Brands like Aurate are getting more bespoke with their wholesale strategies.
Founded in 2015, direct-to-consumer jewelry brand Aurate made its first forays into wholesale this month, by partnering with Helzberg Diamonds and Macy’s. And in doing so, it has sought to create a customized co-marketing playbook for each retailer.
For each of its wholesale partners, Aurate creates an exclusive collection — or, what the company likes to call a sister brand — of Aurate’s DTC offerings. The Helzberg collection is called Laure by Aurate; Similarly, the company also launched Audrey by Aurate exclusively for Macy’s. But Aurate’s work with retailers doesn’t end there. In promoting the Helzberg collection, for example, the two companies are splitting up marketing responsibilities. Helzberg is taking the lead on how to promote the collection in stores. Meanwhile, Aurate is helping Helzberg dabble in influencer marketing campaigns to promote the new collection — something the 108-year-old jewelry retailer has little experience in.
By collaborating closely with retailers on the launches, as well as subsequent releases and marketing campaigns, Aurate hopes to expand its presence without cannibalizing its DTC channel.
The wholesale partnerships signal a new direction for Aurate. In 2022, the company opened stores New York and San Francisco — both of which have since closed. Instead, this year the brand pivoted to striking wholesale deals with legacy retailers. Aurate co-founder and CEO Sophie Kahn said that as a digitally-native jewelry brand plotting its next growth stage it made the most sense “to partner with retailers that know what they’re doing” when getting into brick-and-mortar.
Building “a sister business model” with retailers
Kahn defined the new strategy as having a “sister business model,” in which Aurate works closely with its retailer partners to launch and market exclusive collections. “What I didn’t want is to have our own product and it doesn’t sell in wholesale,” said Kahn. “They [Helzberg] have a ton of experience on how to sell jewelry to people in the store — we can rely on their 100-plus year experience doing this.”
The debut Laure by Aurate collection at Helzberg Diamonds includes over 100 items, with prices ranging from $100 to $1,500, and includes necklaces, bracelets and rings, among other accessories. The way Aurate designed the new line is by taking its own best-selling designs and tailoring them to cater to Helzberg’s customers. “Then, we tweaked it closely with Helzberg’s design team,” Kahn said. This included offering key Aurate features, like the infinity pattern, but adding elements like extra diamonds on the side. The vermeil gold is also new to Helzberg’s offerings — revenue of Aurate comes from 70% solid gold and 30% vermeil gold.
According to Aurate, the strategy led to strong sales in the first week. So far, Aurate’s August sales at Helzberg stores, the brand performance 2.5X the expected estimates. Meanwhile, e-commerce sales on Helzberg’s website were 4X its forecasts.
A co-strategy for long term marketing
The two companies are also splitting marketing responsibilities, with each taking on the channels it has the most experience and strength in.
With most of Aurate’s experience in digital advertising, the company led paid social strategy for the launch and will continue to do so. For example, Aurate collaborated on display designs and how the collection sits in the store. But Helzberg took on the more practical side of sales, like training employees on the Laure pieces and how to talk to customers about them. Helzberg also handles other merchandising details, such as price tag presentation and try-ons.
But Helzberg is also supporting some search-related tactics, such as Google ads. On Meta, which is an important channel for Aurate, the DTC brand is leading the charge on creatives; these include ad copy, model shoots, colors, and even e-commerce videos to customize Helzberg’s messaging to sound and look more like Aurate. “So instead of saying ‘new in,’ which is more corporate, we’re saying ‘meet the new girl on the block,’” Kahn said.
“We’ve done so many Meta ads for 10 years, and know what works in terms of colors and models,” Kahn explained. Moreover, Aurate is collaborating with Helzberg on influencer marketing – which Kahn said is a new avenue for Helzberg. Aurate has worked extensively with influencers over the years, and plans to kick off Helzberg-specific campaigns in September. “We have a roster of influencers who we know how they’ve performed for Aurate that we can work with again,” Kahn said.
Helzberg is also using the partnership as a way to attract a younger customer; The retailer is largely known as an engagement and diamond gifting designation. Helzberg’s stores are also located the opposite of where Aurate’s existing customer base is concentrated, which Kahn said is mostly on the coasts and in large urban areas.
“The white space we saw is a much younger female customer who’s a self-purchaser,” Julie Yoakum, president of Helzberg Diamonds, told Modern Retail. According to Kahn, 90% of Aurate’s direct-to-consumer customers are women who buy jewelry for themselves.
Helzberg “did a lot of upfront planning” for the Aurate launch, Yoakum said. For example, Helzberg trained its employees on selling features unique to Aurate, such as vermeil gold – which is a new category for Helzberg.
“We’re known for having strong associates, and the key is they have to buy into what they’re selling,” Yoakum said. So the company did a pre-employee sale to have the store employees wearing the product and acquire that younger customer, she added
Aurate worked with Helzberg’s marketing field team to develop clientele lists based on overlapping customer attributes, such as young and female shoppers.
The exclusive line launched in about 30 Helzberg doors and its website, but Yoakum said already 80% of the line’s sales are coming from in-store sales. “Had we not had this holistic approach, we probably would have done okay, but not the sales we’re doing now,” Yoakum said.
Daniel McCarthy, an assistant professor of marketing at Emory University, said that wholesale is a different muscle for DTC brands; once startups work with intermediary retailers, they have to navigate different sales tactics and lower margins.
“The original premise of DTC was not having a middle man or worrying about foot traffic,” McCarthy said. But now that rising digital ads costs have pushed brands into physical retail, companies have to balance their general brand-building that they do anyway with what’s effective for each retailer. “These partnerships are becoming specifically unique,” McCarthy said, adding that he expects more retailers asking for exclusive, collaborative playbooks when carrying a new DTC brand.
Moving forward, Aurate will work closely with Helzberg on the cadence of new releases and campaign cadences. While it’s early days, the goal is to expand the Laure brand to more Helzberg doors – and ultimately make it available in every location.
“I feel like this could be the future of new DTC partnerships,” Kahn said. “Instead of just going straight into wholesale, this is a much more interesting way to scale on both the brand and the retail ends.”