National Jeweler Network

Retail Profiles

About Retail: Deploying an envoy for silver

By Michelle Graff

July 10, 2013


What happened when Alicia “Kitty” Havrish had the chance to meet her idol Ippolita in New York City? She cried and was rendered speechless. “It’s like you’re five (years old) and you met Santa and you don’t know what to say to him,” she says.

Raleigh, N.C.--Among the definitions Merriam-Webster gives for the word ambassador are “an unofficial representative” and “a diplomatic agent … as the resident representative of his or her own government.”

At Bailey’s Fine Jewelry, a North Carolina-based chain of five stores, owner Clyde Bailey has begun appointing his own kind of ambassadors to navigate what still may be foreign territory to some fine jewelry salespeople: silver fashion jewelry brands.

At Bailey’s, business in silver jewelry has “exploded” in recent years, taking up more case space than ever before, he says.

Because of the growing nature of this segment, Bailey came up with idea of having store-appointed experts for the various silver lines carried at each store. These ambassadors share with other staff members the latest trends and news from the specific designer to which they are assigned.

He says the ambassadors are a powerful tool. They generate and maintain excitement among staff for fashion jewelry and as serve as the experts when customers are on the hunt for a specific designer.

 “And that’s all in our silver department. It has grown to be so much more case space,” Bailey says. “I don’t care what the (buying nature) of the lady is. She is respecting the silver fashions.”

If the customer is buying Ippolita, there’s a good chance they’re respecting Alicia Havrish, better known as “Kitty,” the store’s first ambassador who is a go-to expert and fervent lover of the brand created by Italian-born, New York-based designer Ippolita Rostagno.

Havrish started at Bailey’s more than 12 years ago, following her graduation from Gemological Institute of America and a stint at another retail store. Bailey’s started carrying Ippolita in August 2010, before the retailer launched the ambassador program, and for Havrish, it was as if she’d met her first love all over again.

“The first time I saw it, it just spoke to me,” she says. “It touched my soul. I know that sounds crazy but it just spoke to me.”

Along the way, store management picked up on her passion, which she describes as more of an obsession. Lest one thinks she’s exaggerating her feelings about the brand, consider this: “I squeal. I have cried at the counter. I have almost passed out when we get new product,” she says.

What happened when Alicia “Kitty” Havrish had the chance to meet her idol Ippolita in New York City? She cried and was rendered speechless. “It’s like you’re five (years old) and you met Santa and you don’t know what to say to him,” she says.

Havrish says it is Ippolita’s attention to feminine detail combined with her artistry--she is also a sculptor--that attracts her to the jewelry.  She also feels a certain kinship with the designer because they are both former dancers.

“It makes me feel about 10 feet taller when I wear it. It makes me strong and feminine at the same time,” Havrish says. “It’s like if you find those perfect pants that fit you (well) … you’ve got a little extra strut in your step.”

When the store launched its brand ambassador program for silver lines in February 2011, it was only natural that Havrish would be the first one selected and would represent her all-time favorite brand, Ippolita.

In this role, Havrish is the go-to associate for other salespeople’s questions, such as if a certain Ippolita piece comes in different colors or metals (the store carries a full collection of both the designer’s gold and silver jewelry) or what the turnaround time is for special orders.

She says about once a week, she brings to the daily staff meetings some bit of news or information about the brand and also does her own research on what exclusive Ippolita pieces the national chains are carrying.

Having an employee with Havrish’s level of passion has paid off for Bailey’s Fine Jewelry. Havrish says Ippolita is among the store’s top-selling brands, ranking right up there with iconic names such as David Yurman and John Hardy, and the store also is one of Ippolita’s top-selling independents in the country.

“We’ve really done unbelievably well with it,” Havrish says, but she refuses to take all the credit for the line’s success at the store. “Everybody has stood behind it and that’s something I can say for the brand ambassador for every line. I think it works across the board for all brands.”

It’s also paid off in helping to reignite Havrish’s passion for fine jewelry. After a decade as a salesperson in the fine jewelry industry, she says becoming the point person for a certain brand, especially one with which she was so genuinely enamored, helped regenerate her entire focus at work.

“It’s been a really fun program,” she says. “I’ve really enjoyed doing it. I feel like it’s a way I Ippolita-ize the world.”

When asked if that’s her goal, Havrish answers, “Most of it.”