How Hildgund Jewelry CEO Bruce Bucky Taps Into the Hawaiian Tourist Trade

How Hildgund Jewelry gets attention—and sales—from Hawaiian tourists

Selling merchandise to a client base that turns over every five days is the biggest challenge facing hotel-based ­retailers. But Bruce Bucky, CEO of Hildgund Jewelry of Hawaii—which operates six hotel locations—makes leapfrogging that hurdle look easy. The former banking professional relies on strategically placed advertising (in hotel activity sheets, for one) and clever marketing strategies to get the word out on his stores. Most recently, Bucky launched an initiative that puts glossy, full-color Hildgund brochures—complete with a voucher good for one complimentary ­jewelry cleaning—inside every guest room of the hotels his company does business in: the Four Seasons hotels in Maui and Hualalai; the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort in Oahu; the Kahala Hotel & Resort in Honolulu; and the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island. “Because we’re in hotels, we don’t get those hundreds of people walking by every day,” says Bucky. “But this gives people a really good reason to come in. Everyone is walking around wearing dirty jewelry—they just may not know it.”

How did you come up with the idea for a free jewelry cleaning for guests?
We’re not a destination store, and we’re not trying to be something we’re not. The bottom line is, the clientele in the hotels is what we’re trying to get. When people come in with the card and brochure, it gives us five minutes to get them hooked on something. It makes sense for us to offer a cleaning because we’re in resorts next to the beach, so guests are using creams and tanning lotions all day.

How does the process work?
We clean the jewelry while the customer is in the store, with a machine that’s right where they can see it, so they’re never nervous that they’re dropping something valuable off. By looking at what kind of jewelry they wear, we have a better idea of what kind of pieces they might like. While we’re doing the cleaning, we will show them things around the store. We also will shake center diamonds in rings to make sure they’re secure. If they aren’t, we’ll let the customer know.

How is the brochure designed?
Each one is designed for a specific hotel. It has our name and our logo and the design or logo for the hotel—that was to make it easier to get it into hotels. We also do a seventh printing that lists all the locations that’s stuffed with a 20 percent off discount card instead of the cleaning card. That one my wife and I will take to cocktail parties. The brochure is around 4 by 6 inches and is designed more like a little magazine than a traditional brochure, with one page flowing into the next.

How receptive was hotel management in allowing you to place the brochures in the rooms?
Some of the hotels were easy, but some were hard. Now I’m trying to make sure they actually get in the rooms every time. We work very closely with housekeeping and we’re constantly giving them candy and things to make sure they get them into the rooms. It’s difficult dealing with hotels because it’s a day-to-day thing. You have to be checking constantly that it’s getting done.

How has the initiative impacted business so far?
We have made some sales through it, but the increase in foot traffic has been [significant]. But it’s really advertising around the pool. If a woman has a big, shiny diamond and someone says, ‘Wow, that’s beautiful,’ she’s going to tell them it was just cleaned for free in that store right over there.

How does your merchandise mix reflect your hotel locations?
We do only fine fashion jewelry—no watches and no bridal. It’s Hawaii, so couples that come typically already have their bridal jewelry. We do carry brands, but we’re not a branded store. I look for exclusives to Hawaii, and a lot of our merchandise is bought in Europe and Hong Kong, so we have lots of U.S. exclusives, too.

What are the advantages to operating a hotel-based retail store?
It’s cheaper than being in a shopping mall. Your overhead is low because you’re not paying base rents or paying for common areas. And because we’re dealing with a whole new clientele every five days, we can move the merchandise around from store to store. The merchandise might be old to us, but it’s not old to the customer.

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