Ritani is the clicks & bricks retailer that proves that a millennial customer focus can succeed even in the unlikeliest of businesses.  In spite of the much-hyped retail apocalypse and in spite of the business press claiming that the bridal and premium jewelry market is failing with millennials. Ritani is a fast-growing premium jewelry brand specializing in engagement rings, wedding rings and fine jewelry, with a customer service operation in Seattle-almost literally next door to Amazon-and a manufacturing HQ in New York where all of its bridal pieces are handcrafted. 

I spoke with Josh Marion, Ritani's Vice President

Micah Solomon, Inc.com: There are multiple online jewelers out there - Blue Nile, James Allen - how is Ritani different?

Josh Marion, Vice President, Ritani: Our core products are custom, made-to-order engagement rings; every ring we sell is handcrafted in our factory in New York. We pour the metal and we set every single diamond by hand.

Beyond that, we have a highly millennial-friendly online approach, and an approach for anyone who likes to be hands-on and to experience full transparency, whether that's a millennial or a millennial's older brother or sister: Our customer can custom-design an engagement ring online and view it, obligation free, at one of over 200 Ritani jeweler partners-including, almost certainly, one in their local area.

With this model, we embrace "shopping small" by partnering with over 200 best-in-class mom-and-pop jewelers in North America to create a seamless, comfortable shopping experience. Typically, these are multi-generational jewelers who are part of the fabric of their communities. These partners enable Ritani to offer a free-in-store preview experience where customers can see their custom rings in person before they buy; this personalized attention is something you often don't get with a fully online shopping experience.

Solomon: How are you marketing to millennials and how does that strategy differ from your broader customer base?

Marion: Millennials are our primary customer base, and, to put it simply, in order to market to them you have to go where they already spend their time: Instagram, YouTube, Buzzfeed. We've transitioned away from traditional TV advertising for example; we've had increasing success investing in social media and digital content marketing. We focus on the channels that best allow us to reach our audience.

In terms of brand strategy, starting in late 2017 we launched a full-scale rebrand of Ritani. We're telling a more compelling story to our millennial audience, and that story focuses on handcrafted quality, expert guidance, and creating a ring that's the best, most unique expression of their love. We know that each of our customers has a unique love story, and we're here to help them write it and get the moment right.

Solomon: Can you share a bit more about your customer service approach?

Marion: All of our customer service associates are located in the USA and they work on a non-commissioned salary structure. We pride ourselves on our ability to provide expert guidance to our customers. We have an in-depth online education center for people who prefer to research on their own, and our gemologists- I should mention that another thing that sets our customer service apart is that all of our agents are certified gemologists-are always available for one-on-one conversations. Whether we're talking to an absolute diamond novice with no clue where to start, or someone who knows the ins and outs of diamonds, we're there for them every step of the way.

Solomon: What keeps you up at night?

Marion: Beyond the obvious concerns like Amazon being our next-door neighbor [in Seattle], and more figuratively being our neighbor online-I spend the most time thinking about how to keep my teams motivated by something beyond the numbers. How do I make sure my people are motivated, not because a bunch of executives set some goals, but because they care about the success of the company and feel ownership for that success? There's a balancing act between being transparent and even vulnerable about problems with your team, and yet doing that in a way that doesn't stress everyone out. I find that people respond better to the problems that arise if you are honest with them. It gives them a feeling of being part of a real living organization rather than just being a cog in the machine. But at the same time, you pile too many concerns on them and they just might crack under the pressure, so you have to walk a fine line. I spend a lot of time figuring out how to walk it.