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Revolutionary Approach

Colorado store owner goes her own way with surprising results.

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Revolution Jewelry Works, Colorado Springs, CO

OWNER: Jennifer Farnes; URL: revolutionjewelryworks.com; SHOWCASES: Tutko’s Fine Woodworking;  ONLINE PRESENCE: 4.7 Stars for 239 Google reviews; 16,578 Facebook followers; 1,252 Instagram followers; FOUNDED: 2013; Renovated: 2019; AREA: 2,950 square-foot showroom; 4,300 square feet total; Buildout cost: $350,000; TOP BRANDS: Nell Marie Jewelry Innovations, Margisa Jewelry, Belle Brooke Designs, Brendan White Jewelry, Jason Simmons Diamond Jewelry; EMPLOYEES: 11


Farnes

Farnes doesn’t sacrifice smart hiring and training to keep up with growth.

WHEN JENNIFER FARNES launched her retail business, Revolution Jewelry Works, in Colorado Springs, CO, in 2013, she wanted to create a place in which she’d feel comfortable shopping.

She hadn’t grown up in the business. She’d come to jewelry through a childhood obsession with rock hunting and later an apprenticeship in gem faceting. As an outsider looking in, she thought jewelry stores were stuffy and intimidating when she would walk in as a faceting vendor.

She wanted her own store to be laid back, open and casual, with a knowledgeable team focused on interactive custom design rather than commission. She devised a profit-sharing approach that encourages team selling, takes away high-pressure sales and sets customers at ease.

“We are usually the second or third stop for shoppers because we are out of the way,” she says, “but we end up being the last stop because they don’t feel the hard-sell push.”

With this formula, she quickly realized exponential growth in revenues, hitting $1 million in 2017 and significantly exceeding her $2 million goal in 2021. “We got really close to $3 million last year,” she says. “We closed 2021 up 58 percent on the year, which was growth that no one can be prepared for when it happens. Insanity is the only way to describe it. But we stayed on top of it with staffing.”

Farnes found a chandelier that exceeded even her dreams.

Farnes found a chandelier that exceeded even her dreams.

Despite pressure from growth, she’s had to be patient and wait to hire the right people to keep up standards. “You can’t sacrifice quality to get the job done and out the door,” she says. “I tell clients we are never going to be the cheapest shop in town and we’re never going to be most expensive, but we are going to be unmatched in quality in repairs and in what we sell.”

Farnes attributes that growth in part to committing 15 percent of gross income to paid advertising to convey the message, “Come in and get a feel for what handmade fine jewelry really is,” she says. “A lot of people do come in because they have heard our message enough that it piques their curiosity.”

She’s allocated marketing dollars to radio, movie theaters, social media and SEO. She appears on local TV shows with educational segments about how to care for jewelry. The website, too, offers this educational focus through blog and video. “Rather than saying, ‘We’re great and here’s why,’ we say, ‘These are things to look for in your jewelry and here’s why.’ That helped build a lot of trust locally and has made us the go-to when people need jewelry advice of all kinds: from estate appraisals, to repairs to redesign. Building trust through education is less of an uphill battle. And word of mouth goes only so far.”

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Profit-Sharing and Other Incentives

Farnes invests in her team. In 2017, her staff bet her a cruise that they could beat revenue projections by 20 percent and break the $1 million sales mark. She happily lost the bet and took everyone on a week-long Alaskan cruise in 2018. For 2021, the bet was $2 million in sales. Farnes “lost” again. “They earned a trip and it’s on the books!” she says.

Profit-sharing is another big incentive. “Rather than commissions, I believe in paying a solid living wage to each team member,” she says.

“We do bonus payout by profitability, even adding vacation days if we beat sales goals. It makes our store client-focused, whether it’s a $20 sale or a $20,000 sale, and no one competes for commissions.”

Profit sharing and other incentives cut down on turnover. “Retraining is a waste of everyone’s time and energy,” she says.

Growth-driven hiring through the years created growing pains in her physical space. By 2019, before her expansion, eight people worked in 1,200 square feet. “We were hitting each other with an elbow or a hip; nobody was even saying ‘excuse me’ anymore!” she says. “The walls were closing in.”

In September 2019, she bought her building from her landlords while knocking out walls and expanding from 1,200 to 4,300 square feet.

Previously, a solid wall separated the shop and the showroom, which made team members feel like they spent the day shouting at one another.

The shop and the floor are completely separated now, but still visible through glass. “The nice part is when we consult with the jewelers, clients can still see what’s happening but not necessarily hear all of the technical communication,” says Farnes, who has also added technology to enhance staff communication.

“There is a lot more elbow room, and with the extra space, we are selling a lot more out of our showcases,” she says. “I think clients feel less confined, and it puts them at ease to peruse without dancing around the team trying to help other clients.”

She designed the whole store, from color selection, layout and artwork to lighting and the floor plan. The design fused wood and metal for an industrial look; she worked with a local cabinet maker to create showcases, work booths and displays using Colorado reclaimed woods.

Farnes and her team celebrate every success together, sometimes with a vacation.

Farnes and her team celebrate every success together, sometimes with a vacation.

The store’s finishes draw on Farnes’ family story and favorite memories. Her mother collected driftwood from riverbanks to decorate the front yard of her childhood home. That inspired her to choose a dark gray stain for the wood in the store and, for the countertops, a knotty pine with natural faceted gemstones suspended in hardened epoxy. “My first experience welding was when my father and I built a giant toolbox for his long-haul work truck, which inspired the diamond-plate accents,” she says.

For the floors, she designed the pattern in Matrix CAD and worked with a flooring company to lay out the pattern using a scaled grid in 5-foot sections. When the floors were poured and still wet, they manipulated the polyurea with a leaf blower to give it the look of liquid metal in platinum and crimson.

The crown jewel is her 350-pound dream chandelier that hangs just over our entrance. “I told my husband, I have to have a chandelier — the biggest, prettiest, gnarliest chandelier I can find.”

The personal, handcrafted approach so important to the store design is also integral to the team’s approach to custom jewelry design. Farnes encourages clients to add personal symbolism to their pieces to ensure they’re unique. “Our philosophy from the beginning has been that if someone is going to spend over $1,000 on jewelry, why not be the only person in the world wearing that design?” Customers may share napkin sketches or sit with a CAD designer to bring their ideas to life.

Everything is manufactured on site. Custom clients can make an appointment to watch their design being poured and taking shape. The team casts live in the studio every day.

“For those looking for ready-to-wear gifts, the jewelry we carry in our showcases only comes from the workshops of other small-business artisan jewelers. The artists we work with get their showcase space at no charge, with our caveat being their pieces must pass our quality control standards, and they must honor our warranty on the pieces we sell on their behalf. It is a beautifully reciprocal relationship.”

An eye-catching blend of light, color and liquid metal floors contribute to the revolutionary design of the expanded space.

An eye-catching blend of light, color and liquid metal floors contribute to the revolutionary design of the expanded space.

Five Cool Things About Revolution Jewelry Works

1. SOCIAL STRATEGY. Farnes created a culture of storytelling on her Facebook page, sharing through imagery the backstory of each custom design. On Instagram, she posts images of the manufacturing process and in-stock creations, and clients can see different stages of their design in the works through a customized hashtag shared privately. This year, she added text marketing with discounts and contests, which also helps with scheduling appointments for free cleanings and inspections.

2. PARTNERSHIPS. “We love to partner with food trucks, mobile boutiques, and other odd partners,” Farnes says. “It’s a great way to introduce new traffic to both and builds camaraderie with other business owners.”

3. TEAM DESIGN COMPETITION. Farnes challenged every member of her combined shop and sales team to sketch a design that would be featured in the RJW Exclusives Collection. The designs are given to a CAD designer, grown on a 3D printer and then cast and set in the studio. Images of the finished pieces are featured in the spring bridal advertising campaign, with voting on social media to pick the favorite. One team member wins a cash prize.

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4. COMMUNITY COMMITMENT. Since opening in 2013, RJW has donated more than $70,000 to local charities. Two examples: In 2020, when food banks ran low on critical inventory, they designed a charity pendant, the sale of which benefited food banks 100 percent. RJW appraisers offer free services (evaluating donated jewelry) to a non-profit thrift store that funds grief counseling to children and therapy to victims of abuse.

5. PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES. “We’re cheeky and we know it! ‘Rock Hard,’ ‘OMG’ and ‘Hard Core’ are regular taglines we feature,” Farnes says. “Play cutesy elevator music in our radio spots? No way! We go for rock or heavy-metal music that conveys the edginess our whole team and brand. How to convey we really are different in video? We love to put real clients in our commercials featuring their custom designs and stories … then air our commercials in movie theaters and on TV. The goal with our marketing is to convey that jewelry can be fun, personal and approachable.”

PHOTO GALLERY (10 IMAGES)

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Bruce Freshley:Revolution Jewelry Works is a fresh, energized, “cool” approach to the custom jewelry space. It’s 100 percent founder Jennifer Farnes’ vision executed in all its glory! Being almost totally custom, I love how she combined industrial, custom shop manufacturing with passionate, bold colors and finishes. Her marketing materials are fresh, bold and edgy just like the store.
  • mitchell clark:It would be difficult for anyone to step into this colorful space without a smile on their face. The liquid metal floor is amazing, and there is an “artist studio” vibe that should make anyone wanting a custom creation feel at ease.
  • lyn falk: Interior uses bold colors and interesting design elements to successfully reflect the owner’s creative artistry. Clever highlighting of the word “LOVE” spelled backwards in their store name, Revolution!
  • jacqueline johnson:I love that Revolution Jewelry Works has floors that are liquid metal, gemstones in their countertops, and a 350-pound chandelier! They found a way to make the jewelry components fit into their showroom design. Very cool! Their story is amazing, too.
  • pam levine:Creativity and joy is masterfully expressed through the store interior! What an inviting experience. Appreciate the boldness of image scale and clarity of communication and warm spirit of social media. A peek behind the scenes, with real people, sharing and educating about the process through real videos is the best use of tech today. Engaging, personal, interesting and authentic. Great vibe!

 

Try This: Open Door Policy

Farnes ensures everyone knows they’re welcome and includes an LGBTQ custom jewelry design gallery page on her website. “They know they are walking into a safe space,” she says. “We’re in a conservative town and some people don’t want to shop here because we are open to everybody, but it’s their loss. I am a big believer in welcoming the world with open arms. It’s strange how many people have come in to buy and said they got escorted out of the last jewelry store they were in.”

Online Extra: Q&A with Jennifer Farnes

What are your current goals on the road to world domination?

The biggest thing is waiting to see how the recession plays out. We closed 2021 up 58 percent on the year which was growth that no one can be prepared for when it happens. We stayed on top of it with staffing. This year we’re still going strong and running up in our numbers but it’s different. Instead of big diamond sales we’re seeing a lot more people coming in, and we’re selling more refurbishments, more lab grown diamonds. I want to see how the next couple of years play out before we franchise. I have a good footpath for making that happen when we’re ready. I have a plan, a strategy, but I don’t want to push anything too quickly. It would be kind of a hybrid model. I would still be primary owner, but I’d be making it more of an employee-owned company. I would have a hand in guiding advertising and marketing efforts and how to manage the business. I think a big part of the franchising would be continuing the company culture that we have. So, if you buy into a franchise you’d have to work in an established location for at least two years. A lot of people have worked in jewelry stores with an old school mind set. That’s a culture that doesn’t work here because of the profit-sharing aspect.

They have to be willing to share the wealth with their team.

How did you get into the business?

I grew up in Montana; the youngest of three to my father who worked for Sweetheart Bakeries, and my mother who was an elementary school teacher’s assistant. On family camping trips, my much older brothers were forced to take me with them to look for fossils and crystals. I loved it, and continued the hobby into adulthood, introducing my husband (Jeremy) to rock-hounding on our honeymoon in 2003. He wanted to have one of the crystals we found together faceted, which is how I met my mentor. Rather than faceting for me, he offered to take me on as an apprentice! A few months later I launched my gemstone recutting and repair business in our basement, offering services to jewelers around Colorado via postcard. After a decade of growing my lapidary business, I was offered the opportunity to purchase a local jewelry store. Just two weeks from closing on the loan, the owners backed out. I thought the dream was over and I would just be a gemstone faceter forever, but the next morning my husband grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “You would have been buying someone else’s dream. Figure out how to open a store that fits your dream.” I converted the loan from an acquisition to a startup and submitted for an SBA loan. We had to put everything on the line; house, equity, cars, retirement… but we had just enough assets to cover the startup down payment. We have never looked back!

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Moving Up — Not Out — with Wilkerson

Trish Parks has always wanted to be in the jewelry business and that passion has fueled her success. The original Corinth Jewelers opened in the Mississippi town of the same name in 2007. This year, Parks moved her business from its original strip mall location to a 10,000-square foot standalone store. To make room for fresh, new merchandise, she asked Wilkerson to organize a moving sale. “What I remember most about the sale is the outpouring excitement and appreciation from our customers,” says Parks. Would she recommend Wilkerson to other jewelers? “I would recommend Wilkerson because they came in, did what they were supposed to and made us all comfortable. And we met our goals.”

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