January 01, 2017
Keep Collective: Charming the Direct Sales Jewelry Market
by Heather Martin
Headquarters: Sausalito, California
Executives: Dana Bloom, Vice President and General Manager
Products: Customized jewelry
2015 Revenue: $50 million (approx.)
When direct sales jewelry giant Stella & Dot decided to expand to the United Kingdom, there were skeptics.
“Everybody said, ‘It will be a lot harder there. People don’t entertain in their living rooms,’” says Dana Bloom, Vice President and General Manager of KEEP Collective, which together with the flagship accessories brand Stella & Dot and EVER Skincare compose the Stella & Dot Family of Brands. Turns out, everybody was wrong. Stella & Dot is thriving across the pond because “women everywhere want to connect with other women,” Bloom says.
KEEP Collective is thriving in North America for the same reason, say Stella & Dot Founder Jessica Herrin and KEEP Collective Co-Founder Blythe Harris. The customized jewelry line, launched in January 2015, has more than 10,000 sales representatives (Independent Designers) in the United States and Canada, and in its first year it generated revenue of nearly $50 million—a figure executives have said they expect to have doubled in 2016. “It’s been a rocket ship,” Herrin says, because KEEP Collective is fueled by a universal drive of women to express who they are and to share their stories.
During a KEEP Collective design session customers create a twist on the traditional charm bracelet, selecting a wrap band of leather, suede, silicone or metal and personalizing it with sliding charms that reflect their victories, their passions and even their losses. A KEEP Collective piece could have anything from a “26.2” charm celebrating a marathon to a charm engraved with a loved one’s name, to an American flag charm memorializing a fallen soldier.
The ability to style such a personal piece makes a design session about so much more than jewelry, Bloom says. “You end up having these conversations with someone and they end up telling you that they’re battling with infertility or that they overcame cancer. You’re connecting at this deep level very quickly.”
Harris agrees. “The most rewarding part of this is getting to meet so many new people and hear so many stories,” she says. “The sum of all the individual stories that people are telling is incredible.”
This modern take on a type of jewelry that Bloom always thought of as “something my grandma had” is made even more contemporary by KEEP Collective’s online design studio, launched in October. At an in-person design session or in a virtual collaboration with a Designer, customers browse the digital studio and choose from the entire KEEP Collective inventory, which also includes necklaces, key fobs and pet collars.
Customers also can get inspiration for their pieces from looks other KEEP Collective customers have created and shared on social media channels and on the company’s design site. The pieces a customer designs online—by adding and removing items from a shopping bag—are assembled virtually so the customer can see the finished look and are shipped within two or three days from a distribution center in Columbus, Ohio, Bloom says.
This web-based design experience not only gives customers endless options, it supports KEEP Collective’s (and Stella & Dot’s) belief that independent business owners shouldn’t have to invest in inventory. Herrin recently told Forbes magazine that Stella & Dot sellers aren’t allowed to buy inventory—if they do, “they get kicked out.” So for as little as $149, a new KEEP Collective Designer can buy a starter kit of product samples and marketing materials, and then they earn up to 35 percent commission on personal sales as well as commissions on the sales of Designers on their teams.
Low Prices, High Earnings
Herrin says she believes this makes KEEP Collective’s business model unique in the direct selling space, and she’s proud of the financial independence KEEP Collective Designers can achieve quickly. She noted that one team leader in Alaska sold $70,000 worth of product herself in her first year—and she’s earning money on the sales of her team of 500 Designers.
“Our field has earned over $30 million in income,” Herrin says. “A Designer I was just coaching was $20,000 in debt last year and was able to pay it off and then some” with her KEEP Collective earnings. “We have a picture of her taking the money to the bank.”
Says Harris, “That’s everything.”
Another differentiating, strategic driver of KEEP Collective’s success is its pricing, Herrin says. Charm prices range from $7 to $34, and the bands, or “keepers,” sell for between $19 and $59. The charms also can be put on different bands, making the product versatile. The lower price point and the personal purpose behind the KEEP Collective looks create a nice contrast with Stella & Dot jewelry, Harris says. “It really taps into a different audience.”
Herrin sums up the two brands this way: “One is meaning driven, and one is fashion driven.”
Bloom says a search for more meaningful work is exactly why she joined Herrin’s Stella & Dot team five years ago, after a few years consulting for such luxury retail brands as Nordstrom and Burberry. “I wanted to be somewhere where I could have a lot of impact,” she says. That’s what she’s been able to do through both Stella & Dot and KEEP Collective—KEEP Collective has just added the personal expression layer, she says. “This has been such an amazing, wild ride. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
It does seem like a great time to be in the jewelry business.
In a 2014 report, international management consulting firm McKinsey & Company predicted annual global jewelry sales would grow 5 percent to 6 percent per year to reach $265 billion by 2020. The report also said that branded jewelry will account for 30 percent to 40 percent of the market in the next three years and that online sales will be robust.
So if KEEP Collective can maintain its distinct brand and continue to drive business through the online design portal, it will be right in the industry’s sweet spot. Bloom says that 75 percent of KEEP Collective’s business is done through the virtual design studio, and that number will only increase. KEEP Collective executives say their brand voice is very strong, even though KEEP Collective isn’t the only direct sales jewelry company that has embraced personalization. Companies such as Origami Owl, jBloom, and Nomadés offer charms, monograms and other elements to customize buyers’ pieces.
Harris says KEEP Collective doesn’t pay a lot of attention to competitors, though. “We don’t look externally so much,” she says. “We just have developed this interesting, proprietary system of charms. We are obsessive about every single detail of design.”
Herrin politely cuts in when she thinks her business partner is being too modest about her role overseeing those details. “I can brag about Blythe,” she says. “She has such broad design experience—it’s really transformative.”
Harris, who also is the Chief Creative Officer for Stella & Dot, does have a rich resume in the jewelry space, having worked for LVMH—whose high-end brands include Bvlgari, TAG Heuer and De Beers—and studied metalsmithing in Mexico as well as sculpture and accessories design at the Parson’s School of Design in Paris.
Harris says she simply is inspired by artistic traditions around the world and by the growing group of Designers and customers KEEP Collective has attracted. “The amazing thing about our community is that they’re so supportive of each other, regardless of what team they’re on.”
That connection among KEEP Collective team members is another benefit of the technology tools the company uses. Not only can KEEP Collective Designers and customers easily share design ideas through Facebook or Pinterest, the company has created a 24/7 online university and uses video conferencing to support Designers with one-on-one sales training, design instruction and leadership coaching. Designers also gather annually for training and inspiration at KEEP Collective’s Hoopla event in Las Vegas and can attend regional events led by local leaders.
“People can come in [to KEEP Collective] without being a salesperson,” Herrin says. “We offer really powerful training. It’s not enough to give someone products to sell. You have to give them the motivation and the skills to do it.”
Unlike many entrepreneurial ventures, though, KEEP Collective didn’t have to build its technology or its selling systems from the ground up because it was able to leverage what Stella & Dot had already developed. “We are a startup growing super fast, but we have the platform of a bigger company,” Bloom says. “We have a team that’s worked together before. We had already built out technology. And we had a fulfillment center that’s already able to scale to those big numbers.” With about 500 home office employees, the whole Stella & Dot family of brands leverages Stella & Dot’s technology team, customer service center, distribution center and its leaders’ strategic expertise.
KEEP Collective executives say that the existing technology foundation, in particular, has allowed them to provide Designers with a business opportunity that fits quickly and easily into their busy lifestyles. “All of our business tools are digital and mobile-optimized,” Bloom says, “so a Designer can run her business on the go—from the comfort of her couch to the sidelines of the soccer field.” Once she has created a design in the online studio, she can share it on social media or send a link to her customer, who can buy it with just a few clicks.
As KEEP Collective is building a name for itself as a low-barrier channel to add income—often on top of a primary salary—and to increase flexibility, it also is lending that name to philanthropic efforts, Bloom says. It has raised money for breast cancer awareness and has joined forces with the Kind Campaign, a nonprofit organization committed to ending girl-against-girl bullying. In the past 15 months, KEEP Collective has designed a Kind charm and raised nearly $40,000 for the charity. In November, Bloom flew to Westfield, Indiana, to help honor a KEEP Collective Designer who led a sales incentive to raise awareness of Kind’s anti-bullying message. “It’s a cause really close to my heart,” she says. “We’re making it cool to be kind.”
Eye on Tomorrow
KEEP Collective’s growth has been rapid, but company executives prefer not to be too specific about current or future financials. Herrin and Bloom will say they believe the company should be 10 times its current size. “We can grow explosively next year,” says Herrin, who recently told USA Today that the Stella & Dot family of brands—which to date have paid out more than $385 million in commissions—are merely at the “beginning stages” of their market potential. “Our focus is using our three brands in the six countries that we’re in to capture all the untapped demand that’s out there for the $30 billion accessory market in North America and the multibillion-dollar skincare market where we feel we really have disruptive products that people love.” KEEP Collective has just begun to move beyond North America, having launched in Canada in April (complete with a new, maple leaf charm), and Bloom says Europe and Asia are strong possibilities.
Meantime, there is plenty of work for the design team at home, Bloom continues. In addition to the ideas Harris brings back from her travels abroad, the innovators at KEEP Collective are constantly mining for new gold. Every six months, KEEP Collective convenes a design council—a regularly refreshed group that includes Designers from the field—to discuss fashion trends and determine what tomorrow’s KEEP Collective look will be.
“We’re already on to what we’re doing next year,” Bloom says. “We’re always trying to stay one step ahead because people are always copying us.”
While KEEP Collective executives are eager for the changes in the company’s size and are excited about new products, “the things that will stay the same are our mission and our community,” Bloom says. “We have this community of people who have this incredible positive energy and are about you being the best version of you.”
Herrin echoes this idea—that the customer and what makes her or him light up are the real gems at KEEP Collective. “KEEP Collective isn’t about the product,” she says. “It’s about you.”
It’s also about connection, Bloom adds. “Especially with what’s going on in the world right now, this product and the way we sell it help people understand each other.”