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At Home in The Burbs

Ohio retailer says his greatest successes have come from his greatest risks.



Krombholz Jewelers, Cincinnati, OH

URL:; OWNER: Bill Hoover and Dona Taylor; FOUNDED: 1940; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1977; LAST RENOVATED: 2012; EMPLOYEES: 4 Full-Time, 3 Part-Time; AREA: 3,500 square feet

LEE KROMBHOLZ ISN’T likely to jump on any bandwagons when it comes to store design fads. His store is cool in its own way.

“I’m all about being yourself and being independent,” Krombholz says. “I’m not one of those people who will go look at a lot of jewelry stores and try to copy what other people are doing.

A third-generation retail jeweler, Krombholz describes his store as a seamless blend of homey atmosphere and friendly service. The key for him is ensuring comfort for everyone involved.

“The most important thing is that our customers feel welcome in our space, like they are coming into our house,” Kromholz says. “The design of the cases and layout and the way it’s lit — everything has more of a residential feeling than a typical store,” he says.

He also wants his employees to feel comfortable. “I hope that they look forward to coming to work in an atmosphere of pretty things, nice people and worthwhile relationships with clients.”

In fact, he spends a lot of time there himself and he expects to be relaxed, too.

“It’s important to be yourself in your business,” he says. “You spend a lot of hours of a day there; it’s more of your life often than your home life. I’m a firm believer in making sure as much as possible that everybody is comfortable there. And so, I want the music playing that I would normally listen to.”


Krombholz Jewelers has been in the same location since 1977, and it’s been gradually expanded and updated as the company grew and evolved, and as finances permitted.

Lee Krombholz credits his staff’s positive attitudes as well as the way the store looks and feels for creating the down to earth ambience.

“I do think our store is different than most,” he says. “It’s a little bit more low-key.”

The Early Days

The underlying element through the Krombholz generations, Krombholz says, predates the retail side of the business. It’s a consistency that includes a focus on customers and rock solid ethics.

In 1940, after 20 years of working for jewelry manufacturing companies, Herbert Florian Krombholz, a third-generation metalsmith, purchased the contents of an existing jewelry store. One year later the first Herb Krombholz Jewelry store opened in Silverton, a suburb about 10 minutes north of downtown Cincinnati. Herb’s wife, Mallie, operated the store while Herb kept his day job for a time, as a foreman for the Croninger Jewelry Manufacturing Co. He spent evenings designing jewelry for customers.

Lee Krombholz grew up in the store, working part-time there during high school and college. In 1986, Lee and his wife, Heather, took over the business from his dad, the second Herb Krombholz.


In the early days of the current building, they rented part of it. When they bought the building, they expanded to occupy half of it and rented out the other half. In 1998, they grew into the whole building, and, in 1999 implemented a design based on plans drawn by Ruth Mellergaard of Grid | 3 International.

Since then, they take on remodeling projects from time to time, including the 2012 upgrade that included wood floors.

“If you took the last five years and averaged it, we would have spent about $25,000 a year. We do it ourselves; a friend is in construction so he takes care of that.”

The Rise of Estate

Krombholz grew up loving and even lecturing about antique and estate jewelry.

It was always a niche in the family’s fine jewelry business, and Krombholz had a keen interest in it.

“My father would buy it and re-sell it to a dealer. And when we started having it in the store, we had just one case of it.”

But recently and somewhat unexpectedly, estate and antique jewelry became a much bigger deal. Midway through the Great Recession Krombholz realized it had grown to the No. 1 category in his store.


“There are people who say there’s always business in both good and bad times, and for us the estate business was growing organically in the recessionary days and so it kind of almost invented itself.

“While we do have period jewelry and we occasionally sell it, the more active area is more current, second-hand jewelry, often branded jewelry. For us it’s all about quality. In the estate jewelry and modern jewelry that we consign, we’re looking for the finest quality.”

Based on an analysis of the trend, he decided last year to turn half of his case space over to antique and vintage.

With less than $200,000 of owned inventory, he achieved $2.1 million in sales in 2012, with 50 percent of sales from the custom category. Now, the mix is 50 percent antique and vintage, 15 percent Krombholz-designed jewelry, 30 percent non-branded diamond jewelry and 5 percent price-pointed jewelry.

“My greatest successes have come from the greatest risks,” he says. “After implementing the dramatic change in the inventory mix, 2012 was one of our best years ever.”

But Krombholz does continue to buy new inventory, too, particularly in lower price points.

“We want jewelry that makes an impact, right when you walk in,” he says. “We buy what we call ‘eye candy.’ It tends to be new, exciting designs from smaller designers that keep our store image trendy and exciting.”


Style Discovery

Krombholz has implemented a process for custom design customers that he calls Style Discovery.

When clients first come in, he asks that they do homework, which involves finding pictures of designs they like online or in magazines, to pin down their style. This can also pay dividends later. “If we know a person’s style, then if a piece comes in that matches their style we can call them if it’s something we think they would like,” he says.

“If they don’t do the style discovery process, though, we will walk around the store with them and ask them to point out things they like and don’t like.”

After that, he’ll set up an appointment time to sit down at a desk and peruse a catalog, which includes everything they’ve made in the past five or six years.

“From there, typically we come to some sort of an idea of what would work and what they would want,” Krombholz says. “I give them a ballpark price at that point. I do the CAD design and if it’s something that can be expressed well in a CAD rendering we can send them an email, or, if not, sometimes we skip that and go to a wax model.

“Then we call them back in and require that they look at the model and from there we cast and finish the piece of jewelry.”


Five Cool Things About Krombholz Jewelers

1. FLEXIBLE SPACE: The front of Gallery of Jewels’ Fillmore location is blessed with lots of natural light. Halogen track lighting helps jewelry toward the back of the store pop, while a large chandelier over the cash wrap offers a strong visual statement of the store’s artful-but-not-ostentatious personality.

2. AD PLAN: “I spend less than 2 percent of gross sales on advertising, particularly since late 2008. Instead of running an ad, I look at what a newspaper ad, or a city magazine ad costs, and I just choose to spend that in other ways that are more event or promotionally related,” Krombholz says. “We have a series of parties every first Friday with live music.” Other promotions: private jet trips to New York’s Diamond District and participation in two episodes of “Extreme Makeover, Home Edition,” for which Krombholz designed a gift of jewelry.

3. OFF-SITE SALES: Krombholz has sold jewelry offsite at antique shows, fundraisers, private parties at clients’ homes, vintage car shows, online and in jewelry stores in other parts of the country.

4. PHILANTHROPY: I do feel strongly in making contributions but instead of just writing a check, I want to have some kind of connection to it. St. Vincent de Paul does a fashion show called retro fittings. Design students go to St. Vincent de Paul, tear an outfit apart and remake it. We sponsor that and we accept the same challenge: we rebuild a piece of jewelry and they auction that during the show.”

5. SAMPLE SALE: “We have one major sale a year. It used to be our jewelry — three days, very quick. But our inventory got cleaner and cleaner so we invented our sample sale; inviting our vendors to participate with us. We send them a letter, asking for close-out inventory, mark it up between 10 to 15 percent and it’s three days, three very active days of business.”

Try This

“If you take the same jewelry and you switch it around, it’s amazing how people recognize things differently. It’s like new inventory all the time.”



She Wanted to Spend More Time with Her Kids. She Called Wilkerson.

Your children are precious. More precious than gold? Absolutely! Just ask Lesley Ann Davis, owner of Lesley Ann Jewels, an independent jewelry store that — until the end of 2023 — had quite a following in Houston, Texas. To spend more time with her four sons, all in high school, she decided to close her store. Luckily, she was familiar with Wilkerson and called them as soon as she knew she wanted to move on to bigger, better and more family-focused things. Was she happy with her decision? Yes, she was. Says Davis, “Any owner looking to make that life change, looking to retire, looking to close, looking for a pause in their career, I would recommend Wilkerson. Hands down!”

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