Seven secrets to bridal success

The following article is published courtesy of National Jeweler

Authors: Michelle Graff and Catherine Dayrit

Model wears platinum engagement ring and platinum diamond bracelet. Photo courtesy of Platinum Guild International Germany

Looking for ways to inject new life into your all-important bridal business? Here are seven concepts, from fresh technological offerings to sweetly cost-efficient programs that let you expand your bridal inventory without spending a fortune.

1. Build-it-yourself

If the recession taught jewelers one thing, it was that they need to wean themselves off of the habit of over-stocking inventory that does not move. Enter the next generation of bridal ring-building programs, which let jewelers and customers get exactly what they want, minus the risk.

“Some people might not believe in it…but I think it’s a good add-on for your existing business,” says Pat Javaheri, president of Los Angeles-based manufacturer Amden Jewelry.

Five years ago, the 35-year-old company got into the business of crafting the orders that come from custom ring-building programs. Since then, the number of existing programs has increased by roughly 20 percent, Javaheri says.

As is the case for all technology, the functionality and appearance of existing programs for the jewelry industry have improved at dizzying speeds.

M. Geller, which launched version one of its Bridal Ring Builder in 2004, is now on the third version, says Louis Price, chief operating officer. Upgrades to the program include changes to the layout and color schemes, and simplified search functions, all with the aim of making the program as user-friendly as possible.

“We all look at the competitive ball field,” Price says in explaining why it was time for Bridal Ring Builder, part III. “We all look at the technology evolving in the competitive marketplace.”

Similarly, GemFind, a company that links retailers with diamond suppliers’ inventories online, is on its second version of custom ring-building software. Alex Fetanat, the company’s chief executive officer, says the latest version of GemFind Ring Builder allows jewelers to upload their own mountings, a request made by retail customers. The program now also has e-commerce functionality, which allows satisfied customers who have crafted a ring using the GemFind Ring Builder program to order the ring via a retailer’s Web site, right on the spot.

“Even if they don’t want to walk into the store, they can build their own ring right online and place their order,” Fetanat says.

The improved interactivity puts jewelry Web sites on pace with those for other products, like automobiles, which can now be designed on almost any brand’s Web site with the click of a mouse.

“If I go to a Web site and I don’t find it interesting, I’m going to close my browser and go to
another,” Fetanat says. “This allows the consumer to really visualize what their ring will look like.”

2. Fake it ’til you make it

It’s a stand-off: Retailers are hesitant to plunk down cash to fill their display cases with diamond engagement rings that are not sure sellers, and vendors have trouble securing the credit that enables them to supply entire showrooms on memo.

One solution comes via the growing number of suppliers offering “brass-and-glass” inventory
programs that allow retailers to purchase engagement ring replicas made of metal alloy and cubic zirconia at a fraction of the cost of rings made of diamonds and precious metal. If your initial reaction is “not in my store,” you are not alone.
 
“We have a lot of customers that when we introduced it, said ‘This is not for me, I only sell the real thing,'” Gabriel and Co.’s Dominick Gabriel says of his company’s Bridal Sample Program, launched in January 2008. Yet those same jewelers reconsidered after they saw how well the systems were working for other retailers, he says.

Gabriel and Co. offers eight different assortments of its best-selling mountings, and also gives jewelers the option to handpick their own mixes.

Bridal consumers do not complain about the look of the replicas–nor do they seem to mind the wait that comes with ordering either, as the majority of bridal is custom ordered anyway, Gabriel says.

One word of advice Gabriel offers to retailers who carry the samples: carry about 10 to 20 real sets of popular engagement ring styles.

“You know your market best and you need some live because you’re always going to have the guy that wants to get engaged that day,” he says.

Overnight Mountings Vice President Matthew Roth also sees jewelers’ acceptance of brass-and-glass-type programs growing.

“It has been an easier hurdle to overcome because jewelers talk,” Roth says. “Jewelers speak with jewelers. Jewelers hear from one another that the program is working.”

Or they hear through the grapevine that there’s a new business model in town.

In the spring of 2009, Canadian chain Spence Diamonds made headlines when it brought its front-opening, CZ-stocked showcase model to the Houston market.

Chief Executive Officer Sean Jones says the system allows customers to try on hundreds of rings without a salesperson’s assistance. Once they pick the ring they want, Spence makes it to order in a studio.

“One of the biggest challenges for retailers is [determining] what to do with the inventory that doesn’t sell,” Jones says. “With our system, one of the big challenges in costs to traditional retailing is totally eliminated.”

Roth says Overnight Mountings has been leasing sterling silver mountings with CZ for 15 years but began selling the silver samples four or five years ago. It was around this time that the company also launched its Authentix line of sterling silver and CZ mountings. Authentix allows retailers to handpick their replica pieces, or they can order the best-seller package of 23 individual engagement rings and seven engagement ring-plus-band sets.

Roth says the time is right for programs like Authentix, given two lingering difficulties: the economic environment and high precious metal prices.

“I think the acceptance is growing as more and more people see success with it,” he says.

3. Something new for metal-heads

 
While there are surely different views in the industry regarding which precious or contemporary metal is the most attractive, durable and stylish, the variety of metal options now available is a welcome development for consumers with an eye on their pocketbooks.

For engaged couples that visit Nina Mohr of Nina Jewelry in Manchester Center, Vt., “18-karat white gold and platinum are still the best sellers,” she says. But that doesn’t mean those are the only metals Nina Jewelry sells. The retailer, like a number of Scott Kay retail partners, recently introduced the brand’s new SK Cobalt line of men’s wedding bands crafted from BioBlu 27, a white cobalt alloy.

Buzz about another metal, palladium, has been subsiding since Palladium Alliance International (PAI) kicked off a trade campaign two years ago, but palladium remains a consideration for price-sensitive consumers seeking a natural white metal. At press time, palladium was trading at less than half the price of gold and a third of the price of platinum.

Designer Scott Kay, like a number of manufacturers and retailers, laments the lack of an active industry marketing arm for palladium (PAI has been “dormant” in the United States for the past year, a spokesperson told National Jeweler in November), but says that palladium remains a big part of Scott Kay’s bridal business, and the company continues to educate its retail partners on the metal’s fine attributes.

The brand is doing the same for SK Cobalt.

“When unconventional metals come into the U.S. market, we really want consumers to understand what they are,” Kay says.

That means providing retailers with training and point-of-sale materials, and marketing SK Cobalt direct to consumers via publications such as Brides and Bridal Guide.

So far, Kay says, the response has been “tremendous,” as demand for both attractive price points and contemporary metal jewelry remains strong.

“Intrinsic value doesn’t drive the consumer so much as how it feels on their hand,” he says.

At retail, Scott Kay’s palladium bands average about $600 to $700, while the SK Cobalt bands average about $250 to $300.

Another metal option is Karat Platinum’s 14-karat platinum, composed of 58.5 percent pure platinum, plus 41.5 percent copper and cobalt. The metal-which the company’s Isaac Neumann says can, by virtue of the Federal Trade Commission guides for jewelry, be described as “platinum” because it contains at least 50 percent pure platinum-is being sold in Karat Platinum designs at major retailers such as Ultra, Ross-Simons and Amazon.com, among many others.

“It’s a precious metal, so we’re really filling a gap between white gold and 950 platinum,” Neumann says.

The metal won’t take away from the 950 platinum business, but offers an option for customers seeking an upgrade from white gold, at prices comparable to 18-karat gold, yet 40 to 60 percent less than 950 platinum, he says.

“For most of America, platinum is out of reach,” Neumann says, referencing a Condé Nast study that revealed while the vast majority of consumers desire platinum, the percentage that actually end up purchasing it is far less.

“We’re not cheapening [platinum], we’re making it more available,” he says.

4. Seize the celebrity endorsement

Colored diamonds have been red-carpet regulars over the past few years, but more recently, diamonds with hue have been heading into happily-ever-after territory thanks to big-screen veterans and chart-topping songbirds alike.

Jennifer Lopez famously kicked off the trend back in 2002, when actor Ben Affleck presented
her with a pink diamond solitaire, says Robert May, executive director of the Natural Color Diamond Association (NCDIA). The engagement may have gone belly-up, but the allure of colored diamonds was set in stone-and in photos.

This year, it lives on again, with a handful of celebrity brides-to-be-flashing colored diamond rings.

Leading the list over the last few months is country crooner Carrie Underwood, who has been flashing a Johnathon Arndt-designed yellow diamond ring. Then there is Heroes star Kristen Bell, who’s been showing off her 3-carat, natural fancy-colored brown diamond ring designed by Neil Lane. Finally, there’s supermodel Naomi Campbell, reportedly sporting a Van Cleef and Arpels black diamond ring.

While May says many retailers still do not carry colored diamonds, offering at least a small selection could tempt those customers who want the sort of ring that they won’t see everywhere, right and left.

“In reference to what’s going on, the consumer, the celebrity, is looking for something different; diamonds are the ultimate gift of love, and color is an expression of personality,” May says.

While the perception of colored diamonds as being prohibitively priced might be part of the reason more retailers aren’t carrying the stones, May says that entry-level options do exist. Yellow diamonds can be comparable in price to colorless stones, May says, while brown diamonds (recently touted as an up-and-coming hue in a New York Times article), can even be less expensive than their colorless counterparts.

To take advantage of the current media blitz, May suggests retailers talk up recent celebrity engagements on their stores’ Web sites and let customers know what colored diamond options are available in-store. In addition, retailers could tap the NCDIA to help host an in-store natural color diamond event geared toward bridal, and retailers could also put together look books featuring photos of celebrities and their rings. Even if customers are seeking something out of the ordinary, they might still want some reassurance about their potential purchase, and it helps that well-known stars, who have plenty of options available to them, are selecting color.

“People want something to identify with,” May says.

5. Be a social climber

With more than 350 million active users, plenty of whom are around the marrying age, jewelers shouldn’t overlook the popular-and free-social networking site Facebook as a vehicle for marketing their bridal business.

At Mann’s Jewelers in Rochester, N.Y., marketing director Sondra McFarlane used Facebook to showcase Mann’s recent turn as the exclusive jeweler for a local bridal expo called “A Wedding Affair Finger Lakes.”

McFarlane posted pictures from the upstate New York bridal event and also did a status update congratulating the woman who won a cake knife from Mann’s at A Wedding Affair.

In return, the retailer received what every jeweler hopes for when a customer walks through the door: a strong referral from an appreciative customer.  

“Thank you so much for the beautiful Jay Strongwater cake knife,” the happy bride-to-be posted on Mann’s Facebook page for all 377 of the store’s fans to see. “From now on I am forever a patron of Mann’s Jewelers, Rochester!”

Facebook has become an invaluable tool for jewelers, in general, but it can also be used to help bridal sales in particular, McFarlane points out.

But Facebook isn’t the only way to reach Web-surfing consumers of the marrying age. There’s also social networking site MySpace and the micro-blogging site Twitter.

If none of these seem like a fit for your business, take a cue from manufacturer Martin Flyer and start a social networking site of your own.

In January, the New York-based bridal company launched TheEngagementClub.com, a networking site for couples who are engaged or considering it.

The site contains helpful hints on how to pop the question, funny proposal videos from YouTube and, of course, guidance on picking the perfect ring.

Martin Flyer Chief Executive Officer Josh Kaufman says the goal behind all of the company’s social networking is for Martin Flyer to be the brand that automatically comes to mind when it comes time for today’s young women to say “I do.”

He notes that the number of computer-savvy consumers is only going to increase over the next couple of years, as a generation that never knew life without the Internet transitions into adulthood.

Retailers shouldn’t let fear of the unknown prevent them from entering the social networking sphere, even if that means making a couple of mistakes to start.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Kaufman says.

6. Go viral with video

When Daniel Gordon, president of Samuel Gordon Jewelers, first started experimenting with YouTube, he took it personally. Gordon created his own personal YouTube channel in 2005, aiming to gain a network of online followers as an individual before positioning his business in cyberspace.

“If you just put up your channel, nobody knows who’s operating it,” he says. “It’s the old way of advertising, even if it’s on new media.”

Four years and one strong online following later, Gordon launched his Oklahoma City-based store’s YouTube channel in August 2009. The store’s blue logo is in the background, serving as the set for any video that airs.

“I highly recommend putting up a background because otherwise, you’re just using one of [YouTube’s] stock ones,” Gordon says. “You want to stand out.”

His approach to marketing bridal via video is to try to take some of the mystery out of the consumer shopping experience.

Last year, Tacori hosted a conference for its top retailers that included a behind-the-scenes factory tour. Armed with an inexpensive camcorder and Tacori’s permission, Gordon recorded the factory stroll and posted the video on his store’s YouTube channel.

“Showing what’s going on behind the scenes is so important,” he says. “I want to take the mystery and the hiding [out of buying bridal].”

Future ideas for the site include doing an honest, piece-by-piece review of all the jewelry Samuel Gordon Jewelers has in its showcases, much like popular online wine guru Gary Vaynerchuk does with bottles of reds and whites.

Gordon encourages other jewelers to use online video to educate their customers about bridal and to provide them with a certain comfort level.

“People will come to you if you just talk to them,” he says. “You don’t need to sell.”

California-based Robbins Brothers took YouTube-mania one step further, piecing together the best proposals posted by couples on the popular site, with their permission, of course, and crafting them into a TV commercial for its “Welcome to the Rest of Your Life” marketing campaign.

Diane Ferraro, director of advertising for the 10-store chain, says Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based marketing agency G and M Plumbing came up with the montage commercial idea for Robbins Brothers, which had already been utilizing YouTube to share fun proposals featured in TV news segments.

Robbins Brothers is now working on its second commercial for the campaign and is inviting couples to submit their videos for the spot.

“It’s been a great way for consumers to connect with our brand,” Ferraro says.

While this all might seem like a little much, Gordon has some simple advice: Just try it.

“Don’t be scared of it, and even if you don’t see the value in it, do it,” he says. “It’s just a matter of time. More and more people are going to embrace this.”

7. In with the old

It might seem odd to mention “vintage” or “heirloom” in the same breath as bridal “innovations,” but there is no denying that old-fashioned engagement ring styles are the newest craze among the soon-to-be-married set.

For the past few years, it seems that brides-to-be seeking both something old and something new have catapulted the category of vintage-style bridal designs into surprise best-sellers.

Matthew Ego, director at bridal manufacturer Unique Settings of New York, says some of the old-fashioned  design details that are now commonly used in brand new engagement rings include milgrain edges and engraving, micropavé work and bezel settings–especially the popular “halo”
style in which a bezel-set center stone is surrounded by diamonds.

The category is so hot for the manufacturer, in fact, that Unique Settings has made “antique” styles a category of its own on UniqueSettings.com.

The design aesthetic seems to be finding appeal among men as well, with Unique Settings seeing an increase in requests for men’s bands featuring vintage looks, via hammer finishes and hand-engraved motifs.

Part of the reason for the appeal, Ego says, is simply the charm.

“It’s like walking into an older home with all the crown molding,” he says. “It has character.”

Another aspect to the trend is the remount business. After 10 to 20 years, women tend to remount the center stones in their engagement rings, Ego says, and antique-style halo bezels make for a good fit in that they can be made to a variety of sizes to fit older stones.

At C. Aaron Penaloza Jewelers in San Antonio, store owner Aaron Penaloza has seen both an increase in demand for new diamonds featuring old-fashioned cuts, as well as interest in actual vintage and antique rings from the 1920s and 1930s.

“Maybe 20 percent of the stones [we sell] are old European cuts, and probably 30 percent or more are estate pieces-estate diamonds but also the old mountings,” he says.

During the ’70s and ’80s, Penaloza says, old European cuts, such as the rose or cushion, went out of fashion, but they have found a new market with modern consumers.

“Modern brilliant-cut stones are very brilliant,” Penaloza says. “The old European-cut stones have a softer look to them. A customer looking for an old European cut is not so concerned with color and clarity. They want it to be there, but it’s more about the romance, the experience and whether the stone is right.”

Penaloza says customers seeking early 20th century antique rings don’t tend to have a stigma about owning a ring that was once someone else’s, but for anyone who does, he references the presence of manufacturers such as Gordon Clark. The company, whose tag line reads “Classics from the Past,” started out buying old ring molds and models to reproduce new rings. Today, the brand uses CAD/CAM to make what’s new seem old.  

This story first appeared in the March 2010 print edition of National Jeweler

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2 thoughts on “Seven secrets to bridal success

  1. Pingback: Seven secrets to bridal success « Gemma News Service | Sharqiyat Magazine Bride

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