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Best of The Best: Business, Reinvented

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Best of The Best: Business, Reinvented

Using the Great Recession as a wake-up call, a jeweler starts fresh

BY EILEEN MCCLELLAND | Published in the July 2013 issue

 Wheeler Jewelry, Kalispell, MT

Lisa Poler’s Independent Jewelers Organization diamondbuying
trip to Antwerp in 2012 was the culmination of a concerted
effort to completely reinvent her business. She hadn’t thought she
would start over at age 60 with 33 years in the business. But the
recession was a wake-up call that her business model — as well
as her store itself — had become outdated. “In 2008 my business
just crashed,” she says. “The people who normally came and spent
money, spent very little, and the rest of the people didn’t show up.”

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THE IDEA

So in 2008 she joined IJO, because
she was feeling a little desperate
and needed some support.
Even then, she set her sights on
Antwerp, hoping to take her diamond
business to the next level.

THE EXECUTION

An IJO consultant visited her for
an in-depth three-day evaluation
of her business; she asked the
evaluator to be brutally honest.

It wasn’t an easy thing to do
after 30-plus years in the business.
“I wanted them to take a
hard look at me, but it was kind of
embarrassing,” she says.

She was told she wasn’t ready
for Antwerp. She had a lot of
work to do first. So she began by
streamlining her inventory, with
the goal of bringing in more loose
diamonds and settings. She also
remodeled her 1,000-squarefoot
showroom, concentrating
on lighting and technology and
navigating city code challenges
to update the circa 1891 building
she occupied. Her cases, built in
1908, were retrofitted with incase
lights for the first time, and
she purchased Duratrans for the
windows, brought in TVs and
introduced QR codes and iPads
for prospective grooms to search
for bridal inventory. The iPads in
particular presented a technological
challenge for Poler; she wound
up just handing them to her young
male customers, who in turn
taught her how to use them.

“I’m just updating,” she says.
“Trying to get, first of all, more
connected to this century, and trying
to get more connected to customers
who are out there, rather
than the old shoppers.”

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Finally, Poler was ready to go
to Antwerp. She prepared by following
IJO’s plan for marketing
the trip to her customers, seven of
whom prepaid for high-end diamonds.
She was ready to upgrade
her diamond inventory. What she
hadn’t counted on was how valuable
the trip would be to her outlook
and her confidence.

THE REWARDS

At a time when she feared she’d be
forced into retirement and “lacing
up her old lady shoes,” Poler
instead marked her 60th birthday
in Antwerp and felt rejuvenated.

“I didn’t realize how excited it
would make me about the business
again,” she says. “It gave me
an international sense of the business
and I was hooked immediately.
I started looking at diamonds and I couldn’t believe it, to be able
to do it all in one place and to
see these diamonds that were just
stupendous. I was like a little kid.”

The trip was also a vote of confidence
in her own diamond expertise.
“I’ve looked at diamonds for
33 years; I should know what I’m
doing — and I did. It was a reaffirmation
of those decades of work.

“But even better was the chance
to act as a personal diamond broker
for my customers, saving them
a significant amount on their own
diamonds.”

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Back home, she combined the
unveiling of her new diamond
inventory with the store’s grand
reopening on Dec. 7, 2012.

Partygoers were moved to tears
of gratitude, because her store, a
pillar of main street, was staying
in business while other stores had
closed. “I didn’t realize in a small
community how important the
older stores are,” she says.

“I realize that this was all due
to an economic downturn, but in
a way it was a gift for me. People
are changing; buying habits are
changing. It was a brain switch
more than anything.”

She realized nearly a 30 percent
increase in her business in 2012
over 2011. The pre-sold diamonds
alone brought in $65,000. And her
road map for 2013 is pointing to
continued success.

DO IT YOURSELF

Don’t be too afraid or embarrassed
to ask for help — from a
buying group, a consultant or even
from young, technologically savvy
customers, who are likely to be
happy to help you with your new
iPad.

No matter your age, don’t ever
believe that you are too set in your
ways to reinvent your business.
5 Trust that your expertise will
enable you to take your business to
the next level.

Enthusiasm is contagious. Find
a way to take a new interest in
your business and your renewed
excitement will energize your customers,
too.

Consider making a trip to
Antwerp or another gem destination.
Collecting stories along with
gems gives you something new
and exciting to talk about with
customers and establishes you as
an expert in your community and
market.

Play to your strengths: Poler
streamlined her inventory and, in
addition to diamonds, concentrated
on Montana’s Yogo sapphires
and other collectible colored
stones.

“You have to take some risks
to get to your goals,” Poler says.
“When you’re afraid you have to
face your fears head on and go
for it.”

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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