ice.com website does not process any orders from sundown on Friday until Motzie Shabbos, a phenomenon chronicled in a NY Times piece in 2006.
Ice.com is a family company. How did your family get into the jewelry industry?
Our parents founded jewelry-manufacturing company Delmar over thirty years ago, born from my mother’s love for designing jewelry. As you can imagine, we had extensive exposure to the ins and outs of the diamond and jewelry industries. When e-commerce was in its founding stages, we found ourselves at an advantage, knowing that we had an existing supply-chain and inventory infrastructure in place. The only necessity was for us to take the pre-existing brick and mortar manufacturing and turn it into an online venture, something suitable for the new generation of tech-savvy clientele.
We saw this disintermediation (eliminating the middleman) as what would become the future of e-commerce. By doing so, we could provide great service, quality and lower costs. Having supply chain dominance is important in any industry, and we were lucky to have that because our family business has been in the industry for a long time.
For example, typically, a new product would take about four months to get into retail stores, but because we owned the supply chain, it would only take us two weeks. We could offer the best value as a result of being directly linked to the manufacturer.
That was the basis for building ice.com. In the first few years, we grew by more than 100% every year and by the time others caught on, we were already a leader in the market and could really dominate the online jewelry space.
How is ice.com different from other online jewelry retailors?
Ice.com is all about creating a better customer experience and delivering consistency that others can’t deliver. It’s no secret that Amazon has created the standard for excellence in the online world, so to compete, a company has to provide all the things they offer. At Ice we’ve always been ahead of the curve in delivering on our promise. We’ve used Amazon as the bar to beat in everything from customer interaction to delivery.
For example, since there are 40 million products on Amazon, it’s hard to discern the quality of the products. Because we have fewer products, they’re all curated and merchandised toward the consumers’ interests—mainly quality.
What particular obstacles did you face when you started out?
When selling online, the greatest challenge is acquiring customers. Online marketing can be costly, but we had the advantage of owning the supply chain in addition to our great understanding of the industry. Because there’s so much marketing clutter online, our father suggested that we avoid the typical online marketing campaign by recruiting customers by supplying a piece of jewelry for free, charging only for shipping and handling.
We designed a pearl necklace that we were able to give away for free. The only money we spent was on initial marketing and advertising that we placed on websites geared for women, with the goal that the free offer would drive customers to the website to sign up. It was wildly successful, with over 300,000 sign-ups. This was great for us because it established our database of consumer contacts.
What are you currently working on?
As always, Ice.com keeps its focus on offering the latest designs and styles, and we put effort into keeping our inventory fresh and up-to-date.
I personally have given over most of the responsibility to the COO and I focus now on developing other businesses. Right now, I am serving as advisor to FST21.com, one of the start-ups that we have invested in. It’s a biometric facial recognition company that uses biometrics and facial recognition for safe and secure access to buildings, offices, and homes, without the use of keys or cards. The sensor reads and detects a face while a person is moving, similar to the way an iPhone can detect a fingerprint. This product is the brainchild of Israeli intelligence research; the company’s CEO is the head of Israeli intelligence. As one of the lead investors, we are positive that this technology will change the face of access management.
What is the best piece of advice for someone looking to start a business in e-commerce?
The best way to start an online company is to build it up slowly and carefully. The fundamentals of a sound business model have to include strategies for high customer retention, low cost of customer acquisition, good gross margin, and low overhead. It’s wisest to ensure that that all of the fundamentals are in place before attempting to raise funds for your start-up.
Shmuel Gniwisch is a Montreal native, who, along with his brothers and brother-in-law, founded the Champlain, NY based jewelry site ice.com in 1999. Since its opening, millions have enjoyed their expansive selection of traditional and contemporary pieces on a site that provides a user-friendly, fast, fun and hassle free service. Not surprisingly, it’s been voted as best of the web by Internet Retailer Magazine, and was voted into the Hot 100 e-commerce companies by Internet Retailer in both 2012 and 2013. Considering that the owners are Torah observant and shomer shabbos, the ice.com website does not process any orders from sundown on Friday until Motzie Shabbos, a phenomenon chronicled in a NY Times piece in 2006. To read more on the history of it’s founding, take a look at this Fortune news piece here.
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