Shane and Tricia Oaks are the owners of Seven Oaks Fine Jewelers, named for the seven members of their family. “At the end of the day, when all is said and done, family is all you have,” said Shane Oaks.

St. George, Utah--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.

Seven Oaks Fine Jewelers was named for the seven members of the Oaks family.

Owners Shane and Tricia have five children. The two eldest, a 21-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter, work for the family business, while the other three children help out on school breaks.

“My youngest daughter has been working there since she was probably eight years old. She’s 12 now,” said Shane. “She’ll walk up to people in the store and ask them, ‘What brings you in today, what’s the occasion?’ and talk to them and tell them about things, and the people kind of look at each other like, ‘Does this girl really know what she’s talking about?’ But she does. I tried to get an exception to sign her up with the GIA to get her diamond essentials certificate but she couldn’t because it’s an accredited school and she’s not of age.”

The Oaks opened their first store in Vernal, but ended up moving six hours south to St. George so their sons could pursue their passion for baseball (“That’s probably our family’s real love and passion,” Shane explained.)

At first, Shane made the long drive back and forth between the two cities at least once a week, but as the community in St. George got to know the Oaks, they were soon being asked to do lots of private sales.

“We got busy enough that I said, ‘You know, what we need to open a store here,’” said Shane.

Shane spoke with National Jeweler about his young bridal customers’ demand for lab-grown diamonds, how he creates an experience (hint: it involves drones), and shared his "secret" to business success.

20171019 Utah 1Founded in 2007 in Vernal, Utah, Seven Oaks Fine Jewelers opened a second location in 2014 in St. George. Owners Shane and Tricia Oaks have 13 employees. The Vernal store is 2,500 square feet and the St. George store is 5,900 square feet.

National Jeweler: What’s the biggest challenge your stores are facing today?

Shane Oaks: I would say competing with online purchases still.

NJ: Do you have e-commerce? 

SO: We do and then we don’t. The reason is we tend to battle a lot of fraudulent transactions. We do get a few sales from our website but not a ton. It’s more of something that they have to reach out to us, or they inquire on the website and we reach out to them. We don’t let them make the transaction without talking to us. We always want to verify some information, contact the credit card company, and make sure it’s legit and authorized and everything matches.

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

SO: I would say, by far, Alex and Ani. We sell thousands of their bracelets.

Our second most popular category would be our custom-made engagement rings. We do everything from start to finish on site: the CAD/CAM, the casting, the finishing, the stone setting--we do it all right here.

Since we do it all it takes us five to 10 days from start to finish on rings, whereas for our competition it takes three to six or eight weeks because a lot of times they have to ship things out for casting to Chicago or L.A., Texas or New York. We have a definite advantage by being able to cast everything ourselves, even platinum.

We spend a lot of money on technology with 3-D growers, casting machines, things like that, but it helps us because our turnaround time is so much quicker than everyone else’s.

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

SO: I’d say a halo style ring is still the most popular and fancy shapes are coming back--pear shapes, ovals, marquises.

We sell a lot of platinum and a lot of yellow gold. Something we do that other jewelers may not is that we price out custom options. Once we re-render a ring (from a client’s initial inspiration) we calculate a price for 14-karat, 18-karat and platinum. We give them options with different diamond quality too, so we give them the ability to choose where they want to be within their budget. Surprisingly, a lot of people pick platinum.

We don’t promote one thing or another, we educate people by telling them the features and benefits and let them make the decision. Right now, our most popular diamond by far is a lab-grown. If you would have told me two years ago that my number one diamond would be a lab-grown diamond I would have told you you’re crazy, but it’s been popular for about a year.

About half of our clients are asking for them directly. And for the rest, just like with our metals, the way we present different options, we also provide options with moissanite and lab-grown diamonds and mined diamonds.

You need to understand something that is funky about Utah demographics: the rest of the country is getting married at 29 to 31 but Utah is a very conservative state full of a lot of members of the LDS faith, the Mormon Church. I’m LDS. Something that is really strict within our religion is abstaining from premarital sex, so these kids get home from an LDS mission and they’re not like the rest of the world; they get married, they start a family and they go to college to get their education. When they’re usually getting married they’re 20 or 21. They can’t afford the average $5,000 to $10,000 ring so really our rings are typically $1,500 to $3,500.

(At that range) you definitely have to give them options of a moissanite, a lab-grown or a mined diamond. Then you let them make decisions based on what they are confident in and their budget.

20171019 Utah 2Tricia and Shane Oaks

NJ: Can you describe your regional customer a bit more in terms of the gender breakdown?

SO:  Across the board, 50 percent of the time it’s couples shopping for jewelry and 50 percent of the time it’s a lady or a man purchasing something.

The women are buying, the majority of the time, Alex and Ani and Pandora. The men are coming in and buying Alex and Ani or they’re buying birthday, anniversary gifts. We carry a line called Shy Creations and we do pretty well with that with the $200 to $2,000 range.

Again, lab-grown diamond earrings are popular for us. They’re completely affordable. You’re looking at G, VS quality diamonds, one carat each for somewhere in the realm of $6,000 to $8,000 for two carats total weight. You can’t even come close to that with a mined diamond.

For engagement rings I would say its 65 to 70 percent couples shopping and the rest of the time, it’s a man by himself.

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

SO: Facebook is probably our most important but Instagram is slowly but surely passing that.  

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

SO: If you’re not doing custom, you’d better start.

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

SO: My biggest hobby is probably watching my kids succeed in whatever it is they may do, whether it be baseball or academics. My hobby is my kids.

NJ: I’ve heard you use drones in connection with your business. Can you tell me about that?

SO: After somebody commits to buying an engagement ring--I don’t use it as a tactic to sell them a ring, but after they’ve bought it--I’ll ask them how they’re going to propose. Sometimes they have a plan and sometimes they won’t, but I ask them if they would like to have their proposal on video. If they do, we set it up and we schedule a time.

My daughter now has gotten a really nice camera so she’ll hide and stay on ground level and I’ll be up with my drone but I try to stay far enough away that I don’t draw any attention with the noise. So as soon as I see the proposal happening is when I try to hurry and get in with the drone, and then my wife gets in and gets ground footage. Some of the proposals are on YouTube. We shoot it, we edit it and we give the couple a copy.

Usually at the proposal there are friends and family hiding. So you’re there, you’re part of this experience and you get to meet the friends, the family. You become part of this personal experience and it’s cool to see people get excited about something your company has made.

It’s hard in today’s world to build loyalty. Loyalty doesn’t really exist. But I’ll tell you my secret at how I look at my business. My passion isn’t diamonds, my passion isn’t gold. My passion is people. My passion is creating an experience and helping people create a story during this process that they can tell their friends that they’re proud of, that makes an experience that can’t be matched anywhere else.

That’s what jewelers don’t understand today. You can buy a ring anywhere. The number one jeweler in America (isn’t an independent jeweler). The only way you’re going to stay in business and differentiate yourself from the competition is to create an experience. People love stories. Facts tell, stories sell. That’s why you see people go to Antwerp and buy their diamonds. It’s not that you get a huge savings in diamonds, it’s that you can tell people, “I traveled halfway around the world to buy this diamond.”

I don’t care if someone buys a $100 Pandora charm or a $100,000 diamond engagement ring, we want everyone to leave our store feeling that they had the best experience ever purchasing something. You have to give customers something different.

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