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How It Plays In Peoria

Family, light and the right ring all get priority at Midwestern store.

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Jones Bros. Jewelers, Peoria, IL

URL: jonesbros.com; OWNER: Betty Schlacter and Bob Woolsey; FOUNDED: 1939; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2005; AREA: 3,500 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 13; YELP RATING: 5 Stars on Yelp and theknot.com; FACEBOOK: 3,148 likes; ALEXA TRAFFIC RANK: 11,674,929


WHEN JONES BROS.’ freestanding location was designed 10 years ago, an open, airy feeling was a priority for a number of reasons.

A wall of windows lets the prairie light shine through in the summer, and in the winter, with the white stuff swirling outside, it feels like working inside a giant snow globe.

“I love the light,” says co-owner Bob Woolsey. “I have tons of energy and I like it to be fed by the outside light. Having 20 feet of windows even on a day that’s cloudy feels light and bright. It feels like you can really breathe and suck in all the good stuff that comes in from the universe.”

Adding to the effect is the high, open ceiling. “It creates a sophistication that’s not intimidating, an industrial look inside a sophisticated store,” says Woolsey’s mom, co-owner Betty Schlacter. “It has a little bit of roughness to it, and I like that. We like looking like we are a cool store — and upscale — without being intimidating.”

Woolsey also believes that the architectural design elements help ease the fear of jittery engagement-ring shoppers.

“For the guy walking in who is in a uniquely terrified situation, the high, open ceiling gives them the feeling they are not closed in and are free to escape.”

The big windows and airiness also symbolically reflect the transparency and friendliness of the family business.

“The windows, the high ceilings and the people who match the relaxed nature of the store can make just about anyone feel comfortable,” Woolsey says. “We have a great, laid-back team at Jones Bros. with a very family feel. Because of our physical setting and personal way we operate, people are very at ease.”

They’ve even thrown out the coat-and-tie dress code in recent years in favor of relaxed and fun attire.

And as for sales philosophy, Woolsey is honest when he tells customers, “I don’t care if you buy it from me or someone else, I want to make sure that she gets the ring she really wants.”

If they do make the sale, Woolsey says, the staff at Jones Bros. will care about their client as a person.

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Woolsey brothers Bennett and Baird bought the business in 1979 from brothers Earl and Orville Jones, who founded the company in 1939.

Woolsey draws inspiration from stories that customers tell about the approachable Jones brothers. “They would tell someone, ‘You just wear that ring home and if you like it come back and we’ll figure out how you can pay for it.’”

Never Give Up

Schlacter took over the business when her husband, Bennett, died suddenly in 1989.

“Our lesson is to never give up,” she says. She had no problem asking for help: “When my husband died, I had three choices: Sell the business, liquidate the business, or take on the challenge. I found three very wise, successful businessmen and would ask each of them the same question when faced with a decision — the two answers that were the same would lead me to my answer.”

Woolsey joined the business in 1996 after discovering in his last semester of a teaching degree, that he “did not like classrooms.” So, he joined his mother in the store, where he is able to practice his gift of gab. “I like to find out where people are in life and come up with a strategic way to get them to a happy ending,” he says. “And we get along very well,” he says of his mom. “It’s a true partnership.”

The partners went through some tough times together. Due to strong competition and a weak location, sales dropped in 2002. “Our accounting firm suggested we close the store,” Schlacter says. “I suggested we try a bit longer. With a new location, new manager and new bench jeweler, we doubled past annual sales.”

The JBJ Way

As cool as their store is now, Schlacter considers what she has begun to call “The JBJ Way,” to be the coolest aspect of the business. Although she and Woolsey have long had a family approach to running the business, recently they’ve begun to recognize the true value of their philosophy.

They’ve always been closed on Sunday, and nine years ago, they began closing on Monday, too, allowing the entire staff to be off for the same two days in a row. Now, when a customer comes to the store, he or she is greeted by the same group of staff members every day. That cuts down on the chaos that can come from customers trying to remember schedules.

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“We know we give up business, especially on Sunday, which is popular for the bridal shopper,” says Schlacter. “But we are willing to live our lives according to the income we get and not envy what we could have in addition to that.”

What initially seemed to be a business disadvantage, is now respected by their customers. “We stand on those principles now, and we market the value of being closed for two days a week,” Schlacter says. “What I realized is that there are people who really value that attitude and those are the people who we want in our store. I have a photo of myself and my granddaughter in a kayak on my desk reminding me time with family is more important than money in the bank,” Schlacter says.

That attitude fits in well with millennial shoppers, who value their own personal time and quality of life.

Schlacter spends a lot of time adjusting her marketing approach to the modern customer, which means a move away from radio to social media, including Facebook and Google ads.

“I don’t understand every bit of it and I have to Google different parts of it to understand what they are talking about. We’re working at doing it ourselves, as well as finding people who are good at it, and employing them.

“We’re in a transition time,” she says. “I’m 67 years old, and as I’m winding down it’s exciting to see a whole new group of people that has all this energy to bring to everything we do. It’s a challenge, but the most exciting thing is to be challenged and to have the opportunity to learn something new.”

PHOTO GALLERY (6 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Jones Bros. Jewelers

1. NURTURING GLOBAL TALENT. One important item on Schlacter’s “bucket list” was to find jewelry or art pieces created by women from Third World countries and sell it for them. She has sold necklaces and bracelets made by women from Africa, and paper bead jewelry from Uganda, as well as products designed by a Spanish artist, whose workshop is in Rwanda.

2. TAKING PRECAUTIONS. The store’s restroom is also a storm shelter, reinforced with cinderblocks, in case of a tornado. “We are out on the prairie,” says Woolsey. “It could happen.”

3. HIRING FOR HAPPINESS. When hiring, Schlacter looks for a passion for work, as well as a proven track record. “It took six months to fill the last position,” Schlacter says. “We try to match the person very clearly with the job they will be doing. It’s important to align people with their unique abilities so that when they come to work they have a really good time.”

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4. PROPOSELIKEAMAN.COM. Woolsey wrote a book, “Propose Like a Man,” for guys who want to propose in a special way. He’s trademarked the idea, and is in the process of creating a website about it. “I believe in my heart of hearts that every guy is capable of delivering the perfect proposal and that every girl deserves the perfect proposal. All guys need is just a little bit of help to make it their own. Sales is very much a counseling process.”

5. PRIVATE LIVES. Schlacter works well with her son, while maintaining a separate family relationship with him. “Our approach to working with family in the business is to keep family in appropriate places and to keep business with business. Years ago, she says, she eliminated all conversation about business from holidays and family celebrations. It wasn’t easy, she admits. “When we started doing that, we found there was nothing to talk about. So we got out bingo games. And pretty soon it became normal not to talk about business during the family time. We do try to keep it separate and not overlap.”

TRY THIS: Attitude of Gratitude

Each staff meeting begins with a gratitude focus, and the staff records positive experiences each week. “We believe in stating and living in the positive,” Schlacter says. “We end our Saturday team meetings with “Laughing Yoga.”

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

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