A fun kids’ playroom and giving away Pez candy dispensers makes a good first impression, but courting potential customers as young adults makes a lasting one. With marriages projected to rise significantly in 2016, retailers are marketing more to college students to garner greater shares of the growing bridal market.Based in College Station, Texas, it’s no surprise that Julia Gardner and her husband David, of David Gardner’s Jewelers, started marketing directly to college students about 10 years ago as part of the store’s overall marketing strategy.
“Back then we noticed more students purchasing engagement rings from us and we took notice,” says vice president Julia. “We decided to see if we might be able to increase this part of our business.”
Located near Texas A&M University, the decision to market to college students was made over a decade ago when jewelry designer Scott Kay was running “some great emotional and romantic advertising for the engagement ring market,” says Julia.
The Gardners eventually brought Scott Kay on as a bridal vendor. And, around that same time frame, the couple attended an AGS Conclave. At this industry event they heard another retailer give a talk on their store’s weekend bridal events geared to college students. Later the Gardners hosted their own. “These two decisions got the ball rolling for us,” says Julia.Today, the weekend bridal event is still part of the Gardners’ promotional mix. But the college-aged demographic is a constantly-evolving, moving target, especially with technological advances in mobile devices.
The Gardners’ three-member marketing team dedicates 60 percent of their time to the college student market. In recent years the store has held two Diamond Dash events from SCVNGR (a mobile device gaming company that offers retail jewelers turn-key events where couples receive clues on their cell phones to find a hidden engagement ring).
“They [college students] are definitely technology savvy and their methods of receiving marketing messages changes constantly,” says Julia. “With this market you need to keep it fresh as possible, because just running ads won’t work.”
The Gardners periodically run ads in A&M’s student newspaper, but this is only a small part of their multi-prong approach. With 30 percent of their store’s annual promotional budget dedicated to marketing to college students, the couple and their staff participate in a variety of student organization fund raisers, host in-store events for sororities and fraternities, do guest speaking in A&M marketing classes, are corporate sponsors of the university’s Retail Center, work with the university’s business department, and, of course, advertise in and actively support the university’s sports programs.
David Gardner’s Jewelers is also the official jeweler for A&M. “It is a large package that covers a multi-media program that is aimed at all attendees at the sports events,” says Julia. “We consider it to be beneficial to several markets we target, not just the students.”
College sports programs are the most target-rich marketing environment for retail jewelers. Ronnie Ware, president of Ware Jewelers in Auburn, Alabama, took after his father in marketing to Auburn University students.One of his most successful college sports-related events was hosting a book signing event for college football coaching legend Pat Dye. The former University of Auburn (1981 to 1992) coach signed books, pictures, and memorabilia, and also became a store spokesman, appearing in many store TV commercials.
Much like the Gardners, Ware and his staff advertise in school newspapers, the Greek directory, host fund raisers, and support various university events. His wife Tina, vice president of the family business, also designs officially-licensed rings with 10 percent of sales going to the university.
But marketing to college students isn’t always about sports, team mascots or school emblems. Auburn University’s picturesque campus and historic architecture (i.e. Samford Hall), is a perfect backdrop for a new marketing opportunity for Ware: on-campus weddings.
“We are in the process of sponsoring the first ever Auburn wedding and we have partnered with the school to provide the wedding rings, groomsmen gifts, and bridesmaid gifts,” says Ronnie.
Over the years, both the Gardners and the Wares have learned much in how to market to and best serve the ever-illusive young bridal demographic. “They want excitement, accurate information, creative options, superb service, great value, and an enjoyable shopping and purchasing experience,” says Julia.
For Ware, marketing to college students comes down to knowing their mobile device and web browsing technologies and how it’s used to access information and interact with friends and family.
“They are incredibly educated and to reach them we are appealing to them via social media, mobile marketing, texting versus calling, and having a mobile device optimized website,” says Ware. “We’ve also reached out via Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. And, we partnered with Auburn University for a text-to-win promotion.”
Still, other jewelers are active on campuses through cause marketing efforts. For the last 13 years Bill Nusser, owner of Hands Jewelers in Iowa City, Iowa, has participated in lecture programs and panel discussions with the University of Iowa’s School of Business’s Marketing Department.
In engaging students, Nusser shares his knowledge and experience with budding young students in intro to marketing classes, while upper-level marketing students dissect Nusser’s marketing campaigns, offering their impressions and insights.
“Not a month goes by that someone from these classes doesn’t come to the store,” says Nusser. “These students on average spend anywhere from $8,000 to $25,000 and have brought in several hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bridal business over the last decade.”
But eventually college students become ageing alumni. Harnessing that college pride is something Underwood’s Fine Jewelers has been doing for several decades. For 30 to 40 years, the Fayetteville, Arkansas-based retailer produced their own gold hogs, commemorating the University of Arkansas’s famous razorback hog mascot “Big Red.”
But the price of gold forced Underwood’s to offer less expensive mascot-themed jewelry. Last year the jeweler contracted Collegiate Jewel to produce more price-point-friendly sterling silver items. “Lower price Razorback jewelry allows us many opportunities to up-sell alumni,” says Underwood’s owner Craig Underwood.