Bruce Bragg and Daniel Austin of Coffrin Jewelers talk to Nick about the latest trends and business practices they are seeing in South Florida.
They discuss the growing custom work business and other new trends such as permanent jewelry. But what they try to demonstrate most is a consistent dedication to satisfying customers and delivering products that meet their desires.
- Custom work is currently a growing business.
- Build relationships with your customers and you’ll be rewarded.
- A dedication to getting things done right will build confidence with customers.
- We try to find a way to say, yes, we can do that for you.
- One thing that’s consistent is the customers that do come in year after year, you start to know them by name.
- I think that’s what kind of separates us is, you go to Coffrin to get it done and get it done right.
- Custom has definitely become bigger within our store here. We do have a custom case that we do custom pieces in more Southwest Florida theme.
- Personalization is, that’s how you monetize anything nowadays.
Bruce Bragg and Daniel Austin of Coffrin Jewelers came to the jewelry business via different paths. Bruce, originally from South Bend, Indiana, recently came to Coffrin Jewelers after studying kinesiology and working in the sports field. Daniel has an engineering background and works as a gemologist. Coffrin Jewelers was founded in Sarasota in 1980.
[00:00:22] Nick Gurney: Why don’t we go ahead and just kick things off, let you guys introduce yourself, your role at Coffrin and things like that. Daniel, do you wanna start?
[00:00:29] Daniel Austin: Sure. I am Daniel Austin, graduate Gemologist here at Coffrin Jewelers. I do appraisals, stone identification. When we need a stone, I’m usually the one who gets it, that sort of thing. As far as, like, what else I do, pretty much everyone does everything around here.
[00:00:42] Nick: Sure.
[00:00:43] Daniel: Small store. Everyone wears lots of hats.
[00:00:45] Nick: Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. Bruce, how about yourself?
[00:00:48] Bruce Bragg: Yes, my name is Bruce Bragg. I’m originally from South Bend, Indiana, actually and found myself at Coffrin here within the past quarter, I’d say, is when I kind of got on board. But to what Daniel’s saying, with what I do in the store, I just mainly focus on retail sales and taking in jobs and watches and stuff like that. But yeah, a little less hats than Daniel does. But you know, definitely I’m more of the face than the thinking, more the face than the brains
[00:01:14] Nick: Sure. No, that’s great and I think you guys highlight some really interesting things there about retail jewelry, right? So often we’re enamored by these large brands and these huge stores, but really at the end of the day, like, you know, this type of store where you’re wearing lots of hats and you’re doing lots of different things, that’s the vast majority of jewelry retail, right? And so I think that’s really great.
[00:01:35] So how did you guys get started in the industry? Like, what was day one for you and jewelry? Are you part of a long chain of jewelers, passed down, and things like that? Or is it something you picked up later in life? Like how about you guys? How’d you get started?
[00:01:48] Daniel: Me personally, out of high school I started for engineering, but then when I met some engineers, I was like, ah, I don’t really want to do that. So then I just started looking around for like, various trade jobs and then discovered that GIA [Gemological Institute of America] was across the street from my mother’s house. So I was like, wow, that’s a sign. And so I decided to just go ahead and apply there and see what that was like, and that’s how I got started in Gemology.
[00:02:09] Nick: Wow. Wow. That’s really cool. And I love that it’s something you found later. I feel like so many in the industry are like, like I mentioned earlier, they do it because the family did it and you know, I’m taken after my dad and, you know, all this type of stuff. So that’s really cool that it’s something you found later in life. How about yourself, Bruce?
[00:02:24] Bruce: For me, honestly, kind of the same thing with Daniel. I come from a background of sports, honestly. So more of Kinesiology is where my degree is in, with a minor in business administration. But I tried that route out, wasn’t necessarily something for me, and I really do like coaching as well, though I will take from all of that and that’s kind of what I like to do with my retail sales here, is kind of inform the guests and educate them cuz the more educated they are, you know, the better suited they’ll be when they know the cost of things, and they’ll know that you’re not just up charging them or trying to get something out of them. It’s truly this is what it is. So for myself, nobody’s been in jewelry prior besides wearing it.
[00:03:04] Nick: That’s great. I love that. So both of you guys there at Coffrin Jewelers, tell me a little bit about the store, like do you specialize in anything that makes you guys a little different from those around you? Kind of curious there.
[00:03:15] Daniel: We’re a store that’s been here for over 40 years. It’s always been in the Coffrin family, so we’ve basically got a reputation for doing everything. The only thing we actually don’t do around here is engraving. We can get anything else done: stringing, repairs, custom jobs, we do identifications, we do all sorts of weird stuff.
[00:03:33] Nick: Great. I love that. You know, you do everything there and I love that about a retailer jeweler, right. We typically don’t tell our customers no. Right? They come in, they want us to do something. We find a way to get it done and I love that.
[00:03:42] Daniel: We even have an in-house watch repair man. There’s only a few hundred of those people in the US right now.
[00:03:48] Nick: Yeah. That is an art that is disappearing quickly. So that is very cool.
[00:03:52] Bruce: For sure Nick, I would definitely like to add onto that and just saying like, I mean, it’s all in house. Nothing’s ever sent out of our store. It’s very rarely, like Daniel is stating, you know, we don’t do engraving and we’ll still take in the job and send it for them. So, I mean, we still don’t even necessarily turn them away. You know, we, like you said, we try to find a way to say, “yes, we can do that for you.”
[00:04:13] Daniel: We just use the local engraver down the street.
[00:04:15] Nick: Sure.
[00:04:16] Bruce: Exactly. So it’s not even sending it, we’re taking it ourselves.
[00:04:20] Daniel: I’ve walked many pieces over there.
[00:04:22] Nick: That’s right. That’s right. You know, and it’s an interesting thing. There’s a lot of trust, right, in the industry with our clients at the store. There’s way more trust involved in this industry with our consumers than any other that I can think of. You know, most others, anything retail is all purely transactional based, right? And in jewelry we get this great opportunity to really experience a relationship with our customer and I think that’s very unique.
[00:04:45] Do you feel that there’s any particular ways that working with your customers in a relationship type manner has helped your business succeed? I mean, you’ve been around for 40 years, that’s some significant history behind you. How have your customers responded to your growth over that time?
[00:04:58] Daniel: We’ve always had a reputation for just getting it right. Like we don’t really mess around with people. If someone wants something done and we get it done and it’s not quite what they want we take it back and we just make it right with whatever they want, however they wanna do it.
[00:05:12] We’ve had many people, in time, come back and they’re like, oh no, I kind of want it to look like that. And then it’s just like, okay, yeah, we’ll just take it back. We’ve even had some people just come in here like, they just don’t like the ring. And so we just, we take the metal out, we recast it the way they want, and then we give ’em the ring back, just no charge. It’s just what we do.
[00:05:27] Nick: Sure. That’s great.
[00:05:28] Bruce: Definitely along with that is building relationships with the people we have. I mean, to what you’re stating Nick, is, you know, we’ve been in business for 40 plus years and still counting and the one thing that’s consistent is the customers that do come in year after year, you start to know them by name and we’ve even had people with the influx that we’ve had of Post-Covid with people from New York and California even coming down and trying even local jewelers in town, local jewelers who do the repairs then, and it was done to the best that it could have been, and they bring it to us. And it’s also a lot of word of mouth, which has really helped our business stay afloat. I think that’s what kind of separates us is, you go to Coffrin to get it done and get it done right. So that’s speaking onto what Daniel was saying as well, that’s what keeps our reputation up there and at the top of the list.
[00:06:15] Nick: Yeah, I love that. You know, it’s interesting because as a business, you know, we try and do all these different activities, try and drive traffic, you know, we’ll do paid ads and we’ll do, you know, all these marketing campaigns and emails and texts and whatever else that we can think of to get traffic in the store. And what’s funny to me is even with all these technological advances over the years, right, even with all these new tools that we can use to these things, word of mouth is still king and it will always be king, right? And so all that we can do with all that other marketing is hope to drive additional word of mouth, right? And so I love that you bring that up.
[00:06:44] Now these tools, of course, are still very important. You know, reviews online, for instance, it’s just another form of word of mouth, right? But it is really interesting that at our core, we still wanna shop at the businesses that our friends and our family tell us to shop at.
[00:06:58] Bruce: All the time. I mean, even so with that, I mean, we still do direct mail, so I mean, it’s…
[00:07:02] Daniel: It’s our only advertising.
[00:07:04] Bruce: Yes.
[00:07:06] Nick: That’s awesome.
[00:07:07] Daniel: Social media posts and a mailer that we do basically every month.
[00:07:10] Nick: That’s awesome. You know, and I’ve talked to lots of jewelers that actually say similar things.
[00:07:15] Like, I still do print, I still do, you know, mailers and stuff, and I’m surprised, right, that they still do that in this world today and it absolutely works. That’s why they do it, right? It brings in the traffic.
[00:07:26] So on the same kind of thread, I’m kind of curious, what have you noticed about consumer shopping behavior in the last couple years?
[00:07:34] I mean, we definitely had a, you know, a really good time. You know, just after the pandemic 2021 was a great year for the jewelry industry. Things might be shifting a little bit now as we’re watching things. But how have you noticed, what have you noticed about consumer shopping behavior in the last couple of years?
[00:07:49] Daniel: I’d say down here in South Florida, we’ve been largely insulated from a lot of what’s been happening recently. We have seen a little bit of movement towards non-standard designs. There’s a lot more custom now. We’re not selling as many pieces out of the case necessarily, or like name brands. We’re selling a lot more on people making whatever they want. They wanna make sure they get exactly what they want.
[00:08:09] As far as, like, what’s been happening recently, we’ve been having a little bit of a slow down this year with the hurricanes. People have been kind of holding off on that. That’s kind of the one Florida thing that’s going on right now.
[00:08:20] Nick: Yeah. Gotcha.
[00:08:21] Bruce: I definitely would say, exactly to what Daniel’s saying, custom has definitely become bigger within our store here. And a lot of guests are going more towards that route. They’ll see something on, I mean, think about it, we have multiple channels, right? We have TikTok, we have Instagram, we have Etsy. Anything else out there that’s along those lines? Pinterest, even. You have all these different influxes of advertisements of things that you wanna see, and they want the centerstone of what they saw on Instagram with the side stones of what they saw on Etsy. But they like the band from Amazon, let’s say. You know, whatever it may be.
[00:08:55] But there’s multiple different channels that are coming at our consumer now, and it’s definitely geared more towards custom customers. Increasing more within our store here and definitely, even within the industry, you see it across Rapaport and INSTORE Magazine as well. They’re seeing the same thing across the country. So, custom is becoming more and more. And I think that’s that’s nice as well, even within our store cuz we do have a custom case that we do custom pieces in more Southwest Florida theme. Like we have a gold casted sand dollar, we have shark’s teeth from Venice Beach. The sand dollars are caught right off of here, off of Siesta Key. So, I mean, it’s little things like that you just don’t find anywhere else. Yeah, so that’s kind of what the trend’s been moving towards. And yellow gold is coming back, nineties are back in, I’d say nineties style jewelry is back in again.
[00:10:43] Nick: I love that. My wife wears exclusively yellow gold. She has for years. And she loves it because now she can actually walk into a store and see things that she likes. You know what I mean? It used to be, “can I get this in yellow?” I love the yellow gold’s coming back. It makes holidays a lot easier for me too.
[00:10:59] So, it’s been very interesting and I love that you guys lean into your local customer, right? And you lean into what’s around your store, right? That makes you unique. You know, the fact that custom is growing. I think that’s really good insight into the fact that those relationships are there with your customers, right? That they’re choosing instead, hey, maybe I saw it on Etsy. Maybe I saw it on TikTok but I am gonna go to the jeweler that I trust, even if I want the same thing, because I know they’ll make it for me and I know I can trust ’em and I’m gonna get something right.
[00:11:27] So, I have a question for you guys. It’s always a hot topic, right? And I love asking it. What are both of your stances individually on lab grown diamonds?
[00:11:37] Bruce: Daniel, you can go first.
[00:11:39] Daniel: As a gemologist, they’re interesting, but they’re also a pain in the butt. They’re one of the hardest things to tell from, like under a microscope. They’re almost impossible to differentiate from actual diamonds. There’s few funny tests you can do, particularly around fluorescence, but pretty much the only real secure way is to get several thousand dollars machine from GIA and have it tested.
[00:11:58] Nick: Yeah. Do you sell lab grown in-store?
[00:12:01] Daniel: Yes, we sell lab grown. The industry has been moving towards, as I’m sure you’re aware, more lab grown. They’ve been trying to keep it outta the bridal line, but it just keeps pushing itself in there.
[00:12:12] Nick: Sure.
[00:12:14] Bruce: I would say for myself, I really don’t have a preference, personally. But if I’m buying it, if I were going to a store, I would want personally a natural diamond just simply because it comes from nature and every diamond is different from the next one where lab grown, it’s kind of like a mold and it’s all gonna be one and the same besides the little inscription that they inscribed to identify that it’s different than the one to the left of it.
[00:12:38] And in nature you could have an inclusion there, that’s just one, and then the next diamond comes from the same batch and does not have one. So I like that individuality of natural diamonds, but if I’m going with a tennis bracelet personally, I’m going with a third of the cost. I’m putting lab grown in there.
[00:12:54] Nick: Sure.
[00:12:54] Daniel: So you get more of a story with natural.
[00:12:57] Bruce: Yes. That’s what I like to present here for our guests, as well. And it comes down to personal tastes. You know, what they like.
[00:13:05] Nick: Yeah, no, there’s certainly a level of, you know, uniqueness, right, to a natural diamond and especially for the purchases that might be sentimental and things like that, you know? Totally a priority there. No, that’s really cool. I love that, love that you guys are doing that. It’s always a hot topic. So I love to ask that question.
[00:13:21] Bruce: It is.
[00:13:22] Daniel: We have people asking all the time.
[00:13:23] Bruce: All the time.
[00:13:24] Nick: Yeah. That’s great. We’ve got a couple minutes left here. So, I’d like to wrap up, but what do you guys, just for the last question here, where do you see the industry heading in the next few years? What are the things in jewelry that excite you? What are the things that make you nervous? You know, anything like that?
[00:13:39] Daniel: Again, custom is pretty much where we’re looking at. That’s where we’re putting a lot of our advertising in order. We’re putting a lot of our energy into trying to expand custom because everyone who comes in here wants it their own way. And with the internet now, it’s like, there’s so many different designs and everyone has their own kind of thought in their head about what they want the piece to look like. We had a guy in here last year who wanted a, like, a kind of hammered ring, but like, we have in the store, but it was yellow gold. He wanted white. We have a good relationship with this designer and so we went to him and we said, can you make it in white? Can you put black diamonds in it? He was like, sure, I got you. That guy’s back now. And he wants the matching bracelet for it the same way we’re doing that too.
[00:14:11] Nick: Nice. That’s great.
[00:14:13] Bruce: I would say that, I’m gonna lead with what kind of worries me about upcoming and within the industry is permanent jewelry. Cuz it’s, what’s to say? You know, kind of guess kind of like tattoos, you know, hopefully they’d still like it a few years down the line, to say the least. That’s what kind of worries me with that upcoming and with Florida as well, what kind of litigation would come from that? Who is liable for something that they just don’t like or anything like that? Or they wanted a refund. Kinda like a tattoo, you can’t really get a refund on a tattoo. Yeah so that’s what kind of is worrying me, cuz I do see it. We have had a few inquiries ourselves with our shop here. “Do we do permanent jewelry?” We’ve even asked it on our own social media channels as well. And a few responses, definitely. I mean, it’s something we are still, as well, looking into just to see what the industry is moving towards and if anyone is even wanting to do that.
[00:15:04] But definitely to what Daniel’s saying. Definitely moving more towards custom. Personalization is… that’s how you monetize anything nowadays. I mean, you can even get your own M&M with your own initial on it. You don’t even have to have the “M” anymore.
[00:15:16] Nick: Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. The world’s your oyster, right?
[00:15:20] Bruce: Yes, sir.
[00:15:20] Nick: So, just to touch on permanent jewelry there for a second, and I know you guys are still looking into this. Do you guys think that it’s here to stay? Do you think it’s a fad that we’re just seeing for a minute here? What are your opinions?
[00:15:31] Daniel: We’ve been getting a lot of inquiries on it. It’s a little too early for us to really tell.
[00:15:35] Nick: Sure.
[00:15:35] Daniel: I don’t think it’s gonna be as huge in this town, as it’s a little older town here. So I don’t think it’s gonna, it’s more of a younger thing.
[00:15:40] Bruce: Agreed. I would say definitely more of a city thing, more if you might catch it at your local jeweler in Tampa, maybe Atlanta, New York. But I would say more of like a town like Sarasota where it’s 150,000, 250,000 unincorporated, maybe not so much so, like even now I would like, I call them city beads, but more or less like the beads that men wear around their wrist to a, you know, accompany any other pieces that’s kind of also starting to get a foot down here in Sarasota, Florida. So yeah, it takes a little time for things like that. But it’s interesting. It’s one of those things, it’s curious for everyone, it’s new and it’s something different and people are curious to see what it is and they wanna see if we’re doing it. So yeah.
[00:16:23] Nick: That’s great. Thank you guys so much for being on the podcast. Really appreciate chatting with both of you. And we will, we’ll see you later.
[00:16:30] Bruce: Likewise. Thank you, Nick.
[00:16:31] Daniel: Glad to be here. Have a great day.