I am frequently asked, both by close friends and casual acquaintances, as well as by customers or suppliers, a seemingly simply question: “How has your business changed over the past 42 years that you have been running it?” I will admit that my answer depends on how much time I have to reply, or how long of an answer the person asking it will tolerate.
Before answering, I will always start by stating one of my strongest operating briefs… a well-run business must always be evolving to keep up with the ever-changing wants and needs of its customers. Once I lay that foundation down, then I will reply that, apart from a lot of details, we have hardly changed our business model at all.
Like my dad’s and uncle’s stores, my first stores were located downtown, upstairs in an office building. The reality was, we located where people found it easiest to shop, from any part of the city. Once people stopped doing serious shopping downtown, we listened to the customers complain about expensive parking, traffic, and most of the customers didn’t even know the main streets in the heart of the city. In other words, they were no longer coming downtown, except to shop with us. So if you view our relocating from upstairs in downtown office buildings to convenient suburban locations as a change, OK. But I really view that as continuing to provide our customers with the experience that they seek.
In Denver, I chose a building for my first store to be on the second floor of the tallest office building in the city. It was easy to see from anywhere, as there was a huge sign on its roof. But the real attraction to the building was that downstairs, on what was the best retail corner location in Denver, was a big store of what was then America’s largest retail jeweler, whose name started with the letter Z. I loved telling our customers that if they were not sure about the price or the quality of our jewelry, they could run downstairs to see what that competitor was offering! Our salespeople were able to exude confidence, and the customers were able to quickly be assured of our value, style, etc. Back then, diamonds were not typically certified, and people had to trust the jeweler’s integrity and competence. Today, our website and mobile phone app does much the same thing. Again, to me, this is not change. When you provide a superior product, you want the customer to be able to see the benefits of buying from us. And the easier it is for them to compare, the better off everyone is. We get the sale and the customer doesn’t waste time, yet gets the best value.
People ask me about my son, Rordan, being in the business with me, and presuppose there have been major changes as a result thereof. But, again, ours is a family business. I went into my father’s business, and eventually I also bought my late uncle’s business to combine the two companies. Both my dad and his brother worked in their father’s business. I remember my grandfather very clearly sitting in the customer service area of our downtown Cleveland store when I was a child. He would keep his eye on the cash register… but actually was able to observe each customer’s reaction to their experience as they were paying for their purchases. My son and I love to be in our stores, but typically we are incognito. Again, we want to observe our customers’ reactions to our products as well as to our service. And by being family owned, we don’t have to worry about shareholders and other financial distractions that public companies must deal with. That customer-centric focus is why we are so successful. Learning that as a child in “Daddy’s store” let both Rordan and me evaluate which marketing professors in his and my college years really understood what they were supposed to be teaching.
We also take pride in being an innovator. Of course, with that burden comes the frustration of competition trying to copy you. We were the first jeweler to sell loose diamonds (well over 50 years ago). Everyone else had the stones mounted in the jewelry. We were the first jeweler to build large, free-standing buildings. Today, most cities have several independent jewelers that have copied our concept, not to mention the largest publically owned jeweler in America. Our type of heavy advertising has been copied by many as well… some even using the owner as the spokesperson. But there is truth in the adage that “imitation is the highest form of flattery”. The only thing we need to continue to do is outperform those copying us… by giving a better experience to our customers than anyone else. And again, for four generations, our family has never lost sight of that focus. Customers vote with their wallets, and there is a reason that we do significantly more business in each market that we have a store in than any of our competitors. And that focus on the customer will never change.