Christmas for a Lifetime

For consumers, the holidays are a season of giving. For jewelry retailers, it’s a season for getting—specifically, getting new customers who, with a little planning and initiative, can be turned into longtime or even lifetime customers.

According to a new JCK survey of hundreds of jewelers, at least one in five of their holiday customers have never been in the store before. Thus, the Christmas season offers jewelers their greatest opportunity to expand their customer base—especially among men, who account for three out of five of respondents’ new holiday shoppers.

Following are some of the techniques jewelers use to turn holiday shoppers into lifelong customers.

The way to a man’s heart. Cathy Calhoun, an AGS jeweler in Royersford, Pa., has found a sure way to win new male customers at holiday time: She feeds them. On each of the last 10 days before Christmas, she orders hoagies, soft drinks, holiday cookies, and pies and sets out a spread on a bar in the center of her downtown store. And she keeps the food coming until closing time.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Calhoun told JCK. “It brings people in, especially men, and—because we’re so busy at Christmas—keeps them here until one of us gets to them. We find men love to eat and shop at the same time. It keeps kids busy, too.”

Most of her holiday customers are men. “We might have 20 guys waiting, and while they do, they can eat, talk to each other, browse the jewelry, watch, and gift displays, or watch a TV we set up. We keep things loose and causal. They like that.”

New male customers usually buy something and later tell their friends about the friendly jeweler with free holiday eats. “They come back with friends and co-workers,” says Calhoun. “One brought all his office buddies, and they all bought something.”

Even after a man buys something, he can “hang out here, giving us a chance for add-on sales,” says Calhoun. An auto body shop owner who came in to eat something bought a ring for his wife. “After I asked, ‘What about your daughter?’ he wound up buying her a diamond bracelet—which made him a big hero with her and his wife, who was thrilled that he thought of getting something so nice for the girl. And it began because he just came in to eat something and hang out.”

Calhoun and her staff get names and addresses of any man who buys something, what he bought, anniversary and birthday dates, and his business phone. Rather than a thank-you card, she sends an offer for a free appraisal for what he just bought—which soon brings him back into the store. “The guys who come the first time come back every year at Christmas, and during the year, too,” she says.

“Do it yourself!” Ronda Daily, owner of Bremer Jewelry, Peoria, Ill., has created a rewards program—”Circle of Gold”—that turns new customers into returning clients. All first-time customers are added to the program and get a plastic “Circle of Gold” card, which entitles them to certain benefits. “For example, whenever they refer someone to the store, and that person buys something, the CoG member gets a gift certificate,” says Daily. “Members get special pricing in every sale, pre-notification of store events, and the opportunity to shop items—at special savings—a few days before an event, such as an anniversary sale, is advertised to the general public. We recently had a huge weekend diamond sale. On the Thursday before the sale, we closed the store for the evening, invited all CoG members, served cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and let them see everything that would be offered before anyone else did.”

Since Daily started CoG four years ago, more than half the members have become regular customers, and she estimates her business has increased 40% thanks to the program. In fact, Daily plans to market it to other jewelers as customized turnkey packages that include software, on-site training, mailing material, and consultations.

Ornaments of profit. For more than 30 years, Kingoff’s Jewelers in Wilmington, N.C., has used Christmas decorations to attract and keep new holiday customers. The 84-year-old family-owned store annually carries a selection of fine collectible holiday ornaments by Waterford, Toll, Reed-Barton, Lennox, and Gorham, retailing for $15 to $45.

“We do this mainly for new customers,” says Michael Kingoff. “We advertise and promote [the ornaments], and it brings many new people into the store during the holidays. When they buy one, we get their information and ask if they would like to know about the next ones in the series, and they usually say yes. We solicit our Christmas ornament customers during the summer by phone—we’ll hold the ornaments for them, if they ask, until they come into the store—and in the fall through our mailing list.”

About 70% of Kingoff’s first-time ornament buyers come back annually and many become longtime customers, says Kingoff.

Ladies’ night. Capri Jewelers, Richmond, Va., has an annual holiday event that attracts so many new customers the store must restrict attendance. “We call it Ladies’ Night,” says Chris De Capri. “It’s one way we gain—and keep—new clients.”

The store invites current female customers to “fill a limousine with several girlfriends”—especially those who don’t shop at the store—for the catered event, held the Sunday evening before Thanksgiving. The champagne-stocked limousines bring them to the store, where they enter on a red carpet. While listening to music played by members of a local symphony orchestra and enjoying fine food and drinks served by tuxedoed waiters and bartenders (some of them male models), the women can try on fine jewelry displayed atop showcases and sometimes talk to the designers.

“This isn’t a sale, but a fashion event,” says De Capri. “Guests can look at, handle, and wear anything they want, from a $10 pin to a $5,000 necklace of canary diamonds, and write ‘wish lists’ of what they like.” The preprinted wish lists are available at podiums around the store, and completed lists are kept on file for husbands or boyfriends to consult for holiday shopping.

As they leave, Ladies’ Night guests receive candy and gifts, such as a remembrance bracelet or a John Hardy candle set, in a Capri bag.

Ladies’ Night is successful as a promotion, sales builder, and source of new and loyal customers. “Women talk about it for weeks afterward,” says De Capri. “We get high rates of purchases from the wish lists, and 70% of those who attend make follow-up purchases with us and definitely turn into regular customers.”

The store stays in contact with the women throughout the year, informing them of sales and other store events such as designer shows or the annual celebrity polo match.

When Capri Jewelers started “Ladies’ Night” eight years ago, 17 women attended. Since then, it’s become so popular that the 4,000-sq.-ft. store no longer has room for all who want to come. “We now limit attendance to 250 and still have to stagger arrival times,” says De Capri.

De Capri estimates the store spends about $20,000 on the event. “But when you’re talking about people able to spend $5,000 to $10,000 on a gift, $20,000 isn’t excessive.”

“Let us entertain you.” Some jewelers impress new customers with enjoyable store experiences. “We try to create an experience they’ll enjoy and talk about for months,” says David Nygaard, owner of Nygaard Jewelers, Virginia Beach, Va.. “We do this all year, but since December is increasingly our key month, we direct most efforts toward making that time special and memorable.”

Those efforts include a live jazz combo (Nygaard’s brother’s band), a coffee bar (with lemonade in summer and cider in the fall), and hors d’oeuvres, cookies, and other treats for customers. “We have the music on high-traffic days, and we don’t have food all the time,” says Nygaard. “We don’t want it to get too ‘normal,’ so we rotate the days. It’s all effective in generating word-of-mouth, and it’s a fun experience.”

The store also gives away self-produced jazz CDs. Thus far, the company has produced three. The first featured Nygaard’s brother’s band. “The second, titled Passionfire, is linked to our designer collection and has a cover promoting the store and brand,” says Nygaard. The most recent CD (produced in 2002) is called Christmas Collection and was “developed to get our music, including a theme song, into people’s homes and cars.” The CDs feature famous, world-class jazz musicians such as Dmitri Matheny, Butch Miles, Bobby Shew, and Terry Burrell.

Customers who spend several hundred dollars or more get a bouquet of flowers in a Waterford vase or a basket of gourmet candy delivered to their homes. “We also make sure to do any thank-you deliveries we may have missed by late November to help drive word-of-mouth for the holidays,” adds Nygaard.

All this costs Nygaard’s business about $1,500 for the Christmas season and another $2,000 for the rest of the year. Nygaard estimates that about 60% of newcomers become long-term clients.

Patton’s Fine Jewelry, Baton Rouge, La., emphasizes personal service. “We call it being ‘Pampered at Patton’s,’ “says owner Kevin Patton. Pampering includes offering customers a variety of drinks, including soft drinks, cocktails, and champagne. Every woman shopper gets a free rose wrapped in the store’s distinctive wrapping. “It’s a good way to make first-timers remember you,” Patton says. “They take the roses back to their offices, others ask where they got it, and they tell them about us. And it brings them back again, too.” Men also can get roses with purchases, to give to wives or girlfriends.

Another technique brings in newcomers’ husbands or boyfriends. Each female visitor gets a folded card to put on his dinner plate or pillow. The front says, “Guess what I did today?” and continues inside, “I made my wish list at Patton’s. Drop by and see it.” The store address is included. “Not a day goes by but someone calls or comes in to see a wish list—and says they’re glad they don’t have to worry now what to get her” for the holidays, says Patton.

Let’s get personal. Personal contact is the most effective way to turn newcomers into repeat customers, many jewelers tell JCK. At Tobin Jewelers, Springfield, Ill., for example, the salesperson who assists a new customer is expected to stay in touch via direct mail, says owner Richard E. Hart. “We have customer lists for each salesperson.”

Mailed notes are only the beginning of personal contact. “We’re on the phone constantly,” Hart says. “As it gets close to Christmas, we call each person to start them thinking about Christmas and to offer to help in any way we can—such as customized work, colored gemstones, or gifts that we can start looking for now on their behalf.” The percentage of newcomers who become regular customers thanks to this approach is very high, Hart says.

At Cooper & Binkley Jewelers, Brighton, Mich., every new customer receives a follow-up letter or phone call within two weeks, says Mark K. Binkley. “We thank them for coming in, ask if they’re satisfied with their purchase or repair and if their experience at the store was a good one, and invite them to return soon. To do that, we offer an incentive such as 20% off their next purchase with us. The salesperson who worked with them also sends a personal thank-you card.”

New customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, and important dates are added to the store’s computer database, and reminder cards are mailed prior to birthday and anniversary months. “We keep wish lists on which to put anything they see that they want,” says Binkley. “And we’re in contact with them several times a year about events in the store, such as the spring or fall gem shows.”

Freebies. Giving newcomers something free can help turn them into customers who keep coming back.

At Art’s Diamond Jewelers, a seven-store, 79-year-old family business in Canton, Ohio, new customers who spend more than $99 are entitled to benefits that include lifetime free ring cleaning, watch batteries, and a lifetime warranty on items priced at $99 or more. New repair clients who spend at least $60 also benefit. “We give that back to them on any purchase of $99 or more,” says owner Art Meltzer. He estimates 60% of buyers who receive benefits become regular customers.

In Anderson, S.C., a town of 30,000, Phil Jewelers hands out magnetic refrigerator calendars during the holidays to newcomers and regular customers. The magnets are tagged with the store name and address, with reusable memo pads on them. “At year’s end, people always come back for a new one,” says jeweler Phil Silverstein.

The store also gives away items such as nail files, emery boards, and pens, says Silverstein. “And every holiday, we give a 10-in. teddy bear in a sweater—different each year—with the store name on it, to anyone spending $100 or more. Many collect them and come every Christmas just for them, and new people who hear about them come in because of that.”

The bears cost $700 to $800 a year (Silverman buys 500 annually), and the calendars—he gets 5,000 each year—are “better than newspaper advertising and cost less.” And they spur sales. “We know that, because this is a small town and we know the people,” he says. “After getting a calendar or a bear, we see them keep coming back to buy.”