New York City, May 8, 2019. Over her 39 years as the senior jewelry buyer for Ben Bridge, Laura Barringer has stocked many a diamond, gemstone, and gold bracelet across the retail chain’s 48 stores, but it is the category of pearls that has captured a special place in her heart.
Below, Barringer dishes on why pearls are her favorite gem and what it takes to be a pearl sales superstar.
Laura Barringer of Ben Bridge
CPAA: Why do you love pearls?
Laura Barringer: I love the variety! There is a pearl for every person because there are so many all-natural colors and shapes. Just when I think I’ve seen everything, I discover something new.
For example, you know how the color gray is so popular now? In Tucson, I found some gray akoya pearls that are natural-color silvery gray. I bought up everything the vendor had! Then I had them strung—some were made into Tin Cup–style necklaces, and others were made into strands that just arrived a few days ago.
Natural-color gray akoya pearls from Baggins
CPAA: What is your favorite type of pearl?
LB: Tahitian, I think. At the March Hong Kong Gem & Jewellery Fair this year, I saw so many interesting baroque shapes—each one has its own personality! Big white South Sea baroques are my second-favorite type. I love the baroques because they are organic-looking and are not grandma’s pearls—they’re big, cool, fresh, and edgy.
Diamond, pearl, and gold earrings from Mastoloni Pearls
CPAA: Where is your favorite place to go pearl shopping?
LB: The February Tucson and March Hong Kong shows are probably my best resources. Tucson is growing more important to me each year because there is a lot more finished jewelry of late. At the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) GemFair Tucson and the Gem & Jewelry Exchange (GJX) shows, there are a wealth of opportunities for Ben Bridge. Plus, I love to sneak away to the tents to ogle the rock and minerals.
Multicolor pearl strand available at Ben Bridge
CPAA: What finished lines of pearl jewelry does Ben Bridge carry?
LB: We create a lot ourselves, and do not brand our collections or that of our suppliers, but we carry some Jewelmer for their goldens, Mastoloni for basics, and we’ve had a healthy Mikimoto business for many years. We are starting to work with Anil Maloo from Baggins for his darling little baby akoya jewels, which are very sweet!
We have fun items, too, like strands of mixed shapes, sizes, and colors, and ombre colors from light to dark in freshwaters and Tahitians together. We’re doing well with the multicolors.
My consumer doesn’t understand keshi pearls, but we do well with bigger baroques in freshwater, which offer a bigger look for a smaller price than South Seas.
I’m always fighting for case space for pearls in our stores!
Mother and Child golden South Sea pearl necklace from Jewelmer
Baby akoya pearl and diamond necklace from Baggins
CPAA: Many retailers nationwide have a notoriously small pearl jewelry department. What’s the secret to selling more pearls?
LB: Pearl sales are less about location and more about having a salesperson who loves them. For example, in one of our stores in Minneapolis we have a salesperson who really likes pearls, so that store does well with them.
Education helps. All of the salespeople in my department have taken the CPAA’s Pearls As One course! And we just hired a new corporate trainer who starts this week and whom we’ll remind of the wonderful PAO opportunity.
Good store design also helps. In one of our newest stores—South Center by the Seattle airport—we’ve done a good job showing pearls from all directions. From necklaces to dangle earrings, all the pearl jewelry is shown properly, and it’s fresh and fashionable. We show customers that pearls can be fun and have a fresh look.
To better sell pearls, find salespeople who are excited about them! When I review the sales reports, I can tell when a store has an associate like me who loves pearls! It’s reflected in the numbers. So, when I find something fun, interesting, and new in pearls, I’ll share it with the stores who are doing well with pearls.
Gold and pearl bracelet from Mikimoto
CPAA: What pearls are coming next to Ben Bridge stores?
LB: Maybe some mabes—I saw some in Hong Kong this year, and I might be ready to put in a little suite of smaller white ones for the holidays. It’s fun to see them again!
We do manufacture a lot of our own designs. And we’ve got the new gray pearls coming out now. Though I bought all the vendor had in Tucson, not every store will get them (there’s not enough). And ombre are not new, but I do have another group of starter ones and more important looks, so we are expanding.
I have always wanted to have a pearl promotion where we offer loose pearls. After all, what’s attractive to me may not be your choice. Colors, shapes, and sizes of pearls are a really personal preference. At Ben Bridge, it’s nice to have something for everyone.
This is proprietary CPAA content and may not be duplicated without the consent of Jennifer Heebner, CPAA executive director. Interested in sharing this story with others? Email JHeebner@cpaa.org.