Founded in 1980, Christopher’s Fine Jewelry in Des Moines, Iowa encompasses a connected sister store, Christopher’s Rare Coins.

Des Moines, IA--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 2013, the owner of Des Moines, Iowa jewelry store Christopher’s Fine Jewelry and its sister business, Christopher’s Rare Coins, retired, leaving the operation to its general manager, Christine Osborne.

Osborne and the owner worked with a business coach, taking a year-and-a-half to make the full transition.

“My promise to (the owner) when we started this process is that--and this was his wish--that the store would live on past him,” said Osborne. “He spent 30 years building it and he wanted it to remain a good local option for people, so when I promised that I would build a sustainable business I realized fairly quickly that that meant it had to live on beyond me too.”

Osborne explained to National Jeweler how she’s hit store sales records through her re-commitment to foundational retail and business skills.

20170612 Iowa insert1Founded in 1980, general manager Christine Osborne took over operations of Christopher’s Fine Jewelry and Christopher’s Rare Coins in 2013 when the stores’ owner retired. The stores, which have two separate store fronts but are connected inside, are approximately 6,000 square feet and have 18 total employees.National Jeweler: What’s the biggest challenge your store is facing?

Christine Osborne: Keeping up with how, generationally, things change but also remain the same, and trying to find that balance between continuing to meet clients how they want to be communicated with and what their needs are.

One of our core values is really educating our staff and our customers. My sales staff is challenged to continue to educate people because they come in with so much internet knowledge that may or may not be accurate. So the challenge is to try to really talk clients through (the buying process) and making sure we’re meeting their needs even though they come in thinking they know what they want.

Something we talk about a lot is, “Is what we bring in the store best for our clients and our market and are they good quality items that are going to last?” It’s always a challenge finding the balance between good quality items that are still affordable and a good value.

That, I can say, in the last 15 years has changed a lot, and in our case we don’t want to have the same things everybody else does, and certainly not the same things as the chain stores, so I think that’s really changed how we look at what we buy and how we buy it.

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

CO: Bridal. I carry five main lines but my top two would be Noam Carver and S. Kashi and Sons. We believe in all the lines that we have.

NJ: What bridal trends are you seeing?

CO: We’ve seen kind of a transition a little bit away from halos toward more simple, clean lines, more solitaire-based (styles), which is kind of interesting. We still have halos but we’re starting to see less fussy styles grow in popularity.

20170612 Iowa insert2This is the staff of Christopher's Fine Jewelry. General Manager Christine Osborne is pictured center, in the red sweater.

NJ: Who is your regional customer?

CO: I kind of have a split demographic. We still have a strong 35- to 55-year-old woman as an independent purchaser--kind of our repair customer and they like our estate jewelry. That group and their husbands will come in for major anniversaries and things.

We also have that 27 to 35 engagement couple. We do well with that as well and really work on building that relationship for life.

Our coin demographic is a bit older. In general, the collector is skewed toward an older male demographic. Then we have the group of people who are investors, so with bullions our investor group is I would say more of that 30-to-50 age group. It’s still pretty heavily male but you have your few females who really understand the investing piece and purchase bullion, or they’ll buy a gift for their husband or dad if they’re a collector. But it is definitely a heavily male demographic.

NJ: What’s your social media presence like? What accounts do you have or actively use?

CO: Facebook is important for our older female demographic but we’re trying to grow Instagram right now.

NJ: Do you have e-commerce?

CO: I don’t have e-commerce. We discuss it for small gifting items, like our silver lines or the lower price point diamond fashion. We’re not sure that that’s a real bonus for us right now.

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

CO: In the last couple of years we’ve made some real growth with our retail sales, which I know is unusual right now. We did have some brand rebuilding after the whole gold-buying boom in 2008 and 2009, and we’ve just hit a couple of big milestones as far as sales goals so I get asked a lot, “How are you doing it?”

It comes down to we really looked at the basics of building our brand, building inside the store. We do a lot of the hard, foundational work all the time.

We’re constantly looking at marketing and how we do it with the marketing company that I hired, how we can do it better, are we consistent?

It’s the same thing with training my staff, hiring the right people and making sure they’re being rewarded in ways that are important to them. We remodeled our back room last year to make a better break area for them--a clean space that they can relax in--and so making sure both our clients’ experience and our employees’ experience is good.

20170612 Iowa insert3Pictured here is the staff of Christopher's Rare Coins, the sister business of Christopher's Fine Jewelry.
It comes down to really working hard on all of the basics all of the time, like always writing thank-you notes, always making follow-up calls on repairs. When you stray from the basics, crazy things happen. The foundational work is a constant.

Even when you think you have great salespeople who know how to sell your wedding bands, (you have to continue to work). We just had a sales instructor in for a training and (the sales team) were all like, “Wow, that was awesome.” It’s not that the trainer said anything they haven’t heard before, but it helps keep them focused.

They have sales meetings weekly and constantly talk about how to be better.

When I transitioned into running the store in 2013, it went well because the (owner, non-operator) and I had a good transition plan. That’s when we really started going back to the basics and re-building.

I have to run it how I know how and, for me, that meant building a solid management team to support each department who are responsible for training and development, while I’m in charge of the finance and marketing for the entire business.

I have three managers who really support each department. We work together really closely on continuing to build the business and grow so that’s been fun to get that all together.

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

CO: My husband and I have teenagers and we got a Great Dane puppy last year and he’s my baby. He’s huge--he’s bigger than I am--and his name is Bernard. He’s definitely my baby after my children and the store.

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