Marketing — Generating business to add campaigns and encouraging customers to come into the store if that’s what they want their call to action to be.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Zaks aka Greg Grillz, a celebrity jeweler best known for creating one-of-kind, decadent grillz. He recently has partnered with Steeler’s wide receiver JuJu Smith Schuster for a new online jewelry venture, Grillz.com. Greg Zaks who leads the creative direction works exclusively with the highest-end precious stone retailers in Manhattan and LA’s diamond district to create some unforgettable pieces. Though the focus is on custom grillz, which is the most sought-after product, the site will also allow for purchasing of decadent, one-of-a-kind pieces such as chains and watches that are beloved by celebrities and athletes. Forming a brand during a pandemic is no easy task, especially a luxury one. Zaks and Schuster have also revolutionized the way you can order custom grillz online by having mold kits delivered to your door which allows people the safety and comfort of staying home while having a custom piece made for them. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Zaks has made grillz for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars like Justin Bieber, Hailey Bieber, Bryson Tiller, Ty Dolla Sign, Post Malone, Jake Paul, and many more. It was through jewelry that Greg and NFL star JuJu were connected. Zaks is most known for his over-the-top extravagance, however, the site features more of a range of products and a variety of stones and metals to make everything more accessible. He wants everyone to be able to feel the feeling of putting in a fresh grill. It’s your jewelry and grill one-stop-shop.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always loved and appreciated jewelry, but I never imagined being in the jewelry space until I reconnected with an acquaintance of mine who was a well-known jeweler back in 2013. As a college student, I began working with him while his business was taking off. He was like the don of Instagram back then, doing a bunch of jewelry pieces for celebrities like the Kardashians. I had a lot of ideas to improve the business that were rejected and shut down so I came up with the idea to start my own company. This inevitably led to me creating Grillz.com.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
There are so many stories I can share, but I can’t keep our readers here all day. I will tell you a particular story that was a constant struggle for about 6 years. Like any start-up, I dealt with my fair share of issues. Starting with no money and no support in the industry made it extremely difficult to manufacture and acquire inventory. This is a problem that most new businesses share, but I bet every jeweler can relate to this one. Businesses over the last 20 years have had to make the shift to e-commerce. It’s just the way of the world. I have seen many large manufactures trying to fight the tide and refuse to go digital. There are so many variations of something as simple as a gold chain; color, length, purity, width, weight. Many times, I have had clients requesting a specific item that my manufacturers did not have stock of which then made me look bad. I have almost lost a lot of business due to not having the merchandise on hand. Additionally, to sell all those products online, you need to have a very steady supply source with a wide variety of different types of jewelry to not lose out on potential customers.
Photographing and uploading these products while keeping track of inventory is a large undertaking. Photography alone can start as low as $20 an hour before editing. You can imagine the costs and the amount of money you need for inventory, marketing, building your website is a large hurdle. The barriers to entry in the jewelry industry are very high when it comes to selling expensive merchandise. I approached several big-time wholesalers and advised them to go digital with all their inventory. I simply could not afford to purchase a piece of every single item in their inventory and pay thousands of dollars photographing and editing them. This simply was not an option. As a new business with extremely high overhead and limited cash flow/resources, it was not an option. People told me what I wanted to be did not exist and was not possible. They told me people spend half a century building up this kind of inventory. So, I went and found a much bigger and better manufacturer that had all the merchandise ready to go and beautifully photographed.
However, there was a big problem. The manufacturers do not drop-ship and their website did not integrate with my website built on Shopify. After 6 years, I finally have the website up and running. I have one of the largest inventories out of any jewelry e-commerce all drop-shipped with the click of a button. Every type of piece of jewelry you can ever imagine. I will soon be releasing an app that will act as a funnel between my manufacturers and every single Shopify jewelry store in the world. I realized that solving this problem for myself can solve the problem for every other jewelry store owner in the world. I will not disclose the name of the app but I will give you a hint that it will be similar to Ali Express and will be launching before summer. I hope to solve this massive issue for everyone else in the industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
Rookie mistakes are always inevitable. I have made a fair share of mistakes as a Rookie. Not to mention any names, but I was working on a high-profile rapper. To create a Grill, we first create a mold of the teeth. While doing the mold, the final process is called Litbody which is a liquid dental paste that fills in air holes to dry up in a matter of seconds. For this celebrity, it was not drying up quickly and was constantly getting stuck in their teeth. This was the most embarrassing thing that happened to me but it was a great lesson learned.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
My new inventory source app will be revolutionary to the jewelry space. Once the app is complete, age, ethnic background, etc. will no longer have a large barrier to start a jewelry business. I am taking what I had learned the hard way to help others. My inventory source will be integrated on all website building platforms including Shopify, Bitcommerce, Wix, etc. With a very fair but pricey subscription, all this will be in their hands. It is hard to quantify the dollar value the subscription will bring to the jewelry world but I can say it’s in the hundred million dollar range.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I have two tips that I do every day. The first tip is to double-check every step of the manufacturing process for each piece. Small mistakes can cost you lots of money and create unhappy customers. Tip number two, always be transparent with your clients and manufacturers. We all know mistakes are inevitable but owning up to them and making sure there is clear communication with both the client and manufacturer is extremely important. DOUBLE-CHECK EVERYTHING!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Since I had no family or friends in the jewelry business, I was all alone. I learned a lot through my failures. However, I did have some help from other jeweler friends I made along the way. They helped me get jewelry in my hands when I couldn’t afford to invest in my inventory. I am still friends with a lot of them to this day and we still do a lot of business together. I am very grateful for them.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The way I have made the most impact is just by inspiring those who are around me to constantly strive for better, make more money, and enable people to stay healthy. Also, I am creating a new jewelry app to revolutionize the jewelry industry because I know the struggle with day-to-day issues. My true goal with this is to help new entrepreneurs in the jewelry business and to give them all the tools they need to set them up for success.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
It is estimated that about 80 thousand retails stores will close their doors permanently by 2026. The forecast is based on the assumptions that e-commerce as a percentage of total retail sales has jumped tremendously. Look at companies like Nordstrom for example, over 50% of their sales come from the internet. With COIVD-19 impacting retail shopping in the past year, it is only logical that big companies are going to take their overhead that comes with opening a retail store and spend the money on online marketing. The companies that don’t make this shift are sure to crash and burn. Another good example is Best Buy, they won BIG TIME during the pandemic. They are now closing many stores nationwide. I can name many others that are doing the same. The “mom and pop” shops must adapt to stay afloat.
In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?
I believe malls are here to stay, but there will be a shift to the culture of the stores and malls. We will see a shift of what is inside a mall. Tesla opening a store in a mall is a great example of new ideas we have seen in malls. I think there will be more experience-driven stores in malls, more restaurants, and more activities. But I do believe that retail sales will continue to plummet until certain businesses will be forced to close their doors.
The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
All major retailers like Lululemon have made a comfortable transition to the online world. While doing so they are also being very innovative to bring convenience and ease to online shopping. The 21st century is all about convenience. On-demand is everything today and the people that are adapted to this concept will be successful moving forward.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
To keep this plain and simple, retailers will need to invest a lot into creating marketing and branding strategies. Many people will pay more for a branded item from a reputable company. People will always trust a brand name more than something new.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Transparency — No shady business tactics
2. Convenience — I can’t remember the last time I walked into a grocery store
3. Adaptability — Retailers will need to adapt to stay successful
4. Marketing — Generating business to add campaigns and encouraging customers to come into the store if that’s what they want their call to action to be.
5. Great customer service — The internet is everything, and your reviews are always looked at.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I ever get into politics, I would like to start a Young Muslim-Jewish coalition. I am not into politics, but I hope that I can make a difference in the world one day.
How can our readers further follow your work?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!