PGI’s Three-Ring Program Takes Back the Wedding

A wedding begins and ends with the exchange of jewelry, and jewelers need to reclaim their rightful share of the wedding budget. Platinum Guild International calls this “taking back the wedding,” and it wants to see all its retail partners doing just that.

The message is getting across: Despite a sky-high price of $1,169 an ounce, interest in platinum among high-end jewelers and consumers remains strong. Figures from Johnson Matthey’s “Platinum 2006 Interim Review,” presented in fourth-quarter 2006, forecast an 11.5 percent drop in platinum demand for jewelry use worldwide, but it isn’t because of the upscale American jeweler.

Quite the contrary. PGI’s Preferred Platinum Partner Program (4-P), a cooperative program for retailers and manufacturers, begun last year, has met with tremendous success and is generating a great deal of interest from new hopeful participants. And PGI’s “take back the wedding” concept resonates with all jewelers, even those that don’t participate in the program.

In an exclusive interview with executives of PGI’s U.S. office, JCK got a complete progress report on the program, and on PGI’s determination to help jewelers focus on selling a couple their wedding bands at the same time as their engagement ring. “The whole [wedding] process begins with the engagement ring. Nothing happens before that,” says PGI’s senior vice president of marketing communications and public relations, Michael O’Connor.

The wedding ceremony also culminates in the exchange of the rings that symbolize the vows the couple are taking. Couples spend huge amounts of money on wedding elements that don’t last, such as flowers and invitations, yet their wedding rings—despite the symbolism they represent—often get relegated to an afterthought, bought when the wedding budget’s just about gone. By merchandising the wedding bands with the engagement ring and encouraging the couple to buy all three rings together, jewelers can recapture a share of the money being spent on other parts of the wedding.

Plus, adds Jenny Luker, PGI senior vice president of manufacturer and retail programs, just the idea of having one less chore on the wedding to-do list is enticing to busy couples. “After the wedding, the flowers are dead, the cake is gone, and other than the one invitation you saved for your photo album, all the rest are in the trash. The dress may be preserved, but how many daughters really wear their mothers’ gowns?

“Only two things from the wedding day are truly lasting—the photography and the wedding bands. And the bands are symbolic of the commitment the couple is making, even more so than the engagement ring,” she says.

PGI also has been working with bridal magazine editors to encourage them to suggest the couple buy their wedding rings at the same time as their engagement rings. “How do brides know they have to order their dress six months in advance? The dressmaking industry has done a great job of getting out that message. The jewelry industry has to be more proactive at getting out the ring message,” says Luker.

“It used to be the engagement ring and wedding band fit together (literally), and came with the men’s band to match,” says O’Connor, recalling his early career in jewelry retailing. Couples typically used to buy the engagement ring and put the wedding bands on layaway, he said, which gave him an opportunity to keep in contact with them. “I’d check the diamond setting when they came in to make a payment, and I’d also ask what jewelry the bride was going to wear for the big day, what gifts they were giving their attendants, and so forth,” he says.

O’Connor continues, “We don’t live in a matchy-matchy world anymore, which is a good thing, but if you merchandise the rings together, you can show options that go together even if they don’t exactly match.”

“Many sales associates are so focused on the engagement ring sale that they forget about the wedding bands. We have to get them over that one-and-done mentality,” says Luker. “It [the wedding] all begins and ends with jewelry.”

While all retailers can benefit from PGI’s advice regarding wedding band sales, those who are in its inaugural Preferred Platinum Partner Program are seeing real results. The original program—begun in early 2006 and slated to wrap at the end of 2007—called for participants, both retailer and manufacturer, to receive a total value of $750,000 in platinum marketing support over the 18–24 months they spend in the program. Halfway through, that value already has been exceeded for every partner, according to O’Connor. He predicts that by year’s end—the end of the first program—each partner will have received double the value of what was initially promised. “Since PGI has already fulfilled what we said we’re going to do, we’re giving lots of additional opportunities to those partners who are really committed to the program,” says O’Connor.

But tallying up the values isn’t the point. Selling platinum is the point, and the program is proving itself with solid results. Retailers responding to a PGI questionnaire reported growth in platinum sales ranging from 12 percent to 50 percent since beginning the program, with an average gain between 19 percent and 22 percent in the first year.

Not surprisingly, lots of companies want in. At the Centurion jewelry show, PGI—along with InStyle and InStyle Weddings—hosted a reception for current and prospective 4-P members that drew 50 percent more RSVPs than planned.

PGI doesn’t decide who the participants will be. Retailers are nominated and voted on by manufacturers, and manufacturers are nominated and voted on by retailers. Nominations and voting for the 2008/09 4-P program will begin later this year.

Retailers who participate in the program are required to carry the products featured in the “Love Gone Platinum” advertising campaign. “We try to help retailers merchandise the assortment in a way that we know works,” says O’Connor. Stores are also required to do in-store facilitated training, provided by PGI, and in 2007 they must back that up with additional training provided on a DVD. Retailers may run the DVD training individually or in groups, and sales associates will be tested online through PGI.com. Those who pass receive a certificate. “We’ve already trained 2,000 retail salespeople,” says Luker. She expects some overlap in the 2008/09 program but feels there’s no such thing as too much training.

PGI called in some big guns to reinforce its message. It hired two industry veterans, Gary DePriest and Kevin Reilly, to work with the partners. DePriest is a veteran of New York–based Frederick Goldman, and Reilly has stints at both Taché and Lazare Kaplan under his belt. DePriest and Reilly travel the country, visiting partner stores and making sure the message is being communicated. They also make sure jewelers are comfortable with selling platinum and are selling it in a three-ring program.

“We can’t impact all retailers across the United States,” says Luker. “But we’re trying to impact as many as possible.”