Nicole Wegman: Founder & CEO of Ring Concierge

Episode 416

Listen to this episode with Nicole Wegman, Founder & CEO of Ring Concierge as she shares her story of founding her company in 2013 after realizing there was a huge void in the market she knew how to fill. What started with custom engagement rings soon branched out into the fine jewelry space and her hybrid model of in-person consultations, e-tailer services coupled with savvy social media has made Ring Concierge a big success. This is a hot brand you need to know about with an incredible Founder and CEO at the helm. I can’t wait for you to hear more about the journey and the back story, the trends she sees happening in the industry and more! Don’t miss a single moment as it is definitely worth listening to. On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I am so excited to have my next guest. Here, we have Nicole Wegman, who is the founder and CEO of ring concierge. And if you have not heard of ring concierge, Boyer, you’re going to be so excited to learn about this incredible site and company that she has built. So Nicole founded ring concierge in 2013, after realizing that there was a huge void in the market that she had an idea for. She figured this out as she was going through the process of finding her own engagement ring taking a look around and what started with custom engagement rings soon branched out into other jewelry, incredible jewelry items, as well. So her hybrid model of in person consultations, etailer services coupled with savvy social media has made ring concierge a big, big success. So this is a hot, hot brand that you absolutely need to know about with an incredible founder and CEO, female founder and CEO, by the way at the helm, so can’t resist mentioning that so can’t wait to hear more about her journey as well and backstory. So without further ado, welcome, Nicole.

Nicole Wegman 2:01
Well, thank you for having me. I’m so excited to chat with you today.

Kara Goldin 2:05
Amazing. So I’d love to hear from you just give a bit of a description about ring concierge. Like what is the brand that you are really focused on building?

Nicole Wegman 2:19
Yeah, so ring concierge is a fine jewelry company, you know, at its core, and we sell products starting at under $100, to custom rings into the seven figures. So literally anything and everything fine jewelry, we only work with, you know, real materials, diamonds, gold, silver, for example. So nothing plated. But with that, we really try to focus on making the price points as obtainable as possible. There are plenty of jewelry brands out there that are spectacular and beautiful. But very, very few people can afford them. And that’s not what I wanted. When I set out to do this. I do think you can have both you can have gorgeous on trend quality jewelry, but at a price that you know women can actually self purchase. So that is really what I focus on. And we focus on making the company really fun and exciting and welcoming. It’s not stuffy, it’s not intimidating. You can come in to shop anything and everything. And regardless of your budget, we are here for you and to make you feel great, because that’s how you should feel when you’re shopping for anything but especially pawn jewelry.

Kara Goldin 3:27
So can you share your backstory to what I mean? What were you What were you doing before this? And how did you have the courage to actually just go start a company? I mean, it’s incredible.

Nicole Wegman 3:40
Well, I was 26. So I think at that age, you’re kind of cocky and you think you could do anything. And I don’t think it actually took a ton of courage. I think doing it a decade later starting now would probably be a lot harder. So it was pretty serendipitous that it all came to be when it did but I was in the fashion industry. That’s what I went to school for. I went to Cornell for apparel and merchandising. And then I immediately graduated and worked at Macy’s headquarters, then Bloomingdale’s headquarters, and it was kind of in that world and thought that’s what I would do forever. So I learned a lot about EECOM and customer behavior and product development and kind of the real foundation for a retail business. I knew nothing about jewelry. The industry never crossed my mind. It was never talked about at school as being an industry that you could think about entering even though we were all fashion majors. But I was 26 and I had been with my now husband, nine years. So I had really put the pressure on it was like, Alright, I took him to the diamond district. You know, it hits a point where you see your friends getting engaged, you’re like, hang on it. Hi, I’m almost at a decade. So we went to 47th Street in New York and I don’t know have you been to 47th Street before Carol

Kara Goldin 4:56
I have and it’s daunting to say the least,

Nicole Wegman 5:01
daunting to say the least, it’s a pretty unpleasant block of New York City. But what’s unbelievable is this is where everybody thought that they should go spend 10s of 1000s of dollars, it’s the most expensive purchase of most couples lives at that point unless they’re already homeowners. So it’s not just a big deal emotionally, it’s a big deal financially. And it was so opaque, we had no idea where to start who to trust, or the diamonds, they showing us good quality, we didn’t know the settings, you know, weren’t my style, it was all men, there were no real female voices on the street. And, you know, we did end up finding something, I ended up finding an antique rank, because to me, that was kind of the easiest way to go about it, it was just done. But I thought, like, gosh, there is such a void and an opportunity for a few things in this industry. One, a woman to really own a company, especially in the diamond world, because it just doesn’t exist. And then also a company in a brand that really understands how millennial women want to shop and what experience they want. Because this wasn’t a fun experience. And that’s when I came up with the idea of ring concierge. And it started with just engagement rings, hence the name ring concierge. But you know, as you mentioned, we’re almost at 10 years, we now offer everything, but that’s why it’s named ring concierge, I thought I could be that female voice for couples looking to buy a ring.

Kara Goldin 6:31
So where did the name come from? Or how did you come up with the idea for your name?

Nicole Wegman 6:36
I initially thought the company would be more of a service and less of a product, you know, a retailer, I thought I would guide couples through the industry figure out how to navigate it know who to work with. And I could say okay, here’s where we’ll go for the diamond, here’s will here’s where we could go to have the setting made. Very quickly, I realized I could do all of those things and better, and cut out a major step and not need a middleman in the process. And so that’s where the name concierge came from. But we still really hold that to one of our core values and how we treat customers. And we always say to the team, you know, wrinkles, your concierge is in our name. So when we’re servicing people and working with clients, whether they’re spending $50, or $500,000, we can’t forget how important the service element is when you’re purchasing fine jewelry.

Kara Goldin 7:28
So I found it fascinating when I was doing some research on you and in the company that a large percent of your purchasers are women. Right. So obviously, you started out as they are not obviously, but as you mentioned, you started out really focusing on the engagement ring, but your lifetime value of a consumer, if you keep them satisfied is going to be much larger. If if you service them correctly, and oftentimes a woman whether or not she’s shopping for a engagement ring or not. She’s the majority of your purchasers. Right.

Nicole Wegman 8:12
Absolutely. So it’s kind of interesting, I think a lot of people assume it starts with the ring for our customers and then transitions into fine jewelry, but the reverse happens a lot as well. And then we have so many women that shop with us that are either single and not even looking at engagement rings or had been married for years and just want to purchase buy jewelry, so we really have everybody which is great. You know, we’re not yes, our bridal we’re famous for it. But that’s not the only thing we do at all. And so when it comes to our website where we sell all the fine jewelry, and we have to find jewelry stores, one in the West Village one on the Upper East Side 80% of the purchases are made by women, which I am so proud of because the other piece of this you know of the business that’s really important to me is empowering women to purchase in a category that traditionally it would have been taboo to buy yourself jewelry, you know, you wait for a man to buy it for you and that’s just not how I operate. It’s clearly not how anyone is actually operating if 80% of our purchases are made by women, but we really talk about it so that you can feel you know totally comfortable taking control of this category.

Kara Goldin 9:24
So you’ve done a terrific job of getting out there on social too and and obviously you’re gaining consumers all over the US even though you’re based in in New York so if there’s a hero product for your site, like what is the thing that people I guess sort of test you all on? I mean are they rings are the earrings I mean, is there something that is like oh my gosh, I got this and now I’m I’m with you for life?

Nicole Wegman 9:55
Easy answer and this is pretty wild, but our number one you units selling and revenue driving piece across the entire company is our mini diamond tennis bracelet. And what we did is we worked really hard to create, essentially an obtainable priced tennis bracelet, because everybody wants a tennis bracelet, but they’re typically price prohibitive. So we created one for 1298. And it set in a way where the giant the gold makes the diamonds look a little bigger than they actually are, which is always a win, nobody wants the jewelry to look smaller. That’s just never a thing. Everyone wants their diamonds to look bigger. And it flies like I can’t, we’ve sold 10s of 1000s of these, I can’t even tell you and people live in them, they never take them off like ICP, like when people see me on the street and like oh, are you wearing concierge or like I’m wearing my many diamond tennis bracelet I’ve had it on for a year. And it’s back to finding a way to make this category actually somewhat affordable. And finding a way like you know, a tennis bracelet, you can own a tennis bracelet for 1000s of dollars less than you typically, you know, prices would have started at at other companies.

Kara Goldin 11:03
So what should consumers look for when they’re trying to select fine jewelry? You know, these are purchases that people are, like you just mentioned wearing for a long period of time. But how do you? How do you figure it out? Like how do you figure out how to get the quality that you’re looking for?

Nicole Wegman 11:25
I think it’s finding the right balance for you. And so what we do is we work really hard to get a great quality, but not create something that is such like colorless, flawless diamonds, and then no one can afford it right. So one of the tips I would have for diamonds is to kind of find that middle ground, which is going to be near colorless, which is still amazing, but not perfect. Because the second you kind of go into this perfect category, prices are going to skyrocket visually, you cannot see the difference, I promise you, it’s experts that are grading these diamonds with you know, like clarity, for example, is graded under 10x magnification. Obviously, what you can see under 10x is not what we can see as a consumer. So we really tried to find this sweet spot. And so kind of understanding where you’re comfortable in terms of color and clarity and all of that. But then also just finding a company and trust. And that’s the hardest part because anybody can say anything, but can you trust them. So looking for somebody you know, that has great Yelp reviews go on Yelp, most jewelers have Yelp reviews. People love to talk about if they have a great or terrible experience. So that’s a really easy way to start. But asking around, you know, one of our social medias, our biggest driver for new customers. But the second biggest category of new customer acquisition is referrals. People love to talk about brands that they’re proud of and that they had a good experience with. So ask your friends, did you have a good experience with XYZ company?

Kara Goldin 12:57
So what has been the most challenging part of growing ring concierge? I mean, this is you had not started a company before you had amazing experience. And you know, definitely knew what you wanted. But But that’s different than actually building out a company. So what has been kind of the most challenging for you?

Nicole Wegman 13:18
Oh, my gosh, that’s a great question. Because everything right is the challenge. And that’s part of I think, why most entrepreneurs are kind of maybe maybe there’s something a little wrong with us to take something like this on a bit of masochist. But I think handling the growth has actually been the biggest challenge. What’s really lucky for us is the brand awareness and growing the social following people know who we are. And that’s a lot of companies have to spend a ton on marketing to get their name out there. We didn’t spend on marketing until four years ago. So I made it six years before I even had a mark on a budget. So I cannot complain about everything that happened for us organically. I think what’s really challenging is when you’re skyrocketing many, many years in a row, we were doubling in size, keeping up with it on the back end, hiring fast enough has been a challenge. It’s still a challenge, figuring out how to increase you know, operational efficiencies and what systems now need to be in place systems maybe I couldn’t afford in the beginning, but now we are behind by not having them because we’ve exploded. That’s what I have a hard time with. And thank God I have a great team behind me you have a great CEO, a great president, great people that can think through all of this. Because what I focus on is more of the products, the brand, the vision, the marketing and where we want to be in 10 years, I’m not as strong at making it all run properly.

Kara Goldin 14:44
That’s great. Well, it’s great that you know, to bring in the right people, right, that can actually help you to be successful too. Because I think that that’s, you know, 90% of the battle for people running a company because if they don’t know or they’re not confident enough in themselves and sort of what they want to do and go and hire those people that can actually balance them out. I think that that can be such a huge challenge. So you’re speaking with a friend who has this great idea for a company, they’re like, I’m going to go and do exactly what Nicole has done and build an incredible company, what advice would you give them? Like? What do they need to know about building a company that maybe no one shared with you prior to you actually starting your company?

Nicole Wegman 15:35
I would say in the very beginning, what I think matters the most is being lean. I read this as a decade ago, and this book was trending that then I don’t know if it’s still considered a startup tool now, but I read The Lean Startup. And I still stand behind that. I never have taken any outside capital, I bootstrapped the company with $2,000, and kind of figured it out slowly with the profits of each sale. But the lean startup in terms of start nimble test, talk to customers, don’t spend two years on research and development. And don’t spend hundreds of 1000s of dollars to make sure everything looks perfect before you launch. Because guess what, you could do all of that. And you missed the mark, because you never really interacted with the end user, and tested a bunch of things when you still could inexpensively. I think that is so important in the beginning. And that has that is what caused the company to be financially sound and healthy 10 years later, and not needing any outside capital. You know, what I have things I could do with $50 million with a check, of course, but I don’t want to give up my ownership and autonomy. And I’ve been able to do that by being really thoughtful financially in the beginning years and testing inexpensively.

Kara Goldin 16:51
That’s awesome. And you still have not raised capital? We have not. Yeah, that’s amazing. Really, really great. So I know that as a founder, and as an entrepreneur, we don’t always get credit for the hard things that we have done. And you know, in the case of building Hant, we created the first product using real fruit that didn’t have preservatives in it like things like that, that are not consumer facing marketing things that you necessarily talk about, but I’m very proud of it right and creating an entirely new category in the beverage industry. Things like that. What is it that you are extremely proud of that you’ve built at ring that maybe you don’t get a chance to talk about and pat yourself on the back for?

Nicole Wegman 17:41
Yeah, I think kind of taking it up 30,000 feet and what’s going to be important in 10 years from now what I’m proud of as carving out a space for women to work in this industry. 10 years ago, I did not know of any women that owned a fine jewelry, there were no women that owned a fine jewelry company of the size that ring concierge is today. So when I had different brands to look up to or companies to look up to it was only men. And there were women that work for them. There were women on the sales floors, but never running these companies. And since I’ve started doing concierge, there has been so many other female founded small jewelry businesses that have been popping up, which is so cool and exciting. We employ 60 People over 90% are women. So creating space for women to consider the jewelry industry as a career path when before it probably didn’t cross most people’s minds. So I think that’s something that will continue to permeate the industry because there’s a long way to go. I mean, it’s a $90 billion industry and we’re just a blip in it. So think about how many how many men that is still running this industry but I do think that’s going to change and I think that’s really important because you know for tons of reasons, but one of them being we are the end user so why are we not represented within the industry?

Kara Goldin 19:04
Yeah, no, that’s really really a good point. So so big question hot item for summer 2023 that everybody is is grabbing

Nicole Wegman 19:16
sterling silver so we just launched our first ever Sterling collection. We’ve only worked with gold traditionally. But we’re doing it for two reasons. One this huge chunky, you know I’m wearing them right now jewelry trend has kind of resurfaced from the 90s. And to create these pieces in 14 karat gold would be pricey. You know they would be 10s of 1000s of dollars because gold is expensive. So we’ve launched everything in sterling silver, not everything a small collection in sterling silver have these really chunky pieces because this is kind of the IT trend and I hate when people want to achieve a trend or trend but have to go by costume which doesn’t last year. Your ears green, the plating comes off, you can’t get it wet, you know, you can’t do anything in those pieces. So we’re really excited. And the other piece of it from a business standpoint is it’s a Gen Z acquisition tool for us. We know that golden diamonds is probably price prohibitive for the, the majority of Gen Z at this point, most don’t have, you know, their first career started yet. And so it’s important to us to start to get them comfortable with the brand because our average bride is 28. And Gen Z is not that many years out from being our average bride. So how do we create a product for them that they can afford right now. And the pieces are all under 500, which is really exciting for how chunky and big and like they’re gonna look so good with summer dresses and linen?

Kara Goldin 20:45
Do they tarnish in some way? Or do you have to eventually

Nicole Wegman 20:50
over tarnishes we have anti tarnish finish on them so you can slow that down? You cannot prevent silver from tarnishing. Every piece comes with a cleaning cloth and anti tarnishing cloth and you just wipe it and it looks like brand new again. You know the same way you’ve seen like in movies, people are polishing their silver dishware it’s the same idea.

Kara Goldin 21:10
Yeah, I was wondering if, if that has ever gone away? Or if people are figuring

Nicole Wegman 21:16
invent that then they’re very wealthy? Yeah, no, but there is no solution to that at this point.

Kara Goldin 21:22
So great. So what’s next for ring concierge? Where do you hope the company goes in the next like 12 months,

Nicole Wegman 21:31
so much. But one of the biggest focuses we have right now is in physical retail. We are digitally native. So up until two years ago, the only physical footprint we had was our private bridal showroom, which is by appointment, we have never had retail stores be open to small stores in New York City in 2021. I believe they’re great, they’re successful. And, you know, we know that this is the future of continuing to scale and grow people as much as you can shop online. And that’s still the bulk of our business by far. People like to try on expensive purchases. And so we know a broader comm a broader retail plan across the country is going to be necessary to take us to the next level.

Kara Goldin 22:18
That’s awesome. So what was the pandemic for ring concierge? I mean, I’m so curious about the industry overall, because so many people were obviously living, living at home and and staying at home. But what happened in your industry over those two years? And how has that changed for you today?

Nicole Wegman 22:41
So a couple of things happened when it first started out. When everything was shut down, especially in New York City. Most of the industry was just at a standstill. And that was about six months that I think New York City was shut down. What was difficult at first, but then amazing for us is that we’ve always been digitally native, we’ve always been able to operate by selling remotely for bridal. But then we also have an entire ecommerce website. And because this industry is very, very antiquated, they’re very behind in terms of E commerce, most jewelry brands don’t even have a website, we it was a little bit like fishing in a barrel. Like we were fully operational, we moved our fulfillment center out of the city so that we could open that up sooner. And we’re fully running and operational. So that was amazing, super difficult, logistically to make that transition, it was kind of a nightmare for the team because you’re moving 10s of millions of dollars of inventory. So it’s really it’s not like a simple thing, but we did it so that was great for the industry what was I think important is that the rest of the industry realize the how instrumental it is to be online. And so a lot of these mom and pops and smaller brands that never even thought about building a website started to think about it. So it just helped the industry move forward in a way that it should be anyway. Supply chain obviously was horrible for a while. What was different things are still backed up, but it’s picking back up diamond prices rose 25% Since pre pandemic and they have stayed at 25% up. It’s it’s industry wide, its supply chain wide. There’s no way to really get those back down. So that makes it a little tough for bridal clients. But we just try to work with them to find the biggest bang for their buck and help really get them a beautiful ring without overextending.

Kara Goldin 24:35
Very, very interesting. So best advice that you’ve ever received that you think about when you’re going through challenging times of of growing your business.

Nicole Wegman 24:47
I think what was one of the best pieces of advice that I heard earlier on it was actually from Jessica Alba, who founded the Honest Company. I was at a talk that She was speaking at and she talked about how, how difficult and necessary it is that you take a look at your team that helped you start the company, and you hit certain points as you grow. And you have to be realistic about now, is this still the same team that can get me to the next level? And I’m not suggesting you just let everybody go? Yeah, like, there, it’s a very different type of employee that is going to sit around your apartment with you and ship products out of your living room than it is to now take you to non nine figures plus, let’s say, which is, you know, the transition that we’re always thinking about is as we hit these different milestones, take a look at the team. And do we need to think about, are we missing skill sets? Are we doing the company a disservice? By not saying, Okay, we now need a C level in this department that is traditionally operated fine without that type of seniority. An example would be we hired our first cmo ever, who is incredible, she is exceptionally see like talented, I don’t even fully know why she decided to come on board as us she left a very, very big job at a very, very big company. So we are pumped. But you know, that was a tough decision, because I’d always been at the head of marketing. And I took a look around and I said, Okay, we’re going to hit a point where I’m going to, I’m going to start company growth by thinking I can keep doing this, we needed an expert. So those types of transitions are tough, but real and I think you have to be okay with it and figure out how to do it gracefully and keep your current team happy because they’re there for a reason. They’re good. They’re amazing. But you’ll have to shift what your team looks like when you hit different milestones.

Kara Goldin 26:46
Definitely. Well, this was such an amazing interview and such a great chance to get to know you and get to know ring concierge a little bit more. We’ll have all the info in the show notes as well. But thank you so much, Nicole, it was such a pleasure. And everybody needs to check out ring cots years for sure. It’s such a great site and resource and, and like I said, we’ll have it all in the show notes too. So thank you again, Nicole.

Nicole Wegman 27:16
Thank you so much for having me.

Kara Goldin 27:19
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review. And feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen. Or pick up a copy of my book on daunted which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and goodbye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening