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How to Build a Strong Retail Community

A dedicated group of loyal customers can be a powerful tool for retailers. Here are some expert tips for creating a following and maximizing your impact.

Feb 18, 2020 9:07 AM   By Leah Meirovich
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RAPAPORT... Just a few generations ago, jewelry stores were mom-and-pop shops at the heart of their local communities. While technology has opened the market to a wider audience and added many positive elements to the jewelry-purchasing process, customers still crave that old familiar experience. Knowing you is trusting you, and trust is one of the most important factors in making a sale now and a customer for life.

“In order to get somebody to buy from you, you have to build ‘know, like and trust,’” says Catherine Erdly, founder of Future Retail Consulting. “When somebody trusts you because they share your values and your principles as a business owner, they are much more willing to part with their money.”

Aleah Arundale, self-described master diamond dealer at Olympian Diamonds, concurs. She spent years building her community through her Facebook page, Jewelers Helping Jewelers.

“People don’t just want to buy jewelry,” she explains. “They want to buy jewelry from someone.”

There are many ways to establish yourself as a community player, most of which require thought, time and effort. However, the dividends you reap will prove rewarding.

Acts of charity

Charitable works are a great way to build your community. They not only establish you as someone who cares about others, but they forge strong connections with those who will potentially purchase from you or recommend you to others.

“How can independent jewelers become big community players? One word: charity,” says Arundale. She suggests giving not just money, but time, help and ideas, such as using your store as a drop-off location for donations. “This gets feet in your door, you help others, help build a community, and the cost is almost nothing.”

Effort without expectation

Getting involved in your community shouldn’t be a means to an end. Customers see right through those who “give” to their community only with the intention of getting something back.

“The events we hold for our communities often do not revolve around making the cash register ring, but instead we hope they show our neighborhoods that we care about others, both in and out of our selling vicinity,” says Harris Botnick, owner of Worthmore Jewelers in Atlanta, Georgia.

Retailers should support community efforts that speak to their interests and values and that will help attract like-minded clients, says Esther Fortunoff, owner and president of Fortunoff Fine Jewelry.

“An independent jeweler can become a big community player by finding a charity or organization that they believe in, or creating events in their store,” she notes. “I never tend to go for a hard sell. These events may never turn into big sales, and the satisfaction comes from helping a worthy organization.”

Adding value

The old adage is wrong — you can get something for nothing. Providing value can take minimal effort and little to no financial output, but still score big with your customers.

“You should be balancing your online content between posts that add value — for example, posts that inform your customer how to style or care for your products, posts that connect...that build community and create relationships — and posts that sell,” stresses Erdly. “If you only post about products that you’re trying to sell and you don’t take the time to create other kinds of content, such as the content that adds value or creates connections, then ultimately you will alienate your ideal customer.”

Arundale has been implementing this method on her Facebook site and has watched her community grow.

“For 17 years, I collected sales, marketing, really any jewelry-related tips I could find,” she says. “Every day I would share tons of helpful advice. Providing value like this gained me many happy followers. If you help others, they will flock to you.”

Make it personal

Connecting with potential customers on a personal level makes them feel more comfortable with you. Sharing your values creates a bond and enables clients to feel good about doing business with you.

“Businesses that are clear about their values…will ultimately be able to build a following of loyal customers who want to come and buy from them because they believe in what they are doing,” Erdly points out. “You want to share enough of your personality and personal beliefs that potential customers can build a relationship with you. People buy from people.”

Arundale suggests making videos to help showcase yourself and allow customers to get to know you. “To build a community, it helps if people see you,” she explains. “It’s a better way to communicate your enthusiasm. Doing a video is an excellent way to show your personality and make people want to do business with you, as well as just be in your community.”

And expectations aside, the amount of effort you put in does have a direct effect on the success you achieve, Arundale adds. “There is only one way to get things done right, and it is to work hard at it,” she says. “The best way to build that huge online following you crave is just to do more. More, more, more. Those who do are the ones who will win.”

In good company Worthmore Jewelers owner Harris Botnick was raised in a household where giving back to the community was a central part of everyday life. His grandfather, who owned a retail store, started a Christmas party for the local Boys Club, a tradition his grandmother and mother carried on throughout the years.

While Botnick continues the legacy of giving in his Atlanta-based company, he does it not to benefit his business, but because he wants to impact the lives of others, he says. His altruism has established him as a central member of his community.

“I believe any causes, in your immediate community or outside of the community, must be done with only the goal of helping others,” he says. “Anything beyond that is simply karma.”

For its 20th anniversary, Worthmore donated a portion of its sales to the oldest working firehouse in Atlanta to help with renovations. The firefighters came by with their trucks, and children and adults got to meet them, play on the trucks and have a barbecue lunch.

The jeweler also held safety seminars for the neighborhoods surrounding its two stores and invited a security consultant to speak on being aware of your surroundings. Self-defense experts worked with the attendees on basic hand-to-hand techniques, and Worthmore provided dinner for everyone who attended.

Worthmore has held a “Halloween Candy Snackdown” for over 16 years. The company collects candy that local families donate after Halloween and sends it to US troops overseas. Worthmore has received grateful letters from recipients, with many noting it was the only care package they had received all year.

The company also organizes activities to celebrate special customers and bring them into the store. At its “Biscuits & Barter” event, members of the jeweler’s Watch Collectors Club were able to bring watches they didn’t wear anymore, trade them with each other, and get to know individuals who shared their interests, all while enjoying a light brunch and mimosas.

After attending a seminar on developing advisory boards, Botnick got the idea to invite female community members to become part of its Women’s Advisory Board. Among other things, they give Worthmore firsthand feedback on marketing ideas, merchandise and store décor.

This article was first published in the February 2020 issue of Rapaport Magazine.

Image: A community network. (Shutterstock)
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Tags: Aleah Arundale, Catherine Erdly, Community Building, Esther Fortunoff, Fortunoff Fine Jewelry, Future Retail Consulting, Harris Botnick, Jewelers Helping Jewelers, Leah Meirovich, Olympian Diamonds, Worthmore Jewelers
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