I was skeptical of the great branding revolution this industry has undergone in the past five years. I never believed consumers would pay the additional price for a branded piece of jewelry except in rare cases where true artistry or cachet was concerned.
But its hard to argue with success, and evidence keeps piling up that giving jewelry and diamonds an identity often sells more merchandise. Of course, it helps if the brand name stands for a quality differentiating the jewelry or diamonds from others. But I have to admit even some fairly undistinguished jewelry and diamonds have succeeded selling sizzle and very little steak.
Another concern I had in opposing manufacturers dash to brand was the effect it would have on retail jewelers brand names. Sometimes Ive been right a few jewelers tell me they regret giving over so much room in their stores to brand names that obscure their own. The ruined shells of many of Americas great department stores are a testament to what can happen when you turn over too much of your stores real estate to Ralph Lauren and other designers.
But when selected thoughtfully, branded jewelry or diamonds have certainly helped many independents and chains to succeed in the tough retailing environment of the past two years. Sterling Jewelers, the U.S. division of the United Kingdom-based Signet Group, reported same-store sales increases for the 2002 holiday period that bested most of the other publicly traded jewelry retailers reporting results. One of the reasons why, said the company, was its branded Leo diamonds, supplied by Leo Schachter Diamonds in New York City.
Some smaller jewelers have had similar experiences. The brands they carry allow them to tell stories about quality and rarity that are somehow easier to put across when the jewelry or diamonds have distinctive names, great packaging or a history behind them.
In the interest of equal time, I also know jewelers who continue to brand their own names and personalities impressively and dont seem to need the outside imprimatur of brands to attract customers. But these are the rare extraordinary jewelers who have legends built around them or their stores.
For the rest of retailers doing business, its beginning to look like folly to dismiss the increasing number of good branding and marketing programs in the industry. The risk of doing nothing is beginning to seem greater than giving it a try.
Marketing experts caution its still important to look for brands you really believe are worth their extra cost. A good rule of thumb: if you could buy a generic line of jewelry or diamonds with the same style, quality and rarity as the branded collection youre considering, the brand may not be worth it.
Dont neglect your own stores name in taking on brands, say all the experts Ive spoken with recently. In this branded world, its becoming the best way to keep your name first in consumers minds. From your ads and packaging to your store decor and customer service, weave a single powerful story around your name and hammer it home as much as possible. Yours is the cause you have to remain most interested in.
Peggy Jo Donahue