Interview by Ashley Vitar.
1. What type of jewelry do you sell?
We offer fine diamond jewelry and everything from antique to modern including custom designs. Today, we are the largest seller of fine mothers jewelry in the nation. As purveyors of estate jewelry, we have antique pieces that date more than 140 years old.
2. How did you get into the jewelry industry?
Many people think I carried the tradition of my family. Actually, after I graduated with a business degree, my university informed me a diamond importer needed a salesperson. I prepared an attractive resume, dressed sharp, explained I was the best candidate and was hired after an intimidating polygraph. That was 1981, and the year the love and mystery of diamonds changed my life forever.
3. What motivated you to start your own jewelry business?
After moving to California in 1989, I had jewelry passion and experience, but felt I lacked the necessary capital to launch my own business. My new employer explained that he was never interested in jewelry and had never even examined a diamond with a jewelers loupe! He admitted, half ashamed, that his business was merely passed over to him from his parents. Although I felt sad for the man who seemed trapped in his unwanted destiny, that was the moment I was compelled to open my own business.
4. What steps did you administer to open your jewelry store?
It was 1991. Two years had passed. I had always dreamed of opening a diamond jewelry store and squirreled away a portion of my paychecks in case opportunity knocked. I read business books while basking on the beach, returning them to the library bearing pages smudged from suntan oil. Unfortunately, the economy was sluggish and jewelry sales dwindled mercilessly. J. Herbert Hall implied rumors of a company takeover and, just before their doors closed forever, I escaped to a rival across the mall. Then that store filed Chapter Eleven: then Thirteen. The lighted marquis of the entrance quickly changed names, and I found myself working for a third employer. There was nothing that could shock me about the accelerated transformations of my California world.
The jewelry market hit bottom. It couldn’t get worse. I remembered asking my boss in front of a customer if he would verify a diamond’s quality. Although I was an expert on the subject, I wanted to show respect to my employer who owned several jewelry stores and drove a black sports car. I embarrassed him, and he admitted he had never louped a diamond in his entire life!
“Mike,” he began. “I have no idea about the quality of diamonds. My parents gave me and my brother their jewelry stores when they died. I always dreamed of being a baseball player.”
I almost went into shock. I possessed so much more than my employer. I had knowledge. I had passion. The only thing I lacked was enough money. That was the day I decided to open a jewelry business! I sold personal belongings to raise capital. Venture capitalists ignored the small dreams of a single jewelry outlet. Banks considered a loan if one were already in business for at least two years. With meager funds, Gallery of Diamonds was born in Costa Mesa with a metal safe and security alarm system, and a humble inventory of about five diamonds, twenty rings and a few chains. There was no fury of holiday shoppers during that founding year, and the fledgling firm produced only moderate sales. My fiancé, Carmen, and I tossed flyers even in drizzling rain, and advertised till the checking account dipped below one hundred dollars. We had to do something different– something no one thought of before. Something that would leave a positive impact and create goodwill. I wondered what unforgettable life experience I could offer others. Then an idea struck… (Continued to Question # 6.)
From the book Moon Over Mountains by Diamond Mike Watson. 2016. Moon Over Mountains Publishing. Pg.113.
5. How did you expand your jewelry business over the years?
In 1991, there were few options for a retailer to advertise. We chose the local newspaper, vowing to run a small advertisement every week. The grand opening ad cost $1,400. We enticed new customers by offering a free small sapphire to those who would simply drop by the new store. Only three customers responded. The first sale was a gold chain for $249.00. The promotion did not pay for the advertising expense, but we learned a lesson that it takes much time to establish any business. We realized it wasn’t the size of the advertisement that was important, but rather the frequency of getting in front of potential customers. The business gradually took hold when we ran a small ad every week in the Sunday newspaper for a year with a photo of one ring and our address and phone number.
6. Can you describe your “Why Mom Deserves a Diamond” contest? What motivated you to start it?
The contest was established to both provide a greater store presence and to give the opportunity for all school kids to express their appreciation for their mothers.
Since I was adopted and always felt the importance of honoring our mothers, I would give a diamond to a student who would write the most heartfelt essay about his or her mom. Although there was little room left for wondering about my biological beginnings, the contest would give kids a chance to express their love and appreciation for their own moms. The winner would receive a quarter-carat diamond to give to mom on Mother’s Day. I hoped a news reporter might spread the good news. If so, the name of the jewelry store could receive more recognition. The title of the contest would be called, Why Mom Deserves a Diamond®.
No one knew it at the time, as the first Diamond Winner presented the precious gem to her mother on Mother’s Day, but the course of history would forever be changed in the way thousands of kids could honor their moms.
From the book Moon Over Mountains by Diamond Mike Watson. 2016. Moon Over Mountains Publishing. Pg 114.
7. What are some challenges you face as a business owner, in retail, and in the jewelry industry? How do you overcome them?
In our modern word, the rules of growing a business constantly change. In retail, the days of waiting for someone to come to a brick and mortar store with cash are becoming obsolete. A business must always think ahead, think innovatively, and try to predict the means of future commerce.
Business owners must always put themselves in the shoes of their potential customers. Always ask why they should buy from you, or come to your store, or order from you online. What do you offer that no one else does?
In overcoming the price challenge, do not be concerned with competitors who offer products for lower prices. Realize that there will always be someone who has something similar for less money. It is much more enjoyable to confidently offer ones products at a fair price while adding additional value such as guarantees, maintenance services, or the positive buying experience itself.
8. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to start a retail or jewelry business?
I believe with passion, knowledge, and perseverance, human potential is limitless.
First one must deeply desire to want to own a business. Second, do your homework by checking out the competition and explore twenty reasons why a customer should give you their hard-earned money. Be prepared for a slow start, and save enough money for at least six months of your total business and living expenses.
You will never have everything you desire at your grand opening, therefore, use the tools at your disposal. More “tools” will be given to you along your journey.
9. What are your predictions for the future of the jewelry industry?
The diamond has always been the king of gems in the jewelry business. When a girl is proposed to, a diamond ring remains the most popular item to consummate the relationship between two persons. However, one must always be prepared for change. When I joined the business in 1981, a man had two options to mount his fiancés diamond –
A 4-pronged solitaire ring, or
A 6-pronged solitaire ring.
Today, the single diamond has continued its romantic tradition, however, the choices of ring designs have exponentially multiplied, including rings that are encrusted with diamonds to accent the main diamond.
The natural color of gold is yellow, but for the past 25 years white gold has led the market in bridal jewelry. A jeweler must look ahead to see what is trending in precious metals, such as rose gold or platinum.
It is also important to know that there are many luxury products that compete with fine jewelry. Years ago, a man might have purchased a diamond bracelet or a pair of earrings as a birthday or anniversary gift. Today, a girl may prefer an electronic device or would rather enjoy an exotic vacation.
10. What are your future goals and endeavors for your jewelry business?
With the internet at our disposal, it is now possible to reach potential customers everywhere. It is important to be present in social media so others can see you are a real person. I love to share my new products and jewelry creations, but I also like to share myself. After all, before a potential customer trusts your store or products, they must first trust you.
The Why Mom Deserves a Diamond® contest has currently touched nearly every state in the nation and my goal is to one day allow every school age child to express their written words of appreciation for their mothers. From the growth of the contest, several thousand families now come to Gallery of Diamonds Jewelers every year to participate in an unforgettable mother and child experience. Not everyone buys jewelry, but more importantly, every family that comes takes home a wonderful experience that will be remembered for the rest of their lives.
To read and comment on Diamond Mike’s blog: www.diamondwatson.com
To purchase books by Diamond Mike Watson on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Diamond-Mike-Watson/e/B01N8ULPI0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1499465074&sr=1-1
To purchase books signed by Diamond Mike: http://whymomdeservesadiamond.com/books.html
Interview with Ashley Vitar.