No Fine Print,
Innovations keep formula fresh
while brand stays on message
STORY BY EILEEN MCCLELLAND
Kesslers Diamond Center
Grand Rapids, MI
Opened Featured Location: 2015
Buildout cost: $1.32 million
Employees at featured location: 12
Total employees: 127
No. of locations: 7
Top Brands: Kesslers, Gabriel & Co., Lashbrook
Online presence: 7,152 likes on Facebook; 4.7-star rating on weddingwire.com (206 reviews); 5-star rating on theknot.com (172 reviews)
Richard Kessler has seven locations now, and every time he builds a new store, it evolves a bit, like a new iPhone iteration. But the focus and underlying philosophy are unwavering. “We do diamonds better because diamonds are all we do,” he says.
Of his diamond business, 70 percent of total sales is wedding and engagement; the rest is fashion: diamond earrings, necklaces and bracelets.
One notable innovation in the Grand Rapids store is that it’s outfitted with restaurant-style booths that span one whole wall of windows, offering bright, private spots to chat with sales staff without requiring multiple meeting rooms off the sales floor. Engagement ring shoppers appreciate the private, relaxed setting and it also helps the associate to easily get to know the client. “After you’ve picked out a few different styles that appeal to you, you can talk to an associate in a booth, which is really private,” Kessler says. “We can find out how the two of you met, what she does for a living, spend time building a relationship, and offer a refreshment, just like I would do if you were in my home.”
Another singular feature is a huge aluminum sculpture in the shape of a diamond that hangs from the ceiling on cables, offering a focal point and reinforcing the store’s branding as a diamond authority. Kessler commissioned artist Michael Murphy to create the 3D sculpture for the store, which is nearly 20 feet wide and 8 feet high. But its most striking feature is that it changes appearance as the viewer walks around it, from a diamond shape to a ring shape and then, voila, back to a diamond shape.
Also commanding attention is the goldsmith shop, which has a large glass wall for transparency.
All new Kessler stores, including Grand Rapids, have a men’s lounge with a big TV and refreshment stations.
There’s also a significant shift that’s taken place in the past two years in the type of diamonds sold. Kessler jumped into lab-grown diamonds two years ago with both feet, he says, after investigating the option for about a year.
“We brought in a nice selection, trained our people how to explain the process and why they are the same and why they are different,” he says. “Within 30 days, our Newborn Created Diamonds outsold our Kessler 81, our signature diamond that goes back to 2005. Now we cut our Newborn Created Diamonds into our Kessler 81 faceting pattern. Three out of four customers choose a Newborn Created Diamond. It’s amazing, absolutely amazing.
“We’re selling the living daylights out of these things and our competitors are telling everyone, `You don’t want these fake diamonds.’ But more and more jewelers are getting their heads out of the sand.”
Prior to opening the Grand Rapids store, Kesslers was firmly planted in Wisconsin.
When Richard Kessler’s son first suggested he open a store in Michigan, he admits he was skeptical.
But his son, who worked for Moody Analytics, didn’t make the suggestion on a whim. His professional assignment was to study the business climate in Michigan.
Kessler told him he was looking for a city with a population of 500,000 or larger.
“He said, ‘Have you considered Grand Rapids?’ and I laughed. I’m originally from Detroit, and Grand Rapids at the time did not have a good reputation.”
But Grand Rapids had become the fastest growing city in the Midwest, with the most disposable income, too. Forbes Magazine named it the best city in America to raise a family.
So Kessler decided to see for himself. He drove to Grand Rapids and met with the general manager of a radio station, who showed him around and introduced him to a real estate broker. “About a week later, we were signing a lease,” he says. “It’s such an amazing city and it was very under-served. I saw it as a huge opportunity.”
It seems Kessler and son were right.
“Our store took off and was successful almost immediately. It’s growing at 50 percent in its second year. My son is a genius.”
Kessler, who has an enviable radio voice, has been investing heavily in radio advertising for 25 years. He is the voice of nearly 2,500 radio ads that run weekly in four different markets.
Kessler has worked for years with Roy Williams, author of The Wizard Of Ads.
“His philosophy is to pick one medium and own it, dominate it,” Kessler says. “We dominate the radio 52 weeks a year and never change the schedule. We’re very, very consistent. You cannot go anywhere in eastern Wisconsin and mention my name and have somebody say, ‘I don’t know who you’re talking about.’”
Kessler also believes strongly in word of mouth, which has been updated for social media.
“We’re running at 5.0 in reviews and we have hundreds of reviews,” Kessler says.
He doesn’t leave it to chance; it’s policy to ask everyone for a review.
Kesslers has been partially employee-owned since 2011.
Because Kessler has four children and only his daughter Monica is in the business, he wanted to find a way to transition the business fairly to all four children. His financial adviser said it would be simplest to turn the business into cash and make a cash transfer. “I decided to sell the company to the employees who helped build it,” he says. “It costs them nothing. They receive shares and it grows very, very fast.” He predicts that employees who are in their 30s now will be millionaires by the time they reach retirement age.
“The benefits of employee ownership are obvious,” he says. “When you’re talking to someone who actually owns the business, they have a certain level of pride.”
Employees also have the authority to make decisions, which frees Kessler to do other things.
“I go to jewelry shows and guys I know there, their phone rings 15 times a day, with someone asking, ‘Hey boss, what do you want me to do about this?’ People are afraid of making a decision because they get chewed out.
“Our people are empowered. I hire smart people and I let them use their brains. And nine out of 10 business decisions will be good. One out of 10 will be a bad decision. I’m willing to pay that price, so I forgive you in advance.”
Kessler has won the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel Top Work Place Award six years running.
“I hate bureaucracy. We have only two rules in our company: do the right thing and have fun every day. If you can’t follow those rules, you can’t work here.”
PHOTO GALLERY (13 IMAGES)
Five Cool Things About Kesslers Diamond Center
1. Safe design. Another evolution in store design is that nearly every single showcase in the store is also a safe. So, at the end of the day the display drops down into the base of the case at a push of the button. Once the key is turned, everything is stored safely overnight. “It saves us hundreds of hours of manual labor,” says Kessler.
2. Kessler University. Every employee gets four weeks of classroom training, even if they are in operations or accounting, before they move on with their career. From there, they spend time with a mentor so they can get the Kesslers culture. “We spend a lot of time talking about Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits Of Highly Successful People. Those are our rules: how to treat each other with respect, solve problems, be a better person.”
3. Open early. Store hours are from 10 to 7, but stores open 10 minutes before 10. “I want that store unlocked, because I want to serve the customer better than anybody,” Kessler says. I don’t want it to open a few minutes late. It’s little stuff like that that makes consumers crazy.”
4. Fresh look. The stores are professionally decorated five times a year by a company called I Love That Display. “It’s very, very expensive to do that, but we want to deliver a consistent message; we want the stores to look the same,” Kessler says.
5. Miraculous Warranty. “The lifetime diamond warranty costs us about half a million a year,” Kessler says. “A customer dropped a ring into the garbage disposal and we replaced it. It helps separate us from the competition.” There’s no fine print.