Corporate Jewelry: Why Let Others Have All the Profit?

PEARLS ARE WINNERS IN MAINE CONTEST

Would you like to have a customer who purchases a few dozen or more pieces of jewelry every year and doesn’t require that you stock any particular inventory? Would you like to have a long list of such customers? A more pertinent question is, Where can you find customers like that?

The answer might lie around the corner or down the street. Many corporations recognize their employees and others regularly with service awards, sales incentives, and retirement gifts. Gifts and awards include watches, clocks, wallets, desk doodads, framed prints—and jewelry. And it’s not just corporations handing out these goodies. It’s also professional groups of architects or attorneys, large department stores, and sprawling factories with hundreds or thousands of workers.

“The corporate market is largely untapped,” says Mark Blinderman of Jewelers of Maitland in Maitland, Fla. “Cash flow is great, and there is no inventory to stock. Profits are equal to, if not better than, selling a 3-ct. diamond.”

Most companies with recognition programs buy directly from manufacturers that specialize in transforming corporate logos into lapel pins, tie tacks, charms, and rings—the most popular pieces. Given the choice, many businesses would rather purchase from local vendors. And that, combined with the perception of value associated with high-quality retailers, gives independent jewelers an edge.

Getting started. Not every jewelry retailer will duplicate the good fortune of Hamilton Jewelers in St. Louis, which succeeded in the corporate jewelry business without even trying when nearby companies looked to it for retirement gifts. “We suddenly discovered we were in the corporate jewelry business by accident,” says owner Bob Beumer. “So we just decided to pursue it on purpose.”

If you decide to pursue it, consider starting small—that is, target small companies. Size does not determine whether a company has employee recognition or customer-appreciation programs. Your doctor or dentist, for example, is probably a member of a small professional corporation and might be in the market for a gift for staff members or suppliers. Once you get a single customer, word of mouth can work wonders.

Be on the lookout for people who come into the store wearing a corporate lapel pin or ring. Offer to clean it for them and compliment them on the piece when you return it. Then call the company’s human resources director and let him or her know that corporate jewelry can be purchased “right here in town.”

Jay Seiler, owner of Security Jewelers in Duluth, Minn., suggests that retailers start with their established customer base. “Get to know where they work and in what capacity,” he says. “These are people who already know and trust your operation.” Blinderman also advocates customer outreach. “You have to tell them you’re interested in their [company’s] business. If nothing else, ask for the name of the appropriate person to contact.”

Enlist your employees. Seiler’s employees are instrumental in attracting corporate business. He says staff members involved in community activities and organizations “talk it up” with friends and associates. “It was just a matter of getting the word out that this kind of service was available right here,” he says. Beumer notes that “even if the person you talk it up to doesn’t need recognition services, the information usually makes it around to someone who does.”

How can you encourage your staff to “talk up” corporate jewelry to the community? Try using lottery tickets as an incentive. At your next store meeting, give each staff member an “instant win” ticket, accompanied by a form that asks them to list the names of people they know from their church or synagogue, businesses they patronize, organizations, and other sources. Explain that every completed form returned to the store will earn another lottery ticket. (A single completed form can identify as many as 100 individuals who can be alerted to your corporate jewelry service.)

Next, ask your staff to get in touch with the people they listed on their forms. Emphasize that the mission is a fact-finding one. The point is to learn what, if anything, their contacts’ employers do to recognize employees. Inform your people that every 10 contacts made via telephone or face-to-face will earn another instant lottery ticket. And tell them that every contact that results in business will earn 10 more tickets.

One way to advertise your corporate service to every customer is to have your employees wear an example. Talisman, a company that manufactures corporate jewelry for retailers, will supply stores with jewelry-themed lapel pins for staff members. (Disclosure: I’m a limited partner in Talisman.) Employees should know how to sell the service.

Making the pitch. How do you respond when a potential corporate prospect tells you that his or her employees would rather have another type of gift? First, remind the customer that service awards should include the company’s name or logo. Don’t forget to mention that, unlike household products, a piece of jewelry lasts forever. Also note that a beautiful and well-made charm or lapel pin that incorporates a logo into its design makes more aesthetic sense than a table lamp or iced tea set stamped with the logo—and is less likely to elicit employee carping.

It’s important to discuss the company’s corporate image. Ask your customer which gift best reflects that image: a gorgeous gold item adorned with gemstones—or a toaster? Finally, explain that items that maintain high visibility within the workplace, such as emblems, watches, and rings, constantly remind recipients and their peers of what was accomplished and what was honored. Ask the customer which recognition investment will produce the greater, more long-lasting return.

Mark Raders of Wetzel & Truex in Norfolk, Neb., made his case directly to the employees of one company, pulling an all-nighter to speak to workers on all three shifts. As a result, the employees gave the nod to a recognition program that awarded a hunting knife for five years of service, a wristwatch for 10 years, a gold and diamond ring for 15 years, and a mantle clock for 20 years.

Sometimes you have to say no. Many of your prospective corporate customers will be familiar with the catalogs, Web sites, and sales representatives of corporate jewelry manufacturers that deal directly with companies. Don’t expect to compete with them on price. “Sometimes you have to tell [your corporate customer] that their expectations are too high,” says Seiler, who emphasizes that jewelers must not be afraid to turn down business.

“Never embarrass your customer,” Blinderman cautions. “If you cannot produce the product correctly while working within their budget, pass on the job.”

But even when you have to say no, you can perform a useful service as an honest consultant. That way, you’ve helped your customer while maintaining your integrity.

Susan E. Wolford is a limited partner with Talisman.

Beyond Lapel Pins

Robert Mann, chief operating officer of Mann’s Jewelers in Rochester, N.Y., says there are more than enough company logos in circulation—on coffee mugs, T-shirts, baseball caps, and dozens of other items. When it comes to corporate incentive programs, he believes in going logo-less. “I think the majority [of corporate award recipients] don’t want a logo. I think they want something a little more indicative of their value to the company, as opposed to something with the company brand on it.”

Mann believes that if corporations want to motivate sales staffs to hit specific sales targets, they should make the incentive appropriate to the goal. If a company is looking to increase sales by $1 million, for example, awarding a $10,000 luxury watch or a pair of high-quality diamond earrings will turn out to be a wise investment. “There is no better way to [motivate] employees than to offer something as long-lasting and quality-driven as a quality piece of jewelry or a fine timepiece,” says Mann. “If you give people what they want, they’re more likely to perform better for you.”

But what do people want? Mann’s Jewelers’ major competition for corporate business may be the local travel agent rather than another jewelry store. “Cruises and travel are being widely used as incentives,” Mann says. “We went with the pitch that travel is good, but jewelry lasts forever.” The store also supplies businesses with high-end watches to award to their high-performing employees, another product that Mann believes tops a cruise or trip as a motivator. “It’s an incentive every time they look at their wrist.”

Mann’s Jewelers has the good fortune to be located in a city with 19 Fortune 500 companies. The store has developed business relationships with 10 of them. “A lot of our customers are CFOs and CEOs,” says Mann. “We’ve parlayed our internal store relations into fairly decent corporate relations. We offer them a wide range of products—watches, jewelry, pens, and giftware—and we’re trying to offer a variety of price points.” Prices have ranged from about $200 to $20,000. “We’re trying to develop a tiered approach, with an entry level for smaller companies,” Mann notes.

The store’s approach to the corporate market is based in part on past experience. “We used to do a lot of lapel-style jewelry, but once we started looking at what sort of dollars we were getting, we might as well not have had it,” Mann says. “We made no money but got all the headaches.”

Supplying high-powered corporate incentive programs helps maintain Mann’s Jewelers luxury market. “It’s a constant struggle, where to find luxury customers,” says Mann. “One answer we came up with is the corporate customer.”

Corporate services account for about 4% to 5% of Mann’s Jewelers’ total business, representing about $600,000 to $750,000 in annual sales. The store promotes its corporate services primarily through networking, but a corporate catalog is in the works.—Richard Dalglish