Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Fun: Not my usual blog

 Don't text and fly, have a safe Halloween (Photo courtesy of Becky on FB)

There are plenty of Halloween costume suggestions on the internet, in the paper, and in magazine articles. The Wall Street Journal even had an article on costume selection and relationships. I learned that I don’t want to dress my husband up in something he may not be comfortable in wearing. We may end up in divorce court; or at least it appears that most of those interviewed ended up single after Halloween. Maybe it wasn’t the costume but all the partying?

Halloween is predicted to be a $7 billion holiday this year.[1] Americans spend money on costumes, parties and candy that is given away for free to the delight of many children and the chagrin of many dentists. It is astonishing that there is so much money spent on a holiday that is completely centered on frivolity during these recessionary times. But maybe this is what we all need. The need to act a little crazy, throw caution to the wind and of course, eating a ton of candy with abandon can reignite our sense of exuberance. At the very least we will be looking at a sugar hangover and the promise of starting that diet tomorrow. Truthfully the recession has drained the fun out of just about everything, but not Halloween.

Many Americans have forgotten what things were like in the last great depression. We now have social programs and safety nets in place that keep all of us from ending up like the “Grapes of Wrath,” a good costume by the way, especially if you can swing a model T. It is obvious that things aren’t that bad if people are still dressing up like sexy nurses and super heroes and passing out candy.  It has become fashionable to be thrifty and many people are still telling others that they need to take it easy on the spending. No one wants to give the appearance of being a spendthrift, but plenty of people are spending according to The National Retail Federation, which expects “total retail spending for November and December to rise 2.8%.”[2]

Personally I think we should all be honest and tell it like it is, “we’re spending money and refusing to participate in the recession.” Come on all you consumers, numbers don’t lie and the mall parking or lack thereof shows that a lot of people are spending money on something. I am personally thinking of donning a party dress, piling on all of my diamonds and carrying around a gold painted shovel, I’ll go as a Gold Digger. Another awesome suggestion I saw in an internet article. So let’s throw off the shackles of monetary oppression and have a little fun, this is what Halloween is all about.

 How pumpkin pie is made (Photo courtesy of Becky on FB)

[1] Elizabeth Bernstein, And What if I Don’t Want to Dress Up Like a Banana?, Wall St. J., Oct 27, 2011, at D3.
[2] Elizabeth Holmes, For Early Shoppers, It’s a Wrap: Sleigh Bells Are Ringing as Stores Compete for Holiday Spending With Deals; Just Know When to Stop, Wall St. J., Oct. 27, 2011, at D3.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Woman Entrepreneur

Gabrielle Bruni Creations is woman owned and designed by a woman

Statistically women are starting more businesses. Women are also attending college is greater numbers than men and are now officially the majority in the workforce. Part of this increase is brought about by necessity and the economy. Lower wages have forced the necessity of a two income family and as more and more jobs disappear; people have to create their own. As a woman business owner I understand this need.

I went to college and earned a BA, I attended one year of law school before I found out it wasn’t in the cards. I also have a paralegal certificate from an ABA accredited university, yet I have been unable to find a job in this crazy market. Many women are facing the same situation, over educated and under employed. Women may also have to deal with childcare as children may still be at home and in school. This places a greater burden on women who maybe torn between helping to provide a better life and being available for family. Enter the woman entrepreneur.

Women owned businesses are generally smaller and more likely to be home based or at least partially run out of their home. The self employed home based business woman can work their job around their schedule and that of their household. Unlike a nine to five job, you can still be there to take the kids to school and pick them up after. This is important for a lot of women. It has always been an important factor for women to be available, hence the growth of businesses like Tupperware and Avon during the period of the “happy homemaker.” These types of business plans allows for the visit or party to take place around the woman’s schedule.

Women small business owners’ may be coming into their own in this new economy. Women have strong communication skills and social intelligence. Women are better listeners and have the ability to collaborate as a group. Business does not solely rely upon a person at the top making a decision and those beneath carrying it out. Business today may require more conversation and drawing upon innovative ideas or listening to truly understand the customer’s needs. Case in point, Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings decided to separate the DVD and streaming divisions of his business with disastrous results. This top down “do as I say” form of leadership did not work. If he had simply asked someone what they thought and actually listened, there could have been a much more successful outcome. A woman would have asked and discussed to get a general consensus before making a rash decision.

The new business owner is now a woman and while no one style can overcome all market difficulties, women may be better equipped to find success. Women who are working have always found it to be a juggling act and sometimes our arms get tired and we feel overwhelmed, this is natural. But it is encouraging and great motivation to see that maybe some of our cultural characteristics and feminine traits are actually helping us.  So go out there and start a business or support a woman owned business. We may ultimately find the harmony and security we all seek.

 Gabrielle Bruni chocolate diamond earrings

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Women in Business Networking

Sterling silver bangle with blue topaz, fabulous jewelry for fabulous parties!

Okay, many people are familiar with networking. This is when business people get together and help each other out. It can be business to business networking or it can be business to consumer networking. The premise is, you need something or you know someone who needs something and because you are part of this group, the group can give suggestions on whom to use. Brilliant! The best part about this particular networking group is we are all women.

With women so influential and instrumental in purchasing decisions, it seems only right that the networking group I should eventually join is an all women’s group. As a retailer in the jewelry industry, my main and most predominate customer is a woman. Women are by far the most significant individuals in a jewelry purchase. Additionally women are making many of the purchasing decisions for their own households. According to the article Boomer Women and Affluence – One huge, affluent segment wields more spending clout than any other: Baby-Boomer women. Born between 1946 and 1964, these women represent a portion of the buying public no marketer can afford to ignore. With successful careers, investments made during the “boom” years, and inheritances from parents or husbands, they are more financially empowered than any previous generation of women.[i]

This is amazing news; women are taking the financial reins. They are also taking the entrepreneurial reins. More women are starting businesses. In this down economy many women have been laid off or have suffered wage and benefits cuts. Starting a business on the side is quite common. Additionally, women are still responsible for a lion’s share of the work “at home.” While men have made great strides, women are still doing more non-paid work in the family. I’ve met women at these networking meetings who have young children at home and are starting a business out of the home to supplement their income. Since my business sells jewelry through trunk shows, private showings and home parties, it fits well.

 Another beautiful bangle that I sell at my jewelry parties

The home jewelry party is perfect for women looking to help out financially. It’s a fun way to make a little money. The business woman doesn’t have to work full-time and can arrange the parties based her own schedule. This allows for attendance at school functions and more time at home. I’ve found that I work some evening and weekends with my jewelry business. There is the occasional during the week show, but overall I still have time for family obligations. This is the difficulty of being a woman who works. It is hard to find the time to balance the kid’s homework while making some money. I believe women entrepreneurs are innovative enough to create nontraditional work environments. Women are finding a need and filling it.

[i] – Mary Brown, Carol Orsborn, Ph.D., Marketing to the Ultimate Power Consumer—The Baby-Boomer Woman

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Are Americans Shopping?

Gabrielle Bruni Creations blue topaz and diamond ring

According to Ken Gassman, president and founder of the Jewelry Industry Research Institute,” the jewelry business has been strong all year with unit sales through August up 11.4% compared to 2010.”[1] Many economists are predicting that fine jewelry purchasing will be up this holiday season. Does this mean that fine jewelry sales will bloom during the holidays? I truly don’t know the answer to this question.

While the economy does not seem to have significantly improved, those who monitor our shopping habits believe that Americans have had enough and are returning to the mall. As a society based on capitalism, we have a tendency to shop. This is not a bad thing really. Since most of society is no longer agrarian we need to shop for our most basic necessities, such as food, clothing and entertainment! Additionally, shopping can be a form of entertainment and you don’t have to buy, you can just browse. However, as the economy continues to look bleak people may be uncomfortable with putting money into anything other than a commodity.

 Gabrielle Bruni Creations blue topaz and diamond earrings

To me jewelry is a commodity. Webster’s dictionary states that a commodity is an article of commerce, or even something that is useful and valued. This sounds like jewelry to me. Truthfully, jewelry as a commodity is not that farfetched. Jewelry is manufactured with specific gold, silver and gemstone weights and these values can be quantified. A gold coin has an inherent monetary value based upon the amount of gold in the coin and that days gold value. Jewelry can have its value measured based on content. At all those gold jewelry buying parties people aren’t just bringing in ingots and coins to sell. The immeasurable aspects of jewelry include labor, design and sentimental value, which is why some people say jewelry is not a commodity.

But in these up and down markets Americans maybe investing in something they can hold in their hand, or wear on their person. Additionally, consumers maybe considering the new frugal lifestyle and they are thinking more about each purchase. They maybe are saving up for a fine jewelry purchase instead of spending small amounts on costume or littler items. Consumers are investing in something substantial that will last years and can be worn with a multitude of outfits; they are seeking value and versatility. So come and check out my web store, I have a lot of fine jewelry and at the very least I have some really cute pieces that are bound to become classics.

Gabrielle Bruni Creations blue topaz and diamond necklace

[1] Barbara Thau, Diamonds are…prudent? Why jewelry sales will shine this holiday season,, 10/14/2011.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Love Amber

Honey amber pendant set in sterling silver

I’m going through this naturalistic phase lately. It’s the appeal of natural materials in jewelry that actually look like natural material that has my interest. Amber is a natural resin or sap and it’s really cool with all of its imperfections and flaws. When you hold a piece of amber jewelry up to the light you can see little bits and pieces of organic matter. Amber seems to capture the light and hold it. Another benefit of amber is the color. The reds and browns are perfect for fall and remind me of the turning of the leaves. Since I live in California there really isn’t the fabulous change of season one gets in say, Vermont. Leaves here have a tendency to turn yellow, then brown, and then fall off the tree.

Amber is a way to introduce fall colors into my wardrobe. Not that I don’t already wear browns and reds, my favorite sweater right now is a pumpkin color. A pumpkin colored sweater is pretty fall looking! Amber jewelry is a great accessory. If we here in California can’t have the typical fall colors we can wear them. Fall calls for tweeds and sweaters, and what better way to wear these then by accenting them with amber.

 Honey amber earrings set in sterling silver. Beautiful variation and display of organic material.

Amber is a natural resin or sap that came from extinct prehistoric coniferous pine trees. It’s basically a form of a fossil. There are sometimes bubbles that formed during the fossilization and many times there are bits of organic material such as leaf pieces, seeds, dirt and even bugs. Wow, Jurassic Park. It’s this ability to capture nature that makes amber so special and attractive. As the seasons change everyone becomes more thoughtful about nature. Our environment is changing right before our eyes. The weather gets cooler and people begin to bundle up. The change of wardrobe also brings on a change in accessories. Amber is perfect.

If you ever get a chance, wear some amber jewelry with your fall wardrobe. It will bring out the beautiful rich hues of a fall day. The subtle shades of dark red to reddish brown transitioning all the way to yellow mimic a glamour shot of a Vermont forest. So add a little amber to your jewelry collection, it’s easy on the budget and the eyes.

Monday, October 24, 2011

OMG Those Are My Earrings!

InStyle Magazine Volume 18 Number 12 November/11 Page 66

Okay, those aren’t actually my earrings, but they sure look a lot like a pair I sell in my store Mark Gregory & Company. In the November issue of In Style magazine there is a picture of the young and beautiful Emma Roberts. She is sporting a pair of Swarovski crystal earrings that are round cut and sparkly. These earrings look fabulous and I was shocked to see that a design I thought was great is now being worn by a movie star. The earrings themselves are a simple design, not a lot of embellishments or do dads, just a unadorned round cut crystal with a slight drop. In the picture, the crystal is surrounded by gold and this is where my earrings differ, mine on done in Palladium.

It is so much fun to see a similar design being worn by someone famous and featured in a magazine. Not only does this validate my purchasing decision, it will hopefully create some interest in this style. It is enjoyable to see a similar design in print. While it is not always a good idea to copy another’s designs, it is okay to have similar styles. Every jeweler who sells a round or princess cut solitaire diamond ring is not infringing upon other jewelers designs, some styles have become classics.

 Rock Crystal Earring Set in Palladium, Approximately 30.9 Carats

There is a reason these designs become classics; they are popular and loved by many. Simple designs become classics the most easily. A straightforward design lends itself well to accessorizing many different outfits and looks. The piece of jewelry is usually very versatile and adds just the right amount of attention. It is generally not too flashy and is a piece that can be worn for years. Some timeless pieces of jewelry include, diamond stud earrings, in a variety of cuts and shapes. Diamond rings are another classic piece of jewelry. It’s fun when a designer takes a classic design and adds a little panache to it. In the case of my shiny rock crystal earrings, the size is large and the wire allows them to have a slight dangle and a bit of movement. The movement helps the earrings to really catch the light and sparkle.

Today I actually feel really good about those earrings. I’ve loved them from the minute I saw them, in fact, it was those large gemstones that caught my eye and drew me to the designers’ booth at JCK. If one keeps a design clean and unfussy, but adds a little size to the piece, it gives it a bit of edginess. That’s what makes these round rock crystal earrings so great, their classic with a little touch of edge. This style will make any woman stand out in a crowd of classics and don’t we all want to stand out just a little?

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Customer is Always Right

 Pure silver cuff by Michael Schofield available at Mark Gregory & Company

Customer service seems to be taking a vacation. It could be blamed on all the downsizing that many companies are participating in to save money. Fewer employees translate into fewer services. Many companies don’t understand how this will ultimately affect their bottom line. To me customer service is very important. When you work in retail, the customer is everything. Without my customers I wouldn’t have a business. I get excited when a customer gets excited and I have always genuinely wanted to help them find that special piece of jewelry. This is why it is puzzling when I walk into a store and no one asks me if I need help.

Way back when, if you walked onto a car lot you were practically tackled by a gaggle of salesmen. Now you can walk around a car lot completely unmolested, why? Don’t these guys want to make a sale? You can also go to the mall and get ignored by the sales clerks at clothing stores. While this is not necessarily a new development, it is really blatant now. Before I was only ignored when I came in the store, now I’m ignored when I try and find help or ask a question. I guess the customer has become invisible.

 Just love the fine detail and workmanship

I personally hate the invisibility factor that most sales clerks participate in at today’s retail establishments. I don’t want to be attacked but some help, especially when I go looking for it, is well, helpful. When I hold a trunk show I always give a little time for the customer to look around. I don’t swoop in for the kill and try and rope them. I let them see what I have first and then ask if they are looking for something special or have any questions. Some people say they are just looking, others comment on my selection and still others have a genuine question. If a customer has a question, I want to answer it and if I don’t know the answer, I will find out. This is what customer service should be about, fulfilling the customer’s needs.

Retailers are in the business of selling “things,” in my case jewelry. You cannot sell any product if you ignore the buyer. I remember a visit to Cartier, I happen to see a watch in the window as I walked by, so I went in to take a closer look. The salesman was very attentive. He told me the price, asked me to sit down and got the watch for me to look at and try on; no one else gives this type of service. They treated me like a valued client from the minute I wanted in the door. While I did not purchase anything on this trip that was not the point, Cartier was trying to make my shopping experience enjoyable and memorable, in a good way.  Too few retailers look at their customers as valued clients. Sales clerks may even view customers as an interruption or burden on their time. This is a bad attitude in business.

 Even the inside is a work of art!

These are hard economic times and the retailer who wants to stand out must go the extra mile. That is why you will always see me at a trunk show helping a customer, looking up pricing or answering questions; I actually like to interact with my customers. So the next time you go into the store and see a sales clerk wearing ear buds, feel free to leave. You will be doing other businesses a favor by not supporting poor customer service and hopefully this will raise the bar. After all, a visit like the one at Cartier should not be so unusual that someone feels the need to write about it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I’ve Been Scammed!

Gabrielle Bruni Creations available at Mark Gregory & Company

Okay, how many out there have been scammed? If you have an email account, a Facebook account or any other form of social media, you’ve probably been scammed. Most of the time it is a harmless scam out to get your email address. They offer something, like entering a contest (see Monday’s blog) or a survey or some other customer appreciation scheme. Unfortunately, none of it is true. The worst part is when some scamster is hiding behind the name of a reputable company. There is a scam going around were you could win a free Starbucks gift card and another for a free In-N-Out Burger gift card. All you had to do was take a short survey and you were entered to win. What the scam was actually doing was signing you up for a “premium” text messaging service at $9.99 a month. There is no warning that this is what they are going to do until it happens. What a racket!

The nice thing about being small is no one is going to steal my business name and if they do, it won’t generate the kind of attention these scammers need to make it work. Don’t think anyone would click on my name. This is a real problem for social media with these “click” ad scammers. People have come to trust social media as a method of keeping in touch with friends, family and business associates. It is also a medium whereby people can get feedback and information about products and services. This is the true tragedy of these scams, the instilling of fear or doubt in the content of an advertisement. These scammers also proclaim to other “friends or followers” that the principle has “just entered to win” a free whatever. It perpetuates the idea that it is legitimate, when it is not.

Back in the day, advertising when done through papers, magazines, TV, and other media that was monetized and controlled. Even though it still exists in these forms there are other options that are less expensive. This is important for small businesses. While I would love to take a full page ad in a fashion magazine to advertise my jewelry, I just don’t see it in my budget. Social media is a way for me to get the word out about my business and products without breaking the bank. Yes, it is slow going, but I can advertise at my own pace with my own words. Something these scammers have taken away from big business. My only communication with In-N-Out Burger on their Facebook page was to warn them that someone is using their name for a rip-off. I don’t think this is what they had in mind when they started a fan page.

So at the very least, check out my store Mark Gregory & Company or my Facebook fan page. I promise not to sell your name or email account to a local spamming company. In fact, I promise not to post too many updates either. While I feel that social media should be used for good, it obviously is not always used benevolently and it irks me when it is used for evil. This is why I will never go over to the dark side and become a pest or an evil spambot, you can count on that!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Layaway Plan

Wouldn't you love to layaway these Gabrielle Bruni Earrings and Necklace?

Wal-Mart has been advertising the return of their layaway plan which began on October 17th. Retailers are getting back into the self financing of their products. The premise is simple. The customer picks out something that they need or want and then the item is held at the store for 90 days. The customer makes bi-weekly or monthly payments over the next 90 days until the balance is paid. If the customer begins this process in a timely manner their items will be paid for in time for the holidays, simple.

Believe it or not, I’ve purchased art in this manner. I fell in love with an expensive piece of pottery that I did not have the total cash outlay for immediately. The gallery was willing to take my credit card and then charged it each month for the next 90 days. When the last payment was made the artwork was shipped. This gave me an opportunity to pay off the credit card balance at the end of the month, no interest, and I now own a piece of awesome artwork. According to an article by JCK magazine layaway is making a comeback. “An overwhelming majority (71 percent) of consumers are open to using layaway plans in the next six months, according to a survey released by, part of the About Group.”[1]

In these hard financial times consumers are looking at unique methods of acquiring needed merchandise or gifts for the holidays. Consumers are looking for an alternative to paying cash all up front or using a credit card with potential high interest rates. Consumers have less money to spend so they are carefully weighing their options. This leads to the question, if more consumers like the concept of a layaway plan, should I implement one for my website? This is a tough question.

 First off, a consumer may not want to layaway something on a website. When Wal-Mart implements layaway, consumers shop and browse just like they normally would in the store. They pick out the items that they want and then bring them to the customer service desk and sign up for layaway for those products. The experience is similar to a normal shopping trip except you go to customer service instead of checkout. I am not so sure this will work for an on-line store. Part of the fun of on-line shopping is the short wait for the item. You pick out something, order it, and then wait for the delivery guy to arrive with your prize. If someone has to wait 90 days for their product to arrive, it might be more anticipation then the average person can stand.

Since I have several trunk shows coming up in the near future I will try and take an informal survey of layaway. It might be different when the product is right there to be handled, tried on and admired. You never know, there might be people who love layaway and are willing to give it a try.

[1] JCK News Daily, Survey: Most Consumers Open to Using Layaway, October 17th, 2011.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I Entered to Win a Free Whatever!

Selection from Mark Gregory & Company, sterling silver and pave diamond with 14K gold accents, 
earrings and bracelet. White pearl necklace 47" with lobster clasp.

Social media is inundated with enter to win contests. It’s simple, someone sees a contest and all they have to do is fill out a short form to be entered in the contest. These contests give away everything from free make-up to hand knitted sweaters. Because I am currently going through a spam mail aversion period, I’ve become reluctant to enter. My mother in law is a computer phobic, yet she loves a good contest. She doesn’t use the computer we gave her very often and in fact, it sits on her desk turned off most of the time. She told me once that she couldn’t find the email I sent her because her inbox was so full. Turns out she has entered a bunch of home improvement contests and they were all spamming her.

This is why I am afraid to enter a contest. It’s not that I don’t want a chance to win a trip to Hawaii or a free manicure; I just don’t know what they will do with my email after I enter. On the other end of the spectrum, do these contests work? Does a free giveaway get you any more customers? Does requesting information that a potentially loyal customer would be reluctant to give scare them away? Who enters these contests and what is their main motivation? As you can see, I’m full of questions. These contests are so anonymous that they scare me from a retail perspective.

When someone walks into a store and looks at your jewelry they are at least a little interested in what you have for sale, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have walked in. If they stay long enough for you to start a conversation, they are probably more interested. If you are offering a contest in store, you can interest them in relinquishing some information for a chance to win. It makes sense. But on the internet, are you really reaching your target audience? The internet is a scary place based on its massive size. I have people in other countries reading my blog. They don’t comment, but they read. This is a problem with the internet, anonymity. No one knows anyone else and sometimes it’s hard to understand the motivation that gets someone to give you their email address. If anyone has the answer to this puzzle, I would love to have it.

If the motivation to enter a contest is to get something for free I would never get any good leads from those who enter a contest via the internet or social media. This example contestant enters because there is the prospect of getting something free and free is good. They are hopeful that their name will be drawn and they will get that free amazing whatever. This is not my target market, those who want something for free. While I am not opposed to giving away something in order to stir up a little interest, I want to make sure that I get something in return. Yes, this does sound mercenary, but isn’t this the point of a contest?

A contest is trying to create interest in the retailer, gather potential customer lists or introduce a new product. It’s all the potentially bad side effects that I am trying to avoid, such as no strong leads and giving something to someone I will never see again. I suppose at some point I may have to jump into the contest pool, but for now I think I sit on the side lines and continue to watch the game.