375 Main St.
Randolph Jewelers was founded by F.F. Barss in 1852, when Placerville was a Gold Rush town. It’s had just three owners since then, including Charlie Stephens, who bought the store in 1981. “My jewelry mentor in the Bay Area, Walt Hilton, moved to Placerville and was doing repair work for Bill Randolph, the previous owner,” Stephens says. “When he was ready to retire, he asked Hilton if he wanted to buy it. He said, no, ‘I got out of that business, I’ll ask Charlie!’ So I came up and took a look around and moved to Placerville.”
“When I bought it, our No. 1 seller was Black Hills gold.”
Resilience is rewarded (or, invest in the local fire department).
“F.F. Barss’ original store, in a tent, burned down. Then he built a wooden store, and that burned down. Then he led a committee to get a fire engine for the town, and that burned down in its barn before it ever got used! This building was built in 1865. He moved in in 1891, after his third store burned down. We’ve had horrible fires in this area in the past couple years, but we are still standing in the same location.”
Keep things in perspective.
“I always tell people, ‘I try not to whine too much about how hard it is to stay in business these days, given what Barss went through.’?”
Your clients are your best advertising.
“We ask customers to leave reviews on Google or Yelp, or there’s a button on our website. Those do us a lot of good. Just this weekend, we had a young couple come in. They said, ‘Your people love you,’ and bought a wedding set and a man’s wedding band.”
Get comfortable with technology (or find someone who is).
“It’s been a steep learning curve, but we are pretty happy with our website. We did it in-house; one of our employees was pretty much self-taught. In the last couple of years, my son has joined us and he is doing the social media. I’m pretty much a technophobe.”
Respect heritage but don’t let it rule.
“The owners of this business have always been able to change with the times. At one point, they were doing eyeglasses, and then they were repairing wooden billiard balls. When I bought it, our No. 1 seller was Black Hills gold. Now we’re doing computer-aided design and selling much-higher-end jewelry. Custom and bridal are our biggest categories. I didn’t come in with a vision that I was going to transform the business. The Randolphs were very, very well respected. I waited and listened, then slowly began to change, based on what customers wanted. And that’s how we continue to grow, by paying attention to our customers.”
Top: Charlie Stephens with his son, Alex (and Randolph Jewelers founder F.F. Barss looking on); inset: Barss in full regalia as grand commander, Knights Templar of California
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