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Interview With Helzberg CEO Brad Hampton


Brad Hampton (pictured) became CEO of Helzberg Diamonds in July, following the departure of longtime CEO Beryl Raff.

Here, Hampton—who spent five years as Helzberg’s chief financial officer prior to becoming its CEO (and before that, 20 years at telecom company Sprint)—discusses what he has planned for Helzberg, his feelings on brick-and-mortar retail, and how his company can compete with the industry’s 800-pound gorilla, Signet.

What plans do you have for Helzberg?

We are definitely looking at the digital space as the area for growth and where we’re putting a lot of our focus.

We are actually deploying some pretty significant enhancements for our infrastructure this year, in preparation for the holiday season, that will lay the groundwork for further improvements in the digital realm. We are going to make Helzberg more vibrant and bigger than it is today and keep it growing in the next few years.

How many stores do you have now?

We have 170 stores. We are coast-to-coast. We were able, during the COVID pandemic, to restructure the store portfolio. We closed about 20% of our stores permanently during COVID, and we think that really strengthened us as we came out of the pandemic. The company is on really great financial footing, and we are now very happy with our portfolio of stores. We are in locations that we want to be in and are viable for the long-term.

Are you less focused on malls than you were before?

Clearly, there’s been a decline in malls in the U.S. But there are also many, many malls across America that are thriving and that are places that consumers continue to shop and go for entertainment. We are in many of the malls that we want to be in. You will see us cautiously looking to relocate a few mall stores into off-mall locations, if we feel like the mall is not a long-term viable location.

Do you see expanding as far as the number of brick-and-mortar locations?

I think we’ll stay around the current level and perhaps manage the portfolio down a little bit. We’re much more focused on the opportunity to grow in the digital space. And that pairing of a great brick-and-mortar distribution channel with a stronger online business—they both lift each other.

Do you expect to be more of a nationwide digital presence or limited to your markets?

I think we’ll be a nationwide competitor in the digital space.

The digital business is competitive. Is there any way you plan to stand out?

It is very competitive. Consumers are obviously very smart and know how to comparison shop. We’re working on a couple of things that I think are important and we’ll begin to deploy in the future. We’re very focused on the customer experience that we deliver at Helzberg in our stores. And we’re working on ways to make that same experience come alive in the digital space, and really connect those curated experiences for our customers in an online world.

We’re also very focused on the strong product leadership position that we have in lab-grown diamonds. We’re going to continue to exploit that opportunity digitally as well. We are just rolling out some enhanced customization capabilities for our customers that will let them design custom engagement rings both online and in store.

Speaking of digital, Signet just bought a big e-tailer, Blue Nile, and it’s also dominant in the mall. As Signet becomes bigger and bigger, how do you look at them, and how do you think about competing with them?

That’s a great question. Signet is a formidable competitor for us. We compete head-to-head with many of their banners in most of our locations and obviously in the online space as well.

We have a very distinct competitive advantage that differentiates Helzberg, and that is the customer experience that we deliver. Our associates in our stores are the top in the industry, and the customer satisfaction that we deliver is really just best in class. We work very hard on making meaningful connections with our customers and making sure that the experiences they have at our store are the best. That is a big competitive advantage for us.

Honestly, I believe our size can be something of an advantage as well. Obviously, Signet is big and getting bigger, but we are we are very nimble and I think we can be quick to market.

I also think that we continue to focus on the product leadership position that we have. “Quality for a great value” is our mantra here at Helzberg. Every piece of jewelry is double-inspected before it reaches one of our showcases, and we’re very careful about the diamonds that we source. And we’re very proud of the leadership position that we have in lab-grown diamonds. We believe that we are far and away the leader on a national basis in terms of lab-grown diamond sales and excited about that as it continues to grow.

Like most jewelers, you saw business rise during COVID. Are you starting to see that slow? And how do you look at the holiday?

I wish I had a good crystal ball about holiday. There’s so many things moving in the macro environment. Clearly, there’s uncertainty in consumers’ minds. You see the impact of inflation and what’s happening globally.

But I feel that jewelry emerged during the pandemic as a meaningful sector of retail, because it enables people to recognize relationships and important people and events in their lives. That became even more important during the pandemic. We’ve seen some of that strength continue, and I’m becoming convinced that’s a sustainable change in how consumers think about jewelry. We’ve really seen success in bigger tickets, and we’re seeing that success continue.

You talked about digital and lab-grown. Do you see any other potential areas for growth?

The other area that we are investing in is our customer data infrastructure. We’re becoming smarter about what our customers are telling us, and how they interact with us, and investing in data technology and platforms that will enable us to strengthen those customer relationships and know our customers even better, and be more personalized and more segmented in how we got to market.

You are relative newcomer to the industry, if five years can be considered a newcomer. Any thoughts on how you find it different from some of the other industries you worked in?

Jewelry has been a lot of fun. It’s a fun product. People come to jewelry stores for happy reasons. They’re celebrating important milestones in their lives, or they’re buying a gift for someone that means a lot to them, or they’re self-gifting, which is also a lot of fun.

I still have a lot to learn about product. My merchant team will probably tell you that I’m not quite a jewelry person yet, but I’m definitely on the way.

Helzberg is uniquely positioned as one of the few national chains that’s still standing that hasn’t been acquired by our big competitor. So that makes us unique. I think we’ve carved out a really great position in the marketplace, and we’re going to continue to grow that position, grow our customer relationships, even more as we as we take the brand forward.

Photo courtesy of Helzberg Diamonds

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By: Rob Bates

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