“Can we get a camera on my Buddha?”
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It’s the kind of line that’s intriguing enough to make even the most restless TV watcher pause, which might explain why the woman who said it – jewelry dynamo Carol Brodie – currently has the No. 1 gem business on the Home Shopping Network (NASDAQ:HSNI).
Catch even a few minutes of Brodie in action and it’s clear that storytelling is her forte. In the world of Carol Brodie, no sentence begins with the phrase “in a nutshell” – there is always a bigger, more involved story to be told. Her “Buddha” comment, for example, came from an HSN appearance where she was selling a jade ring that had been inspired by a Buddha figurine her parents had purchased in China. Speaking as if she were one-on-one with her best friend, Brodie went from explaining why her mother had given her the Buddha (which she had on set with her), to describing the belief that jewelry can invoke joy and prosperity, to admitting that she touches a certain bracelet on her wrist 20 to 30 times a day because it helps her feel connected to her late grandmother.
The ring sold out in minutes.
While affability and candor are certainly part of her charm, it’s her “go with your gut” attitude that has carried her throughout her career. In bringing her jewelry line “Rarities” to life, she has gone against the rules that have typically characterized HSN’s business model. For one, the products she sells are only offered in small quantities, she won’t bring a product back in the exact same way no matter how well it sells, and isn’t afraid to introduce unique, fashion-forward pieces to a jewelry customer that is, by and large, traditional.
“When I try to do ‘normal’ it doesn’t resonate. I don’t feel the love,” she says.
What Brodie does feel, however, is a deep and powerful connection to her customers, whom she affectionately dubs “her girls.” She is a social-media powerhouse who thrives on dialogue with her customers, whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter or her blog. She also responds to snail mail.
“People still write! Did you know that?! They still write mail,” she quips.
It was through Facebook that Brodie discovered a group of women who were shaving their heads in support of a friend who was battling cancer. She sent them all earrings.
“I don’t know these people and I don’t want anything back,” she says, humbly. “For me, it’s about empowerment.”
And therein lies Brodie’s little secret: she’d always wanted to be Oprah.
“I had always dreamed of having my own television show that was about women and helping women to achieve their dreams. It was about empowerment and personal realization and style. ‘Rarities’ became the embodiment of that dream,” she says.
Brodie’s job history is studded with a number of high-profile positions in the jewelry world, including a nine-year stint as global communications director for Harry Winston. She helped the iconic diamond house sharpen its image by having celebrities wear the company’s jewelry on the red carpet and upping the standards for product-placement in movies (“I wouldn’t loan a piece of jewelry to a movie unless they were going to say ‘Harry Winston’.”). Brodie said she even put a “hot, beautiful, gorgeous” doorman in front of the Harry Winston store to reduce the intimidation factor.
While she was keeping an eye on new ways to do better business, Brodie was also learning “old school” values about how jewelry should be made and how customers should be treated. Those two concepts were critical when she launched “Rarities” in June 2009, even if the pricepoints were nowhere near those found at Harry Winston.
“I am bringing Fifth Avenue retail values to a shopping network,” she says, stressing that every piece of jewelry she produces undergoes strict quality control.
Brodie may be in control when it comes to the ethics guiding her business, but there are certain things beyond her grasp. For one, there is the question of whether her jewelry line, which is rooted very much in value, will continue to be relevant if consumers’ rebounding appetite for luxury drives them away from more affordable brands. Brodie says that value is always important, whether you’re talking about the very wealthy or not.
“Nobody got rich by being naïve. Now that we’re getting out of this recession, I think ‘Rarities’ is going to be even more relevant.”
Nor does Brodie worry about the fact that the jewelry world may begin to favor minimalism and cast her eye-popping, gem-encrusted baubles out of favor, or that her competitors will blow her out of the water.
“I am so forward-looking, that looking back, as in any race, would slow me down.”
And slowing down she is not. Brodie, whose line is exclusively on HSN, has plans to launch a diamond collection in June and is also getting ready to release a line of timepieces later on in the year. She also feels her brand can be adapted to appeal to the Asian market and hopes to sell to Europe on some of its key Web sites.
What Brodie seems to have mastered is the art of reinvention, though she is first to say she couldn’t do it alone. Brodie’s collection may start with her inspiration, but a team of buyers at HSN and 10 to 15 manufacturers around the globe bring it to life and help ground her. She’s also enlisted a branding company to help her build her digital presence. But her greatest inspiration – and method of keeping relevant – is her two sons.
“My 10-year-old son has been more relevant than me for 5 years,” she laughs. “I get stuck. I’m a luxury brand traditionalist.”
Wherever she decides to go next, Brodie says the most important thing is that she remains true to her values.
“Every single thing I do starts in my heart, and if the numbers don’t justify I’ll mix them and skew them until they do."