What is a ‘Store Brand,’ Anyway?

There are watch and jewelry brands; grocery, toy, and auto brands; soft drink brands, cosmetics brands, and clothing brands. But what’s a store brand? Many jewelers surveyed by JCK assume it’s synonymous with their name, logo, niche marketing, or even the well-known brand-name products they sell.

They’re wrong.

A store’s brand, say retail and branding experts, is much more than any of those factors.

“People know jewelers sell jewelry,” says J. Russell Krueger, chief executive officer of Acquire Marketing, a leader in small-business branding and marketing in the jewelry industry. “What they want to know is what separates your store from others that sell jewelry. What’s your point of difference? What does your store stand for? What’s its ‘promise’ to consumers?”

Krueger offers this definition of a store brand: a combination of attributes, both tangible and intangible, that resonate with your audience while differentiating you from competitors.

“It’s a whole package of rational and emotional benefits,” says Frank Proctor, co-partner of the Luxury Brand Group. “For a store brand to succeed, it must appeal to both the mind and the heart of the consumer, creating a bond with him or her.”

Branding expert Alina Wheeler, author of Designing Brand Identity, explains some of the intangible aspects. “It’s your store’s reputation, the collective perception of consumers, the media, and even your employees. It’s what they think of—and what you want them to think of—when they hear your store name.”

Despite the intangibles, a retailer should be able to verbalize, in simple terms, his or her store brand. “Your store brand should be so clearly defined that everyone in your store, both decision makers and employees, should be able to articulate it within 30 seconds to customers,” says Robert Bridel, former American Gem Society executive director and a veteran retail jewelry executive.

It can be as simple as a name (like Toys R Us) or a brief mission statement. Rasmussen Jewelers, in Racine, Wis., presents itself as “The Ultimate Intimate Jewelry Experience,” with the tagline, “Because your special moments deserve the very best.”

“That captures the relationship we want to build with customers and the reason for our business mode,” says owner William Sustachek. It’s written into the store’s statement of its vision, mission, and values, which every employee carries in card form as a reminder.

Tangible aspects of a store brand help define its image, says Wheeler. “They’re things that appeal to the senses, that people see, experience, or feel, like your business card, your location, your store’s sign, your ad in the local magazine, the box for your jewelry, your store décor, your staff, the jewelry, even the music playing while they shop.”

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Whether the owner knows it or not, every store has a brand—an intentional one the retailer creates or an unintentional one that evolves, and not always to the business’s advantage. “A brand always stands for something, but that isn’t always something good,” notes Krueger. “Many businesses have negative brand images—like being known for poor service—that develop on their own over time.”

Clearly, a store needs to pay attention to its brand. As Wheeler says, “A business must seize every opportunity to manage the perception of who it is.”

To see your business as others see it, talk to them. Here are some basic tips:

Start with your employees. Get their opinions and suggestions. “In staff meetings and one on one, ask, ‘What’s our image? What do we stand for, and what do people think we stand for?’” says Krueger. “If they don’t know, or give inconsistent replies, I guarantee your customers won’t know, either.”

Ask consumers. Invite up to 10 longtime customers to a focus group—perhaps during a catered business lunch—and ask, “What do you like and dislike about our store? What do you think it stands for?” Or ask a local consultant to hold two or three focus groups away from your store involving longtime, occasional, and potential customers. You also can use in-store, e-mail, or direct mail surveys of customers to gain insights about your store’s image.

Ask suppliers. Find out how they perceive your business in terms of your inventory as well as your marketing strengths and weaknesses.

“When what your employees, consumers, and suppliers think about your business align, you have a successful brand. When they don’t, you won’t,” says Kruger.

REFINE AND DEFINE

With information from employees, consumers, and suppliers in hand, take these steps to define your brand:

Ask yourself what you want to be known for. How do you want your community to perceive you? Oklahoma jeweler Arthur Gordon says a jeweler must “start with a crystal clear vision” of what he or she wants to be, and how elements such as décor, layout, and staffing support it.

“The store owner or partners need to brainstorm and discuss what the store aspires to,” says Alina Wheeler. “A great business should have dreams. It should want to exceed customers’ expectations, to astonish and delight them.”

Review your business and sales trends for 18–24 months. Which products and categories sell well—or not—and to whom? Which consumer segments are you reaching and from where? Which products generate repeat business from long-term customers or new customers? Krueger recommends asking yourself why you’re doing a good job in a given product or category. “Is it salespeople, selection, or because you have no real competition?”

Look at competitors’ operations. These include other jewelry and watch retailers, chains, department stores, and big-box discounters. What do they do best—and worst—in selling to consumers? “Business owners need to be always looking at the competitive environment,” says Wheeler. “If you’re going to be different from competitors, you must know how. Why should your [target] customer buy from you and not them?”

Look at your market. No single brand strategy fits all stores, says Krueger. “Look at lifestyles, housing, professions, even cars in your parking lot. Look at your market’s economic and social conditions. How do they affect what people wear and how they buy, and how do you respond as a retailer?”

BUILD AN IDENTITY

Once you have a clear idea of your store brand, attend to tangible features of your brand identity. These include (but aren’t limited to):

Your store. Does it convey your brand image? Is its location easily accessible to your target audience? Is the interior—including wall décor, furniture, case placement, and carpeting—clean, comfortable, and inviting? Proctor cites a key question you should ask yourself: “Does your store name say one thing but the interior décor another?”

Name and logo. Are they distinctive and do they summarize your brand promise? Do you promote your membership in prestigious trade groups such as Jewelers of America, the American Gem Society, Independent Jewelers Organization, and Retail Jewelers Organization?

Employees. “Staff plays a huge part in brand identity,” says Wheeler. “They’re a store’s ambassadors; their relationships with customers make or break sales.” She suggests reminding them regularly of your brand promise and what you stand for. Employees should be well trained. Lacy & Co. in El Paso, Texas, promotes itself as the area’s most knowledgeable watch retailer and won’t let anyone sell watches who doesn’t know enough about them, says jeweler Charles Lacy. “We train them thoroughly, then test them. If they don’t pass, they don’t sell watches. They must be the best watch salespeople, not just in the market but anywhere, period!”

Customer service. It should be “incredible,” says Krueger. He cites Windsor Jewelers, in Augusta, Ga., where a salesperson knows what his wife buys and what her preferences are. “When I need a gift, I call that person, or she calls me when a significant milestone is coming and suggests what to buy. Often, she has it delivered gift-wrapped to my office. Such service establishes a store brand as something special.”

Inventory. Is it large and comprehensive? Do you specialize in a category? Are you known to consumers and suppliers as the best—or the exclusive—retailer of a particular product, like palladium engagement rings or luxury timepieces?

Packaging. Your boxes, bags, paper, and ribbons take your store brand into customers’ homes. Are yours distinctive, prompting people to identify with your store? Tiffany does it with blue boxes. Joseph’s Jewelers in Des Moines, Iowa, is known for gold boxes and bows. Parks Diamond Jewelers, in Texarkana, Texas, uses purple wrapping paper and satin ribbon, imprinted with the store name. “Our logo is on everything we do, and we make sure it’s consistent,” says store manager Diane Cooper.

“Individually or combined, these features can create points of difference from competitors and a preference in consumers to shop with you, for sale after sale,” says Krueger.

PATIENCE PAYS OFF

“Name awareness takes at least two years to sink in,” says Mark Rood, co-founder and president of TOMA Research, which has measured local market awareness of businesses, including jewelers, for two decades. “You won’t change the community’s perception sooner than that—and it wears off if you don’t continue.”

“The worst thing is not giving your new or redeveloped brand enough time to grow,” says Proctor.

Krueger says it takes a while before people notice. “You’re not a brand in their minds until you consistently deliver over time,” he explains. Although visible changes like redecorating, repositioning, or installing new fixtures will be noticed sooner, market awareness still takes time. “It can be months or even a few years, especially if you’re changing a negative brand image,” Krueger says.

“Branding isn’t a sprint,” stresses Alina Wheeler. “It’s a marathon—a business discipline—and the only way it works is being conscientious about it. You do it all the time, because you’re the custodian of your reputation.”

The payoff is worth the time and effort. “A store brand with a good reputation and great shopping experiences, product, and pricing attracts customers, who are so happy with what they buy and how they’re treated, they tell their friends,” Wheeler says.

“If your branding strategy is done right and over time,” states Proctor, “it will affect your store operations, sales, and product selection; create dedicated employees; and bring satisfied new and repeat customers.”