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Self-Made Man: Daniel Gordon Makes Mark at The Diamond Cellar after Leaving 111-Year-Old Family Business

The former president of Samuel Gordon Fine Jewelers left his father and the family store in Oklahoma to become a sales associate in Ohio. Now he’s ready to tell his story.

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THERE’S A GOOD chance you recognize the name of Daniel Gordon. Beginning in the mid-2000s, the former president of Samuel Gordon Fine Jewelers in Oklahoma City was ubiquitous in jewelry industry publications and at trade shows, writing and speaking about how to make the most of one’s digital presence on social media and the World Wide Web. Daniel was a thought leader in a space usually reserved for specialists and consultants — and as president of his family store, he had the ear of jewelry retailers nationwide.

Then, in 2013, he went silent.

Daniel-Gordon-today

Daniel Gordon

Today, he’s finally ready to tell his remarkable story. It’s unusual because Daniel had seemingly reached the height of his profession, running operations for his family store and primed to take over ownership at some point in the then-near future. Instead, he left his position, his store, his father and the jewelry industry spotlight to chart his own course, unencumbered by expectations. Spoiler alert: He’s now store director for The Diamond Cellar’s flagship location in Dublin, OH. (The Diamond Cellar, one of the top jewelry retail businesses in the country, also has two stores in Columbus, OH; one in Nashville, TN; and one in Tulsa, OK).

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. To understand what brought Daniel to where he is today, you have to understand where he started.

Daniel-and-Gary-Gordon

Daniel and Gary Gordon

In 1993, at the age of 20, Daniel approached his father, Gary Gordon, who was the third-generation principal of Samuel Gordon Fine Jewelers, and his grandmother, Betty Gordon, who owned the store, about joining the family business. (Betty was the wife of Norman, who ran the business for many years after the passing of his father, Samuel, a Lithuanian immigrant who founded the store in 1904. Gary took the reins in 1980, eventually closing the business in 2015.)

“College wasn’t really my thing,” says Daniel. “After I approached my dad and my grandmother, they wanted me to go out, get a job and prove that I could work. So, I worked graveyard shift in a bank processing returned checks, then at The Daily Oklahoman newspaper running proofs to advertisers. On my birthday every year, I thought they would tell me it was time. Everyone in the community was always asking, ‘When are you going to go into the business?’ Samuel Gordon was well-known, so there was a lot of pressure.”

Finally, after three years, Daniel was at his grandmother’s house for a small family gathering for his birthday. He saw a birthday gift waiting for him on the counter. “Did Danny open his cologne — er, gift yet?” she said aloud. But she was just teasing; the gift held a freshly printed box of business cards with Daniel’s name on them. He was finally going to be a part of the family business.

But he wouldn’t jump straight into leadership. He had to earn it. Gary put him in the back of the store cleaning jewelry, running errands, changing the outdoor marquis and other miscellaneous tasks. Nine months in, a man whom Daniel had befriended came in and asked if he could show him a diamond. Gary said yes, and three days later, Daniel had closed his first sale. “So, my father put me on the floor, and I started selling,” he says.

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Soon after, Daniel got his first taste of the Internet. It was 1997, and as he was walking home, he heard the noises of a modem coming through the open door of a neighbor’s place. The neighbor yelled, “Daniel, you have to come in here — I’ve got the Internet!” Daniel was hooked. He financed a 133 MHz Packard Bell for $5,000 and began staying up all night surfing the Web. Then he convinced his father to allow him to hire a web developer and build a website for the store.

“It proved itself within a few months when a couple came in from Dallas,” says Daniel. “They were looking at a diamond and branded bridal. They saw a couple of things on our website and came in. I was so excited because I had been trying to prove not only to our store but to the industry how important a website could be.”

Daniel soon showed a knack for buying and merchandising as well. Fascinated by Blue Nile and other e-tailers, Daniel wanted to figure out why their prices were so good. That helped him to differentiate Samuel Gordon’s diamond selection from what Blue Nile and the others sold.

Gordon-in-social-media-b

From there, Daniel got into company leadership, helping his dad to run the store. “The last nine years, from 2004 to 2013, I kept climbing up and doing different things, getting heavily into social media,” says Daniel. “I got into Facebook and then Twitter. Michael Schechter [now director of customization at Richline Group] and a couple of other people were the only ones doing it. That’s when I hooked up with INSTORE and other trade magazines.

“I was much more introverted back then, but it swept me into public speaking and sitting on panels everywhere. I think I was not very good, but what I was teaching, a lot of people were interested in. I met all these people I felt were important in our industry, and it was exciting and almost intoxicating. I learned so much from so many smart and intelligent people. It allowed me to feel like I made a mark on my own instead of always feeling in my father’s shadow,” he says.

Self-Made Man: Daniel Gordon Makes Mark at The Diamond Cellar after Leaving 111-Year-Old Family Business

While serving as president of Samuel Gordon Fine Jewelers, Daniel sat in on local morning shows (top) and sat on education panels with jewelry industry luminaries like Martin Rapaport (bottom).

Yet despite all of his success, something was nagging at Daniel. Was he really good at what he did, or was it just because his name was on the door?

In the summer of 2013, Daniel began to think of leaving the family business. He had just turned 40, and his father had remarried. “To my knowledge, the business was doing fine, and I felt like it was time for a change. I hadn’t spoken to anyone except my wife, and she thought I was crazy. But trying to accomplish such a feat had weighed on my mind for many years.

“I had always loved a challenge. I knew my work ethic was always there. No lack of drive and ambition here. The excitement of getting in the business in the first place was the same as leaving the family business and challenging myself to take it to another level personally and professionally.”

He told his father, who took the news well. “My dad was a class act about it. He had never pressured me to come into the business; I had pressured myself. I felt like people in the community expected it from me.”

Daniel began calling around to see who had positions available for him. One name that occurred to him immediately was that of Andy Johnson, owner of The Diamond Cellar. “I had sought him out years ago after he bought and acquired Bruce G. Weber in Tulsa,” Daniel recalls. “It wasn’t too far away from us, but Andy was never mentioned in the trade magazines, yet I would hear from sales reps about how successful he was.” Daniel had tracked Andy down at a trade show and asked him if he had a few minutes to chat. Andy said yes, and they had a great conversation about websites and technology before parting ways.

Fast-forward to 2013: Daniel wanted to make a lateral or upward move, and Diamond Cellar was one of the stores that came to mind. He called Andy.

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“He remembered me and couldn’t believe I was leaving the family store,” Daniel says. “I explained my rationale, so he asked me to come out and see what they had going on. He said, ‘All that stuff you spewed out years ago about websites and social media is now part of our lives.’”

By the time Daniel spoke to Andy, he had already interviewed with four other stores. One had given him an offer, and Daniel had pretty much committed without signing any paperwork. “I had promised I would go see Andy, though,” he says. “I spent the day with Andy and his leadership team, and I knew right away that this was going to be the best fit by far. I had always dreamed of selling the brands they have. I was very into watches, and The Diamond Cellar has a massive selection of prestigious watches.”

And with that, the deal was done: Daniel would come aboard as a sales associate. But it wasn’t easy for a former store president.

“The first time someone tells you what to do is weird,” he admits. “I was the boss and family and ownership, and that transition to someone correcting you and the humility you have to experience to learn and evolve to the next level is not easy.”

Not only that, but his wife and three kids had to adjust, as well. They went from living in a 4,000 square-foot home to a 1,500 square-foot rental. “There were massive adjustments, as you can imagine,” he says. “There were some really tight times financially, but at the end of the day, we always counted our blessings and realized that so many people have it much worse and go through much harder times. In other words, staying in gratitude always has been my saving grace when it comes to tough times.”

In his new workplace, Daniel was nervous, and he did not get off to a great start in sales. He had no experience at the bench, and The Diamond Cellar is well-known for its service capabilities. “I decided to up my game,” he says. “I knew I was missing some higher-level stuff. I was working with the top world-class craftsmen in the industry. I asked questions, listened to goldsmiths, and learned more than I had ever in my career by soaking it all up like a sponge every single day, and I continue to do so to this day.”

Daniel says that working at The Diamond Cellar is like “going to the Harvard of the jewelry industry.” He improved his gemological knowledge, his technical knowledge, and his horological knowledge over time. After a year and a half, he became a manager, and by his third year, he was named store director.

“I started teaching the staff and finding holes in areas where we needed improvement. My abstract reasoning kicked in, and I was able to develop real leadership skills. I thought I had them before, but I really didn’t,” he says.

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One thing he no longer had, though, was industry recognition. That’s because Andy Johnson did not believe in sharing his store’s secrets with the trade — and his employees were bound by the same tenet. “I had to learn and understand that not all of my trade secrets, leading-edge tools, and ideas needed to be shared with all. I mean, at the end of the day, in this globally competitive landscape, we are all competitors, and we are all fighting for somewhat of the same market share. I always enjoyed giving talks at the various trade shows, extremely grateful for the insider industry relationships I forged as a result of being thrown into the spotlight, but as time went on and I got used to a different mindset, I really warmed up to flying under the radar, putting my head down, and just working hard to achieve my goals and dreams.”

He was well on his way to that in 2015 when he got a shock: His dad was closing Samuel Gordon Fine Jewelers. And he hadn’t even called to tell him.

“I found out when everyone else did — through the trades — that Samuel Gordon was going out of business. My dad and I were never at odds, but we took some time after I left. He’s doing well now, too. He always had one thing in mind for me, and that was for me to be happy. That’s all he ever wanted. Discussions were amicable, and he has been and always will be a class act and the best dad a son could ever ask for.”

While things were fine between him and his father, the store closing was very emotional for Daniel. “From being a little boy, born into the business, I had always thought I would grow up and be a jeweler like my dad, granddad and great-granddad. I had detached my personal identity from the business by that point, which only those who are born into a family business can quite understand. Yes, I was shocked and saddened. But going back to what got me as far as I had come, I stayed in gratitude that I landed as such an amazing place. I would say that journey of me leaving approximately three and a half years prior in some strange way prepared me for the news that day. Some things hurt emotionally and physically, but all I have endured and the challenges I have overcome have always turned out to be for the best, and most importantly, have allowed me to grow and evolve as a person.”

Daniel-Gordon-at-Diamond-Cellar

Another change for Daniel has been working with Andy Johnson’s son, Alex, who was named president of The Diamond Cellar in 2020 (Andy is still CEO). “Alex has been a joy to work with, extremely innovative and has brought a lot to the company in a very short period of time,” says Daniel. “Andy has taught me more than I could have ever imagined coming to work at Diamond Cellar. They make a great team and are brilliant minds.”

After 17 years as president of the family business and eight years at The Diamond Cellar, Daniel hopes his story can help others who, like him, want to make their own mark. “Maybe this can help someone who feels stuck or that they were born into something and don’t know what they can really do themselves,” he says. “People don’t feel like there’s an option to leave, but there is. I’m proof.”

Would he recommend his path to others? It depends, says Daniel. “I would take a personal inventory of what makes you happy and try to figure out if it’s the right move. They say the grass is always greener. My decision didn’t come from an unhappy work situation. It came from within myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I could excel in our industry out on my own.

“Trust your heart and your instincts. Talk to friends who won’t always agree with you. Get different perspectives from those whom you trust. It’s scary, but it can be done, and I’m living proof of that. Believe in yourself. Trust your gut. Do your due diligence. I spent a lot of time, almost three years in fact, looking within, and then when I made the decision, I took the time to research the best fit for me in order to have the best potential to achieve the next level of success by terms I defined prior to searching for the right new career home.”

Trace Shelton is the editor-in-chief of INSTORE magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

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