David Kodner

Succes Story

David Kodner didn’t grow up around jewelry but may have been destined for this business. Coming from a modest home, he began selling gold chain to his teachers in the 7th grade for $30 a pop in order to make some extra cash! However, jewelry didn’t make its way back into David’s life until shortly after graduating from the University of Missouri with an Economics degree. He had decided to work for the government, until a good friend that lived in his apartment complex came to him with an idea. She had been working for L.C. Betz, a jewelry store in Columbia, but would soon be taking another job. She suggested that David reach out to them. After a long conversation with Elmont, the store’s owner, he was told that they needed help running the operation and hired him to set up a new computer system; they would see how it went from there. David had always been fascinated by gemstones and people, so after an experience he had 3 months into the job, he knew this was the business for him.

“A couple came into the store for their 50th wedding anniversary. They were poor when they first married and were now looking to upgrade their rings. They had had gone to every jeweler in town and hadn’t found anyone who really understood what they wanted. I suggested they use a design that mixed the old with the new, so that they never forgot where they started. They loved it! We manufactured the rings and when the couple picked them up they were in tears. That had a profound effect on me that has lasted all these years. That’s one of the main reasons I focus more on pleasing my customers than trying to make the big sale,” David says.

L.C. Betz was a small shop, consisting of 500 square feet and two showcases, when he started working there. His father was a well-known jewelers in St. Louis and he had taught his son well, so over the next 11 years, the store expanded to 3,000 square feet and 16 cases.

“Elmont taught us how to do business. I got to learn from the ground up and was privy to information that a normal employee would never get to see, so over that time I learned how to run a jewelry store. They knew that I had reached a glass ceiling a long time ago, my name would never be on the door, so in 2000, when I told them that my wife wanted to move to St. Louis and that I planned to open a store there, they were anything but surprised,” David remembers. “Instead, they made me an offer too good to refuse. Elmont asked me to work with his father and brother at the store in St. Louis, with the caveat that I would eventually go off and do my own thing. This did allow me to keep a paycheck coming in and to move without having to find a new job. I worked with them until 2002 when I fell very ill. I realized that life is short and decided it was now or never to step out on my own.”

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David made the leap and moved to a third floor show room in a high end neighborhood in St. Louis. For a month, he did business with only a card table, cell phone and computer, and surprisingly did very well! “I wondered if I should even buy supplies at that point,” David joked. But he had a vision. His concept was to do something totally different. David’s friends were flying to LA to buy their jewelry because trends ‘took 2 years to reach St. Louis’. That’s why his first order of business was to bring the newest designs to St. Louis so people didn’t have to travel. He also knew how big the internet was going to be, but didn’t want to be an online jeweler. He craved the personal connection, but didn’t want to be ‘behind the times’. This inspired him to create a website that let customers find what they were looking for and also tied it to their personal experiences. He created a section for each client with photos of the jewelry they had already purchased, descriptions, complimenting pieces and their wish list. This allowed him to email a man his wife’s link right before their anniversary so that he could find the perfect piece in minimal time. This was also to take the fear out of buying the wrong thing or the same thing twice! David would come to a client’s office or they could come to him; It was all about personal service. This was a huge hit and business boomed. They had phenomenal loyalty from the very start and mostly grew from word of mouth. By their 5th year, the store sales were up 300% from their first, with only two other employees on board! David struggled with cash flow problems because of their fast growth but poured every last dime back into the business and quickly got through it.

When David started his store in 2003, he had about $200,000 worth of inventory. Their sales didn’t match up to it yet, but because they had so many affluent customers who wanted what they wanted, when they wanted it, David knew he would lose business if he didn’t beef up the merchandise. In 12 months, his inventory was up to $2,000,000, thanks in large part to some help from his financial partners. They spent the next 4 years growing into themselves and everything was going according to plan, so they decided to take the next step of moving to the lobby level showroom.

David went all out on the new store, building it from scratch with 100% renewable materials. They had custom branded bags, boxes, you name it, and were ready for the next chapter. He had planned to pay for the new store with money from Christmas, but it just so happened that this was Christmas of 2007. The stock market crashed and he was down 75% in December. Fortunately, from all of the wonderful relationships he had cultivated over the years, there were many people behind him helping them stick it out.

2008-2009 were really hard years that changed the way David did business. He cleaned up the finances and kept up with them daily and has made some serious changes to the inventory he carries, understanding that the average sale is now about a quarter of what it used to be. Although it was costing him, the more visible downstairs location was critical in their survival as well. Unlike a lot of struggling business, he decided that it was the perfect time to beef up his advertising and began running full page ads in two of the most well-read publications in St. Louis. This was a great decision, because new customers came through the door every week claiming to have seen the ads. He also set up a Facebook business page in ’08 and ran design contests to engage his customers. Another smart choice that kept business a buzz with new buyers!

“Another thing that I’ve always done is give 5% off all gross profits to local charities. Giving back to the community who supports you is critical, so I try to help any charity who contacts me in any way I’m able. It’s also a form of advertising that attaches your name to something good. If you give back, you get back,” David explains.

Today, after 11 years in business, David’s store is back to the level it was in 2007 with a steady growth of about 10% every year. He’s getting ready to roll out a stunning new website and is excited to see what the future will bring to his business. Although he’s had struggles, he knows he’s been blessed, and owes his success to his passion, persistence, personal service and faith that things would always work out in the end. It’s important to not confuse your path with your destination; the road you’re on may be bumpy now but smooth sailing could always be just around the corner. JBA


Author:Jewelry Business Advisor

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