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Something Old, Something New...

Greg Stopka focuses on transforming heirlooms into opportunities

By Shawna Kulpa

When customers walk into one of JewelSmiths’ two studio locations in northern California, they typically do so bearing jewelry they want repaired or refurbished—a specialty the company actively promotes.

And when JewelSmiths’ owner, Greg Stopka, or one of his team sits down with those customers, they rarely, if ever, use the term “custom design”—even though JewelSmiths actually specializes in custom services (it doesn’t even carry live inventory). A while back, Stopka noticed how difficult it was to sell custom design projects that start from scratch: Customers had trouble wrapping their heads around the process and were intimidated by it, believing it was too expensive. “It’s like advertising a $10 million spec house—it doesn’t float their boats,” he says.

So nowadays, they promote repairing and rehabbing old pieces, which gets customers through his door with jewelry in hand. With every customer, Stopka and his team focus on what the customer wants—resizing of a wedding band, re-placing a missing stone. But they also might offer small suggestions for reworking the piece. For example, when a customer was unhappy with the halo setting on her engagement ring, Stopka suggested he replace the halo with a new setting to accommodate a larger center stone, all while keeping the rest of the ring intact.

Many times, such suggestions lead to follow-up appointments to discuss redesign opportunities—and those appointments usually lead to custom sales.

Stopka estimates that he and his team book design appointments for between 50 to 70 percent of the customers, depending on the time of year. Of those who make appointments, Stopka says he closes sales upward of 90 percent of the time.

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“The redesign business is where jewelers should be focusing,” Stopka says. “People come in with sentimental jewelry and they want to do something with it.” And every piece that comes in, he says, “is an opportunity to do more, or tell them more about what we do.”

A Bird in the Hand...

Heirlooms, as Stopka notes, carry some sentimentality with them. And with that sentimentality comes comfort and familiarity, which helps to alleviate the intimidation that surrounds the custom concept. So JewelSmiths runs TV spots encouraging jewelry owners to redesign those heirlooms. It uses Google Adwords, focusing on terms such as “repair” and “restoration.”

But promotion is only the beginning. Once the customers are in one of his stores, the take-in process begins. Al-though every shop probably shares key aspects of this process, Stopka’s has a custom twist: He’s developed a five-point checklist that his staff uses to assess what repair work needs to be done, as well as point out enhancements or changes that could be made.

Stopka and his team assess the jewelry in a very particular and precise way, viewing the piece in a clock-like fashion and working their way systematically around it. In addition to looking for areas that may be in need of repair, such as worn prongs, loosely set stones, or a worn clasp that could lead to a failure, they’ll also mention any minor modifications that could be made to the piece as well, such as adding accent stones.

And if they don’t find anything in need of work or updating beyond what the customer is seeking, Stopka will suggest possible enhancements or a redesign of the piece. “I might say, ‘Have you ever thought of doing this to complete the piece?’” he says. “We plug in some suggestions so we can create interest.”

For customers who are uncertain or have trouble understanding how their old jewelry could be transformed into new pieces, Stopka keeps drawing pads located throughout the studio. While talking with a client, he will sometimes begin sketching some basic ideas using very soft, broad strokes. “We keep the drawing soft and simple, but putting ideas on paper is very powerful,” he says. “It gets people interested.”

Often, they’re interested enough to book a free, hour-long, no-obligation appointment with the designer of their choice to discuss ideas and possibilities for their heirloom pieces. And if they initially decline an appointment, Stopka will make a final attempt when they return to pick up their repaired items. Once the repair is complete, Stopka takes a photo of the piece and uploads it into his Digital Goldsmith software. Although the software is an older program from Gemvision, Stopka likes it because it allows him to quickly make modifications. He’ll make a few changes to the image based on the conversation he had with the client during the take-in process, along with any suggestions for the piece they may have discussed. He then prints out color copies of the renderings and includes them in the bag with the piece.

“When they come in, we explain that we took a picture and had a few ideas,” he says. “It’s the classic before-and-after scenario: Here’s what she has, and here’s what she could have. A lot of the time, she’s going to want to know more about the ideas.”

The Parting Gift

To reinforce the idea that clients can have their old pieces remade into something new, Stopka gives out “goody bags” to all of the customers who come into his studio. Based on an idea he got from jewelry marketing guru James Porte, owner of the Porte Marketing Group in Weston, Florida, the goody bags are small plastic bags that feature a label instructing customers to fill them up with old or broken jewelry.

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“We give them bags when they come in and tell them if they have any pieces they have questions about or that need service, to put them in the bag and bring them in the next time they’re nearby,” Stopka explains. “And it works! They’ll bring in items for repair, items they want to sell for the gold or gemstone, or pieces they have questions about the value of. It helps to get the conversation started.”

Beyond focusing on the redesign aspect, Stopka attributes much of his success to his focus on customer service, giving the customer what they wanted while avoiding any hard selling techniques.

“The biggest problems jewelers have are they’re either too busy [to focus on the customer interaction] or they’re over-selling,” he says. “Don’t try to make a sale by just suggesting something.” Instead, Stopka recommends taking a softer approach, and spending the time talking with customers, especially about yourself. “Talking about yourself and your story will get people interested.”

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