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Cool Store: E.M. Smith Jewelers

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Cool Store: E.M. Smith Jewelers

BY HARRIET HOWARD HEITHAUS

Published in the September 2012 issue

Location: Chillicothe, OH | URL: emsmithjewelers.com | Owners: Don and Bob Smith | Founded: 1948 | Featured Location purchased 1993, major renovation 2008, partial renovation 2011 | Area 8,500 square feet, 3,500 square-foot showroom  | Employees: 9 full-time, 8 part-time | Brands: Chamilia, Spinnings, OWL, Sarah Blaine, Story Line, Chelsea Taylor, ICE watches | Best Billboard: “The idea is not to make her ‘sorta’ happy.” | Facebook Likes 13,250 | Alexa Traffic Rank 22,490,629

E.M. Smith Jewelers is on the verge of sensory guerilla warfare. You’re charmed by its elegant quarters in a 150-year-old brick farmhouse and wowed by its 81-facet Capella diamonds, each inscribed with a private message.

And then, suddenly, two guys in disco wigs startle you anew.

They’re co-owners Don and Bob Smith, trying on another persona that keeps E.M. Smith Jewelers in Chillicothe, OH, fresh and just a bit zany. Their disco duds graced a party opening its Club 925, named for the sterling silver specialties and gifts the store offers members monthly.

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Their headquarters in the Fox Farm Inn have been renovated twice since the initial architect-led restoration in 1993. The 3,500-square-foot former banquet hall makes a spacious showroom, with brass-clad track lighting shedding a rose gold glow over mahogany-tone display cases. The home’s living room is a lounge for shopping tag-alongs, with comfortable chairs, TV and a coffee-and-cookie supply.

Side rooms painted in trendy colors handle customer service or take on specialty identities, such as the Pandora shop or Club 925. Upstairs is an employee kitchen, as well as workrooms and offices.

In a city where history looms large — Chillicothe was Ohio’s first capital — the Smiths blend classic and crazed. Presiding over the showroom is an American primitive portrait of their parents, who founded the business on a $1,400 loan from her father. But they ran their last major contest via Facebook.

It promised a full-carat $5,000 diamond for the best 90-second video, which led to an idea for a series of commercials featuring a claymation couple.

“We called it the Diamond Fairy contest,” Don Smith says. “We advertised it on Facebook and asked for a video that was 90 seconds. We had probably 20 to 25 entries. The person (a New York artist) who actually won the contest had made that video, and we liked it so much we hired her to make a 30-second commercial, which we showed in movie theaters and also in email. It gets a lot of attention.”

When she recently wed, she had her $5,000 diamond set at E.M. Smith Jewelers.

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The Smiths have used a bear, “Big Donny,” to chat with customers via Facebook videos. The character picked up enough of a following that when it expressed a fondness for chocolate-chip cookies, several customers brought some in.

“You don’t want to use Facebook heavily for selling,” Don Smith warns. “People start to see it that way — that it’s another sales pitch. We incorporate fun things, maybe a smaller contest.” Those who log in will see a clever video proposal, a lively photo of the day and, details of what’s on sale at the store this week.

Last count on their Facebook: page: 13,250 fans, and they operate in a community of only 23,000. Don, the elder brother, researches the thinking processes of the younger generation to understand the evolving market. Among his conclusions: “If you’re not marketing to the Internet, you don’t have a chance.”

That’s paired with another guiding tenet: Don’t be afraid to try something. “The jewelry industry is as conservative as any,” Bob Smith says. “We have to loosen up. Things are changing so fast, that if you don’t stay ahead of them, you’ll be left behind.”

Both recalled the criticism they heard when they took on Pandora.

“We had friends in the industry who would tell us they would never sell jewelry like that, that they wouldn’t have their salespeople selling $25-$30-$40 beads.” recalled Bob. “But that got us through the recession. We were doing well, thanks to the Pandora line and buying gold. We got in during the real beginning of that trend.”

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The next generation is a prime market for E.M.Smith now and they’ve undergone a sea change in their marketing.

“TV, radio, newspaper — that doesn’t get to those people,” observes Don. They’re just now reaching that age where the area of bridal (jewelry) would seem to have great potential in the next few years if we go about it the right way.”

The Smiths have learned the power of personal advertising. When they first took on Pandora, the store gifted beauty salon operators with bracelets and discount coupons to use as customer prizes: “They’re connectors,” Bob Smith explains. “They’re talking to everyone all day.”

They counted 15,000 customers before they decided it was time to go in another direction. “We’re talking to people all the time to find out what’s interesting them,” Bob says. Their newest brand, Alex and Ani, came from talking to a sales rep, who said the recycled, U.S.-manufactured jewelry was really selling well on the East Coast.

The stackable bracelets, bearing single charms, rally causes including breast cancer or autism research, and show off interests such as zodiac signs and sports. “The bracelets are adjustable,” Bob Smith says. Club 925 and its christening party is one of a slew of draws the brothers have dreamed up to bring people into the store. “We had a DJ here at the store, and a photo gallery and Bob and I and the employees all wore costumes. Actually, we had a lot of people dancing,” Don recalls.

“We have a lot of fun events, and more and more we learn that if we’re not doing things, we don’t have a lot of people coming in.”

Five Cool Things

1DIAMOND WITH A SECRET E.M. Smith markets its own Capella diamond. The 81-facet stone, named for a double star 10 times brighter than the sun, offers a laser-engraved message on the table of the stone and comes in a package that will record the presentation for the giver and receiver.

2HISTORY INCORPORATED The store moved into the Fox Farm Inn, a historic farmhouse on the growing north side of Chillicothe when traffic around their west side location began to dwindle. The 8,500-square-foot building has store-in-store capabilities, and the Smiths saved a beloved building from being razed for a Red Lobster.

3BUYERS CLUB Club 925 caters to a market that’s still expanding: women who buy their own fine jewelry. It specializes in silver lines, and every month offers a new incentive: discounts for members only and free settings for certain pieces. The last offer has given a home to gemstones that have come in gold items the store purchases from consumers.

4EMAIL CONTESTS E.M. Smith Jewelers uses email blasts faithfully, with draws such as a contest to guess the Ohio State University football scores. Customers stand to win a $25 coupon on a $100 purchase or something similar. The idea, they say, is to pair interests: the prizes and the fortunes of the nearby football team.

5SHARE THE POWER The Smith brothers agree they often think alike, but in their differences are times that could tear a family business apart. So the brothers trade off two-year presidential terms. “Whoever’s president has the final decision,” Bob Smith explains. “But no one person has all the power all the time.”

Q&A WITH DON SMITH AND BOB SMITH

1 OK, “Disco Donny Revolta,” how well did your Club 925 opening party come off? Don Smith: “It went really well. We had a DJ here at the store, had a photo gallery and Bob and I and the employees all wore costumes.”

You must be the only jewelry store in the U.S. that has a 3-acre lot. Who mows the yard around your store? Don Smith: “We decided right away to hire that done. I can proudly say I’ve never mowed it!”

You seem to have done really well with Internet advertising. How is it working for you? Don Smith: “You have to know how to attract attention. We’ve had this bear, whom we call Big Donny, doing videos for our email list. It’s a casual sort of thing. The bear talks about how much he likes chocolate-chip cookies. The funny thing was, after that, we had people show up at the store with chocolate-chip cookies.”

Favorite business book? Don Smith: I’ve read all Paco Underhill’s books (Why We Buy, What Women Want); he observes things. he’ll go to the mall and just observe people to get to understand them.

Favorite website? Don Smith: Besides E.M. Smith Jewelers. I like Patrick Murphy’s in Pennsylvania (murphyjewelers.com). There’s always something interesting on it.

Favorite gadget? Don Smith: My cell phone, because of all the different apps. There’s an app for almost everything out there.

What is one of the most powerful lessons you’ve learned in the business? BOB Smith: “It is going to end. Believe me, it is going to end. No trend is going to carry your business forever, so you always have to be looking for the next one. There comes a time when you’ve saturated the market.”

I get frustrated when: BOB Smith: I feel like I’m going up and down the stairs all day. There are good things about our building, but there are bad things, too. I make a lot of trips up those stairs.

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