Wednesday, 19 November 2014

When Style Counts

Sorry for the length of this article.  It was written for a magazine submission, but this message couldn't wait.  Focus on this during the coming holidays and then build your future business on these key principles!!!

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 someone who plays guitar or who is into hard-core rock’n’roll, this would be the ultimate fridge.  I remember shopping for the bar-fridge in our basement.  We looked at how many cubic feet it was, what the Energy-Guide rating was, how the interior was organized and how much it cost.  We compared at a couple of 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 even opening it up.
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 (almost) happened.  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 style 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 the other jeweller. 
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 from his recommendations.  The point is; style counted for a lot.  On that day, style was more important than his pledge or my ability to provide the professionalism he was looking for; and it superseded any thoughts of diamond quality, warranty, or even durability. 
There are two times 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 distinctive and exclusive product, then you should romance the matchlessness of it and you should be able to captivate them with the fascinating story of the designer.  Here’s why: if they fall in love with something unique then you’ve eliminated a lot of your competition, and margins go WAAAAY up!
The second way in which style counts 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 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 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 with diamonds diving ever lower in quality.
On the sales floor, there are often designs that are easy-to-sell, and those which are more suited to 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 bargain-shoppers into more sophisticated clients, then you’re worth more and you’ll surely earn more.   Let’s stop being lazy!  Todays bridal shopper comes in with pictures off of Instagram of the same things over and over again.  Those are the popular designs, and if you don’t have the cheapest one of those, you’ll lose.
Here are six keys to selling better, more valuable jewellery which 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 them about the advantages of buying from your store.
  • Get to know them and their lifestyle.  Then as their friend, guide them toward designs 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 sales associates truly listen!
  • Focus on style rather than diamond size/quality – remember if they love the style, you might not even need to talk about the 4-Cs.
  • If all of that fails, then sell them what’s easy to sell.  You may have expanded their horizons for future purchases anyway.
One last story:  Lilian Jensen and I were at 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 his first marriage so he was really quite excited.  While looking at designs we talked about how they met and soon discovered that they were a match made in heaven.  Once a design was found that put a huge sparkle in her eye, Lilian pulled out a suitable sized loose diamond and floated it over-top the design to dazzle the giddy couple.  With a perfunctory 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 that they left without knowing the size or quality of the diamond that Lil selected for them.  It wasn’t an issue.  They wanted THAT fantastic 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.

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