Educating retailers is a task typically reserved for trade show organizers and industry associations. But in July 2009, Stuller began what is now known as the company’s “Bridge to Tomorrow” events to educate independent jewelry store owners on how to effectively navigate the constantly evolving, technology-driven, ways of selling jewelry.By the end of this month Stuller will have completed 17 Bridge events with nearly 600 company accounts. That’s roughly 1,400 jewelry store owners and store managers (and even some bench jewelers and goldsmiths), that will have learned about Stuller’s view and vision for the future of retailing, and the Lafayette, Louisiana-based company’s role in how jewelry is sold to consumers, now and in coming years.
In looking back on the start of the Bridge events (originally called Owners’ Conferences and Retailer Solutions Symposiums), Bob Cox, Stuller’s chief sales and marketing officer, who has managed the program since its inception three years ago, recalls the many factors that weighed heavy in the company’s decision to start its educational programs for independent jewelers.
“Heavy capital commitments with inventory in locked cases, is a business model that is broken,” says Bob. “We’ve developed selling solutions that aren’t just about products, but a point of view for selling fine jewelry now and in the future. This includes less live product, and more room for custom work and customers interacting with goods through prototypes, as the main changes to the [jewelry] shopping experience.”
The basics of keeping pace with technology, market changes, as well as the essentials of inventory management and cash flow remain curriculum staples at Stuller Bridge events. Equally important, however, is demonstrating to retailers the depth and breadth of Stuller’s range of products or services that take Bridge event principles to in-store practices.
Comprehensive Stuller factory tours, and the company’s new “302” room, are key workshops that are part of this “big reveal” for many Bridge attendees. With the 2012 announcement of Stuller’s Interiors Division, a department dedicated to interior design and visual merchandising, the company can now tend to literally every conceivable product or service need of a retail jeweler.
But the key services Stuller presents to retailers in the context of Bridge events is reducing the store owner’s reliance on live inventory, and moving to a partial or even a complete virtual inventory business model using CounterSketch and jewelry prototypes.
CounterSketch Studio, a jewelry customization software (or virtual store front) developed by GemVision, with Stuller as the back-end fulfillment company, is one of the predominant stations in Stuller’s Digital Playground, an interactive area at each Bridge event for online and technical business solutions for the independent retailer. Other stations include the 24-Hour Jeweler, Stuller Showcase, and Jeweler Kiosk.
But the Bridal Prototype station is perhaps the biggest draw for many Bridge attendees at various stages of reducing their dependency on live inventory. When combined with CounterSketch Studio, and other net-based solutions from Stuller, Bridge attendees start to realize they could either spend tens of thousands on a few trays of live inventory, or a few thousand dollars on prototypes.
For Bridge attendees, schooling retail jewelers on Stuller products and services is a soft sell. “We don’t strong-arm Bridge attendees to buy in to our programs,” says Bob. “Our goal is to have a one-on-one conversation with store owners, and to offer business solutions that will transform the [jewelry] shopping experience.”Recruiting retail jewelers for Bridge events has always been a key to the success of these events. For Bob, a successful Bridge event happens when: “There’s a high degree of participation in the break-out sessions with retailers, and when there’s retailer interaction with the Stuller staff, and more importantly, with each other.”
Another measure of Bridge success is with the degree of which retailers adapt Stuller business solutions. “Since the start of the Bridge events, we have about 12 to 15 store owners that are what we call ‘all in,’” says Bob. “That may be the ideal in improving their business models and creating brand ambassadors for Stuller, but our goal is to reduce the anxieties that come with intense capital investments in inventory, and to provide selling solutions, that appeal to certain demographics, with cutting-edge technology.”
Catalogs and web ordering customers have served Stuller well in the past, and continue to do so. But in taking its own advice, Stuller is adapting to the changes happening in jewelry retail. Bridge events are a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) approach to maintaining and attracting retail jewelry customers through education and providing turn-key solutions, from ordering a small finding to redecorating an entire jewelry store.
“After three years, we continue to change and evolve the Bridge program,” says Bob. “But one thing that isn’t changing is our complete commitment to making the Bridge program Stuller’s business strategy for the future.”
In 2012, Stuller upped the Bridge schedule to 10 retailer events a year, two of which were scheduled last month. Bob, and his staff, including Ken Dugas, executive director of interactive customer events, will maintain this ambitious schedule for the foreseeable future, to keep bringing in more Stuller customers to experience a Bridge event in person.
“Stuller is blessed to have a broad customer base, so we have plenty of jewelry store owners to draw on,” says Ken. “And, as more and more retailers attend Bridge events, the word is getting out about the education we offer independents, and the range of services Stuller offers.”