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William Travis Jeweler

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Store growing rapidily

CHAPEL HILL, NC

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Three short years ago, Travis Kukovich was just another payroll employee. A shop jeweler, he often toiled 10 hours a day, six days a week, all the while wondering if he had the business skills to make it on his own.  

Today, he has his answer:?He owns a thriving custom-design business in Chapel Hill, NC, and runs a second outlet in an exclusive Costa Rican resort frequented by some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. 

While Kukovich has certainly paid his dues (he got his start in the trade as a jeweler’s apprentice at the age of 16), he has no overcoming-the-odds-to-succeed story to tell this time. The response from customers was ?overwhelming? almost from the day he opened his doors in mid-2004, he says. Such was the demand for his ?European-influenced? gold and platinum designs that within 18 months he had traded in his original 600-sq-ft studio for a 2,000-sq-ft space a few doors down the street. Sales passed the $1 million mark by the end of 2006 and were still growing at 100 percent in the first half of 2007. 

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Kukovich says the loyal customers he’d built up over the 10 years he worked at his former employer in Durham ensured his new business hit the ground running. A string of honors he’d won for his designs, including five Spectrum Awards, also lent the business instant credibility.  

His other secret ? and what Kukovich believes is the main driver behind his store’s success ? is the ?William Travis show.? 

?Our workshop is by the window. People walk by and see someone swinging a hammer. There’s the fire, the torch. It gets people excited. 

?When someone comes in, we sit them down and bring out trays of stones, talk to them and start hand-sketching designs. We never try to close a sale on the first day. It’s a show. A complete performance. My customers often come back just for fun.?  

Kukovich markets his works as ?true? custom designs. He eschews CAD/CAM tools, arguing that hand sketching results in more original and distinct pieces. ?A lot of people say they do custom but they don’t. They just order heads and shanks from Stuller and put them together. We cast in-house. We carve all the waxes by hand, hand fabricate,? he says, adding that it was the William Travis Show that won him the ?Costa Rica gig? after the resort owner’s wife discovered the store in mid-2006. She later returned with her husband, who proposed giving Kukovich control of a gallery in the Florblanca Resort. 

Other factors that have helped Kukovich build his business in little time: never buying on credit (vendors give him better deals); and ?total service? (the kind that allows him to rely almost exclusively on word-of-mouth advertising).

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[span class=note]This story is from the January 2008 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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