PGI Partnership Goes Platinum

Following on the success of its new “Gone Platinum” advertising campaign, Platinum Guild International this month is unveiling a new retail partnership program—two years in the making—that’s designed to attack the “platinum opportunity gap” head-on.

The Preferred Platinum Partner Program will be unveiled to the industry at a special breakfast presentation during The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas this month, with the first round of program-related consumer advertising set to break this fall in fashion, bridal, and lifestyle magazines.

“Historically, PGI is adept at working with manufacturers, but the biggest issue [in selling platinum] is at the retail level,” says Michael O’Connor, PGI senior vice president. Sales associates aren’t adequately prepared to show the value of platinum—they can’t explain to a customer why one white metal ring costs $500 and another is $1,200.

Yet PGI research consistently shows that consumers want platinum jewelry, especially in the bridal market. The desire to own it, however, is far greater than its acquisition rate—resulting in an “opportunity gap” that the PGI USA team wants to close.

Every jewelry brand has some falloff between the levels of consumer desire and actual acquisition, says O’Connor, but for platinum jewelry it’s especially large. PGI wants to close the gap by getting retail jewelers on board, and that’s where the new partnership program comes in.

“There is a business value in it for the retailer,” O’Connor says. “They make more money on platinum.”

In an unusual step for a product-based promotional organization, the new partnership program requires participants—both manufacturers and retailers—to be voted in by their peers. And the number of participants is deliberately being kept small: 18 manufacturers and 67 retailers.

“We can’t be a strategic partner to 17,000 independent jewelers,” says Antonia Caamano, PGI public relations manager. “We looked at how many of us there are and what is needed to really impact a retailer.” For its participating retailers, PGI will be a strategic business partner, complete with in-store sales training, mystery-shopping visits, marketing assistance, and more.

Although the selection process for the initial launch is complete, retailers and manufacturers have the opportunity to be included later, says Jenny Luker, senior vice president. Each year, manufacturers and retailers will vote again for the next round of participants, so those not on board now might be invited in the next round—and those in the program now are not automatically guaranteed to be invited back. Each round of the program is designed for a 16–24 month period, to allow PGI time to work closely with the stores.

The first invited participants—plus others who might be included in the next round—will see the program unveiled in its entirety at a breakfast presentation, Sunday, June 4, during The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas.

To choose the program’s participants, PGI asked manufacturers for the names of their most important retailers and those they felt offered a positive shopping experience, the best customer service, and so forth. At the same time, PGI went to retailers to ask which manufacturers have the best platinum product, the best service, and so forth.

Whether the initial number proves to be too large, too small, or just right remains to be seen. If PGI feels it can effectively partner with more stores, the program will be expanded. If it isn’t serving its current partners sufficiently, the next round of retail partners will be smaller.

Once the retailers for the program were identified, PGI mystery-shopped each store three times to see where the stores need help. As the program progresses, each store will be mystery-shopped at least twice more; once right after the sales training and once near the end of the program.

“Few retailers have the opportunity or money to have mystery shoppers critique their stores,” says Luker. PGI is sharing the results of its mystery-shopping with its retail partners’ owners, managers, buyers, and marketing managers. “The response to the mystery shopping has been fabulous,” she says. “The stores want this information.” It’s also valuable information for a PGI pulse-check, Luker adds.

PROGRAM DETAILS

The foundation of the program is the “Gone Platinum” advertising campaign (see “Going Platinum,” JCK, February 2006, p. 118), which for the first time will be tagged with store names. Each two-page ad—all breaking in September in popular fashion, bridal, and lifestyle magazines—will feature one engagement ring and two wedding bands from a participating manufacturer in the “hero” position (full page) and four other manufacturers’ rings (three each) in quarter sections on the second page. The hero position will rotate between magazines but will be the same in regional splits of the same magazine. Retailer tags will appear with both the hero shot and the other three shots in each ad.

The requirement for retailer tagging is that any store listed in an ad has to commit to having the featured product in stock at all times so that a customer seeking it will never be disappointed. (That should close the opportunity gap, i.e., customers who want platinum product but can’t find it in stores.)

“There’s little up-front cost to the retailer, other than the inventory,” says Luker.

Though the ad campaign is central to the partnership, it’s not the whole story. Each member of the program will get a marketing package whose value O’Connor says is “at least $700,000” and that includes the tagged ads (at least seven per participating retailer), inclusion in PGI’s online retail locator tool on both of its Web sites (www.preciousplatinum.com and www.engage-mentguide.com), sales training in the store, mystery-shopping, access to PGI’s standard online catalog of marketing materials plus a special group designed for program members, in-store display and point-of-sale tools, and special publishing partnerships that are offering incentives to both retailers and consumers.

Those incentives will be ongoing, on a rolling basis, for either consumers or sales associates or both at any given time. For example, some of the participating fashion magazines such as Lucky will offer the ability to send sponsored e-mails to subscribers (“Lucky Mavens” are that magazine’s target list), while sales associates will have opportunities to win trips to New York or other incentives for selling the most platinum jewelry.

PGI itself will be an integral part of the program, and each participating retailer will have a PGI staffer as their “go-to” person. Retailers will also benefit from PGI’s in-store sales training. Luker says stores participating in its in-store facilitated training program last year (not related to this program) saw sales gains of 35 percent to 50 percent, and not just exclusively in platinum jewelry. Sales went up in all categories at those stores.

The program’s sales training will be followed with a DVD refresher course, which can also be used for new associates who missed the in-store classes. Bench jewelers will have their own training as needed (but they do get a DVD of their own), focused on working with the metal.

Partner retailers will have a special section of PGI’s online catalog of marketing materials dedicated specifically to them and unavailable to nonparticipating retailers.

Nonpartner retailers can still benefit from the campaign rub-off, says O’Connor. Standard PGI materials such as postcard mailers and in-store signage available to all still feature the recognizable PGI logo and imagery, making the campaign peripheral advertising for them as well—even if they’re not tagged in the ads themselves.

“By raising the tide of the category, we all get the results we want,” says O’Connor.

Trade elements of the program will include advertorial-type messages with sales-training tips and other use-it-now ideas for retailers.

“This is the first time any association has gone to this level of partnership down the food chain and still kept consumer desire very high,” says O’Connor. “It’s like the old adage of giving a starving man a fish or teaching him how to fish.”