Planning a Branding Strategy

It?s the buzzword you can?t escape. ?Branding? is splashed across the cover of your trade magazines, plastered throughout your trade-show programs, and on the lips of every seminar speaker.

Marketing experts say consumers need brands to help them cut through advertising clutter and identify names they can trust. But since the issue arose more than a decade ago, jewelers have been debating which is the better strategy: promoting the store?s own name as a brand, or focusing on the brand names it carries.

The answer, so far, appears to be that either way works. Some retailers emphasize jewelry and watch brands in their advertising or store design. Others focus on their own name, some to the point of virtually eliminating branded lines.

However you address branding, it?s unwise to ignore it, says Al Ries, author of the widely quoted book The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. ?You can?t say, ?I?m going to keep doing what worked in the past?; you?ve got to think about what?s happening. Wherever you look, there?s a trend toward more branding.?

?If you can brand a chicken, you can brand jewelry, and the upscale consumer will buy it.? So says Chicago designer Paul Klecka, with a nod to the success of poultry purveyor Frank Perdue. ?If a retailer?s brand is identifiable and consistently reinforced, then there are many ways to create profitable partnerships with branded suppliers.?

Klecka himself uses the strength of another name to reinforce his own and says retailers have numerous opportunities to link themselves to successful, well-known brands. ?We?ve always asked our retailers to present Paul Klecka as a designer with numerous De Beers accolades,? he says. The De Beers name ?adds equity to the consumer?s perception of my company and additional value to my jewelry.?

Brinsmaids in New Canaan, Conn., has embraced branded lines, and its customers don?t want anything else, according to co-owner and president Scott Cusson. The store, which grosses more than $3 million annually, is laid out as a collection of mini designer boutiques (JCK, January 2000, p. 194). ?As the concept of branding grew in the jewelry industry, our concept of branding evolved on a parallel basis,? says Cusson. ?Whenever we have tried to modify [the strategy] by bringing in product that is more generic, even if it has an original flavor, it?s not been very successful.?

Some people in the industry see a backlash brewing. ?It?s dangerous for a jeweler to rely on these lines,? says Jim Rosenheim of the Tiny Jewel Box, a store in Washington, D.C. With numerous retailers carrying high-profile branded lines, ?all the stores start to have a certain similarity,? he says. If branded items are also available at department stores, margins can suffer, as well, he adds.

The emergence of e-commerce and its potential threat to retailers? territorial exclusivity agreements with high-end brands has added intensity to the discussion (see related story on p. 150). ?With the Internet, brand-name merchandise is becoming a commodity,? says Jeff Abell of Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers in Los Angeles. Abell?s store steers away from branded merchandise. His customers ?like the fact that when they come to our store, they don?t see things they see everywhere else,? he says. ?There?s an exclusivity and a cachet to that.?

But no matter how brands are viewed by retailers, they are unlikely to lose their appeal among certain consumers, notes Jack Gredinger, director of sales and marketing for Scull and Co., a North Bergen, N.J., management consulting group. ?We live in a very status-conscious society, and I don?t think the consumer will get turned off to brands,? Gredinger says.

Diverse strategies. Bernie Robbins Fine Jewelry, at five locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, uses co-op advertising featuring branded products in magazines and on billboards along Interstate 95. Joining the store?s name with those of well-known national brands has enabled store owner Harvey Rovinsky to ?have our name recognized by 3 million people in the Philadelphia region.? The strategy is working; customers have called from their car phones to ask directions to the store, mentioning the brand names they spotted as they passed the billboards, Rovinsky?s staff reports.

?Branding has allowed us, in 7 1/2 years, to go from a middle-of-the-line jeweler to a high-end, luxury jeweler,? says Rovinsky. The store began the change in 1992 by acquiring a prestigious brand that sought to establish a presence in the United States. ?It was kind of coincidental and fortuitous that it happened that way,? Rovinsky says. He slowly added luxury brands, relocated some stores to more affluent areas, and redecorated to achieve a plush, inviting, uniform look. ?The way you present yourself and the type of merchandise you carry adds to the value,? Rovinsky says.

In Fayetteville, Ark., Underwood?s Jewelers does not promote any name other than its own. ?We decided the hassle was not worth the name of the brand,? says Bill Underwood. He formerly used co-op advertising but found that customers who responded were shopping for branded items at the lowest price, a situation that threatened his ability to maintain margins and goodwill simultaneously. The store now carries some designer items, but ?we don?t sell it under the name of the person who made it,? Underwood says. ?Our name has been a strong enough brand.?

James Elliot, a store in Scottsdale, Ariz., found a compromise. The store promotes designers? names on its front door and in its showcases?but not in co-op advertising. The store?s ads and catalog feature ?very funky, very hip? models, says co-owner Felicia Kriegel. ?Every ad I looked at in a magazine was a co-op, branded ad,? she says. ?We were doing our industry a disservice because everything was looking the same. The customer who wants high-end jewelry wants to be inspired.

?Brand names help get [the word] out that we are a serious store, but we do the designers a disservice if we don?t carry it further,? Kriegel says. ?You really have to market yourself as the place to go to get these designers? products.?

What?s in a name? Establishing your store as a brand is essential, according to Gredinger. ?The jeweler owns his own name. What makes that jeweler different from his competition is who he is and what he is,? he explains. A store whose image is based solely on its merchandise risks losing its reputation if it loses the suppliers. ?That?s why jewelers need to establish their own name. It?s the foundation on which the house is built; if a window is broken, the house still stands,? Gredinger says.

Yet Dr. Susan Fournier, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School who studies branding, says a store can build its business on names other than its own. Retailers ?don?t need to leap to the conclusion that they have to be branded,? she says. ?Having a brand that supports other brands is not that strange a beast.?

Being a brand means more than having a name and a logo. ?It?s what the logo symbolizes that?s important,? says Klecka. ?The style of the retailer and that of his clientele must be reflected in the jewelry and watch lines he carries, and these lines must mirror the profile of his clientele: What is their lifestyle? Where do they come from geographically? How do they break down in terms of the dollars they spend each year, and what are they purchasing? Most important is strategic thinking: What trends emerge from the analysis of these data??

?Each business should be unique unto itself,? Gredinger stresses. ?You develop your own brand by taking care of your customers in a way that your competitors don?t. There should be a consistency on the part of the retailer and his people; they should be able to communicate who they are and what they are.? (See p. 140 for tips on promoting your store?s brand.)

Some suppliers say a retailer?s brand-name recognition isn?t crucial for them. ?When we?re considering new accounts, what?s most important to us is their understanding of the brand and their understanding of the consumer, more so than their name,? says Hank Edelman, president of Patek Philippe USA.

?It?s hard to brand yourself when you?re a regional entity,? says platinum designer Scott Kay. National brands are what gives a store its reputation, he believes. As an example, he cites Saks Fifth Avenue, a store known for carrying fine designer merchandise. ?Saks isn?t Saks because of their private label,? he notes. ?Brands are what makes retailers.?

Richard Goldman, president of Keepsake Diamond Jewelry, New York, says one of the factors his company assesses when considering a new retail outlet is ?What are the other brands that store is carrying, and who is their target market?

?Keepsake is targeted toward middle America,? Goldman explains. ?It?s Tiffany for middle America?what middle America aspires to.? His company reviews whether other jewelry lines carried in a store also fit that image, he says.

Branding oneself. David Rotenberg, owner of David Craig Jewelers in Langhorne, Pa., has linked his own name and image with those of his store; billboards feature a photo of him and his wife, Deborah, in formal wear. ?We?ve always wanted to develop our name in the industry,? Rotenberg says. ?The philosophy was there; I just never knew it was called branding.? The message of the ads is that ?the owner is in,? he explains.

But a store?s reputation as a brand can transcend its name. Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers had to relinquish the right to use its former name, Crescent Jewelers, in 1998, the result of a settlement with Crescent Jewelers of Oakland, Calif. ?When we changed our name, I wasn?t thinking in terms of branding; I wanted to preserve the goodwill that we had built up over 52 years,? says Abell. The change was promoted through direct mail, a contest to select the new name, and counter cards in neighboring stores. ?Our business didn?t dip at all,? Abell says. ?We had big signage on the front of the store saying that only the name has changed.?

What gives stores like Abell?s their brand identity is the shopping experience they offer customers (see related story on p. 146). ?People identify with how they feel when they come in here,? Abell says. ?They feel good, they feel happy. It?s a pleasant place to be; everybody?s always upbeat. It?s not that the jewelry is secondary, but they don?t need a brand name on it to feel good about it.?

Partnership issues. Retailers say it?s important to review brands regularly to ensure their stock suits their market. ?We edit brands if there?s no longer customer interest or if someone has superseded them as the best in the product category,? says Nancy Mann of Mann?s Jewelers in Rochester, N.Y. ?Our most important brand is Mann?s Jewelers.?

An independent jeweler who?s reluctant to relinquish a long-term relationship with a brand runs the risk of one day seeing the brand sold in mass-market stores, says Paul Cohen of Continental Jewelers in Wilmington, Del., whose store avoids branded jewelry. ?Our role is to be the purveyor of that which is new and fresh and innovative,? Cohen says. ?We can?t sit on our laurels and say, ?I?ve found [a particular brand] and now I?m going to live on it for the rest of my career.? ?

Occasionally, retailers? efforts to establish a consistent brand image for their store may not jibe with a supplier?s marketing strategy. Edelman notes that some stores like to create their own print advertising, while Patek Philippe prefers print ads that reflect its national ad campaign. ?That?s a practical conflict that?s not going to end a relationship,? Edelman says. In such situations, the partners compromise by using radio ads or other forms of co-op advertising that don?t result in an image conflict, he says.

Scott Kay has developed packaging for his jewelry. His aim for ?co-branding? is for retailers to put his jewelry box inside their personalized shopping bags. ?Is every [retailer] going to take my box today? No. Will everybody in a few years? Absolutely,? he predicts. ?Who does all the dictating? The consumer.?

Retailers who take on a brand should be willing to commit to it, says Glenn Rothman, president of Boston diamond company Hearts on Fire. ?Some jewelers take on brands [merely] as an insurance policy against anyone else in the territory getting them,? he says. ?They make a minimum commitment to it, but they don?t really buy into the brand. That?s a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. But just as retailers have their network, the brands have their network, too. It becomes pretty well known who supports brand and who doesn?t.?

?If you have cultivated your image and provide goods and services appropriate to your market, there is nothing that should threaten your business,? says Klecka. ?Retailers who have a strong, established presence through their history, their personality, or a unique ?hook? in the market will be fine. But those retailers who are not conscious of the image they convey to their clientele?or those who do not control and enhance the total experience they present to their customers?have some work to do.?

10 ways to build your brand

Here are some ways marketing experts say you can promote your store as a brand:

  1. Consider your competition. ?The best way to start is not to say, ?What am I?? but to say, ?What is the competition?? and ?What opportunities are there for my store?? ? says Al Reis, author of The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. ?It?s very hard to try to take away someone else?s position. The better strategy is to decide who owns what in the customer?s mind. Brands are built in minds, not in stores.?

  2. Train all of your employees to impart the same message. ?Every employee should be able to sell the store brand, rather than just the owner being the best salesman,? says Liz Chatelain of MVI Marketing, Beverly Hills, Calif.

  3. Ensure that no more than 50% of your advertising includes other brand names. ?Your logo should be twice as big as any other logo,? says Chatelain.

  4. Use your suppliers? clout to tout your store. If a star wears a branded jewelry item to the Academy Awards, and you carry that brand, bring it to the attention of your local newspaper. Encourage the paper to run the designer?s press release with a footnote stating that the company?s products are available at your store. ?Local newspapers are always looking for filler,? Chatelain says.

  5. Use your own local celebrities. You can become the local equivalent of Harry Winston by lending jewelry to local community leaders to wear at high-profile events, Ries suggests.

  6. Keep your name front and center at special events. If you host five promotional events per year, make sure that three of them are general events touted under your own name rather than a promotion featuring one designer only, Chatelain advises.

  7. Maintain a consistent image. ?Retailers like to change their logos and their colors,? Chatelain observes. ?That?s their biggest downfall. It makes an image very weak when you keep changing it.?

  8. Capitalize on your assets. Consider an ad that says, ?Trust us?our only business is fine jewelry and watches,? Chatelain suggests.

  9. Become the local gem expert. Give talks to community groups, host educational events in your store, and invite local television and radio hosts to call on you when preparing stories related to jewelry, Ries recommends.

  10. Think narrow. ?The idea is not to reach everyone,? Ries points out. Focus on the people in your area who consider themselves fashion-forward and target your advertising to them. They will tell their friends, and soon everyone will get the message.