By Glen Brown, DG, AJP (GIA)
Although we are accustomed to hearing ‘bespoke’ in reference to clothing, the term very much applies to the retail jewellery business. Indeed, custom design work should be a prominent offering for any jeweller who wants to combat internet retailers and develop long-term customer loyalty.
Why offer custom design?
Offering a custom design service is akin to having free inventory: you can provide your customer with any piece of jewellery they desire and not worry about them walking out the door because you don’t have it in your showcase.
The service is invaluable, as most customers already have something in mind before they even enter your store. Being able to help a customer work through a design and, in turn, convey the concept to them is on par with having every piece of jewellery a customer could be looking for at your disposal.
Custom jewellery is always unique; therefore, it’s incomparable to stock jewellery. For one, a customer can’t easily shop around for a specialty piece the way they might with stock jewellery. This allows you to be more competitive on price, while still making a good margin. You can make a good sale (custom pieces aren’t typically trinkets) and keep the capital outlay in your bank account instead of in your showcase.
Although ‘custom’ jewellery might sound expensive to your customer, this is not always the case. This advantage should be part of the story from the onset of the discussion.
When working with a customer on a custom piece, the connection built from the focused, personalized attention you provide is very strong. Throughout the process, you are listening to your customer, and understanding their tastes and style preferences. In a way, you become a friend. People generally feel a certain loyalty to their friends, and this bond will not only lead to a long-term repeat customer, but the word-of-mouth marketing is priceless—after all, who wouldn’t brag about a piece of jewellery they were involved in designing? The best part is, last I checked, word-of-mouth advertising doesn’t cost a penny.
When you start a piece of custom jewellery with a customer, they feel invested in the piece. The sense of (and pride in) ownership felt by the client means you have practically completed the selling process, and usually makes collecting the deposit seem like a formality. There are some online retailers that offer a ‘build a ring’ feature on their website; however, this can never match the scope of what you can do in a store on the design side and, even more importantly, on the personal relationship side.
Custom design is a unique selling proposition that gives you, as the retailer, a strong marketing message and demonstrates you run a specialized, professional business. The offering lends itself to an array of personalized marketing opportunities, ranging from week-long events held during store hours, to invite-only wine and cheese functions, hosted after-hours. The luxury customer wants to feel special, and custom jewellery communicates this better than anything else in this industry. Consider it from this perspective: if you bought a well-known, high-end watch, it still wouldn’t feel the same as having a watch made just for you. Customers appreciate the work that goes into a specially made item, and it’s the personal exclusivity factor that makes them feel special about the purchase.
What does a custom design shop look like?
It’s always important to have well-trained staff in your store, but there’s more to this than simply knowing the four Cs.
Being proficient in custom design means knowing what is and what isn’t possible in the fabrication process; developing an eye for proportion; and having the ability to convey a concept to a customer in a professional, understandable, and desirable manner.
If you’re talented enough to provide a counter sketch while a customer is in your shop, that’s great—there is a definite romance attached to that offering. The good news is now there are also a lot of computer programs that facilitate jewellery design, and many of these are very user-friendly. Additionally, there are many talented people available to help you. If you have some fundamentals of sketching, you can have someone create a hand-drawn coloured sketch for the final presentation. Or, if you want to bring these skills in-house, there are also many schools, both in-class and online, to help you refine your talents.
Offering custom jewellery doesn’t mean you need to have extensive bench skills—or even a bench, for that matter. That said, it’s best to have someone on staff with enough experience to accurately quote on a design while a customer is in your store.
Fortunately, thanks to email, you can usually get an estimate fairly quick from your goldsmith, setter, or whomever else. Once a design is finalized, simply email the sketch or digital file to your goldsmith (if you don’t have one in your store) and get the piece started. There is also a control of quality you have with custom jewellery, which serves as a significant selling feature to your customer, as well as another way to get them involved in the piece when it comes to selecting gemstone quality.
Incorporating custom design into an existing business
If you aren’t already providing a custom design service and you’d like to start, you need to treat it like one of the categories in your store, just like your engagement ring or watch counter.
You can incorporate the space at a showcase, or, if your store allows, in a separate room for a more private setting, complete with a table and chairs. The goal is to make the customer feel special about the custom design process. When someone enters your store and you are showing them around, be sure to point out the ‘custom design consultation’ space. And, because everyone begins their shopping process online, make sure to talk about the service on your website and social media pages, and share some samples of custom projects you have done. Post regularly so your followers know you are doing custom jewellery often.
Additionally, use your custom design service to create special events to get people into your store: host a restyling event, appealing to individuals who married young and want to upgrade their rings, as well as to those who have inherited jewellery they hope to have re-made into something that suits their style. Consider, as well, bringing in a guest designer for a one-day special event.
Treat the custom design service as a ‘VIP’ experience. In addition to setting up a special space to consult with your customers, offer them a coffee to sip during your meetings and present their final product in a unique jewellery box, used only for custom pieces. Jewellery is always an emotional purchase, and you can make that bond even more powerful with a custom piece.
Why custom design is essential in 2020
Today’s customer has done plenty of browsing before they even walk into your store, thanks to the internet. They have seen thousands of different styles, making it impossible for you to have enough stock jewellery in your inventory to fulfill all of their ideas. With a custom design service and a luxury experience, you can deliver that special piece of jewellery and create a customer for life.
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Glen Brown, DG, AJP (GIA), GJ (CJA), is president of Highbury Custom Jewellery, based in Toronto, and has worked in the jewellery industry for more than 30 years. He is a past-president of the Manitoba Jewellers Association and has been heavily involved in the GIA’s Ontario alumni chapter for more than a decade. Brown sits on the George Brown College Jewellery Program Advisory Committee. He can be reached at email@example.com.