The Sunny Side
By Ellen Fruchtman, President
There is no doubt this year has been a year of great and substantial challenges. And yet, there are many retailers who have weathered the storm. Overcoming the challenges took perseverance and business smarts, coupled with guts. From a marketing perspective, many of these successful retailers had a common thread: They did not panic. They had a plan, they stayed the course, and yes, they kept the faith.
We reached out to a few of our successful clients with two simple questions. Some answers were brief and to the point. Others had a little more depth. Now, entering the busiest time of year, these four are poised to have tremendous success. How did they do it? Hear it straight from the horse’s mouth and how they ended up on the sunny side of the street.
A big thank you to Keith Largin, Assistant Manager at Lewis Jewelers in Ann Arbor, MI; Mark Vieregg, Owner, Walters & Hogsett Jewelers in Boulder, CO; Cindy Lewis, Owner at Lewis Jewelers in Houston, TX. and Jenny Dortmans Store Manager for James O. Poag Jewellers, Strathroy, ON.
What were your personal/professional biggest challenges this year?
Keith: Keeping the team in a positive frame of mind, especially remotely during the COVID lockdown. Now, with the extreme ups and downs, it’s still a challenge.
Mark: Biggest personal challenge – Keeping a clear outlook for our five children, ages 12-18. This is not only unchartered territory, but hard to see what it all means within their lives and near-term goals. Balancing reality and helping them see a bright future is hard, as 18 months or more of the Pandemic is a long time as a big percentage of their lives.
Professionally, the emotional toll on “leading” was the challenge. People want to be led. You have to check your emotions daily and guide yourself and others wisely, as uncertainty in the retail world can feel overwhelming. But love and jewelry have stood the test of time. Believe it.
Cindy: No doubt it has been the pandemic. At the beginning of the year we had amazing momentum, and heading for one of our best years, until we closed two stores for 2 months. We reopened one store at a time with 9 team members versus 25. We wore multiple hats, but we kept a positive attitude! As sales increased, we would consider bringing back additional team members. However, we had no idea when that would be. This was a challenge we never faced. Our mini team worked limited hours with passion, dedication, and grace. Grace was the word our culture adopted throughout the summer and still today. As the weeks rolled by, customers trickled in and we felt we had some of this momentum back. Then, our governor mandated masks, and store traffic halted. Mentally exhausted, we continued to have faith, and again traffic gradually came back. With both stores fully operational, we added one additional team member at a time, with limited hours and we see customers who are grateful for what we have done.
Jenny: Without a doubt, the biggest challenge was having to suddenly close our store for 11 weeks. It was so difficult to plan for staffing and reopening with our new, ever-changing protocols. In the back of my mind was the uncertainty of what was to come. The question I always asked myself: Would consumers return to the retail environment?
What did you do that led your company to weather the storm and what do you believe led to your current success/sales trajectory in such a challenging retail year?
Keith: Focusing on a team and family approach. We preach how to be adaptable and open to change in this ever-changing environment. We also empower all of our team members to find solutions within that process.
Mark: On March 13th, with 40 years of business lessons, and as experienced business people in today’s dynamic retail, we confidently told our staff that we would gain market share at the end of this Pandemic. We promised our team along the way, that we will invest in them and our Brand Partners and listen to our business advisors. We talked with Ellen and the Fruchtman team on March 16th. With their guidance, we improved our messaging to meet the moment emotionally and with compassion. We kept our marketing spend at the same level to reassure customers we were with them. As of November 3rd, we are 12% up from last Year to Date, which was an exceptional year. 2020 reminds us to not take anything or anyone for granted and we won’t. We love what we do, and we reached out to clients to show them how much we appreciate them with some special 40th-anniversary gifts and traditional holiday messaging. We know this will set us up for a great Q4. In the end, steadying your sails and staying on course is possible when you believe in what you do and who you partner with.
Cindy: During the lockdown, we stayed relevant through our marketing campaign and social media, doing gracious acts of kindness. We delivered fresh produce to our team members and customers. Teachers were thanked with flowers and lunches were taken to hospitals. On Easter, we took lilies to customers, random neighbors, and family members. We were reminded to stay true to who we are, and that’s what we did! The community responded, wishing us well.
We implemented a new campaign, Lots by Lewis – which was essentially developing a personal trunk show that would be delivered to them. Select customers were invited to join the program. We would curate the collection, and they would have the safety to view it in their home for a week and add pieces to their jewelry wardrobe or return them to the store via curbside. Fortunately, we have a shopping cart on our website to view our most current inventory. Since chain stores were not open or limited in their operation, we gained market share in our bridal department. With a smile and exceptional customer service, every week was better than the last.
Eight months into the pandemic, we operate conservatively and continue to work every day like it’s our last. We practice “grace” through our company and pray for guidance. Today, we look forward to the seasons and greeting our customers.
Jenny: We kept our marketing plan running through the pandemic and modified where needed to fit our circumstances. But overall, we stayed the course. We added in what I consider effective advertising campaigns (#QuarantineCouture as an example) which kept us current and front and center with our clients. In addition, we kept in touch with clients when they reached out during the shutdown and took initiatives when we reopened with extra safety measures in place for the protection and providing peace of mind for our clients.