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Illinois Jeweler Cathy Grad Has a Passion for Business (and Fun)




Armored truck from Caffray Jewelers
In addition to using the armored truck for marketing events, CJ Grad plans to deliver engagement rings in it and rent it out for bachelorette parties.

CATHY GRAD says she’s not sure where her ideas come from. They start bubbling up when clients bring in old pieces of jewelry to be redesigned, or such as when an accountant suggested she invest in her business to cut her tax bill.

“I thought, let’s buy an armored truck. I could put my store’s name on it and use it for marketing. It would be awesome.”

Within a matter of weeks, Grad, the owner of Caffray Jewellers in Hinsdale, IL, was on a plane to Los Angeles with her husband. They returned a few days later, owners of a 1995 15-ton moving billboard.

“They are not easy to find,” Grad noted, adding that since taking possession of the vehicle, she has designed graphics for it, skinned it and installed six leather racing car seats in the back along with iPod docks. In addition to using it for marketing events, she plans to deliver engagement rings in it and rent it out for bachelorette parties.

Having fun is at the heart of Grad’s business and, she says, sets her apart from the other, more traditional stores in Hinsdale, an affluent suburb of Chicago. “A lot of people are intimidated by jewelry stores. Here, everyone is smiling and having a good time. I recently put out a sign saying ‘1,000 items under $100.’ We want people to know we have something for everyone.”

The light-hearted approach is paying off. After plunging almost 50 percent in 2009 as the recession took hold, sales have rebounded quickly and this year Caffray is on course to have its best year ever. Orders for custom work are up to six a month, from four last year. The other drivers of business — case sales, including her own patented Puzzle Bangle and designs she has done for SteelX, and jewelry and watch repairs — are also showing nice improvements.


Much of the marketing impetus behind the improved sales comes from Caffray’s involvement in the Hinsdale Wedding Walk. Held every March, it brings together about two dozen bridalrelated service providers and retailers. About 100 brides participated in the most recent walk, paying $100 each to stroll through picturesque downtown Hinsdale or ride a trolley while sampling wedding cake, watching hair and makeup demonstrations, and getting discounts and free expert advice on gowns, suits and jewelry.

Planning for next year’s walk has already started and while it is still early, Grad’s mind is already working overtime. Her initial brainwave involves something akin to the Amazing Race television show. “I thought we could make it like a treasure hunt. The brides would collect clues or something similar at each store and the clues would help them solve the big puzzle for a chance to win prizes.”

Following a busy start to the year, Grad says she is thinking of heading to Costa Rica for a vacation. “It will give me a chance to get away from the store and get some inspiration.”

Not that she ever needs to go far for ideas.

Chris Burslem is Group Managing Editor at SmartWork Media.



Wilkerson Testimonials

If It’s Time to Consolidate, It’s Time to Call Wilkerson

When Tom Moses decided to close one of the two Moses Jewelers stores in western Pennsylvania, it was time to call in the experts. After reviewing two candidates, Moses, a co-owner of the 72 year-old business, decided to go with Wilkerson. The sale went better than expected. Concerned about running it during the pandemic, Moses says it might have helped the sale. “People wanted to get out, so there was pent-up demand,” he says. “Folks were not traveling so there was disposable income, and we don’t recall a single client commenting to us, feeling uncomfortable. It was busy in here!” And perhaps most importantly, Wilkerson was easy to deal with, he says, and Susan, their personal Wilkerson consultant, was knowledgeable, organized and “really good.” Now, the company can focus on their remaining location — without the hassle of carrying over merchandise that either wouldn’t fit or hadn’t sold. “The decision to hire Wilkerson was a good one,” says Moses.

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