Debora LaBudde, founder and CEO of MEMO, imagined a shopping experience with the perks of Amazon Prime for the upscale jewelry market. The result, her brand MEMO, brings jewelry to your front door. Oksana Toussaint-Vig caught up with LaBudde for Polo Lifestyles.
PL: What first led you in the direction of creating Memo?
DL: I have always loved discovering new jewelry designers, but the traditional shopping experience left something to be desired - pieces were often intimidatingly behind glass cases or starkly online with little explanation. Luxury retailers also tend to place minimal editorial focus on the fine jewelry sector leaving a gap between the designer and the customer. I wanted to connect with jewelry - and its designers - in a deeper, more meaningful way. I created Memo as a destination to truly discover and experience fine jewelry. Through rich imagery and video content, clients can discover new designers and understand the craft and inspiration behind their work. Clients are then given the additional and personal step of utilizing the company’s at-home try-on service, also known as taking a product ‘on memo’ for a three-day period. This offers clients the unique opportunity to experience the product before committing to a purchase.
PL: Were you nervous at first about building Memo?
DL: I have a deep respect for the fine jewelry industry - the long heritage of some of the great jewelry houses and the hard work that is required for emerging designers to build their own business and brand. Having not grown up in the industry, it has been very important for me to always be respectful of those who have been in the industry even while offering something new and innovative.
PL: How did you get the idea to create such a site giving customers access to fine jewelry for three days?
DL: When I learned of the long standing tradition of jewelers allowing VIP clients to take pieces “on memo” - to allow the customer to try on at home before purchasing them - I knew I wanted to identify a way to offer this great service to a much broader audience.
PL: Why did you not create your own brand of fine jewelry instead of creating Memo, a site that sells the creations of several brands?
DL: I’m not a jeweler by trade, but I’ve always been passionate about fine jewelry. I’m most excited about the exploration of how different techniques, metals and gemstones can create a signature piece and how a designer’s own story and inspiration are shown in their work. It was this insight into distinctively different designers and their work that I wanted to explore and share.
PL: How was the audience feedback?
DL: When we began speaking with designers about the concept they were very excited to have the opportunity to reach consumers in a new way. The idea that potential clients could view their pieces in person prior to making an investment was very appealing, knowing that often it is the subtle aspects of a piece that make it so special. The additional component of sharing their story within our editorial content was also something and that hadn’t yet been available in the market.
PL: You give to your customers the opportunity for to lend the fine jewelry pieces for 3 days before buying them permanently. Are not you afraid that people would prefer to lend jewels for their special occasions and then hand them back to you?
DL: Memo’s conversion rate on items initially requested via ‘on memo’ is extremely high -- upward of 80% of our clients who utilize the model proceed to purchase. Even in those cases where pieces do get returned, the client will frequently contact us with feedback or a request for a more customized version of what they previewed. Most clients appreciate the unique service that Memo provides and reciprocate the trust that is extended via the service.
PL: What mechanism did you set up to identify potential buyers or everybody has access to the fine jewelry?
DL: Since Memo’s launch in 2016, we have received much praise from both consumers and media for the unique service. Many Memo clients come to us in search of a specific designer that we showcase, however, often times clients enjoy exploring other designers and will come back frequently to the site to view new pieces and collections.
PL: What are the criteria required by Memo to choose the designers?
DL: Superior quality of design and materials is tantamount as we consider new designers. We also look for designers that bring a unique point of view or who may be known for presenting a particular style or design approach. We’re very conscious to select curated collections that provide a strong representation of the designer’s work and that stand out uniquely from the other designers we showcase.
PL: Today, women are much more independent than before, they manage their own money, they do not need the authorization of their spouses to buy anything. Can you tell us how this economic independence of women is profitable for fine jewelry brands?
DL: It is truly an exciting time to be in the fine jewelry industry with the rapid growth of designer fine jewelry, the expansion of new designs and styles and the increase of women buying jewelry for themselves. This change is forcing established retailers to rethink how they do business as women have different expectations when buying for themselves. Those that appreciate and can meet the needs of this new fine jewelry client should be well positioned to grow.
PL: What’s your vision for the future of Memo?
DL: t Memo, we’re constantly looking for new ways to delight and service our clients while enhancing the overall experience of discovering and purchasing designer fine jewelry. Today, we’re looking at new services that we can offer our clients to break down the barriers to exploration of fine jewelry and to continue to make that experience a richer and more meaningful one.