When does style count?

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Today’s jewellery shopper is responding to popular jewellery designs on social media, but with your inventory being only a fraction compared to the Internet, how can you compete?

by Todd Wasylyshyn

I was walking through the mall the other day and I spotted a bar fridge in a music store. It looked exactly like a Marshall stacked amplifier set. The knobs even turned. For a rock ’n’ roll fan, this was the ultimate fridge.

I remember shopping for a typical bar fridge for our basement. We looked at how many cubic feet each had, what the Energy-Guide rating was, how the interior was organized and how much it cost. We looked for fridges at a few different places and found one that suited our criteria for $179. Had I seen the Marshall Stack bar fridge for $299, I would have bought it without hesitation. Its style would have trumped every other consideration.

Looking further back, when I worked in retail jewellery, I had a young man come to me with a problem. Despite his mom’s recommendation to buy from me, he bought an engagement ring elsewhere. When the engagement went south, he needed advice as to what might be a fair return/exchange practice with the vending jeweller. I gave him some guidance and he pledged then and there to buy his next engagement ring from me.

A couple of years later, it happened. Almost. He came to me having found a new love and was ready to buy that engagement ring. In their travels, she had found a style that we would not agree to replicate; therefore, he ended up having to break his pledge to me. The design was billed as a nouveau tension-style ring; essentially a ring within a ring, with a girdle-sized hole at the top of the outer band pressing the diamond’s pavilion against the inner band. I explained the risk of such a setting and politely suggested that if no other ring would do, they had best get it from another jeweller.

But all was not lost. This young man referred a friend to me for an engagement ring, who referred two other friends, and I ultimately received a lot of business. The point is; style counted for a lot. Style was more important than his initial pledge to me or my ability to provide the professionalism he was looking for. It also superseded any thoughts about diamond quality, warranty, or even durability.

There are two instances when style counts for a lot. The first is when you have a style that nobody else can or will supply, and the client falls deeply, madly, passionately in LOVE with that style. That’s why, it’s important to have your client try on all kinds of diverse styles to see if something that was off-the-radar catches their fancy. If you have a distinctive and exclusive product, then you should romance the matchlessness of it and you should be able to captivate your client with the fascinating story of its design. Here’s why: if the customer falls in love with something unique, then you’ve eliminated a lot of your competition and margins go WAAAAY up!

The second instance is when you’re working with styles that are popular. Back in the 80s, it might have been the 17-stone diamond cluster ring with ski-tip shoulders. Today, it’s the white gold halo-style with micro-set shoulders. Style counts here because every manufacturer offers something of this description, and the consumer can’t genuinely tell one from another.
Because it’s hard to compare across the mall or across the city, your best business strategy is to have the least expensive of this look. As the consumer begins shopping for this style to see who has the lowest price, it drives quality and margin WAAAAY down.

I still see some very beautiful and well-made 17-stone cluster rings, but they are likely the early models when VS diamonds were abundant and the claw-work was impeccable. As the race to the bottom ensued, the gold became thinner, the setting work more perfunctory and the quality of the diamond plunged even lower.

On the sales floor, there are often designs that are easy to sell, and those that are more suited for the jewellery connoisseur. If you only ever sell the former, you can easily be replaced. If you can sell to the aficionado, and turn a portion of pop-in shoppers into more sophisticated clients, then you’re worth more and you’ll surely earn more. Let’s stop being lazy! Today’s bridal shoppers come in repeatedly with pictures of the same thing that they found on Instagram. These are the popular designs today and if you can’t provide the most inexpensive version of that, you’ll lose.

Here are six key points to selling better, more valuable jewellery that will fetch higher margins:

• Show clients exquisite design alternatives at every opportunity – even if they’re coming in for a watch battery or some other product.

• Research and then talk-up the merits of the designers you have chosen to carry in your store.

• Never miss a chance to tell you customer about the advantages of buying from your store.

• Get to know your customer and their lifestyle. Then, as their friend, guide them toward designs that will compliment their stated preferences and lifestyle. By listening to their story and then repeating back aspects of designs that relate to them, you’ll blow them away because very few sales associates truly listen!

• Focus on style rather than diamond size/quality – remember that if your customer loves the style, you might not even need to talk about the 4-Cs.

• If all of this fails, then sell your customer what’s easy to sell. You may have expanded their horizons for future purchases anyway.

One last story before I go. Lilian Jensen and I were operating a restyle show in Kamloops about 10 years ago. A couple in their late 30s to early 40s came looking for an engagement ring. This was to be the gentleman’s first marriage so he was really quite excited. While looking at various designs, we talked about how the couple met and soon discovered that they were the proverbial “match made in heaven.” Once a design was found that put a huge sparkle in her eye, Lilian pulled out a suitably sized loose diamond and floated it over-top the setting to dazzle the giddy couple. With an obligatory pause to ask about the final price, they eagerly asked when it would be ready then proceeded to plunk down the plastic. After they left, we were thrilled for them, and I stood amazed thinking that they left without knowing the size or quality of the diamond Lilian had selected for them. It wasn’t an issue. They wanted THAT particular design and the designer had endorsed the selection of the feature diamond. Done and done!

That’s the power of a personal connection and winning style. CJ