Rapaport Magazine

Mountain air

The founders of Thollot & Co. turned their repair business into a comfortable jewelry store in Thornton, Colorado, thanks to help from trade groups.

By Joyce Kauf

Image:Tattered Lens Photography 

Sometimes a learning curve means recognizing that you don’t even know what you need to know about running a business. To this day, Joy Thollot remains grateful to the mentors who helped fill in those gaps, enabling Thollot & Co. to grow and thrive.

Retail was not the first venture for her and her husband Troy, who met while working at a jewelry store in Rockford, Illinois, and later earned graduate gemologist degrees from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). In 1993, after subsequent moves to other cities, they set up a trade shop in Golden, Colorado, doing repair work for local jewelers.

Having developed their own client base, the couple decided to open a retail store in April 2000. Thollot recalls thinking “jewelry sales would be cream on the top, given that we had our repair work.”

However, what began as a “sweet start” changed at the five-year mark. “Experience took us only so far. Honestly, we were stuck and couldn’t break through the million-dollar sales tipping point.”

An invitation to join the Independent Jewelers Organization (IJO) provided an opportunity to attend classes and interact with vendors and other retailers. The couple was also invited to join Continental Buying Group (CBG), “even though we were just shy of entry-level volume,” Thollot recalls, specifically citing CBG president Andie Weinman and owner Joe Murphy for “recognizing our potential.”

A key factor in the learning process is being “receptive to listening to experts and adapting their advice to your situation,” Thollot acknowledges. “The CBG vendors’ program enabled us to hit the big mark magically fast, and we have continued to grow since then.” In 2013, the couple purchased a bank building in Thornton, outside of Denver, and transformed it into a store.

Of stones and wood

Thollot’s introduction to lab-grown diamonds was in a GIA class in 1989, before they were gem-quality. “When lab-grown became a reality, we embraced them as another option,” she says, noting that her company may have been the first in the Denver area to offer those stones.

Today, the store is almost equally divided between bridal and fashion, which includes core goods and colored-stone jewelry. Thollot points to the business’s stellar Google reviews as the “number-one reason people drive to our store, followed by our reputation for having jewelry that you won’t find anywhere else.”

Custom work accounts for about a quarter to a third of business. “We’ve done custom forever, before it was really a thing.” Still, she plays it “pretty safe” with designs for stock, even if they’re “a little more on the unique side [in a way] that captures the Colorado vibe.”

The décor reflects the Colorado mountain theme as well. Before renovating the store in 2019, Troy did his research at places where people hung out — bars, breweries and restaurants — rather than at other jewelry stores, in an effort to replicate that comfortable environment. The setting also pays homage to Colorado’s past. The bar and high-topped tables are made of salvaged wood from Pullman cars, and the ceiling accents are wood from a local gold mine. The store also boasts a mural on one wall depicting the mine’s history.

People first

The staff is “our magic sauce,” says Thollot, describing the store as a “huge learning facility.” She encourages her employees to take the GIA’s applied jewelry professional (AJP) courses, for which she assumes the total cost, and she helps them secure GIA scholarships for the higher-level courses. The Thollots absorb one-half of any remaining fees for those, provided the staffer signs a contract to continue working for at least two years. Recently, the Thollots have begun paying for jewelers and computer-aided design (CAD) specialists to get continuing education at the New Approach School for Jewelers in Tennessee.

“Everything works together to build trust,” says Thollot. Each staff member gets a chance to take charge of display, inventory, training new associates, and other elements of the store on a rotating basis as an “area of pride.” They also know they can count on Thollot’s support in resolving customer service issues.

But even the majestic mountains of Colorado are no barrier to current events. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the Thollots worked with CBG’s owners to have their suppliers sign a legally binding agreement not to purchase any Russian-mined diamonds. The move addresses the loophole in the current US sanctions that permits buying Russian-mined goods cut in other countries, notes a statement on the jeweler’s website.

“You cannot grow a business in one generation, as we did, without support,” says Thollot. “Ours is a storybook story with pages full of people who have invested so much in us and had faith in our success. Our staff and our customers are important chapters in that book. I often want to pinch myself, because we’re super blessed".

The Thollot & Co. tagline — “Raising the Bar for the Colorado Jewelry Experience” — doesn’t just refer to its exceptional jewelry; the store features a lot of actual bars. There’s a bridal bar with individual booths to allow for privacy, and a custom-design bar. There’s a bar that offers liquor, including three custom-brewed private-label beers — clearly a customer favorite. But the bar that elicits the most “oohs” and “ahhs” is the “Pour Your Heart into It” custom-casting bar.

The idea came to Joy and Troy Thollot when one of their friends wanted to design a ring for his wife, and they encouraged him to cast it himself in the store. “The casting stage was a key element in our renovation; we built the entire store around it. People who aren’t aware of it ask about the centrifugal ‘cotton candy machine,’” says Thollot, referring to the apparatus they use for the process.

The casting takes place on Saturday mornings. The couples who come get mimosas and screen-printed smocks, and under the watchful eye of a master jeweler, one person casts the gold while the other videos the process.

“They watch with wonder as the water bubbles up and they remove their creation. It’s a very special moment that they get to share together, knowing they made it on their own,” says Thollot. “People love it. If I am competing with someone, and all I have to offer is that custom experience, nine times out of 10, it sends them to my store.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - June 2022. To subscribe click here.

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