Emerson “Skip” Robbins is the owner of E.E. Robbins, a three-store chain based in Seattle. Although the company, which specializes in engagement rings, has been in operation only since 2000, Robbins and his family have deep roots in the jewelry industry. Robbins’s grandfather, Ben Tipp, owned Ben Tipp Diamonds, a fixture in the Seattle area in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. His father, E.E. Robbins, moved the family to Southern California, purchased a store (William Pitt Jewelers), and ran his own jewelry business.
Robbins and his brother Steve both worked in the family business. In the 1970s, the brothers took over and expanded. In 1995 they opened the first Robbins Bros. – World’s Biggest Engagement Ring Store, in Fullerton, Calif. Robbins Bros. is now a 10-store chain with seven stores in Southern California and three in Texas.
Robbins didn’t enjoy being part of a big chain and didn’t share his brother’s desire to go national. So he sold some of his partnership in Robbins Bros. and moved back to Seattle to run his own business.
In an exclusive interview with JCK, Robbins discusses some of his strategies for remaining competitive.
How do you set your business apart from your competitors? We are definitely a unique, highly niched business. We do not even consider our stores jewelry stores. We are engagement ring stores. And, in fact, that is part of our name—E.E. Robbins – The Engagement Ring Store.
In terms of marketing to set us apart, most of our advertising is radio. We are one of the biggest radio advertisers in the greater Seattle metro region, and our brand is very well known to the 18- to 34-year-old demographic.
What are your best sellers? Our core customer is someone who wants a better engagement ring. We only carry high-quality designer brands such as Jeff Cooper, Scott Kay, Ritani, Simon G., Coast Diamond, and some smaller, more boutique designers like B. Sholdt, MaeVona, Mark Schneider, and J.A. Bevacqua. We also have a few of our own in-house brands. Most of what we sell is 0.75 ct. to 2.00 ct. center diamonds. Every diamond we sell is high quality—nothing lower than SI in clarity or lower than J in color and almost all Ideal-type makes. We also sell some in-house branded diamonds that are not only beautiful but more affordable than the advertised branded diamonds. We do sell 14k gold, 18k gold, and 19k gold, but our most popular metal is still platinum.
What has been your most successful marketing program? We don’t do short-term marketing or price-point advertising of any kind. Our marketing is all focused on building our brand and making customers aware that if they are looking for the most important ring they will ever buy, they probably want to see a specialist, a company like ours that is dedicated to engagement and wedding rings.
What has been your best money-saving initiative? If we have a weakness, this is it. Much to the chagrin of my controller, we are not focused as much as we should be on money-saving programs. I would say that our best savings comes from our relationship with RMSA, a company dedicated to improving inventory turn. They analyze our inventory, our monthly sales, and establish open-to-buys and help us to improve the turn on our inventory.
What has been your biggest business challenge? Our biggest challenge is to separate ourselves in the consumer’s mind from the national chains and big-box stores like Shane and Jared. We do so by reminding potential customers that we are an engagement ring store and not jewelers.
Another challenge has been the growth of online diamond sellers, especially Blue Nile. Much to Blue Nile’s annoyance, we constantly run radio ads telling listeners that a diamond is one of the worst purchases one can make sight unseen. Just like with people, every diamond in the world is unique and different, and a diamond’s ratings do not tell one how beautiful and brilliant it is. A diamond must be viewed up close and personal to compare with other diamonds in order to appreciate its value and beauty.