By Ashley Davis
Nelson Coleman Jewelers originated in Munich, Bavaria (before it was Germany) in 1856. The company says it’s the oldest fine jewelry store in Maryland. Today, the store is managed by the fifth- and sixth-generation owners.
Towson, Md.-- 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.

Fresh off the win of a state small business award, Towson, Maryland store Nelson Coleman Jewelers has a long history in the jewelry industry, but is more focused on the future than the past.

The store was founded in 1856 in Munich, Bavaria (now Germany). Today, the company is led by its fifth-generation owners, brothers Chris and Mark Coleman and Chris’s wife Peggy, as well as Chris and Peggy’s daughter, sixth-generation owner Amanda Coleman-Phelps.

Chris Coleman and Amanda Coleman-Phelps explained to National Jeweler that truly serving their clientele today means changing with the times.

20170710 Maryland insert1Founded in 1856 in Munich, Bavaria (now Germany), Nelson Coleman Jewelers is managed by its fifth- and sixth-generation owners today (from left to right: Amanda Coleman-Phelps, Peggy Coleman and Chris Coleman). Their Towson, Maryland store is approximately 3,100 square feet, with 2,100 square feet of showroom space. The company has 16 employees.
National Jeweler: What’s the biggest challenge your store is facing?

Amanda Coleman-Phelps: I think our biggest challenge is remaining relevant to our consumer, making sure that we are identifying our strengths in our marketplace and making sure that we’re communicating those strengths to our consumer.

Chris Coleman: Also, identifying exactly what our opportunities are in a very competitive market and to keep growing, which includes finding the best staff and adjusting the physical space in our store.

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

ACP: Bridal and estate. We carry two brands that do well for us: Hearts On Fire and Tacori, but other bridal brands that do well for us are Martin Flyer and Mark Schneider.

NJ: Who is your regional customer?

ACP: Right now, our bridal customer ranges anywhere from the ages of 24 to 35 and that’s usually for their first, and sometimes, second marriage.

We also have the later bridal customer who’s getting married a second or sometimes third time, and that customer ranges a lot in terms of age.

Usually, it’s a bride’s first big, major jewelry purchase and we’ve found that through those customers’ life cycles they’ll usually buy the majority of their jewelry in the first 10 years of marriage. When their kids get a little older they take a break from buying, and then they start buying again (when their kids are out of the house).

We get a lot of couples looking for engagement rings together. Or we get women coming in with their friends. Some of the men do still come in alone to look but, a lot of times, they’ve already done some pre-shopping with their significant others online.

NJ: What trends are you seeing in engagement rings?

CC: According to my wife Peggy, who is our merchandiser, the halo is waning a little bit for Nelson Coleman right now, so our most popular engagement ring is a thinner shank ring with pave diamonds or diamonds on the side and a solitaire center.

Round brilliants are still the most popular diamond shape. I would say that princesses are at the bottom of the list for us. At least two-thirds of the customers who come in looking for princess cuts end up buying cushion cuts, so cushions are still strong for us. Probably a third of our sales are estate jewelry and we see the cushion shape frequently in the estate jewelry, so that’s very popular here.

We have some larger ovals we’ve sold recently and even pear shapes, so I would say that ovals and pear shapes are making a strong comeback here. But, still, the No. 1 is round brilliant.

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

CC: That’s a really important question. We do run ads on Facebook and Instagram and pay per click. Facebook is our main focus for promoting any events that we have; that’s centered on customer acquisition.

Those are the two that we use the most--Facebook and Instagram.

NJ: Do you have e-commerce?

CC: We do. We introduced e-commerce about two years ago.

In order to stay competitive and current in retail--not just with jewelry but in any retail--you have to have e-commerce on the website. You have to be in the game, we believe.

It might be a tiny percentage of your gross sales but you’ve got to have a website that’s very easy to navigate and very convenient to an online shopper, even if they don’t ultimately end up buying from you.

I would say the bulk of our sales, particularly to the millennials, are click and brick. They’ll shop us online, they’ll develop a relationship with us before they’ve ever set foot in the store, but yes we do have e-commerce and our internet sales are growing.

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

CC: Number one, use the best possible POS inventory management and financial software available so you can get the best reporting possible.

Number two, stay connected to the industry and take the necessary measures to do financial benchmarking so you know how you stack up to the industry in all of the important categories: staff productivity, facility productivity, inventory productivity, profit, cash flow and financial strength, so that you can truly analyze the performance of your operation. What goes along with all of that is learning how to manage your business by the numbers.

Three, power your business by your purpose. That’s actually a quote. “Powered by Purpose” is the title of a book that I read that really conforms to the way we do things around here. In other words, have a clear and obvious purpose to the public.

For an owner, that means having a clear understanding of what your personal values are. Then, make sure that it’s clear and obvious to the public what that mission is and why you’re in the jewelry business and how you want to be benevolent with and involved in your community.

We usually get recruited by our clients for their events. Rather than just handing off a piece of jewelry for a silent auction, we go to their events and help them with their fundraising. We go there and we do a diamond in a champagne glass if it’s a gala, or we’ll do a diamond in a shot glass if it’s casual. We conduct (the activity) ourselves, we give our time, and that has really helped to build a reputation that we care about the community and it comes back tenfold to us.

ACP: I think the best piece of advice I can give is to not fight change. The change is here. I hear a lot of jewelers say, “We should go back to the good old days.” Those days are gone; we need to pay attention to how people are buying now, what they like now, what the trends are now, and put our energy into the forward momentum of our industry instead of putting our energy into how it used to be.

I think that helps us remain authentic to our clients. I think one of the biggest things we need to do as jewelers is help bring the trust back between clients and ourselves and trust is built on listening and giving people what they want.

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

CC: When I’m attending a fundraiser or a networking event representing Nelson Coleman Jewelers, attending meetings at trade events or meeting and greeting customers in the store, most folks don’t realize how far out of my natural skin I am and how much I would rather be  walking in the woods, swimming, or reading a book or writing. I’ve always said that all of us in the industry deserve an Oscar.

ACP: I don’t even have anything; isn’t that sad? I don’t have any fun hobbies. I don’t race motocross. I can sing. But I don’t sing in a band, I do some karaoke every once in a while, that’s about it.

CC: She gets standing ovations every time.

ACP: Depending on how much the people in the audience have had to drink--that determines how well I’ve done.

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