Blakeman’s prescription for success? Bridal, brand names, and the Arkansas Razorbacks
In the late 1970s, Don Blakeman was working as a pharmaceutical rep for Pfizer. Then he met a Keepsake Diamonds sales rep who drove a Mercedes, worked fewer hours, and made more money. Blakeman swapped (prescription) drugs for diamonds and hasn’t looked back since: He opened his own mall store in 1987 and the freestanding Blakeman’s Fine Jewelry in 2005. His sons possess polar-opposite interests in the family business: Josh is a proficient bench jeweler, while Ben specializes in sales and marketing. But all three share one common goal—making Blakeman’s a regional destination.
Josh: I worked in the store as a teenager. I remember my first big sale—a $500 gold chain bracelet. Straight out of high school I started a family and was deciding between being a plumber or a jeweler. Between landscaping and contracting work, I was making deliveries to our bench jeweler’s home studio. It was these trips that got me interested in jewelry repair and jewelry making.
Ben: As a kid I’d go to the store often and make sketches of diamond rings. My parents would put them in the display cases. As I got older I did the usual light maintenance work around the store, and by high school I was selling jewelry. During college I worked in the store part time. I always knew I’d work in the family business but didn’t know what skills I’d bring. After college, I got a special-event marketing job with Anheuser-Busch and traveled the country for about a year. I then earned my GG certification from GIA and started working full time at the store.
First Big Project
Don: From the start, we wanted to be an authorized Rolex dealer. It took us about 15 years. A lot of it was continually improving our business model, the store, and the customer experience while bringing in brands that would be a good fit with Rolex. David Yurman was a big win for us, too.
Ben: When I started, we sold bridal but never focused on it. Last year, we made some big changes, starting with a new tagline: “Where Arkansas gets engaged.” Bringing on more brand names has been a big plus—Tacori, for example. We’ve also established Blakeman’s as the official jeweler of the University of Arkansas. We’re working with the university, providing loaner jewelry for homecoming events and the Greek community on campus.
Josh: My first big project at our mall store was to create a bench shop so we could do repairs and custom work. I purchased the bench, tools, and a laser welder. We didn’t have a lot of room, so the space defined the work we could do at the time. This was a good exercise, because I had to do it all over again when we built our freestanding store.
Don: I’d like us to be a regional destination store. Part of our building is rented out to a shoe store; as we grow, we have the option to expand into that space.
Ben: We can be a destination store by adding unique design features, customer interaction stations, and events that bring excitement to our market, like our upcoming Diamond Dash. It sounds crazy, but I’d like us to be like the Bass Pro Shop. People travel for miles just to have a store experience there.