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Captain At the Helm

Approaching its centennial, Erik Runyan Jewelers in Vancouver, Washington, looks to the future with a nod to its past.

By Joyce Kauf
Erik Runyan Jewelers
“Retailing today is the iPhone store and Starbucks. We need to refocus and streamline, especially to attract Millennial customers,” explains Erik Runyan, president of Erik Runyan Jewelers in Vancouver, Washington. The store’s centennial celebration in January 2017, coordinated around a move, will provide Runyan with the opportunity to chart a new course. However, this step forward will be anchored in history — the “new” site has the same address as the store had 100 years ago.
   Located on the Columbia River in downtown Vancouver, Runyan’s Jewelers was started by Runyan’s great-grandfather, W. L. Runyan, who set up a watch repair shop on a bench in the bus terminal near the ferry docks. “He conspired with the bus drivers to deliver the watches to customers who lived along their routes. At that time, it was hard for people from rural communities to travel to the downtown area,” says Runyan. Eventually his great-grandfather expanded to jewelry and larger stores, including a mall location. Accessibility is equally important now; the move to the newly constructed Hudson building makes it convenient to travelers along the city’s major highway and interstate.

Downtown Vibe
   Boasting “fantastic” 18-foot ceilings and wood beams, the Hudson building resembles an urban loft, with the same expansive feel. The street-level store will comprise 2,350 square feet of selling space, with offices occupying another 400 square feet of the mezzanine. The building’s distinctive ambience convinced Runyan to move rather than remodel the existing store. But there was another reason: the opportunity for Runyan, a fourth-generation jeweler, to put his own stamp on the store as each preceding generation of his family had done. Runyan, who has a master captain’s license, enabling him to pilot 100-ton boats, plans to create a nautical theme throughout the store, complete with vintage wooden jewelry cases. The new store will feature a separate section for bridal and more seating areas to work one-on-one with customers.

Banking on Bridal
   By volume and dollars, diamonds produce the greatest return. While Runyan intends to emphasize custom work in 2017, which now accounts for 20 percent to 25 percent of sales, bridal will still remain a key category. “The bridal business has been a constant through good and bad economic times. Bridal customers tend to fall in love and want to celebrate that with a diamond,” he points out. “The engagement ring is often a customer’s first purchase and we need to maintain a focus on that.” The average center stone is 1 carat. Frederic Sage, Mark Schneider Design and Gabriel & Co. are among his top bridal vendors, selected for a variety of criteria that include merchandising and marketing support, especially online partnerships that drive traffic and sales.
   Colored gemstones are “waning a bit,” according to Runyan, although precious and semiprecious birthstone jewelry sells well. Estate now accounts for 20 percent of the sales. “Before 2008, we didn’t have any prior-owned jewelry, ” Runyan explains, adding that he didn’t seek out the estate business. “But after 2008, people would come in to sell their jewelry, either to trade up or trade in, especially after gold became more valuable. Instead of melting it, we started selling it. At first it was just a handful and now we have several cases. It has become a department in its own right.”


New Reality
   Prior to January, Runyan plans to hold a major holiday sale to move excess inventory and start the New Year with a more targeted product assortment. “I don’t want to beat customers up with volume. I don’t need 15 of the same bracelet,” he explains, citing an “ever-evolving customer” and changing lifestyles. “The jewelry industry permanently changed after 2008. People used to indulge in a $6,000 or $10,000 gift,” says Runyan. “We don’t see that as much anymore. The Millennials are less inclined to wear such lavish jewelry.”
   Even as Runyan realigns the product mix, he still espouses a retail philosophy that emphasizes value-added services. “If you take a list of reasons why someone buys from us, we hope that price is fourth or fifth or sixth on that list. To us, quality, service, selection and community relationships add tremendous value. At the end of the day, we realize we have to be competitive. But we’re not going to lead with price. We will focus on those services on which no one can compete with us.”
   “This move represents a new beginning where we can focus on our areas of strength,” says Runyan. “I am very proud to be able to tell our story to multigenerations of customers as we embark on our next century of business.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - September 2016. To subscribe click here.

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