JEC Focuses on Education and Networking

Approximately 150 jewelers from 14 Midwestern states converged on the Doubletree Hotel in Overland Park, Kan., for two days of educational seminars, networking, and a chance to see products and services from about 50 vendors during the Jewelry Executives Conference.

The fifth biennial regional conference for owners and managers of independent jewelry stores, held this past April 1 and 2, is the product of four Jewelers of America state affiliates (Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Nebraska/South Dakota). Founded in 1998, the conference receives the bulk of its support from JA. Its success has led JA to encourage its members to start other regional conferences.

“JA is looking at this real closely,” says Jerry Brunell of Brunell’s, Wichita, Kan., a JEC executive committee member. “It’s not economically feasible for some state organizations to have state conferences. So they are watching the regional conferences.”

“It’s the best example of getting together to learn,” adds JA vice president David Lafleur, who attended the event. “The feedback from attendees is always positive. I haven’t run into one person who has anything negative to say. As JA looks ahead, we want to encourage and launch similar conferences in other parts of the country based on this successful model.”

One such regional conference was held for the first time in Memphis, Tenn., last year and will be held again March 24–25, 2007. Called the Southeast Jewelers Leadership Conference, it’s being hosted by JA affiliates in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.

Several speakers gave presentations in 90-minute seminars and in sessions held during meals, covering a broad range of topics, including measuring financial success, security, and personal growth. Marketing and advertising were constant themes for many of the sessions.

THE ‘FOUR Cs’ OF MARKETING

Ellen Fruchtman of Fruchtman Marketing, Toledo, Ohio, provided advertising and marketing guidelines for competing with chains, big-box stores, and the Internet in a presentation titled “The ‘C’ You Can’t Forget—Competition: Competitive Marketing for Success.”

She presented what she calls the “four Cs” of a good marketing campaign: clarity, consistency, commitment, and competition.

Fruchtman said that having a clear message means more than just communicating a message that’s understood. It also must differentiate a store from its competitors, provide a unique selling proposition, and say something about the store and its personality.

“Every store has a personality,” she said. The question jewelry store owners have to ask is whether their stores match their customer’s personality. “You have to understand who you are and what you want to be.”

Fruchtman said retailers need to avoid what she called “multiple personality disorder,” meaning that “they want to be one way, but their clarity of message or actions say something else.”

After crafting the message and defining its audience, it’s important that it be consistent. “Stick with it,” she said. “Don’t second-guess. … The message needs to be consistent for every medium.

Fruchtman said that when setting a budget it’s important to be realistic. The budget should be about 5 percent to 8 percent of gross sales. She advised looking at three- and four-year trends and recommended marketing all year, not just during peak selling times. She also encouraged jewelers to invest in an effective Web site. “I cannot believe how many of you don’t have an active, robust Web site,” she said.

To compete, independent jewelers must be smarter than their competitors, Fruchtman said. She said retailers should separate their best customers and create customized buying programs for each customer segment, use a secret shopper to shop their store, and create unique in-store events.

CREATIVE MARKETING

Striking a similar theme, Pradeep Khanna, founder of Richa Creations and PK Designs, Colorado Springs, Colo., delivered a presentation called “Creative Marketing.”

“First you have to find out the image of your store in your customer’s mind,” he told a lunchtime audience. “Then you plan the store so that everything you do reflects your store’s image.”

He focused much of his presentation on database marketing, including ways to keep in touch with customers so they remain customers and how to organize that information. He said it’s extremely important to track a customer’s purchasing history by obtaining the type of purchase, the cost, addresses, e-mails, and important dates at the time of purchase.

He said mailings are the best way to reach customers. “That is your primary source of database marketing,” he explained. But he cautioned against overlooking Internet marketing, especially the use of e-mail.

Khanna warned jewelers not to be impatient with marketing campaigns. “Marketing is not instant gratification.”

Other seminars and presentations included those given by Gary Hill, president and owner of Leo Hamel & Co., San Diego, who talked about the importance of communicating with clients with letters in a presentation titled “Getting Your Sales Associates to Sell More”; Leo Anglo, manager of Vincent’s Jewelers in the St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur, Mo., who gave a talk titled “A Jewelers’ Simple Approach to Measure Financial Success”; Debbie Hiss, director of sales training for Lazare Kaplan, who gave a lunchtime presentation on selling Ideal diamonds; and James Pippenger, a commercial security consultant with Protection One, Lenexa, Kan.

Motivational speaker Bryan Dodge opened and closed the conference with high-energy presentations focusing on personal leadership.

EXCHANGING IDEAS

There were plenty of industry veterans at the event, but there were also a few people who either are new to the jewelry business or new at being business owners. Joe and Stephanie Baharian took over Diamond’s 1st Jewelers in Grand Island, Neb. Joe Baharian has been in the jewelry business for 21 years, but Stephanie is a newcomer. “I’ve never been a jeweler, so this has been a great opportunity to research and learn about the industry,” Stephanie said.

They also said that they met a goal by signing up at least one jewelry vendor at the conference.

Melinda and Tom Nolan took over the business of Roemer Originals, a custom-jewelry operation in St. Charles, Mo., in April 2005, where Melinda has worked since 2001. It was their first JEC event. “This was our first conference and we really enjoyed it,” Melinda said. “It was a great learning experience from the seminars, the vendors, and all the store owners. … I’m certain we left with lots of ideas to help us to grow in the future.”

Larry and Dayna McCoy of McCoy Jewelers, Bartlesville, Okla., have attended several conferences and say they can always find something new to learn, even when enjoying a beer in the JEC hospitality suite. “Networking is certainly part of it,” Dayna said. “I got a really great tip from another jeweler in the hospitality room.”

Leo Anglo said the regional nature of the event makes it easier for jewelers to network. “People who don’t want to talk to competitors can have a relationship with jewelers outside their general area.”

Jewelers Mutual was one of the JEC’s three founding “premier” sponsors. Ron Harder, president and chief executive officer, said the event gives his company a chance to develop its relationships. “It’s an opportunity to nurture and build on the relationships that we have throughout the year.”

Tom Wright of Wright’s Jewelers, Lincoln, Neb., co-chair of this year’s event, expressed shock at how many jewelers don’t go to JEC. He said an event with a similar number of speakers, meals, and networking opportunities would cost about $400 per person, but because of vendor fees and sponsorships, JEC’s cost per person is $125. “It’s amazing to me to see the number of people I know who are staying at home instead of coming to this event.”