Borsheims was just another independent jewelry store doing its best to serve its community, until Warren Buffet came calling.
Omaha, Neb.-- In 50 Jewelers/50 States, National Jeweler interviews one retailer in each of the 50 U.S. states to find out how they are meeting the challenges of the changing retail environment.

In Omaha, Borsheims isn’t your average jewelry store.

Founded in 1870 by Louis Borsheim, ownership has changed hands through the decades until, most recently, Berkshire Hathaway purchased the company in 1989.

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett appointed Karen Goracke president and CEO in late 2013; she had been with the company in various departments since the 1980s.

When asked about the benefits of being aligned with Berkshire Hathaway, she said: “I have the opportunity to learn so much from my sister companies and, whether we’re talking about shipping issues or other things that all businesses face, really having that collaboration and access to all of that knowledge is phenomenal.”

For 50 Jewelers/50 States, both Goracke and Borsheims Director of Marketing and Business Sales Adrienne Fay spoke with National Jeweler about embracing technology, as well as their many Berkshire Hathaway enthusiast customers worldwide.

20170807 Nebraska insert1Borsheims, located in Omaha, Nebraska has 185 employees. It boasts 62,500 square feet of space dedicated to all of its in-house endeavors, including e-commerce, marketing, accounting and payroll. The actual showroom measures approximately 30,000 square feet. National Jeweler: What’s the biggest challenge your store is facing?

Karen Goracke: There was just an article about this. A decrease in foot traffic, of course, not just within jewelry retail but for all retailers. There is still obviously a tremendous amount of shopping done in brick-and-mortar (stores). But people do a lot of research online before they come in. So I feel like the customer has an opportunity to educate themselves a little bit and kind of get to know you before they walk in the door.

NJ: What’s the top-selling category at your store?

KG: Engagement is our biggest focus and we continue to be a dominant presence in that. We are growing both in store and online within our engagement category but we also sell a tremendous amount of jewelry too.

NJ: What are some of the top brands for engagement rings?

Adrienne Fay: Precision Set is always very popular--that’s a great seller. We’ve seen success with Henri Daussi as well as Kirk Kara. We do see success with private-label brands but, similar to other retailers, as engagement rings get more branded and as there is more advertising in bridal publications, we certainly see customers coming in an asking for those brand names like Kirk Kara and Henri Daussi by name. We start sometimes with the branded pieces but then sometimes convert (sales) into some of the private-label pieces too.

KG: We do a phenomenal business with Precision Set. I think our classic customer appreciates the simplicity of that brand, as well as how well it’s made.

AF: We also have a Borsheims exclusive called the classic collection, which is a set of ring styles that are pre-mounted with engagement stones typically under a carat in weight. It’s a great, budget-friendly option that allows you to purchase and propose in the same day. It’s really been a section we’ve had great success with.

NJ: Describe your regional customer.

KG: We’re fortunate to have customers all over the country as well as on each of the six inhabited continents because of our affiliation with Berkshire Hathaway.

We do have a wide-reaching base but, that being said, the majority of our customers are just from the Omaha region and the surrounding areas within a couple hours.

I feel we definitely have a great connection and a long history within that, and I think our customer base really relies on us as being the expert and having just that sense of trust with us.

20170807 Nebraska insert2Karen GorackeNJ: Do you get more men or women shopping?

KG: I think it is a combination of both. We have a lot of women who like to come in and sort of pick out what they’d like to receive, and our sales associates then are great about keeping those things on file and making those suggestions to their partner or to a friend who might be interested in buying them something.

AF: We also do an engagement event called the "Say Yes" event, one in the spring and one in the fall, and we market it as an expanded collection of engagement, wedding and anniversary rings. At the event we tend to see more couples, so it does seem when we have more of an event-based type of activity in store that that draws both parties of the wedding together.

NJ: What’s the most popular style of engagement ring with your clientele now?

KG: We still see a lot of people buying halos--it continues to be popular-- but I also see more of a resurgence of just a basic solitaire or a lightly accented, just plain solitaire.

We have a wide variety of popular diamonds. Of course, oval seems a little more popular. We have our own signature cut--both a round version and a square-cut--and we will be introducing an oval cut in the very near future that will be a proprietary cut to us.

We are hoping to have it launch before the end of the year. We’re still working through some prototypes to make sure it’s perfect.

(Borsheims propriety diamond cuts) are extraordinary diamonds, I think they’re very beautiful so the oval is the next extension of that.

NJ: Which social media accounts are important to your business?

AF: I think Instagram is really popular but Facebook still has a very broad audience for us. And of course Pinterest continues to be a great way for people to learn about our brand and the styles they like as well.

NJ: When did you launch e-commerce?

AF: We actually launched it very early on. We launched our first online store around 1999.

NJ: What led to the decision to adopt e-commerce so early on?

KG: I think it became evident (then) that this was the way of the future. (I think of) how many times a day I use Google. It’s hard to explain to my kids life before internet.

I think we saw the internet as becoming more and more important, and we have certainly evolved our e-commerce platform continuously to meet the demands of what consumers are looking for. It’s for shopping, education, it’s for getting to know about our brand. It’s finding out about our history. It’s a lot of things, so it’s a nice platform to be able to reach out to people and for them to learn about you.

NJ: What’s the best piece of advice you’d offer to other independent jewelry stores?

KG: Don’t be afraid of change. Just look at the challenges that come up as opportunities and adapt.

Retailing is a lot different than it was 20 years ago. I look back to when I started and think how different it is and how different it’s become. Changing with that can be exciting. It is hard work but (change) can really invigorate your business.

NJ: What’s a fun fact about you we can share with our readers?

AF: I think what makes Borsheims special is our Berkshire Hathaway event. We host about 40,000 visitors who come to Omaha and we get to help them celebrate their time here.

We have a tremendous amount of visitors come to the store then. You get to meet so many people from all over the world and it’s really something special.

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