Stall and Kessler Diamond Center

Lafayette, Indiana has been home to Stall & Kessler’s Diamond Center for 34 long years. Not only do the owners and employees love their community, but their community also loves them. In speaking with Owner, Jeff Kessler, you can hear just how much appreciation and gratitude he has for the place that he calls home. His hometown business has been nothing short of blessed over these last three decades, and for that he will always be grateful.

It all began with John M. Stall II, who opened the J. M. Stall Company Repair and Jewelry Store in downtown Lafayette in 1953.John experienced a good deal of success with his business and passed on his passion for jewelry to his son, John M. Stall III. It was chance that would bring John III into the life of Jeff Kessler, but it was the right combination of skills and hard work that would bring them success in their business.

Kokomo was home to Jeff Kessler until he left for Indiana University to study Psychology and Business. After his four years at I.U., he began working in management for the GAP stores in Indianapolis and started looking for an engagement ring for his girlfriend, Jana. He went back to Kokomo to visit his favorite hometown jewelry store, Engel Jewelers, and the owners offered him a job for a store they purchased in Lafayette. Jeff accepted the management position and never looked back. It was there that Jeff and John would meet. John did the jewelry repairs for the store that Jeff was operating (Eisenbach’s) and became fast friends with Jeff in the three years that he managed the store. They had a great working and social relationship, dealing with jewelry during the day and playing golf or racquetball in their spare time. They had grown to trust each other greatly, which made their decision to become business partners an easy one.

Designing a Diamond Destination

John Stall wanted to open a second location that focused primarily on diamonds. John, 31, and Jeff, 25, would be responsible for getting this store off the ground and fostering its growth. John was a very skilled bench jeweler and Jeff had the business acumen needed to run a successful store. Also located in Lafayette, population 160,000, they made a plan to turn this location into THE diamond destination for their community. Their focus was to have at least 50% of their sales related to diamonds.

“We have been very blessed to have been able to achieve that goal, then and now.” Jeff says. When asked how they accomplished this level of diamond sales, he explained. “We did this in a number of ways. The first thing starts when you walk in the door. The cases on the left and right, as soon as you enter, are filled with diamonds. Then, most importantly, almost every person that walks in our store is shown a diamond. You can have all the diamond inventory in the world, but if you never take the time to show them to your customer, you’ll never sell diamonds. Consumers are much more educated these days as well, doing their research before they come in, knowing the Four C’s, about cutting, diamonds, etc. These features can be viewed much more easily when the diamond is loose. Many of our customers want to have their rings custom designed, in which they select the diamond they wish to use, or they select the diamond of their choice and the semi-mounting that they would like to put it in. These are some of the things that have helped us generate the profit that we do from loose diamond sales. But again, we truly have been blessed.” Jeff expresses humbly.

“We started out small, we didn’t have a lot of needs and paid ourselves $150 a week. Business was decent, but not amazing. What we have always strived for above all else is an emphasis on quality and customer service and I believe that has been instrumental in our growth,” Jeff explains.

Quality and customer service are still the most important values at Stall & Kessler, in addition to staying involved in their community and doing their part to be environmentally responsible. These are the things that they have tried to convey through their well designed website, something that they find a necessity to their business in the digital era that we now live in. They emphasize the fact that their diamonds are conflict free and that most of their manufacturers use recyclable metals, which are both very important issues to Stall & Kessler and the customers they serve.

Visualizing Marketing Success

In order to sell diamonds, you must have customers. What seems like a simple concept is for some, what makes or breaks their business. Stall & Kessler’s Diamond Center chooses their means of advertising wisely, aiming to get the best return on investment for every dollar that they spend.

“In 1976, we had three radio stations in our community. Now, people can listen to an iPod, iTunes, YouTube, CDs, and the list goes on. While that may have worked in the past, it is not an option for us now. We have a very visual product, so we like to show it off. We find that advertising with billboards and television commercials has been the most beneficial. People of all ages are still driving, so we try to tell a simple message, sometimes humorous, but always catchy, that sends a message of quality, along with a beautiful piece of jewelry. The TV Commercials allow us to say a bit more, but we try to stay away from being too wordy. This helps us with specific events and allows us to show a few more pieces of jewelry, again focusing on quality above all else.”

While Jeff knows that lengthy marketing messages are not effective in advertising, he definitely knows the value of content marketing. It’s for this reason that they publish frequent (but not too frequent) newsletters, which began in print but are now evolving more towards digital. Their newsletters help them stay in touch with their 13,000 strong customer list for their birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions.

Discovering Industry Gems

No one ever succeeds alone and Jeff makes sure to give credit where credit is due.

“GIA has been very instrumental to us. I am blessed to have my GIA Graduate Gemologist diploma and all of my wonderful staff members have been through numerous GIA programs as well. When your customers know that you’re a GIA graduate, they know that you’re qualified to help them make the most educated decision, the decision that’s going to be right for them. GIA credentials not only make your customers feel more at ease, but also gives you more confidence in showing your pieces, knowing that you can explain things in the best possible way.” Jeff explains.

“Another organization that has been a tremendous help to the growth of my business, and to many other independent jewelers, is the IJO. I give so much credit to Bill Roberts and his wisdom. I will never forget his 20/40/60 rule. That means that you should have 60% gross margins, you should be controlling your expenses within 40% of your gross dollars and that will equate to a 20% gross profit. When your numbers don’t match up to 20/40/60, you should be asking yourself “why”. Bill not only gave us the numbers to shoot for, but he gave us the questions to ask ourselves when things weren’t adding up. Are you not able to mark up your products enough because you’re paying too much to begin with? Are you not controlling your expenses? “This knowledge and these questions were able to help us really evaluate the money coming in and going out of our business, as well as daily operations,” Jeff explains.

Giving back and Getting Back

Jeff truly believes that any success he and John have experienced in Lafayette has been due to the wonderful people that live there. Their employees, who hold the business together, have all been with them for quite some time (Sandy Utz has worked with them for 31 years!) and were mainly found through word of mouth referrals from customers and friends.

“We have always believed that it is very important to serve in your community and give back to the place that you live. Everyone has different gifts and talents and may choose to help out in different ways, but no matter what you do, when you start getting involved people will begin to recognize you. You get to meet new people and find many who want to do business with you. Sometimes it’s easy to get so entrenched in your business that you don’t take the time to get involved in your community, but getting involved can help promote your store, build great contacts and friends and most importantly, help to improve the place that you call home.”

Although John is now happily retired, he still has his keys to the store and drops in often to see his dear friend. Today, Jeff Kessler continues on in the tradition that he and John began together 34 years ago; A tradition of providing quality and service, in product and action, to their beloved town, Lafayette. AE

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Author:Jewelry Business Advisor