Family Matters

In 1988, Roy Yelton’s part-time passion—selling jewelry—won out over his full-time vocations (police officer and security consultant) and he converted an old down­town drugstore in Hamilton, Ohio, into a jewelry store. After 11?years, Roy added a second store in West Chester, Ohio. But the family quickly discovered that two stores were too much. Roy closed the original Hamilton venue in 2000, and relocated the West Chester store last year. Sadly, he died just 10 days before the grand re-opening in late October 2009. But his wife, JoAnn, his son Mark, and Mark’s wife, Tina, are keeping his dream alive.

In the beginning…

Mark: My dad actually became really interested [in the jewelry business] after investigating an individual in the area to be sure he wasn’t selling stolen jewelry. My dad and another police officer posed as customers. After learning the guy was legit and had a vendor’s license, they became friends. My dad ended up buying quite a bit of jewelry from him for my mom and me. When this guy was going to retire, he 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.

JoAnn: After starting out of a 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. On weekends and weeknights, our spare room and dining room turned into makeshift showrooms. I couldn’t even serve dinner! After a successful run at a local flea market, he decided it was time to open an actual retail store. Once on his feet, he convinced me to leave my job [in insurance] and join him. 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 co-workers.

Mark: I never thought I would end up in the family business, but I always loved the watches and merchandising the jewelry—I can’t stand a cluttered case with a bunch of tags showing. And, of course, the first paycheck went straight to getting a nicer car with the best sound system I could find!

Moving forward

JoAnn: In the early days, some of the high-risk, high-reward decisions I made were hiring more staff, taking on more inventory, and expanding our services and offerings. In the late 1990s, a lot of people came to Yelton’s because we had a goldsmith. One of our worst decisions was opening a second store. It spread our resources too thin, confused our customers, and placed a lot of undue 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: 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.