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Cool Store: Kesslers Diamonds

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Cool Store: Kesslers Diamonds

BY JOSH WIMMER

Published in the June 2012 issue

URL: kesslersdiamonds.com | Owner: Richard Kessler | Founded: 1980 | Opened Featured Location January 2010 | Area 21,000-square-foot building (includes 6,000-square-foot showroom, 5,000-square-foot goldsmith shop, 6,000-square-foot corporate offices, and 4,000-square-foot warehouse  | Architect Design: Design 2 Construct of Jackson, WI. Consulting by Lyn Falk of Retailworks Inc., Mequon, WI. | Employees: 27 | Tagline: We do diamonds better because diamonds are all we do | Top Brands: Kesslers

It’s a little odd talking to Richard Kessler. Like most residents of southeast Wisconsin, I’ve heard his voice plenty — thanks to the more than 2,000 radio ads he runs weekly to promote his five stores. Both on the air and in person, Kessler sounds warm and trustworthy, more interested in helping you than making money. It’s not just lip service, either. To be sure, he runs a very successful, multimillion-dollar business, by hiring smart people, training them intensively, and empowering them to build relationships by treating customers with integrity. The flagship location of his brand, opened in 2010 in a former La-Z-Boy gallery, is a physical extension of that philosophy. Built to make shoppers (and sales associates) feel as comfortable and happy as possible while buying diamonds (that’s all Kesslers sells), the enormous building feels almost cozy without sacrificing a whit of professionalism. 

Five Cool Things

1THAT KESSLERS VOICE Richard Kessler’s ads convey relaxed expertise, and the store’s design does the same. “The majority of their customers are male, so we didn’t want to be too feminine,” says Lyn Falk of Retailworks Inc., who designed the space. Friendly curves abound, dressed in saturated purples, reds and browns. A thoughtful layout with smart sight lines makes it impossible to feel lost or cut off in the 6,000-square-foot showroom. A TV lounge with beverage bar and kids’ playroom make it easy on those who aren’t shopping. And sunlight pours in through large windows onto the restaurant-style booths lining two walls — those are where salespeople sit down to talk diamonds with customers. “Our mantra is always making them feel like they’re at home,” says Richard Kessler’s daughter Monica. “There’s nothing more comfortable than sitting together like you’re having dinner.” Video players at each booth show a sevenminute introductory video on buying diamonds, which explains the four Cs but emphasizes beauty over color or clarity grades.

2GOLDSMITHS ON DISPLAY At the back of the showroom, a giant set of windows lets you see directly into the goldsmith shop, where bench jewelers are setting diamonds, working on repairs, and creating custom pieces. Machines are set up so that some jobs can be done right before spectators’ eyes. “It’s not unusual for groups to tour our store, bring kids and just come and stand there,” Richard Kessler says.

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3THE SINGING JEWELER “We were looking for ways to create word of mouth, and our ad agent said, ‘We need something that doesn’t belong but it fits,’” Kessler says. (That ad agent would be “Wizard of Ads” Roy Williams, also largely responsible for Kessler’s fame on the airwaves.) Enter head diamond setter Abe Mok, who faces the showroom window and steps out to a microphone when the store gets busy. Mok switches on a karaoke setup and starts belting Sinatra or Michael Bublé. “Customers can’t tell at first that it’s not the radio, because he’s that good,” Kessler says.

4INSTANT MEMORIES Near the entrance, a curtained photo booth invites couples to celebrate their purchases by taking snapshots. (They can hang one of four signs behind them: “Engaged,” “Anniversary,” “Just Because” or “Finally.”) They get prints to take home, and digital versions of the pics pop up on four monitors in the waiting area. “The movement on the screens attracts attention, makes people smile, and engages them with the process,” Lyn Falk says.

5EMPLOYEES OWN IT Richard Kessler’s name is on the sign, but on Jan. 1 of this year, Kesslers became 49 percent employee-owned; the balance will be paid off by employees within six years. “That decision’s been in the works for almost 10 years,” he says. The process, once the decision was made, took two years and cost about $120,000. It clears up succession issues for Kessler’s family and ensures the corporate culture won’t change under new leadership — no one will “come in here and start slashing things that have made us what we are.” Most of all, it gives employees an even more direct stake in the business.

Five Questions With Richard Kessler

1What’s your technique for selling diamonds?:We do not get all tied up in the numbers and letters. We know they’re important, but we try to keep the client focused on beauty — what they’re going to be looking at when they’ve forgotten what those numbers and letters were. We sell a tremendous amount in all colors, even below J, because that’s what the customer chose.

2Why do you sell only diamonds?: Many years ago I went to a Tony Robbins seminar. I had tried to figure out what the successful jewelers in my marketplace had in common. Tony suggested a solution: What if I did one thing better than anybody in the entire state? So I wrote on the wall when I got back that I wanted to be the most respected name in diamonds in southeastern Wisconsin.

3What’s the secret to your radio fame?: I’m lucky I have the voice that I have. I rehearse my spots so that they’re almost memorized, and I have a producer who’s very good. We do three to four spots at a time, and change them every six to seven weeks. We do not buy “space available.” We buy a specific schedule once a year, and it saves us a tremendous amount of money. The stations love us: They get paid on time, and they don’t have to hound us to get back on the radio.

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4What advice would you give another retailer?: The most important article I’ve ever read was in the December 1996 issue of the Harvard Business Review. The name of the article is “What Is Strategy?” (by Michael Porter) and it’s about how to differentiate yourself from your competition. People try to be more like their competitors. Instead, I would encourage differentiating by finding ways to serve the customer better.

5What’s the philosophy behind empowering your employees?: I tell them during training: I need you to make business decisions. I hired you because you’re intelligent. Nine out of 10 of those decisions will be great. One out of 10 will be not so great, but I forgive you in advance.

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