A year ago, Fredericksburg, Va.–based designer Cindy Liebel was hoping to ride the coattails of her accomplishments in 2019—her best business year since the founding of her line in 2014.
Her biggest source of revenue was maintaining a rigorous calendar of in-person events, from trunk shows to trade shows. Website sales were solid but not as lucrative. And then, just like that, when the pandemic hit and travel ground to a halt, she had to make adjustments.
“When things changed, it took me about a few weeks or months to figure out what to do,” she says. “I took some time to gather information through lots and lots of research and inspiration from mentors within and outside the jewelry industry. I experimented with different ideas and strategies to stay afloat.”
Today—nearly a year later—she can look back and assess the impact of the tactics she employed as far as marketing and engagement, and nurturing relationships with her wholesale accounts. In the end, these measures allowed her business not just to survive, but to thrive—even in an era of unprecedented uncertainty.
“There were a variety of ways my DTC marketing efforts converted to sales, including consistently sending my email list biweekly updates on how to style specific products, engaging with clients and customers via direct messaging on a daily basis, and answering any and all questions they may have about a specific product,” she says.
“I also shared quite a bit of content within my Instagram stories, creating polls, FAQs, and sharing my behind-the-scene process through videos and snapshots.”
Another smart thing Liebel did was proactively reach out to her current retailers and find ways to make life easier for them. “Many had closed their doors, some had to furlough staff,” she says. “So I had to rethink how I would approach them, as I completely understood that their livelihoods were at stake as much as mine.”
The solution: Liebel created Google files for her stores to access. They included an updated line sheet, a product description document for all her current offerings, and product images. Also helpful to clients: Her easy online ordering system did not require filling out an order form, a process that can often be tedious.
Liebel also temporarily reduced her opening order minimum, and extended the exchange period from 6 months to 9–12 months.
Here’s more from her pandemic playbook.
• She hosted a five-day sample sale, held on Instagram (instead of her website). “The event ran for five days and was a success,” says Liebel.
• She offered free downloadable coloring pages to her email list, and via social media, so that fans and followers could enjoy them with their children during quarantine.
• She hired a photographer to capture her jewelry worn on women of all shades and sizes. “This has been so helpful because the customer has a better view and scale of how the jewelry looks on women who look like them,” says Liebel.
• She hired a copywriter to help her rewrite her brand story.
• She invested in her personal development as an artist and a business owner by enrolling in online virtual classes on still life photography, business strategy, metalsmithing and engraving, and bookkeeping.
• She learned more about sourcing gemstones from companies that are focused on sustainability and reducing their environmental footprint, and how to better message this information to the consumer and retailer.
• She joined the Stay Gold collective led by professional jewelry marketer and brand consultant Liz Kantner. “It has tremendously helped keep me on track with my goals and creative ideas, while thinking of new ways to market and sell my jewelry with my social media following,” says Liebel. “Liz has been very generous with helping the group of individual jewelers to grow and succeed within their jewelry businesses. Plus, it’s been really nice being a part of the Stay Gold community of jewelers. We lifted each other up as we powered through the troubles of 2020 together, and I have acquired some beautiful friendships through the collective.”
• She offered one-on-one virtual try-ons. “I also explored virtual trunk shows with a minimum purchase requirement and a limited amount of guests to keep the event small and intimate,” says Liebel. “Usually, when you’re working at your booth, there really isn’t a lot of time to have conversations with the consumer. So, the virtual try-on was key and important to my business and allowed for a more personal connection during such a hard year.”
It’s impossible to look back on 2020 and not acknowledge the definitely imperfect—but palpable—effort to lift up and amplify the work of Black jewelry designers by many members of the jewelry industry. Liebel thinks her brand has somewhat benefited from this show of support, but even so, she says, “The BLM movement sparked a lot of hype in buying and supporting Black-owned businesses, and while I appreciate the efforts and support, like most trends, they taper off. Some companies are taking action steps and moving forward to do better, others not so much.”
“I wouldn’t say I am completely satisfied with the response because there’s still more work to be done,” she continues. “I do feel there are more opportunities available, but still limited. Many of us are getting up and making opportunities—however, when we seek many opportunities, backs turn on us or we’re provided with limited resources. This can be discouraging, but we keep on pushing forward because we are strong-willed and believe in ourselves and what we’re capable of.”
This year, Liebel will continue to dive deep into the purpose of her brand. “I plan on investing in myself with learning new jewelry techniques, updating my photography skills, and I will continue to be more present with my followers and collectors,” she says. “I will educate them on why sustainability is important to the brand, and [seek ways to] add more of what they have asked for: a splash of colored gemstones, diamonds, and more.”
Top: Designer Cindy Liebel specializes in handmade geometric silver and gold openwork jewelry inspired by architecture. (Photo courtesy of Cindy Liebel)
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