Customer focus groups are becoming more popular for jewelers, especially with social media websites giving rise to “virtual focus groups.” But some store owners are taking the approach a step further by inviting small groups of women to be “Buyers for a Day,” which combine the buying benefits of a customer product focus group with the selling opportunities of a trunk show.
Debbie Berling, the store owner of Forsythe Jewelers in Hilton Head Island, S.C., is known as the Buyer for a Day event queen. “We’ve held about 15 or more of these events in the last few years,” says Berling. She doesn’t consider herself the originator of the idea, but when she organized her first event, she’d never heard of any other jewelers soliciting customers’ assistance with the buying process.
Forsythe Jewelers staffers help a woman try on a necklace at a Buyer for a Day event
The idea came to Berling when she noticed customers “floating around” the showroom when sales reps would come in with new products. “It became obvious that customers wanted to be part of the [buying] process,” says Berling.
Store owner Karen Clark, who has held two Buyer for a Day events at Thorpe & Co. Jewelers in Sioux City, Iowa, agrees: “Women feel empowered at these events because their insights and opinions are valued as they become part of the actual buying process.”
The events combine buying for the store’s customers with purchases for the individual in part by scheduling the buyers’ event the day before the participating vendor’s trunk show. Women attending the buyers’ event are asked to complete their own wish lists of the jewelry being evaluated. Some jewelers offer prize drawings for completed wish lists while others give exclusive buyers’-event-only discounts (10 to 15 percent on average).
Don’t be on the outside looking in at the next Forsythe Jewelers’ Buyer for a Day event
When Buyer for a Day events are scheduled, store owners will either close the store or quadrant off a large area or private space. All the jewelry cases are covered with large pieces of material so attendees can focus only on the jewelry to be evaluated. Only new jewelry and collections that the vendor brought in for the event is displayed. Even the store owner’s existing inventory from the participating vendor is out of sight. Jewelry is displayed on top of cases for easy access. For security and logistical reasons, small groups of 20 to 25 women are preferred; this gives store owners a 5-to-1 sales associate to customer ratio.
When women enter the store, they’re usually given an evaluation form and an event preamble. For Weston Jewelers’ recent Roberto Coin buyers’ event, participants were given a three-column form on a clipboard to evaluate 125–150 pieces of jewelry. They were asked to fill in an item number of the jewelry pieces of interest in the first column, write a brief description of the jewelry item in the second column, and list its suggested retail price in the third column. In either the description or price column women could write in comments on the individual pieces of jewelry they liked. Women at Weston’s event didn’t have to evaluate all 125 to 150 pieces of jewelry, but some took the event that seriously.
A completed Roberto Coin Buyer for a Day event form at Weston’s
At the bottom was space for wish-list items and their significant other’s a cell number and an email address. All that product and contact information was added to the store’s database as part of a post-event follow-up, according to Paul Slutsky, the vice president of marketing at Weston’s.
Store owners that have held Buyer for a Day events are quick to admit that not all customer picks are winners. That said, most women invited to evaluate new vendor lines are considered to be not only fans of a certain brand, but also astute jewelry buyers.
“We’ve found that when instructed to list jewelry they’d want to buy for themselves and jewelry they think other customers would like to buy, that most women attending buyers’ events are very thoughtful and objective in making their choices that hit on a variety of styles, types, and price points,” says Slutsky. “That’s considerably more than we had before the event.”
Berling concurs: “Not all customer picks are perfect, but we think that going directly to the source for such buying input has just as much risk and possible benefits as relying on a single source, such as a sales rep.”
Displays are covered with suede and all jewelry is displayed on top of cases during Buyer for a Day events
Vendors also realize certain benefits from these events. “It gives a store owner and their staff a crash-course on our brand,” says Rita Sowers, a sales rep for Roberto Coin, who has worked with Slutsky and Berling on Buyer for a Day events. “When you add in the interaction with customers, learning the likes and dislikes from women who feel they’re being treated as special by being invited, I’ve found that Buyer for a Day events provide so much invaluable product, buying, and selling information for the vendor, the store owner and their staff, and, ultimately their customers.”