By Michelle Graff
Cumberland Diamond Exchange, which is located just outside Atlanta and owned by Mark and Rhonda Jacobson, is the 24 Karat Club Southeastern United States’ “Jewelers of the Year” for 2016.
As trade journalists, I think we too often see stories come in, such as this one spotted in the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal, and we miss an opportunity to reach out to the retailer and ask them one simple question: What are you doing right?

But not this time; my rampant Olympic fever broke just long enough for me to catch up with Mark, Rhonda and Melissa Jacobson, the husband-wife-daughter team behind the Cumberland Diamond Exchange in Smyrna, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta.

Cumberland Diamond Exchange just received the prestigious “Jeweler of the Year” award from the 24 Karat Club Southeastern United States at the organization’s annual banquet, held Aug. 8.

20160815 Cumberland-blogFrom left, Randy Lindsey, 24 Karat Club Southeastern United States treasurer and chairman of the Jeweler of the Year committee, Rhonda Jacobson, Mark Jacobson and Bill Newnam, president of the 24 Karat Club. (Photo courtesy of Tim Wilkerson Photography)
The week after the banquet, I interviewed Mark, Rhonda and Melissa via phone. Here’s what they had to say about what they believe has made their first-generation, family-owned jewelry business so successful.

1. You can’t just write a check. The Jacobsons make giving back a hallmark of their business and, in fact, it’s written in the store’s mission statement, which reads: “The benchmark of our success is not measured by the longevity of our business, but the relationships we establish with you and the impact we make in the community.”

Giving back, however, is not just about writing a check and (literally) mailing it in or donating an item for a raffle, Rhonda says.

You have to attend the events, shake hands with people and, most of all, chose charities about which you are truly passionate. When your generosity is heartfelt, it comes back to you tenfold.

For Cumberland, this includes the YMCA Northwest Georgia, the American Cancer Society’s Pink Ribbon and SafePath Children’s Advocacy Center, an organization that aids children who have been victims of abuse.

“You don’t give to get,” Rhonda says. “We feel obligated; we’re blessed and we feel obligated to bless others.”

2. Aim for perfection, or as close as you can get to it. In other words, try to be the Simone Biles of presentation and customer service.

Don’t overpromise and underserve, says Mark. If a customer comes in with a repair, finish it while they wait, if possible, or tell them they can pick it up after lunch.

Another piece of advice he had, which was echoed by Peter Smith in his future of retail column: get the customer in and out of your store as quickly as possible.

Mark says that the old adage of “the longer they stay, they more they’ll buy,” is just that today: old. Outdated.

While the store does have some “regulars” who like to come often and linger long, in general they try to do short presentations and get to the point quickly, especially with men, who generally don’t like to shop for more than 15 minutes.

Having observed my father sitting on many a mall bench waiting for my mother and I, I’d have to say I don’t disagree with that one.

3. Bring in the next generation. “It’s paramount to have the young professionals in (the business) and involved,” says Rhonda. “They have a whole different pulse on the market.”

For Cumberland Diamond Exchange, that is their 26-year-old daughter Melissa, who came on to redesign the store’s website so it was responsive and is now the store’s marketing manager, handling email marketing, social advertising and doing some sales.

Melissa does a monthly e-newsletter for the store, which features a bride of the month each time, and also does #WeddingWednesday on social media, taking advantage of the alliterated hashtag to get a testimonial from a bride who was their customer. She says they’ve gotten a number of referrals from #WeddingWednesday.

“We couldn’t train anyone to do a better job than she does,” her mother says.

20160815 Cumberland-staffThe Cumberland Diamond Exchange employs a total of 15 people including owners Mark and Rhonda Jacobson (seated in front).
4. Cultivate relationships. “It’s not always about the price,” Mark says, noting that these days, you can always find a lower price online if you look hard enough. “(People) wouldn’t buy at Tiffany’s if it was about the price.”

Jewelers need to establish relationships within their community by being involved in charities (see No. 1 above) and by joining other organizations such as the local chamber of commerce.

For Rhonda, it always comes back to one of her favorite quotes from the late poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“That’s how we run this business,” she says. “That’s how we treat our employees. That’s how we treat our guests who walk through the door. It’s all about relationships, and you can’t have relationships without feeling, in my opinion.”

5. Hire the right people. Right before we got off the phone, Rhonda had something to add; she wanted to mention, and to thank, the people who work for them. “We couldn’t run the store without them,” she says.

She says they look to hire people who, quite simply, love people.

“We can train them in the jewelry business but if you don’t like people, it’s impossible for you to have the patience to serve people,” Rhonda says. “They’ve (your employees) got to be people-oriented.”

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