Victoria’s Fine Jewelry

As Victoria’s Fine Jewelry in Rockport, Texas approaches its 28th anniversary, Owner Joey Westlake begins to think about the last 3 decades and everything that she has gone through, personally and professionally, to get to this point in her career. While she has encountered obstacles along the way, she has always risen to the occasion and overcome, finishing stronger than she started.

In the early 80’s, Joey had no experience in the jewelry industry. With a degree in business, majoring in accounting, she had obtained her brokers license and owned her own real estate company. However, what she lacked in jewelry experience, she more than made up for in passion. So, in 1985, with a good “business head” on her shoulders and an entrepreneurial sprit, she and her husband made the decision to open Victoria’s Gold, a 14-karat gold by the gram shop in Victoria, Texas.

 After a year of business going well, Joey decided that it was time to open a full-fledged jewelry store in the coastal resort town of Rockport, Texas. Rockport’s population was about 8,000 with 20,000 living in the county itself. Many Houston and San Antonio residents had second homes there and soon became some of her most loyal customers. Everything seemed to be falling into place until the 1980’s oil bust when Victoria’s economy was completely destroyed.

“Victoria was your classic oil town. Everything depended on oil and without it Victoria went down. While the store in Victoria was larger, we made the decision to close that location and consolidate with our store in Rockport.  It was the best business decision that we possibly could have made.” Says Joey of their move to the single, 800 square foot location on the coast.

The remaining store, Victoria’s Fine Jewelry, was doing well in Rockport and they enjoyed being there. They had a following within the community, business from tourists and were able to live in a beautiful place.  In 1998, a large bank building next door went up for sale and they happily made the decision to purchase. Victoria’s Fine Jewelry was now the largest building in the downtown area. While business was going good, it wasn’t going great, which is what Joey strived for.

In 2002, a good friend and jewelry rep, Russ Whitehouse, told Joey about a buying group that he was involved in called the IJO or Independent Jewelers Organization. Shortly after, Penny Palmer, IJO’s membership chair, called to invite her to their next show in Reno, Nevada. After the first day, Joey’s decision was made and she couldn’t wait to get involved. The IJO staff, jeweler members and quality of vendors simply blew her away!

The national buying group is dedicated to helping independent retailer jewelers succeed, and help is exactly what they did. The group gave her a buying power that she never could’ve had on her own, consequentially saving her quite a bit on product cost.

It wasn’t just the financial benefits of IJO that Westlake was able to benefit from, but the openness of the group as well.

“Members shared tips on advertising and how to manage your money. They were mentors if you needed them. No one is your direct competition so they all want to help you succeed. The professionals and seminars provided by the group were also a great source of information.“ Joey explains.

There was one other perk of the IJO that Joey says was a key component in helping to boost her business. The group sponsors trips to Antwerp, which she decided to get involved with only 6 weeks after joining. Joey knew that she would learn a lot, but had no idea just how beneficial those trips would turn out to be.

”I can’t stress it enough, the trips to Antwerp are priceless. Afterwards, I advertise. People loved the fact that I was handpicking diamonds that hadn’t even come to the Untied States. That was something that brought me immediate recognition. Overnight I became the ‘Diamond Specialist’, after being in business for 20 years!” Without the IJO, how would a small mom and pop store like mine have access to that?” Joey states.

Joey has now been to Antwerp many times and makes sure that it’s always publicized, positioning her store as the go-to diamond destination.

Things seemed to be on the up and up until around 2008, when like many Americans, Joey felt the effects of the disintegrating economy. As if that weren’t enough, she was dealing with her own personal issues as she and her husband made the decision to get a divorce. Joey decided that she wanted to keep the store, requiring her to buy out her ex-husband. She went from having a business with virtually no debt, to $500,000 worth of debt, seemingly overnight. Add that in with an economy gone south and you’ve got a recipe for trouble.

“I started paying vendors and business expenses with credit cards, which is something that I never had to do before. That’s when I decided to make some changes.” Joey recalls.

She found herself wondering if she had done the right thing in trying to run a business on her own. Her finances and inventory were a mess and she felt that it might be time to hire some professional help. Don Grieg, owner of Focus Business Management Institute (Focus BMI) had been a friend for years, so Joey decided to reach out, hoping that they could be the solution she needed.

After a year of help from Focus, it seemed that they had been exactly what she was looking for. They helped with the management of the business as a whole, but specially worked to reduce her debt and get inventory under control. After that first year, Joey was debt free again. She had the right amount of product and the product that she did have was selling, partially due to Focus’ emphasis on the immediate reorder of hot sellers.  She had also negotiated a decent deal with her ex-husband on the buyout loan, so things were really looking up.

While her sales are still not at the level they were before the economy bottomed out, she is up 11% from the previous year and her gross profit is 30% more than it was in ’07, with less in sales! She attributes this to streamlining her operation, looking at all expenses in the business and getting them under control.

As if that weren’t enough, Focus is also sponsoring a trip to Italy for their clients this September to build relationships with the many Italian manufacturers who are interested in working with US jewelers again.

“This is something that I’ve been advertising and preselling for. I’ll also promote the show from Italy. Focus will film every day and sets up computers for your social media accounts.” Joey says. In addition to advertising her trips, she also makes a point to advertise year round.

 “Advertising has changed so much in recent years. You have to be willing to change with the times. I primarily use direct mail advertising and social media. Direct Mail has always been effective for me, but even more so now. Social media can be time consuming, so I outsource to all of that to Jeff Arnold, Owner of 4Spot Marketing. He is currently revamping my website and has done a fantastic job in getting my Google ratings up and building my Facebook and Twitter presence.”

While Joey has come a long way from where began, she still strives to constantly improve her business, doing what she can and outsourcing what she can’t. It’s about knowing where your time is best spent and how you can utilize the services of professionals in the industry. We all have our specialties, so working together with those whose specialties will compliment your own can help to improve your business more than you might realize.

 

Written By: Allie Eley

 

 

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Author:Jewelry Business Advisor

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