Rapaport Magazine

I’m A Customer Too

A sense of fun adds to the enjoyment of buying diamonds and gemstones at Adolf Jewelers in Richmond, Virginia.

By Joyce Kauf
Relax. We’ll make you happy,” says Ronnie Adolf, quoting the guiding philosophy for Adolf Jewelers, his family-owned business in Richmond, Virginia. Adolf, who prides himself on creating a “no pressure” selling environment, attributes the phrase to an ad agency that created it after shopping the store anonymously before taking him on as a client. And while that was 30 years ago, the sentiment is as relevant today for customers who are looking for designer jewelry, antique and estate pieces, as well as watches.
   Now in its fifty-fifth year of operation, the store traces its origins to 1961 when Adolf’s mother, Jean, began selling costume jewelry out of a leased department in a clothing store. A few years later, his father, Kurt, joined the business and they opened a second costume jewelry store. In 1967, they branched out to open a jewelry store in a shopping center. While still a student, Adolf worked there and eventually took over the business, moving the store to its current location. Describing himself as “that kind of a guy,” Adolf built the business slowly, with the intention of not getting too big too quickly and never losing site of his desire to establish a “very community-minded business,” supporting local charities, with a focus on organizations for children.
   Located approximately 100 miles south of Washington D.C., Richmond is the state capital. The suburban store is close to both 700-square-foot homes as well as million dollar residences. Adolf points out that the area has evolved into a “hustle-and-bustle neighborhood,” but stores have come and gone. “First there was a strip mall, then a mega mall and everyone said they would put us out of business. But this is home. We didn’t pack up and move — we prospered. And the parking lot is full every day,” he adds. Nor is he daunted by the Diamonds Direct in his backyard. In fact, he has taken advantage of it with a clever billboard that reads, “Let’s be direct.”

Drawing Distinctions
   While Adolf acknowledges the competition from online jewelry vendors, he is adamant that the “bargains” they offer do not amount to much. “We spend a tremendous amount of time teaching our customers to uncover the reasons why doing business on the internet is not beneficial to them in terms of quality and service. Customers also need to realize that I’m a customer too. I’m spending my own money buying the jewelry to offer them the best selection.”
   In another point of differentiation, Adolf displays over 3,500 pieces in the store. While not faulting the industry, Adolf notes that after the Great Recession of 2008, many jewelers turned to silver and inexpensive products such as beads or leather. “I didn’t do it. I remained a jewelry store and kept my inventories of fine jewelry very large,” he explains. “It was the most important reason for staying in business and growing through those bad years. If I’m a destination store and I have no inventory, then I’m a worthless destination.” In acknowledgement of his dedication, Adolf was recognized with the 2015 Distinguished Retailer of the Year by the Retailer Merchants Association of Richmond.

Little Guys Sell
   Bridal is “what I do,” says Adolf, noting that the average center stone is 1 carat. “We sell diamond solitaires and tennis bracelets all the time,” he adds. As for selecting vendors, Adolf admits, “I’d rather stay me.” For that reason, he likes the “little guys” and seeks out designers with less extensive distribution. Spark, Henderson Collection, Coast Diamond, Kimberley, Sasha Primak, Fana and Maidi are among his top sellers. Colored gemstones do well, especially Paraiba and pink tourmalines and rubellites. Adolf recalls that for a Go Red event, supporting the American Heart Association’s campaign for women, he brought in $3 million of rubies and other red gemstones just to take pictures — and in the process sold a $90,000 rubellite necklace by Spark that was promised to a prestige department store for its catalog.
   The store’s “jewel-box setting” covers 2,600 square feet of selling space out of a total of 3,600 square feet. Mirrored walls and columns set off by royal blue carpeting reflect a contemporary elegance. Two big center islands surrounded by smaller, individual display cases facilitate easy movement within the store.
   One entire section of the store is devoted to bridal. At one point, Adolph merchandised bridal by brand but then found it sold better when it was merchandised by category. However, fashion works better merchandised by brand.

Personal Jewelers
   Adolf is quick to credit his nine salespeople, who have 245 years of combined experience, as “the best in the U.S.” He singles out his manager, Doug Spradlin, a legend in the area for his often outlandish costumes, who has been known to sell a $30,000 diamond ring in big goggle glasses or pose in a dress for a postcard advertising the store’s fiftieth anniversary promotion.
   A back row, one step up from the selling floor, is lined with desks that extend the length of the store for his nine salespeople, a setting that Adolf likes to compare to the U.S. Supreme Court. Adolf gives his sales staff much autonomy, even to the point of ordering merchandise. The store has no separate cashier, wrap desk or repair department since the salesperson, as the customer’s personal jeweler, attends to all aspects of the transaction.
   “We have made it a point to be very good to our neighbors and our community. We take care of everyone around us — and we laugh all day long,” says Adolf.

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

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