This week, Lisa Bridge became president and chief operating officer of Ben Bridge Jeweler. (Her father Ed, formerly co-CEO, is now sole CEO and chairman. Uncle Jonathan, formerly co-CEO, has retired.) Here, she talks about how her fellow millennials view jewelry, issues at malls, and working with Warren Buffett.
JCK: What direction do you want to take the business?
Lisa Bridge: I think we have just started to put the pieces in place for the direction we are heading. We did a branding study and engaged a new marketing firm and we want to get down to what is unique about Ben Bridge.
We found out that our customers love us. But we also found that customers don’t recognize the difference between jewelers. There is a tremendous opportunity to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace. We have to do a better job of communicating what is unique about us, to build on the relationships that we have and to give new reasons to walk through our doors.
JCK: What do you need to communicate about your store?
Bridge: I think that we have always done things the hard way and the right way and I’m not sure we have always done a good job of communicating that—like where our jewelry comes from, who are the people who make it. We just sent a film crew to Italy to capture one of our craftsmen. We brought a film crew to Bangkok and shortly we will be doing a video about Forevermark and the amazing good that diamonds do for people in Botswana. We are trying to tell those stories in a bigger way.
JCK: As a millennial, what do you think of how your peers view jewelry?
Bridge: The desire for jewelry has been around for thousands of years and will continue to be around. We need to make sure that we are evolving to meet consumer needs and to tell our story as an industry. It’s our responsibility to make sure that the demand is there.
I have a lot of friends who got married this year and every one of them got an engagement ring. Every one of them wanted that symbol of love and forever. Maybe that engagement ring looked a little different from years ago.
JCK: How did they look different?
Bridge: I had friends who got married with a colored gemstone ring. I had a friend with an eternity band. Everybody wanted to express their unique love and sense of self in their engagement band. As an industry, we need to find that uniqueness that will connect. I’m proud of what we’re doing in our merchandising department, creating unique Ben Bridge brands and finding wonderful partners that have that unique perspective.
JCK: Can you tell me about the Lisa Bridge brand and how that’s coming?
Bridge: It’s going really well. The hope it’s going to bring in a new customer and give people a reason to come back more frequently and try to create that affordable price point.
It’s a fashion brand with rings, earrings, bracelets. It’s mostly colored gemstones. I am a nerdy gemologist, so it’s been fun to play with some unusual gemstones and introduce them to more people. I have a gem specimen collection in my office and I have a piece of rhodochrosite. So this year, I decided to include rhodochrosite in our Hawaii-themed collection. It’s been well received across our stores. People love the pink, the boldness.
JCK: Your stores are mostly in malls. How have you found traffic, given all the issues we are hearing about with malls?
Bridge: It very much depends on the center. The top centers are continuing to draw customers and they make it an experience. So we’re seeing strength from those top shopping centers. The ones that are lower are more challenging. Those are where people haven’t invested and haven’t made it unique or an experience. As a relationship business, we have to be drawing in our customers and do a better job of bringing in people on our own.
JCK: As a woman, do you bring a different perspective to running a jewelry company, considering the product is aimed mostly at women?
Bridge: I do. I love jewelry. There is nothing more fun to me than a beautiful piece of jewelry, seeing the creations of designers. I understand jewelry as a customer purchasing for myself. It was great fun to see the joy that my now-husband had in selecting his engagement ring. He took so much pride in it.
So I do have a unique perspective being a woman in this arena and I feel very thankful to have had wonderful examples of strong female leaders within our company. I have always been encouraged just the same as anyone else has been. I wasn’t promoted because I’m a woman. That is just who I am.
JCK: What will it be like working for Warren Buffett?
Bridge: Warren is incredible and I feel unbelievably honored that he would bestow me with this responsibility. He really is very hands-off. He lets all the Berkshire [Hathaway] managers run their business. But he’s always a phone call away if we need him, or want his opinion on something.
(Picture courtesy of Ben Bridge)