Barnhardt Jewelers

barnhardt_jewelers_finalNewest ExteriorNestled away in the historic town of Spencer, North Carolina rests Barnhardt Jewelers. “It’s like home here, not your typical jewelry store layout. When it comes to the cabinetry and the décor, we try to keep it comfortable and casual. Our style really fits the surrounding area,” says Elysia, Marketing and Sales Specialist. Barnhardt Jewelers is a destination store in the town of Spencer.

Debbie Barnhardt, the founder and President of Barnhardt Jewelers, first started making jewelry in Hawaii in 1975. As a teenager, she would visit her sister, who was lucky enough to be an interior designer there. When her sister was at work, Debbie would comb the beaches in search of shells. She started stringing together Puka shells and sanding down other shells that she found to make necklaces, which she would then sell to tourists. Upon returning home from her stay in Hawaii, Debbie had a friend whose parents owned a store and they bought some of her Puka shell necklaces for around $20 a piece.

Family Owned and OperatedAfter graduating high school, Debbie connected with a friend, Joedy Dagenhart, who was managing a jewelry manufacturing company at the time, and was able to secure a job there as well. Debbie started out just polishing jewelry, “It was a very, very high end line of jewelry,” she says, “the polish had to be perfect on each piece.” After her time spent polishing, Debbie started to work with natural gold nuggets from Alaska and Russia, and began learning how to inlay them into rings. She continued to work there for five years until the high price of gold ultimately shut the company down.

From there, Debbie began working alongside two jewelers in the back of a local jewelry store. She worked closely under them for five years and spent her vacation time taking classes that GIA taught. Debbie learned diamond setting, wax carving, and much more while taking these classes. Once she was armed with knowledge and some experience, Debbie then decided to go out on her own.

Debbie secured accounts with around 15 jewelry stores in her area and handled all of their repair work and design from home. The days were long and hard making a living this way, and after two years, Debbie knew it was time for a change.

She began to look into getting herself a retail store. Due to the fact that she was just starting out, and lacked collateral, she was unable to get a loan from the bank to buy property. However, Debbie caught a break when the guy she was dating at the time offered her a year or two of rent-free space in a building he owned. In addition to that, Debbie’s uncle, who is also a jeweler, brought her some display cases as well as some of his jewelry to fill up the store for her opening day.

The store, “Debbie Barnhardt Jewelry,” mostly consisted of selling from catalogs and as the business grew, Debbie cut back on a lot of her repair accounts. Unfortunately after about two years, when times got hard and things became overwhelming, Debbie found herself wanting to shut the business down. Unwilling to give up that easily, Debbie met Jerry Saunders, a man from the Small Business Association out of Charlotte, and he began to council her. “He wanted me to get off the bench,” says Debbie, “but for me, that was my life.”

“He told me that I needed to learn how to run a business,” she continues, “and not be caught up on the bench all day.” However, unable to give up her life on the bench, the North Carolina jeweler disregarded the advice she was given and continued to watch her store struggle.

Debbie in basement“A successful business runs itself, you don’t run it. If you’re running it, then it’s running you,” is the advice from Jerry that finally got Debbie to make a change. She got out of the store and moved into the basement of her parent’s house to continue working there for the next year. While she was away, the staff got used to making everything work without her physically there. “We lost some business, but it got everybody off the cycle of having to talk to Debbie every time they walked through the door, ” Debbie recalls. Debbie turned to her faith and asked God for help in saving her business. She prayed for help. She knew she needed a bench jeweler to give her the relief she wanted and soon enough she got a call out of the blue from a girl looking for work in that field. Upon meeting jeweler Andrea Cornatzer for lunch, Debbie hired her on the spot, “and she has been my rock for 16 years now,” says Debbie.

Just as things were looking up, Debbie was struck with some horrible news. Her husband was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, so she left the store for two years and left it up to her staff to run it. While she was gone, “the store ran itself,” she says, “and that really proved to me that everything I learned through counseling was true. That your business can run without you, and if it does, then it is a successful business.”

“My employees are my biggest asset,” she continues, “If it wasn’t for my girls, this store would have never made it.” In 2010 Debbie lost her husband as well as her sister that had been such an inspiration to her. “The year 2010 was a nightmare. I lost all my dreams, my creative drive, everything,” she recalls. But her son, Josh was there to save her from that mindset and help her make some much need changes. “You have to change with the times or you might as well shut the doors,” Debbie remembers him saying. So that is what they set out to do.

Josh helped make some helpful updates to the store’s technology with a new bar-coding system and they changed the name to “Barnhardt Jewelers.”

“We totally changed the shop. It’s honestly amazing what Josh has helped me do with the shop and to help me get my dreams back again,” says Debbie.

“My biggest problem in business is that I’m not money driven. I’m driven by my love of the business and people. The relationships we build, touch my soul more than somebody coming in and spending ten-thousand dollars in here,” confesses Debbie. “It just touches my heart that this business is a witness to people,” she continues. “My girls have to keep me off the sale floor because I’ll give things away,” she jokes.

With the tremendous help from her son, her commitment to God and giving to the church, and her dedicated staff by her side, Debbie Barnhardt has truly found success. “It is very rewarding to have a business I can come to everyday where everybody cares about each other. It’s just a wonderful group of employees I have here and if it wasn’t for them, I would not have been here for 24 years,” she declares. “You have to reinvent yourself everyday,” is the mantra Debbie lives by to stay successful and it has proven to work for her and her store. Keeping with the times is vital in an industry where trends are ever-changing. Today the store offers typical jewelers services: appraisals, jewelry repair, pearl stringing, diamond selling and buying, custom designs, bridal, and watch repair; but most importantly: strong, honest relationships.



Author:Jewelry Business Advisor

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