Columnists Bob Epstein Competing against the big chains this holiday season

Competing against the big chains this holiday season

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The election is over - but just when people are starting to think it might be safe for them to turn on the television, there’s a whole new slew of ads bombarding viewers. Not politicians, but retailers, many of them the jewelry store chains competing for holiday shopping dollars. “Hurry in to one of our 1,000 stores and get this mass produced ring. Sparkling love placed in a tiny cushioned display box - now at huge savings up to 60%.”

The television commercials, which include a catchy little jingle, are beautifully choreographed and directed by some Madison Avenue ad agency. Production costs push a million dollars, not counting air time. The sparkling love in a box theme is converted into a radio commercial played on drive time shows across America; a full page print version appears in national newspapers. The total advertising budget is in the millions.

For the independent jeweler who has managed to survive four years of abysmal sales and has little money to spend on advertising, it’s truly a David and Goliath moment. But like Goliath, the big chains are vulnerable - size can be a weakness that the independent jeweler can use to his advantage.

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Order a quarter pounder from the McDonald’s located at 2442 Erie Boulevard East, Syracuse, NY and you’ll get “a quarter pound of 100% pure beef simply seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper, two slices of melted cheese, slivered onions and tangy pickles all on a sesame seed bun.” Order a quarter pounder at the McDonald’s at 1414 University Avenue in San Diego and you’ll get the same product. Ditto for the other 13,800+ stores in the U.S.

If you happen to be a fan of the quarter pounder, this is great news. You can travel across America and be assured that your quarter pounder will look, smell and taste the same in all 50 states. Jewelry, on the other hand, is not fast food - especially something as personal and as important as a holiday gift!

Jewelry is a creative personal expression and a personal adornment. So there’s a chink in Goliath’s armor when it comes to merchandise, and if played correctly, independent jewelers have a distinct advantage in being able to offer unique and different products. Having inventory that is distinctive will set your business and brand apart. Stores which offer custom designs have even more of an advantage, as customers love finding that unique item. Make sure you have something to offer your customer for every occasion, every taste and every budget.

Now, what about price? Of course price matters and the big chains are known to discount heavily, but there are a lot of other things which come into play beyond the price of the gift, most significantly, the suitability of the present for the person, convenience, and maybe even the attitude of the salesperson. There are consumers who are bargain shoppers, but you can offset the allure of deep discounts with quality and again by making sure you have a wide selection of merchandise that covers all price points. If you don’t want to run a store wide sale and you have a mailing list (and I really hope you do), invite your regular customers into an open house for a private sale event and offer them 10% off their purchases during a particular weekend or week.

Customer service is a big factor. The big box stores beef up for the holiday by hiring temporary, seasonal workers who are often poorly trained and motivated by little beyond a paycheck. You and your staff have the hometown advantage; you can offer personalized, knowledgeable service. Custom gift wrapping, repairs and shipping services will also help differentiate you from the chain stores. Ultimately, a store’s atmosphere is not determined by the choice of music or the attractiveness of your decor or displays. It is the attitude of the staff that establishes atmosphere.

Customer service is #1, but having an attractive store is important. Strive to create a different store look and feel.  All the chain stores have almost the same store layout, store branding and signage.  Be different. Be quirky. Have some personality.  People love that, especially when they are out doing some holiday shopping. By becoming that cool little shop around the corner, you set yourself apart as different and better and you don’t have to compete as much on price!

Make sure your store personality is expressed through an attractive storefront which should be well-lit during the evening, and should be clean and simple, but modern. All exterior signage should be easy to read to a passerby. Avoid elaborate displays. Windows should be kept clean at all times, and burned-out light bulbs should be changed immediately. Sometimes all that is needed to boost sales is a storefront makeover - especially for the holidays.

Inside, a store must provide a warm and friendly atmosphere. This can be achieved through the use of color and lighting. At one time or another we have all walked into a business that looked sterile and inhospitable. Plain white walls and fluorescent lighting do not encourage customers to spend money. At the same time, it is important not to go overboard with interior design. You want your products to attract the most attention, not the decor. Little things can have a big impact; have an over-stuffed chair for the husband who is tagging along or the child who is tired. Offer free hot chocolate, coffee or tea and cookies for weary shoppers.

Yes, the big jewelry store chains will out-gun and out-spend the independent jeweler when it comes to national advertising. But if the independent store owner is focused on the quality, variety, uniqueness and value of merchandise, and provides great customer service in an interesting and different store atmosphere, he or she can successfully compete and prosper during the holiday shopping season.

Bob Epstein is CEO of Silverman Consultants, LLC.  Offering a legacy in sales strategies for jewelers since 1945, Silverman Consultants provides guidance to store owners seeking to turn around a business, sell off unwanted inventory, or liquidate an entire store. With offices located in Charleston, SC; New York City; and Saskatoon, Canada; the company helps jewelry store owners and chains formulate strategies designed to maximize revenue in times of transition, whether due to retirement, store closing, or simply when needing a boost in sales. For more information, visit www.silvermanconsultants.com or call Bob direct at 800-347-1500.

 
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