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

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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.

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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.

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Celebrate Your Retirement with Wilkerson

For nearly three decades, Suzanne and Tom Arnold ran a successful business at Facets Fine Jewelry in Arlington, Va. But the time came when the Arnolds wanted to do some of the things you put off while you’ve got a business to run. “We decided it was time to retire,” says Suzanne, who claims the couple knew how to open a store, how to run a store but “didn’t know how to close a store.” So, they hired Wilkerson to do it for them. When she called, Suzanne says Wilkerson offered every option for the sale she could have hoped for. Better still, “the sale exceeded our financial goals like crazy,” she says. And customers came, not only to take advantage of the going-out-of-business buys and mark-downs, but to wish a bon voyage to the beloved proprietors of a neighborhood institution. “People were celebrating our retirement, and that was so special,” says says.

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