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What started as a police officer’s sideline is now one of the slickest stores in West Chester, OH.

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Yelton Fine Jewelers; West Chester, OH

URL: yeltons.com; OWNER: Joanne, Mark and Tina Yelton; FOUNDED: 1988; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2009; AREA: 7,000 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 6 full-time, 4 part-time; TOP BRANDS: Tacori, Hearts On Fire, Simon G, Le Vian, Fana, Movado, Tissot, Belle Étoile , ArtCarved, Gabriel & Co.; ONLINE PRESENCE: Yelp: 3 Stars | Google: 4.4 Stars; ALEXA GLOBAL TRAFFIC RANK: 12.3 million


RETAIL JEWELRY BUSINESSES SPRING from a variety of circumstances, but Yelton’s origins are one of a kind.

Roy Yelton was a police officer assigned to investigate an influx of gold into his Ohio jurisdiction. The trail led not to a crime, but to a legitimate business owner in northern Kentucky who had a vendor’s license to sell gold jewelry. Yelton became a customer and a friend of the guy he had thought was a suspect. When the jewelry salesman retired, he urged Roy to enter the business. “You’re honest and you like people; I think you’d be good at it,” he told Roy.

Convinced, Roy Yelton started the business on the side without telling anyone, says his son, Mark Yelton, securing a $10,000 loan and buying the yellow gold jewelry inventory, which he brought home in a cigar box.

“He flipped open the cigar box and my mom (Joanne) about had a heart attack,” Mark says. “She thought he was crazy and they started arguing. That was September and from September through Christmas he sold every piece. He went from a cigar box to the trunk of his car, then converted a spare bedroom with a case and track lighting. When Mom kicked his business out of the house, he went to flea markets. Finally, he rented a space in an old drug store.”

The business grew from there, into two locations.

Then, in 1999, the year Mark married Tina, Roy was diagnosed with leukemia.

Instead of expanding to a third location, which was the original plan, the family regrouped, selling the original and keeping one store, while staying focused on customer service. “If the client came into one store, we might be at the other store and they usually wanted to talk to a family member,” Mark says. “We had been spread too thin and this was a turning point for us.”

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When Mark and Tina joined the business full-time about 10 years ago, they realized that in order to grow the business they needed a freestanding store.

The strip mall location was typical for its time, Mark says, with fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling, white cases and blue carpets. “It was very, very nice at the time, but when we moved we knew it was time; it was very dated,” he says. “The industry had changed so much that we knew we were going to have to do something if we wanted to be one of those independents that stuck around.”

They found the perfect, high-visibility location for a destination store and moved in nearly five years ago.

Sadly, although Roy had rallied from his initial diagnosis and lived for years in remission after a bone marrow transplant, he didn’t live long enough to see the new store completed. He died suddenly in October 2009, and the store was scheduled to open in November.

“It was tough on me and Tina and Mom,” Mark says. “To be honest, we didn’t even want to open. But at the same time, my dad’s dream was to have a freestanding store. And we knew for us to grow and to have a cool store we needed the freestanding store. We knew he’d be mad at us if we didn’t keep moving forward. We’d like to think he’s still here, and that he’s pretty happy with the outcome, too.”

Of course the timing was rough in other ways — 2009 was a recession year.

“Things weren’t so great, but we had purchased the building and there was no going back,” Mark says. “ A lot of people came to see us, and it ended up being a great Christmas, although a bittersweet one. We had growth right away. We knew pretty quickly we made the right decision but it was still tough; we were constantly learning and adapting.”

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Warm but Cool

The Yeltons didn’t want the place to look like a typical Midwestern jeweler; they wanted a completely different vibe.

“We spend as much time in the store as we do at home, and so we wanted it to be really warm and inviting and comfortable,” Mark says. “Younger guys are intimidated as it is and sometimes it’s easier to walk into a mall store than for them to pull up to a big freestanding jewelry store and walk in — it’s an act of bravery on their part. So we want them to feel very welcome. At the same time we wanted it to be cool and slick.”

They achieved the look they envisioned by incorporating a lot of curves in the design, facilitating traffic flow in the process.

“To me, I think the best thing about the store is the flow,” Mark says. “You feel comfortable when you walk in, and the curves make you move naturally throughout the store.”

Keith Kovar, principal with GRID/3 International Inc., began by drawing bubbles to define certain areas — such as a quiet area for diamond sales. Those bubbles turned into a curved motif, which radiated from the center of the store. There were three columns in the space and two of the areas are spun off with the columns as the central feature. “Tying the columns together made them into a positive thing rather than an element of ‘what are we going to do with this?’” Kovar says.

On the exterior, Kovar had the task of transforming the former Roadhouse restaurant into an elegant jewelry store. “We wanted to do a major change to what the building looked like, but we didn’t want to do a major change to the building itself. We left a lot of the brick, and clad it in such a way that it looks totally new. And we changed the entrance.”

The project was made simpler by the stand-alone nature of the building. “It’s a lot easier to make a big impact when it stands in the middle of a big parking lot,” Kovar says.

PHOTO GALLERY (8 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Yelton Fine Jewelers

1. THE BEAD BAR: Yelton carries both Trollbeads and Chamilia and shows the beads in an open display. “What we noticed early on is that people love to play with the beads, to pick them up and try them on,” Mark says. “Fine jewelry is behind glass, but the beads are a different animal.” So the Yeltons have a bead bar where people can spend as much time as they like picking up beads and putting together bracelets and necklaces. It’s a small security risk, but the good outweighs the bad, Mark says. “People have fun over there; it’s part of our store experience.”

2. EAR PIERCING: Before Roy passed away, he found an antique barber chair. When the Yeltons rebranded the company logo, making it purple, they reupholstered the chair in purple, too, and now it’s the ear-piercing chair for everyone from babies to grandmothers. “You pierce one little girl’s ears and the next thing you know her friends are showing up, then their friends.” Not everybody on staff will pierce ears. “It takes experience, patience and bravery, especially with infants,” Mark says.

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3. ALL IN THE FAMILY: Mark’s summer job as a teenager was as a goldsmith apprentice in his dad’s store. But after college he worked as a graphic designer for seven years. Now, he deals with business administration while Mom leads customer service and Tina concentrates on buying and merchandising. “We’ve been married 15 years and we can’t imagine not working together,” Mark says. “It just works for us.”

4. THE PERSONAL TOUCH: As for marketing, Yelton does a bit of everything, from social media to TV. Whatever they do, it has the personal touch. On radio, it’s Mark and Tina doing the talking. Playful banter between the two of them has been well received. Their last advertising campaign centered on the line, “The best kept secret in Cincinnati.” “We’ve had growth over the years, but there’s still a lot of room for growth,” Mark says.

5. EVENTS: They have them all — bridal events, bead events, trunk shows, Facebook fan party nights, Christmas open houses, and gold buying events.

Try This

Tina Yelton launched a blog this year called “The Jeweler’s Wife.” Tina offers personal commentary on everything from business to motherhood. It’s fun, entertaining, and most important, honest, just like the Yelton brand. “Through The Jeweler’s Wife Blog and #ThursdaysWithTina on the company Facebook page, the Yeltons have been able to build more personal connections with their audience and show the personality of the brand. While the site has only been live since February, it’s already produced great results, driving an impressive amount of traffic and boosting engagement on their social channels.

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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