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Iowa Diamond



Store growing rapidly

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WITH LITTLE HANDS-ON retailing experience, Chuck Kuba plucked a Midwestern city off the map in the late 1990s and opened a jewelry store in the most inauspicious of locations ? the 13th floor of a downtown office tower.  

He then set about turning the rest of jewelry retailing convention on its head. His store, Iowa Diamond, has no showroom, relies on color-neutral fluorescent bulbs for all lighting (from showcase to ceiling) and tells its sales associates to downplay diamond grading reports. 

It is perhaps what you’d expect from a man whose banker likes to rib him about his college major ? managing nonprofit organizations. 

Yet the plan has worked wonders. In eight short years, Iowa Diamond has grown to be one of the largest bridal and engagement-ring stores in its region. It has a 26 percent share of the market in Des Moines, IA, and was recently named on Inc. magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing small companies in the country. From its zero base in 1999, sales reached $1.9 million in 2003 and $2.8 million in 2006, with an enviable gross profit margin in excess of 50 percent.  


The secret? The store’s ?power inventory,? says Kuba. ?We have over 1,200 different styles for people to come in and look at. You can go to the local Sam’s Club and they have maybe 25 styles. A small jewelry store will have 80 to 90. A bigger one, 300. If we don’t have a ring they like, we have to suspect someone doesn’t want to get married.? 

Despite the category-killer model, Iowa Diamond is no Big Box. It measures just 3,500 square feet, divided into intimate offices where salespeople meet with customers, often for up to 90 minutes on the first visit, to sort through ring designs and grading trays of diamonds.  

Hence, the lack of a showroom. As for the lighting, ?Anything can look good under display lighting,? says Kuba, who despite a rather late entry into jewelry retail (Iowa Diamond is his first such venture) comes from a long line of jewelers and has a GG?degree from the GIA.  

Kuba’s efforts to escape the family trade, first as an account executive with an ad agency, then as marketing director for the Dallas Opera, and later as publisher for Performing Arts magazine proved instead to be the perfect preparation to run a jewelry store. Anyone who can sell an ?intangible? like opera, can sell a diamond, he jokes. 

Despite its often counterintuitive approach to selling engagement rings, Iowa Diamond was built on a huge amount of market research. Kuba opted for Des Moines because of its demographics and the lack of rivals in a downtown area whose major buildings are connected by a skywalk. The rest of Iowa Diamond’s success he attributes to ?imagination,? something he believes is sorely missing from the jewelry retail industry. ?You’re going to struggle (selling diamonds) if you’re doing exactly what you’re neighbors are doing.?



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