Ace Jewelers, based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, was founded in 1975. The owners, the Ben Joseph family, run three stores. The founder, father David Ben Joseph is in charge of Ace & Spyer Jewelers, while son Amir Ben Joseph runs Ace Trends and second son Alon Ben Joseph runs Ace & Dik Jewelers and is the force behind their very successful e-Boutique, AceJewelers.com.
Alon Ben Joseph is the definition of an ‘early adopter’, having embraced the web very early on and pushed every technical innovation to benefit the family business. I caught up with Alon at his store in Amsterdam.
ES: Why the emphasis on technology?
ABJ: I love technology, I love IT and I love watches too. When I was studying at University, I had an Internet company with some friends. As a kid, I was responsible for the Ace Jewellery website as early as 1998. I knew that we had to grow. We didn’t want to push more points of sale, as we wanted to stay a family business and we are very Amsterdam-focused, so the only way to grow was to sell on the Internet. At that time, in 2007, there wasn’t one single brand that would allow us to sell on the Internet. We decided to do all the background work, get it all ready, and then we launched our e-commerce site in 2008.
Talking vaguely in the air doesn’t work with the Swiss, so we had to do it and then show them. I talked with the management of the brands and told them that we were moving ahead and they could join us. We gave them options: they could be on our site with a ‘buy’ button; or with images and prices, but no buy button; or with images and no prices and no ‘buy’ button. I wanted to make it work and I was willing to facilitate.
As we are an authorized dealer for our brands, we are partners. My aim is not short term, we are here for the long term, and I want a stra-tegic partnership with the brands we carry. In 2008, officially no one approved for sales on the Internet. In 2009, 80 per cent approved. In 2011, 100 per cent are on line. The EU anti-trust law says that brands cannot stop brick and mortar authorized retailers from selling on line, which helped me a lot.
We are always looking for the next hot thing, technology-wise. I believe that these new technologies will help with sales and conversion of customers.
ES: Why all the different names? Ace & Spyer, Ace Trends, Ace and Dik?
ABJ: We are not a chain, and that’s why we use different names for each of our three stores. These stores are complementary, not competitive. In 1998, we took over the oldest jewellery store in Amsterdam, Spyer, so we made it Ace & Spyer. We took over the established Dik store as well and kept that name, out of respect. You get a different experience in each store.
ES: How’s business?
ABJ: I think the market is coming back. Business is very good for us. The first five months of 2011, we have had double digit growth. Amsterdam is a big tourist market, and we had a big influx of Asian customers. E-commerce has really become a big part of our business and of our growth.
ES: What do your stores need to do better?
ABJ: We need to have more brands. There are some brands on my wish list, because we need to evolve our offerings to serve our customers. If our success is a multibrand environment, we have to build up our brands. Ace needs to grow and evolve with our customers, but we are limited because of selective distribution.
We always try to keep a balance between commercial and innovative, new brands. Last year, we added Itay Noy to our collection, an Israeli watchmaker who was trained in Holland. This year, we added Parrera.
ES: What do you do to make your customers’ experience memorable?
ABJ: In addition to the easy things, like serving people with a drink when they come in, which we do (the Dutch love coffee), we focus on fulfilling the wishes of the customers. You have to know about much more than what you sell in the store. You talk 80 per cent about things other than watches and jewellery. We want our customers to feel the store is theirs, so we have to constantly evolve. An example is that the Dutch don’t like ties, so at Ace & Spyer, we don’t wear ties anymore, because it made people feel uncomfortable. In the past, people wouldn’t bring babies to the jeweller, but today, they don’t have a lot of time. so they bring their children, and now we have a place to put strollers, we have things for children to play with and things for them to drink.
ES: How does the future look?
ABJ: I am very optimistic about the future. I studied economics. I know there will always be ups and downs, but watches and jewellery will always be there. The game is not changing, just the rules. We are having fun and we love what we do.
ES: Will your company expand beyond Amsterdam?
ABJ: We don’t have any plans right now, but we never say never. We will grow internationally with ecommerce. I need a bigger customer base. Yesterday, I had a guy who emailed me, a Dutch guy who lives in Switzerland and has a bank account in Luxembourg and who contacted me from Moscow about a problem he had with a watch in Thailand. You tell me, where is he? He doesn’t care that we are in Amsterdam, he only cares that we can supply the service he needs. It is survival of the fittest right now.
ES: What do you think about brand boutiques?
ABJ: I understand the emotions that retailers have about brand boutiques. I always say that it is the consumer who decides, and I guess consumers want monobrand boutiques. Retailers don’t want to buy a brand’s whole collection, so brands open boutiques to showcase their entire range – the rule in retail is that if you don’t stock it, you can’t sell it.
I believe in independent retailers, I believe in the watch industry. If all the luxury streets are monobrand, they will be boring, so customers will still need multibrand stores.
I see the brand boutiques as competition, but every disadvantage has an advantage. Brand boutiques do create market and brand awareness. Let the monobrand boutiques do the work for you and then you close the deal. The brands have the power and they will decide. I am warning my fellow retailers that this is just the beginning – soon all of the brands will sell on line through their own websites. This is a bigger worry, but I foresee the same spill effect for our website, scooping up customers who get lost in the brand world.
Our goal is to interact with our customers, to pull them into our store, but if they don’t have time or the distance is a problem, they can buy any way they want. I tell our people to facilitate, not dictate.
ES: Do you have a favourite watch?
ABJ: Yes, the watch that I am wearing, the IWC Portuguese Perpetual Calendar in pink gold. As a kid, I was always in love with the Portuguese and I just bought it this year. I love the perpetual calendar, it’s fascinating. My next dream watch is the Minute Repeater.
ES: What do you like most about what you do?
ABJ: Diamonds and watches are my passion and I grew up with them, but I love working with people, that’s why I am in retail. My office is in one of the stores, I am hands-on and I am there. I love the interaction with people. Our business is a blessed one, because we are always working with people during joyful occasions. When I am dealing with customers, I spend 80 per cent of my time talking about family and life, 20 per cent talking about the product.
Facts and Figures:
- When opened: 1975
- Stores: four (including Internet) – Ace Trend, Ace & Dik (highest end), Ace & Spyer, www.acejewelers.com
- Price range (low to high): 49 Euros (Ace Trend) to 120,000 Euros (Ace & Dik)
- Average sale: 4,500 Euros
- Number of employees: 24
- Brands carried (across all 3 stores and Internet):
- Adidas, Armani, Baume & Mercier, Breitling, Breitling for Bentley, Burberry, Casio, Citizen, Dolce&Gabbana Time, Diesel, DKNY, Fossil, Frederique Constant, Gc, Gucci, Guess, Hamilton, Ice-Watch, Itay Noy, IWC, Longines, Michael Kors, Montblanc, Omega, Oris, Parrera, Philippe Starck with Fossil, Rado, Seiko, TAG Heuer, Tissot, Tommy Hilfiger, TW Steel.
Source: Europa Star August - September 2011 Magazine Issue