Game, Set, Match: Retailers Who Innovate

Some analogies fall flat, while others are as powerful as a 155-mile-per-hour serve from Andy Roddick. During Stuller’s recent Solutions Symposium, Kerry Hand, the company’s executive director of marketing services and public relations, served up an analogy that was an ace.


An avid tennis player, Hand began his presentation to a room of 50 retailers holding an old Jack Kramer wood tennis racquet made in the 1970’s. His message to retail jewelers confronted with a troubling economy, increased jewelry distribution channels and an emerging consumer demographic that’s unlike any other:


“The tools from the past worked well for many years, but your competitors today have the latest equipment,” says Hand. “When trying to effectively compete, or play against them using the tennis analogy, what would you rather have, this old wood racquet or the latest composite model that will give you a more powerful serve, a better top-spin and a faster return?”


Throughout the three-day event, “old woody” and a newer titanium composite tennis racquet were always within Hand’s reach, much like the funky microphone headset he donned when emceeing Stuller’s 2010 Solutions Symposium dedicated to helping retailers make a break from past management practices, embracing the changes necessary to respond and adapt to today’s ever-changing market and successfully navigating the future with the tools the Lafayette-based company offers retail jewelers.


Kerry Hand with tennis racquets


Talk of the economy served only to establish some of the conditions that have made it more difficult for retailers to not just compete effectively but to operate successfully in today’s market. And, why cash flow and inventory management have gone from profit killers to store closers. Increasingly expansive and invasive distribution channels make retailers wish the pawn shop down the block or the guild jeweler across town were their only worries. Larger distribution channel problems loom with online e-tailers, Big Box retailers and large discount stores. 


Customers can make a jewelry purchase at the same place where they buy a ten-pound package of hamburger as well as the barbeque grill and the bag of charcoal needed to cook it up. Retailers have come to the troubling realization that they’re not the only flame in town where people can buy fire and brilliance.


“There’s a reason Costco puts their jewelry in the front of each store,” says Danny Clark, Stuller’s Chief Supply Chain Officer, during the “Adapting to Change” presentation he gave with the company’s executive director of procurement Tammy Kidder. “In addition to making a high-end impression, Costco wants these purchases to be made early on during a shopper’s visit to the discount store because jewelry brings a better profit for the company. You didn’t think they made big profits on 5-pound bags of peanut M&M’s, did you?”


As Hand routinely twirled the old wood tennis racquet in his hands during his speeches to retailers, he also addressed how retailers can best sell to millennials – a hard-wired, digitally-savvy and attention-deficit disorder consumer group that have compressed instant gratification from minutes to seconds with their mobile technology: a digital companion that is rarely more than seven feet from their reach.


Having an engaging and interactive Facebook profile or an active Twitter account is just part of what it takes to engage millennials and other age demographics for that matter. The social media websites are better viewed as a tool to increase a store’s SEO (Search Engine Optimization) while at the same time maintaining a deft approach to CRM (Customer Relationship Management) with increased “touches” to customers.


If a millennial can’t find you on their favorite search engine, be it Google, Yahoo!, Bing or YouTube (yes, YouTube is second to Google as a search engine), then you don’t exist in their world. (Keep in mind that the habits of the millennials are spilling over to older age groups as they embrace the expedience and convenience the tools of the Information Age offer.)


Matt Stuller


The DTC sightholder’s CEO, president and owner, Matthew Stuller, was also an active participant and speaker throughout the event. His particular emphasis mirrored Hand’s concerns over the future of jewelry retailing by way of the customer experience.


“When a jeweler gets a millennial in their store, then what?” Stuller asked. “For this age demographic it’s all about customization. Millennials like things unique, that expresses their individuality: they want to be the only ones to have it and they want it yesterday.”


Nike


The millennials have come to expect customization and personalization of the goods and services they consume with customized music libraries to produce customized play lists on their customized iPhones that they listen to while walking in their customized Nike high-tops to the parking ramp to drive home in their customized Mini Coopers – all ordered and purchased online using their mobile devices, including the car! Get the picture?


Mini Cooper


High-tech solutions to address customization and speedy product fulfillment and delivery solutions were on display at Stuller’s famed “Digital Playground” during the event. Attendees worked with Stuller staff to learn more about Counter Sketch, a CAD program developed by GemVision on the front-end of the software application with the fulfillment capabilities provided by Stuller behind the scenes. What once took weeks to complete with custom orders from catalogs can now be done in a matter of days via online. Stuller announced during the event that Counter Sketch 2.0 will be released this October.


The Digital Playground also featured a host of high-tech tools to beef up a retailer’s ability to customize and individualize the jewelry experience and facilitate online sourcing with the Gemstone Kiosk, the Family Design Tool and 3-D Engraving as well as Loose Diamond Search and the Diamond Stud Earring Builder.   


Digital Playground


But the most common refrain from Stuller during the three-day retailer event was their prototype program. In addition to making jewelers aware of the cash flow and inventory management benefits the company’s prototype program offers, Stuller invited Steven and Megan Ginsberg of Ginsberg Jewelers and Douglas Meadows of David Douglas Diamonds & Jewelry to share with fellow retailers how the move to prototypes has changed their operations.


The Ginsbergs ushered in the prototype program after being wiped out from the flood that ravaged parts of the Midwest in the summer of 2008. Prototypes were a low-cost solution to display a solid selection of bridal inventory without the investment of live jewelry. This option was appealing to the couple who were forced to take out significant loans from the SBA (Small Business Association) to build a new store in a new location, away from downtown Cedar Rapids.  


Presented with a clean slate, the couple redesigned their store specifically with the new prototypes in mind. Jewelry cases with no front or back panes made for a new selling experience for the couple and their staff while offering customers a more interactive buying experience. The Ginsbergs have only been using the prototypes for three months, so it’s too early to know the impact on actual sales. But, anecdotal reactions from customers indicate positive experiences. “Many were confused and even amused with the open cases, but they quickly got over it and did what they’re supposed to do, try jewelry on and have fun,” says Steven.


Meadows was another store owner who had a clean slate, but for another reason. He needed to better compete in his Marietta, Georgia, market so Meadows decided to relocate his store and hired a completely new sales staff. Meadows also has open showcases for his prototypes and uses Stuller’s Ring-O-Bar, a tall clear Plexiglas display case that features a number of prototypes that are secured using a strong, thin cable that feeds into the center of the display case where anchored weights allow each piece of jewelry to be worn easily, but not walk away. The open display cases and the Ring-O-Bar, both located in the front portion of the store, have generated increased traffic and interest in bridal jewelry.     


The word “change” was diluted somewhat during the last presidential campaign. That said the word still has relevance for retail jewelers looking to do more than survive but thrive during a wobbly economy, and to better navigate the future of not just selling jewelry in a retail environment but the future of retailing as a whole.