Nelson Coleman Jewelers
Chris Coleman, 67, fifth generation and current co-owner
Amanda Coleman, 28, sixth generation future owner, and trainee, sales and gemologist, assistant general manager
A brief history: Nelson Coleman’s dates back to 1856, when the family business was founded in Munich, by great, great grandfather Adolph Doederlein. During the second generation, the store was brought to Baltimore, Maryland from Europe. Chris’s father married into the business in 1954. Today Chris and his older brother Mark co-own the store. Of their children’s generation, four family members are either currently working in or have expressed interest in being part of the sixth generation of store owners.
Chris: I told my father ‘no’ when he asked me if I wanted to join the family business. As a young man I worked for the Baltimore Gas & Electric Company and Baltimore City as a building inspector and community organizer. My brother Mark decided to work with my father. In 1977, Mark recruited me to work in the store. With a background in administration, my first responsibilities were sales and addressing administrative and organizational tasks.
Chris: I hope history will remember me as the visionary and risk taker in the family business as I’ve always pushed for growth and streamlining processes and procedures. In 2001, I suggested and worked to move the store to a suburban Baltimore location. Five years before that, with the help of my brother Mark, we converted to the ARMS software. I’ll also be remembered as the go-to guy when things or situations needed fixing as well as the store’s ambassador.
Chris: I’d like to be remembered for my vision to build a foundation of key non-family employees so that family members can pursue their dreams and explore their God-given gifts.
Amanda: It took three tries before I finally was ready to enter the family business. I wasn’t ready for the commitment until I turned 23. I’ve earned many industry certifications including GIA Graduate Gemologist and AGS Certified Gemologist Appraiser. Now I am starting my junior year at the University of Baltimore to earn a business degree with an emphasis in marketing.
Amanda: As the sixth generation in the family business, I want to be completely integrated on the Internet to improve the store’s SEO (Search Engine Optimization). In addition to making improvements to our corporate website, I also want to do more with social media and email marketing. Another big goal I have is possibly opening a second store.
Amanda: What I love about the family business’s history is serving the older customers who have been shopping with us for four generations and earning their trust. I also really enjoy serving my own generation, pleasing the bridal customers, and earning their trust as well.
Amanda: When I watched my parents and uncle move from the old store to the new store in 2001, it was like watching a first generation jeweler start their business. It was a big, bold move and a tremendous amount of work and risk.
Amanda: I look at the polls and surveys on my generation and agree that a good percentage of them aren’t willing to work as hard as the previous generation. But I’ve always mentored with my parents and identified with their generational work ethic and respect it.
+ First Day on the Job
Chris: As a child I cleaned jewelry, did the vacuuming and ran errands. Years later when I joined the family business at 34, I started doing similar jobs. But that quickly evolved into other work in administrative and organizational matters in addition to selling. At that stage, I really enjoyed succeeding in my attempts at improving the ethics and operations of the family business.
Chris: In the early days, my father and I didn’t always agree. Dad said I reminded him of my mother. My father always said, “He couldn’t work with Mom because they would have to hold hands all day so they wouldn’t kill each other.” He was mistaken and missed a great opportunity to include Mom in the business. After raising six boys Mom started working for another large retailer at age 56 and became very successful. My brother I worked well together. As the organizer and change agent in the family, new ideas would go from me, to Mark and then to my father for approval. This decision process helped get things done quickly and diplomatically.
Chris: I hated designing jewelry because I didn’t know how to do it well. We had very little stock back then. I used to leave the showroom to go to the backroom, and drink some water to relax. Then I’d quickly thumb through casting catalogs for some good matches to what the customer wanted and sketched whatever ideas I could from memory back at the counter. My renderings were awful. I sold lots of designs and redesigns with stick figures. However, this process eventually led me to become comfortable with a more creative self I wasn’t aware existed. I thoroughly enjoy the designing process today even though I rarely get the opportunity.
Amanda: During my first two attempts at joining the family business I was 18 and 20. I answered the phones, but when I got bored or didn’t know what to do I played solitaire on the computer. I didn’t really understand the business or professionalism. When I gave it another try at 20 I was a little better, but just didn’t want a nine-to-five job. I wasn’t sure what I even wanted to do. Back then I volunteered as an Emergency Response Team paramedic for a while and considered it for a career.
Amanda: At 23, I developed a different respect for my parents. I could relate to them better and began to appreciate the family business more. I had some customer service experience from past jobs as a waitress and hostess which helped.
Amanda: The job I loved doing most was working with my Uncle Mark taking in repairs. With repair take-ins you have to know about all the components of a finished piece of jewelry, so I learned a lot about precious metals, diamonds and colored stones. To this day, I still enjoy taking in repairs with my uncle.
Amanda: The jobs I hate doing are the jobs everyone hates doing – taking out the trash and vacuuming.
Chris: I never had the chance to work with my grandfather in the store, but as a teenager I was his “fair-haired” boy. Some words of wisdom he always shared with me were, “do it right the first time” He was a tough German whose father, my great grandfather, emigrated to the US in 1881. To him I think that it meant to always be a man of your word, meet deadlines, and keep commitments. I also remember hearing my grandfather say to my father “guard your credit”.
Chris: I also remember my father always saying, “buy right: this is a jewelry store not a museum”. He stressed the importance of maintaining good vendor and banking relationships and to never over buy or over spend because “that’ll land you in hot water with your suppliers or banker.”
Chris: The advice I never received from previous generations was putting family first before the business. It took ten years before my brother and I developed the mutual respect and successful working relationship we both sought and deserved.
Amanda: A lot of the business advice I take from my parents is the same advice I take from them regarding my personal life – be careful with money and buying. For business, listen to the customer first.
Amanda: Another father favorite quote is: “The people most folks depend upon to protect their privacy and trust is their doctor, their lawyer, their accountant, and their jeweler.” Again, trust is something you have to earn.
Amanda: Business practices that I’d like to see fall by the wayside would be less paper. The only paper I’d like to use is the printed receipt we give to the customer.
Amanda: I wouldn’t change things much, other than to have more meetings with department managers. I like departmental mangers to establish and maintain a budget, meet with me to set goals and establish benchmarks, and to learn co-worker’s likes and dislikes so we can all work better together.
+ Selling to Generations
Chris: In serving the generations close to my age, I focused on being a savvy buyer. I listened carefully to customers, was honest with them and kept pace with technology and with the educational opportunities available to me in the industry.
Chris: Back then, as now, customers always relied on the jeweler to tell the truth about what was happening in the industry with regards to gem treatments, metal prices and design trends – all of it. Garnering and maintaining that industry information has given us a professionalism and knowledgeable staff, which is our edge in this market today. My competition actually sends customers to us for a second opinion when the competition is faced with a difficult situation.
Amanda: I’d like to sell to my generation through technology and customer service. Generation Y is a demographic that requires a lot of schmoozing, acknowledgement and relationship building. For me, that relationship can start with education on our many products to correct misconceptions, allowing them to make better, more informed decisions about jewelry.
Amanda: The technology I’d like to use to sell is that which helps us sell more visually, like the ISee2 diamond scanning technology. In 1996, we didn’t have a single computer. Today we have 14 with each sales associate assigned to a work station equipped with a desktop. This is the technological infrastructure I’d like to build on and eventually transition to iPhones.
+ Another Path
Chris: If I wasn’t a jeweler, I’d be a community organizer, social worker, or a firefighter/paramedic. I also enjoy writing. My oldest son is a paramedic, scuba diver, and tactical medic with the Baltimore City Fire and Police Department, Paramedic of the Year, 2005. He blames his career on me because when he was a boy I used to be a fire chaser. When fire engines roared by we’d chase after them to the scene of the fire.
Amanda: I’d go to law school. I’m interested in what situations, historically, lead to certain laws being created. I have interests in criminal law as well as criminal psychology.
Chris: What I’ll miss most when I retire is working with my family. I’ll also miss waiting on and pleasing the customers.
Amanda: In all honesty, my dad doesn’t enjoy waiting on the customers. But what I’ll miss most is watching him turn into an actor, doing what he can to put on a happy face and be on his A-game. In retail, even when you have a down day, be it for personal or work reasons, you can’t show that face to customers.
Amanda: When my dad is in the store there’s a comfort level and support knowing he’s always there to help with every task in the store. Although I’m capable, I’ll miss that feeling of knowing he’s in the store.
+ Management Decisions
Chris: My worst idea or decision was holding off on the move from our rental space to our current freestanding store. Another mistake I made was not computerizing the store sooner, using ARMS software. My brother and I were afraid the new technology would spook our father and delaying the decision slowed the growth of our business. I think we were wrong about dad.
Chris: One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was hiring my wife. As the inventory manager she helped usher in and eventually master the new POS system and its supporting software. Over the years she has helped us, the owners-my brother and I, from giving away the store. Without her, we wouldn’t have been making the profits needed to stay in business.
Amanda: My worst idea was creating an online diamond store. My goal was to be competitive with other online diamond and jewelry websites, but it just didn’t work the way I wanted it to.
Chris: My gut told me it was a bad idea, but I didn’t say a thing. I wanted her to do the work on her own, from the ground up, and realize why the idea wouldn’t work on her own.
Amanda: One of my better ideas was getting involved in the social media websites. For years I’d been preaching to them to be part of these websites. When my dad heard how important the social media websites were to other industry professionals, I was vindicated. Although it wasn’t a big matter, it was kind of an emotional time for me and my dad. It was the go ahead with that decision when my dad stopped looking at me as a kid and started viewing me as an employee.