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Royal Fine Jewelry

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Stores growing rapidly

Louisville, KY

2002-60

SANDEE SCHULWOLF REMEMBERS keenly how people doubted her when she talked of upgrading her family’s 50-year-old jewelry business in Louisville, KY. ?They said you’ll never be a high-end store, you are what you are.? 

In Schulwolf’s case, that meant a credit jeweler in the wrong part of town. 

The credit model had worked well once ? Sandee’s father, Robert Frockt, was a jeweler of some distinction, known in particular for his Kentucky filigree cluster rings. But by the ’80s, Royal Jewelers & Luggage, as the store was known then, was struggling. Demand had fallen off for the ornamental jewelry, women’s cocktail rings and men’s diamond rings that it specialized in. Soaring gold prices pushed Royal into making and selling cheaper and cheaper goods at their downtown operation. ?We’d sell a $99 tennis bracelet and it would break before the customer had even paid it off,? recalls Sandee’s husband and business partner, Lynn.  

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Sandee and Lynn weren’t about to give in though. They studied successful jewelry stores to see how they did business and what kind of merchandise they stocked. They pored over trade and consumer magazines to improve their product knowledge. They traveled to trade shows, always making a point to attend the educational programs and talk to jewelers from other parts of the country. Sandee also brushed up her credentials, adding the title of Certified Gemologist Appraiser from the American Gem Society to the Graduate Gemologist degree she’d received from the GIA in 1984. The new title made her the only woman CGA in Louisville. 

?Education, education, education. That’s been the key to our success,? she says of her store, which is now doing $1.5 million a year in sales, almost double the level of five years ago. Perhaps a better indicator of Royal Fine’s progress came last year when Sandee was named among Louisville’s top 10 businesswomen of the year by the local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. 

Sandee says Royal Fine’s turnaround was a slow one, built on customers who would return to seek her advice about jewelry and spread word of her diamond knowledge. ?Back before certs, every jeweler said their diamond was a G SI1 and they never discussed cut. I would tell the customer the truth and educate them on the importance of cut.?  

The Schulwolfs finally made their break with downtown in 1999, eventually opening a 2,000 square-foot store in the suburbs in 2002. Learning to get the buying right took time. ?Lady waterfall rings, clusters and gold chains didn’t work out here,? Sandee says. Bridal become increasingly important and now accounts for about half of Royal Fine’s sales. Designers, who were originally reluctant to let the Schulwolfs carry their goods, became another important element. Today, Royal Fine carries Tacori, Natalie K, Mark Schneider, Scott Kay, Hidalgo, Roberto Coin and recently took on Hearts on Fire. 

The store continues to experiment. Schulwolf’s son, Jonathan, who takes care of the finances has helped guide their Internet strategy and offers insights into the interests of younger buyers. Royal is also trying to sponsor more events such as a mothers and daughters look-a-like competition this October to support the Susan G Komen foundation.  

Says Sandee, who is herself a breast-cancer survivor: ?My advice to people is don’t give up. The future is out there. Work hard, join jewelry organizations and get educated.?

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