Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.
There's nothing jewellers like to see more than a smiling boyfriend who's ready to drop thousands of dollars on a shiny engagement ring.
Jay Ryan and Mike Pinkesz, though, are not like most jewellers. They're not interested in happily married couples, but rather divorced women who now have a ringless finger.
Last August, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Pinkesz started Montreal-based Break Up Gems, a company that sells jewellery – mostly rings with inspirational messages – to divorcees.
The twosome think they can make big bucks off broken marriages. About 40 per cent of Canadian marriages end in divorce, and the entrepreneurs have noticed that more people are celebrating those breakups. "There's a growing trend of breakup and divorce parties," Mr. Ryan says. "The theme behind them – and what we do – is freedom, renewal and a new beginning."
They hope that once women remove their wedding rings, they'll want to buy something new to put on their now bare digits. "People are looking for a meaningful way to bring closure to their past and celebrate their new start," Mr. Pinkesz says.
But the seven-person company has had trouble persuading people to buy. While they won't reveal their revenue, they say the company is not meeting its 2014 projections.
Mr. Pinkesz adds that the website receives about 1,200 unique visitors a month, but only 3 per cent make a purchase.
The problem is twofold, Mr. Ryan says. Break Up Gems is fairly new, so promotion is necessary. The company has hired a public relations firm, which has resulted in some press, but the buzz hasn't translated into sales.
The bigger issue, though, is that they need to create a new market for divorce rings. Other companies operate in this space, but it is still considered a new, and mostly unknown, product category. "People are not looking for this type of jewellery," Mr. Ryan says.
The founders also tried social media – they have 900 Twitter and about 400 followers on Google Plus – but most of the messages they have received are from people who are confused about what they are selling.
Part of the problem is that divorce has a negative connotation. They've tried to focus on more positive phrases, such as "closure" and "new beginnings."
That said, the company name isn't the most positive of monikers and they know it. They have given some thought to changing it and recently purchased the domain name freedomgems.com.
"We really believe people can have a lot of fun with it, but we need to overcome the negativity and the fact that people haven't heard of divorce rings in the first place," Mr. Ryan says.
The Challenge: How can Break Up Gems create a market for its jewellery?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
Axle Davids, founder of the branding and marketing firm Distility Branding, Toronto
Successful branding is about focus, and they do not look focused. Their website is all over the place, and while some of the stuff looks like it is crafted for the purpose of being in the divorce ring product category, there's also other stuff that doesn't seem to fit into it.
They need a compelling story, and that story has to be embodied in this jewellery. You don't get that feeling here. They need to create a brand experience that exudes confidence – that's always important for jewellery – and make it less about buying a product and more about the person buying a symbol. If they can really sell the story as to why people should want these rings, then they may have something here.
Sandy Huang, president of the business consulting firm Pinpoint Tactics, Vancouver
The company needs to acknowledge the emotions and challenges behind divorce. Perhaps they could offer a product to signify each of these stages that would encourage people to keep moving on. By just saying a breakup is a good thing, then they're skipping a few steps there.
They may also want to think about coming up with a program that helps provide support. Come up with suggestions as to how people can rise above. Actually become a resource as opposed to just saying "We have a product for this."
Sanjay Singhal, CEO of Audiobooks.com, a streaming audiobook site, Toronto
Audiobooks have always been a fairly niche field, and we've had difficulty getting people to try them – only 20 per cent of people have listened to one. One of the things we did, which fits well with divorce jewellery, is online advertising. Our Google AdWords budget is $2-million a year. When we advertised to book people it was a disaster. We had to advertise to people who listen to music and podcasts. No one's typing in divorce rings, so they have to figure out what potential customers are typing in. Divorce parties? People who like to wear jewellery? The only way to find out is test it, but it works.
Also, sell more to men. When I got divorced I would have loved to have one of these. I wanted to scream it from the rooftops. If they want to own a market, then go after guys.
THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW
Come up with a story
Create a compelling message about the product, one that exudes confidence.
Provide emotional support
Be honest about the emotional stages of divorce, and offer products to match.
Market and sell to men
Doing so could broaden your market.
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Interviews have been edited and condensed.