Tool Time: Retailers Get High-Tech



From jewelry cleaners to videoconferencing products, these devices are making a difference where it counts: at the sales counter.

Dan Dement is known as “Mr. Gadget” among his retail peers. Explaining his insatiable need to stock the latest and greatest gadgets in his store, Stone Oak Jewelers in San Antonio, Texas, he takes the “boys and their toys” defense: “The retailer who dies with the most gadgets wins.”

At age 62, Dement has logged more than 40 years in the industry—11 of them as a retailer selling a mix of finished goods and custom-made jewelry. Early on, he learned that adapting to new technologies and keeping current with changes and upgrades helped him keep the “independent” in independent jeweler.

Dan Dement

To nurture this self-determining spirit, Dement formed an alliance five years ago with a handful of tech-savvy jewelry store owners with the help of Travis Serio, software developer for Gemvision, perhaps the biggest name in the world of computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) products. The group first came together at a Gemvision Design Symposium and meets at these biennial events in special sessions.

Dement and Serio are joined by pure-custom players Jim Tuttle, owner of Green Lake Jewelry Works in Seattle, and Greg Stopka, proprietor of two JewelSmiths locations in Pleasant Hill and San Ramon, Calif. The fifth member, store owner Ryan Knox of Knox Jewelers in Minneapolis, carries an inventory mix much like Dement’s. 

The group shares a common bond in their advanced knowledge and use of Gemvision’s key products, namely Matrix, the CAD/CAM software for creating custom jewelry, and CounterSketch Studio, a virtual inventory and custom jewelry software system developed in conjunction with Stuller, the company that also provides the back-end product fulfillment. As a whole, they tend to rely less on live goods than traditional retailers, focusing on creating in-store experiences for their customization-obsessed bridal customers.

Given the comfort level that many of these customers have with technology, Tuttle thinks there is a case to be made for bringing tech tools out of the back room and into the showroom, where interactive demonstrations can help grease the sales process.

Engrave Matters

Gravograph USA’s new RingCube ($4,270; ring-cube.com) is a compact desktop engraving machine that lets customers inscribe their jewels in minutes with an LCD touch-screen keypad.

Engraving machines are a natural place to test Tuttle’s theory. Gravograph USA recently launched RingCube and TagCube, two compact desktop engraving machines that customers can operate with a little help from a sales associate. The RingCube ($4,270) can engrave both the inside and outside of a ring, as well as the underside and tops of bracelets. Using an LCD touch-screen keypad, the engraving process requires just five easy steps.

Once the jewelry item’s dimensions are entered and the item is secured in the holding tray, a customer can create a message using a variety of font styles and sizes. After proofreading and previewing, a diamond-tipped engraver makes fast work of the inscription.

For pendants and today’s popular dog tag–style jewelry, TagCube ($4,290) provides another interactive engraving solution. The steps are essentially the same as RingCube, but the TagCube secures items to be engraved using a sliding tray.

Dedicace ($1,295) is a writing-pad accessory that works with the RingCube and the TagCube to engrave handwritten messages and shapes, such as a child’s sentiment inside a heart.

Through the Looking Glass

Kassoy’s speckFINDER HD by Dazor ($7,995; speckfinder.com) is a new computer video microscope that projects a diamond or piece of jewelry onto a larger viewing screen.

Gemological microscopes offer another way to interact with customers on the sales floor. But not everyone likes to squint through the eyepiece of a traditional microscope. Kassoy’s new speckFINDER HD by Dazor ($7,995) is a new computer video microscope that projects a diamond or piece of jewelry onto a larger viewing screen, such as a flat-screen monitor.

The imaging system has high-grade optics, producing clear, detailed single images and video using its USB 2.0 CCD camera with up to 55x maximum magnification. It also has a Windows 7 operating system—a bonus for many retailers. “[That] will work nicely with my existing POS system,” says Joe Molfese, owner of Bella Cosa Jewelers in Willowbrook, Ill., who plans to use the speckFINDER HD to create detailed sales receipts featuring images of customers’ diamonds.

Joe Molfese

The speckFINDER boasts a unique image overlay feature that may appeal to retailers doing repair or custom work. It allows users to overlay two gemstone images to provide irrefutable visual evidence that a stone was not swapped during a repair or custom job. “This wasn’t a sales-clincher for me, but it sure is a nice benefit to have if I’m ever in this predicament,” says Molfese. 

V-By and By

Virtual sales tool V-By is described by its developer as “Skype on steroids” ($3,495; v-by.com).

Speaking of sales clinchers, a new virtual selling tool officially introduced at JCK Las Vegas gives retailers focusing on e-commerce a potentially game-changing advantage in the marketplace.

V-By was developed by Deborah Hecht and her husband, Tim Rhodes, longtime sales reps who sold jewelry up and down the West Coast from their RV for 11 years until escalating costs encouraged them to explore a safer, more affordable option. The patent-pending, advanced videoconferencing technology enables live real-time jewelry presentations on video, with visuals crisp enough to close big-ticket sales.

“It’s like Skype on steroids,” Hecht tells JCK via phone and V-By, drawing attention during a demo to tiny details such as makers’ marks on shanks and a minuscule bug encapsulated in amber. Ideal for jewelry makers and retailers who sell online—the pair already count 15 of the former and two of the latter as clients—the product, which carries annual licensing fees of $3,495, has been available to the industry for two years.

Greg Stopka

“What interests me most about this technology is its ability to give better customer service using the Internet in ways that the consumer will appreciate because of their familiarity with videoconferencing at their jobs,” says Stopka.

Retailers who viewed a V-By demonstration at the company’s booth in Vegas showed interest in not only the inherent selling features, but also V-By’s marketing potential—as well as the possibilities for customer and employee education. “You can use V-By for product training sessions with your sales staff or even invite customers to ‘meet with the designer’ for an educational program,” says Hecht. “It’s all about showing today’s customer that you are available to them where they are—on the Internet.”

Coming Clean

High-tech tools such as V-By are one way to connect with customers. But don’t forget about simple, everyday items such as cleaners that can sweeten a sale or give a customer that extra incentive to make a purchase.

A new streamlined version of Jewel Jet’s high-pressure, hot-steam jewelry cleaner boasts a pressurized safety cap and an auto-shutoff ($199; jeweljet.com)

Jewel Jet, one of the early innovators in developing compact cleaners for retail jewelry stores, recently launched a new streamlined, ergonomic version of its high-pressure, hot-steam jewelry cleaner. The consumer model boasts several new safety features, such as a pressurized safety cap and an auto-shutoff (suggested retail price: $199). 

For cleaners with a cause-marketing element, look to Sy ­Kessler’s forthcoming at-home jewelry cleaning spa, due out in October, just in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month (suggested retail price: $69, with $4 from each sale benefiting the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure).

If, however, you’re looking for a cleaner that’s simple, ­portable, and—perhaps best of all—affordable, there’s Shine by Collé ­jewelry cleaning mousse, which comes in a 4 oz. container that retails for $14.95. Marketed by Collé Products LLC, it features a large clear overcap that functions as a cleaning dish. Consumers remove the cap, drop their jewelry inside, and fill it with the mousse. Within three to five minutes, the foam dissipates, and voilà—the jewelry is clean. Now how’s that for simplicity? (Additional reporting by Jennifer Heebner)

More about Equipment/Tech on JCKonline.com:
+ World Gone CAD
+ You’ve Got It Made
+ It’s Hip to Be on Foursquare