written by Lee Wiser McIntosh
If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a hundred times…
the jewelry business is slow to adapt to technology. True, until about a year ago.
One of Covid’s “silver linings” is that to remain relevant, we’ve been put on a fast track to remedy the digital gap, some more eagerly than others. Stores that had an e-commerce website in place were able to pivot pretty easily to communicate with their customers and provide them with the solutions they expected. Many thrived and their numbers proved it.
I learn most actively when I don’t look to peers within the industry for inspiration.
I look to companies outside the jewelry industry to see how they implement digital content and strategies. This way I don’t get bogged down with the temptation to compare, because there isn’t any point of comparison. I’ve found some generous mentors this way.
Their perspective is fresh and their business knowledge can be parsed and creatively applied to the jewelry sector.
Truphae is one such treasure of business knowledge: they are a model of niche content, commerce, and community.
I was first drawn to Truphae (Greek for luxury) early one morning when I was downtown
for a walk in Greenville SC. Their signage and logo was tasteful, creative, and arresting and I had to know more. Typically, I unplug when I’m walking, but today I had my phone, went to their site and was drawn into an amazing rabbit hole of beautiful content. I may not know a great deal about fountain pens, but I can tell you this: fountain pens are jewelry with which you can creatively express yourself with ink and paper. And nothing classes up the desk quite like a fountain pen. When not in use, just admire it sitting there!
Like jewelry, no one really needs a fountain pen. You simply want one and Truphae makes it easy to obsess over writing instruments and papers. Situated in Greenville’s stylish West Side, they draw customers from as far as Atlanta, Charlotte, and Asheville to their showroom. Like jewelry, there is case after case of beautiful pens. And like jewelry, prices range from a fun, impulsive entry point to an “oh my-that’s more than my car cost!”
Their customer base is diverse and requires careful editing of inventory. They’ve sold pens to 6 year olds for $3.95 and a pen to an octogenarian north of $3000. Most pens under $1000 are sold to men. They also cater to the elusive female self-purchasers who don’t think twice spending between $3000-$10,000 on a fine writing instrument. The sweet spot with the most movement is the $150 range.
Their website reflects that showroom and e-commerce has an international reach to a large community of collectors and enthusiasts. Moreover, their product has struck a chord in the zeitgeist. A fountain pen provides you with profoundly analog moments, unplugged from the digital world. Ironically, Truphae has harnessed every digital tool at their disposal to build a business based upon distinctly analog products.
Truphae’s founder, Chris Henline hails from a background in finance (investment banking’s loss is the pen world’s gain!) and a strong work ethic instilled from an early age. He grew up in a family retail business in North Carolina. His previous career taught him about monetizing ideas and managing cash flow. “Profit is important, but cash flow is the name of the game… I wouldn’t say I was an expert by any means, because I’m learning every day, but it was certainly the most important thing I learned from investment banking.” stated Henline,
Young and uninhibited by an “it’s always been done this way” mentality, Henline has structured his “brick & mortar” on a digital foundation and his very human, human resources prove it on a daily basis. The team evolved from just Chris and his wife managing every detail from photography to invoicing to shipping. Their first hire was a person to handle social media and then a photographer who specialized in social media image. Online sales increased exponentially with COVID requiring the hire of a Warehouse Manager to maintain order flow.
Each person brings specialized skills that seamlessly create a culture of content. They’re all in the same lane and are mission focused: being the best in the fountain pen category.
They know their customer and they serve them to the point they become a collector and then continue to educate and provide the very best any collector could desire. From the YouTube Content creators to warehouse manager, each team member also has a fascination and emotional connection to fountain pens.
Let’s take a look at the composition of Truphae’s talent pool, in no particular order, because there’s no apparent sense of hierarchy. I can only imagine how much fun their planning meetings must be! I can also imagine how much jewelry stores can benefit from this staffing model that values creative skill sets. Three are full-time (Digital Marketing, Warehouse Manager, and Photographer/YouTube Content Creator), one is part-time (Head of Operations) and the remainder are freelance on a regularly structured basis.
Digital Marketing manages multiple social platforms and photoshoots. Naturally, this person loves the visual side of the fountain pen business. On average, about 45 minutes is spent on each image. “Most online sites only use brand-provide stock images which we always felt didn’t adequately romance these works of art. We felt a true image of each pen, along with all relevant details would be key to attracting an audience.” Henline elaborated. Their Instagram account is masterfully curated and is a visually aesthetic delight. The Digital Marketing person also interacts with customers and writes content that grows the company.
Truphae has two Photographers that consistently create thoughtful images true to their brand and two YouTube Content Creators. Their blog is the portal to their YouTube Channel and to a wealth of information that positions them as a trusted expert. Most importantly, they do not create content for the sake of creating content. Their content provides education or inspiration with high production value to their customers/community.
The Digital Marketing Strategist focuses on the technical side. He’s there to boost search engine ranking, collect and interpret analytics, and optimize online sales by improving website performance, building backlinks and effectively managing advertising campaigns.
The Warehouse Manager’s role is critical. Truphae has a subscription service aptly named “The Inkredible Box”TM at three pricing tiers: $25, $75, and $150. These seductive boxes of pen, ink and papery goodness go out like clockwork and provide another touchpoint with their community. Cleverly named, the subscription service is how their business launched. Chris told me about his experience :
“We were at a pen trade show and realized everyone was simply buying and selling pens. Some had good customer service, some had good pricing, some had good catalogs with lots of items, but it was only those factors that would set one apart from another. So we decided to do something totally different! I was always a fan of subscriptions. Coming from the finance background, predictable cash flow is a really important part of any business. It’s also one of the most scalable business models, depending on the industry. There was no data to see if it would work with the pen industry, so we swung for the fences and decided to give it a shot! The Inkmeister ($25/30) is the most popular because of the price point, mostly. The other two tiers have almost an equal number of subscribers.”
The Head of Operations goes beyond systems and operational nuts and bolts to sum up their “why” and Chris Henline, CEO/Owner sums up their “heart.” This is leadership…Leadership that keeps the goal squarely in their sites and maintains their culture.
“At Truphae, we value our personal connection to our customers, our local community, and ultimately our global community. We are always finding ways to make a difference, be it large or small.” Raegan, Head of Operations
“I hope to never lose touch of our one-on-one customer service approach as it has served to build some of the greatest relationships and friendships I have ever had.” Chris Henline, CEO and Owner.
Arguably, content will be the most valuable asset on the luxury balance sheet going forward. Content cuts through the noise to give your audience the brand experience they deserve.
Truphae has consistently been placing digital bricks in a structure that is agile and responsive to their customers and is a model of how business should be in done in 2021. They’re almost five years old and it will be exciting to see how they grow in the next five years.
Take a look at their lush website. (And YouTube channel. And Instagram account… And blog!) Better yet, take a page out of their playbook.
I’m pretty sure it’s handwritten… with gorgeous ink on beautiful paper.
So questions for the jewelery store owner:
Have you taken the time to clearly define your vision?
Have your goals been clearly communicated to everyone on your team?
How will you hire differently in the future? How will you train differently in the future?
If you were to assemble a new team over the course of the next 30 days, what percentage would be full-time, part-time, or contract?