Creating Collectors

June 1998

Managing:Your Market

Creating Collectors

One retailer turns jewelry buying into an obsession

Designer Eve Alfillé's store in Evanston, IL, is part please-touch museum, part archaeological dig, part retail jewelry shop. Known for the cave-like rooms and drawers of exquisite gemstones, Alfillé draws customers into her store as though she's luring them into an obsessive treasure hunt - and some will never give up. "The idea is to create collectors, not just customers," she told other jewelers during her seminar during the American Gem Trade Association GemFair in Tucson, AZ, earlier this year. "People sometimes don't know they're collectors, so you have to tell them. Once you set off collectors' imagination, they'll start asking you to find them as many of a certain kind of thing as you can." Some techniques she identifies:

  • Recognize the curious repeat customer. "You'll inevitably have customers who ask 'What do you have that's new and interesting?'" says Alfillé. "If you recognize that phrase, you will become a guide on a magical mystery tour." The key is always to have something that's "new and interesting" - even if it means stocking a magnificent piece for show-and-tell that you don't expect to sell.
  • Start a collectors' circle. Alfillé, who specializes in cultured pearl jewelry, holds monthly meetings of The Pearl Society, a gathering of her customers who love the magic of their gems. She suggests starting a similar, informal collectors' circle with your A-list customers. Also introduce them to other collectors' societies (such as the Cuff Link Society for cuff buffs). "Most people are very loyal and will see you as the authority because you knew about these organizations," she says. "They'll be back."
  • Plant the seed during the first sale. Immediately after making a sale, especially of wedding jewelry, Alfillé suggests saying to the customer: "Just think! There's a lifetime of birthdays and anniversaries you'll have to shop for now. You know, a nice guard ring will make a nice first anniversary gift." The customer will remember that comment when the following year rolls around, she says.
  • Start them early. Alfillé gets the kids involved by letting them pick three treasures from a "bead box" - a box of broken gems and beads - every time they come to the store. She gives them a pouch to keep the gems. The technique gets children interested in gemstones at a young age and encourages them to return time and again - a habit she hopes will continue as they grow.
  • Show the rough. Keep rough stones in the cases next to cut gemstones to exercise the imagination and remind customers of the relationship between jewelry and nature. This is an especially successful technique for getting men involved in the jewelry-buying process, Alfillé says.
  • Lighten up. Alfillé finds couples are often tense when deciding on a major jewelry purchase, so she tries to put things in perspective. "I say, 'You know, they're just pebbles. They're the most beautiful things on earth, and people kill for them! But they're really just pebbles.' The customers always breathe a sigh of relief." The customers then remember their visit as a fun shopping experience.
  • Pace your collectors. "Don't let them buy too much too fast," she says. Otherwise, the customers will get bored or spend too much money, and could then stop collecting altogether.

by Stacey King

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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