Retail Details: James & Sons Fine Jewelry’s John Sunderland

Diamonds are this guy’s best friend. Let him pour you some Kool-Aid.

1 What one advertisement or promotion elicited the most response, and why did it work?
For Christmas 2010, we sent out 15,000 holiday catalogs with free gift cards inside—10,000 to existing customers and 5,000 to new customers. Customers could receive discounts of $50 off $250 or more, $100 off $750 or more, and $500 off $3,000 or more in purchases. This drove in about $120,000 worth of business. Compared to Christmas 2009, sales were up 22 percent. When we provided the gift cards up front, people didn’t ask for a price break at the point of sale, and the average discount worked out to be only 8 percent. That’s not a bad concession in this economy. Plus, these gift cards made it very easy to track how our marketing dollars were working last year. Next Christmas, we’ll send out at least 20,000, with the cards going to new names coded to see how many redeem them. 

2 What’s your most memorable sale?
A very high-end Hearts On Fire 5 carat Dream Diamond. It was a $400,000 sale for us. It doubled our next-largest Hearts On Fire sale. And it was also a milestone occasion for the customer. Initially she wasn’t even planning on buying a diamond at that price. Previously she was looking at diamonds for no more than $250,000. But when she saw this…she had to have it.

3 What advice have you received along the way that has fundamentally changed how you run your store?
Andy Koehn of Koehn & Koehn Jewelers and Gary Hill from Passion Fine ­Jewelry had been after me for years to get on board with Hearts On Fire. In 2003, we drank the Kool-Aid, and Hearts On Fire has grown to be our second-largest supply in volume and the No. 1 as far as profit each year. We’ve been honored as their Midwest Retailer of the Year. In addition to bringing our diamond sales and inventory to another level, Hearts On Fire has been a good vendor partner. When the recession was bad in 2008 and early 2009, they worked with us on our accounts receivables and kept the product flowing so we could maintain our diamond sales. Each year about six of our salespeople attend their university, which has made our team that much more professional.

4 How do you differentiate your store from the competition?
We’re a proactive/low-pressure sales technique store. We actually get a lot of compliments from customers about not having pushy salespeople. We work hard at it. We’re not clerks. And we still engage in basic sales techniques while asking the probing questions ­jewelry sales associates need to ask of customers. At James & Sons, sales are defined by customer service, first and foremost.

5 When you walk through your door, what do you like most about your store?
We have three stores in the Chicago area. Each one has a different look that appeals to different ages, but each has the same high energy levels. We have repair centers, estate jewelry, gold buying, and an appraisal department. One store even has a rare coin department. All these different departments in our stores, plus our assortment of jewelry and watch choices, attract a lot of customers each day. When people come in, they want to be part of that energy. Equally important, the energy from our customers motivates and moves our staff.

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