107 W. Main St.
The high-end boutique Kuhn’s Jewelers, in Salisbury, Md., was originally called Fischer’s when it was established in 1853. John A. Kuhn bought the business in 1923, and brought a name change with it. Kuhn’s son-in-law, the late John R. “Diamond Jack” Purnell, took over the store in 1953 and his daughter, Susan, became the store’s co-owner in 1995. Purnell (along with her son Ben Bowne, director of marketing and sales) shares some secrets with JCK.
“A Kuhn’s box means something to our customers.”
Love your customers.
“Since 9/11 and the death of my dad shortly thereafter, I have realized we just don’t know what will happen today or tomorrow. While we’re here, we need to take every opportunity to love one another. I believe if we really love our customers, they will love us back…and they’ll keep coming back. People want to be recognized and appreciated, and if you’re the place that does that, I think you’ll continue to grow your business. Another thing I believe is: It is a moral imperative to give back to the community that has supported us for so many years. Everyone here is involved deeply with nonprofit groups such as Coastal Hospice, the Girl Scouts, and our local Community Foundation. We give, and therefore we get; we get loyalty and recognition for the fact that we are involved in making this a better place to live.”
Sell a quality product.
“There are many jewelry stores out there that sacrifice quality for the sake of price. When I buy jewelry, I always ask, ‘Will this last as long as the memories my customer is making in giving it?’ I love it when a customer comes in to buy an engagement ring and tells me his grandfather and father bought theirs here. I can’t tell you the number of times my dad would send whole shipments back, saying, ‘That’s just not good enough to put in a Kuhn’s box.’ We are proud that a Kuhn’s box means something to our customers.”
Each generation improves technology.
“When I came home to join the business, I insisted that we computerize. My dad agreed, but hesitantly. Two years ago, [Ben] talked me into improving our website and increasing our social media presence. We now have 6,000 Facebook friends, and we have collected thousands of email addresses, which opens up a great way to get your product and personality in front of prospective customers.”
Products need to reflect clients’ needs.
“When gold prices were extremely high, we brought in some interesting sterling silver lines. When the recession was upon us, we were more price-conscious, knowing our customers would be as well. We brought in pieces with less expensive gemstones. We offered wedding bands in alternative metals such as tungsten, cobalt, and titanium.”
The future is leaner and experiential.
Says Bowne: “The future store is much leaner on inventory, and more emphasis will be put on providing customers with a more experiential environment, such as what we experience in an Apple store. Also, online purchase fulfillment will most likely increase. We are adapting along those lines to fit our region and clientele. However, there’s a lot of ‘If it ain’t broke…’ in what we do. But we remain flexible and curious about what will make our customers’ experience even more memorable and fun!”
Top: Susan Purnell (c) flanked by son Ben Bowne and his wife, Jenna, holding potential fifth-generation jewelers; inset: Kuhn’s today, and Kuhn’s in the late 1950s, when Main Street boasted three jewelers
Next: Saboe Jewelry
More of America’s 10 Oldest Retailers: