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ACS 2006 1st Place: Underwood’s Fine Jewelers



Underwood’s Fine Jewelers, Fayetteville, AR

OWNERS: Bill and Craig Underwood; ADDRESS: 611 West Dickson Street, Fayetteville, AR 72701; PHONE: (479) 521-2000;URL:;YEAR FOUNDED: 1957; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1966; ARCHITECT /DESIGN FIRM: E. Fay Jones; TOTAL STORE AREA: 7,000 sq ft; EMPLOYEES (AT FEATURED STORE): 18; 2005 REVENUES (AT FEATURED STORE): N/A; LAND COST: $13,500 (circa 1966); BUILDING COST: $137,500 (circa 1966); INTERIOR BUILD-OUT COST: $26,000 (circa 1966); DESIGN/ARCHITECTURAL FIRMS COST: N/A; CURRENT ESTIMATED PROPERTY VALUE: Appraised at $1.45 million; STORE SLOGAN: “Underwood’s… It’s Where You Buy The Best”

Five Cool Things About Underwood’s Fine Jewelers

True Genius

Every cool store featured in this feature has a great designer, but one of the greatest of his generation? That’s an honor only Underwood’s can boast. The store was designed by E. Fay Jones, who was once named by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) as one of the country’s “10 most influential living architects.” Jones, who died August 30, 2004, was a friend and apprentice of architectural legend Frank Lloyd Wright. Unlike Wright, Jones had no real desire for fame, preferring to work on small projects. Soaring interior spaces, open expression of structural elements, careful detailing and the use of native materials characterize his style. In 1991, the AIA ranked Jones’ Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, AR, as one of the five best buildings by an American architect in the 20th century. Jones’ influence can be seen in his trademark entrance “lantern” at Underwood’s, as well as in the huge cantilevered roof. “The exterior is unique, inviting, and gives us lots of flexibility in displaying our jewelry,” says Craig Underwood.

“It’s not your typical box store.”

Making the Grade

Thirty years ago, as a member of the AGS Diamond Standards Committee, Bill Underwood witnessed a lawsuit between rival diamond factions. The issue: could one of the companies continue to claim their new diamond cut was the most brilliant in the world? Experts were brought in and tests conducted, but ultimately, the claim could not be conclusively proved or dis-proved. Underwood thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a simple way to measure light return?” Today, Underwood is only months away from receiving his patent request results on his own invention … the Beauty Grade. Developed with assistance from the University of Arkansas Department of Optical Physics, it will be the first device that will quantifiably measure light return for any size or shape of diamond. The secret? A tiny laser beam that passes into each portion of the diamond as it spins 360 degrees. A gauge measures the number of light returns, and anything that blocks the light shows up as a diminished reading. The diamond is then graded from 1.00 to 100.00.

“Currently, the AGS gives out 11 cut grades,” says Underwood. “This device provides 10,000 possible grades.”


Agency Man

Most ad agencies make their money on a commission basis — what-ever their client spends, they earn up to 15%. Craig Underwood decided he’d
rather save the 15% for the store.

So, he created his own in-house agency, which buys media, writes ad copy, shoots video of jewelry and even produces television commercials.

“I’d put our jewelry footage against anything else out there,” states Underwood.

Disaster Averted

In 1960, after three years in business, Bill Underwood had finally accumulated about $15,000 in inventory.

He knew it was time to beef up security, so he began installing an alarm system. Everything was in place but the master control box. He came into the store on a Saturday night to take displays out of the windows, and found the store completely empty.

Underwood’s had been burgled. “I had insurance, but it was a 1 crushing blow,” says Underwood. “I don’t know how I would have made it.”

Luckily, the burglar was caught three days later, along with all the stolen merchandise. The media was all over the story, as it was the biggest burglary ever in Fayetteville. “It turned out to be great
publicity for us,” says Underwood. “We were now on the map.”

Certified Expertise

Underwood’s has its own accredited gem lab — it was the first in the state — and is one of only 12 stores in the country with four certified gemologist appraisers under one roof. Says Craig Underwood: “We have a duty to be the best we can, to answer any question.” The lab is also part of the store’s branding initiative. “To be stamped as an Underwood piece, it has to be at a high, high level of quality.

Nineteen out of 20 diamonds we see, we reject,” he says.


Questions with Craig Underwood

1. YOU’RE PART OF A NEW LIFESTYLE CENTER. HOW’S THAT WORKING OUT?  Des Moines is experiencing a lot of growth and the new lifestyle center is part of it. When we staked out the lot, we knew Josephs would be the first building people would see as they entered, so we made sure we’re a welcoming sight.

2. DOES UNDERWOOD’S ALWAYS HAVE TO BE THE FIRST, BIGGEST, AND BEST AT EVERYTHING?  It’s very important to be first in every category, but not necessarily the biggest. Just because a diamond is big doesn’t make it desirable or pretty… the same is true in business. Quality, attention to detail, and profitability should take precedence.

3. HOW HAS UNDERWOOD’S THRIVED DOWNTOWN WHEN SO MANY JEWELERS ELSEWHERE HAVE LEFT FOR OUTLYING RETAIL CENTERS?  Being close to a college campus (the University of Arkansas) means this area stays rejuvenated. The second reason is the industry itself. People won’t make a long drive for a $100 shirt, but for an important purchase, they’ll make a road trip in search of the best. The more important the purchase, the larger the geographic range.

4. WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO BE SO INVOLVED IN AN INDUSTRY ORGANIZATION LIKE AGS?  Working in AGS gives you great contacts and a chance to talk to the best, most talented people in the field. It’s also a way to give back to the industry. But it doesn’t work if you only take and never give.

5. SO YOU’RE FEELING PRETTY COOL NOW, RIGHT?  I’m floored! Words can’t describe the excitement and satisfaction. It’s encouraging to be recognized by your peers for your hard work, and it’s very special to have this award.

6. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO OTHER STORE OWNERS WHO WANT TO BE AS COOL AS YOU?  Attention to detail is #1. Constantly innovate. We’re never afraid to try new technology. Although we’re a mature business, we’re always looking for the most cutting-edge gemological skills, education, hardware, inventory control, et cetera.





This Third-Generation Jeweler Was Ready for Retirement. He Called Wilkerson

Retirement is never easy, especially when it means the end to a business that was founded in 1884. But for Laura and Sam Sipe, it was time to put their own needs first. They decided to close J.C. Sipe Jewelers, one of Indianapolis’ most trusted names in fine jewelry, and call Wilkerson. “Laura and I decided the conditions were right,” says Sam. Wilkerson handled every detail in their going-out-of-business sale, from marketing to manning the sales floor. “The main goal was to sell our existing inventory that’s all paid for and turn that into cash for our retirement,” says Sam. “It’s been very, very productive.” Would they recommend Wilkerson to other jewelers who want to enjoy their golden years? Absolutely! “Call Wilkerson,” says Laura. “They can help you achieve your goals so you’ll be able to move into retirement comfortably.”

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