Rapaport Magazine

Changing of the guard

A new generation of owners builds on the 135-year-old legacy of Michaels Jewelers in Connecticut.

By Joyce Kauf

The Hannoush brothers were facing a dilemma that many family-owned jewelry retailers would envy: Almost all their children wanted to join the business. In order to obviate any challenges that might arise with so many cousins working together, the five brothers decided several years ago to divide the jewelry stores among themselves. But for Camile Hannoush, another family jeweler would soon intervene with an enticing offer.

Founded in 1885 and family-owned since, Michaels Jewelers has nine locations throughout Connecticut. “When Mark Michaels, the fifth-generation owner, approached me about buying the stores, it felt like a perfect fit,” Hannoush recalls. He sold his Hannoush stores to two of his brothers and took the reins at Michaels, working with his three daughters — DeAnna, Tanya and Alycia. “It’s almost like we’re the sixth generation, but with a different last name,” he says.

Bridal first

Since purchasing Michaels Jewelers in 2019, Hannoush has created a new bonus and commission structure. But he has mainly been laser-focused on implementing an “all about bridal” strategy. The category is “essential to building long-term relationships and lasting trust, which are the foundations of a successful business,” he explains.

Hannoush pursued a multi-pronged approach. An integral goal was expanding the bridal assortment to include fashion-forward styles and higher-price-point options. He introduced Forevermark, Memoire, Sylvie Collection and Fana, among other lines. However, he believes non-bridal jewelry can further his objective as well. “The aim of these lines, such as With You [lockets], is to connect with a younger demographic to initiate a relationship with potential bridal customers.”

When Covid-19 forced stores to close from March through May last year, Hannoush concentrated on building his online business. He developed a new website and partnered with Shopify to expedite purchases. Recognizing the importance of customer service, he invited online clients to “Shop like a VIP” with Alycia, “our private shopping concierge.”

The approach proved successful. “The focus on improving the online customer service aspect has been very beneficial, and we’re definitely putting more resources into it this year,” he says.

2021 trends

Michaels Jewelers has four standalone stores in the towns of Danbury, Orange, Bristol and Canton. The other five locations are in malls around Connecticut. Hannoush says business has been “pretty consistent” at both store types, with similar traffic patterns and good conversion.

Hannoush predicts that bridal will remain strong in 2021, in part because of couples who delayed getting married due to the pandemic. Given that high-end fashion has been “a challenge,” he does not plan to devote much effort to the category.

He anticipates that diamond solitaires, strong performers in 2020, will become an “even bigger seller” this year. He also cites “phenomenal” sales of pendants, which he attributes to the continuing desire to “look good from the neck and above” for work-at-home Zoom meetings.

Hannoush plans to emulate non-jewelry stores that have adopted the “buy online and pick up in the store” method of selling. “While we may catch them online, we hope to keep them as a customer via an introduction to one of our sales staff when they pick up their purchase. Face-to-face is much more effective for building customer relationships.”

A play for hearts and minds

Forging corporate partnerships is another element of Hannoush’s marketing plan. He recently signed a four-year deal with UConn Athletics to be a corporate sponsor for the University of Connecticut’s successful and popular men’s and women’s basketball teams. Michaels Jewelers will become their official jeweler with the debut of a new UConn jewelry collection.

“The Michaels Jewelers name will be on the parquet for these nationally televised games,” he says. The sponsorship also serves his goal of attracting younger shoppers who may become bridal customers. “Almost 50,000 students pass through UConn each year. Hopefully, when they think of diamonds, they’ll think of Michaels Jewelers.”

In yet another initiative to expand his customer base, Hannoush contacted businesses near the stores, offering their employees a discount at Michaels and a gift with their first purchase. “There once was a day in retail when your customers came in, and if you did a good job, your business succeeded,” he says. “Today, you have to be a marketer and retailer. You need both a brick-and-mortar and online presence. You have to constantly drive to bring that customer into your store rather than their shopping online or at other retailers.”

Hannoush is aiming high with these efforts.

“Our family’s goal is to make Michaels Jewelers the most recognized brand in Connecticut,” he asserts. “Building trust in the customers’ mind-set is essential. If they trust you with a jewelry purchase, they trust you with everything else. That is what signifies a friend, and that is the philosophy I drive into our staff, our team and our entire organization.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - March 2021. To subscribe click here.

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