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A Right Turn in Albuquerque

Alloy, custom and customer-facing displays drive business success.

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John Thomas Jewelers, Albuquerque, NM

OWNER: : John Thomas Mead; Opened featured location: 2021; AREA: 2,900 square feet; Buildout cost: $240,000; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: : McKee Wallworks, Improv Group, Paramount Custom Cabinets; TOP BRANDS: John Thomas Jewelers Custom, A. Jaffe, Gabriel & Co.,Allison-Kaufman, King Baby; EMPLOYEES: 5; ONLINE PRESENCE: 425 5-Star
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Janelle and John Thomas Mead

Janelle and John Thomas Mead

JOHN THOMAS MEAD was working late as a bartender one night in Niagara Falls, NY, when he was recruited to fill in for a sales shift at a jewelry store early the next morning.

“I had a friend working part time at a jewelry store. He and his manager came to the bar, and they said, ‘What are you doing tomorrow?’” Mead said he knew nothing about jewelry, but he reluctantly agreed to help out after they said he could answer the phone.

“I rolled into the jewelry store feeling like a wet dishrag,” Mead says. “But by the end of the day, I discovered I really liked it. People were happy. A couple came in and got engaged, and they walked out just beaming with happiness.

“I started working on weekends and ended up being full time. I thought I’d do this until I figured out what I wanted to do, and that was 30 years ago!”

His newfound jewelry career eventually led him to Albuquerque to open a 14,000-square-foot store on a highly visible intersection with a partner.

When the partnership fell apart in 2012, Mead remained in Albuquerque but had to start over, downsizing to 1,500 square feet in a very different kind of location: the third floor of an office building with no exterior signage. Almost accidentally, he created a new business model based on the only inventory he had access to: alloy samples and borrowed fashion jewelry.

It quickly grew into a thriving custom shop. “Most people, by the time they find you on the third floor of an office building, are willing to wait for the piece to be made,” Mead says. The engagement ring department is still 100% alloy with about half of bridal custom-made in house. “This allows us to carry an inventory level of less than 10% of annual sales, versus the typical 50 to 100% level that most independent jewelry stores carry.” The closing rate hovers just over 90%.

New Mexico Jeweler Reinvents Customer Experience

“For 10 years, whenever we’ve tried to bring in live bridal, it never sells,” Thomas says. “We’re not good at selling live bridal, but we’re really good at selling off of alloy or selling custom.”

All staff members are qualified and empowered to quote a custom job, no matter how complicated, right on the spot. Clients don’t need to wait two or three days for the shop to work up an estimate.

Mead attributes the next step in the store’s growth largely to a visit from jewelry consultant Shane Decker, who encouraged him both to get off the sales floor and to renovate the space. Decker said that nobody else in Albuquerque was going after the luxury market and that situation presented an opportunity. “He said we could do so much more with this.”

Mead concentrated on changing the experience. Despite the success of the innovative inventory model, the store still had a traditional look with typical glass showcases. While the experience of entering the office building was unique, once customers walked into the store itself, it felt like any other jewelry store.

“People had to point through the glass and say, ‘Can I see that one?’”

“We decided to make it unlike any other jewelry store, to make the experience of walking in the door as unusual as walking into our building.”

Now, counter-height rows of glass showcases are gone. Where there is some glass, everything is at eye level for clients — there’s no more bending over to look down at jewelry.

The renovation created double-level pull-out drawers, so customers can shop on their own. “Everything is on the same side of the customer,” Mead says. “Once we get a case open, we encourage customers to reach in and pull out what they want to see.

They’ll grab it and it feels weird to them at first, then they start to like it.

Clients can choose from over 3,000 bridal rings at their own pace.”

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They also added a double-sided, pull-out cabinet for self-purchasing clients, loaded with the latest trends in diamond fashion jewelry.

“Clients love being able to play around with stackables, necklaces, earrings, etc., without having to ask to see every single item,” he says. He’s done the same with a wall-mounted chain cabinet with pegs spanning 6 feet vertically so shoppers can easily see all of the chain styles and colors, and simply grab the length they want. That makes the entire store client-facing.

“We’ve designed the store in a way that there are different little spots to experience different types of jewelry in different ways.”

Clients can also see the jewelers working through a window in the wall between the showroom and the design shop, with a Sisma fiber laser engraver/cutter set up under the window. They can engage at the Design Center and watch while they help custom create their dream piece and try on the wax from the rapid prototype 3D printer.

Mead recently moved the entire custom design and manufacturing process in house, so they can create a ring from start to finish in less than a week. Four years ago, they did 58 custom jobs; this year, they completed over 400. And they’re only open five days a week.

New Mexico Jeweler Reinvents Customer Experience

Preferred Jewelry status means customers receive a free lifetime nationwide warranty.

Since Mead moved to the office building, he’s expanded twice and grown sales from $330,000 to just under $3 million. “I attribute a lot of it to the remodel. And I can’t downplay the effect Shane Decker had. I don’t think we would’ve done the remodel if we had not worked with Shane first.”

Mead personally works by appointment only now, having taken Decker’s advice to get off the sales floor, but his staff meets with walk-ins. “That way, if a young man wants to take a peek, he can. If you need an appointment, a guy may be hesitant to come in.”

Mead shifted his radio budget partially into Google Ads, which increased his custom business. It’s the only 5-star Google rated full-service jewelry store in the state, he says. “When you drive by and can’t see our store, it’s important to have a few different avenues where you might catch people.”

The growth continues. Mead purchased his largest independently owned competitor, which his wife, Janelle, manages. The couple also purchased the mall-based Fast Fix franchise. Now clients get a 10% coupon to Fast Fix across the street and Mead has been able to stop all watch repair and battery replacements in the store. “They do most watch repairs, even complicated ones, while the customer waits,” Mead says.

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Five Cool Things About John Thomas Jewelers

1. FOR THE KIDS. The Kids Cave includes toys, movies and a cave wall embedded with gemstones. “When it’s time to gather your kids and they don’t want to leave, we’ve built a vault filled with toys as a bribe gift to get them to leave,” Mead says.

2. POWERFUL PROMOS. Mead has given away a trip to Las Vegas, airfare included, for purchases of $2,000 or more, and a box of chocolates and a dozen red roses with any purchase of $99 or more. A snow promo makes all purchases free during November and December if it snows 1 inch or more on New Year’s Day. Mead also gave away a 4-carat cushion cut Antwerp diamond worth $50,000 as a promo to entice people to see the new showroom.

3. ALLURE OF ANTWERP. Mead travels to Antwerp each year to select diamonds for clients, each of whom receives a personalized video documenting the process of choosing their diamond and a box of diamond-shaped Belgium chocolates. “When I look at my database in the U.S., there might be 20 or 30 diamonds that fit the criterion. When you go to Antwerp, you can see 200 of them all at once.” Pre-orders of $5,000 come with free diamond studs.

4. THE MESSAGE. Some of their most popular 40-foot billboards have been: “50% of Marriages End in Marriage,” ”Let’s Stick It To Divorce Lawyers,” “A Toast to the Oldyweds” and “From the Mall doesn’t have the same ring to it.”

5. GETTING TO KNOW YOU. John and Janelle host Facebook Live sales every few months, averaging between 1,000 and as many as 10,000 views each time. They sold a rare pair of chameleon diamonds during one Facebook sale and a 4-carat pair of diamond studs during another. “We have been told countless times that clients feel like they already know us when they come in because of our videos. We were told by another couple that they feel like they are on a double date with us as my wife and I sit there with an adult refreshment, bantering back and forth and engaging with everyone watching and commenting.”

PHOTO GALLERY (9 IMAGES)

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • ELIZABETH ROSS BREWER: After the breakup with his business partner, John Thomas Mead reinvented his business. One of the most creative ideas the store implemented was the “Kids Cave.” In just a few short years, John Thomas Jewelers was growing the customer base, and seeing profits rise.
  • MEGAN CRABTREE: It’s truly astounding to learn that John Thomas Jewelry has an inventory of $211,000 but generates a whopping $2.7 million in sales. This is almost unheard of in the jewelry industry and is a testament to the success of the company’s unique approach to the customer experience. The success of John Thomas Jewelry is a testament to the impact that a unique customer experience can have on a business’s growth and success.
  • KATHLEEN CUTLER: John Thomas Jewelers takes pride in their customer-centric showroom design. From the inviting “kids cave” to the convenient drink bar, they ensure everyone feels welcome. Pull-out drawers empower self-purchasers, while high-end Facebook Live events and hands-on jewelry experiences elevate the personalized shopping journey.
  • MARIE MCCARTHY: Having all the jewelry accessible is so relaxing and casual. Making everything easy for the client is half the battle.
  • LESLIE MCGWIRE: I love the drop-down ceiling with the black paint in the upper part of the ceiling to give it a contrast. A very open floor plan and client friendly jewelry case format. The kids’ area being a cave is a very creative idea.

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