‘In about two hours, we’ll know whether we have something or not.’ It’s a moment I’ll remember forever.”

If there’s one thing you can learn from these 10 leaders, it’s that out-of-the-box thinking alone does not breed innovation. It also takes collaboration, research, time and, most of all, a whole lot of “damn the torpedoes” resolve.
Characteristics that this group has in spades.





138,000 Instagram followers don’t come easy — or, at least, not for most people. But designer Jacquie Aiche’s jewelry, personality, and message resonate so powerfully with her fans that they have to connect with her in some way. Today, they’re all a part of the designer’s growing #JATribe family, and she treats them regularly to compelling photos of jewelry, women, and even motivational quotes. “It’s about passing on inspiration through social media,” Aiche says.

Selling inspiration rather than jewelry? It’s not just lip service for Aiche, who gets fulfillment from seeing other women gain self-confidence through her jewelry. “I recently told one of my competitors, ‘I’m not selling jewelry anymore. We’re selling energy.’ We want women to leave happy and wear their jewelry with pride.”

Women feel different when they wear Aiche’s jewelry because it is different; in fact, she’s even created new categories like finger bracelets (which feature a chain running from a knuckle to a bracelet) and body chains (which include chains running from a necklace, down the chest and around the torso). Aiche calls it “jewelry lingerie,” and while it was made famous by singer Rihanna a few years ago, it’s become ubiquitous with the help of Aiche’s extraordinary look books. The photos showcase her jewelry on barely-dressed yet tastefully photographed models in settings that reflect some aspect of Aiche’s collection.

“The photo shoots for me are like music videos,” Aiche says. “They reflect how I want the Jacquie Aiche woman to look and how they can be comfortable in themselves.” The designer releases two to three campaigns per year (“plus a lot of little side shoots in between to help with our social media content”) and has eight look books available online.


Aiche says that innovation is not optional if you want to stay top of mind with consumers. “We’re always looking for new content. People get bored so fast, so you constantly have to be reinventing yourself,” she says. And yet that, in itself, can be fun. “When you take care of yourself, innovation flows. If you stress out about it, creative juices don’t flow. Having a great time with it is the key.”



If you thought jewelry couldn’t be both smart and attractive, think again.

Christina Mercando, a former eBay executive and VP of online social recommendation service Hunch, says the idea for Ringly came from simply wanting to solve a problem.


“I continued to miss calls and texts from my friends and family because my phone was buried in my purse,” Mercando says. “I also disliked feeling so dependent on and chained to my phone. One day I was so fed up that I thought to myself, ‘What if I could make my jewelry smart and have it remind me about certain things so I don’t have to worry so much?’ So I left my job and got to work.”

The result was the Ringly, a ring that comes in five varieties of gemstones and metal plating (four in 18K gold and one in rhodium) and vibrates and lights up to notify the wearer of phone calls, texts or important events. When it’s not vibrating or blinking, it looks like a normal ring. “Wearable devices are streaming into the market with loud, tech-focused design,” Mercando says. “I wanted to build technology that was exceptionally stylish and so discreet only I would know it existed.”

Mercando says the key to making smart jewelry successful as a category is for other manufacturers to think aesthetically, rather than only functionally. “Our biggest challenge was getting the tech as small as possible. Our goal was to make something you’d want to wear even if the technology was not there.”

Next up for Ringly? More varieties of jewelry, such as bracelets. “Stay tuned for collaborations as well,” Mercando says.


While the United States edges toward equal marriage rights across the country for same-sex couples, designer Rony Tennenbaum has been leading the charge for years, not only through his words, but through an entire line of jewelry geared to the LGBT market.

Tennenbaum has considered himself married to his partner for 21 years, and he’s worked in the jewelry industry for more than 25, having done everything from manufacturing and sourcing to marketing and sales. In 2008, he decided he wanted to turn his talent in the direction of his community, and he launched his own line of engagement and wedding rings. “Back then, only a few states even allowed same-sex marriage, but I envisioned a country moving in that direction,” Tennenbaum says.

At the time, Tennenbaum says that if a person were to Google the words “gay” and “jewelry,” he would see jewelry featuring rainbow and triangle motifs, and that’s about it. “I wouldn’t wear that and my friends wouldn’t wear that,” he says. As a result, he developed his LVOE Collection, based on the premise that love is love no matter how you spell it — and that love is love no matter who the two people are. Since then, he’s added more than a dozen other collections. “A lot of rules are out the window in terms of ‘this is what a woman would want, this is what a man will want,’” Tennenbaum says. “The LGBT community wants pieces that are new and trendy. That’s where my designs are different.”

Despite some (expected) industry opposition initially, retailers across the country have begun to embrace Tennenbaum’s collection, including well-known businesses like multi-store Ben Bridge and Tapper’s in Detroit. “I think it’s phenomenal that these retailers are opening the doors to an inclusive environment,” Tennenbaum says. “It’s not that they were excluding lesbian and gay couples before, but now they’re embracing that these couples are out there and are going to get married. They are putting their foot down and saying, ‘We are here in support and we want to be part of these relationships.’”

In addition to making his jewelry line available, Tennenbaum is making himself available as a speaker to the LGBT community. Whenever a retailer takes on his line, Tennenbaum goes into the local LGBT community and speaks about “The New Etiquette of the Rainbow,” which explores questions of engagement and wedding etiquette among same-sex couples, as well as “Buying Diamonds in the Age of Equality,” which advises couples on how to make sure both people in a marriage can have the ring they want.

“There are so many things that are brand new to this niche,” he says. “A whole segment of the population is trying to figure out what to do. It’s the first time jewelry has come with an education.”



Innovation doesn’t have to come from outside the jewelry industry. It can also come from a younger generation looking to make its mark.

Christina Medawar grew up in Medawar Jewelers — the Lansing, MI, store that her father, Pierre, founded in 1978. But she always knew she wanted to do something different — something more fashion-oriented. Two years ago, she brought it up to her father, and they began to brainstorm. Says Medawar: “When I shop, I like to look around and try things on. I don’t want to be bothered unless I have a question. I really liked Pandora’s concept. They have a showcase that’s open and the rings are on strings, and you can pick them up and put them on your finger. So my dad said, ‘Let’s take it one step further. When you pick up the jewelry, there will be a screen to tell you about the brand, what sizes it comes in, and what it’s made of.’ I did the research and nobody had it. So we made the software and patented it.”

But Medawar didn’t stop there. She took one of the world’s most successful retail environments — The Apple Store — and translated it to jewelry. Veloce features white surfaces, glass walls and ring displays, and lots of space for shoppers to move comfortably. “I named the store ‘Veloce,’ which is Italian for ‘velocity,’ because the store is high-tech, high-fashion and futuristic. Customers say they feel like they’re in New York or Los Angeles instead of Kalamazoo, MI,” she laughs.

The store has been incredibly popular, with holiday sales 50 percent above last year’s. But innovation doesn’t come without growing pains, she warns. Point-of-sale software doesn’t interface with the patented Veloce software, so Medawar and her team have to enter each piece of jewelry three times: Once in the POS system, once in the patented software, and once as a photo for the viewing screen. “We’d love to find an easier way to do it, but at this point in time, there isn’t one,” she says.

That said, Medawar knows the results are worth the effort, and that innovation isn’t optional for success. “Times change, people change, things evolve. You have to be the best if you want to succeed, not only as a business owner, but also to thrill your clients. It makes me happy when people come in and say thanks for opening this store!”



At just more than 1 year old, Anthony Lent (the company) completed the most successful U.S.-based Kickstarter jewelry project ever last summer. The campaign raised $56,580 to fund a sterling silver collection. But although the company itself is new, the designer, who goes by Tony, is not — he’s been designing for four decades, often utilizing vintage techniques in innovative ways.

Educated as a goldsmith in Germany, Lent designed one-of-a-kind jewelry for prestigious jewelry houses in New York for years, all while teaching at the Fashion Institute of Technology and chairing the jewelry department there for over a decade. He probably would have finished his career that way except that his sons, David and Max, had other plans. They coaxed him into joining with them to start a jewelry line based on the designs he’d created over 40 years — designs that they could help make more accessible and streamlined.

“My sons have grounded me by saying ‘That’s not practical’ or ‘We have a need for something in a certain category.’ They’ve disciplined and focused me. In turn, I’ve given them the sense of history,” Lent says.

He adds that when his sons launched the Kickstarter campaign, his own generation didn’t understand. “They asked, ‘Why don’t you just borrow money?’” Lent recalls. “I explained to them that it’s not just about the money, it’s about seeing if there is an audience. It’s a product test. People get something for what they pledge.”

One look at Lent’s jewelry tells you that innovation runs in the family. His already-recognizable “moon faces” and other shapes are created by die-striking, a process not often utilized since centrifugal casting began to be widely used. He also uses a 3-D panograph to reduce the scale of his sculptures to the dies. And, he uses a blowpipe for soldering, as opposed to a typical jeweler’s torch. “Your reaction time is much longer with your hand than your breath, so it gives you more finite control,” Lent says. “It’s also a better reducing flame than many torches because it doesn’t have added oxygen.”

Between his penchant for unusual jewelry-making techniques and the digital and business savvy of his sons, Lent has all the ingredients for a successful business. There’s only one drawback, Lent says jokingly: “I can’t fire them when I get mad at them.”



When your brand is considered the antithesis of excrement, you know you’re doing something right. (And if you don’t understand what we’re talking about, you may not know it from Shinola.)

“The name ‘Shinola’ makes you smile,” says Daniel Caudill, the man charged with overseeing design in all of the company’s various product categories (including watches, bicycles, leather and more). “It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s also the idea of doing business a certain way. When Shinola was in its heyday in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, you treated people with integrity.”

That message of integrity is a big part of why Shinola has been successful in producing and selling Swiss-quality watches made in Detroit. The company earned $80 million in gross sales in its first 18 months of production. A big part of that is the marketing of the brand, which taps a zeitgeist of support for American-made goods — especially those made in struggling Detroit, a former gem of American manufacturing — as well as machines and goods that will last. But for this strategy to work, you have to actually make things that last, Caudill says.

“Watches are very difficult. You either do it right, or you don’t do it,” Caudill says. “It’s such an intensive and precise manufacturing process. Design, product, quality — if we can do that, it’s proof we can do anything in this country. The level of quality, the level of detail, the dedication of the work force, the positivity of the entire team — you wouldn’t expect it, necessarily. And you can’t put it down on paper.”

The culture at Shinola is such that there are no individual heroes, only a great team. That’s what makes the company so innovative, according to Caudill. “No one person can influence all innovation, but through true collaboration, you can make amazing things.

“Using bikes as an example, Sky Yaeger was head designer at Bianchi for 17 years, she was a bike racer, and she’s always pushing the boundaries of production and design, but I’m always bringing her back to the brand and making sure everything ties in.

“Everyone comments on what they know — and stays out of what they don’t. It creates a great business model, great styling and an amazing product.”



Last August, the Wall Street Journal named Ylang | 23 as one of five “best e-commerce destinations for fine jewelry.” But it was 14 years earlier, in 2000, that Ylang | 23 first launched its website, and the store began selling jewelry online a year later — before most jewelers even had a Web presence.

“Credit me for saying to my husband, Charles, one day: ‘I need a website,’” says co-owner Joanne Teichman. “And I drew out the six pages that I wanted and went shopping for a website developer in Dallas to bring it to life.”

The Teichmans have been early adopters of many different business practices and technologies over the years since the store opened in 1985. They were among the first to carry designer jewelry and bring designers in for trunk shows. They helped pioneer the “layer and mix” jewelry fashion of that time that later morphed into stacking in the 2000s. And Joanne Teichman got started early in social media, participating in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and more obscure services.

But for Teichman, it’s not about being first to market, but about being right in what you bring to market. “Whatever we do, we want to be sure that the experience is delivered in a wonderful way. If the experience falls flat, you’ve really hurt yourself,” she says.

That’s the reason why Ylang | 23 began shipping worldwide at no extra cost to customers. “People were visiting us from outside the country, and then they’d go home and want something,” Teichman says. The store originally partnered with a company called International Checkout, which allowed Ylang | 23 to ship to a domestic address, from which International Checkout would ship internationally. Today, it works with Borderfree, which allows online shoppers to see an item’s price in their own currency.

Although there have also been tech misses over time, Teichman says it’s all worth it as long as her clients benefit. “We want to be sure that anything we do delivers the exceptional customer service that’s the core of our business.”




Why has a former Blue Nile executive allied himself with independent brick-and-mortar retailers? It’s all about the customer, says Brian Watkins, now president of bridal ring maker Ritani (after a brief stint as head of strategy for Nordstrom). “We surveyed consumers and found that 90 percent start out shopping online but less than 10 percent buy. It might have been a trust issue, or they’re scared of doing a return, or they wanted to touch and see the ring. So there’s a consumer out there who wanted to have this online and offline experience but was unable to.”

As a result, Watkins and the Ritani team rolled out a “clicks-and-bricks” website in 2011 that allows consumers to build a custom ring and see it in person at a local retailer with no down payment required. It also features a virtual gemologist function that has the capability of showing the customer high-definition videos of multiple diamonds.

But at a company that’s constantly innovating, that’s already old news. Last year, Ritani unveiled an iPad app for retailers that acts as a sales tool by working in conjunction with RFID chips in the jewelry tags. When the RFID-tagged jewelry passes over a scanner as it’s removed from a showcase, an image of the ring appears on a nearby iPad, allowing consumers to see style, metal and gemstone options. The app also provides analytics to the store owner in regard to the styles shown and the success rate of each salesperson.

And this is just the beginning, Watkins says. “We’ve seen technology here that I am so excited about, and we can’t execute it yet because it’s either too complex or it won’t translate properly into the retail environment. But we have all these starts of things that are ready to go when the technology or retail environment changes.”

It’s a foundation for innovation, which Watkins says is critical for business survival. “It might sound corny to say, but innovate or die … it’s got to be in the DNA of a business.”




For brothers Jack and Dominick Gabriel innovation is not an end unto itself — it’s a means to helping their clients to be successful.

Growing up, the Gabriels learned the jewelry business from their father, master jeweler Elias Gabriel. They launched the manufacturing house Gabriel & Co. in 1989. Since then, they’ve been on the cutting edge of technology in the industry, whether it was the jewelry itself or the way that it is inventoried and sold.

One such innovation was a better screwback earring, a mechanism that the company invented and patented as a result of a customer losing an earring. Later, in 2005, the Gabriels responded to the “blood diamond” furor by putting serial numbers on each piece of jewelry the company produced.

The concept perhaps appreciated most by their retailers is the alloy-and-CZ-based sample line that Gabriel & Co. introduced in 2008. The initiative originated in a conversation between Dominick, Jack and their sales manager about retailers having a difficult time investing large amounts of money into engagement ring lines. To help retailers save money, the brothers came up with a plan to lease the sample rings to retailers over time. On top of that, since gold prices were rising, they developed an alloy. “We emphasized that the rings have to be finished with the same quality as our diamond jewelry. Every piece is hand-set. We don’t cut corners,” Dominick says. In 2009, the recession hit and the program took off. Instead of showing 20 rings, Gabriel’s retailers could show 200.

But that, as Jack says, was the easy part. It’s delivery that’s difficult. “When you take an order from a jeweler, they can’t wait four to six weeks. We changed the whole process in our factory to deliver an item within seven to 10 days, even special orders,” Jack says. It was a huge undertaking, but ultimately, it made the company’s sample program more successful than others.

More recently, Gabriel & Co. has launched an “eShopinShop” concept that integrates into their retailers’ websites seamlessly, updating product, 360-degree pictures and pricing in real time.
“Innovation is not something we plan,” Jack says. “We try to do the right thing for the client and things happen. If you have the right intentions, things happen.”




Cut out the middle man between customers and the jeweler? To Jim Tuttle, this idea wasn’t revolutionary — it just seemed logical.

As a bench jeweler in the 1980s working for an Atlanta store, he found himself being paid to remake jewelry over and over because the salespeople cared only about closing the sale, not getting the necessary details to make the client happy the first time. “One day, I built a ring and the client hated it and wanted to return everything,” Tuttle says. “So the salesperson asked me to meet the client and make something pretty, and I did. I thought, ‘This is crazy — I need to have a shop where I meet with the client myself.’”

Tuttle moved to Seattle and opened Green Lake Jewelry Works, a 500 square-foot shop with no salespeople. Within three months, he was buried with work and had to hire more jewelers. Today, the current 7,500 square-foot space is just about maxed out, and Tuttle is looking to add locations.

“Our goal is to grow brick-and-mortar, as many as possible,” he says. “We need systems that will scale. In any given market out there, we think our shop would do very well.” The expansion will begin in early 2016 when Green Lake opens a second location in Bellevue, WA.

Not only is the bricks-and-mortar model innovative, but the Green Lake online experience is revolutionary as well, allowing clients to create a “Design Page” and work with a custom jeweler remotely. Tuttle says 90 percent of the store’s online clients live outside the Seattle area. “There’s a skew towards more unique and bigger rings from our online clients,” he says. “I think it’s because if they wanted something more straightforward, they’d have found it locally. They trip over our Pinterest page and say, ‘Wow, this is different from everything else.’”

Tuttle says that being innovative in jewelry retail requires reading outside the industry. “I read tech blogs pretty much every day, and other completely unrelated things about research, medical science, non-jewelry topics — they give me ideas and thoughts. Even if we’re looking for how to adjust our return policy, we’ll look outside to see what’s cutting edge.”



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It’s All About Choices

With beautiful jewelry from Les Georgettes, choice is everything. Choose a design. Change colors. With 30 styles, 3 finishes and 48 stunning leather colors, you’ll never be at a loss for a unique piece of jewelry. Create, mix, stack and collect Les Georgettes by Altesse. Made in France.

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THE INSTORE DESIGN AWARDS 2019 – Winners Announced!



Jewelry design is the lifeblood of our industry, and those on its forefront are constantly challenging the status quo, pushing boundaries in creativity and wowing jewelry lovers with their skill and passion. These are the creators we seek to honor with the INSTORE Design Awards.

For 2019, we expanded our categories from eight to 25, allowing designers more freedom to enter the best category for each piece. And we received more than 171 entries as a result. In order to determine the best of the best, we recruited a judges panel composed of nine retailers, all of whose businesses carry multiple designer lines, to vote on their favorite jewelry in a “blind voting” process. We also opened voting to all North American jewelry retailers online at, where more than 9,300 votes were cast to decide the “Retailer’s Choice” winner in each category.

And finally, as we have since our competition began, we recognize one up-and-coming designer who embodies the inventive spirit so long encouraged by our former colleague Cindy Edelstein, who passed away in 2016.

Now, turn the page and see the very best that our industry has to offer. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your next hot-selling line right here in this story!

Best Men’s Jewelry

Best Statement Piece


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3 Simple Ways a “Good-Better-Best” Display Can Make You More Money

The success of these pricing strategies has been proven beyond dispute.




The success of thoughtfully implemented “Good-Better-Best” (G-B-B) pricing strategies has been proven beyond dispute. Look around. Airlines offer coach class seats with variable options. Allstate offers auto batteries with warranties ranging from 12-48 months at prices that vary disproportionately. Heating oil suppliers sell plans based on a monthly fluctuating rate as well as a “premium” package in which the rate is fixed for the season.

I read a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (“The Good-Better-Best Approach to Pricing,” by Rafi Mohammed) that made me wonder why retail jewelers were not taking full advantage of this strategy in their stores.

Twenty years ago, Allstate conducted research to determine just how much price really mattered to their insurance customers. They learned that drivers are very concerned that if they are involved in an auto accident, their rates will go up. They introduced three new policy levels to add to their “Standard” level policy. They have a “Basic” policy at 5 percent below “Standard,” a “Gold” policy (6 percent higher price), and a “Platinum” level policy (15 percent higher price). Last year, only 10 percent of their customers downgraded to “Basic,” while a whopping 23 percent upgraded from “Standard” to “Gold” or “Platinum.”

So what can we do in a retail jewelry store to take advantage of this tendency of consumers to move up in price when given attractive options?

Implementing a “Good-Better-Best” plan in your store has three benefits. One, it can entice new and existing customers to spend more. Two, it allows you to compete directly with lower-priced competitors, including Internet shops. And three, a G-B-B strategy will change your customers’ actions through consumer psychology.

Successfully offering a G-B-B option depends on the following considerations:

  1. The price level of the “Good” option should be no more than 25 percent below the price of the “Better” option. The “Best” option should be no more than 50 percent higher than the “Better” option. For example, if we have a $1,000 “Better” item, the “Good” option should be about $800, and the “Best” option about $1,400.
  2. There should be a perceived important difference between the “Good” and “Better” options that motivate the customer to opt up for the “Better” selection. Limit the number of features in your “Good” option to improve the perceived value of the “Better” option.
  3. Each option should be explained in four attributes that differentiate it from the lower-priced option.
  4. Signage should clearly explain the differences and costs of each option. Name each option intelligently. Don’t use descriptions that confuse the merchandise. There is nothing wrong with simply using “Good, Better, Best.”

When you are determining the price points for your G-B-B offerings, consult your “inventory performance by category” report in your inventory management software. This will tell you the average selling price of your current sales for each different category and style of merchandise. Your goal is obviously to sell more at higher prices, so consider a price about 10 percent higher than your current average sale as your “Better” option. For example, if your average diamond stud earring sale is $1,000 now, make your price points $899, $1,099 and $1,399.

Retail jewelers should benefit from the thoughtful implementation of the G-B-B principles. Here are some display suggestions for your store.

Diamond stud earrings and anniversary bands

Offer three grades of earrings in the most popular styles. The differences in stud earring prices are obviously predicated by diamond size and quality as well as mounting material.
Start with 14K white gold mountings with round diamonds in sizes ranging from one-eighth, one-quarter, one-third, one-half, three-quarters and one-carat sizes. Develop a source (internally or externally) that can provide three different qualities in all six sizes. Obtain a display arrangement that allows the three qualities and sizes to be shown with descriptions, as well as prices and monthly payment options. Add signage that explains each of the four differentiating points between the qualities offered. Put in place a reorder procedure that quickly refills the empty space when sales occur.


Make your most popular styles of engagement rings (halos, solitaires, sets, three-stone, etc.) and create a display with a G-B-B variation of each in a single tray. If you can, include several of these in each showcase. If you can direct your customer to those trays, you stand a better chance of easily up-selling the customer to a bigger size. Feature payment amounts to make it easier for your staff to sell up.

I am a big believer in organizing your bridal showcase by style, not by vendor brand (unless it is a very recognizable national brand) or diamond size. That is how your customer shops. With all your halo choices collected together in a single part of the showcase, you’ll find it much easier to move up in price and keep your customer from having to visit several showcases in order to see your selection.

Other merchandise

Follow this same strategy. Choose your most popular designs and identify what you can do to that item to be able to sell it at 25 percent less. Maybe it is a smaller stone or a metal change to silver. Make that new item your “Good” selection. Now revisit the original piece and ask what you can add to the design to make it worth 25 percent more. Make that your “Best” choice, and display them all together with prices and payments.

If you are successful with such a strategy, it could make both your customer and you very happy. Your store would be easier for your customer to shop, and your inventory could shrink to fewer pieces offered since your sales are more concentrated in your G-B-B offerings.

Give it a try and see what happens to your average sale. If it works, expand it. If it doesn’t, try something else. Be sure you track the results of your efforts to know what has worked and what has not.

Retail jewelry is hard enough without leaving money on the table when the customer is already in your store and poised to buy. Implementing this strategy might just move your results from “Good” to “Better” to “Best.”

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E-Commerce for Everyone: Let Your Customers Buy Something Where & When They Want To



E-commerce has been vilified by many independent retail jewelers as an under-cutting, price-conscious evil entity intent on stealing hard-earned business from brick-and-mortar stores while ripping their profit margins to shreds.

At this point, though, it’s more or less a matter of if you can’t beat them the way you’ve been operating, you’d better consider joining them.

It’s time to rethink e-commerce as a viable option for you, the independent brick-and-mortar-based jeweler, but also to understand what it takes in dollars and time to drive traffic to a website, says Ben Smithee, digital-marketing expert and CEO of The Smithee Group. The big online players didn’t get where they are without investing considerable time and money into marketing, social media and search-engine optimization.

In other words, simply enabling e-commerce is not like flipping a switch and watching the money pour in. Instead, imagine you’re opening a second store. How much planning and preparation would you put into that? You’d work with a store designer. You’d hire more staff. You’d invest in advertising.

“Most people grossly underestimate what it takes for advertising to send people to the site,” Smithee says. “A lot of them expect to have overnight sales. Start with realistic expectations — they should be thinking about selling one, two, three things a week or a month to start and ramping up from there. Without realistic expectations, they will decide it doesn’t work and will quit,” Smithee says.

Independent jewelers like Tim Wright of Simply Unique Jewelry Designs in Yorktown, VA, have been reluctant converts in recent years. Wright says he realized in the past year that his company has to be searchable and sell its wares online. If not, he says, “We will go away like other independents in our area.”

It took time for Wright to wrap his head around the idea. “I cannot imagine people ordering jewelry, especially our one-of-a-kind pieces, off the Internet, but we are working on a new website to be more searchable and to be able to sell off of it. The basics we all have survived on over the years are not selling in the store anymore because of the Internet.”

Shane O’Neill, vice-president of Fruchtman Marketing, advises independent jewelers to temper their expectations when they turn to e-commerce.

Most jewelers are not going to see significant amounts of e-commerce, he says, because the marketing perspective is much different between traditional stores and online stores. “If they are marketing around a 20-mile radius, we still know that people want to touch and feel the jewelry,” says O’Neill. Plus the data that millennials don’t shop in stores isn’t necessarily true. They shop in bigger numbers than Gen X or baby boomers do. But they shop online with the idea of browsing and checking out pricing, and so they expect a shopping experience with all of the details revealed, O’Neill says.


The preparation it takes to be ready for e-commerce almost certainly will result in increased sales in the store.

“They probably have checked all the boxes in terms of a good user experience, descriptions, photos, categories of metal type and have galleries of multiple products,” O’Neill says. “When someone comes to the website and they have the ability to have a great browsing experience, they make purchasing decisions based on that. When they stop in the store, you should have a higher closing rate. To me, that’s an e-commerce transaction, too.”

The website should be like your second store, O’Neill says, in terms of how you relate to the customer online: “How you flow people through your site is like what a sales associate does in the store.”

For Janne Etz of Contemporary Concepts in Cocoa, FL, e-commerce has grown steadily over the past two years from 35 percent of her business to a solid 50 percent. “You have to pay serious attention to it,” she says. “It is not a set-it-and-forget-it operation. What works with e-commerce this month will evolve into something else next month. It’s a constant learning process. I continue to study and learn and implement the newest techniques, so I can continue to grow!”

Stephenie Bjorkman of Sami Fine Jewelry in Fountain Hills, AZ, says an e-commerce-enabled website seems like a huge project, and it can be. But start somewhere, she says. “Just do it, or just do something,” she says. “Get ready to flip that switch. Take on little bits and pieces at a time and set goals. I am so far from anywhere near where I want to be, but my marketing department and I sat down and made a monthly calendar so that we could plan all of our marketing, social media, blogs etc.” Bjorkman’s team also worked on posting pieces for sale in groups of 24 at a time.

If even this seems like too much, start with making time for your own social media. Friend your top 100 clients and start from there.

“I think you need to make a plan, then work your plan,” Bjorkman says. “You can begin by doing this in the evening when you get home. Or have one of your employees spend an hour a day on it. The first step is that every day you should be posting on social media. Post real pictures and start creating your online image. Connect your posts to your website and tell them how to buy.”


E-Commerce Continues to Evolve in an Omni-Channel World

Borsheims of Omaha, NE, has been selling online since 1998 and today has seven associates dedicated to e-commerce.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth in the channel,” says Adrienne Fay, director of marketing and business sales — a 40 percent increase year over year in online sales for the past two years. This year that trend continued with a huge lift in January and February. The e-commerce staff is involved in navigation, digital photography, answering questions and virtually holding hands as needed. They also fulfill the orders — 99.9 percent of the inventory is in the store already.

In March 2018, the company introduced a new website that made online purchases easier on all devices, while updating their ring-builder tool to make it both more user-friendly and more luxurious-looking, says Andrew Brabec, director of e-commerce. “A lot of our customers will utilize their mobile device first and then make a purchase on their desktop. They prefer the process on the mobile device; it’s easier, faster.” Chat is used more than ever by customers looking for a promo code or to ask a quick question, but few purchases take much hand-holding.
One reason for that is that the new website is designed to anticipate questions that shoppers might have. Photographing jewelry items next to coins, for example, allows customers to gauge the size of the piece quickly and easily. “The main questions we get are: What size is this? And how does it look on someone?” Brabec says. One goal is to provide more views of each product.

“We try to replicate our customer service online,” says Fay. “It’s a strategic investment. We look at shoppers in an omni-channel fashion. Not as an e-commerce customer, not as a store customer. Simply a customer. We want to be able to knock their socks off in all channels.”

Shoppers who convert to online sales represent a wide demographic — established customers, gift shoppers, fine jewelry shoppers. Average order fluctuates, but recently it was $263. “We definitely have sold items that retail in the tens of thousands. Not every day, but it’s not unusual,” Fay says. Customers log in from all over the U.S. and the world; international checkout is available with exact pricing.

What’s next? Borsheims is testing out products to provide shoppers with 360-degree views of products, a technology that is increasingly common in other industries. Another huge goal is to get 97 percent of their products visible online; currently that number is about 74 percent. “We want to see more items in the cart, too, so we’re working on ways to up-sell in the cart by showing related products,” Brabec says. “In addition, we are going to evaluate pages to make them faster and more effective.”

The year 2020 represents Borsheims 150th anniversary. “And you don’t survive that long if you don’t evolve and grow and roll with the punches,” Fay says. “We used to say we at Borsheims are going to tell you as customers what you need to buy. Now we respond to what they are looking for with content and expertise and education.”



Growing Fast on Etsy

Bailey Lehrer founded Ringcrush, a start-up online jewelry store, selling $30 to $60 jewelry items on Etsy. She started the business with $700 and turned a profit immediately.
“We were able to grow in two years really quickly,” Lehrer says. “I did a little under $1 million on Etsy and another $300,000 on Amazon. It made sense for me to start up online. Etsy is really friendly to people who want to experiment.”

Lehrer says that while high-end diamond solitaires aren’t the norm on Etsy, moissanite rings are moving fast, as are other non-traditional types of diamond engagement rings, usually with an artisan design or a unique setting. “Etsy is primarily for 25- to 35-year-old women,” she says. “A lot of them still want that look and they can swap out the stone later. One of the most popular rings looks like a hand-carved band with a diamond solitaire in the center.”

Bailey Lehrer, founder of Ringcrush

The process of opening a shop on Etsy is easy, Lehrer says, because they hold your hand through the whole process. Still, there’s more to it than just opening. “You have to understand your competition and price point. It can be cutthroat with common items, and there are people from other countries selling items with razor-thin margins. You need something unique. That way you can raise your price.”

Her point of differentiation is pieces of raw gemstones. “So I still focus on precious stones like emerald and sapphire, but I’m able to sell them at $60 because I get them uncut. They’re still blue if it’s a sapphire; still green if it’s emerald. It’s kind of a unique aesthetic, so it’s easy to stand out.”

Another thing to keep in mind, Lehrer says, is that there is clear evidence shoppers will convert to making a purchase if the product is photographed on a white background. “Know how to take great pictures,” she says.


Mullen Bros.

They Want to Be Your Local Jeweler, No Matter Where You Are

Bob Mullen is owner and founder of Digital Jewelers Academy, as well as an owner of the family business, Mullen Bros. Jewelers in Swansea, MA.

For several years, Mullen and his family pondered the “what ifs” and the concerns they imagined would come with e-commerce while they experimented with product catalogs on their website. “What about stock? What about if we sell things that are sold out? What about fraud? But it’s like having children: If you wait till you’re ready, you’re never going to do it.” In 2014, they began selling online through Shopify and realized $100,000 in revenue the first year.

“In terms of problems, the same things that I thought in my mind would be problems DID happen, but it was not that big of a deal to overcome them. In terms of inventory, it was about keeping things on the site that would be accessible and in stock, unless it’s something like bridal. We only work with designers who have products available that we can get quickly.
“Like anything else, there is no one thing that made it happen. It’s like Jim Collins wrote in the book Good To Great. You build momentum, and it gets easier and easier. It’s the trial and error of learning our audience, learning what they respond to, and looking at Google Analytics.”

Now Mullen, a marketing major in college, is working with other retailers on e-commerce goals. Digital Jewelers Academy, in partnership with Gemsone, administers a private Facebook group with instructional videos and an online posting service. “It’s about e-commerce, creating engaging content, Facebook ads, email strategy, website conversion.”

How much time does e-commerce take? “If you’re budgeting 10 to 15 hours a week of someone’s time, you can make a lot of progress if you know what you’re doing. You can be much more efficient in three hours knowing what you’re doing than 10 hours wandering around.”

Bob Mullen, owner and founder of Digital Jewelers Academy

“The No. 1 question I’m asked is regarding differences in inventory and pricing between the website and physical store. A lot of jewelers feel like they should treat the website like a separate store with lower prices to attract business. But unless you’re trying to build a nine-figure company, you should target a customer most like your own.

Mullen’s average ticket online is around $600, which is higher than in his store. “Our biggest sale was $17,000 and it goes down to $99 here and there. The sweet spot, like anything in jewelry sales, is $200 or $300. But the idea that people are just going online and plunking down 10 grand is a myth.”

The key to success is to provide the same level of service you do in your store. “In my opinion, I can service people a lot better than whoever is manning the call center at Blue Nile,” says Mullen. “You can sell an engagement ring in 10 minutes or have multiple visits over four hours in the store; online, it might take three to six emails. It’s about being proactive and being prompt about responding when people email.”

Local limits mean little when it comes to e-commerce, Mullen contends. “People respond nationally to the same things people respond to locally. Our industry loses 1,000 stores a year. When their jeweler closes, people have to go online or find another local store. More and more people are going online as a result, and are happy to work with a local jeweler, wherever you are. Meet them where they are.”



“We Are Definitely on Our Way to Our Goal”

Last year, Stephenie Bjorkman of Sami’s Fine Jewelry decided that her website and online sales needed to be a priority. But she also knew it was tough, if not impossible, to find time to own the store, work with vendors, manage employees, pay bills, oversee marketing and launch e-commerce.
So she hired one person and then a second person to make it happen.

Stephenie Bjorkman of Sami’s Fine Jewelry

“The only way I could do this was to have a dedicated person to take pics, write descriptions, update events, blogs, social media and more. What is really scary is that I see such an importance in this job, I have already hired her an assistant.”

It hasn’t necessarily “worked” just yet, says Bjorkman. But it is working. “Since I hired devoted staff members, I have seen a 30 percent increase in online sales, along with tons of daily mentions in the store. All of this proves that in the end, having a marketing person is well worth it.”

Online, Bjorkman sells branded items, including her own Animal Rockz line, a custom sterling-silver line of jewelry available in 38 different pet breed varieties. “My store is full of animal lovers, so this is easy for us to be passionate about. We seem to sell at least one of these a day. Prices range from $35-$60 plus shipping. The magic numbers seem to be in the $250-$500 average range. But, with that said, I sold a $30,000 diamond off my website and a $25,000 estate diamond from my e-blast.”

Sales are considered and tracked as “online sales” if everything is done online.

“If you do sell it 100 percent online, you need to handle them like any other client. Answer quickly, make them feel special. We do chat by phone, by social media messengers, text them, and even send them videos. It is a lot of work, but the good news is that it works.

“Our e-commerce actual sales do not currently represent a large amount of my overall business. A two-year goal for me is to sell as much as having a second store. E-commerce also represents the best type of marketing you can do for your business. Long before you advertise in a newspaper, magazine, etc., you should take time to do your online marketing, social media, e-blasts and blogs.”

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