Thriving in Troubled Times: Charity Marketing Draws Customers, Builds Sales

Let’s be clear right away: The jewelers in this report who actively support charities don’t do it for the business. They do it, as one said, because “the more you get, the more you should give back to others.”

Still, their businesses—all family-owned independents doing $1 million to $2 million a year, in markets with a radius of 20 to 30 miles—are affected by their good works. All have seen sales, customer lists, and community awareness rise following charitable promotions.

As the ancient wise man Confucius put it, “He who wishes to secure the good of others, has already secured his own.”

In the following reports, three jewelers discuss their charitable efforts.

“We use our business to do things for our community.”

The store: Jewelry Creations, a 27-year-old family-owned store in Dover, N.H., with 10 employees and $2 million a year in business. We spoke with co-owner Linda Hagan.

JCK: How actively does your store support charities?

LH: People know us for it. We do these things all the time.

JCK: Such as?

In 2007, we bought 100 Jewelers for Children Christmas ornaments [a snowman, based on a drawing by a child at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a JFC-supported charity] for $10 each. In October, we held an in-store press conference, with David Rocha, JFC director, to announce the holiday promotion for November and December, with proceeds going to JFC. Local newspapers and radio stations gave us good coverage. We marketed it as a lovely, inexpensive ($10) holiday gift for a teacher, co-worker, or friend, for a good cause. We also had in-store displays. Many people came in. Small businesses bought them for employees. A lawyer bought them for his secretaries. The ornaments kept selling out; we kept ordering more. Eventually, we sold 325, with no profit to us, and gave $3,250 to CASA, a JFC charity.

JCK: Any others?

LH: A few years ago, for an open house following expansion, we asked suppliers to donate to a raffle benefiting JFC. We got 125 items, including a $2,500 half-carat diamond. We filled the store’s windows with most of them (worth $50 to $3,000), numbered them, and sold raffle tickets ($20 each), redeemable at the open house. I kept five aside for an additional drawing then, for which we also sold tickets. We also put small colored stones (like blue topaz and amethyst), CZs, and the diamond into dozens of balloons, selling each for $10 all month and at the open house.

We promoted the open house, raffle, and balloons for a month. At the event, the store was full, with people out onto the sidewalk. It was a big party. People had fun and knew it was for a good cause. We raised $21,000 for JFC.

JCK: Any this year?

LH: For Valentine’s Day, we held a drawing for a heart pendant with a gemstone to benefit a local food bank. Anyone bringing in food could enter. We had the idea in January and announced it on inserts in our bags; signs in the store; our TV, radio, and newspaper ads; and postcards to our top 2,000 customers. The response shocked me: We had a 12-foot counter piled high with food!

Then, a radio station in the next community told us, “We hear your name so much, we want to work with you.” So, we pledged 10 percent of new sales for the three days before Mother’s Day to a local cancer center, for mothers with cancer. The store and station promoted it, and on Saturday, a DJ from the station broadcast live from the store. It was very successful; we gave $4,000 to the center.

For August, we planned a promotion where people donate school supplies for youngsters who can’t afford them.

JCK: Are your employees involved?

LH: They’re very supportive. We talk over what to do next, and they come up with ideas and get the word out to customers.

JCK: Do you budget for charity promotions?

LH: I look at everything we sell for a need we can support and work into our marketing, but I don’t budget specifically for charity promotions. We market for holiday events anyway, so including a charity promotion doesn’t cost extra. We do budget for miscellaneous, including last-minute events.

JCK: How is business affected?

LH: Doing good things for others can’t hurt your business, unless you give away more than you can afford. Our business was up every month we held an event. People who know about our events and promotions come in, send friends in, and spread good word of mouth.

JCK: Why do this in tough times?

LH: There’s more need, and it depends on how you feel about life. You can just sell jewelry, or you can sell jewelry and help people. We’re all put on earth to make things better for others. We’ve found a way to use our business to do things for our community. I also find that, on the whole, the more you give, the more you get back.

“When you give, it comes back to you.”

The store: Volkmann Diamonds, a fourth-generation, family-owned business in Kankakee, Ill., with 10 employees and $1.3 million in annual sales. We spoke with co-owner Joyce Volkmann.

JCK: Tell us about a recent charity effort.

One is BARK (Because Animals Really Kount), a local animal shelter. We donated a $2,500 half-carat Hearts On Fire diamond for a March 2007 BARK fund-raiser, which we suggested. BARK bought 200 champagne glasses ($10 each) and 200 CZs, which went into them. Event marketing said one held the diamond.

At the gala, the glasses ($20 each) sold out quickly. Purchasers went to a table where Maarten de Witte—Hearts On Fire’s resident diamond expert, in town for staff training at our store—said if their stone was a CZ or genuine. One lucky woman learned her glass held the diamond.

JCK: What was the media’s response?

JV: The event generated very good publicity for us. We were listed as a major sponsor in posters and invitations for the event, and our local newspaper featured Maarten de Witte on its front page, along with information about the charity gala, the donated diamond, and a bridal event we held that same weekend.

JCK: Are there other examples?

JV: We recently designed two pieces of jewelry for a big auction fund-raiser at a local Catholic high school, and now are working with a local hardware store on an event, with proceeds divided between the Diamond Education Fund and Harbor House. Organizers sell candy bars ($10 each), one containing a coupon for a LeVian chocolate diamond and strawberry gold ring, which we donated and which will be awarded at the event.

JCK: What’s the community response?

JV: We regularly get comments and thank-yous from people in the community and who come in. They say, “I come here because you give to the community.”

JCK: And the effect on business?

JV: Doing things like this, besides doing good, gets our name out, and the more exposure you get, the better. If you get someone into your store to show them your things and wow them—even if only one in 10 becomes a customer—it’s worth a lot.

Charity marketing brings in both our customer base and new customers from people who’ve never been here before. In the past year, we’ve added 1,000 new households to our customer mailing list—over 19,000 now—and that’s good for a small area like ours.

We’ve given more to charity than ever in the past fiscal year, and we’re up 15 percent in business overall, and 50 percent just in its second half. I have to think some is because of the giving we do. When you give, it comes back to you—and you feel good when you can contribute to your community.

“God has blessed us with this business, so we can bless others.”

The store: S&E Jewelers, a 60-year-old family-owned business in Amherst, N.Y., with 15 employees and more than $1 million in annual sales. We spoke with co-owner Natalie Neumann.

JCK: How active is your business’s charitable support?

NN: We do at least 50 charity events annually. We get many requests and examine each carefully. Sending a check isn’t enough “wow.” I always send at least a piece of jewelry and store certificate with it.

JCK: Explain the “wow” factor.

NN: When you’re personally involved, you create an experience, a relationship. At a charitable event or one in our store, you meet many people. You get to know them, shake their hands, and talk with them. Sales are tremendously affected by relationships, much ahead of merchandise value or dollar price.

JCK: Tell us about a recent charitable event.

NN: We did a chocolate diamond event with the Autistic Services of Western New York. This was in October [2007], always a difficult month for jewelers, because there’s no real holiday for promotions. We had been excited by the LeVian chocolate diamonds at The JCK Show and decided that would be perfect for Sweetest Day (a popular holiday in Buffalo, promoting candy), the third Saturday in October. About the same time, Autistic Services came asking for a donation, and we suggested an event built around chocolate diamonds and donated a $500 chocolate diamond ring for it. We promoted this for a month in connection with an in-store event, showing it [the diamond] to people and also on our billboard, ads, and postcards for our store event. The Autistic Services had a chocolate company make several thousand chocolate bars, one with a ticket inside to win the diamond we donated. They sold the chocolate bars ($10 each) before and at the fund-raiser. They made $26,000.

JCK: How did that affect business?

NN: Traffic was up 25 percent following the event, and my only expense was the chocolate diamond ring. When people see us donating, they see where our hearts are. That has a tremendous amount of benefit for business. You definitely do see a rise in traffic after a charity event or promotion.

JCK: Are employees involved?

NN: Everyone is very active in this.

JCK: Do you budget for charity promotions?

NN: We budget a certain amount as part of costs, under “advertising/donations.”

JCK: Why do this, especially in hard times?

NN: We aren’t in business to be frivolous. God blessed us with this business, so we can bless others and make a difference in our community. And in doing good, what comes back to us is far more than we anticipated.