The store supports the university, and in turn, students support the store
At Texas A&M University, it’s almost tradition that students who have been seriously dating get engaged during senior year. And though College Station, Texas, the school’s hometown, boasts about a dozen jewelry stores, sweethearts shopping for rings are likely to start their journey at David Gardner’s Jewelers. The store, opened by husband and wife David and Julia Gardner in 1983, has made the college’s revolving door of roughly 55,000 students its primary demographic—through clever marketing initiatives, the creation of a student advisory council, and well-placed sponsorships. (David Gardner’s is the official Aggie athletic department jeweler. A&M students are called Aggies, originating from the agriculture school.) “It was a very organic decision to reach out to the college about five years ago,” says Julia. From a buying perspective, she adds, “David and I are in our 50s, and we realized if we weren’t going to ask them about all things engagement rings, we were probably going to be guessing, and therefore missing the mark.” We talked to Julia about their strategic school ties.
How did the store’s student advisory committee come to be?
We started with a small informal group but eventually we made it a formal thing with around 30 people. We get so much interest now that students have to apply to be a part of it. We meet about three times in the fall and three times in the spring. We bounce marketing ideas off them, and they look at everything from engagement rings to lower-priced pieces like ankle bracelets and tell us what they think. When companies call us wanting us to sell something new, we say, “Send us an example and we’ll run it by our students.” It’s also something the students like putting on their résumés.
How did you become the Texas A&M athletic department’s official jeweler?
That came as a recommendation from a member of the student advisory group years ago. The university approached us with the opportunity, and we pay a fee for the honor. It means that we are a significant supporter of Aggie athletics. No one else can have that. We get lots of exposure at football games—we have sponsored the “Ask Aggie” feature on the Jumbotron, where they ask players funny questions. And it allows us to use that designation in all our ads. With a school of this size, there’s a significant alumni [base]. It doesn’t only resonate with the students, but with the community. There are lots of Aggies that are very into Aggie athletics.
What kind of university-related events do you host at the store?
We remodeled our building about six years ago, and it’s allowed us to have several hundred people in the store at once. We help sororities with fundraisers, host socials; we cosponsor an event during parents’ weekend that’s fun for moms and dads, like a David Yurman jewelry or Michele watch event. We also host sorority pledge presentations, which started when a certain sorority house had a major structural issue. We knew some of the girls, so we called and offered to have it at the store. Each girl is presented into the sorority with her dad; that’s the end of her pledge period. If they see something they like during the event, they will usually come back to get it, but that’s not our expectation. We’re hosting it for them.
Does all the exposure translate into sales?
The advertising does. But events are really to get people through the threshold. Jewelers have an intimidating presence, and we’re a stand-alone building, so we can be really intimidating. When they come in with friends for an event, they get to know us and have a little fun. Then if they have a need or are getting engaged, they’ve been in before and have established that relationship.