Santa Campaign Helps Brand Houston Jewelry

Coming from a fourth-generation family business, Rex Solomon, executive vice president of Houston Jewelry & Fine Gifts, has many mentors. But when it comes to promoting his store, Solomon’s hero is Mattress Mack, the furniture outlet owner and philanthropist who has become a Houston television-advertising legend for his loud, obnoxious, but always funny commercials.

“We even have a Berkshire Hathaway store in Houston, and Mattress Mack outsells Warren Buffet in this town,” says Solomon. “Mack does it by constantly promoting his business, and that’s what I’m doing by making sure people see or hear at least one of my ads each day.”

As most jewelers reduced inventory and made deep cuts in advertising, Solomon increased his promotional budget by more than 30 percent compared with 2008 while upping his store’s distribution of inventory at key price points.

Christmas 2009 tested Solomon’s approach. With 90,000 motorists driving past his store each day, Solomon wanted to take advantage of his high-visibility location on Westheimer Road by employing Santa walkers carrying signs on 8-foot tall candy-stripe poles.

A holiday tradition that began in 2006, the Santa walkers have gradually increased, from a handful in front of the store to 20 walkers last year positioned as far as 2 miles away.

The Santas achieved the desired results. In the first two weeks of the holiday shopping season, Solomon’s yearly sales were up 20 percent, with Christmas sales up 25 percent. “That’s not including profits from gold buying,” Solomon says.

In the Houston market the Santa walkers have become a branding component for the jeweler. Last summer Solomon and the Houston Jewelry Santas were featured in a local “Christmas in July” Independence Day parade. In preparing last fall’s campaigns, Solomon used the word Santa in every Christmas 2009 promotional medium.

In early December, when Houston had an unheard-of 50 percent chance of snow, Solomon quickly pulled together a Santa’s Snow Sale. On Dec. 4 ads appeared in the morning paper. By early afternoon snow was flying.

Houston residents didn’t know how to handle the snow or a snow-related sale. For those braving the storm, Solomon deployed his Santa walkers to alert them to further price reductions. “The originally advertised sale was 40 percent off, but we increased the discount to 60 percent to drive more people into the store,” he says.

The Santa Snow Sale wasn’t quite the success Solomon had hoped for, but instead of a dead sales day “sales were decent,” says Solomon. And the one-day sale further cemented Solomon’s Santa branding element.

Janet Schoppe, the store’s general manager, did her best to bolster the Santa branding message during the holidays. Each day at 5:00 p.m., in her Ms. Claus outfit, she led the Santas in a cancan dance, Christmas songs, and seasonal shout-outs. People stopped to take pictures, as did Solomon, but he had a promotional purpose in mind.

“We added content to Houston Jewelry’s Facebook page with Santa videos and digital image photo albums,” Solomon says. “We’re also uploading videos to YouTube. It’s helping to brand the store and increase our SEO [search engine optimization], while having some seasonal fun with Santa as our central message.”