July 1, 2014
By Shele Letwin
Let’s face it—buying jewellery is an emotional endeavour, which means, for the most part, we are in the business of selling romance or, in some cases, at least giving it a nudge in the right direction. Yet, given the touchy-feely aspect to what we do and the high-tech manner in which we sometimes do it, bringing these two concepts together in a way that moves the sales pitch along can sometimes be tricky.
Recently, I stumbled across Selling Luxury: Connect with Affluent Customers, Create Unique Experiences Through Impeccable Service, and Close the Sale by Robin Lent and Genevieve Tour. I had searched for years for a relevant sales training book I could incorporate into the CAD classes I teach. This one relates to selling luxury products like cars, clothing, and, of course, jewellery, as well as the importance of providing excellent service.
What makes this find especially exciting is the co-authors have a jewellery background—not only do they offer great examples on how you can create the WOW factor the luxury client is looking for, but they also provide worthwhile guidance on how to build long-lasting relationships with your customers based on trust and loyalty. This book got me thinking about how we, as jewellers, can bridge the gap between the business of selling jewellery—read romance—and CAD, a tool that conjures images of x- and y-axes, which is as far from matters of the heart as you can get. In other words, how do you successfully meld the two into a sales pitch that results in a purchase?
A successful jeweller must adapt like a chameleon, extract information like a profiler, and anticipate their customer’s wishes, all the while being warm, friendly, and approachable. Not only that, but now you have to come up with beautiful designs. Well, you can blame it on a large hamburger chain whose slogan back in the early 1970s was “Have it your way.” But I say thank goodness they had the insight and the big bucks to prompt this concept.
As independent jewellers, you are very unique. It is rare a consumer can walk into any store and commission a custom design using their own materials, such as diamonds and gold. We should be celebrating this very important fact, instead of trying to avoid it. I have to admit it is a lot easier to sell something out of the showcase. However, the pride we feel and the excitement the client displays when they see the special piece created especially for them is a wonderful experience. And I don’t know about you, but I have kept 30 years’ worth of cards and letters from my happy customers. They can be a real ‘pick me up’ when the day is not going well.
The first step to infusing emotion into your CAD sales pitch is to create an environment in which your customers feel at ease and unintimidated. Green Lake Jewelry Works in Seattle, Wash., only offers custom design. Its owner, Jim Tuttle, spent several months planning his store to ensure his clients were served in a cozy environment, regardless of its rather large size. So far, there’s nothing unique about this story. Where it starts to get interesting is the fact there is a computer monitor atop practically every showcase where any one of 20 goldsmiths can work with a client to design a piece of jewellery. Clients are practically enveloped by technology and yet, they are neither overwhelmed by it nor feel it has taken away from the ‘romance’ attached to the experience of buying jewellery, particularly when it’s a bridal piece. Uta, Jim’s wife and business partner, says, “You can buy a ‘stone holder’ from a chain store, but come to us for a piece of art.” And if clients need further inspiration, they need only look down at the hand-painted cement floor, complete with swirls reminiscent of hand-carving and other imagery that get the creative juices flowing.
Unless you are ready to renovate your store to the same degree, you can start on a much smaller scale by investing in a single design station. Amanda Lanteigne, from Gold-N-Memories in Steinbach, Man., has been designing jewellery for her clients for many years using software. To create more buzz around this service, she purchased a 6-ft custom-built work station with big-screen monitor, bar stools, and more than 135 alloy and CZ prototypes. She also positioned it near the entrance to ensure mall patrons could see it while walking toward the store from either side. As many of the prototypes are engagement styles, the bridal client is able to get the ‘touch and feel’ experience while working with Amanda and her staff to create their own design. And if you think prototypes are primarily a safety precaution against theft, you might want to point out to bridal clients—particularly brides—that the piece they buy has never been tried on by anyone else.
Jon VandenBosche of VandenBosche Custom Jewellers in Aurora, Ont., has a very small store. Although he recently renovated the space, there was no room for a design area. When he needs to design a custom piece, out come the wireless keyboard and mouse. He and the client stand at the counter—the client is fully engaged with helping create that special piece, even handling the mouse themselves and putting their fingerprint on the design. This intimate setting goes a long way to creating a memorable CAD experience.
Tom Linenberger of Goldworks in Fort Collins, Colo., has been using a 3D program for a number of years. When he’s done designing a custom piece, he names it for the client and plays up its romantic aspect with statements such as, “Two pieces of metal intertwined to symbolize your love.” He also makes sure he adds a design element to the jewellery that is special to the client. And since Tom designs, casts, and finishes the piece himself, he invites the customer to be part of the process—they can watch it being cast when the wax is ready and they’ll even get to melt the gold themselves. As a keepsake, Tom photographs every step involved in making the jewellery and presents the customer with a small album. That way, they can fully appreciate how much work went into designing and finishing the piece and feel they got very good value for what they paid. Couples pay thousands to photograph their wedding day—you can be part of their experience with very little cost on your part. And just imagine how many of the couple’s friends and family will get to see your work. You just can’t beat that kind of advertising.
I’ve always believed that selling jewellery while using a computer is like juggling three balls in the air—you need to design, create, and sell. Let’s look at each separately.
Design: You first need to able to come up with an onscreen design to present to the client. Start by asking the same questions you would when selling out of the showcase, such as:
If the client is unsure of what they want, you may consider presenting your store’s top-10 sellers and begin the design pitch there. A few CAD programs include libraries of jewellery you can organize according to design styles most popular with your clientele. Above all, you want to make the experience as personal as you can: be interested in what they have to say, stay focused, and make sure they know you are listening. CAD may be an everyday experience for you, but to the client, it’s likely something they’ve rarely encountered, if at all. Also, the one thing e-tailers like Blue Nile and Amazon cannot offer is the benefit of touching the merchandise before making a purchase. This is a major obstacle for them and a significant opportunity for you to make your move. Having a collection of prototypes for clients to try on can significantly increase your ‘go aheads.’
Create: I know from my early days using CAD that reaching for the mouse can be scary. The customer expects you to know how to use the software well enough to arrive at a beautiful design. All eyes are on you. Unless the software program is easy enough to make changes on the fly, you may want to book another appointment with the client to show them what you have come up with. This offers you yet another opportunity to connect with your customer and personalize the buying experience.
When it comes to using design software with your customer, you have two options. Sometimes, I may use both.
Building a 3D model from scratch with a customer next to you may not be the best idea, unless it is a design you have repeated so often and can finish it in a few minutes. However, the most seasoned CAD operators would likely not take this tactic, as people change their mind constantly and the operator may need to start the design all over again to build it properly. Ideally, you could start off building the basic frame of the piece and stop when you feel the customer is pleased with what you have created so far. At that point, ask for a deposit and book another appointment to reveal what you have come up with. In the book, Fascination, author Sally Hogshead states we have only nine seconds to keep someone’s attention. So, if you are going to build something, click fast.
Sell: If you are working at the computer with a client, you need to be able to keep the conversation going. For most of us, the left side of the brain controls speech, while the right side is responsible for creative thought. It is very challenging to be able to do both at the same time. This is where you could bring in another salesperson to help. While you are clicking along, your teammate can keep the conversation going, further building the relationship with the client.
Design software has come a long way in 20 years. But then again, so have we in getting savvier in our approach to creating a memorable experience that doesn’t take away from the feelings of love associated with jewellery.
Besides, aren’t we all romantics at heart?
Shele Letwin is president of GV Design Canada, the authorized Canadian distributor of Gemvision and Envision Tec products. She is a graduate of the jewellery arts program at George Brown College, an award-winning designer, and CAD/CAM instructor. Letwin is often a guest speaker at trade shows and at the Gemvision Design Symposium. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or (866) 299-1702.
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