Dean Brinker: The Gentleman From Indiana

Craving a chicken salad? A custom design? You can pick up both at Brinker’s Jewelers.

1. Describe your most memorable sale.
In 2003, a customer commissioned us to create a cross for Pope John Paul II. It was part of a $20,000 custom order to make three 18k yellow and white gold cross designs for a customer’s daughter celebrating her First Communion, with gifts going to the Pope and our Cardinal presiding over the ceremony. When you’ve made jewelry for the Pope, it’s hard to top that. 

2. What’s your store’s unique selling proposition?
Eleven years ago we expanded our store to 12,000 square feet. Since then, we’ve had a unique setup with a 6,500-square-foot jewelry store, my wife’s 4,000-square-foot home accessories and gifts store called Brinker’s Etc., and a 1,500-square-foot restaurant called Café 111. The combination of retail spaces and product and service options has helped us attract a wide range of customers and keep them in our stores relaxing, eating, and shopping for hours. One of my favorite quotes from a woman was that she ate the “world’s most expensive chicken salad.” She came in for something to eat and ended up spending $100,000 on a piece of jewelry.

3. What was your finest hour in the realm of customer service?
A few years ago, a young woman came into our store trying to sell a diamond ring. She told us her aunt left her the ring as part of her estate. When I looked at the ring, I recognized it right away. The ring belonged to a customer who had contacted us six months prior [telling us] her ring was missing. Knowing a valued customer was missing a unique diamond ring—and that I was possibly speaking to the person who stole it—I told the young woman there was only one ring like this in all of Evansville. I went on to explain that I needed to hear both stories: from the person I knew to be the owner and the young woman wishing to sell it. Our customer went first. She discovered her ring was missing after eating at a local Cracker Barrel. The young woman worked at that same restaurant. She eventually returned the ring to our customer.

4. What advice have you received from a fellow retail jeweler that changed the way you run your store?
The best advice I received from my father, who’s also a retail jeweler, came when I was welding the worn-out portion of a gold chain that was in for a repair. I asked my father if I should fix the portion of the chain that wasn’t specified on the take-in envelope. He told me: “Treat it like you would your own jewelry, and treat every customer the way you want to be treated.”

5. What is your single best money-­saving initiative?
Hiring my son. I’m good at selling, which means I’m good with my mouth. But my son, who has a business administration degree, treats this like a business. Many retailers get caught up in selling luxury products and the beauty of the jewelry: To a degree, I’m guilty of that. But not Kyle. He manages the financials, the employees, and the store’s infrastructure very well. He’s also a very eclectic buyer. Had I not hired my son, I know I would have lost money along the way, especially now. We never would have reached the level we’re at today without him.