Case Study: Von Bargen’s Jewelry, Springfield, Vt.

Von Bargen’s Jewelry, a successful four-store chain headquartered in Springfield, Vt., is “relentless on [implementing] the concept of long-term branding,” says founder and president John Von Bargen.

He started his company in 1975 (“I just love Vermont,” he says, explaining the reason for the location) and focused initially on silver jewelry, later expanding to include designer 18k gold and platinum.

Von Bargen’s Jewelry stores identify themselves as the most upscale retail chain in their region and have cornered the high-end jewelry market locally. Two reasons for that, Von Bargen says, are his “continual emphasis on aspiring for something better and better” and “never underestimating the customer’s taste.”

The chain carries its own made-in-house jewelry line, featuring basic designs. “Our largest vendor is actually ourselves,” says Von Bargen. “I like working with my hands.” The company prides itself on carrying designers who also do most of their own work.

As part of its brand image, Von Bargen’s is also the exclusive local distributor of most of the retail brands it carries. “We coordinate vendors and products that work well together,” he told JCK.

Store-brand maintenance also requires consistency among the retail stores that are part of a chain, says Von Bargen. So, the company uses the same pricing on individual products at all stores, although the price range of product categories can vary, depending on location. Product presentation is as similar as possible in all four.

Consistency also affects appearance. The two newest stores, in Hanover and Burlington, Vt.—which Von Bargen calls “more than kissing cousins”—use the same color scheme, lighting, chandeliers, and cherrywood cases. As the chain’s newest additions, they’re models for all future locations.

Von Bargen’s Jewelry makes every effort to unify its advertising, whether print, radio, or television ads. “The single biggest mistake most retailers make is not integrating their marketing,” says Jeff Pierce, Von Bargen’s marketing director. It’s important that advertising pieces are seamlessly blended, creating what he calls a “cleaner, more brand-centric focus.”

Von Bargen’s print ads have consistent language, relationship, and size and are also linked by color—an unusual shade of pink—and by logo positioning. Other printed materials (including direct marketing tools, business cards, letterhead, and envelopes) also use uniform visual elements.

For its radio ads, Von Bargen’s uses voices of company staffers, including store managers, salespeople, and even Von Bargen himself. “Radio is a good opportunity to make your staff a little famous, and the staff enthusiasm shows through,” Von Bargen says.

Pierce unifies his radio and television ads by using the same music in both and tying them to narrative and images in the print ads. The most important consideration in radio and television is to create “recall” for the audience, he says, so that when people hear a catchphrase or a particular line of copy, they immediately associate it with the company’s brand image. “Marketing is like creating a net to capture the attention of clients,” says Von Bargen. “It’s my firm belief that in this net you use every available resource. We like print, but radio and television are intrusive—they get into people’s heads.”

Impressing the store brand on consumers continues inside the store. “When a customer comes though the door, it’s up to the staff to close that cycle and instill the brand image in the customer,” says Pierce. “Employees have everything to do with a store-brand image. They’re where the rubber meets the road.” The staff dress code isn’t formalized, says Pierce, but employees are expected to look fashionable and professional, because “we’re selling fashion and romance.”