The holidays are coming early for Bernie Robbins Jewelers in Somers Point, N.J.
In mid-November, the chain will host its first-ever annual Holiday Gift Extravaganzas, which will feature multivendor shows in four of the chain’s five stores, located in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. During these events, watch and jewelry vendors will give away free gifts—a pair of earrings or a watch strap, for example—with each purchase, as well as a Bernie Robbins gift certificate for future use, the value of which will be based on what a customer spends.
“It’s important to let our customers know early in the holiday season how much we appreciate their business,” says president and co-owner Harvey Rovinsky. “Our clients think of us throughout the year, so this is our turn to convey how much we appreciate their loyalty, their repeat business, and, certainly, their referrals.”
Bernie Robbins also runs a holiday wish list contest: Each store selects one wish list and the person who wrote the list wins a shopping spree—usually worth around $1,000.
“We try to thank our clients as much as we can,” says Rovinsky. “And this is one way we do it. It’s thanks for the business in the previous year.”
Demonstrating your appreciation to customers year-round is important, but at the holidays it’s even more so “because jewelry is always an emotional purchase and holidays are a great time for emotions,” says Neil Stern, senior partner with Chicago consulting firm McMillan Doolittle. “You always want to make a connection to the customer, and jewelry is rarely a needed purchase so you need to feed that desire.”
The holidays are the logical time to give thanks to your customers, Stern adds, because it’s when they’re most likely to spend money.
Local vendor Lollipop Cakes by Amanda shows off her bite-size treats at Bernie Robbins Jewelers’ 2012 Holiday Extravaganza in Somers Point, N.J.
George Avianne, vice president of e-commerce at Avianne and Co. Jewelers in New York City’s Diamond District, has three levels of holiday-timed appreciation for his customers. Customers who have spent more than $1,000 collectively over the years get a Christmas card and a gift certificate for $100. Avianne sends out a few hundred of these annually.
To his second tier of customers—those who have spent more than $500 during that specific holiday season—Avianne gives a $100 signature crystal ball bead bracelet, along with a Christmas card. Last year, Avianne says, he gave out around 150 of these.
The “high-priority clients”—who have spent more than $100,000 over the years—get an Avianne watch.
In 2008, Bernie Robbins hired an angelic “Wish-tress” to greet guests at its WISHES holiday bash.
“Customers are ecstatic and are never going to go to another company again. If they come back at least once, I know we’ve done our job.”
These acknowledgements can’t be underestimated, according to Avianne, who says he probably “reinvests” 10–15 percent of the ROI from the eight weeks of Christmas on showing appreciation to his customers.
“While most companies will find that to be a questionable amount of spending, we feel it is totally acceptable,” he adds. “The main thing to justify this kind of program is the ‘rollover’ effect that you get year over year. That same rollover gives you a constant stream of growth for the holiday season, simply through client retention.”
At Uptown Diamond in Houston, owner Rick Antona hosts a huge party in early December in the lobby of the building that houses his store. “Making an effort to show customers how much they are valued can go a long way in building lasting relationships,” Antona says. “If you take your customers for granted, your competitors will be thanking you for sending business to them.”
The key to the parties, he adds, is that his salespeople aren’t allowed to sell, there are no display cases, and no jewelry is out. “Then customers remember you and they’re calling you before Christmas. That’s the main thing: making it fun.”
The timing is important and Antona likes his to be the first party of the holiday season. “It helps me to stand out from my competitors by setting the bar high,” he explains. And while he acknowledges that customer appreciation should be a year-round occurrence, “the holidays are a time where an extra boost in acknowledgement and gratitude can be an additional opportunity to spread good will.”
Clients aren’t the only ones who deserve accolades at holiday time. Employees, as any retailer knows, are your greatest asset. “If they’re happy, they’ll make your customers happy,” says Stern. “It’s hard for them to truly deliver great customer service if they’re not feeling valued.”
Uptown Diamond operations manager Kam Mack (second from l.) and owner Rick Antona’s wife, Kerry (c.), host holiday guests Emily Giesinger (far l.), Amy Gordon, and Alison Clayton.
And as with customers, showing this appreciation works best at the holidays, when emotions are heightened and employees are working harder than usual.
“We view our business as having two clients—our external client and our internal client [staff], and we have a great amount of respect for both,” says Bernie Robbins’ Rovinsky.
Through the holiday season, he runs a campaign called “Bean Days” (in which a bean means both $100 and $100,000). If a store does $100,000 in sales that day, each employee is rewarded with $100 in cash. Bernie Robbins stores run half a dozen of these days at each store between Thanksgiving and Christmas, “and I try to pick a day when I think employees will have the best chance of success,” says Rovinsky. “We want to incentivize them and keep the spirit good.”
After the holidays, Rovinsky invites employees whose annual sales for the prior year topped $1 million to a private event at a fine club in Philadelphia (along with their significant others). Here, he acknowledges each person with a tribute and a glass statue. Typically, eight to 10 employees get the coveted invite.
Stephenie Bjorkman, owner of Sami Fine Jewelry in Fountain Hills, Ariz., also hosts her employees, but in a different way: She invites them all to a themed party at the home of her mother (the eponymous Sami).
At the event, Bjorkman recognizes employees in 10 categories such as Top Seller, Employee of the Year, Most Items Sold, and Highest Single Sale. The awards range from a cruise to a massage, jewelry, or paid days off.
She also asks vendors to donate jewelry for the event and gives these pieces to the five to 10 employees who have sold the most. “Keep your employees happy and they will keep your customers happy,” Bjorkman says. “If you don’t do anything for them, it brings the entire team down.”
Maggie Moore, co-owner of deBebians Fine Jewelry in Los Angeles, likes to take her team of nine employees out for an activity such as ice skating (followed by dinner) in early December, to show how much she appreciates them.
deBebians Fine Jewelry staffers (mostly) get into the spirit at a 2012 Halloween lunch.
“It’s good because it’s fun and a team-building experience,” she says. “It’s a great way to build relationships between employees and between us and the employees so they see us not just as the owners. It means they can see each other in a different light too.”
Moore and her business partner try to show appreciation to their employees year-round and their budget includes the cost of small birthday parties and the bigger holiday event.
“It’s an expense, but we’re happy to pay,” Moore explains. “Team building is critical in small business. It makes it easier to work together after these events and maybe employees find common interests through them.”
(Top: Yasinguneysu/Getty Images)
Thanks for Shopping!
Sami Fine Jewelry founder Sami Jack and master horologist Doug Hill
It’s important to show appreciation year-round—not just at the holidays. Here’s what some retailers are doing:
• Rick Antona, owner of Uptown Diamond in Houston, sends personalized cakes (price: $2,000–$3,000 each!) to his top clients.
• Los Angeles’ deBebians Fine Jewelry thanks engagement ring buyers by sending them a video sneak peek of the ring before they receive it—not only building excitement but also creating a cool souvenir.
• Jeremy Shepherd, founder and CEO of PearlParadise.com, holds a Pearl Ruckus once a year. He rents a mansion, where his top customers spend the weekend enjoying pearls and luxury.
• Sami Fine Jewelry hosts year-end themed employee parties featuring staffers in full costume. And sometimes, that means togas.