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Business, Reinvented

Using the great recession as a wake-up call, a jeweler starts fresh.

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Business, Reinvented

 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 But the recession was a wake-up call that her business model — as well as her store itself — had become outdated.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.”

Lisa Poler, Wheeler Jewelers

Lisa Poler returned from Antwerp reinvigorated and excited. The unveiling of her new diamond inventory was combined with her store’s grand reopening. Some customers were in tears, she says at the news Wheeler Jewelry wouldn’t be closing down.

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.

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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-square-foot 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 in-case 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.” 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.

Wheeler grand opening.

Wheeler grand opening.

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.”

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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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Lisa Poler is scheduled to speak at 2 p.m. Aug. 25 at the SMART Jewelry Show Dallas

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.
  • 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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