Akron, Ohio--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.

Jim Taylor worked for years at Sterling Jewelers in Akron, Ohio, before opening his own store, Taylor Made Jewelry, in 1991, but it was a chance piece of advice that brought him to the jewelry industry to begin with.

Taylor had always been an artist and won awards for his drawings during his youth. While in his fourth year of studying architecture at Kent State University, a professor suggested he take a jewelry class.

“It was a way for me to take my artistry off of the paper,” said Taylor.

From there, he was hooked.

Taylor has embraced CAD’s capabilities over the years, but still starts every custom project with a sketch, which sets him apart from his competitiors.

“Because of my ability to do photorealistic sketches,” he explained, “people love the interaction they get when I can talk to them and actually be drawing and collaborating with them.”

Taylor spoke with National Jeweler about the bridal styles his customers are requesting, as well as how Akron has changed over his years in business.

20170914 ohio1Founded in 1991 by Jim Taylor, Taylor Made Jewelry employs seven people at its 3,600-square-foot store.

National Jeweler: What’s the biggest challenge your store is facing today?

Jim Taylor: I would say the biggest challenge is competition with online, non-brick-and-mortar stores and staying in the eye of the public, staying up with the information stream, keeping up with social media and constantly trying to keep (your brand) in front of the customer.

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

JT: Definitely bridal.

NJ: What’s your top-selling brand?

JT: We do really well with Romance by Kim International, as well as several different brands like Parade and Allison Kaufman.

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

JT: We’re seeing a lot of people starting to get back to more of a clean look rather than a micro-pave, vintage look. We’re starting to see cleaner, more classic styling. We’re selling some mixed metal styles with little accents of yellow or rose gold that may be in some of the scroll works and undersides of the galleries.

Still, our number one seller is white gold. Round brilliant is our No. 1-selling diamond shape and ovals are becoming more popular.

NJ: Describe your regional customer.

JT: Akron, Ohio, has transitioned in the 27 years we’ve been here. Originally, we were known as the rubber capital of the world. We had Goodyear, Firestone, General Tire, Goodrich. Now most of the manufacturing side has moved out, and it’s more of the headquarters and technical side so Bridgestone, Firestone is still headquartered here and Goodyear is still headquartered here.

As far as our clients (go), it used to be a little bit of an older customer, executives from the rubber industry, people that ran the machine shops involved with the rubber industry, but now we market ourselves to the colleges in the area. We’re in close proximity to the University of Akron and Kent State University. We’ve become major corporate sponsors of them so we’re seeing a real influx of the young business professionals coming out of college, and that’s what our goal was. Usually, when they get out of college the first thing on their mind is to get a job and the second is to get engaged and get married.

It’s taken a while to get there with that demographic. We’ve been marketing to the colleges for about 10 years now, and it’s really starting to take off. They’re more familiar with our name now. We treat them very well, so we have been very fortunate. I know that people don’t necessarily buy their wedding band where they buy their engagement ring, but we have nearly 100 percent of customers return for wedding bands. We offer a wedding package at the time of the sale: we take 25 percent off of the solitaire, the semi-mount they place it in and anything that has to do with the wedding, including wedding bands and attendee gifts.
20170914 ohio2Jim Taylor

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

JT: We do a lot with Facebook and Pinterest, and we do some things with Twitter and Instagram as well.

We have an in-house person to handle our media.

We looked into hiring an outside agency but the content they produce can be very repetitive. There are several in the industry, and you can tell which of our competitors use them because they post these blogs that are very similar. Ours is more personalized, more focused on our area and our involvement with the community, not just a blog about “what is an emerald?” or “the birthstone of the month.”

It’s more of what charities we’re involved with. We do a lot with the All American Soapbox Derby, and we’re actually involved in the corporate challenge where we build and race cars against other corporations in the area, so we like to post things like that, where I’m going down the track racing other businesses.

NJ: Do you have e-commerce?

JT: We have e-commerce kind of embedded on our site. We use a company out of California called GemFind.

We have the ability to switch e-commerce on at any time, but we’ve actually turned it off because we’ve found that if you’re not the absolute cheapest on everything the customer will go elsewhere. We’ve found it’s better to say “call for pricing” or “come in for pricing.” We use it more now as an informative tool to get customers to come in. They can see all the vendors we carry, they can do a “build-a-ring” and look at diamond inventory on there, but if you don’t have the absolute cheapest price they won’t even come into the store.

We can’t be the cheapest on everything. We don’t want to be an online discounter.

We’re a member of the Retail Jewelers Organization, and some of the vendors involved started this thing called ShopInde. It’s embedded on our site and what the customer can do is click on the ShopInde icon and they can shop with the vendors associated with that site and if they purchase there we get our mark-up. It hasn’t really taken off, it’s pretty new, but the concept is kind of cool.

NJ: What’s the best piece of advice you’d offer to a fellow independent jeweler?

JT: To be actively involved with their company, with their store. Be involved with the customers at the counter and also be involved with the staff. Even though the staff that I have here isn’t family by blood they’ve become my extended family. Just really be active, also with the community. The community is what supports you. Get involved with charities and other businesses that are doing things that are good for the community.

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

JT: I have a lot of hobbies. I have koi ponds, and I love raising koi goldfish. I enjoy the beauty of them. I have an outdoor kitchen. I love to do smoking and grilling and all of that.

I have so many interests. I love sports, cars and fishing. I’m a catch-and-release guy though; I don’t kill anything. I can’t raise them in my backyard and then eat them up out of the lake.

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