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Beginnings: Five Retailers’ Stories

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[h3]Five Retailers Share the Stories of Their Start[/h3]

[componentheading]DAN MOYER[/componentheading]
[contentheading]1979: A Young Entrepreneur Does It on His Own[/contentheading]

[dropcap cap=A] MONTH AFTER COLLEGE GRADUATION, most college students are a little bit lost. Some are starting up the corporate ladder from the very lowest rung, others are mowing lawns or flipping burgers, and still others are not thinking about work at all and simply hanging out at the beach.[/dropcap]

Dan Moyer didn’t fall into any of these categories. One month after his graduation from college, Moyer opened his own jewelry store, with his own money. Says Moyer: “When I graduated in May of 1979, I was already making more money from my own jewelry sales than I could working for someone else.”

That kind of boldness has been a pattern for Moyer, who began his jewelry career in 1974, while still in high school — selling turquoise and sterling silver to other students. The year was 1974, and a friend of Moyer’s father had become a wholesaler, specializing in Native American jewelry. “I went up to his apartment and was intrigued with what he was doing,” Moyer recalls. “He asked me if I wanted to sell some. Next thing I know, I’m taking this little box up to my high school to sell jewelry.”

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After graduating high school, Moyer decided to take a trip that would let him see new places and better understand the jewelry business. So, that summer, he drove up and down the East Coast with his supplier’s brother-in-law. On weekdays, they tried to interest jewelry stores in their jewelry, and on weekends, they sold at shows. While the trip was an adventure, sales didn’t come easy. “I learned a lot about people,” says Moyer, “But I also learned how hard it is to be a traveling salesman.”

For the supplier’s brother-in-law, that trip was enough. After returning home, he went on to become a truck driver. But the trip only made Moyer more eager to succeed with his own business. Returning home just in time to attend the Chicago Gift Show, he bought six gold chains with the $150 he had saved from his trip. He was back in business.

During his college years, Moyer never stopped selling. On weekends, he sold to beauticians. And on weeknights, he sold at sorority houses, displaying his wares as the girls ate dinner. Moyer remembers one particular favorite customer: the sorority that let its members put purchases on their house accounts. All purchases would then be charged to the girls’ parents as part of their monthly fees.

Profits were substantial — in fact, Moyer put himself through college on the earnings. After graduating with a degree in finance, he opened his first store, D.L. Moyer & Company, in Indianapolis, in June, 1979. The store was located in front of a popular nail salon — an odd location, but a fortunate one for Moyer. “Customers had to walk past all my jewelry cases to get to the salon,” he says. “It was great sharing space with the salon, and selling to other salons. Their clients became my clients, and I had women to talk to all day long. I sold to all the best beauticians around, and the most wealthy people in town were their clientele.”

At that time, he was selling gold chains, leather, and just about anything else he could find to put in the showcases. In November, the salon and Moyer’s store moved to Carmel (a suburb of Indianapolis). He didn’t sell his first diamond until the spring of 1980.

Finally, in March 1982, Moyer was ready for his own location: a 1,200-square foot strip mall space. He made the strategic decision to lease the back of the store to a jeweler. He now had a full-time jeweler on the premises to handle repairs. “And I didn’t have to pay him a dime,” says Moyer. “In fact, he paid me to be there.” That year, he had $25,000 in gross profit … for December alone. “I thought, ‘Man oh man, I’m on it now!’” he laughs.

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As the years passed, Moyer’s business continued to grow — and, in 1993, he built a new building with a 6,000 square-foot showroom and 13,500 square-feet of total space. Today, D.L. Moyer & Co. remains in the same location, which has undergone several renovations over the years.

Looking back, Moyer is still surprised at all he was able to accomplish. Especially considering he managed to build his business without any outside guidance. Says Moyer: “I had no mentors, and no one to take care of me. In fact, even my jeweler was taking advantage of me until I found out about it.”

Moyer barely communicated with any other jewelers until the mid-1980s. And he says that one of the biggest learning experiences of his career was a trip to Basel, which came after more than 14 years in business. Ironically, by that time, his yearly revenues were already greater than the large majority of jewelers.

Now, with more than 25 years of experience, and yearly sales of more than $5 million, Moyer still misses the old days, when success or failure depended on only one person: himself.

Says Moyer: “I had nothing to lose, I was having fun, and there were no expectations. It was sink or swim based on what I did. The responsibility level now is far greater than it was then. Priorities certainly change as you get older, and I have a lot more security now. But what could be more fun at age 22 than living the way I lived?”

Moyer’s advice for anybody just starting in the business is simple: “Don’t try to get too big too quickly.” He advises first-time storeowners to take their time — it’s okay to be small. “Never try to spend money you don’t have,” he warns. “Be ready to work hard and build a good strong base. And always be honest, even if you don’t make money on it.”

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These days, Moyer continues to make bold moves … and chafes at too much of the “same old same-old.” He is always working on other ventures, his most recent involving the Internet. “It’s all about coming up with a system, finding an easier way to build the mousetrap,” he says, his voice tinged with excitement. “I was never a great manager, but I am a good entrepreneur.” — TRACE SHELTON

[componentheading]BARBARA RANDALL[/componentheading]

[contentheading]1995: An Expert Learns A Lesson[/contentheading]

[dropcap cap=W]AS THE MONTH BEFORE CHRISTMAS, and all through the store, the cases were lined with jewels galore. But a fully merchandised store was about the only thing that Barbara Randall and her business partner/husband, Randy Hight, had when they opened their business in November 1995.[/dropcap

With just four weeks to go before a jeweler’s most important month was to hit, Randall had not one plan in place. No publicity, no promotions, no advertising. Nothing.

In fact, if Randall was still working in her earlier position — as Midwest director for the Diamond Promotion Service — and had met a retailer in the same situation, she would probably have talked herself out of opening so soon.

Good thing she didn’t. Because while Hight and Randall’s promotional plans were in disarray, the couple did have a number of advantages: a good store, a good location, and an enviable array of merchandise for a brand-new store. So they went for it. They opened the doors to Hight & Randall Personal Jewelers and prayed for the holiday shoppers of Rochester, NY, to come scurrying in.

What Randall lacked in terms of a prepared grand-opening plan that first Christmas she made up for with some on-the-spot creativity. Taking her treasured teddy bear collection from home, she created her first holiday window that she credits with getting the attention of passers-by.

“It was our ‘Bearly Believable’ window, and it fit in beautifully with the turn-of-the-century building we were in,” she says.

Whether it was luck or a Christmas miracle, it doesn’t matter now. What matters was Hight & Randall survived its first holiday.

“It could have been disastrous, but we ended up having a good Christmas selling season,” the jeweler says. Of course, she adds with a laugh, when you aren’t expecting anything, you’re always happy with something.

Still, she admits that she wasn’t practicing what she had preached during her eight-year career as the Diamond Promotion Service’s Midwest director. “I have learned it is so easy to give advice but when you are in the midst of it, it is a different story,” Randall says.

The former instructor had spent a good part of her career giving advice and teaching — first with GIA, traveling around the country teaching gemological courses. After growing tired of the trips the job required, which lasted as long as two months at a time, she applied for, and got, the director’s job with the DPS.

In addition to more time at home, the job provided Randall with an important benefit: a complete, first-hand education for opening her own jewelry store. “I had the luxury of learning from some of the best retailers in the Midwest,” she says.

That education gave her enough confidence to decide to open her own store. But once she had made that decision, the doubts started to creep in. And the question “Can I really run a retail store?” nagged at Randall constantly, finally peaking on that November day that she finally unlocked the front doors to Hight & Randall Personal Jewelers.

“From 1989 to 1995, I had worked with DPS. It was my job to help retailers learn how to sell more diamonds. Now the real moment of truth was here. Could I do it?” Randall says. “You know, you can read all about learning how to swim, but it is different once you get wet,” she adds.

Admittedly, Randall had numerous advantages that helped launch her into retail. She had the GIA background, the DPS training and numerous manufacturing and designer connections that provided her access to a large, quality inventory. Plus, she had the perfect partner: her husband, whom Randall met while teaching a GIA course in Minnesota, and who was able to supply the business acumen Randall sometimes lacked.

“I think my biggest challenge early on was having to learn about cash flow. With DPS there was always a paycheck,” she says.

While mastering issues like cash flow, Randall also had to be careful to build the image she wanted for her business. Her goal from the start was to be an AGS jeweler catering to the higher end of the market, with 65% of sales coming from custom designs. It was an image that she believes she almost tarnished with an early mistake.

In an effort to drive traffic into the store, Randall developed a big promotion in which she would send introductory-offer coupons to 1,000 customers. However, after sending the promotion to the printer, the jeweler tossed and turned all night. Did she really want to her first exposure to such a large group of customers to be one in which the main value proposition was saving money? “When we picked it up the next day, I looked at it and said ‘We can’t send this out. This coupon is just another clever way to use discounting,’” Randall says.

Today, several boxes of the promotional pieces sit in the store’s back closet as a reminder of an early mistake avoided. “It would have sent a mixed message to our customers and we could have shot ourselves in the foot,” she says. “We really do need to clean out that closet.”

In the ten years since, the store has avoided any other self-inflicted injuries and is flourishing.

And despite her extensive education prior to opening her store, she has learned many, many new things over the years — things like it is better to rent first before buying so that a jeweler can get a feel for both community and the building. Randall has also learned that, in retail, it is good to have another person to balance you out. In the store, she categorizes herself as the dreamer while her husband is the “bean counter.”

“I will come up with an idea, and he will say we can’t afford it,” Randall says. “I don’t like the words, ‘You can’t!’” Yet, she admits, she goes back to the drawing board and usually ends up improving on the original idea.

“I would not trade this for anything,” Randall says of her journey into retail. “Not a thing.” — DONNA FRISCHKNECHT

[componentheading]KHAL AND SALLY JONES[/componentheading]

[contentheading]1992: An Adventure Starring John Wayne[/contentheading]

[dropcap cap=K]ENTUCKY, 1992. It was a cold, wet, gray Sunday morning … the kind of morning that makes you want to be somewhere else, anywhere else. Hal and Sally Jones, the owners of a small antique store, were enjoying a day off by watching a John Wayne western on television.[/dropcap]

The setting was, naturally, bright sun, blistering heat, and desert. While watching the movie, something clicked inside Sally and she turned to Hal and said, “Let’s move somewhere like that, out west.” Something had clearly clicked with Hal as well, because his answer was: “Let’s go!”

They placed an ad in the newspaper and sold their house, leaving the 40-something couple with just enough money left to move. After a two-day drive to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, they found Las Cruces, a town of 75,000 people on the Mexican-American border. It was hot, dry, and blistering … just like in the John Wayne movie. This was the place. Without knowing a single person in town, the Joneses set up shop in an 800 square-foot strip mall location, and Jones & Co. was born.

Hal and Sally got their start in the jewelry business in the late 1960s, when they worked together for a company called Stief-Jaccards in Nashville. In 1976, the two decided to start their own business, opening a jewelry store in Rosenberg, TX, just outside of Houston. Eventually, they sold the store to one of their best customers — who wanted to buy it for his son, who was just graduating college. The Joneses moved back to Kentucky to be close to their family. During this time, the Joneses became fascinated with antiques, and soon after, opened their own store.

But, says Hal Jones, they began to miss the industry in which their careers had begun: jewelry. “You don’t really miss something until you’re away from it a while,” he says. So, when building their new store in Las Cruces, they knew they wanted to focus on jewelry, though they never did abandon antiques entirely. In the beginning, though, the antiques filled up more space, a critical benefit to the inventory-poor store. Says Jones: “800 square-feet sounds like a small space, but when you have nothing to put in it, it’s huge.”

The Joneses also used the only possessions they had to fill the rest of the showroom space: their own household furniture. Couch, chairs, coffee table, lamps, even a magazine rack and some old pictures for the walls … all of these were the Jones’s personal possessions.

“Imagine our surprise when we found out that our customers loved it!” laughs Hal. Store visitors enjoyed the feeling of walking into such a comfortable, inviting setting — like someone’s living room. (Little did they know that it actually was someone’s living room.)

Says Hal: “People thought we were going for an intended look, that we had some cool strategy behind it. They didn’t know that was the only ‘look’ we could afford.”

Hal and Sally knew they had stumbled upon something special — and that they should always try to maintain that homey, warm, fuzzy feeling in their business. But meanwhile, the Joneses could barely afford the inflatable mattress on which they slept on the floor of their small apartment, located near the store. The store was opened with $100 out of Sally’s purse. There was no cash register, just a drawer under the counter. The store had three old glass showcases they had bought from an out-of-business department store. Product bags were simply brown lunch bags from the grocery store. They acquired some free brass sample rings from one vendor, $1,200 worth of gold chains and earrings from another, and some cheap colored stone rings from a wholesaler who operated his business out of a mobile home. Citizen gave the fledgling operation 36 watches and six months to pay for them. And it was until the first summer that their inventory received its most important addition — their first diamond ring.

Hal jokes that it was easy to keep an eye on inventory after closing time: “At night, when we put our jewelry out of sight, everything except the watches would fit in a single cigar box!”

Their first year in business, the Joneses did $129,000 in sales. Not much to live on. But, says Hal, “We lived in a beautiful warm place with the friendliest people we had ever met, and we couldn’t have been happier.”

Around that time, the Joneses decided to open an estate “department,” which Hal defines as “previously owned things from anywhere we could find them.” Because of the store’s buzz-worthy “look”, word spread quickly to attorneys, banks, and accounting firms, who began contacting Jones & Co. for help in settling estates. One such estate sale turned out to be the largest event of its kind ever held in Las Cruces. The store had people lined up for over two blocks, waiting to get in. The event made the front page of the local newspaper. It was just the boost that Jones & Co. needed.

In Jones & Co.’s second year, business more than doubled. By year four, it had doubled again. Soon the company (or “the little business that could”, as Hal calls it) was doing more than $1 million a year in annual volume. “We had to pinch ourselves every day,” says Hal.

Staff has grown to nine employees, but the store still inhabits the same space as it did 13 years ago. “Just with the staff in the store we look full,” he jokes.

Jones credits their success to a willingness to start at the bottom. “Everyone told us not to do it,” says Jones. “We had no money to drive traffic, and there were 20 other jewelry stores in town.” But, where most people might have a big mortgage, two car payments, and credit card debt, the Joneses had no debt and cheap rent. “And we’ve never been embarrassed to drive an old car,” he says.

Even more amazingly, Jones & Co. never had to borrow a dime to fund their operation. “We came to Las Cruces to enjoy life and each other, not stress over a business,” Jones adds. “Our philosophy has always been to turn the key, go in, have fun, and go home.”

As for the future? Jones says it’s too far ahead to think about. “We do everything wrong,” he claims. “We kind of fly by the seat of our pants and make things work one day at a time.” He says that he and Sally never take their lives, or their customers, for granted. “Our last year in Kentucky, we were selling pumpkins in the fall,” Jones says. “Now we are selling diamonds. What a trip!” — TRACE SHELTON

[componentheading]SUSAN EISEN[/componentheading]

[contentheading]1980: An Artist Gets A Taste for Business[/contentheading]

[dropcap cap=N]EVER DIS SUSAN EISEN THINK she would end up in retail. As a student attending the University of Texas in El Paso in the mid-70s, she had no visions of display cases brimming with precious baubles. No dreams of a store bearing her own name. She was an designer — a creative type, an artist.[/dropcap]

At her university, Eisen was known as a metalhead. No, not the hard-core rock music type. The metal that got her blood racing was the metal work she spent most of her time majoring in — 117 hours, to be exact — spent in the fine arts program where she mastered jewelry design, fabrication and manufacturing techniques.

“I didn’t know what I was going to be,” she says. Sure, she was an art major. Sure, she loved metal work. But becoming a jeweler? Eisen, who celebrates 25 years as a retail jeweler this year with not just one but two 2,400 square-foot stores bearing her name and brimming with jewelry, laughs.

It’s the same laugh she gave in 1980 when the owners of Tiara Jewelers asked if Eisen wanted to buy their custom-made jewelry business.

“I knew these two women and they were going to split up — one wanted to go to law school. So they asked if I would like to take on the business,” Eisen recalls. Cradling a three-month-old baby in her arms, the young art major mom quickly said no. “There was no way,” she says.

The owners, who were either very persistent or, more likely, saw something special in Eisen, came back three months later and asked again.

Cradling her now six-month-old baby, Eisen began seeing things a little bit differently. In about two days the store would close … and all she would have to to do was assume the lease. She wouldn’t have the hassle of finding a location or setting up shop. Eisen had to ask herself, “Why not?”

“I wouldn’t be starting from scratch,” she says. So she took the plunge. On May 8, 1980, Eisen entered the jewelry business — a young mom and art major armed with a passion for design and metal work.

At first, it was hard working all alone. “It was just me and the bench,” Eisen admits.

She loved creating jewelry but the realities of running a business began surfacing. For example, there was the problem of image she had to address, starting with the business’ name, Tiara Jewelers.

Being located in a Mexican border town, Eisen wondered why the previous owners chose a name so close to the Spanish word for “dirt.” (In Spanish, dirt is tierra.)

“Not good for a jewelry business,” she laughs.

Then there was the location problem. Tiara Jewelers was totally in the wrong neighborhood.

“It was in a historic house near the art museum. It was not the happening retail part of town,” Eisen recalls.

Still, being new to business, she tried to make both name and location work. She teamed up with an art gallery and hosted local shows in the store, which generated a lot of free press. She began networking and making friends with other bench jewelers so that when she got into a jam she had a support system to fall back on. And probably the most important business move she made early in her career was mastering the art of doing her own publicity.

“I remember taking a photography class at the house of this older lady,” Eisen says. The photographer proved to be Eisen’s guardian angel as she was the one who taught the promising jewelry retailer all she needed to know about press releases, photographs and working with the media. To this day, Eisen still does her own press releases.

In spite of the challenges, Eisen’s one-woman retail show was growing slowly. She hired a part-time jeweler and used every spare moment she had to continue her jewelry education. Something she knew she needed to do.

“There were times when people would ask me about a stone and I did not have a clue,” Eisen says, owing her gratitude to the GIA courses she took over the years.

Ten years later, Eisen realized she had done enough trying to make the Tiara name and location work and took a bold step. In 1990, Eisen moved her business to a strip center and changed the name to Susan Eisen Fine Jewelry and Watches. It was the start of a new decade of growth that led to a full-service jewelry store complete with staff. The introduction of designer names and the launch of a second store came a few years later.

Looking back now, is there anything Eisen would have done differently? Not really, except maybe it would have been valuable to have worked in another jewelry store first before opening her own.

“I think I would have saved myself ten years of learning by mistakes had I worked in another store,” Eisen says.  
For now, Eisen’s first-day-on-the-job jitters and having the constant, nagging question “Can I do this?” running through her mind, are a distant memory. But the same passion for the product that led her into retail remains as strong as ever.

“I have built my business and now I think it is time for me to let myself get back to my designing,” she says.

And with 25 years of experience comes a new freedom to live a little and to experiment — some heavy metal, perhaps? No, she’s thinking more about redesigning the interior of her store with a more contemporary look, the style Eisen prefers.

Then she’ll see what’s next. — DONNA FRISCHKNECHT

[componentheading]JAMES R. DUNN[/componentheading]

[contentheading]1967: From IBM to ‘The House of Gems'[/contentheading]

[dropcap cap=T]HE YEAR WAS 1967, the “Summer of Love”. And while much of the rest of the country was going mad, James Robert Dunn was living the corporate life with all the trimmings. An executive’s position with IBM in Boston. Daily uniform of pinstriped suit and wingtips. A fat paycheck. And an overwhelming sense of restlessness.[/dropcap]

Always a lover of gemology, Dunn found the answer to his yearnings when, along with his wife, Anne Marie, he took $10,000 in savings and purchased a little Cape Cod house in the town of Hanover, MA. It was in this house that the couple opened their first jewelry store.

The name? “What else but ‘The House of Gems’,” says Dunn.

As a prudent businessman entering a brand-new field, Dunn thought it was best to keep his day job for a while. So he continued working at IBM while Anne Marie handled the daily business of making the store grow. Which, slowly but steadily, it did.

From the very beginning, Dunn stuck out in the jewelry industry — showing up at meetings dressed in full IBM regalia. But the pinstriped suits and wingtips proved to be a major advantage — his professional appearance helping to disguise the fact that he was running what could only be classified as a “Mom and Pop” business.

Says Dunn: “We had a cigar box for a cash register!” He laughs, realizing the irony of an executive with the world’s biggest producer of business machines running his own business out of a cigar box.

Dunn’s first big convert was Lazare Kaplan, who provided the company with a critical line of credit. Other top-notch suppliers and manufacturers would soon follow. In 1969, Dunn felt confident enough that he finally took the leap of faith and hung up his pinstripe suit — leaving IBM and becoming a full-time jeweler.

But the couple’s fledgling business still had a major hurdle to clear. In 1970, a year after buying The House of Gems, the store was burglarized.

“What could we do?” Dunn asks. The only thing the couple could do was to replace the stolen inventory — out of their own pocket. But that wasn’t all. The Dunns dug even deeper into their own pockets replacing all the jewelry from customers who had dropped their precious treasures off for repair.

If it hadn’t been for Dunn’s decision to do double-duty with IBM, the business would have died right there. But because of his caution, the couple had enough cash — though barely — to replace their stolen inventory, not to mention all the jewelry their customers had dropped off for repair.

The Dunns had just taken their first — and luckily, their last — hard knock from the jewelry world. And they learned several important lessons. Lesson one: never operate a jewelry business without insurance. And lesson two: even in the hardest of times, you have to take care of your customers.

Customers were impressed by the grit and integrity with which the Dunns handled their responsibilities after the robbery. In fact, far from being a deadly blow to the business, the robbery proved to be a key factor in its future success. Says Dunn, “This was the incident that gave us a loyal customer following.”

Before long, those loyal customers had helped the Dunns’ business turn the corner. Moving from their small Cape Cod village, the store was eventually relocated in a mall in South Weymouth, MA. And with the move came the official name change to J.R. Dunn Jewelers and a new focus on higher-end merchandise. Yes, the couple’s days of changing money out of a cigar box were gone forever.

As their business grew, the Dunns found themselves spending more and more time vacationing in Southern Florida. By the late 1970s, the couple were in a state of semi-retirement in Florida, having left day-to-day management of the original store in Massachussets to others.

But rather than an ending, the move to Florida turned out to be another beginning for the couple. For one thing, Dunn was once again restless in the Sunshine State. After all, he jokes, “I don’t golf.” And for another, the couple’s son, Sean, had graduated from college and was getting his introduction to the jewelry industry by working for for Ben Bridge Jewelers in Seattle. Soon, he would be ready to join the thriving family business. That’s about the time that Dunn spotted an interesting-looking property for rent in South Florida — a 6,000 square-foot building in Lighthouse Point. Dunn couldn’t resist the temptation. Originally, he took the lease intending to rent half of the building to a real estate agency while keeping the other half for a private by-appointment-only jewelry salon. But, in short time, the private business had grown to the point where it needed more room. Dunn eventually took over the whole building. The space later expanded to its current 8,000 square-feet.

After the move to Florida, the sun continued shining — both literally and figuratively — on the Dunns, and in October 2002, the family opened a second store on Ft. Lauderdale’s trendy Las Olas Boulevard. The 2,700 square-foot store, which has won three architect awards, sits in the center of Florida’s emerging financial district. While you won’t find many pinstriped suits there, it’s a neighborhood the former IBM’er probably feels at home in.

Though the move to Florida was originally meant for retirement, the Dunns are now busier than ever. Not to mention more successful, with more than $15 million in sales from their two locations in 2004. And Dunn’s perfectly happy to keep working: after all, there’s no need to retire when you’re having this much fun. Says Dunn, “I am adamant about reaching out to others, about being active in the community.”

In this area, the business has been extremely active. One of its major community initiatives is an annual five-mile road race, Dunn’s Run, which was launched in 1996 and has become a highlight in the South Florida social calendar. The event, which raises money for the Deerfield Beach Boys and Girls Club, has made more than a million dollars since its inception.

You can be sure that many more millions will be raised. After all, while James Robert Dunn may have given up his pinstripe suit, this jeweler has more than a knack for business. He has a heart for jewelry retailing. — DONNA FRISCHKNECHT

[componentheading]WHAT WE LEARNED[/componentheading]

Our “Beginnings” feature subjects shared the biggest lessons they learned from the rocky, dramatic, but ultimately successful, launches of their businesses:  

[h4][b]DAN MOYER[/b][/h4]
— “I learned to take care of my customer no matter what it took, even if it meant being in the store at midnight.”
— “The most important thing I did was asking someone to buy something, taking a chance — just going for it and having fun.”
— “My biggest mistake was not learning from someone else first, which meant I paid too much for things for many years.”

[h4][b]BARBARA RANDALL[/b][/h4]
— ”What I learned was to make sure to take time out of your day to day to learn. Attend seminars, read, network, and make sure you come back and implement what you learned.”
— ”My mentor was DPS’ Gene Laroff. His words of wisdom on balance in your life be it spiritual, emotional, healthful, financial, educational, social, career and family, have been the ‘small voice’ in my ears over the years.”

[h4][b]HAL AND SALLY JONES[/b][/h4]
— ”We learned not to take things so seriously, and not to devote time to the business at the expense of our time together.”
— ”The most important thing we did was to create a ‘homey’ atmosphere in the store and never work under pressure.”
— ”Our biggest mistake was thinking we could open a little business and limit it to ‘just the two of us.’ ”

[h4][b]SUSAN EISEN[/b][/h4]
— “I learned to do my own publicity.”
— ”Most important thing I did was take advantage of all the education available in the industry.”
— ”My biggest mistake was perhaps not moving to a better location sooner.”

[h4][b]J.R. DUNN[/b][/h4]
— “My biggest mistake was not taking insurance out the first year of business.”
— ”Don’t become too branded. Have a good mix. Often if you have too many brands, you become like a 7-Eleven store.”

[componentheading]RESOURCES[/componentheading]

[contentheading]So You’re Ready to Begin?[/contentheading]

You’re a manufacturer’s sales rep who’s ready to defect to the other side. You’re an employee in someone else’s store and you think it’s time that run the shop. Whatever your situation, your goal is clear — you want to run your own jewelry store, and you want to start the process now. Here’s some tips on setting yourself up for a smart start:

[h4][b]Read Ravenously[/b][/h4]

— Don’t think that you know it all. Right now, before you start, is the time that you should be getting your Master’s Degree in Smart Retailing. There’s no school for this — all you need to do is to read a couple of books per month until you’re so pumped up that you can’t stand it anymore and have to start your own store. One of the best general books for the beginning retailer is So You Want To Own the Store: Secrets To Running a Successful Retail Operation by Mort Brown and Thomas Tilling. This book provides solid, comprehensive advice on all the start-up basics: funding your start-up, finding a location, negotiating a lease, hiring your first employees and more. Other books you should read that will help get you through set-up and start-up: The Bootstrapper’s Bible by Seth Godin, Guerrilla Marketing Weapons by Jay Levinson, The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, and Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. And, of course, you should continue reading Instore each month, not to mention visiting www.instoremag.com — where we have searchable archives of every issue we’ve ever published online.

[h4][b]Find A Niche[/b][/h4]

— Think of one thing that you think you can do better than anyone else in your market. For your sake, and the sake of the other jewelers in your community, please don’t make that differentiating factor be “I’ll sell 25% cheaper than any other jewelers!” You’ll starve before your competitors even notice that they’re hungry. But the fact is, you’ll all suffer. Good niches for start-ups: custom design (keeps that inventory light!) or any specific jewelry category: bridal, colored stones, costume or estate jewelry. Don’t worry — you can always expand later.

[h4][b]Determine Your Market[/b][h4]

— This is one of the most intimidating parts of the start-up. Guy Kawasaki warns against the fallacy of making “bottom-up” marketing assumptions — e.g. “My community has ten jewelers and a population of 200,000. Ten percent buy jewelry each year. I’ll get 10 percent of that business. The average ticket price will be $1,000. Hey, I’ll make $2 million in sales my first year!” Instead, start with real-world variables and build from there. You’ll have to get out there and do some research — for example, local newspaper advertising rates, average response rates to those advertisements, traffic at the type of location you’re considering, the number of people who pass a store per hour versus the number who enter. Even then, the numbers you generate will still have a lot of “wiggle factor” — but they’ll be a lot more realistic than those “bottom-up” assumptions. And that knowledge will help you as you move onto next steps: securing bank loans, setting a budget, finding a location, and staffing your store.

[span class=note]This story is from the March 2005 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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Borsheims Shareholders Weekend Demands All Hands on Deck

Hospitality crucial, no matter the size of your trunk show.

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PLANNING A TRUNK show this fall? What if your trunk show involved 100 vendors, as many as 35,000 customers and 25,000 catered meatballs?

Borsheims in Omaha, NE, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, meets that challenge annually with an all-hands-on-deck approach when it opens its doors each May to all of the company’s shareholders who want to come.

The jewelry store plays host to a cocktail party on Friday night and a shareholder shopping day on Sunday. Both events spill into the mall, which is closed to the public, and into the parking lot. “We really look at this from a hospitality approach,” says Adrienne Fay, director of marketing and business sales. “We want to thank the shareholders for their loyalty and patronage.”

This year there were 100 jewelry, watch and gift vendors, some of whom brought in products for their trunk shows that wouldn’t be seen anywhere else in the U.S., Fay says. “You’ve never seen jewelry cases as packed as they are during Berkshire weekend. We call it our Christmas in May. We do a transaction every 11 seconds during the weekend.”

STAFFING

For weeks leading up to the event, job descriptions blur as every employee plays a role from helping with catering to managing vendors. They hire additional staff for the weekend, ask corporate staff to work the sales floor and bring in runners and cashiers.

“The last thing we would want to have is someone standing around and no one able to help them,” says Jaci Stuifbergen, who guides Borsheims’ experiential marketing. “Everyone involved is a representative of Borsheims, from those setting up a large tent to those providing food and beverages. We want every caterer to represent Borsheims well and have the same customer-focused mindset that we do the whole time they are here.”

ENTERTAINMENT

Even though it’s a private event, shareholders are under no obligation to buy jewelry. So creating the right customer experience is vital in this, as in any, event situation. “Whether it’s a regular trunk show or during this event, the thing we want to provide is a really great experience,” Stuifbergen says. “We know they could buy this jewelry from other stores or on the Internet, but what we have to offer are customer service and knowledgeable staff. Complimentary alcohol never hurts!” she says.

It might be the only chance to convert shoppers. “It’s such a destination store that for a lot of people, this is the only time in the year, or maybe in a decade, that they come here,” Stuifbergen says. They set up two bars and two buffet lines in the parking lot under the biggest tent they can rent. Sunday’s party often features Bershire Hathaway CEO and Chairman Warren Buffett playing bridge or table tennis with Bill Gates, Microsoft founder. There’s also a live band and a magician. On Friday night, the caterer serves more than 25,000 meatballs.

BRAND IDENTITY

The shareholders, who are Warren Buffett groupies, want to buy anything that’s affiliated with him, from pearl strands with his signature on the clasp and diamonds with his signature laser-inscribed inside to affordable gift products stamped with his face or the company logo. Last year, they used a custom etching machine to inscribe personal messages inside the diamonds while customers waited.

DEBRIEFING

Almost immediately after the event, everyone in the company is asked for input and feedback, which is compiled into a seven or eight page document and carefully analyzed. Feedback has led to changes like improved security and gift bags for vendors as a token of appreciation.

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This Retailer Combined Diamonds with Donuts for a Sweet Event

Social media played a big role in drawing 50 new customers.

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DIAMONDS AND DONUTS are each desirable in their own right, but put them together and the combination proves irresistible. At least it did in April for customers of Bernie Robbins Jewelers, whose purchases hit seven figures in four locations over two days.

Owner Harvey Rovinsky said he had noticed “donut roll” events in other types of retail-store promotions and thought donuts would be a great draw to add to the Bernie Robbins promotional repertoire, which has included a Yoga Fest, a Chic at the Shore series of summer events and trunk shows, a student design contest and a high-profile Super Bowl ticket giveaway, along with a recent emphasis on social media, digital advertising and geo-fencing.

“We always want to do something that is different, unique, that people will talk about,” Rovinsky says. “In my mind, donuts go with everything, and they certainly go with diamonds. Because of what the marketing team put together, there was a story to tell besides this jewelry store and their diamonds. It was a way to make a jewelry store visit more fun.”

As it happens, the shape of donuts is even suggestive of a ring.

Integral to promoting the event was a “donut wall” for customer selfies, created entirely by the staff, who invited customers to decorate the donuts with bridal toppers.

Says Peter Salerno, digital-marketing manager: “The idea came in the form of having a part of the store that is more photogenic, something new and fun. Our sales staff used their own Instagram accounts to reach out to customers, and we also advertised on traditional digital platforms. It was a cool space, a departure from a typical jewelry store. It had interaction and on-site activation.”

Customers were invited to decorate donuts with bridal-themed toppers, adding to the in-store experience, during Bernie Robbins’ Diamonds and Donuts event.

The store also borrowed wedding gowns for display that the staff accessorized with diamond jewelry.

“We had champagne, flowers, and it smelled like a bakery,” says Cristin Cipa, director of marketing.

The sales event represented true value for customers, who shopped at up to 50 percent off for mountings, engagement rings and wedding bands, and saved up to 40 percent on a large selection of GIA-graded loose diamonds. Instant credit and interest-free financing added to the appeal of instant gratification.

While salespeople set up appointments in advance to ensure their best clients would visit, the promotion also lured 50 new customers over two days.

“We had cooperation from all of our staff — marketing, selling, support staff,” Rovinsky says. “We checked all of the boxes when it came to marketing and we did an enormous amount of clienteling. Sightholders sent us hundreds of thousands of dollars in diamonds for two days at great prices. It was a win-win-win — a win for our clients, for our salespeople and for Bernie Robbins.” The entire staff was given a bonus as a result.

As for timing, April is diamond month, Rovinsky says. “Is it a popular time for engagements? Who knows? But we made it into one.”

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Portland, OR, Couple Fine-Tunes the No-Pressure Engagement Ring Sale

Website and window displays create perfect curb appeal.

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Malka Diamonds & Jewelry, Portland, OR

OWNERS: David and Ronnie Malka; URL: malkadiamonds.com ; FOUNDED: 2010; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN: One Hundred Agency and Bedford Brown Store; EMPLOYEES: 3 ; AREA: 1,000 square feet total; 700 square foot showroom; TOP BRANDS: Custom, vintage, Point No Point Studios, Vatche, Jolie Design; ONLINE PRESENCE: 1,645 Instagram followers, 957 Facebook followers, 4.9 Stars with 62 Google reviews; RENOVATED: 2018; BUILDOUT COST: $75,000; SHOWCASES:KDM


Ronnie and David Malka

VINTAGE RINGS DISPLAYED in authentic, retro jewelry boxes share space with newly minted engagement rings in the front window of Malka Diamonds & Jewelry, a boutique shop in the historic Hamilton building in the heart of downtown Portland.

Passersby enchanted by that tempting array are welcomed inside by owners David and Ronnie Malka, who offer guests a warm greeting and refreshments from the coffee shop across the hall.

Adding to the relaxed environment, they rarely ask for the prospective customer’s information right away. “Our customer is our friend. Just like you don’t ask someone you just met for all of their information, you really should try to take the same approach with your customers,” David says.

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Once guests have a chance to settle in and look around, graduate gemologist David loves to share what he knows by comparing loose diamonds at his desk. What makes the Malka experience distinctive is that David includes tricks of the trade in his consumer education, such as explaining what kind of diamonds people in the jewelry business might select for themselves.

“A lot of people who are thinking about buying diamonds online have done some research, and I like to educate them on the stuff you can see in a diamond that you should pay for,” David says. “The stuff you can’t see, why pay for it? Common sense goes a long way when you’re spending thousands of dollars. Great, if you want to buy a VVS stone, we have it, but most of the people who see the difference, or don’t see the difference, between D and F color are making a much more informed purchase, and they feel good about it.”

Large windows allow passersby to glimpse a mix of vintage and new rings on display while flooding the space with natural light.

They’re also adept at explaining the difference between the diamonds and their paperwork. “The cert says XYZ, but if you lined it up with five others, you might see why that stone was priced so low in its bracket,” Ronnie says.

They think it’s just fine if their customers walk out without buying anything on their first or second visit — even if they’re headed to the competition.

“We keep it really simple in here,” says Ronnie. “A lot of the guys who come in are buying something they don’t know anything about. We don’t bombard them with phone calls or emails; we just offer education. They continue to explore and research, and most of those people we see back here.”

The Malkas are taking the long view. “We want to be like their grandparents’ jewelers with a state-of-the-art shop so we can create things that are going to last,” Ronnie says. “Like the 1920s-era jewelers you trusted but still current and evolving with time.” Although engagement and wedding rings dominate their business now, with as much as 85 percent of sales, they believe that as their original customers continue to mature, they’ll eventually diversify into jewelry for other occasions.

By the time the customer does make a purchase or put a deposit down on a custom ring, David and Ronnie have developed a relationship with them. They give their customers a Malka hat, pin or T-shirt. They also give them a pamphlet detailing the history of their three-generation tradition of diamond dealers, and paperwork that includes an appraisal. There’s no paperwork involved with the guarantee; that is automatic for the life of the ring.

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As for that history, David’s father, Yossi Malka, who still has an office across the street from his son’s store, began his career as an apprentice under his great uncle in Israel, studied diamond cutting and later became a wholesale dealer in Portland.

David studied at the GIA, earned a graduate gemologist degree, and worked in a retail store for several years. David also ran his own jewelry appraisal lab, Independent Gemological Services, for the trade and private clients. “That’s a tough gig to be looking through the scope all day,” he says. “I was getting a little bit bored.”

Still, everyone thought he was crazy, he says, when he decided to open his own store. “It was the recession. It was a tough time.” Three major Portland jewelry stores had closed. “I figured if we took this plunge and we could stay afloat for two years, we should be able to weather anything,” he says. They’d been considering a variety of different names for the business when a friend offered this advice: “When you put your name on the door, you’re putting your name behind the business.”

Perfect. They had a name.

Ronnie Malka collects retro jewelry boxes to display vintage engagement rings.

They leased a prime 1,000-square-foot spot within a vacant 10,000 square-foot space. It was bare bones, with not much beyond walls and floors.

“Welcome to the world of retail,” David says he remembered thinking. Traffic was thin at first, and David continued to operate the appraisal lab, taking it month by month. Although changing shopping habits of American consumers had seemed to be a bad omen, it turned out that Portland shoppers who did spend money on jewelry wanted to make sure they were investing in local, independent businesses. Within a couple of years, they’d won Oregon Bride Magazine’s “Best Rings of 2012” award.

In 2013 Malka became the official fine jewelers of the University of Oregon and their shop got very busy. Ronnie left her teaching job to join Malka full time after it became clear David needed help with marketing and events.

In 2018, they expanded the shop and fine-tuned their interior design, adding metallic cork wallpaper, a custom woven rug, a gathering area with a modern, round table and gray leather chairs, and custom-built display cases. The counter now boasts a marble top and black paint. Other additions include a gold light fixture and a trio of geometric mirrors. The look is upscale without feeling stuffy. The decor is also a personal reflection of what makes David and Ronnie comfortable, complete with a prominently displayed black and white wedding photo of the couple.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, you meet a Malka,” Ronnie says. “We want them to know us as we want to know them.”

VIDEO: MALKA STORE TOUR

VIDEO: MALKA “ABOUT US”

VIDEO: MALKA CUSTOM DIAMONDS


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Five Cool Things About Malka Diamonds & Jewelry

1. Salt-and-pepper diamonds. A year ago, Malka started showcasing the work of a Seattle designer, Point No Point Studios, which has a strong Instagram presence and specializes in salt-and-pepper diamond rings. “We knew that going out-of-the-box and trying something new would potentially bring new traffic,” says Ronnie, who gets several inquiries about them every week. David, as the son of a diamond dealer, admits he was reluctant at first to move in that direction. “My dad says, ‘How much is that per carat?!’ Ten years ago, it would have been used for drill bits, but now there’s an actual marketplace for it. I don’t think it’s a fad, either,” David says.

2. Collaborative environment. “We all know the projects, what’s going on, and what’s coming up,” Ronnie says. “It doesn’t feel compartmentalized.” That approach also creates opportunity for growth. Chloe, who works in the showroom, says Malka has the friendliest atmosphere of anywhere she has worked, as well as enormous growth potential and pride in values. “It gives me satisfaction learning-wise and experience-wise, knowing what the jewelers have to do to have a certain outcome for whatever kind of piece we’re making,” she says.

3. Custom connection. A 2018 expansion made room for two full-time master jewelers and more equipment in the shop. “We wanted everything done under our roof,” David says, from design to manufacture. Sometimes they are simply consultants: “An architect is doing his own CAD design for us to look at and make sure it’s going to translate into a ring and not a building,” Ronnie says.

4. Website curb appeal. Ronnie considers Malka’s digital presence, including its website, to be online curb appeal. “People want to engage online first,” Ronnie says. “Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, your website was a placeholder for your contact info, but now it tells your story.” People know what to expect.

5. Digital marketing ROI. Digital marketing has for the most part replaced traditional radio and TV, because as Ronnie says, “Our customer is online and if they’re seriously looking for a ring, they are seriously looking — not seeing it on TV. Many jewelers will say this is a waste of time, but in the last six months when our followers have doubled, we have noticed customers referring to an image they saw on Instagram or Facebook. It is a real relief to see the return on investment on the time spent taking photos and creating tag lines.” Even shop dog Toby has his own Instagram handle!

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Julie Ettinger: This store is a real gem! I love the shop-local feel and that it can all be done in house. I also appreciate the mix of vintage and new.
  • Julie Gotz: I love that the owners are so invested in the customer and their life cycle. Many stores are too focused on the sale and not enough on the relationship. It is great to hear that a store is using social media in such a successful way.
  • Joel Hassler: I like the approach to gathering customer information. Building a relationship is more important than data-mining.
  • Barbara Ross-Innamorati: : The store interior is exquisite and feels upscale but also warm and inviting. The website is quite informative and I love their blog, “Stories,” as it features a lot of interesting topics with gorgeous photography.
  • Hedda Schupak: I like the laser focus on diamond rings, and I love the impressive depth of selection they have, especially nontraditional styles. The store itself is very hip and welcoming. Their online presence is very strong; they’re using all social media quite well.
  • Eric Zimmerman: Malka Diamonds has done a wonderful job of creating a modern elegant boutique while still highlighting the building’s historic features. Their store’s design tells a story that complements the products they showcase: modern and antique.
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