With a flat and highly volatile stock market well into its second year and uncertainty stemming from what’s being viewed as the most bizarre presidential election cycle in a generation, jewelry consumers have grown skittish. As we head toward the critical fourth quarter of 2016, many independent jewelers are facing the most challenging market since the Great Recession. To help our readers, JCK spoke at length with five jewelers across the nation to gather insights on how to maximize your success.
Premium Service With Direct Texts
Joseph V. Brando (pictured, inset), owner of J. Vincent Jewelers in Colts Neck, N.J., had an epiphany after dealing with Nordstrom, one of the world’s top-ranked retailers for customer service.
“One day it dawned on me,” he says. “I love Zegna suits, especially when they’re on sale. My guy at Nordstrom knows that and texts me.”
Brando responds and goes into Nordstrom on an average of three out of 10 texts. And on two of those trips, he buys. So why wouldn’t the same tactic work with his own customers?
After this past Christmas, he opened several new designer lines. Once those were in-store, he rolled out his plan. All sales staff began direct texting the jeweler’s clientele based on targeted customer interest. “The worst is you get a ‘no,’ or ‘Joe, don’t do that again,’?” Brando says. “More often, someone will say, ‘Hey dude, thanks for thinking about me.’ It’s an inexpensive and powerful way to get a client in.”
After nine years in Colts Neck, J. Vincent has amassed a list of 5,800 active customers, from San Francisco to Miami. Using The Edge software to manage his list, Brando can filter purchasing history to pinpoint the customers most likely to respond to specific jewelry offerings. While email marketing may blanket the entire list, direct texting is generally honed to about 50 leading prospects.
“Essentially, we’re looking for product from someone who’s fresh and tapping into customers who gravitate to that,” Brando says. “It’s like ninja targeting.”
J. Vincent has in-house photography capability, so the texts include photos. Customers have responded much better than to emails, which are just a tap of the delete key away from oblivion.
“We’ve made friends from outside our market who pass by powerful jewelers to come to us,” Brando says. “I asked one customer why. He said it’s because of the direct attention we pay to his specific needs.”
Be On Park’s Janice Blumberg, David Blumberg, and Matina Williams
The Enduring Value of Direct Postcards
One of the worst mistakes jewelers can make in tough times is cutting back on marketing and promotion, warns Janice Blumberg, co-owner of Be On Park in Winter Park, Fla. “You have to keep yourself out there,” she says. “When someone keeps seeing your name, they feel they need to come in.”
The store has 1,200 contacts in its database. But, as many jewelers know, email tends to be overused. Be On Park’s solution has been to focus on an old-school form of direct marketing: postcards. “You want to get something in their hand,” Blumberg explains.
Typically, the jeweler mails cards in clusters of three or four over the course of a month or so. The focus is on simplicity. “It’s a beautiful piece on the front and the designer’s name on the back. Not a lot of verbiage, just some info about who is on the card,” Blumberg explains. “The first card catches their interest. Then they get another, and it reminds them to get in.”
Be On Park frequently uses vendor-supplied photography. But when that is unavailable or doesn’t match the jeweler’s preferred aesthetics, Blumberg can rely on her company’s in-house photo and graphic design capabilities. She focuses on the jewels themselves, shot in natural sunlight against variously textured natural surfaces. “This way, we can dictate the whole ambience, atmosphere, and direction,” she says.
For distribution, the company uses its database of 7,000 unique customers, which it bolsters by an additional 4,000 names bought through its printer, based on ZIP code, household income, and property appraisals. The company focuses on its local market, drawing from a radius of 50 miles surrounding the Orlando, Fla., area.
“The cards really work,” Blumberg says. “People consistently tell us.”
A mailer for Be On Park’s December 2015 holiday party
The Power of Personal Selling
In College Station, Texas, where Jesse Montelongo, owner of Montelongo’s Fine Jewelry, resides, crude oil prices have fallen to $30 a barrel. Rig workers who were making $150,000 with overtime have seen salaries drop to a third of that, if they’ve been lucky enough to hold their jobs. Many shoppers who were snapping up Harley-Davidsons, diamonds, and luxury watches are no longer active customers.
“Waiting for customers to walk through the door is way too stressful,” Montelongo says. “For me it’s a lot easier to plan something.”
Montelongo has directed his focus on what he calls “country club marketing.” And because he feels there are already many retail events aimed at women, he has gone in the other direction, concentrating on men.
At its core, this is one-on-one, soft-sell marketing. With his college golfing background, Montelongo regularly hosts clients for a day or even a weekend of golfing. “Those relationships you build through making them your friends are stronger than your typical marketing from a billboard or radio,” he says.
Based on that assumption, the jeweler has recently amped it up by organizing evenings that have become the talk among his market’s well-to-do clientele. Working with Breitling and TAG Heuer as sponsors, Montelongo produced a fight night event, with tables seating 10 viewers, each set ringside for an evening of amateur boxing. Four hundred men attended, feasting on steak, watching the bouts, and puffing on fine cigars. Sales for the evening alone totaled $60,000. The company hosted a similar event on a local former NASCAR racetrack called the Texas World Speedway. For three days, Montelongo rented the facility and offered free track driving time to the local Ferrari club. The jeweler held events each evening to bring the drivers together and spread the Montelongo message. As the annual college basketball playoffs approached, Montelongo took friends and customers from his athletic club to Las Vegas to attend games leading up to the finals.
The outings, he says, are working. In early December, Montelongo called Julius Klein and asked the firm to send him something special. When a 16.5 ct. fancy yellow diamond arrived, he made several calls to his best client-friends. On Dec. 11, one scooped it up for $750,000.
Montelongo’s 2015 “Steaks, Stogies & Boxing” night at nearby Traditions golf club
Maximizing Tickets Through Add-Ons
Steadily encroaching competition from online and chain store operators is negatively affecting store traffic. To remain successful, says Michael Agnello, president of Michael Agnello Jewelers in St. Clair Shores, Mich., independent jewelers must maximize value and return from every single shopper opportunity.
“There’s no doubt we’re going to have fewer people in our stores,” Agnello says. “It’s become all about customer service and personal attention. Owners, managers, everybody has to be involved in every sale.”
Not only is that a best practice for closing the sale at hand but, if done correctly, it often creates a multiplier effect. “You have to make the experience so wonderful that people are glowing about it all over the social networks,” Agnello says. “The message needs to be, ‘They helped me. They cared about me.’?”
Agnello’s secret is what he calls the “creative sale.” In essence, that means increasing the amount he sells in each transaction by intelligently driving add-on sales. It starts, he says, by stocking a range of outstanding fashion pieces, from alternative metals all the way to precious. That way, he can hit every customer’s discretionary purchasing threshold.
“Everybody has a number,” he says. “When we first got married, maybe $20 was the number. Anything over that was too much. Now maybe it’s $500 or $1,000.”
Once you open the door by suggesting an add-on tailored to the customer’s specific taste and style, Agnello says, the defensive wall comes down. The process includes being absolutely honest about how the piece looks on the customer.
“Everyone always thanks you on an add-on,” he says. “They say, ‘I didn’t even go in there for this, but Michael Agnello himself put it on me, and doesn’t it look amazing?’?”
A brand Kevin Main is betting on: Hearts On Fire (Triplicity Golden Cuff, $37,500; heartsonfire.com)
Driving Sales Through Market Share
For Kevin Main, owner of Kevin Main Jewelry in San Luis Obispo, Calif., investing in his business in a soft market allows him to capture increased market share. While his region’s total jewelry sales might be flat or slightly down in 2016, he can offset that trend by growing his share of the pie.
For the first time, Main hired a professional jewelry consultant to help take his business to the next level. “We looked for someone who has worked with other leading jewelers,” Main says.
The process began right after this past holiday with a full review of the company’s operations, including financials, marketing, customer base, staffing, inventory, and anything and everything that impacts the bottom line. In addition to hiring four new employees, Main has, for the first time, employed a dedicated marketing director. “When you build a city, you need the infrastructure in place,” he says.
The analysis also determined that the store’s inventory levels were high enough. Rather than expanding into new lines, Main decided to better market those he’s already partnering with, especially Hearts On Fire and Forevermark, which he believes are the two leading diamond brands for independents and will bolster him as his market’s go-to jeweler for engagement.
Main says these two primary adjustments have put him on the fast track: “In our industry, the two most expensive things we have going are inventory and employees. We need to invest in them.”