Professional Jeweler Archive: When Nobody Knows Your Name

August 2001


When Nobody Knows Your Name

Congress Jewelers gives itself an explosive introduction to its new town

You’re opening a new store in a new town. Your company doesn’t have much of an image locally, but needs to acquire the right one. Quickly.

A carefully calculated splash reaching the right people is in order. Which is precisely what Congress Jewelers managed to pull off this past December when it drew 700 affluent locals to the long-anticipated opening of its new 10,000-sq.-ft. store in Bonita Springs, FL. The opening featured more than a dozen vendors who brought more than $40 million worth of jewelry and watches. At the same time, a silent auction raised nearly $16,000 for Habitat for Humanity.

“Philanthropy is part of our mission statement,” says owner Scot Congress. “My parents and grandparents were always very philanthropic. We’re known for that and tend to draw customers who respect and expect it.”

Members of the local Habitat chapter’s boards are also friends of the Congress family and were “extremely supportive” in putting the event together, he says. With this influence, the store arranged for a local TV personality and Habitat supporter to announce auction winners during a grand opening party.

Two months after its opening, the store was operating at double its sales projections, says Congress. The new store, Congress’ second, is only 15 miles from its headquarters store on Sanibel Island near Fort Myers, but in many ways the two are worlds apart.

Tale of Two Cities

Sanibel is a high-end resort area catering to tourists and affluent residents; sales at Congress’ store there are about evenly divided between the two groups. While still affluent, Bonita Springs is a bit more down-to-earth. The new store emphasizes bridal jewelry in a way the Sanibel store never could.

Congress had been in business on Sanibel since 1984. Scot Congress’ father, Larry, opened the store there after moving south from Elkhart, IN, where he had been in business since 1955. Despite that longevity, a psychological barrier prevented most mainlanders from crossing the causeway to shop for jewelry. Most knew Congress Jewelers only by seeing TV ads for the island store.

Expansion was important for the business to grow. As affluent as Sanibel is, there was no way to increase traffic. “We looked at Bonita Springs and saw a hot, growing market that is centralized between two counties and a piece of property right across from Bonita Bay,” says David Drotleff, advertising director for Congress Jewelers.

A Truly Grand Opening

Congress spread its grand opening over a Thursday, Friday and Saturday, during which sales cases were emptied and turned over to vendors, among them Intercolor, Bedat & Co., TAG Heuer, Baguette World and Baume & Mercier.

At 9 p.m. Saturday, an in-store party featured models in gold leotards modeling jewelry and musicians playing tunes such as “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Goldfinger.” The focal point of the evening was the announcement of the results of the silent auction, followed by a large fireworks display.

Guests were served champagne and hors d’oeuvres shaped like gemstones. Attendees also could tour the new store, which features a relaxation lounge and entertainment center. Private selling rooms are furnished with sofas that coordinate with the first floor’s nautical theme and stone-and-marble accents. Part of the second floor is used as a training area; the rest of the floor houses two bench jewelers, a watchmaker and a jewelry designer.
Admission to the party was by invitation only. The company mailed about 5,000 invitations to residents of the area’s affluent neighborhoods. “We anticipated only 250-300 people, but the responses kept coming in,” says Congress. “We just kept doubling our food and drink orders.”

Attendance built, in part, because the store had been under construction for almost a year. Construction delays slowed progress somewhat, as did the finishing work on high-end fixtures. (The new Bonita Springs store features mahogany trim and 450 feet of hand-rubbed “tunnel” display cases; glass work alone took a month, says Congress.) The inadvertent result: greater anticipation.

“We’re also on one of the busiest roads in the community, in a shopping center anchored by two movie theaters and an entertainment center,” he says. “It’s a great location.”

Congress Jewelers offers diamond and colored gemstone jewelry, handcrafted 14k and 18k gold Sealife jewelry, Mikimoto pearls, Quadrillion diamonds, many designer lines and its newest creation, Sanibel Sandals. A large selection of ancient coin jewelry is featured, along with Rolex, Cartier and Tiffany & Co. watches. Congress jewelers is a member of the American Gem Society.

– by Mark E. Dixon

To cap off a wildly successful grand opening weekend that included profitable sales and a silent auction benefiting Habitat for Humanity, Congress Jewelers’ closing fireworks display wrote its image message – “It’s About You” – on the wind.
The tropical hues and palm trees prove Congress Jewelers is establishing itself along Florida’s Gulf Coast. They also remind the Congress family they’re not in Indiana anymore.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications