Choosing the Right Brands for Your Store

Lee Michael Berg’s grandmother used to tell him, “You’re known by the company you keep.” Her old-fashioned wisdom is truer than ever in today’s marketplace. Berg, president and chief executive officer of Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry, with eight stores in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, says the Lee Michaels name is the company’s most marketable asset, but its brand partners contribute substantially to it.

Berg has two sets of criteria for selecting the branded merchandise his stores carry. He notes that branded merchandise helps define a store and helps customers form opinions about that store. So, it’s critical to choose well, but it isn’t easy. Here is Berg’s first checklist, for adding new brand partners:

  1. Are we adding it for the right reason?

  2. Does it fit our store culture?

  3. How many in each category do we need? Does it strengthen the category or confuse it? When is too much just too much?

  4. Does it qualify as a “best of the best?”

  5. Will it make a difference to the consumer?

  6. Will it make a difference to our company associates?

Independent retailers also must assess if they’ve aligned themselves with the right brand partners, he stresses.

Berg divides his brand categories into two: super or primary brands (such as Rolex, Mikimoto, David Yurman, and Cartier, among others) and secondary brands.

Berg wants to be important to his primary brands because they have proven staying power and historical name recognition for unparalleled quality. They add credibility to the store in the consumer’s eyes and make secondary brands want to be associated with the store.

However, he notes, primary brands often will control the parameters of the relationship, such as setting requirements for case space, in-store location, and advertising. On the other hand, the jeweler controls the relationship with secondary brands—although Berg cautions that a store can’t be all things to all people, and it’s important to be selective in choosing secondary brands.

Berg’s second set of pointers deals with choosing jewelry and watch brand partners:

  1. Be sure both you and your brand partners are people of integrity.

  2. Product brand partners should grow to be store brand enhancers.

  3. The right brand partners add credibility to the store name.

  4. Customers base their evaluations of a store’s worthiness on its brand partners; that is, they determine if that store is worthy of their business. Customers also will go out of their way to find brands that they want, even if similar but lesser-known ones are more readily available or less costly.

  5. Customers are more forgiving of issues and problems with a well-known brand.

  6. Customers want shopping to be easy. Branding smooths the decision-making process by decreasing doubt about quality and value while solidifying confidence and trust in a proven brand.

  7. Buyers remorse is less of an issue, because customers have already associated desirability with the brand.

  8. Brand exclusivity in the marketplace is essential, because it differentiates a store in that market from all other jewelers and from all luxury goods. It also enhances customers’ impressions of exclusivity and limited design editions and increases a store’s leverage with its brand partners.

  9. Advertising is critical. A brand has the potential to be presold through its advertising; therefore, it’s an easier sale. Co-op advertising helps establish not only the partner brand but also the store’s own brand.

When all is said and done, Berg emphasizes one immutable point: “We are our most important brand. The most important thing we sell is our name. We are the name on the box and the face our customers see across the counter. Trust is the principle upon which our company is grounded, and safeguarding the integrity of the company is the standard by which all decisions and actions are measured.

“Jewelry design or fashion will change, but the relationship of trust, confidence, quality, and value with our name won’t. Nothing substitutes for the positive power of our name. So, correctly building our brand is more time and money efficient than restoring it or changing negative opinions of it.”