Go Corporate

Corporate jewelry sales, when done correctly, can be a highly profitable, regular source of business conducted with loyal repeat clients. Corporate jewelry sales also can boost your image in your market and extend your brand name to a larger regional audience.

The corporate jewelry market in your region may include corporations, retail store chains, factories, small businesses, local government, educational institutions, military installations, sports teams, community groups, and other organizations. These types of clients regularly recognize and reward their employees, members, and suppliers with service awards, performance awards, sales incentives, and retirement gifts. Jewelers traditionally have supplied many of the rewards given out by these groups under their recognition programs—including gold watches, logo rings, lapel pins, cufflinks, tie tacks, charms, money clips, lighters, clocks, pens, crystal, giftware, desk accessories, and more.

Experts say the corporate market is a high-profit, high-cash-flow business that requires little or no inventory. It can mean dozens, hundreds, even thousands of pieces ordered from one customer, often at regular intervals. Jewelers that have done substantial business in corporate sales cite a number of key elements to success, including actively pursuing corporate sales through advertising, networking, target marketing, and other initiatives. They also recommend dedicating a person or team to deal specifically with corporate clients. Other suggestions include training salespeople to look for opportunities to turn consumers into corporate clients, communicating clearly and often with corporate clients to ensure you’re meeting their needs and aren’t missing opportunities for additional business, and staying on top of market trends.

Long’s Jewelers, a Burlington, Mass.–based chain of seven stores, has been servicing corporate clients with incentive jewelry and gifts for many years. Although the corporate sector accounts for only a single-digit share of total sales right now, Long’s is refocusing on corporate business in the face of softer consumer sales, and it sees substantial opportunity for growth, says Craig Rottenberg, president. “More and more companies are looking to reward their employees with corporate gifts,” he notes. “A box from Long’s carries a lot of goodwill in our market, and we have seen an increase in corporate customers coming in that want to give their people a nice watch or jewelry gift from our stores.”

According to Rottenberg, corporate clients can develop into major customers that place large orders with great frequency and at regular intervals. In addition, once a strong relationship is established, they sometimes trade up to higher-ticket items. The business doesn’t require adding much infrastructure, and it can build naturally through networking. But to make it really profitable, he stresses, you need to promote it and have the right people in place for sales and service.

Long’s entry into the corporate market was more by luck than design. Some of the chain’s customers worked for companies that needed corporate jewelry programs. These customers were either decision makers or referred the retailer to their supervisors. Over the years, the jeweler’s corporate business has grown, through both word of mouth and marketing efforts such as direct mail and phone calls to local businesses, Rottenberg says. The key to expanding Long’s corporate business was to dedicate a specific individual to run the division and create marketing expressly targeted at corporate customers, such as custom direct-mail pieces and advertisements in trade publications.

Long’s corporate business is not without challenges. It’s a service-intensive business that requires people trained to serve corporate clients. Corporate customers want items customized via engravings, company logos, colors, designs, and other specifics. Depending on the size of the order, Long’s will do this work in-house or contract it out. Also, an independent retailer who wants to develop a corporate program needs to decide whether they want large orders at lower price points or smaller, higher-ticket orders. Long’s corporate clients are looking to increase their spending per item to reward employees with nicer gifts, but, to keep budgets in line, they’re awarding them less frequently than in the past.

“We have had companies wanting to reward their board of directors with 10 to 20 expensive gold watches, and we’ve had companies where we’ve sold hundreds of lower-priced units in one order,” Rottenberg says. “We learned that you have to draw the line—you can’t be all things to all people, and you need to focus on your strengths in terms of product and service. You have to figure out whether you want to sell 100 corporate items at $5,000 or 5,000 items at $100.”

At Hamilton Jewelers in St. Louis, corporate jewelry represents $400,000–$450,000 in annual sales. Although corporate business has leveled off because of the sluggish economy, the retailer still has its “hands full maintaining what we have,” according to Rich Topp, corporate accounts manager.

Because of its downtown location, Hamilton attracts executives from local businesses coming in and looking for jewelry and gifts for incentive and rewards programs, Topp says. Over the years, the business evolved into a separate department.

Hamilton gets new corporate clients through referrals from existing corporate clients, regular customers who refer the store to their employers, and executives who are regular customers who give Hamilton their corporate business. The process works in reverse, too—sometimes a corporate client comes in to pick out an employee gift and becomes a consumer client. The company also gets a lot of new corporate clients because of its reputation in the region.

Hamilton also looks up local and regional business leads, sends out targeted direct mail (often focusing on human resources people), and follows up with phone calls. The retailer advertises the corporate business on its Web site and in the Yellow Pages. Meanwhile, the store’s sales staff has been a critical element in the success of the corporate division; they are always on the lookout for clues that customers may be in the market for corporate jewelry. “Our sales team listens to their customers, and when they hear someone mention something about their business, they introduce me to them,” Topp says. “I have gotten a lot of business this way.”

Topp also tries to determine if a corporate client has other divisions the store can work with. “It’s easier to get your foot in the door when the company is already a client,” he notes.

Corporate business requires outstanding customer service to be successful, Topp stresses. Service—in terms of quality of the product and the customized work, giving clients exactly what they want, and on-time delivery—is even more critical when you have an order for dozens or hundreds of items from a corporate client than a one-piece order from a consumer.

Topp makes it a point to talk to his corporate clients throughout the year, to make sure there’s ample time to put together their usual orders (for instance, a company might give out certain awards monthly, quarterly, or semiannually), handle any special orders, and see if they need anything else.

Keeping the corporate business strong means staying on top of current trends in the market, Topp notes. Corporate clients are no longer content to give their employees pins with emblems; today, they want the latest products and designs, including high-tech electronics. That’s why Hamilton does its own customized work on corporate gifts; updates its corporate inventory; works with clients to select a new item if the one they choose is out of stock (rather than substituting something arbitrarily as some corporate gift suppliers do); and offers a corporate program that includes a wide range of non-jewelry gifts like electronics, globes, telescopes, desk accessories, leather goods and luggage, sporting goods, lifestyle products, and outdoor equipment. Hamilton puts together customized brochures of its program for corporate clients and has developed a PDF file that can be sent to them electronically.

“We never thought we’d be selling TVs, iPods, and barbecue pits,” Topp says. “But demand for lapel pins, watches, money clips, and cufflinks isn’t as big as it used to be. In the corporate gifts market, you have to be able to adapt and supply what people want, or they will go down the street to someone else.”