3 Takeaways From Stuller’s Bridge Conference

Last week’s trip to Lafayette, La., to attend Stuller’s eighth Bridge Conference of 2013 wasn’t all swamp tours and spicy gumbos. I was there to experience the company’s education program, designed to challenge jewelers to adapt to changes in the retail environment. And true to form, Stuller presented a day of information that piqued and provoked.

The overarching emphasis of the opening session was on Stuller’s 3C philosophy—choose, change, and create—and the newfangled technologies and tools available to help retailers execute on it: custom product configuration options on Stuller.com, prototypes, and the latest version of CounterSketch Studio, chief among them.

Afterward, we slipped into smaller groups to take a tour of Stuller’s gargantuan facility and to attend some more focused presentations that challenged conventional wisdom about selling.

Here are the three most important concepts I came away with:

1. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

In a fascinating session called “Marketplace Solutions,” Stuller’s Brandon Hill and Ramona Gautreaux had us watch an abbreviated video clip of a TED Talk by Simon Sinek in which he shared a simple idea, dubbed “The Golden Circle.” Represented by three concentric circles—“what?” appears in the outermost ring; “how?” appears in the central ring; and “why?” in the inner ring—the exercise forces people to boil down the essence of their brands to these simple ideas.

Sinek’s argument is that the most successful companies in the world operate based on the answer to their “why?” question. (And he points out that profit is never the answer; money is a result of the why.) By why, he means: What’s your purpose? What’s your call? What’s your belief? Why do you get out of bed in the morning?

“The inspired leaders, regardless of their size, regardless of their industry, all think, act, and communicate from the inside out,” Sinek said, calling attention to the most obvious success story in the world, Apple’s.

“If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them might sound like this: ‘We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. Want to buy one?’” he said.

Sinek continued: “Here’s how Apple actually communicates: ‘Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo; we believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?’”

By reversing the order—from “what, how, why?” to “why, how, what?”—Apple has become one of the most successful innovators in the world, Sinek said.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” he said. “This explains why every single person in this room is perfectly comfortable buying a computer from Apple, but also comfortable buying an MP3 from Apple, a phone from Apple…”

“The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have,” he concluded. “The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”

You should watch the whole 18-minute TED Talk for yourself because it’s fascinating—and, if you’re anything like me and JCK publisher Mark Smelzer, you’ll be inspired to start writing down ideas on napkins and talking about them on planes. We’re already planning an informal Team JCK summit to distill our own answers to these essential questions. 

2. You’ve got nine seconds to capture people’s attention.

After a delicious lunch of gumbo and peach cobbler, we attended our second session of the day, simply called “Experience.” That’s where account coordinator Alex Graham shared a mind-blowing statistic:

“One hundred years ago, the average attention span was 20 minutes,” she said. “Today? It’s nine seconds—the same as a goldfish.”

Wow—I knew ADD had become a society-wide issue, but I had no idea we were so collectively challenged to keep our focus.

Graham went through a brief history of selling techniques, pointing out that in the 1900s, the focus was on a product’s features; in the 1950s, the focus switched to a product’s benefits; in the 1970s, it changed to how a product made you feel; and today, it’s about meeting your customers where they’re at.

“An increasingly distracted consumer demands a more powerful form of connection,” Graham said, quoting Sally Hogshead, the author of  “Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation.” The book inspired an exercise in which we had to identify which of the following emotional triggers resonated with us, and which ones were “dormant”: alarm, rebellion, power, prestige, passion, trust, and mystique.


The idea being that if you can distill your brand down to its key triggers—and you can simultaneously identify what your customers’ triggers are—then you can connect with them in a way that captures their attention and compels them to shop with you.

This was heady stuff—and again, inspired a whirlwind of napkin-writing about the triggers that motivate us at JCK. To truly understand how each trigger works, I’d advise you to attend the next Bridge Conference or read Hogshead’s book. But in short, the only one that I felt truly did not apply to JCK was “mystique”—because we’re not in the business of withholding information, we’re in the business of gathering it and sharing it with all of you.

3. The retail store of the future delivers a five-senses experience.

Finally, we were invited to peruse Stuller’s room 302, a 1,700-square-foot room located on the factory floor that’s been transformed into a contemporary retail jewelry store, complete with features that incorporate all of the company’s ideas about modern-day selling.

“In 302, Stuller has created a celebration of the senses,” says a brochure. “From smooth lines and textured fabrics to soft scents and background music, a jewelry store has never been more inviting. Open showcases entice customers to touch, feel, and wear the jewelry. A jeweler at the bench hearkens back to the time-honored craft of jewelry making. Interactive technology proclaims that the future is now.”

Everything in this faux retail space had been carefully thought through—from the gentle LED lighting that illuminates the jewelry in the cases without making the patrons look bad, to the holiday pine scent diffused throughout the room. Even the programming playing on the flat-screen TVs located above the cases had been calculated: Black and white movies (I caught a scene from Casablanca) were shown above the showcases with black and white diamond jewelry.

The only sense not represented in 302 was taste because the interiors team, led by interiors director David Hollingshead, didn’t want visitors to spill coffee or crumbs on the merchandise. Which I totally get—though I’d encourage the rest of you to fulfill the five senses experience by serving your clients cookies, cheese and crackers, and, of course, champagne.

Bravo to Stuller for putting together such a thought-provoking experience for its retailers! Not for nothing does this industry behemoth ship about 4,000 FedEx packages a day (and up to 8,000 over the holidays)!