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Best of The Best: Badges of Gratitude

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Best of The Best: Best: Badges of Gratitude

BY PAMELA MITCHELL | Published in the January 2014 issue

ALAMO CITY GOLD & SILVER / SAN ANTONIO, TX

THE IDEA

Putnam was a police officer himself as well as a jeweler when he began creating replica badge pendants in the 1980s. “I wanted one of my own to wear,” he recalls. “I found a company that stamped them out, but they were generic and very thin. I thought, ‘I can make better badges than this.’” He did, first by outsourcing to a manufacturer that acid-etched a higher quality pendant with more detail, then by investing in computer-aided machinery for the store, which he and wife Charlotte opened in 1984. Putnam retired after 22 years with the San Antonio Police Department in 1990 to work fulltime as a jeweler. Shortly after, a former colleague on the force died in the line of duty, inspiring him to create his first memorial badge pendant as a gift for the widow.

THE EXECUTION

Spurred on by the positive response to that first pendant, Putnam continued making them for local families of fallen officers. He expanded his efforts to a national level in 2001, when he created memorial badge pendants for the surviving loved ones of 73 police officers, firefighters, and other members of law enforcement who lost their lives during 9/11 and its aftermath. He presented those in person to the families during a public ceremony in New York City, but typically the jeweler sends the piece to the officer’s department with a request to forward it to the family. Putnam works quickly to deliver it before the funeral. The 1-inch sterling silver pendants on a 20-inch chain vary in detail according to the information available, which he gets from the Officer Down Memorial Page at odmp.org. Best case: It replicates the officer’s badge and includes date of death, or end of watch. If space allows on the back, Putnam also includes a touching poem his wife wrote. The store donates an average of 150 memorial badge pendants a year. He primarily focuses on police but also honors fallen firefighters whenever possible. Last year, Putnam made pendants for the 19 who died in the Arizona wildfires.

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THE REWARDS

Putnam provides this service to the law enforcement community not expecting anything in return, but he says the rewards are many. “When the family members call to say thank you, and they do, I cry along with them. I know what this means. I’ve been to the funerals. They give the family the flag from the coffin, the officer’s badge on a plaque, but they don’t give them anything to wear. So when the chief presents the pendant, it’s emotional. One widow told me she never takes it off. She kisses it goodnight every night.” He sells duplicate pendants to family members at cost, but other reorders and residual business have helped Putnam create a niche market. The store now carries an extensive line of fine jewelry with police and firefighter themes. Pieces range from simple sterling charms to custom orders in 18K gold and diamonds. Putnam sells these items and other jewelry to police officers, firefighters, and their family members both locally through Alamo City Gold & Silver and anywhere in the world through sadiamonds.com.

DO IT YOURSELF

SPECIALIZE

Find a community of your own to serve. “You just need to find a niche, one not already covered well,” Putnam advises. “My wife is a huge Notre Dame fan. She tried to find some nice Notre Dame jewelry but couldn’t. It took her six months to get licensed, but now the store sells fine Notre Dame jewelry.” He adds, “Different things come and go. Find something that will last, not just be a trend.”

ENLIST HELP

Putnam has 30 distributors in the U.S. taking orders for memorial badge pendants. Some are even spouses of officers.

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Wilkerson Testimonials

Cleaning House for a New Generation

At Komara Jewelers in Canfield, Ohio, Wilkerson handled all the aspects of its retirement sale just as owner Bob Komara’s children took over day-to-day operations of the business. They’d used other companies before, says Brianna Komara-Pridon, but they didn’t compare. “If we had used Wilkerson then, it would have been so much better.”

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Best of The Best

Cleveland Jewelry Store Wins Makeover from Jewelers for Children

Charitable giving yields rewards on many levels.

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ON A BUSY DAY THE week before Christmas, Howard’s Jewelry Center in an eastern suburb of Cleveland, is abuzz with activity. Customers come in waves all day, tracking down giant hoop earrings, a charm for a young granddaughter, or a seasonal splurge for themselves.

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Owner Howard Hurwitz hurries in for an appointment, stopping to exchange pleasantries with a customer he’s known for years, who congratulates him on the success of his business.

It’s a typical pre-Christmas week in many ways. Something’s different this year, though. Howard and Leslie Hurwitz have seen their store in a new light this season. So have their customers.

The couple won a $100,000 store makeover in a Jewelers for Children charitable giving contest, for which they raised $50,000. The renovation — the first significant change to the store in 30 years — was complete in December. “Customers are all pleasantly surprised,” Howard says. “We are very pleased and happy for everything that everyone did for us.”

One of the biggest changes is how drastically brighter everything is with fresh paint, new in-case displays and LED lighting.

Howard and Leslie own four stores in the Cleveland metropolitan area, and had been passionate supporters of Jewelers for Children ever since their first Facets of Hope dinner in Las Vegas touched their hearts 20 years ago.

There, they heard children talk about their struggles with catastrophic diseases and how they were helped by St. Jude’s Research Hospital, one of the charities JFC supports. “I’d like to get more people involved in it,” says

Howard, now a board member. “And I think if they could get to one of these dinners and hear the kids’ stories, they’d be a donor for life.”

JFC is woven into the fabric of their business. In all, they’ve raised $200,000 for the organization with collection canisters on their counters. The couple promotes JFC in their advertising and suggests their customers make a donation for watch batteries and other small repairs they offer for free.

For the redo, the Hurwitzes chose their Maple Heights flagship location, a busy place in a high-traffic area that sells jewelry and also makes loans on jewelry. Although they’ve occupied the space for 30 years, there have been few changes in that time.

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The design team carefully considered which updates would bring the biggest bang for the buck.

Eric Zuckerman of sponsor Pac Team America says the goal was to make the buying experience comfortable, special and intimate. “You can take an old store that hasn’t been touched for 30 years and do some things to make it very fresh and inviting. Environment creates confidence. If the environment is not at the same level of the product and the training of the salesperson, that inconsistency will be felt. Simple and clean and presentable doesn’t have to be a major renovation.”

Zuckerman and Ruth Mellergaard of GRID/3 International agree that the improvements with the biggest impact were replacing the ceiling tiles and upgrading the overhead track lighting to LED bulbs.

“The ceiling tiles were in pretty bad shape and set the tone for the entire environment,” Zuckerman says. “Something as simple as their replacement alone made a big improvement. Same thing with adding case lighting and replacing their bridal in-case presentation. What was there was very dark and worn, which contributed to the entire store appearing worn out. New case pads and displays gave a fresh look that was visually impactful.”

A metal security gate near the threshold was an inhospitable eyesore by day, but a necessity by night. Now, thanks to a design by GRID/3 International, the gate is enclosed in new drywall partitions with flush detailed doors that completely conceal it when the store is open for business.

“When you walk into a retail environment, being greeted by what is essentially a metal fence is not ideal for establishing a warm shopping experience,” Zuckerman says. “Having them hidden while the store is open allowed them to serve their purpose without detracting from the store’s presentation.”

Ruth Mellergaard of GRID/3, who donated her time to the project, says the question she asked before beginning to outline an overall plan was, “How does the business work and how can we make it easier for them to deal with their customers, to make their customers feel wonderful?”

Heavy wooden chairs were replaced by modern chairs with a lighter profile to bring the diamond engagement area into the 21st century, and designated spots for a children’s corner and a custom refreshment station for coffee are designed to put customers at ease.

The interior and exterior have been freshly painted.

Many of the showcases were in good shape, but some didn’t match, so their fronts as well as the front of the service counter were updated with panels covered with 3M Di-Noc film, which changed their appearance completely.

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Tiny Jewel Box and Harry Kotlar Celebrate Partnership with Film and Featured Jewelry Masterpieces

November trunk show highlighted Kotlar’s 70th anniversary.

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WHEN A RELATIONSHIP between a high-profile independent jewelry retailer and an esteemed brand blossoms, it’s only natural to throw a big party.

When Tiny Jewel Box of Washington D.C. and luxury jewelry brand Harry Kotlar first partnered about 10 years ago, they started with a small selection of merchandise. Last November, Tiny Jewel Box debuted the first Harry Kotlar in-store boutique on the East Coast, which includes a full collection of rings, earrings, bracelets and pendants, all handmade and hand-forged.

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The ensuing celebration also marked the 70th anniversary of Harry Kotlar. “The opening of the Harry Kotlar boutique inside Tiny Jewel Box represents a confluence of those two histories. It’s also tangible proof of our shared commitment to excellence and luxury,” says David Wiener, Harry Kotlar’s president and head designer.

Matthew Rosenheim, president of Tiny Jewel Box, says the event celebrated the union of the two family-run companies. The guest list included Kotlar collectors, jewelry enthusiasts, influencers and editors.

The focus was on the anniversary collection of seven curated jewelry masterpieces. Each piece references popular design hallmarks that are nonetheless timeless. “We picked out seven pieces — some vintage, some re-created, representing seven decades of our brand’s existence,” says Czarah Cabrera, Harry Kotlar’s brand director.

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Each piece was featured within the pages of a coffee table book as well as in a short film, which also made their debut at the boutique opening. The book and two-minute film gave the audience a first-hand look into the evolution of Harry Kotlar’s design philosophy and dedication to the craft.

Cabrera says curating the seven pieces to be included was no easy feat. “As far as research goes, I was banging my head, looking at all of our mood boards and vision boards of every decade, including the mod ‘60s, psychedelic ‘70s and punk-style ‘80s, but we couldn’t be too literal because Harry Kotlar is more on the classic and sophisticated side.” She tied together the themes by using models wearing the little black dress, which changes in structure but is always classic and sophisticated. The staff wore little black dresses as well for the event, and influencers in jewelry, fashion and style in DC and New York were also invited to wear the LBD.

Each piece was displayed in a museum-like vignette with an audio guide. Eighteen of Harry Kotlar’s collections were also displayed in a museum-like environment. Guests had the opportunity, too, to sit down with a Harry Kotlar illustrator to create their own Harry Kotlar pieces, making the event even more personal.

Rosenheim says great relationships between special brands and retail jewelers are built on clear communication, defining and aligning goals and expectations, collaborating on which merchandise will sell best in the specific market, and providing education and training on the brand and products so that the sales team can be passionate brand ambassadors and storytellers. Events support the sales team in their efforts to forge great personal relationships with their customers as well.

Cabrera says an event like this is all about experience and theatrics. And it does drive sales. Some guests bought pieces or put in special orders. “We also were able to prime our customers with gift ideas for the upcoming holidays,” Rosenheim says. “We had a great turnout of our top customers and media partners. The event had a positive and energetic vibe.”

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Tiny Jewel Box must walk a fine line between having too many and two few events as part of its marketing program, Rosenheim says. “In Washington DC, just like in other major metropolitan areas, people are time-deprived,” Rosenheim says. “Fortunately, our customers are loyal and they love coming to our events because they know it will be something special.”

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Retailers Team with Roger Dery to Help Educate East Africans

The program is called Gemstone Adventure Travel.

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SINCE 2010, GEM CUTTER Roger Dery has led jewelry retailers on dozens of trips to East Africa to visit mines, lapidary schools and orphanages through a program called Gemstone Adventure Travel.

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Amid the adventures, education and elephant spotting, retailers couldn’t help but notice that Dery, president of Roger Dery Gem Design, tried to help everyone he encountered, whether by delivering food or water, tipping drivers or bringing resources and education to gem-cutting areas. Says David McConnell of the King’s Jewelers in Walnut Creek, CA: “One of the things that struck me the most was that he always strove to leave almost every individual that he interacted with better than when he started. He really cares.”

Alumni of Gemstone Adventure Travel say going to the source has benefited their businesses by adding transparency to their gemstone sales and by demonstrating a social consciousness that is valued by today’s consumers.

Dery was featured in Sharing the Rough, a 2014 documentary about the journey of gems from mine to market, directed by filmmaker and jeweler Orin Mazzoni. Dery’s myriad retail fans have hosted viewings of the film to educate their customers while enhancing their colored-stone business.

McConnell says his experience in East Africa adds to his credibility and confidence when he’s selling gemstones in his store. He has a positive first-person story to tell about where gems come from — mine to market — and how they can change people’s lives. His store’s most popular event is a gemstone roundtable with Dery.

“How many jewelers can say they’ve been to the mines in East Africa and bought gems from the miners?” McConnell says. “The good I saw being done with schools built for miners’ kids is phenomenal and encouraging. It helps me address concerns when people come into the stores with questions about child miners. Governments are beginning to step in to make sure mines are built correctly so they are safe. Having photos and videos in the store from my trips gives me a level of transparency that most stores can never have.”

Christina Clover-Field of Field’s Jewelers in Redding, CA, says her experience in East Africa motivated her, deepened her understanding of gemstones and made her work more meaningful than she had imagined it could be when she left her position as a hospice nurse to join the family jewelry business. And Chrysa Cohen of Continental Jewelers in Wilmington, DE, donates a percentage of gem sales to Esther, a miner’s widow who took over the business to support her family.

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In August 2018, encouraged by a group led by Clover-Field, the Derys launched Gem Legacy, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to education, vocational training and local economies in East African mining communities. A Gem Legacy breakfast and panel discussion is scheduled 8:30 to 10 a.m., Feb. 8, at the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass Resort in Tucson, AZ, during the JCK Tucson show.

Roger says he is humbled by the support he has received for what had been an informal, personal project. “Only in retrospect can we say that we were showing them how a small amount of money can make a big difference in people’s lives. We have met thousands of people in East Africa’s remote villages and bush mines where gems have had a remarkable influence on their lives.”

For more information, email info@gemlegacy.org or visit gemlegacy.org.

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