AFTER ROUGHLY 20 months of changes demanded or influenced by a global pandemic, independent jewelers have become more flexible and adaptable than ever. Tested by COVID, some retailers decided they needed to regroup; others, rethink just about everything they thought they knew to be true.
As a result, more retailers are open fewer hours or require appointments, meet clients virtually and maintain a robust e-commerce site. They’re more willing to run a purchase out to their client’s car or make house calls. They learned to stock inventory without attending trade shows. They learned to sell in new ways, including via text, web chat, Zoom and social media. As Georgie Gleim of Gleim the Jeweler in Palo Alto, CA, puts it, “We will meet customers in whatever way they find comfortable. In-store, in-store via appointment, curbside, at their home or office, or via our website. Texting is very important.”
They learned to pivot their business plans to accommodate everything from governmental shutdowns to quarantines and staff shortages. And they realized how a chameleon-like ability to adapt to a changing environment gives them a huge competitive advantage, says WJ Smith III of Smith Jewelers in Franklin, VA. “The chains just can’t turn on a dime like we can,” he says.
Local independents have an edge, agrees Richard Frank of Goldstein’s in Mobile, AL, but only if their online reviews are convincing. “People are people: They like to be taken care of, and that’s something the big box stores and the internet can’t do.
But anything less than a 5-star review is now hurtful.”
Jewelers found new ways to conduct operations and provide services online. One in four jewelers in North America is now using Zing, for example, a free app developed by Jewelers Mutual and launched during the pandemic, to source diamonds and access care plans, appraisals and shipping options. “Retail jewelers needed to be online, to have the ability to go digital and move into the world of e-commerce,” says Jewelers Mutual’s Adam Gerety, vice president of platform operations. “The pandemic drove that point home to the industry.”
No matter how it’s shaken out for individual retailers, most agree no one saw it coming or could have imagined the past 18 months. As Lee Krombholz of Krombholz Jewelers in Cincinnati put it, “We plan, and God laughs.”
But Doug Meadows, owner of David Douglas Diamonds & Jewelry in Marietta, GA, may have had a bit of a premonition. Throughout 2019, Meadows had pressed for the completion of the e-commerce website project that had dragged on for a couple of years; he said he had a strong feeling it was important to get it done sooner rather than later. It was launched in November 2019.
In February 2020, Meadows also secured his first line of credit in the history of his business, on the advice of Edge Retail Academy consultants.
So, when the implications of the global pandemic began to be realized, he was a little nervous, but not scared, he said. He immediately cut costs, applied for, and received, all available grants and loans, and let half of his staff go temporarily on enhanced unemployment benefits. Then, being optimistic by nature, he says, he sought out opportunities. “Once I felt comfortable, it was like, ‘OK, we can’t be paralyzed here. We have to move forward.’” While his son, Joseph, worked on enhanced product images and more detailed descriptions for the website, Doug took advantage of slow times by enlisting other family members to repaint the store.
When it came time for the store’s 2020 version of the annual Mother’s Day writing contest called Dazzling Diamonds for Mom, the team pivoted to make it work virtually by producing videos congratulating winners and allowing for fulfillment of prizes online. Those who wanted to visit the store to select their diamonds, however, were able to make appointments with the Calendly app, a new addition to Meadows’ toolkit. He also deployed Podium to gain reviews, collect payments, communicate with customers and capture leads. The team became proficient at live chat and boosted efficiency by adding an FAQ link.
He saved money on inventory since he couldn’t get to trade shows and cleared out aged merchandise with sales. Then he got creative with selling the inventory he still owned and paid off his vendors and credit cards, leaving him with cash and gold reserves.
When he hired a full-time virtual assistant in the Philippines, he realized that being able to delegate was a game changer in his personal as well as professional life. He took the time to make lifestyle changes that led to weight loss and less stress and bought a new wardrobe.
While 2020 ended well for him, the first seven months of 2021 were the best in company history. Average ticket is up, margins are strong, and he’s raised prices on repairs, which, along with the custom business, he describes as “rocking.”
Customer Loyalty and
the Importance of Jewelry
in Troubling Times
The pandemic has brought home to many store owners the importance of their business in the eyes of their communities and their customers and bolstered key relationships.
Tom R. Nelson of Nelson Jewelry in Spencer, IA, was surprised to learn both how much his customers cared about his business and how much jewelry meant to them in uncertain times. “When we opened back up after being closed for five weeks, the concern from customers was heartwarming,” Nelson says. “Emotions weighed heavily on folks, and our product type was sought after, bridal especially, but jewelry overall.”
CEO Bill Jones and his team at Sissy’s Log Cabin in Arkansas reinforced what they already knew about the power of relationship building. Using the Edge calendar, they assigned a list of customers for each salesperson to contact daily, not to sell them anything but to fulfill the promise of exceptional customer service and build a relationship as a lifelong jeweler and friend.
“I myself have a goal to call 10 to 15 existing customers every day just to check in with them and tell them thank you for doing business with us,” he says. “I call repair customers after six months just to make sure it is still up to their standards. We do these calls with our salespeople listening so that they understand how important every one of our customers is; whether they purchased a 10-carat diamond or had a ring sized, we want them to remember how great the service and experience was with us and how appreciative we are that they gave us the opportunity to work with them.”
Ellie Thompson of Ellie Thompson + Co. in Chicago said her clients call before they come in to let her know when they’ll be there, a change that began with 2020 COVID shutdowns and re-openings. “This is incredibly helpful in managing this focused attention to each client and keeping staffing lean,” Thompson says. “This challenging time turned out to be very validating with regard to my business model and its hyper-local focus on unique products, custom design and personal service.”
Rebecca Larson of Barry Peterson Jewelers in Ketchum, ID, has noticed a longing for meaningful jewelry. “People are looking less to buy for fashion and more to redesigning old pieces into new ones to pass down to a loved one or designing something special for themselves.”
Susan Kauffman of Black Dog Jewelers in Lewisburg, PA, has had a similar experience when it comes to repurposing sentimental pieces. “I’ve never seen a deeper appreciation for jewelry that’s ‘been in in the family’ for generations,” she says.
An appreciation of loyalty extends to jewelers’ staff members, too. Says Lucy Conklin of Toner Jewelers in Overland Park, KS, “If you take care of your employees, they will want to work hard and stay around through the tough times.”
A desire to shop local, combined with an inability for consumers to travel led to an uptick in business for many. Russell Criswell of Vulcans Forge, Kansas City, MO, said that as jewelry laid claim to a larger percentage of local income, his sales went up 125 percent. “It proved to my team that those numbers were not only achievable, but realistic,” he says.
More May Be Less
When It Comes to
The sudden popularity of working from home and flex time have meant customers are more apt to make appointments during the day, says Beth Cevasco of Scott’s Custom Jewelers in Dublin, OH. This has meant fewer evening appointments and more work/life balance for the Scott’s team. “Zoom as a sales tool has also been schedule-friendly,” she says, “and customers are comfortable with it.”
Stevens Diamond Jewelers in West Springfield, MA, is now open just four days a week with shorter hours than before COVID-19, says owner Eric Stevens, but he does offer appointments on days and times when he’s closed. He’s added an appointment-booking feature to his website. He’s also in touch with clients through texting. These developments save everyone time and can make jewelers money as well, since closing ratios are higher.
“Because of our early communication via text or email, we’ve eliminated most of the just-looking or window-shopping clients,” Stevens says. “Everyone with an appointment is on a mission, and we know exactly what they are looking for before they arrive.”
Rex Solomon of Houston Jewelry in Houston says his reduction in operating hours has reversed a 25-year trend of increasing them to match major retail chains and malls. “The shutdown and reopening allowed us to reframe the operation with no appreciable negative consumer reaction,” Solomon says.
The Sales Process Can
Be Streamlined— Even
Dean Fredrick, a custom jeweler in New Braunfels, TX, said the pandemic made him realize how many people want to conduct business virtually and how he can better use technology to source diamonds for his business, Dean Fredrick Custom Jewelry.
He’d always preferred appointments. If someone shows up without one, he figures, they haven’t done their research and they’re likely to be window shoppers. But beginning in 2020, his clients, likely driven by word-of-mouth recommendations or online reviews, didn’t even necessarily want to meet him or check out diamonds in person.
“These younger people really don’t even want to talk to anyone anymore,” Fredrick says. “They want to give you the money and be done with it. A guy came from Austin, Ubered here and Ubered back, to pick up a 4-carat engagement ring. And it was the first time I had seen the guy.”
His custom engagement and wedding ring business exploded in 2020. He is continuing to work with couples who want larger diamonds but prefer to work on designing custom rings over the phone or by email. “I learned I don’t really need to see anybody in person,” he says.
During the height of his 2020 bridal boom, he was ordering 1 carat or larger diamonds every day. His business became even more virtually driven when he started using Zing, an app developed by Jewelers Mutual, to shop for diamonds more quickly than he had ever done before via the Diamond Marketplace powered by IDEX. The app’s shipping feature also saved him time.
“I could quote immediate prices to clients and then lock them down,” he says. “This is kind of like having a diamond tree in the back yard. You put in all your parameters and pick one.” If he has questions about a diamond, he can shoot IDEX a question or ask for a video.
Diamond Sales Drive
Business in Times
David Kellie, CEO of the National Diamond Council, says the importance of diamonds to represent relationships has become crystal clear to everyone throughout these pandemic months.
Industry research, he says, indicates that diamond jewelry has been leading the luxury field in terms of growth since 2019. Diamond jewelry sales in March, April and May 2021 showed record-breaking growth in the United States, increasing 30 percent as compared to a similar period in 2019 and almost three times that of 2020.
Jeff Corey of Day’s Jewelers, which has eight retail locations in Maine and New Hampshire, is one of the NDC’s official retail partners. Day’s Jewelers had its best year ever in 2020 both profit-wise and sales-wise; 2021 is far exceeding that. “Bridal has always been the core of our business, but it is stronger now than it ever has been,” he says.
Corey says the importance of the diamond mining companies coming together to re-create generic consumer diamond marketing can’t be overemphasized, and he believes these marketing campaigns are rekindling consumer passion for diamonds.
“I don’t think the industry realizes how monumental it was to re-establish consumer advertising and marketing for diamonds,” he says.
The NDC’s Official Partner Program asks retailers to make a $10,000 media commitment to promote diamonds in their markets. The program provides retailers with an A-list celebrity marketing campaign, digital content and educational materials. In September, the NDC launched a new ad campaign focused on the desire to travel and spend time with friends, featuring the second phase of a campaign built around actress Anna De Armas. “We believe the consumer is optimistic at the moment,” says Kellie. “We’re focused on wanting to have better times. It’s about people and about relationships.”
Finding New Ways
to Source Inventory
Bill Elliott of Ross Elliott Jewelers in Terre Haute, IN, believes the pandemic has been a lesson in inventory management. “I think jewelers found out they could survive without so many trade shows,” he says.
Tom Duma of Thom Duma jewelers in Warren, OH, has worked successfully with his vendors via Zoom or line sheets to restock his cases. Although he had made plans for the JCK Las Vegas show in August, Duma canceled the trip because of the mask mandate and the uptick in the COVID-19 Delta variant. “We’ll go back to buying virtually from our vendors for another season,” he says.
At Sissy’s Log Cabin in Arkansas, inventory manager Jennifer Turney works with vendors to ensure fast sellers are replaced promptly, sets up visits from vendors to see new goods and analyzes what type of jewelry photography posts are attracting the most attention. “We have even started a repurposing program where we ourselves break down aged goods and have our in-house jewelers rebuild and redesign them into new pieces,” says Sissy’s CEO Bill Jones.
The Plumb Club and its wholesale members have responded to changes in retailer shopping habits through its TPC 365 initiative, which includes virtual, interactive showrooms. “The surfacing of COVID-19 significantly accelerated that,” says Michael O’Connor, Plumb Club marketing director.
The first phase involved setting up meeting rooms, where vendors and customers could virtually converse face-to-face, and retailers could use their cursors to select merchandise to view. The second component was setting up branded showrooms to allow retailers to browse brands at their leisure, click on images of jewelry in showcases, and then decide whether they wanted to click to set up a meeting.
During the August JCK Las Vegas show, the Plumb Club also debuted a Jewelers Resource Center, a source of education and industry news. It’s set up virtually as a three-story resource center with a listening area. Visitors can take a seat, click on the screen, and see a menu of webinars or other content.
Technology Can Change
the Shopping Experience
In July, Paul Schneider, owner of TWIST, with stores in Portland and Seattle, spoke at the 11th annual Gold & Diamond Conference on the topic of storytelling. TWIST had begun linking jewelry designers’ videos to QR codes in showcases a few years ago. Usually, the sales staff would reference those videos in their presentations, but now that consumers have become accustomed to using QR codes for restaurant menus in a COVID-era attempt to avoid paper menus, jewelry shoppers are using the QR codes to navigate the space solo, much like they would navigate shopping online. “I know the direction will be more and more toward tech, which can be very warm and fuzzy and personal if it’s done right,” Schneider says. “There will be more blurring of lines between the brick and mortar and the online store.”
Day’s Jewelers’ Jeff Corey says Day’s has about 10,000 items on their website. If an item is ordered before 2 p.m., it’s shipped out that day. In addition, if a customer identifies an item they’d like to try on in store, they can click a button that says,
“See in store.” A drop-down menu lets them choose a location and day; Day’s responds immediately to set up an appointment. “We’ve had that feature for several years, and it’s really paid off during COVID,” Corey says. They also began showing the items curbside, which let the sales staff close deals quickly. “Technology has always been important to our company, and it’s always been customer-centric, designed to remove obstacles from the customer experience,” Corey says.
Dianna Rae High, owner of Dianna Rae Jewelry in Lafayette, LA, relied on virtual selling and communicating by text during the early pandemic shutdown, but that shift has become a permanent change. “Just yesterday, a client thanked me for texting her pictures and sending a payment link through Podium because she had small children at home and can’t easily get out,” she says. She has also set up a virtual selling system using Zoom and video cameras for live design appointments, during which she and her team can show jewelry and design ideas live and virtually to clients all over the country.
Debbie Fox, owner of Fox Fine Jewelry in Ventura, CA, now tests job candidates for technology skills. New team members will be able to take photos and videos, excel at social media, and facilitate webchat, all skills the current team perfected during the pandemic.
Jewelers Learned the True
Value of Their Shops and
Loann Stokes of Stokes Jewelry in Stillwater, MN, remodeled her store during the initial pandemic lockdown, making the shop the focal point. Now business is up. “Since our remodel we have heard, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you did repairs’ countless times and have so much work that we are three weeks out,” Stokes says.
In Oconomowoc, WI, Jo Goralski, owner of the Jewelry Mechanic, has learned to appreciate the value of time. She’s promised her bench jewelers she will stop accepting cheap merchandise for repair. “I don’t give a hoot how ‘sentimental’ a thing is, if it does not have value, it does not go on my benches. If a chain retails for under $40, we do not repair it. No more costume jewelry. I don’t care how many times we have fixed it before, or how sweet you are, the answer is no.
“My shop is happier working on real jewelry, and I am making money not wasting our valuable time. Lose a diamond; easily replaced. Lose an hour fixing junk, it is gone forever.”
Retail Jewelers Reflect on the Pandemic Learning Curve originally appeared via instoremag.com