By Lisa Madden
Bijoux Extraordinaire Ltd. is not your typical jewelry store. In fact, according to Arthur Anderson, his wife and partner Judith Anderson has been called the Michael Dell of the jewelry industry. "She's the just-in-time jeweler," he jokes.
"Basically, we build things to order for people," she says of the reference to the founder of the giant personal computer manufacturer.
The idea for Bijoux Extraordinaire came about when the couple met and discovered that their combined backgrounds - Judi Anderson is a gemologist and jewelry appraiser, and Art Anderson has a background in business consulting - would be a perfect marriage for a new type of jewelry business which would allow consumers to hire jewelry experts to help them make wise decisions when purchasing fine jewelry and gemstones.
In 1993, the couple went into business, providing five services: jewelry appraisals, custom jewelry design, diamond and gemstone brokering, fine jewelry from selected designers and antique and estate jewelry.
Located in a carriage house adjoining a stately Victorian in Manchester, Bijoux Extraordinaire, which is open by appointment only, features a modest selection of jewelry, a screening room where people can view their diamond enlarged on screen, the lab and, upstairs, a classroom where the Andersons offer workshops and seminars for jewelry enthusiasts in classes they call Bijoux University.
"Our niche is very high quality, on the same level as Cartier and Tiffany's," explains Judi Anderson, "but our philosophy is that through us the customer is putting their money into quality and knowledge, so we try not to keep a huge overhead in order to provide good value."
In 1996 the Andersons launched their Web site - www.jewelryexpert.com - initially so that people could learn more about the services they offer. "This allows people to see what we offer at their own pace," says Art Anderson, "instead of going into a retail store and immediately being pounced on by a sales clerk."
The Web site is extensive, and it really provides a feel for the various pieces of jewelry. "We started reading about HTML language," says Judi Anderson, "and we've done it all from scratch ourselves, in NotePad. We try to keep it simple and not include all those gimmicky things."
But it is not set up for catalog-type sales. While jewelry that is for sale is featured, the primary purpose of the Bijoux Extraordinaire Web site is to introduce consumers to who they are and what they have to offer.
"The Web site also contributes to our legitimacy," says Art Anderson. "When someone looks at it they will see that it's not thrown together. The content is very important, and we look at navigation from a consumer's point of view - what do they want? I try to put myself in their shoes and be the guy looking for an engagement ring."
Says Judi Anderson: "There are a lot of fly-by-nighters out there, as well as retail stores who rely on the expertise of wholesalers. A lot of stuff goes on in the marketplace, and we really want to help both educate our customers as well as provide them with a high-quality piece of jewelry."
Even a poorly cut diamond is going to sparkle, and that is often the only positive quality the untrained eye can see. Judi Anderson explains that there are the four Cs to consider: carat, color, clarity and cut. "How well that stone is cut from the crystal can cause one diamond to be worth 50 percent more than another," she says, adding with a laugh: "There's a very technical term we use in the business - and that is 'crappy cut.'"
Bijoux Extraordinaire specializes in what she calls "service-based transactions. We do have some inventory here, but most is made to order."
Her husband says that "We don't want to be just another jewelry store and be concerned with security. We like to deal in estate and antique jewelry, and we have the largest appraisal lab in the state."
"As well as the largest collection of 'toys,'" adds his wife. "We're both gadget people and there's all kinds of high-tech stuff in the lab."
Cyber biz glistens
Arthur Anderson says the company's Internet brokering business has been interesting - and profitable. "Last year, the average transaction was $5,000, and this year it's $10,000. We're still selling lots of sizes, but that's the average. Year-to-date the biggest transaction we've done over the Internet is just under $50,000."
The Andersons charge a flat fee of between $250 and $500, depending on the size of the stone. They go out into the wholesale marketplace to find what meets the client's criteria, analyze the stones and then meet with the client, if possible, to go through the choices and explain which ones they think are the best value.
"Then, once they have chosen, we charge between 10-20 percent of the cost," says Arthur Anderson.
"Using our services makes sense if someone is looking for a stone for more than $3,000," explains his wife. "For anything under that, it probably makes sense to purchase at a store."
Nevertheless, she says, a high-quality diamond that they found for a client that would sell for $17,000 to $20,000 would cost 40 percent more than that in a big-name store. "So the client will save $10,000-$20,000 with us, despite the fees, and more importantly, we are protecting them and assuring them a quality product."
"Our service is that we are experts dealing with experts. A good analogy is that we are like a buyer-broker for someone buying a house. There are often issues not disclosed by the seller of a home unless someone asks, or knows the right questions to ask. What we do is very much like that," says Arthur Anderson.
The Andersons say that doing business via the web has resulted in a sales increase in the 500 percent range.
"Our numbers are just taking off," says Arthur Anderson. "This year, in four months, we've already done what we did in 10 months last year."
Being on the Internet has given the company access to an audience it would never have encountered otherwise, the Andersons say.
"We do very well with high-tech people," says Arthur Anderson. "We draw a lot from the Silicon Valley area - Generation Xer's and programmers who are comfortable with their computers and don't want to deal with traditional jewelry stores."
They say that Bijoux Extraordinaire is really a virtual store because they outsource to qualified craftspeople.
"We have a network of craftspeople that work for us that tend to specialize in certain styles," explains Arthur Anderson. "We look for the best for each type of jewelry to execute the job."
"Most jewelry stores work with someone who is a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none," says Judi Anderson. "And if we get a job that we're not comfortable doing, we'll give recommendations on who could do the job - because we want our clients to get the best possible service."
'A real coup'
Her husband says that the Internet has raised the bar, enabling consumers "to acquire so much information before making a purchase."
Their mode of operation is one-on-one, and they will exchange up to 30 e-mails with a client before a decision is made.
"A lot of people are at work when they are visiting our site," Arthur Anderson points out. "And we get between 900-1,000 visitors daily."
"We have a new meaning for AWOL," explains Judi Anderson. "We refer to it as At Work On Line."
Getting their company's name out in the world of cyber has been primarily done the traditional way - word-of-mouth. "I would say about one-third reach us via search engines, one-third through links from other sites and one-third responding to e-mails," says Arthur Anderson. The search engines are important and they bring in new traffic, but not repeat traffic."
"We were number one on Excite from Thanksgiving to Christmas," says JA, "and to have that happen at that particular time of the year was a real coup."
"The Internet is touching about 70 percent of our business," says Arthur Anderson, "and that includes a lot of local business as well. The Internet is not only a way of doing business across the world, but it provides lead generation - a non-threatening way to get to know us."
But being on the Internet "hasn't changed how we do business," he adds. "Once someone is a client, we work with them the same old way. It should interesting to see how it continues to evolve. All along we've been interested in slow growth because we don't want to do it without high quality."
"We're known on the Web as the jewelry experts," add Judi Anderson, "because we're selling expertise, not just jewelry."
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