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Feature: 10 Questions With Matt Stuller

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Matt Stuller spends time relaxing
in his woodshop.

How did you get your start in the business?

Ever since I was a very young child, I loved business. I loved entrepreneurship, capitalism, I loved pleasing people. It was just part of my nature. One day when I was 15, I was walking in downtown Lafayette, LA, where I was born and raised, and I walked into a jewelry store that was open late for the Christmas season. I immediately found a pretty ring that I wanted to give to my girlfriend the very next day, so that we could go steady. The jeweler had a program called teen accounts. So I walked out with it, putting $5 down on a $40 ring with a commitment to pay $5 every Saturday. After I paid off that ring, they hired me. I was the go-to person when something needed to get done. I cleaned the showcases, cleaned the floors, and I got to be buddies with the jeweler in the store. And he taught me how to size rings and polish rings. I got so good at the repair shop that the jeweler and I decided to open a trade shop to do work for jewelers around town. In my eagerness to please and impatience to get parts, I thought it would be a great idea to open a findings company. So I started driving around to local jewelers, then to jewelers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, selling findings and delivering them from the back of my car. At that point I knew I wanted to stay in the industry; my parents were very disappointed that I didn’t go to college, but I guess I’ve had a college degree in the school of hard knocks.


What’s Stuller’s mission?

To make the retailer profitable and a hero. If we can make the retailer a hero in the eyes of their customers, that’s the best way to have our customers come back to us for more.


What advice do you have for someone moving into a position of leadership?

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I was raised in a Scouting family. I’m very proud to be an Eagle Scout. I believe that a leadership role of an individual has a great analogy to the Boy Scout law. Be trustworthy, be loyal and helpful, and friendly and courteous and kind. Be obedient to the job. Be cheerful. If you have those types of characteristics you will have people who really want to follow you. They will want you to mentor them in that kind of style.


How important is teamwork to Stuller’s success?

Teamwork is critical. Although we would like the entire company of associates to be involved in teamwork, we certainly want at least our managers and directors to be highly knowledgeable about the innovations and direction that Stuller is taking. Where it is going, and more than anything, why. It’s different than in the past when Matt Stuller said, “Do something” and everybody just did it. Now you have to be sure that everyone is invested. Today, no matter the generation, people want to have an investment in the success of the company. Maybe I’ve just matured over time and I know it’s a better way to manage people.


As an organization gets larger there is a tendency for the institution to dampen inspiration and innovation. How do you keep that from happening?

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Everyone likes to get into a pattern of doing things, to get in a comfort zone. From a leadership perspective, you have to create excitement and enthusiasm about improving every process, so you don’t get stale. We have a mindset at Stuller that we are always innovating, always looking for a better way of doing things. We don’t want to hear, “Well this is the way we have always done it.” That kind of statement should have management wondering if you are getting stale. We enjoy changing to make it better.


Stuller provides a lot of on-the-job training. Why?

On my first trip to MJSA (Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America), they had a talk about determining when it’s profitable to do your own casting. And I shared with the panel that I wanted to be a manufacturer and sell findings and mountings, and the panel laughed at me and said, “That will never work because you have no resource of labor in South Louisiana to be able to manufacture.” At that point it dawned on me that we were going to have to set up really strong resources for training. The vast majority of our people have no jewelry experience when they come to work at Stuller. Training is a very big part of Stuller’s success and it gets people on the same page. We spend time up front interviewing a lot of people, and picking the right people that will fit our culture.


What will the jewelry industry look like in the next 10 years?

We will continue to have a momentum of change in the marketplace and continue to see independents become a smaller part of the business. The majors are getting much better at what they do. E-commerce is going to become a much more important aspect of people shopping for jewelry. Jewelry stores are going to change substantially and become similar to stores selling other luxury products. There will be less product, which will be better showcased, better sales staff and better training, but with a toolbox full of incredible technology so they can create any product that the customer wants. Shopping will be more entertaining. Product will be much more trendy than ever before.

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How does Stuller compete in the changing marketplace?

As U.S. manufacturers, we need to stay in the game and get ahead of overseas manufacturing, which has much cheaper labor. Overseas manufacturers want to take a beautiful jewelry product, which is the most precious thing the world has to offer, and try to commoditize it by manufacturing it with as little cost as possible and selling it as cheaply as possible. We need to take a look at how other luxury products are sold. It’s about beautiful design and the craftsmanship, the beauty of presenting some of the most beautiful things in the world. A jewelry manufacturer in America needs to be able to offer better services and quality — the best that is available. For us to be relevant in our own country we have a serious responsibility to create and offer added value that overseas manufacturers can’t.


What do you do to stay sane?

Work harder. Everybody needs a release. For me, the thing I cherish the most is going out and enjoying the outdoors. I love the property, I love trees, I like to grow stuff, I like the manual hard work. I like to get completely filthy and dirty, getting out and perspiring, being on dozers and backhoes. Those are my toys for fun and releasing the pressures of the job, doing physical work rather than mental work.


It’s time to take a few days off when ______?

When I die. I never take time off. I’m always thinking. I think about the business when I’m driving home, watching TV, when I’m on vacation. I think about the business when I’m having dinner or breakfast or lunch. I’ll have a dream about it. Trying to provide real personal service to your core customer base is not easy and it’s something that’s constant and forever. And though it may sound a little sick, quite frankly it’s my style and I enjoy it very much.

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