Nick Gurney and Cody Miller discuss how paying attention to small details in your jewelry store can help make a big difference in your business. How he learned the business from a young age and the example of his family.
They talk about how jewelry stores can build off the recent trend of big years and capitalize on new innovations in jewelry products and technology to evolve for success. Cody also shares how he finds insights into how to work with staff and improve forecasting for hot products.
- Pay attention to the details.
- The right promotion can spur a customer to buy.
- If you can identify what is selling, you can sell more of that product.
- Investments into how you present your business can make a big difference.
- “I would say, probably small things, little things matter. Things such as fingerprints on cases, fingerprints on the jewelry. Things like that, those mean something.”
- “I think if we start to focus on more of that experience, that’s what this new generation that’s buying engagement rings, that’s what they’re looking for. They’re looking for that experience.”
- “I think when you have a couple good years in a row and you may feel the want… the need to take your foot off the gas pedal a little bit, but you really can’t. In my own personal opinion, you can’t. If you do, I think you’re wasting an opportunity.”
- “When you have the extra capital, reinvest it into your store, reinvest it into your employees. Those are the people that make your world turn. Your clients make your world turn. If you can put it into advertising dollars then do it. I think that makes total sense.”
- “One thing we’ve done is look at the reports. I look at the numbers. It gives us the numbers for the past three years. This is what we’ve done on this day three years ago, two years ago, last year, and what you’re projected to do this year…It’ll break it down into sales people and what categories you’re selling fast, you know, what vendors you’re selling fast. I think a lot of people don’t replace those fast, fast sellers and you need to.”
Cody Miller of Alan Miller Jewelers started in the jewelry industry at a very young age—he was about five years old. He started his career in earnest while in college. After completing school his father said, “Hey, if you’re interested, I have a job waiting for you.” Cody can’t think of a better mentor.
[00:00:00] Nick: Welcome to the Master Stones podcast, where we talk with jewelry retailers from across the country about the challenges of running their business and how they succeed. I’m your host, Nick Gurney.
[00:00:22] Hello, everybody. We’re here today with Cody Miller of Alan Miller Jewelers. We’re gonna have him on the podcast. He can talk to us a little bit about what he is doing at his store to differentiate himself and to help other retailers understand what they can do to improve their stores. As always we’re here to learn together and so we’re really excited to have you, Cody. We appreciate you coming on.
[00:00:42] Cody: Happy to be here.
[00:00:43] Nick: Great. So I’m really curious, one of the questions I really like to ask is first off, how you got started in the industry. I know there’s some history with your store but for those who don’t know, those who are listening, tell us a little bit about how you got started and then maybe a little bit of background on your shop.
[00:00:57] Cody: Great. Yeah, so I got started in the jewelry industry probably when I was about five years old, to be honest, but I really didn’t get into it until about my sophomore year, junior year of college. My senior year of college, I did an internship at another jeweler not too far away from my college, and yeah, it started there.
[00:01:14] My dad came up to me at graduation actually, after I handed him my degree, I said, dad, here’s your receipt. He just laughed, said, thank you and said, Hey, if you’re interested, I have a job waiting for you. I said, yeah, dad, that’s great. He said, I want you to try it out for a couple years. If you like it, great. If not, I don’t want you there. That’s the most fair offer anybody’s ever given me and I’ve been there ever since. That was 2009.
[00:01:41] Nick: Wow.
[00:01:42] Cody: yeah.
[00:01:44] Nick: That’s fantastic. It’s actually something we see all the time right. In the industry, they’re not all the same, but something we do see often is that these are generational stores, right? And that’s really something special, I think that we have in this industry is that there is so much family involvement, right? And there’s so much history with these stores. It’s less transactional, right, when a store continues on its path from one generation to another. Do you feel like that’s helped the brand at Alan Miller? Do you, how, how has that affected you uniquely, I guess at the store?
[00:02:12] Cody: Oh, absolutely. We are branded as a family store. We don’t carry the big brands: Tacori, Hearts On Fire. No, we used to but it was beneficial for us to not be as heavily name branded. So to your point on the multi-generational, I’m second generation. My dad started in the industry in 1969 when he was 14 years old. Yeah, just a little store down in east Toledo. Martin Jewelers. He started off as their gopher. He would go there after school, take the city bus to take the repairs downtown. If it was a rush job, Mr. Martin would go ahead and give him a couple bucks for a taxi and he’d wait till the job was done. Then get back to the store immediately. Sold his first engagement ring at 15 and he went off running.
[00:02:59] Nick: Wow. That’s fantastic. I love the history too because, yeah, you might only be second generation, but your dad has been doing it so long that it might even feel like third, right, at this point, the things that he learned at such a young age. That is really fantastic.
[00:03:13] So you’ve been involved with this store, I guess since about 2009. It’s gotta be a tricky dynamic, right? And I’m sure that there’s lots of stores that, that might be in a similar situation, right, where they are transitioning to the next generation. What are some things that you’ve learned or what are things that have worked well as you’ve done that?
[00:03:32] Cody: Communication. Communication is key. Do I agree with my dad on everything? No.
[00:03:38] Nick: Sure.
[00:03:39] Cody: What son and father combo agrees on everything? It’s constructive disagreement, constructive criticism and just, being real, being honest with each other. Hey, I really like the way you’re doing this, or, you know, you probably could have handled that better. What can we do to improve? Those are things that I communicate with my dad on and, you know, sometimes it takes, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it takes a few conversations. But yeah, I think that’s a common issue amongst smaller family owned, independent jewelers.
[00:04:10] Nick: Yep. Yeah. I mean, what do they say, right? The first rule of business is not to go into business with your family, but I think that our industry proves that’s not the case. And so, yeah, that, that’s awesome to hear. And I think that when you, you have the same goals, right? And you understand that, like, we, we are on the same team here. We’re trying to make the business succeed. We might have different approaches. We might have different opinions, but at the end of the day, we have the same goals.
[00:04:33] Cody: Right. Yeah.
[00:04:34] Nick: So, yeah, that sounds really, really cool.
[00:04:37] Okay. Now this is a question I’ve got for you that is, is it a little bit different one?
[00:04:42] So being so involved with the jewelry, assumingly from a small age because your dad’s involved in the store and everything, but not actually taking like a full step in until later in life until you were in college, what are some things that first surprised you when you got started? Like when you started coming to the shop every single day and all that type of stuff, what are the things that surprised you the most, do you think?
[00:05:02] Cody: Know, that’s a great question. If I were to elaborate on it, I would say, probably small things, little things matter. Things such as fingerprints on cases, fingerprints on the jewelry. Things like that, those mean something. The cases are one of the first things people see. They don’t see the jewelry. They’re looking through the case to see the jewelry. If the cases are dirty and the jewelry’s dirty, well, these people don’t care. The little things matter. Just take an extra minute, take a little solvent cloth, clean the jewelry, clean the case. It doesn’t take that long. And it goes a long way.
[00:05:41] Nick: yeah. One shot at a first impression, right?
[00:05:43] Cody: A hundred percent. You get one chance at a first impression and make it what you need it to be.
[00:05:52] Nick: Now I admittedly don’t know, you know, a lot about your store, what you do differently. Are there certain differentiating factors that you have? I mean, of course cleaning the cases often, the jewelry often, making sure that it looks good. I mean, we hope most people are trying to do those things, but the fact is they’re not. Well, what are, what are other things that make your store unique? What are, what are things that, that people come to your store for that they might not go to others?
[00:06:15] Cody: We’re a very promotion driven store. We are always looking for that next promotion, the next big thing. Currently right now we’re working on a deal with Traeger Grills where you spend X number of dollars and you get a grill. People have done similar things in the past and it’s worked out well. I think this one’s gonna be a hit.
[00:06:34] Nick: Yeah, absolutely. I love Traeger Grills. They’re actually local to us as well. So that’s a lot of fun. Yeah. That’s a really cool promotion. It is interesting, you know, I’ve seen shops give promotions before and stuff, but you know, when you’re going to buy an engagement ring, you’re gonna spend a lot of money, you know, to get something like that out of it. That’s awesome.
[00:06:52] Cody: Yeah. Why not get something for you too?
[00:06:55] Nick: Yep.
[00:06:55] Cody: So yeah. Another thing we’ve done, we’ve teamed up with one of the local restaurants, the Real Seafood Company. They do a great job. I think they’re a regional restaurant. But it’s a little more upscale. And one thing we’ve done, we buy the gift cards at a discount and we’re able to give the customer a $50 gift card for a purchase over, a couple grand and that, you know, he’s able to take his loved one out to dinner and present her with a beautiful piece of jewelry.
[00:07:23] Nick: The date night’s on us, right? We take care of the date night, you know, you don’t have to worry about all the extra steps. That’s great. That’s great.
[00:07:29] Cody: Yeah. Saying this is a gift from me to you saying thank you.
[00:07:34] Nick: Yeah. Yeah. You’re crafting experiences, right? More so than anything else because you could sell just an item, but when you sell an item and you include a grill, you sell an item, you include a gift certificate to a nice dinner, now it’s an experience, right? So that that’s really cool.
[00:07:48] And how have your customers responded? They like seeing this stuff?
[00:07:52] Cody: Oh, they love getting free things.
[00:07:54] Nick: Oh, absolutely.
[00:07:55] Cody: Who doesn’t love getting free things, right? Yeah. You’re absolutely right. You hit it right on the button. It is all experience driven and I think sometimes people forget about that. People in our industry, we sometimes focus on the things that don’t… I don’t wanna say don’t necessarily matter, but I think if we start to focus on more of that experience, that’s what this new generation that’s buying engagement rings, that’s what they’re looking for. They’re looking for that experience. Can anybody click online and say, Hey, yeah, I just bought my engagement ring? Sure. They can. But anybody can do that. Anybody can sit on their couch at home and click a button.
[00:08:37] But for something special like that, you really want to take the time to go into a brick and mortar store, a local independence store, a local jeweler, and have that experience, sit down with somebody and learn something. It’s the educational factor. It’s the experience. It’s the lights. It’s the shining from the diamonds. It’s everything.
[00:08:55] Nick: Yeah.
[00:08:56] Cody: That’s what it’s all about.
[00:08:58] Nick: Yeah, absolutely. That’s really fantastic and, you know, you touch on a point there that I think is an important one. E-commerce, it’s a newer trend. it’s been around in other industries longer than it’s been around in jewelry. It’s trying to make its way in. Do you feel like there’s a place for e-commerce in jewelry? I mean, I think we both agree right there that scenario, it wouldn’t make sense, you know, an engagement ring, that’s very personalized experience. But do you feel like there’s a place for it?
[00:09:21] Cody: For certain things, yes. There’s always gonna be some sort of e-commerce route. And I think the pandemic taught us something that there is a place for it. That’s how some stores survived. But as far as engagement rings, I really don’t recommend that. There’s just way too many factors.
[00:09:39] You know, you can go design a ring, but without seeing it, without feeling it, without having that experience, what are you really buying? Do you know you’re gonna get that GSI-1 or the DVB-S2? You don’t. You don’t know what you’re looking at. The general consumer doesn’t know exactly what they’re looking at. If you come into the store, us as jewelers, we’re able to show you the difference between the VS stones and the SI stones and the I1s and we have fun doing it. That’s the thing, we enjoy doing what we do. We’re very, very fortunate in our industry. We’re not out in the sun. We’re sitting in the AC, you know?
[00:10:17] Nick: Yep, yep. Yeah. It’s true. And even if you do take the picture, right, let’s say you do bring the picture in, right, and you got the, you know, I’m looking at buying this ring online. Even a jeweler couldn’t tell if it is what they’re claiming it to be, know? You’re not sure what you’re getting in the box when it comes in the mail.
[00:10:32] Cody: Exactly
[00:10:33] Nick: With something as special and as important as a diamond it is important to look at it and to see it in person to compare to the one next to it. Right. And to understand exactly what is different about your stone versus somebody else’s. So yeah, that, that’s fantastic. Thanks for sharing.
[00:10:47] Cody: Yeah.
[00:10:48] Nick: You touched on another point that I wanna, talk about as a topic because we can’t seem to avoid it at all. But you mentioned the pandemic and how it had an effect on the industry. What have you noticed changing in shopping behavior of customers in the past few years? Have you noticed anything specific changing or their attitudes or reactions to certain things changing?
[00:11:09] Cody: It’s a great question. When the pandemic hit, we were closed for seven weeks. Seven weeks. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not adept at home projects. I got pretty darn good at ’em. I learned… not saying I’m great or anything, but I did learn how to cut baseboards and shoe molding and all that fun stuff. And I’ve done a couple other rooms since then.
[00:11:34] As far as buying habits, once we got back into the store, I did notice that people were buying. People were spending that money. Was it attributed to these stimulus checks? Was it attributed to some other factors? Maybe? I think the pandemic really gave us a different outlook in the sense that… there’s a lot of people that lost their lives in the pandemic, right. We’re not here forever. So let’s treat the ones that are here now with something nice, something that’s meaningful, something that’s special. And I think that really had some impact on our industry.
[00:12:12] Nick: Yeah.
[00:12:13] Cody: Yeah, so we were closed for seven weeks, back to the pandemic, closed for seven weeks. And when people got back, we weren’t sure what was gonna happen. So again, I’d mentioned before, we’re a promotion driven store. We put out a big discount. We put off Just some of our older inventory, half off. And the response was incredible. Ultimately year end we had our best year ever right after the pandemic. The year after that, we weren’t sure what was gonna happen. So we just kept doing the promotions and promotions and promotions. That next year was our best year ever.
[00:12:49] Nick: Wow.
[00:12:49] Cody: It topped the year before. So, where’s it gonna go this year? It’s anybody’s guess.
[00:12:55] Nick: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:12:56] Cody: Things seem to be kind of tapering down a little bit currently.
[00:12:59] We’re still confident in that it’s gonna be a great year. It’s just, is it gonna be as good as the last two? It’s gonna be hard to say.
[00:13:10] Nick: Today’s episode is sponsored by Jewel360 software. Jewel360 helps jewelry retailers manage all of the pieces of their business. It’s great for managing repair work, tracking inventory in store and online, and running all aspects of your store in a modern cloud-based solution. Jewel360 also has built in tools for communicating with customers so you can keep them in the loop and coming back to your store. With the Clientbook integration, you can take that one step further by integrating all of your clienteling work directly into your point of sale. With everything built into one system, it makes this process seamless and incredibly easy. Jewel360 does all this and more.
[00:13:50] For listeners of this podcast, Jewel360 is offering 25% off your startup costs. Click the link in the description or call (385) 259-7029 to schedule a demo and redeem this offer. And now back to the show.
[00:14:09] You know, it’s an interesting time because you know, as the industry goes, it’s been a great couple of years as well. Just overall, it’s been a very lucrative few years for jewelers and jewelry retailers. And it’s interesting to look at because there’s gonna be two types of jewelers. I feel like that come through this, and tell me if I’m wrong here, I’d love to hear your opinion, but I think there’s gonna be two types of jewelers that come through this period.
[00:14:32] There’s gonna be those that recognize the things that happen during this time to make things so successful and they’re gonna work really hard at implementing those things and capitalizing on those things.
[00:14:44] And then there’s gonna be those who let this opportunity, I guess, go to the side, right? They’re going to be excited about the couple years where they’ve had it really good. And then things will just go back to the status quo. Do you feel that is an accurate assessment?
[00:14:57] Cody: I think when you have a couple good years in a row and you may feel the want… the need to take your foot off the gas pedal a little bit, but you really can’t. In my own personal opinion, you can’t. If you do, I think you’re wasting an opportunity. You know, you, you have the wheels rolling right now. You may as well keep ’em going, right? Don’t pull up to the stop sign. You know, this is one of those times where you roll through and you pick up speed.
[00:15:23] Nick: Especially early on, you know, new shops that open early on, right. All they could hope for is more capital so they can grow, right? And so this opportunity, when stores do have perhaps a little bit more capital than they normally do, you know, to use that, to grow, to reinvest that back into the business that’s a great way to ensure that you continue this trend on as long as you can.
[00:15:47] Cody: Absolutely. Absolutely. And by the way before, I’m not advocating for breaking traffic laws. Don’t do that by any means. I think that’s terrible. But yeah, no, it’s… when you have the extra capital, reinvest it into your store, reinvest it into your employees. Those are the people that make your world turn. Your clients make your world turn. If you can put it into advertising dollars then do it. I think that makes total sense.
[00:16:13] Nick: Yeah. Awesome. Awesome. I agree with you. What are some things that you’ve done technology-wise in your store to help you stand out and to help, you know, when and what to buy and to, you know, increase those sales? Has there been anything that stood out to you?
[00:16:28] Cody: One thing we’ve done is look at the reports. I look at the numbers. It gives us the numbers for the past three years. This is what we’ve done on this day three years ago, two years ago, last year, and what you’re projected to do this year. If you do that, great. If not, something to strive for. You can make it up the next day. But that’s one of the things that I have found beneficial, technology-wise as far as inventory management and just keeping up on your general sales numbers. It’ll break it down into sales people and what categories you’re selling fast, you know, what vendors you’re selling fast. I think a lot of people don’t replace those fast, fast sellers and you need to.
[00:17:09] Nick: You need to keep your stock.
[00:17:11] Cody: Yeah, exactly. Another thing technology-wise, we use Stuller. Who doesn’t. So Stuller’s matrix program, the CAD program. The reason I bought this computer that I’m on. We’re just now getting into custom design, custom CAD design and we’re using the Matrix Gold program.
[00:17:27] Matrix Gold is… it’s mind blowing. There’s so many different things there. Actually, my brother-in-law Chris is in the store as well. Keeping it in the family, right?
[00:17:37] He’s our jeweler apprentice. So he’s learning from custom Tom. But as far as CAD goes, he’s come so far in such a short time. It’s really amazing. He’s created some things and I’m like, Chris, how’d you do that? CAD designed something new technology wise.
[00:17:51] Not this year, past year, the year before we completely revamped our outdoor LED sign. We were just two colors, red and black kind of thing. Now we’re full color. We’re able to put pictures out on the road sign and it’s been beneficial, brings people in.
[00:18:09] Nick: Especially if you’re so promotion driven, like you mentioned, that’s gotta be a great way to do that.
[00:18:14] Cody: Yes. Yeah. So, I mean, there’s a few different technological things that we’ve done this past year that have really helped us out and really, really brought some people.
[00:18:26] Nick: Awesome. Yeah, that’s great. And you touched on two types of technology there that I think are really interesting. Cuz when I think of technology, I group them into two categories. You have the supporting technology, right? So those numbers that you can look at to understand how you’re doing as a store. You know, the best type of business owners, the best type of entrepreneurs have been doing that for a very, very long time, whether they’ve had technology to help them or not. They’re looking at those numbers, they’re looking at how their stuff is selling. And then the technology can come in and help you scale it, right? So they can help you do it faster, do it better and do it more often.
[00:18:58] And then there’s the CAD program that you mentioned. And this is really interesting to me because there’s the type of technology that lets you enter new markets. There’s the type of technology that lets you do something you’ve never been able to do before. And so that’s really, really cool. And I’m glad you shared those two examples. Okay.
[00:19:12] Cody: Yeah. Thank you.
[00:19:13] Nick: Yeah. What about your team, your team in the store? You know, what are some things that you’ve learned? I really like retail, just in general, because it’s so interesting how you can hire one staff member and learn something entirely new about how to run your business. What are some things that you’ve learned from your team or you’ve learned from the rest of the employees there at the store?
[00:19:31] Cody: I learned something new about them every day. Everybody has their different habits. And from the outside, looking in, you see… or from the back room looking out, rather, I think that’s a better way to put it, you see everybody’s different habits and you learn how to approach them. There’s certain… I forgot the name of the report, but you can, you can have somebody take a personality test, I think. And you can find out what the best way is to approach that particular employee, that particular person. And we personally, haven’t done that at the store. I’m really kind of curious to see how it would go. Cuz you know, you got your type A’s and the different ones, so on and so forth, but you learn how each person sells and you learn their different skills and capabilities and teaching what you know to them and watching them curtail it into their own personal presentation is pretty cool to see.
[00:20:26] Nick: Playing to the strengths of your employees, I think is what you’re getting to right there. Because if everyone is playing to their strengths at the store, and if you can find a way that everyone is doing that way, it’s the best way for everyone to be working. And that’s where you’ll see the most success. That’s really, really good. I like that you shared that. It’s something we’ve actually done at our office too, is the personality quiz and that test, and it is interesting to learn exactly how your colleagues, you know, will respond to certain things or how they like being talked to, you know, about certain things and stuff. So that’s cool. I’m glad you shared that.
[00:20:57] Cody: Yeah. Yeah. Pleasure.
[00:21:00] Nick: All right, I’ve got one last question for you here before we wrap.
[00:21:03] Cody: All right.
[00:21:04] Nick: What is something that everyone in the jewelry industry needs to start doing, something they might not have started yet they need to start doing or start looking into?
[00:21:12] Cody: Lab grown diamonds.
[00:21:16] Nick: That’s gonna have a controversial reaction, I think.
[00:21:19] Cody: Three years ago, I would’ve agreed totally a hundred percent. Now if you’re not doing it, you’re, you’re being left behind. That boat is taken off and if you’re not on it, it’s gonna be gone. Lab grown has been so great for our store. We’ve got quite a few diamonds in stock. I’ll keep it simple like that. But as far as lab grown goes, I think if you don’t have a lab grown presence in your store, you’re gonna need one.
[00:21:43] Nick: Yeah. Wow. That’s fantastic. That’s I’m really glad that’s what you shared. I’m excited to hear what people think of that. And so this is really good. I’m glad you shared that.
[00:21:52] Cody: You know, this past Christmas we had all of our lab grown diamond jewelry in a four foot showcase. Now we keep it separated from everything just to not muddy any sort of waters. But there was this one bracelet in particular, over the last two years, we have sold 36 of this one bracelet. This is 10 carats, anywhere between eight, 10, and 15 carats worth of lab grown diamonds, and we’re selling it and making money on it. That’s going back to your reports and the fast, fast sellers, I’d be crazy not to reorder that and because we reordered it, we sold 36 of ’em.
[00:22:35] Nick: Wow.
[00:22:35] Cody: In the last two years, a bracelet that retails for $6995 for a 10 carat. Who can have 10 carats of diamonds for seven grand? I mean, it’s crazy. But that’s what lab grown diamonds are doing to our industry. You’re able to have the diamond that is… it has all the same chemical, physical properties of a natural mind diamond, but it’s less. It’s less expensive and us as jewelers can make more money on it.
[00:23:03] Nick: Exactly, and it opens up a new market for you, right. Because it’s not necessarily that you were losing out on a sale of a natural diamond for 10 carats. It’s that now you’re able to make this additional sale that you wouldn’t have been able to before.
[00:23:14] So that’s, that’s really interesting. I’m glad you shared that.
[00:23:18] Cody: Yeah.
[00:23:19] Nick: Cody as we’re wrapping up anything else that you wanna share with our listeners?
[00:23:23] Cody: As far as the jewelry industry goes, you know, keep plugging away, keep those wheels turning. I think we’re in for a… it might be a little more challenging of a year. But you know, we’re, we’re all friends. If you’re not a part of a buying group, join a buying group. You know, there’s a few good ones out there. We belong to RJO. RJO has been great. We’ve been a part of RJO for 27 years.
[00:23:47] Nick: Wow.
[00:23:47] Cody: 27 years of great service, great vendors. And you know, we’re happy to be a part of that family and it really is a family. So anyways being a part of a buying group is something that I would recommend.
[00:23:59] Nick: Great. Well, hey, we appreciate having you on Cody. We’ll be in touch.
[00:24:04] Cody: Hey, sounds great, Nick. Thank you.
[00:24:12] Nick: Thank you for listening to the Master Stones podcast. Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts. Leave a rating or review to let us know what you think. For more interviews with business owners, visit Jewel360.com/interviews, where you’ll find transcripts, show notes, and videos for all of our episodes.