The Lure of Private Label Jewelry Lines



There are plenty of upsides to marketing jewelry and watches bearing a retailer’s own brand name

Big name brands like Tiffany & Co. and Cartier might get customers’ attention, but retailers in the know say there’s a cachet that comes from having your own in-house brand of jewelry or watches. Private-label lines offer retailers a brand-building boost along with the ability to tailor products to their customers’ specific tastes. 

First and foremost, private labeling gives retailers “an exclusivity by having their own private brand for the store,” says Alan ­Grunwald, president of Belair Time Corp., in Lakewood, N.J., a supplier of ­private-label watches to jewelry retailers. “It has a lot of meaning if they have a good reputation.”

A private-label collection is a unique opportunity to convey your store’s personality to the buying public in a more tangible way than advertising could accomplish. But retailers must approach the process carefully. “They have to make sure it says something about who they are,” says Robin Rotenier, president and designer of Rotenier Ltd. in New York City.

Avoid Price Wars

Independent retailers are in a pitched battle for customers’ business, and success means competing against the arms race of commoditization and price cuts brought about by Internet sellers.

“Nowadays, with the way the channel distribution has exploded with the Internet and enormous amount of information and options available to consumers, it’s created an extra layer of sophistication and challenge,” Rotenier says. “This is where, in my opinion, [private labeling] can be beneficial to store owners. Their biggest advantage is to differentiate themselves.”

Thomas Tragale
Hand-crafted 14k rose and white gold halo semi-mount with 0.60 ct. t.w. diamonds, designed for a 0.75 ct. cushion-cut or round center; $3,299; Phyllis Bergman for Mercury Ring, NYC; 800-223-0930; mercuryring.com

Having a collection of your own precludes comparison-shopping and guarantees that a customer will buy from you rather than a ­Web-only reseller, Grunwald points out. This gives you the opportunity not only to make a purchase, but also to forge a relationship.

“I offer free battery replacement, a polishing service, a three-year extended warranty, and a trade-in program,” says Aaron Lelah, owner of Aaron Lelah Jewelers in Las Vegas. He exclusively sells private-label collections, including a line of watches manufactured by Belair. “It keeps people wearing your watches.”

Bottom-Line Benefits

Working directly with a manufacturer also cuts costs, say private-label suppliers. Whereas a name-brand watch might sell for twice its wholesale price—possibly less if price competition forces a retailer to discount—a private-label watch can sell for three times the cost and still deliver comparable quality at a better value, says Grunwald.

A private-label timepiece “is less expensive than a comparable quality name-brand watch because we’re cutting out layers of distribution and marketing,” says Jay Mednikow, owner of Mednikow & Co. in Memphis, Tenn. In the three years since he started carrying his own branded line of watches, which are manufactured by Belair, Mednikow says his sales have undergone “a substantial increase, well into the double digits of growth.”

Manufacturers who focus on the private-label business say startup costs are nominal—generally $100 or $200 for a stamp to imprint the store’s logo on each piece. ­Phyllis ­Bergman, president-CEO of Mercury Ring, a division of Interjewel Group, in Englewood, N.J., says her company adds about a dollar in labor costs per piece for the imprinting.

Breaking In

Weekend Watch quartz chronograph; $600–$800; Mednikow Jewelers, Memphis, Tenn.; 901-767-2100; mednikow.com

To start the private-labeling process, you have to find a designer or manufacturer who works with retail clients on ­private-label collections. (For a rundown of the questions to ask a potential partner, see “JCK5: Insider Trading.”) Some offer extensive catalogs of generic pieces that can be imprinted or otherwise marked with a store’s logo, or customized slightly.

The advantage of this route is that these companies know what sells, Bergman says: “Because we do private labels for major diamond houses and because we sell to the independents, we have a really good sense of what the consumer is buying. They’re really coming to me for my expertise.”

Retailers who sell private-label lines point out that big manufacturers also have economies of scale that let them produce pieces inexpensively and they pass the savings onto their clients.

Another option is to seek either a designer with manufacturing capabilities, or a manufacturer with on-staff designers who work with clients on more customized lines. “A lot of times customers have an idea of what they want, so we’ll just take their design and re-create it,” says Nancy Grando, president and co-owner of Grando Inc. in Los Angeles, a company that designs private-label collections and custom pieces for retailers. “Sometimes it’s a collaboration where we’ll tweak elements of their designs via sketches or CAD.”

And although most store owners don’t have the time or the design expertise to actually create pieces themselves, some do want to build their lines around self-produced designs for a more customized feel. The drawback is that sometimes an idea sounds better in theory than in practice, says Mednikow, who designs his private-label pieces. “When you have something made to your specifications, there are going to be a few dogs,” and you can’t send these items back to the manufacturer if they don’t sell, he warns. “There’s a lot more risk involved,” he says. “The plus side is you get bigger profits in most cases,” because you don’t have to pay a designer either directly or incorporate that expense into the price of a piece.

Start Small

Rhodium-plated sterling silver Scorpio cufflinks; $345; Rotenier, NYC; 212-768-1117; rotenier.com

You don’t need a huge outlay of capital to get started. Experts in private-label merchandising say it’s not only acceptable but preferable to get your feet wet with a few pieces rather than with a full-blown collection at the outset.

“For the opening order quantity we like to see a minimum of 24 pieces for a new customer to open up with, but reorders are a minimum of six pieces so it’s really not much,” Grunwald says.

When it comes to a jewelry collection, “I think it should be really targeted and focused to everyday,” Rotenier says. ­“Obviously you’re going to have your hoop earrings, stud earrings with stones, or just metal. You’ll also want a link bracelet—­silver, gold, or two-tone. And a pendant, maybe with birthstones, religious, or zodiac signs.”

Mednikow affirms that your first stab at private labeling doesn’t have to be completely fleshed out. “You can start out with just a small collection that’s cohesive, and you don’t risk as much.”

Retailers with private lines say the single biggest benefit of having your own branded collection is that it turns every customer into an ambassador, thus giving the brand a boost each time a piece is worn.

“I believe it’s important for jewelry stores to brand ­themselves,” Mednikow concludes. “Watches are probably one of the ultimate ways of branding. Wearing a Mednikow watch is a prestigious thing in our market.”

More for your store on JCKonline.com:
+ How to Hit Jewelry Shoppers’ New Sweet Spot
+ Capitalizing on the American-Made Jewelry Movement
+ How Jewelers Are Thinking Outside the Precious Metal Box