Tom Shane's World

A Traveling Chameleon

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When asked to compare myself to a plant or an animal, I respond immediately that I am most like the chameleon.  As I spend almost half my life traveling internationally all over the world, I really take pride in that analogy.  I love to change my color (so to speak), so that I fit in with the local people.  Whether their culture, their restaurants, their social habits or whatever…I try very hard to blend into their society.  As my field of expertise is marketing, I can’t think of a better way to understand locals than to blend in, as best as I can.

Thailand is a country where it is really easy to blend in.  I love the people, and think I really do understand how they think.  In fact, they are ever so practical.  When we, in America, see laundry hanging from an apartment balcony or a house, we think ‘ghetto’ low class.  They are proud of not wasting electricity to operate a clothes dryer.  In fact, they do own driers, but are more focused on “green” then we are, and want to save energy.

When we air condition (they don’t need heat in their climate at all) centrally, they do it by room.  Each room is only turned on when someone is in there.  Every bathroom has its own water heater (no central hot water tanks).  That heater only kicks in when the hot water is open and called for.  Otherwise, no energy is consumed keeping water hot.  So I guess, green is what green wants to be; but they have been green before we knew what the color meant.

Anyhow, I love the country of Thailand.  I get sad, when I have to leave.  I am heading off to Hong Kong soon, to meet several of my jewelry fashion gold buyers at the Hong Kong Jewelry show.  This is really important for us, as a company.  It is equally important personally for me, as the owner of Shane Co.  It allows me the opportunity to see what is new in the industry.  By walking the aisles with our buyers, and making comments on everyone’s lines, I can truly set the overall design and feel for them, as guidelines.  Then, they are free to source, while respecting my guidelines.  The system also makes good sense to the trade, who watches every move we make, as an industry leader.  I look forward to this year’s show.

Before leaving, I spent the past couple of days at our factory.  Examining the new product, as well as processes and procedures, is so important.  The Thai workers love the level of detail that I get involved with.  They expect a foreign owner to be a “hands off, high class executive”.  When I show up in my jeans, and actually use my loupe to examine and discuss with the workers exactly what they are doing…and then let them know what I both do and do not like about it, they are almost shocked.  I tell them it may be a Thai company, but with an America culture.  They won’t challenge a boss in Thailand, while I demand that they do that as needed.  So it is really fun operating a business in Asia.

They examine every colored stone that I buy, to be sure that all repairs and polishing was done perfectly.  It was an uphill battle, particularly given that my family owns the company and I personally do the buying of all the colored stones.  They thought that, if they found fault with a stone, they would be insulting me as buyer!  Anyhow, we have finally bridged that gap, and the quality of our colored stones reflects the success.  We can be compared with anyone, and our stones are that much superior.  The fact that almost every stone I buy (and I average between 10,000 and 20,000 stones each of eight times per year that I buy them) has to be re-cut or at least re-polished is mind-blowing to others within the jewelry industry.  They think I am wasting my time seeking perfection; I think I am offering what no one else in America has, to our customers. As to who is right, I have always believed that customers vote (with their wallets).

Anyhow, that is why it sometimes takes several months from when I first buy a stone until it arrives in our stores, ready to be sold.  This delay is painful (financially) to us, but at the end of the day so well worth it.  I love to differentiate ourselves, especially in areas where certain ‘big mouth’ competitors cannot say anything!  That is what feeds my ego, and keeps me going.  Most of my friends think I am crazy, but I am having too much fun to think about it.

Tom Shane is the owner of Shane Co., the largest family-owned retail jeweler in the United States. For four decades Tom has traveled the globe buying gemstones, including diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls directly from the gem cutters for Shane Co. He is the third of four generations of the Shane family to work in the jewelry business. Tom started learning the jewelry business at his father's side at age 12, assisting his father in his store. Tom opened his own jewelry business in 1971, establishing Shane Co. He was 22 years old at the time. In 1996 Tom was knighted into the order of Leopold II in the Kingdom of Belgium in recognition of his lifelong achievement in the diamond business. Tom currently resides in Colorado, but spends a great deal of his time abroad purchasing gemstones for Shane Co. You might know his voice from the Shane Co. radio ads which are the longest running radio ad campaign in history, or you might have caught him at a party with other Colorado celebrities in an episode of South Park.

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