Family Matters

Mark Yelton


37, Vice President overseeing marketing and branding initiatives


JoAnn Yelton


57, President and CEO overseeing day-today operations


Store name: Yelton Fine Jewelers


Location: West Chester, OH 


A brief history of Yelton Fine Jewelers: In the late 1980’s Roy Yelton was preparing himself and his family to leave his job as a police officer and a security consultant to pursue his dream of being jewelry store owner. For many years, Roy had been running his part-time jewelry business out of his home. Hugely successful jewelry sales realized during a local flea market was the catalyst for converting an old downtown drug store into the Yelton family’s first jewelry store in Hamilton, OH. Years later, in the fall of 2009, Roy died, leaving surviving family members to continue managing the store. During the store’s history, the Yeltons added a store in West Chester, OH and eventually pared operations down to a single, freestanding store in that city, where JoAnn, Mark and his wife Tina are tapping into the local bridal and fashion-forward markets.  


JoAnn and Mark Yelton


+ History of the family business: 


JoAnn: Provide a brief history of your family business and your role in it.


Our Yelton family promise of exceeding expectations began in 1988 when my husband Roy opened a local, family owned and operated jewelry store in Hamilton, OH. After starting out of cigar box and selling gold from the trunk of his car, Roy eventually turned our spare bedroom into his own little showroom with a four-foot jewelry showcase. After having a successful run at a local flea market he decided it was time to open an actual retail store in the heart of downtown Hamilton, OH. Once on his feet he convinced me to leave my job and join him in running a true family-owned and operated store. I didn’t know a thing about jewelry, retail or sales, but Roy did. I was the organized one and he was the charmer. Together we weren’t just interested in selling our customers a piece of jewelry, but helping them celebrate all of life’s big moments. After all, most of these people were our friends, family, neighbors, and former coworkers.


 


Mark: What chapter(s) would you and the incoming generation like to add to the history books of the family business?


In November of 2009, Yelton Fine Jewelers moved into its current location in West Chester, OH fulfilling my dad’s dream of a contemporary, beautiful and welcoming stand-alone store and beginning what really is the next chapter of Yelton Fine Jewelers. It was a dream shared by myself and my wife Tina as well and I know deep down my father only went through with it because of Tina and me.  


Sadly, my dad passed before he could see and enjoy what his years of hard work and big dreams had made possible. But the warm and inviting legacy he created in our store lives on. The history being added now by following in my parents’ footsteps and being able to work with my wife Tina everyday is something that can’t be replaced. Life is short. Spend as much time together with family and friends as possible. Perhaps someday my boys will want to join the family business as well. But that’s a long time from now and for a different chapter… maybe JCK 2040? 


+ Clearest Memory    


JoAnn: On week nights and weekends our spare bedroom and the dining room were turned into makeshift showrooms. I couldn’t even serve dinner. 


Mark: My father worked two to three jobs while pursuing his jewelry interests. It was through these jobs and his love of jewelry that he met so many people. He knew everybody in town and they also knew where to go for jewelry.  


+ First Day in the Store: 


JoAnn: How old were you when you officially started working in the store? What job(s) did you perform? What did you absolutely love doing? What did you hate doing? What did you do with your first paycheck?


I didn’t officially start working in the store until I was 43, but feel like I’ve been doing it ever since Roy showed up with that cigar box full of gold herringbone and rope chains. Roy needed someone to be able to keep track of inventory, type appraisals, balance a checkbook, etc. and I was both option A and B when I arrived. I loved being at the store with Roy and not stuck behind a desk all day. This is such a fun and happy business to be in and share in the lives of others; that’s still the best part for me. I still don’t like typing appraisals or dealing with the computer software; life was much simpler when we just had hand-written receipts and people still paid by cash or check.  


Mark: How old were you when you officially started working in the store? What job(s) did you perform? What did you absolutely love doing? What did you hate doing? What did you do with your first paycheck?


I was still in high school and initially worked part-time on Saturdays and in the summer polishing, rhodium plating and learning small jewelry repairs from our goldsmith. We hadn’t opened the retail location yet so it was very casual and behind the counter work. Once the first store location opened it was immediately to the shirt, tie and showroom floor. My dad always introduced me to everyone and had me do everything he did from watch batteries to diamond sales. I never thought I would end up in the family business, but I always did love the watches and merchandising the jewelry – I can’t stand a cluttered case with a bunch of tags showing. As much as I loved the watches though, I hated changing all those watch batteries. And of course the first paycheck went straight to getting a nicer car with the best sound system I could find! 


+ Another Path: 


JoAnn: If I wasn’t a retail jeweler I’d be working as a ____________?


I’d probably still be working as a benefits specialist or at least in some type of insurance field. I maintained that position for 22 years at Champion Paper before Roy convinced me that the jewelry store would be our true calling. 


Mark: If I wasn’t a retail jeweler I’d be working as a ____________?


Graphic designer. My degree is in Graphic Design from Miami University and I did it for seven years before settling in the family business permanently. It’s been a great background as the design influence has helped with custom designing jewelry in-house. I can’t really imagine doing anything else now, but like many guys I would have also loved having my own sports radio talk show! 


+ Management Decisions:   


JoAnn: When you officially took the helm of the family businesses, what was the first really big decision you made that was a high risk, high reward management decision?


In the early days of the family business some of the high risk, high reward decisions I made was hiring more staff, taking on more inventory and expanding our services and product offerings by bringing on our first full-time goldsmith. In the late 1990’s a lot of people came to Yelton’s because we had a goldsmith.  


Mark: What big decision are you waiting to make when the reins of the family business are under the next generation’s control? 


The recent move to our own freestanding store was the biggest decision I’ve been part of since joining the family business. In 2009 when we moved to our current location, I knew this was the level of store my father wanted the family business to be.  


Now that we’re in this store, we have to define how the store is going to be known in this market. Bigger decisions are ahead in positioning Yelton’s as a bridal and a fashion-forward store. We’ve already established partnerships with Hearts On Fire, Gabriel & Co., MaeVona and Simon G for finished bridal and loose diamonds. But we’re also concentrating on female self-purchases with beads, silver jewelry and affordable colored stone and diamond-set fashion jewelry and other fashion accessory items such as exclusive handbag lines at various price points.  


+ Ideas for the Future  


JoAnn: Of all the ideas and ambitions you had when taking control of the family business, what was the worst idea and what was one of your better ideas?


In the very beginning one of the better ideas we had was to bring on Rembrandt Charms. Back then charms were huge and by 1992, we were doing a lot of business. We decided to display the company’s charm with their tower display, which gave customers an overwhelming number of choices. The huge selection and many charm choices got people talking about us. In the early days Roy brought on what was then considered to be very different colored stone – tanzanite, blue topaz and amethyst. He also purchased a lot of two-tone jewelry and had a penchant for creating unique or custom settings.  


One of our worst decisions was opening a second store. It spread our resources too thin, confused our customers and placed a lot of undo stresses on the family business. But, it did bring us to West Chester. Over the years we’ve learned how to serve this market and Mark’s ideas for the future with bridal and fashion are starting to pan out for us.  


Mark: Have any of your ideas been implemented, proving to your father the future of the family business is in good hands? And, even the best manager can have a hair-brained idea. Name one of your clunkers. 


When I joined the family business in the summer of 2002, we had no website. We didn’t even have an email account. Coming from a marketing and design background, one of the last tasks I performed with my former company was designing websites, so I had the contacts and the ideas on how to create a corporate website for the store. The customer reaction to the website was good and it eventually moved us away from old traditional print mediums, like the phone book ads – my father’s favorite. At this point I’m moving more into new media outlets, with my wife Tina taking charge of our store’s presence on the social media websites.  


One of my worst decisions was not making better marketing and advertising decisions that didn’t allow us to get a better return on our promotional investments. The early ads had no sense of urgency or call to action, which I think resulted in a waste of budget resources. Also, we dropped some of our billboard campaigns, which were getting too expensive to hold on to and I worked with my father to get rid of dead inventory. He enjoyed buying jewelry – a lot! Perhaps I should have stepped in earlier to reduce surplus inventory issues before they became money-losing stock.  


My dad always loved buying jewelry for my mom. He actually became really interested after investigating an individual in the area to be sure they weren’t selling stolen jewelry. My dad along with another police officer posed as customers to this individual who only took appointments on referrals. After investigating and learning that the guy was legit and had a vendor’s license they became friends. My dad ended up buying quite a bit of jewelry for my mom and even me. Once this guy was going to retire he actually suggested my dad give jewelry a try. He said he thought my dad had the right personality and passion for it… turns out he was right.