From Madagascar and Tanzania to Thailand and Sri Lanka, Jewelry Television (JTV) sources gems from mine and independent gem sources around the world and works with designers to create what President and CEO Tim Matthews of JTV calls “America’s Showplace of Jewelry and Gemstones.” Founded in 1993, JTV brought broadcast and jewelry together to create a 24-hour multi-channel retail entity that has become the fourth-largest home shopping network in the country, the third-largest e-commerce jewelry retailer in the nation and, it says, the largest retailer of loose gemstones worldwide.
“If you look at home television shopping, we are the largest television network dedicated to jewelry and gemstones,” according to Matthews. “Other television retailers are like department stores that sell a variety of merchandise, but we do not. We are dedicated to jewelry.
“We are dedicated to our niche and not trying to sell vacuum cleaners one hour and jewelry the next,” Matthews adds. “We know what we’re doing and our focus on this category is why we have grown into the largest in the country and enjoyed success for nearly two decades.”
JTV employs more gemologists than any other TV retailer in the country, each one versed in the more than 150 different gem varieties the company carries. Not just expert buyers, even many of their show hosts have studied for and obtained their graduate gemology degrees.
For jewelry and gem enthusiasts, finding the 24-hour cable access network and browsing its extensive online store is a regular part of life, but for the average shopper who makes big jewelry purchases for birthdays and special occasions and looks to traditional retail stores, JTV may not always be the first option on the list. Matthews says the company is dedicated to changing this.
“I think the challenge for us is that even though we are in over 80 million households, we are still not a household name,” he says. “This sounds like a paradox, but it’s not, really. Most people watch the same things over and over, such as network TV and news, ESPN or various women’s programming. Because there are so many offerings, we’re sort of on the secondary tier of viewership where people don’t necessarily run across us very often and we’re not very well known. If you interviewed 100 people only two or three would know us, but most don’t. Our challenge is to let the world know we’re here.”
JTV carries 20 times the selection of the average jewelry store and operates from state-of-the-art, high-definition broadcast studios in Knoxville, Tenn., built in 2008. It also operates a new warehouse operation on its Knoxville campus, fitted with automation technology for speedy and accurate shipping to customers.
To assist customers with purchases, JTV offers the JTV Preferred Card, a financing initiative that JTV launched in 2008. Currently serving more than 200,000 customers, the card is used exclusively for JTV purchases. Also, its e-commerce business is the third-largest Internet jewelry retail site in the United States, which the company is continuously improving.
Its mobile applications were first launched December 2011 and currently account for more than $1 million a month in sales with nearly 200,000 iPhone and Android apps downloaded. To continue its need to innovate, the company recently released a new iPad app. All of these investments are readily available to customers and JTV is drawing attention to these benefits by meeting the customers where they are and responding to consumer trends.
Great value and affordability, of course, have always been at the top of most consumers’ buying criteria, but since the recession hit, Matthews explains that it has become a necessity for many. JTV’s business model is set up to pass on as many savings to the customer as possible.
“We source as directly as possible, in many cases all the way back to the mines,” Matthews explains. “We will buy our stones pre-formed or pre-cut and have them shipped to facilities around the world for various treatments and cuts. By taking control of the product at the earliest stage – no wholesalers or brokers – and actually going to Madagascar and Tanzania and Brazil and China and sourcing from families or mines and local distributers who are not marking up product, we can bring that value proposition back to the customer. If you compare our product to a comparable item from a competitor, you will find that we are significantly lower on the same type of merchandise.”
It also uses innovative techniques to drive down product costs while still delivering quality jewelry. The prices may fall in line with designer costume jewelry, but almost all its lower-priced fashion jewelry consists of genuine precious metals and gemstones rather than colored glass. For instance, with the rise in gold prices Matthews explains viewers are looking for substitutes, spurring JTV to develop new alloys and alternatives for its customers such as an 18-karat gold plate over silver. It plans to introduce a new gold alloy soon.
When it comes to gemstone shortages, JTV is often the first to scout out and introduce an alternative. For instance, when Burmese rubies were banned, JTV looked to Madagascar and sourced rubies that were finished to look like fine rubies at a fraction of the cost, and when the Australian opal market began to dry up, JTV turned to Ethiopia to make sure its supply didn’t realize the same fate.
“This is the kind of innovation in terms of product and expertise we bring that customers can appreciate,” Matthews says. “When our expert show hosts explain what chrome diopside is or alexandrite, people can say, ‘These hosts seem like they know what they’re talking about.’ We have specific knowledge that you can’t find elsewhere.”
The other consumer shift that Matthews says is gaining popularity is the demand for brand-name jewelry. World-famous designers such as David Yurman and Harry Winston have been large players in brand-name jewelry for decades, since 1980 and 1932, respectively. While only two years ago most of JTV’s jewelry was non-branded, JTV now offers many great brands today.
JTV carries more than 70 brands, including many in-house brands, and has signed an exclusive deal with Marilyn Monroe’s licensing entity to introduce authentic Marilyn Monroe-branded jewelry to electronic retailing in the United States and create an exclusive line based on the icon’s most well-known styles. “In October, we will release a new line of jewelry that authentically replicates Marilyn Monroe pieces,” Matthews says. “Some of the pieces she wore are, of course, prohibitively expensive to replicate if, for example, she was wearing hundreds of carats of diamonds. Although we cannot exactly replicate that, we will replicate the look using other high-quality materials. This is a line you won’t find anywhere else because it’s exclusive to us.”
The rights to manufacture this new line may be exclusive to JTV but it will be available to customers nationwide, and availability and accessibility are part of the retailer’s overarching goal to expand its customer base. JTV has several programs that engage the customer in ways that retail stores do not.
It offers genuine jewelry at lower costs than competitors and searches the world over to ensure it has the gems its customers desire. It also offers programs such as Jewel School that teach consumers jewelry-making and beading techniques.
Other unique programs include its JTV Gold Exchange program, which has paid customers more than $14 million in exchange for old gold items. It recently launched StretchPay, an installment plan that offers customers two- and three-part payment plans on selected items, making certain products more affordable for all of its customers.
All of these factors combined with the brand-names consumers want to see, create the availability and accessibility JTV strives for, Matthews says.
“I think customer awareness of JTV will change as people realize we have a fabulous value proposition and offer a variety that’s unmatched by major retailers,” he says. “It’s up to us to make it easy to find. We bring all kinds of things that you would never find in another jewelry store.”