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Here’s How One Store Owner Turned Lemons to Lemonade When Divorce Threatened to Wreck Her Business

Being honest about reason for liquidation leads to continued success.

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In 2015, Babs Noelle of Alara Jewelry in Bozeman, MT, advertised her clearance event as a divorce liquidation sale, which, in truth, it was. She had decided to liquidate her assets to reach a divorce settlement. Exterior signage included three big yellow banners that announced: “Public Notice Divorce. Everything Goes. Up to 70 Percent Off!”

“In the 11th hour, literally two months before our agreement was to see its final financial conclusion, my future ex threw a curve ball and said, ‘Buy me out of the business.’ I had no choice but to settle on a number,” recalls Noelle. The business itself was now the asset hanging in the balance, and she realized that the only way she could keep the asset would be if she could use it as a cash machine to “pay him off and get him out,” she says.

The next question was how to frame the sale for the public. “I asked, ‘Couldn’t it be called a divorce sale?’” says Noelle. “It was honest. It was simple. People know what a divorce is, and many know what kind of financial havoc it can wreak.”

When her consultant, Marsden Brothers, agreed, Noelle asked that all ads (half-page newspaper ads, TV ads, radio ads, bathroom ads, plus ads in all the media she was already contractually obligated to run) have a sense of humor, just as all of her advertising does. Catchphrases included “help me wash that man right outta my hair!” and “we’re liquidating the assets and splitting the sheets!” She also sent out a mailer to clients explaining the situation.

One of Noelle’s greatest concerns was figuring out where to find enough warm bodies to work the sale. “I sent an email to all of our frequent customers, telling them about our additional labor needs. In no time, we had more volunteers than we could use!”

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Honesty Becomes Best Policy

Noelle found that her honesty forged deeper relationships with clients as she planned to start over with her business. “The support was incredibly meaningful,” she says. “Five different women brought gifts of shampoo!”

After three weeks, she hit her goal to buy her husband out of the business, but she continued the sale four more weeks, restocking in the process. Also important was ensuring there were additional funds to pay for post-sale advertising. “Even though all the ads and signage said ‘Divorce Liquidation,’ people swore up and down that we had held a ‘going out of business’ sale,” Noelle says.

She took every network opportunity to get out the message that Alara was newer, better, and just a happier place to work and shop. She  set aside money for training, rebranding and a mini-remodel. The sale brought the team together more tightly, she says, which was probably the best benefit of all. Post-sale business was so good, Noelle took her entire team to Mexico for nine days.

“Most people thought the concept was brilliant marketing, when it was just simple honesty. What’s better than an honest jeweler?”

Make It Your Own

If you’re having a sale, do whatever you can to make it fit your style, your brand and your business ethos.


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Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

Best of The Best

Cleveland Jewelry Store Wins Makeover from Jewelers for Children

Charitable giving yields rewards on many levels.

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ON A BUSY DAY THE week before Christmas, Howard’s Jewelry Center in an eastern suburb of Cleveland, is abuzz with activity. Customers come in waves all day, tracking down giant hoop earrings, a charm for a young granddaughter, or a seasonal splurge for themselves.

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Owner Howard Hurwitz hurries in for an appointment, stopping to exchange pleasantries with a customer he’s known for years, who congratulates him on the success of his business.

It’s a typical pre-Christmas week in many ways. Something’s different this year, though. Howard and Leslie Hurwitz have seen their store in a new light this season. So have their customers.

The couple won a $100,000 store makeover in a Jewelers for Children charitable giving contest, for which they raised $50,000. The renovation — the first significant change to the store in 30 years — was complete in December. “Customers are all pleasantly surprised,” Howard says. “We are very pleased and happy for everything that everyone did for us.”

One of the biggest changes is how drastically brighter everything is with fresh paint, new in-case displays and LED lighting.

Howard and Leslie own four stores in the Cleveland metropolitan area, and had been passionate supporters of Jewelers for Children ever since their first Facets of Hope dinner in Las Vegas touched their hearts 20 years ago.

There, they heard children talk about their struggles with catastrophic diseases and how they were helped by St. Jude’s Research Hospital, one of the charities JFC supports. “I’d like to get more people involved in it,” says

Howard, now a board member. “And I think if they could get to one of these dinners and hear the kids’ stories, they’d be a donor for life.”

JFC is woven into the fabric of their business. In all, they’ve raised $200,000 for the organization with collection canisters on their counters. The couple promotes JFC in their advertising and suggests their customers make a donation for watch batteries and other small repairs they offer for free.

For the redo, the Hurwitzes chose their Maple Heights flagship location, a busy place in a high-traffic area that sells jewelry and also makes loans on jewelry. Although they’ve occupied the space for 30 years, there have been few changes in that time.

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The design team carefully considered which updates would bring the biggest bang for the buck.

Eric Zuckerman of sponsor Pac Team America says the goal was to make the buying experience comfortable, special and intimate. “You can take an old store that hasn’t been touched for 30 years and do some things to make it very fresh and inviting. Environment creates confidence. If the environment is not at the same level of the product and the training of the salesperson, that inconsistency will be felt. Simple and clean and presentable doesn’t have to be a major renovation.”

Zuckerman and Ruth Mellergaard of GRID/3 International agree that the improvements with the biggest impact were replacing the ceiling tiles and upgrading the overhead track lighting to LED bulbs.

“The ceiling tiles were in pretty bad shape and set the tone for the entire environment,” Zuckerman says. “Something as simple as their replacement alone made a big improvement. Same thing with adding case lighting and replacing their bridal in-case presentation. What was there was very dark and worn, which contributed to the entire store appearing worn out. New case pads and displays gave a fresh look that was visually impactful.”

A metal security gate near the threshold was an inhospitable eyesore by day, but a necessity by night. Now, thanks to a design by GRID/3 International, the gate is enclosed in new drywall partitions with flush detailed doors that completely conceal it when the store is open for business.

“When you walk into a retail environment, being greeted by what is essentially a metal fence is not ideal for establishing a warm shopping experience,” Zuckerman says. “Having them hidden while the store is open allowed them to serve their purpose without detracting from the store’s presentation.”

Ruth Mellergaard of GRID/3, who donated her time to the project, says the question she asked before beginning to outline an overall plan was, “How does the business work and how can we make it easier for them to deal with their customers, to make their customers feel wonderful?”

Heavy wooden chairs were replaced by modern chairs with a lighter profile to bring the diamond engagement area into the 21st century, and designated spots for a children’s corner and a custom refreshment station for coffee are designed to put customers at ease.

The interior and exterior have been freshly painted.

Many of the showcases were in good shape, but some didn’t match, so their fronts as well as the front of the service counter were updated with panels covered with 3M Di-Noc film, which changed their appearance completely.

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Tiny Jewel Box and Harry Kotlar Celebrate Partnership with Film and Featured Jewelry Masterpieces

November trunk show highlighted Kotlar’s 70th anniversary.

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WHEN A RELATIONSHIP between a high-profile independent jewelry retailer and an esteemed brand blossoms, it’s only natural to throw a big party.

When Tiny Jewel Box of Washington D.C. and luxury jewelry brand Harry Kotlar first partnered about 10 years ago, they started with a small selection of merchandise. Last November, Tiny Jewel Box debuted the first Harry Kotlar in-store boutique on the East Coast, which includes a full collection of rings, earrings, bracelets and pendants, all handmade and hand-forged.

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The ensuing celebration also marked the 70th anniversary of Harry Kotlar. “The opening of the Harry Kotlar boutique inside Tiny Jewel Box represents a confluence of those two histories. It’s also tangible proof of our shared commitment to excellence and luxury,” says David Wiener, Harry Kotlar’s president and head designer.

Matthew Rosenheim, president of Tiny Jewel Box, says the event celebrated the union of the two family-run companies. The guest list included Kotlar collectors, jewelry enthusiasts, influencers and editors.

The focus was on the anniversary collection of seven curated jewelry masterpieces. Each piece references popular design hallmarks that are nonetheless timeless. “We picked out seven pieces — some vintage, some re-created, representing seven decades of our brand’s existence,” says Czarah Cabrera, Harry Kotlar’s brand director.

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Each piece was featured within the pages of a coffee table book as well as in a short film, which also made their debut at the boutique opening. The book and two-minute film gave the audience a first-hand look into the evolution of Harry Kotlar’s design philosophy and dedication to the craft.

Cabrera says curating the seven pieces to be included was no easy feat. “As far as research goes, I was banging my head, looking at all of our mood boards and vision boards of every decade, including the mod ‘60s, psychedelic ‘70s and punk-style ‘80s, but we couldn’t be too literal because Harry Kotlar is more on the classic and sophisticated side.” She tied together the themes by using models wearing the little black dress, which changes in structure but is always classic and sophisticated. The staff wore little black dresses as well for the event, and influencers in jewelry, fashion and style in DC and New York were also invited to wear the LBD.

Each piece was displayed in a museum-like vignette with an audio guide. Eighteen of Harry Kotlar’s collections were also displayed in a museum-like environment. Guests had the opportunity, too, to sit down with a Harry Kotlar illustrator to create their own Harry Kotlar pieces, making the event even more personal.

Rosenheim says great relationships between special brands and retail jewelers are built on clear communication, defining and aligning goals and expectations, collaborating on which merchandise will sell best in the specific market, and providing education and training on the brand and products so that the sales team can be passionate brand ambassadors and storytellers. Events support the sales team in their efforts to forge great personal relationships with their customers as well.

Cabrera says an event like this is all about experience and theatrics. And it does drive sales. Some guests bought pieces or put in special orders. “We also were able to prime our customers with gift ideas for the upcoming holidays,” Rosenheim says. “We had a great turnout of our top customers and media partners. The event had a positive and energetic vibe.”

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Tiny Jewel Box must walk a fine line between having too many and two few events as part of its marketing program, Rosenheim says. “In Washington DC, just like in other major metropolitan areas, people are time-deprived,” Rosenheim says. “Fortunately, our customers are loyal and they love coming to our events because they know it will be something special.”

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Retailers Team with Roger Dery to Help Educate East Africans

The program is called Gemstone Adventure Travel.

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SINCE 2010, GEM CUTTER Roger Dery has led jewelry retailers on dozens of trips to East Africa to visit mines, lapidary schools and orphanages through a program called Gemstone Adventure Travel.

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Amid the adventures, education and elephant spotting, retailers couldn’t help but notice that Dery, president of Roger Dery Gem Design, tried to help everyone he encountered, whether by delivering food or water, tipping drivers or bringing resources and education to gem-cutting areas. Says David McConnell of the King’s Jewelers in Walnut Creek, CA: “One of the things that struck me the most was that he always strove to leave almost every individual that he interacted with better than when he started. He really cares.”

Alumni of Gemstone Adventure Travel say going to the source has benefited their businesses by adding transparency to their gemstone sales and by demonstrating a social consciousness that is valued by today’s consumers.

Dery was featured in Sharing the Rough, a 2014 documentary about the journey of gems from mine to market, directed by filmmaker and jeweler Orin Mazzoni. Dery’s myriad retail fans have hosted viewings of the film to educate their customers while enhancing their colored-stone business.

McConnell says his experience in East Africa adds to his credibility and confidence when he’s selling gemstones in his store. He has a positive first-person story to tell about where gems come from — mine to market — and how they can change people’s lives. His store’s most popular event is a gemstone roundtable with Dery.

“How many jewelers can say they’ve been to the mines in East Africa and bought gems from the miners?” McConnell says. “The good I saw being done with schools built for miners’ kids is phenomenal and encouraging. It helps me address concerns when people come into the stores with questions about child miners. Governments are beginning to step in to make sure mines are built correctly so they are safe. Having photos and videos in the store from my trips gives me a level of transparency that most stores can never have.”

Christina Clover-Field of Field’s Jewelers in Redding, CA, says her experience in East Africa motivated her, deepened her understanding of gemstones and made her work more meaningful than she had imagined it could be when she left her position as a hospice nurse to join the family jewelry business. And Chrysa Cohen of Continental Jewelers in Wilmington, DE, donates a percentage of gem sales to Esther, a miner’s widow who took over the business to support her family.

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In August 2018, encouraged by a group led by Clover-Field, the Derys launched Gem Legacy, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to education, vocational training and local economies in East African mining communities. A Gem Legacy breakfast and panel discussion is scheduled 8:30 to 10 a.m., Feb. 8, at the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass Resort in Tucson, AZ, during the JCK Tucson show.

Roger says he is humbled by the support he has received for what had been an informal, personal project. “Only in retrospect can we say that we were showing them how a small amount of money can make a big difference in people’s lives. We have met thousands of people in East Africa’s remote villages and bush mines where gems have had a remarkable influence on their lives.”

For more information, email info@gemlegacy.org or visit gemlegacy.org.

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