GET TO KNOW...
Joe Mellet and Lauren Kennedy
With a biomedical engineering degree under his belt, Joe Mellet began his storied career developing growth projects for a bevy of companies, ranging from research labs to startups. Craving a challenging, fast-paced environment, he went on to pursue his MBA from New York University, leading him to his first of many roles at White Pine Trading. During his four-plus years there, he developed proprietary pricing models, designed and implemented the company’s ERP system and established the company’s software and technology division, which has grown to include more than 20 team members. As an eCommerce expert, he has spearheaded the launch of White Pine’s newest venture and first eCommerce platform, Bright Society.
A seasoned marketing and PR executive, Lauren Kennedy has earned a reputation in her field for her unique ability to elevate both for-profit and nonprofit brands in a short period of time. Since beginning her tenure at White Pine Trading, she has pioneered a broad range of initiatives, including the conceptualization and execution of one of the jewelry industry’s first native advertising campaigns. Through her work across all promotional channels, she has refreshed the White Pine brand through a variety of disruptive projects, expanding its reach and overall growth exponentially. With the launch of Bright Society, she took on her most challenging and exciting role yet as the lead in introducing the company’s first direct-to-consumer model to the public.
How did the concept for Bright Society arise, and what did it take to execute it?
Sales growth within the jewelry industry is happening exclusively online, resulting in stagnant in-store sales and an annual store closure rate of 4 percent, which is an all-time high. Unlike other industries, brick-and-mortar jewelry retailers have not had a viable option for selling online.
While these independent jewelry shops house collections that are second to none, most of them lack the financial resources and technical expertise necessary to build a profitable eCommerce business, so we set out to create a solution.
The execution of the vision has been exciting and challenging. We’re offering a two-sided marketplace for sellers and customers, which meant that we had to design, test and perfect functionality for not two, but three user groups (when you include the features needed by our team). Work started in January 2017, and since then, we’ve launched three unique interfaces: a back end for stores to list and manage inventory, an app for stores to take and submit photos of their items, and an ecommerce site for customers to buy the products. None of this would be possible without a skilled and dedicated team, a great level of autonomy and a clear vision.
Bright Society positions itself as both a store and a service. Can you speak to the two sides of the business and how they work to create a new space within the jewelry industry?
The store provides consumers access to a first-of-its-kind assortment of fine jewelry and luxury watches. From independent jewelers nationwide, the store aggregates the finest selection of pre-owned and new products across vintage, custom and branded categories, all with price points above $500.
Our Produce Concierge service helps customers find specific products that are not listed on the site or products that meet general characteristics that they provide.
Combined, the store and service provide consumers with direct access to a deep and ever-evolving inventory of fine jewelry and luxury watches, all from anywhere with an internet connection. In theory, they should never come away from an interaction with Bright Society feeling like they couldn’t find what they were looking for. If it’s not currently available on our site, we’ll find out where it is.
What was your biggest challenge in developing the platform?
From the beginning, we knew that photography would be our biggest challenge. It’s hard enough to produce great photos in a professional studio, and our high standards made the task even more difficult. We needed to develop a system in which retailers could take beautiful photos of their merchandise using any mobile device and have them automatically uploaded to our server, after which our team would make any adjustments necessary to ensure the image captured the piece in perfect color and clarity.
Thankfully, we were able to meet our objectives. When you look at an item on our site, the pictures you see are real photos of the actual item. We don’t use stock photography or CAD images, we don’t reuse photos, and we don’t airbrush out flaws or blemishes. We found a way to capture enticing and accurate images through a process that met all of our requirements. Tackling this challenge was the first step to bringing our concept to life.
What has been the most valuable asset in taking Bright Society from idea to launch?
Our trusted network of exceptional retailers has been the greatest asset. We have a deep connection to the close-knit jewelry community that has given us a competitive advantage. We began with a good understanding of the gaps in the marketplace and the needs of our jewelers. We built on that knowledge by interviewing jewelers in our network and visiting them in their stores. They provided a wealth of information around market demand, customer preferences and more that helped us to fine-tune our platform and processes.
What problem is Bright Society trying to solve? How do you expect it will impact the jewelry industry as a whole?
In bridging the gap between brick-and-mortar jewelers and global consumers through one digital shopping destination, we’re actually solving two problems.
First, while we love our retail partners, there are a few shortcomings in their model that we think we can improve. Stores usually carry a limited selection and operate limited hours because of security concerns. Bright Society addresses these issues by providing a platform where jewelers can offer as many items as they choose and make them available 24/7, allowing customers to browse and purchase whenever it fits their busy schedules.
Second, an online sales platform is only helpful to a retailer if it’s easy to use. We’ve gone to great lengths to make both our site and our processes intuitive and efficient. As a result, we’ve eliminated any barriers to participation that might have kept jewelers from partnering with us.
We wouldn’t dare speculate how Bright Society will impact the industry as a whole. What we do know is that consumer behavior is changing. Watches and jewelry comprised the fastest-growing eCommerce segment last year, expanding by 39 percent, while the second-place category grew just 28 percent. We are committed to embracing change as our industry evolves and to listening to our customers and retail partners as we plot our path into the future.
What does the partnership between Bright Society and each independent jeweler look like? What do you look for in a partner?
It’s a very supportive and collaborative relationship. There are several steps involved in onboarding a new partner. We need to ensure they are educated about the platform, have all of the necessary tools to be a great seller and fully understand how to utilize the resources to the best of their ability.
Once a partner is onboard, Bright Society is in constant communication with them through regular phone calls, weekly performance emails and frequent product concierge requests. The jeweler is also able to communicate with Bright Society through the app.
When a partner’s item sells, they are alerted by our team. They then receive a free shipping label and packing slip and are instructed to ship the item immediately. After the 30-day return period passes, the partner receives payment from Bright Society via their preferred method.
Our mutual goal is to serve our customers and sell products. Consequently, we do not charge any fees to list on our site. Bright Society only earns revenue through commissions, which means that our retailers must be successful if we are to be successful.
What is your company offering to customers that makes it truly unique? How will it help them shop differently?
The ability to shop the inventory of an unrivaled collection of jewelers in one seamless online experience is truly game-changing, and the fact that that inventory is constantly changing makes customers want to come back again and again.
At a higher level, we want to reach a point where customers trust us without question as the place to shop for fine jewelry and luxury watches. Our entire model is designed to create a trustworthy and authentic online experience. Customers should arrive at our site and know they can get a competitive price, return something that doesn’t fit or exchange an item for any reason. We want people to understand that Bright Society provides a truly risk-free online luxury shopping experience.
How can we expect to see Bright Society evolve and grow over the coming seasons?
Our biggest ideas are around content and the relationship between the in-store and online experiences. On the content side, we don’t think any online presence properly communicates the beauty, craftsmanship and artistry of jewelry and watches in the same way that a conversation with a jeweler would. As a result, there is a huge opportunity to produce and provide material that talks about the craft, emotion and significance of these pieces in a way that resonates with customers. We want to build that.
In the long term, Bright Society wants to drive foot traffic to our sellers’ shops and develop omni-channel capabilities throughout our seller network. Jewelry and watches are tactile. Customers often need to touch, feel and see an item in person before they buy it. The future of jewelry retail will integrate digital and physical components—view online, pick up in store, schedule appointments to try on an item, find somewhere to repair or resize an item, etc. We intend to work closely with our partner network to ensure that our core competencies—digital for us, physical for them—complement each other to provide value for our customers.