How Retailers Can Make the Most of Any Bridal Budget

Bargain hunters or big spenders, brides are united on at least one point: They’re seeking service that makes them feel like a million bucks.

When it comes to the $11 billion wedding jewelry industry, the truth is that not all customers are created equal: Some are swimming in cash, while others are barely staying afloat. Despite the varied nature of bridal budgets, however, the good news is that the national average cost of an engagement ring remains at $5,200, according to research The Knot conducted in 2011, the most recent data available at press time.

So as a retailer, how do you navigate the bridal waters? Put simply: Cater to your clients. That is, get into their heads, carry the merchandise they want (and can afford), create and nurture relationships, and think strategically about how you market to these folks. Of course, it’s rarely as simple as it sounds, so we asked top jewelers and some of the most popular makers of bridal jewelry to consult their playbooks and share specific tips for attracting and profiting from the $5,200 bridal customer—as well as those who spend much more or less.

Catering to the $5,200 Bridal Client

“The fact that we customize and handcraft our rings is a big attraction. Many people have heirloom diamonds now, and we are inundated with requests to create a new wedding ring with an old stone. We are ­rocket-propelling because we offer this service, especially since most of the big retailers who cater to this $5,000-range customer can’t. They can’t start sketching designs at the counter, they can’t show similar pieces they’ve created as an example, and they don’t employ a goldsmith on the premises.”
David Iler, owner and master metalsmith, Alchemy, Portland, Ore.

Diamond and 18k white gold solitaire rings; $4,995 each; Tacori, Glendale, Calif.; 800-421-9844; tacori.com

“Tacori is often considered an aspirational brand, but our design team has developed price points that reach almost every customer who wants to wear Tacori—including a collection of engagement rings that can be sold complete with a diamond for $4,995. To support the collection, we produced some beautiful print and digital marketing collateral for our retail partners to use in their local markets.”
Paul Tacorian, president of marketing and sales, Tacori

“Engage the pre-engaged with information about the designer, why the product was created, and how the product is made. This excites conversation and builds trust. Yes, the average bridal customer is indeed spending thousands, so remind him or the couple that they’re making a great investment. Say what Scott would say: ‘The bridal gown is worn once and placed into storage. The wedding cake is eaten. The ring—the one item blessed in a church, temple, or synagogue—is, hopefully, on your finger for the rest of your life.’ This is not ‘just jewelry.’ This is highly symbolic, spiritual, and life-changing jewelry.”
Dan Scott, chief marketing officer, Scott Kay

“We have own our diamond inventory, so when a customer at this price point comes in we can show him several different examples of what he’s looking for. We are very value conscious, and we’re willing to face the ­Internet head on. We’ll literally go onto Blue Nile and show the customer his options based on his search criteria—we often have several diamonds that meet the same criteria, all beautiful stones hand-selected by my dad, and Blue Nile will just have one. And our prices will be better.”
David Rovinsky, sales and marketing consultant, Serago Roberts Jewelers, Northfield, N.J.

“We opened our engagement concept store, TWO by London, at our Manhasset, N.Y., location last year to make the process of buying a ring feel more welcoming, modern, and interactive. It’s a low-pressure environment where you can try on hundreds of rings without asking and linger as long as you like. The key is to make these customers feel comfortable and at home in your store. This includes giving them the right mix of education and knowledge—without being too over the top—and hosting lots of events. For example, our ‘Wedding Band Weekend’ was a three-day wedding band trunk show featuring several different bridal brands. Special promotions were offered throughout the weekend as well.”
Scott Udell, vice president, TWO by London at London Jewelers, Manhasset, N.Y.

Catering to the High-Spending Bridal Client

“People come here from all over the world, and if somebody is going to come here from Singapore or Australia or London or Mexico City, we need to have the most beautiful jewelry imaginable, using the most beautiful stones imaginable, and the finest craftsmanship imaginable. We cut or recut nearly all the colored stones we use and many of the diamonds, always trying to achieve excellence. Naturally, when a client does come from afar, we try to be as welcoming as possible. We help them arrange accommodation and dinner reservations, and oftentimes we’ll give them a gift certificate to a really great restaurant and a tour of our workshop.”
Walter McTeigue, co-owner, McTeigue & McClelland, Great Barrington, Mass., and New York City

“There are over 40 salespeople here to help, so our service is exceptional. We employ two full-time hand engravers, one from a school in Liège, ­Belgium, and the other the former head of Cartier’s engraving. We can handle any sentimental inscription or embellishment of a jewel. We emphasize quality and historic designs to withstand a lifetime of marriage, thinking long term and in the interest of the customer. We do not push the latest Hollywood designs. Our clients quickly sense the durability of the values here and, hopefully, share them with us.”
Terry Betteridge, owner, Betteridge, Greenwich, Conn.

“Carrying certain bridal designers, such as Ritani, Christopher Designs, and Michael B., drives affluent customers into the store and automatically gives us access to a $10,000 price point. And our involvement in Jewish community and cancer research charities puts us in front of the right people.”
David Rovinsky, Serago Roberts Jewelers

Carmella engagement ring with 1.57 cts. t.w. diamonds (center stone not included); $8,350; Kirk Kara, Northridge, Calif.; 800-874-0181; kirkkara.com

“Our higher-end customers love a personal appearance by the designer. We recently attended a very successful bridal event at Diamonds Direct in ­Birmingham, Ala., where the average retail sale per piece with the ­diamond was between $10,000 and $20,000. We met a woman who came to the event specifically wanting to purchase a Kirk Kara ring. She didn’t expect to meet the designer that day, so she was thrilled. Her original ­budget was $6,000 and she ended up spending $12,000.”
Grace Terazian, director of sales and marketing, Kirk Kara

“One of the great things that we have been able to do is to create ­outstanding engagement rings for celebrity clientele. The PR and word-of-mouth that comes with this adds to brand recognition. It’s another way to make our customers feel confident in purchasing with us. We also give a gift bag to all our clients with every engagement ring purchase, which includes, but isn’t limited to, chocolate, champagne, and jewelry cleaner.”
Scott Udell, TWO by London

18k gold hammered band; $3,300; Alchemy, Portland, Ore.; 503-227-8373; alchemyjeweler.com

“We’re really focused on online advertising and social media—the print ad doesn’t work like it used to unless it’s at the national level, like in Town & Country or Martha Stewart Weddings. We carry designer Alex Sepkus, who frequently shows up in The New York Times, so we do benefit from his marketing efforts. We also enjoy a similarly symbiotic relationship with the designer Todd Reed.”
David Iler, Alchemy

Catering to the Budget Bridal Client

“When we are working with a more modest budget, we do the following: Encourage the customer to trade in scrap gold for a very generous allowance toward the cost of their project and to consider alternatives to diamonds, such as sapphire, for the center stone.”
Peggy Hiltabidle Wilson, co-owner, Harbor Jewelers, Chesapeake, Va.

18k white gold ring with 0.5 ct. round brilliant diamond center and 0.11 ct. t.w. accents, $1,370, 18k white gold band with 0.23 ct. t.w. diamonds, $1,240; Sylvie Collection, Plano, Texas; 214-472-9992; sylviecollection.com

“Our retailers have had great success with our Petite Collection, a grouping of designs that are sold complete with center diamonds ranging in size from 30 to 90 points and that start at a retail price of $1,400. For our retailers, this collection is a must-have, especially when they have an entire showcase filled with ‘live, ready-to-go’ completes, allowing the customer to see his many options. There are more than 40 styles in the range to choose from!”
Sylvie Levine, designer, Sylvie Collection

“Our store emphasizes clienteling, whether the person is spending $3,000 or $30,000. We show the same level of service to the budget-minded bridal customer, approaching each sale in the spirit of relationship building. I train our staff to not judge their clients’ potential. You never know how someone is connected. A modest engagement ring purchase could lead to more extravagant purchases for anniversaries and birthdays in the years to come. Who knows where this client may end up in five to 10 years…CEO of a company?”
Cindi Rottermond, co-owner, Rottermond Jewelers, Milford, Mich.

“Some of what we have done has been to bring in lower price-point bridal sets, those in the $995 to $2,000 range. Then we try to get the word out to the younger customer via social media and our new smartphone apps, and also the radio and newspaper. When these younger couples do come in, they seem surprised that our prices are the same or lower than what they see at the mall.”
Tom Hart, owner, Hart Jewelers, Grants Pass, Ore.

Juliet semi-mount with round center stone and diamond-enhanced band; $1,609; ArtCarved, NYC; 800-531-9169; artcarvedbridal.com

“We consistently get great feedback on ArtCarved from our retailers. We employ numerous touch points, including an exclusive app and Facebook and Pinterest pages that drive Millennial consumers into the store. We also equip many of our retailers with an iPad so that they can show our entire catalog to consumers and guide them in making the right decision based on the criteria they’re looking for. Partnering with retailers like Reeds/Jenss in New York and Razny Jewelers in Chicago on our ArtCarved Amazing Ring Race program is yet another way that we keep the brand accessible and appealing to the Millennial customer. We’ve conducted nearly 50 of these events and the beautiful thing is that we see significant spikes in sales both before and after the contest.”
Tom Tanner, senior vice president, marketing and communications, Frederick Goldman

Stitch Collection 18k rose gold ring with 0.36 ct. t.w. melee and 1.58 ct. emerald-cut diamond center; $20,200; Michael B., Studio City, Calif.; michaelbjewelry.com

“While our retail partners realize today’s bridal ­customers are certainly looking for the best price, they’ve noticed that they also aspire to great design. That’s why representing a brand versus ‘selling it’ is a must. This means romancing the product and not just pulling a ring out of the case when someone points to it. Independent retailers like Robbins Brothers, Ben Bridge, and Reeds Jewelers know to offer our designs in this way, including platinum mountings starting at $2,500. We also have a hand-sculpted and engraved palladium engagement ring that starts at $1,390 and a very strong 14k gold collection to cater to the couple spending under $5,000.”
Dan Scott, Scott Kay

For more on bridal on JCKonline.com:
+ Who Is Today’s Modern Bride?
+ New Bridal Jewelry That’ll Have Customers Saying “I Do”
+ Bridal Power: How Real Women Shop for Wedding Jewelry