How a North Carolina Retailer Keeps Its Customers Engaged During a Pandemic

Joint Venture Jewelry is a family-owned jewelry store located in Cary, N.C. Established in 1998, the retailer primarily focuses on consigned goods, though it mixes in business with wholesalers as well, and fun fact: The jewelry store also at one time employed yours truly, right out of college, and was my introduction to the industry.

It’s through this model (the consignment model, not the hiring of me) that Joint Venture has procured an impressive selection of varied engagement ring styles—many of them, very in-demand vintage. But in the age of COVID-19, how can a business so ingrained in the customer experience—especially considering how much customers appreciate being able to try on and inspect the detail of such rings—forge forward?

JCK bent the ear of Jen Hankin, second-generation retailer and director of communication at Joint Venture Jewelry, on getting a good value, what wedding jewelry shoppers want now, and running a brick-and-mortar through a pandemic.

A sapphire engagement ring from Joint Venture Jewelry
A sapphire and diamond engagement ring from Joint Venture Jewelry

How is the business managing during the pandemic?

We have adapted significantly and have been working smarter not harder! We limited our hours and encouraged our clients to make appointments before heading in so we can ensure social distancing. We are happy to service clients in-store, but also virtually via email, text, phone, and video calls. We have a great wish list feature on our website and ask clients to select their favorites before coming in. We then pull their items plus a few suggestions for them to view rather than the traditional shopping our showcases. We haven’t set up our showcases since March and do not plan to do so in 2020.

Our personalized, concierge approach has allowed us to keep everyone safe and our inventory and store clean and sanitized. Clients who do not create a wish list prior to coming in, we work with them to understand their needs, style, and budget, then pull items from our backroom for them. Our clients have loved this new personalized service approach, as they are able to make decisions quicker, and they’re not distracted with other items in our showcases. Honestly, our close rate is at an all-time high with this strategy! We listen to our clients, and they are wowed that our personalized, hand- selected items are exactly what they were searching for.

Are you finding that people are still getting engaged? Are they showing interest in, and making purchases of, engagement rings?

Oh, yes! Engagement rings sales have allowed our business to survive during this pandemic! Love is not canceled, and engagement rings are still our top sellers. We find that non-married couples who have been quarantined together, who are still very much together, have progressed their relationship quicker and thus want to get engaged as soon as possible!

Our engagement ring pandemic business can be sorted into two camps: those on a budget and those ready to splurge. For those on a budget, we have a huge selection of diamond engagement rings under $2,000. Those who have financially been impacted by COVID-19 love our selection and nonjudgmental mentality for their budgets. Even those who had not planned on getting engaged this quickly in their relationship and have not had the time to save love being able to pop the question without the financial hardship.

For those ready to splurge, it’s the clients whose jobs have remained steady and secure, just shifted to remote working. These clients would have typically spent dollars this year traveling, on sporting events, concerts, going out, etc. They are ready to spend and want to splurge responsibly. We’ve sold several rings in the $8,000–$12,000 range that, in a typical retail store, would cost well over $15,000 [this being attributed to Joint Venture Jewelry’s consignment model].

Joint Venture Jewelry vintage engagement ring
One of Joint Venture Jewelry’s vintage options in 14k white gold with 1.02 ct. Euro-cut diamond, $5,500

One of JVJ’s best elements is its selection of vintage engagement rings, a huge selling point for many shoppers these days. How have you been able to accommodate interested shoppers who can’t make it to the store?

We have done lots of video calls for clients who aren’t ready to venture out or who are long distance. We provide lots of additional photos and video clips from different sides and angles and even try on the items for clients to get a visual of how it lays or fits. With text, phone, and video calls, we’re able to show our clients what the item really looks like before making a purchase, and we’re happy to ship nationwide.

What would you say is or has been the most popular engagement ring styles as of late?

Classic, vintage, and lots of color. Solitaires featuring round, princess, even marquise cuts have been hot sellers. Especially for my budget shoppers, when finances change they can easily update the setting—adding accents, stones, or changing it up completely. On the other end, vintage filigree rings are always popular for our clientele. We’re also getting lots of requests for yellow and rose gold preferences, whereas pre-pandemic white metals had been our strongest sellers.

Have you noticed if the pandemic has had any impact on bridal jewelry trends?

Our clients are looking for good value. They aren’t spending unnecessary dollars when the economic future is so unclear—they want a deal. We’ve noticed a shift to spending only what they are comfortable spending without having to finance their purchases.

Art deco engagement ring
Jen Hankin’s art deco diamond engagement ring

You just recently got engaged yourself, congratulations! Tell me about your ring.

I love all things vintage and my ring is just that—a 2.25 ct. European-cut sparkler with a touch of candlelight coloring in an art deco setting. It’s everything I ever wanted! We’re getting married next September, and I can’t wait to custom create my wedding bands.

What are your store’s plans for the upcoming holiday season? How do you plan to rally shoppers in a year that’s been, quite honestly, pretty terrible?

Terrible is an understatement! What we know for sure is that we all have a renewed appreciation for what’s most important: spending time with loved ones and our good health. With extra discretionary dollars from all of 2020’s canceled events, we expect those dollars will be spent this holiday season on a treasure in the form of jewelry that will forever mark this time in our lives. It’s important to show those most important to us how much we care, and jewelry can do just that and will last for generations.

What’s your advice for other retailers going into the holidays and 2021?

Stay true to your core. Don’t lose focus and divert your attention. Keep the faith, and we’ll get through this. Focus on your return customers and step up your customer service. We’ve spent a lot of time during the pandemic reaching out to check on our clients in a non-salesy way and we know, when they are ready to spend, we’ll be top of mind.

Top: Jen Hankin of Joint Venture Jewelry in Cary, N.C.

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JCK Contributing Editor

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