With expansions to the San Francisco Bay Area and Thailand, Costar Imports has come a long way since Ram Kedia opened up shop in New Orleans back in 1988.
Costar began as a diamond wholesaler supplying independent retail jewelers in the Southeastern United States, says Avinash (Avi) Bajaj, who owns and directs the business with Ram. Within a few years, Costar moved into the fine jewelry business and in 2003 set up the California office, selling to retail stores in the Western states.
“When we started jewelry, we were still selling loose diamonds,” Avi says. “We started selling bigger diamonds and earring studs. In jewelry, we were focused on the bridal business for a long time. Then, seven years back, we decided we wanted to go national. Before that, we were focused on the West and the Southeast. So we started hiring sales reps and expanded our jewelry line’s focus from just bridal to other areas like colored-stone jewelry, and it’s been expanding ever since.”
At the same time, Costar set up its own factory in Bangkok. “Before, we were dealing with outside manufacturers, and with that you always have issues in terms of getting stuff on time and getting it right,” Avi says. “It’s always a challenge. Ever since we set up our own factory, we’ve done much better at delivering special orders to our customers on time and giving them the right quality product.”
The company has 60 full-time employees in Bangkok. “They do everything from de sign to the finished product,” Avi says. “At the offices in the United States, we do sales, service and designing. Everyone is involved in designing, from our principals to our customers to our salespeople to our factory staff. Design ideas come from all over the place! Everybody pitches in, and we’re always making something new. Right now we’re introducing at least 40 to 50 new styles every month. We introduced 250 new styles at the JCK Show.” In all, the company carries more than 500 bridal designs and more than 500 fashion designs in stock for overnight delivery.
Even as Costar moves into other areas, Avi notes, “Bridal is evergreen, always selling. People are always getting married. We’ve had some really good success with wedding bands and stackables. It’s a big trend right now. People want to stack different rings and create their own look.
“We’ve also developed a collection called the Birthstone Stackable Collection. We have about a dozen different styles, and we have a few more coming out at JCK that are available with all the different birthstones. You can customize it, have your own stackable look with all the different birthstones that are important to you. If you have four kids, you can buy four different bands with all those birthstones and create a unique look.”
Another hot-selling category is Costar’s rose gold morganite jewelry – including rings, pendants and earrings. “A lot of younger couples are going with morganite for their engagement rings,” Avi says. “Morganite is a soft stone, the same hardness as a aquamarine. As a soft stone, you don’t expect it to last a lifetime like a diamond would, but a lot of couples are going for morganite. It looks beautiful in rose gold, which is what we’ve been setting it in. It is doing phenomenally well!”
Reaching the Independent Retailer
One advantage of operating out of both California and New Orleans is being able to take care of local customers, Avi says. “It gives us more of an idea of what they want; certain things are more popular in one part of the country vs. the other. Operating in the two locations can be a challenge, but it makes sense. It allows us to service our customers more effectively. We’re open to taking calls pretty late on the West Coast; customers on the East Coast can call as late as 9 p.m. EST and we can still ship our product to them. The pros outweigh the cons.”
Costar has built its business on a “customer success” philosophy. “We produce brochures, fantastic product images, posters, Duratrans, and all kinds of materials that our customers can use for marketing,” Avi says. “Photography is very important with jewelry. We have professional images taken from different angles on all items. Our customers are always welcome to use our photography for marketing and advertising. We also do print posters and flyer programs, personalized for a retail store with their logo and information. Charges for these services depend, but most of the time it’s a package deal, included in the programs they’re buying from us already.
“From the very beginning,” Avi adds, “we have sold to retail jewelers only; we’ve been very strict about that. We are not in the business of competing with our customers. We provide the best service. For us, it’s always the Customer-First philosophy. We make promises we can keep. Our special orders are delivered in two to three weeks, one of the fastest in the industry. We keep 90 percent of our styles in stock for overnight shipping. We have the latest and greatest product coming out every month at very competitive prices.
“A lot of companies in the jewelry business today are stagnating or going out of business, but we are not. We are part of the group that is expanding. And because we’re going national, there is a lot of room for us to grow. We’re working to cover 50 states; right now we have sales reps in 25 states, so we’re looking for additional reps to cover different parts of the country. It is exciting, and it’s a lot of work! But we’re ready for the challenge.”