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Fast Rising Jewelry Stores: Harris Jewelers

Store-owners have capitalized on the rapid growth of their New Mexico community.

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THE GROWTH of Harris Jewelers, Casa de Oro Custom Design in Rio Rancho, NM, offers a lesson in the power of incremental change. The tiny 300-square-foot store that owners Karen Fitzpatrick and Mark Guerin bought from a retiring couple in 1998 has grown into the city’s largest jeweler with 5,000 square feet of selling and bench space and over $2 million of inventory.

To be sure, Fitzpatrick and Guerin have benefited from the rapid growth of Rio Rancho, whose population has almost doubled to 90,000 since the year 2000. But for the most part, their success has been driven by doing all the small things right, their focus on constantly improving their operational efficiency and from leveraging the benefits of scale: As the now dominant jeweler in their modestly sized market, they can be all things to all people, which in Rio Rancho means stocking the jewelry that appeals to the many young families that were attracted by new tech jobs in the area, and retirees who had started moving to the community in the 1960s.

“It comes down to making better choices, better margins and better profits,” Fitzpatrick said of their learning curve, adding that building up the store’s inventory of diamonds, colored stones and designer jewelry had been a conscious strategy.

“When we started it was exclusively custom design and higher end pieces but we have changed the way we purchase. Now we carry different lines for all budgets, from $10 to a $25,000 necklace.”

In addition to their strong inventory, Harris Jewelers does a nice job of covering all the bases for a successful full-service jeweler, including a good location just off the main retail district, loads of industry credentials, active community involvement, a prominent Internet presence, and a strong bench (four jewelers, CAD, CounterSketch Studio and investments in other high-tech equipment). Benchwork accounts for about 25 percent of sales, custom design contributes 10 percent while much of the rest of the revenue comes from the old jewelry-store workhorse — bridal and diamond sales.

In 2013, revenue was on target to grow by 14 percent from the previous year, even as Rio Rancho continued to struggle with the lingering effects of the property market meltdown in 2008. Along with nearby Albuquerque, Rio Rancho was one of the hardest-hit markets in the country.

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Nevertheless, the new year is looking brighter, Fitzpatrick says, adding that the store had sold four diamonds larger than 1 carat in a short period ahead of the holiday season. “We hope it’s a trend.” If it is, it will be yet another small improvement at Harris that points to more big growth ahead.

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