By Ashley Davis
After 30 years as a designer and store owner in Iowa, Dianna Rae High started from scratch after a family move brought her to Lafayette, Louisiana. She is now the proud owner of Dianna Rae Jewelry.
Lafayette, La.--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.

Dianna Rae High spent 30 years in the jewelry industry as a designer and store owner in Iowa before starting from scratch to relocate to Lafayette, Louisiana, for her husband’s job.

High is married to Jeff High, the founder and president of Gemvision, which was acquired by Lafayette-based manufacturer Stuller in 2009.

Starting over has had its ups and downs. High has been able to create Dianna Rae Jewelry, “the store of (her) dreams,” while facing the realities of being a new business in a close-knit community.

National Jeweler talked with High about how she’s established herself in a new market.

20170630 Louisiana 1Dianna Rae Jewelry was founded in 2014 by Dianna Rae High. High employs six people at her Lafayette, Louisiana store, including a jeweler, watchmaker and a CAD/CAM artist. High is the primary designer of all Dianna Rae custom jewelry.
National Jeweler: What’s the biggest challenge your store is facing?

Dianna Rae High: Our biggest challenge is establishing our name and developing a customer base because we’re new.

Lafayette is a city with a rich culture. It has a rich Cajun history. People live here for generations, and they’re very friendly. Lafayette was named one of the happiest cities in America last year.

(People here) shop locally, they eat at local restaurants and patronize local businesses, so it’s a challenge to break in because I’m not from here, and it’s apparent from my name that I’m not Cajun.

I am a local business, however, so I’ve spent a lot of time getting involved with organizations in the community and that has been really beneficial.

When you have a jewelry store--and this happened in Iowa, as well as here in Louisiana--you get calls every day from people who want donations, whether it be a financial donation or a piece of jewelry, to support their causes.

What I’ve done is I’ve asked if I can either attend the events where organizations are raising money or even set up a table there with the jewelry. That’s been a great way to really get to know people.

A year ago, if I was at a lunch with eight other women and I mentioned my store, they wouldn’t have heard of it. Now, they know Dianna Rae. Our sales have doubled in the last year.

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

DH: Our business is entirely based on our custom work. We carry, I think, one brand of wedding bands but other than that, everything is ours--it’s either our design or something we’ve sourced from a manufacturer that we put under our Dianna Rae private label.

We’re really known for our colored gemstones. Bridal is a close second but our colored gemstone jewelry does the best for us, and it’s across the board in terms of which particular stone (sells best).

Generally, the more unique the piece, the better. If someone wants a beautiful garnet ring, then they want a green garnet; instead of a white opal they want a black opal, whatever is different and interesting.

NJ: Who is your regional customer?

DH: It’s quite diverse. Recently a local middle school baseball team won the state championships. We designed little silver charms in the shape of the state of Louisiana with each player’s name in purple enamel.

We also sell $300,000 engagement rings. So it really varies, but we appeal to a broad array of people.

NJ: What trends are you seeing in engagement rings?

DH: We’re seeing a departure from the halo; we’re definitely seeing less of those.

We’re seeing a lot of vintage-inspired styles. People are bringing in older rings and wanting to recreate vintage styles.

Horrifyingly, we’re also seeing a real return to solitaires, which as a designer, I’m not thrilled about (laughs).

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

DH: Facebook. We post daily on it.

Facebook is key. We get a lot of referrals from it. We always ask customers in the store, “How did you hear about us?” and people will say that a friend follows us on Facebook. It’s sometimes indirect like that, but it has an impact.

NJ: Do you have e-commerce?

DH: We do, but we don’t make many sales from it. People tend to look online and then come into the store to purchase.

We get some purchases from out-of-state, but our local clientele still comes into the store.

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

DH: Don’t try to be everything to everyone. We’re known for our custom work, and that’s what we do. It’s the heart of our business.

It’s also important to embrace where you are. Lafayette is a wonderful place to live. I lived here for a year before I constructed the store, and once we started I used all local people, from the team who built the showcases to the carpet layers, to make myself less of an outsider and to get to know the community.

We also did our research, and we knew that though we don’t have a history here in Lafayette, using my name as the store name would feel more personal.

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

DH: I dress up to go to work every day, and I’m indoors in the air conditioning with beautiful jewelry, but to unwind my family and I really like to go off-roading and mudding.

I have teenagers, and camping and being away in the woods is a great way to literally unplug. It also gives me great inspiration for my designs.

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