Bridal is the focal point for Beré Jewelers in Pensacola, Florida, which counts military and medical personnel among its clients.
After almost 40 years in the business, Barry Cole knows how “most guys think” when buying an engagement ring. When a man drives up in an expensive sports car but wants to spend only $10,000 on a ring, Cole tells him, “That’s a nice car you’re driving, but it is going to decline in value quickly. She’ll have that ring for the rest of her life. You might want to reconsider your budget.” And they do.
Bridal accounts for 40% of the business at Beré Jewelers in Pensacola, Florida, the store Cole owns with his wife Laura. They moved to their current location in 2017, transforming a furniture store into a 7,500-square-foot showcase for jewelry and watches. “It’s the best thing we ever did. We tripled our business in the last four years,” he says.
The military is an important driver of the economy in the city, which is home to the US Naval Air Station Pensacola, as well as the navy’s Blue Angels demonstration squadron and the US Air Force Thunderbirds. This demographic, though transient, presents a prime opportunity for bridal sales. “Guys come here and earn their wings. Whether they have a girl back home or meet someone in Pensacola, many times they get engaged or tie the knot before they are stationed somewhere in the world,” says Cole.
Pensacola is also the site of several major medical centers, attracting doctors who do their residencies in the local hospitals. “Doctors and nurses are a big part of our business. Customers in scrubs come into the store daily,” Cole relates, adding that Beré gets a further boost from its proximity to Pensacola’s three colleges.
Overall, bridal sales tend to be traditional. Classic rounds remain the staple center stone. While halos still sell, “they are not trending,” says Cole, who has seen a shift toward solitaires. Settings tend to be embellished, featuring diamonds in the band for solitaires and underneath the stone for halos. Straight-out-of-the case buying accounts for 20% of bridal sales, he says, explaining that “most brides want their own twist on the rings.”
In fancy shapes, “ovals are on fire,” the jeweler reports, adding that elongated stones are strong sellers. While elongated cushions are popular, he has seen a “big trend” in radiant cuts.
The average engagement ring with a 1- to 1.50-carat center stone falls into the $10,000 to $15,000 range. But Beré offers rings for every budget, according to Cole.
“Diamonds are our foundation,” he says. Among the top-selling brands he cites in the bridal category are Sylvie, Gabriel & Co., JB Star, Costar Imports, Noam Carver and CrownRing.
“As members of the Continental Bridal Group (CBG), we have access to smaller manufacturers who produce private-label for us and laser-inscribe the store name inside the shank,” says Cole, though he also points to De Beers’ Forevermark as popular across bridal, loose stones, and fashion.
There is one anomaly Cole has noticed: The number of engagement rings that sell is much higher than the number of wedding bands. To encourage customers to buy the latter, the store offers engagement-ring purchasers a gift card toward the price of a wedding band. The more expensive the engagement ring, the higher the gift-card value.
After a fashion
Classic styles dominate fashion jewelry as well. “Pensacola is a little behind the curve from a fashion perspective. It takes a while before it filters down from a major city to us,” explains Cole. He has seen a “really big uptick” in yellow gold, which he compares to the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, “when everything was gold.” College women, he says, are “very adamant that they want yellow.”
In the fashion arena, the paper-clip look has been “really hot”: paper-clip necklaces, chains and bracelets with different gauges and diameters, both with and without diamonds. Stacking rings and bracelets are trending as well, as is the layering of short and long necklaces. Shy Creations out of Los Angeles is a top fashion vendor, and jeweler Lagos is “on fire,” especially its Caviar line, reports Cole. He offers pieces from different designers in the $500 to $1,000 range — the sweet spot for women self-purchasers. But having “wow pieces” is a must, he asserts; the store carries designs by Rahaminov Diamonds for their red-carpet appeal.
Custom business from scratch makes up some 20% of the store’s total sales, which Cole acknowledges is “a big number” for this category. He attributes the desire for custom to the influence of Instagram and Pinterest, where consumers can see myriad styles that appeal to them.
Drawing in and reaching out
Visual impact is key in-store as well. Laura, a commissioned artist whose work adorns the shop, oversees merchandising. “She visualizes it and mixes colors and stones to create amazing presentations,” says Cole, who describes his role in the partnership as “buying what’s hot.”
Diamonds dominate as soon as you walk into the store, with bridal front and center. Approximately 70% of the cases in that center area feature huge collections of engagement and wedding bands, he says.
To enhance customer service, Cole utilizes GemLightbox, a box-like tool that perfectly captures 360-degree photos and videos of any piece the jeweler puts inside. The device integrates with an app the customer can download to view and stream the images.
Cole holds trunk shows and wish-list events, but to date has never staged a bridal event. “You would think we would have at this point,” he admits. Attitudes change, though, and he anticipates holding such an event in the fourth quarter.
To turn bridal clients into repeat customers, he says, “we build on that first important purchase.” Active on social media and Facebook, he uses customer relationship management (CRM) tools to maintain customer contact. “We capture everything they allow us to.”
Those efforts extend to customers in Germany and Japan who were once stationed in Pensacola. “We always value our military and first responders,” says the jeweler, whose charitable activities benefit a wide range of organizations. “We’ve found out that by investing in the community, they invest in us.”
But these activities are about a lot more than generating sales, he stresses. “Supporting local charities is very much a part of who Laura and I are.”
Image: Beré Jewelers