A Brand to Call Their Own

When diamond house W.B. David created a marketing initiative for upscale jewelry retailers, it wasn’t shy about what to call it. “Leading Jewelers of the World” is, as the name suggests, an exclusive association that’s positioning itself as a brand for jewelers that define themselves as the best in their markets.

Diamond Trading Company sightholder W.B. David created the association in response to the DTC’s “Supplier of Choice” initiative. Jack Gredinger, executive director of Leading Jewelers of the World, explains that while many sightholders concentrated on branding a diamond or a line of jewelry, W.B. David decided to create a brand for jewelry stores.

“The interesting thing is that there are a lot of good diamond brands in the marketplace,” Gredinger says. “We have the capability to sell all of the products they have in their stores. The entire product is geared toward the consumer and providing a luxury shopping experience. Our program goes to the heart of their business, which is the development and maturing of customer relations. And that really is what business is all about.”

The association began with a testing phase early in 2001 and was rolled out to the public during The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas in June of that year. Leading Jewelers currently has 22 members operating 39 stores, and Gredinger says the association aims to have 75 members with 125 stores by the end of the year.

Above and beyond. Criteria for membership include demonstrating a commitment to great customer service; practicing sound business ethics (including best “diamond practices” such as full disclosure of all diamonds and selling only nonconflict diamonds); having a staff fully trained in providing excellent service; being a leader in the community and a leader in the store’s market; and meeting certain financial commitments.

The annual membership fee is $3,500. New members must purchase a minimum of $150,000 in diamonds annually from W.B. David; returning members must purchase $200,000 in diamonds.

In addition, each member must contribute $30,000 for a cooperative advertising program. “That money is used directly for them for their local advertising,” Gredinger stresses.

The advertising package, developed by FDN&P Advertising, Whitehouse Station, N.J., includes a variety of print advertisements for newspapers, magazines, and special publications, such as programs for plays and concerts, as well as billboard ads, direct mail, and radio spots. (TV advertising is being introduced this year, Gredinger says.) Although they are usually generic in nature, ads will contain both the Leading Jewelers of the World logo and the name of the individual store. Store owners will be able to consult with FDN&P to individualize the advertising package. Finally, retailers will receive a variety of other materials, including building plaques, mission statement plaques, in-case medallions, and “credo cards” that state the association’s credo.

Clayton Bromberg, president of Underwood Jewelers, a three-store operation in the Jacksonville, Fla., area and a charter member of Leading Jewelers of the World, says the advertising component of the association and its focus on diamond advertising alone makes the investment worth it for him.

“We have the resources of a great advertising agency with the input of local jewelers to customize and keep the advertising focused to our look and our market,” Bromberg says. “The advertising is specific to diamonds and diamond jewelry, and we can use our name and our brand. We’ve never had that before. You are now branding yourself. We now have a great source of advertising for our best product, diamonds. Those are the things that help establish stores and keep them in their market.”

Bromberg believes the national chains will have a difficult time competing with his store in terms of advertising. “I really feel sorry for our national competitors,” he says. “This thing is going to blindside them.”

Luxury boot camp. All stores go through an audit process that includes a proprietary training program developed and maintained by Janice Mack Talcott and Kate B. Peterson of Performance Concepts. It teaches employees how to deal with high-end customers and provide a “feel good” luxury shopping experience. The consultants return to the store twice per year for follow-up training and to see if the store is maintaining Leading Jewelers of the World standards.

Jim Clark of B.C. Clark, Oklahoma City, points out that meeting the criteria for admission is a testament to the standards already in place at his store. “We feel privileged to have the opportunity to join Leading Jewelers of America,” Clark says. “We think it is a wonderful concept for fine jewelers who offer impeccable service to customers. We pride ourselves on the service we give to our customers, and we have been challenged by Leading Jewelers to make it better.”

He adds, “Our staff has really embraced the whole ideal of creating a special experience in our stores for our customers. They strive to create an environment where the customer is surprised and delighted.”

Paul Becker, owner of Becker’s Diamonds and Fine Jewelry, a two-store operation in Hartford and West Hartford, Conn., echoes much of what Clark says about the association’s focus on customer service and quality. Having the Leading Jewelers designation, he says, is a point of pride among his staff.

“My ego is such that I am glad to hear the recommendations. Anytime you can get an outside objective audit of your own operation and receive good recommendations, it is a plus,” Becker says. “It’s a win for the consumer, and a win for the sales staff. A very important element is the self-esteem and pride that your salespeople feel by being part of a perfect experience.”

Fringe benefits. In addition to the advertising component of Leading Jewelers, there is also a public relations component operated by FDN&P for special events and other promotions. Becker is one of several members who have taken advantage of the program: He designed and presented handmade 18k gold cufflinks to Luciano Pavarotti following a concert at the Hartford Civic Center. Becker says using the Leading Jewelers of the World name helped pave the way for the presentation. The event received a great deal of coverage by the local newspaper and broadcast media and among those who are associated with opera in Connecticut.

“Pavarotti was only giving three performances [including Hartford] in the United States. Our publicist and I spoke to Leading Jewelers of the World, and we decided to make a piece of jewelry for Pavarotti,” Becker says. “The tie-in was being associated with Leading Jewelers of the World. That opened the door.”

And that “tie in” is the long-term goal of the association—that retailers that carry the Leading Jewelers of the World brand will be recognized by consumers and organizations as a destination that offers the best products, the best service, and a luxury shopping experience. Also, Gredinger notes, if the organization reaches its goal of 75 members it will have enough buying power to attract and influence major dealers.

“That [aspect] is still being built up and that will take a while,” Becker admits. However, he adds, customers already see the designation as a confirmation of the service they receive.

“The funny thing is we have a plaque outside of our store, full-page ads in Playbill and arts publications, and they see it and automatically recognize it as a benchmark of the ultimate shopping experience,” Becker says. “They understand it and their response is, ‘You people do give the best shopping experience.’ “

Bromberg relates similar experiences. “When people hear that you’ve been placed as a Leading Jewelers of the World store, even though they don’t understand what’s behind it, the customers we serve are smart enough to understand that it means something,” he says.

Bromberg adds that Leading Jewelers of the World is the first program sponsored by a diamond organization that has the potential to harness the long-term relationships that independent retailers have with their customers and communities.

“Out of all the initiatives from all the sightholders, there’s no question in my mind that what they have to offer for leading fine jewelers is head and shoulders above everything else being offered,” Bromberg says. “If you take the strength of high-end retailers in a market and compare them to national chains, local jewelers like us beat the hell out of our competitors because of how we are intricately woven into the fabric of the jewelry. There has never really been a local organization that could take advantage of that strength. And the diamond business has never had that.

“Companies like ours who have sold diamonds through the years didn’t have the energy to harness what we have to offer nationally. Leading Jewelers is the best chance for jewelers like us to take advantage of those customers that move from market to market.”