Jeweler Shows Commitment to City and Customers

In a down-and-out downtown, the 83-year-old Mills Jewelers emerges as a diamond in the rough

1. What has been your most memorable sale?
It actually hasn’t happened yet, but will. I’m halfway through a custom engagement ring project with a young soldier serving in Afghanistan. On the recommendation of some friends, the soldier contacted me by email. He’ll be returning in January. After shipping the engagement ring to him, I’ll be meeting him at the airport to capture the marriage proposal on video. This sale has been special for me in part because I’ve been able to help a serviceman. But this proposal reminds me of how incredibly personal the custom jewelry process can be. I’ve learned about this young man, the woman he loves, and his dedication to serving our country—all from an active war zone.

2. What nightmare scenario did you turn around to save the day?
It was actually a situation my customers, townspeople, and Facebook fans helped me turn around. In late January, we unveiled our in-house–created Lockport sterling silver bead depicting our hometown. We were all very excited and posted a video announcement on Facebook. The first few postings were very positive. Then one woman posted a very negative comment. I went to bed that night saddened this woman spoiled such a great day for us. But the next day when I checked our Facebook page, I was thrilled to discover many customers and people we know in town came to our rescue, with about 40 to 50 postings.

3. What’s the best idea you’ve ever come up with for your store?
Twenty-five years ago we started our Easter egg hunt with roughly $10,000 in prizes. It was an instant hit. People wait for the event all year. We fill about 1,000 plastic Easter eggs with various prizes and hide them throughout the store. About half the eggs contain calibrated colored stones with a gift certificate for custom work. The eggs also contain gift certificates, a chance to spin our wheel of fortune for bigger prizes, and the grand prize of a $2,000 diamond.

4. What has been your biggest business challenge, and what have you done to resolve it?
We’ve been in the same downtown ­location since 1929. In the last few decades, the business climate has deteriorated. Now we’re surrounded by low-income, ­government-subsidized housing. This isn’t the most ideal location for an upscale ­jewelry store, but this location is part of our identity. Given our surroundings, we make it a point to stand out by taking great care of the store, both inside and out. Every Tuesday the team walks around looking for things in need of an upgrade. We’ve reached out to out-of-market customers with electronic and social media marketing, promoting our CAD/CAM center, making visits to people’s homes and offices. It’s hard work, but it’s working.

5. What is your single best money-saving initiative?
In the last two years we’ve reduced our live bridal inventory by 90 percent and replaced it with prototypes. We began the transition around fall 2008. I’m estimating we’ve saved $12,000 by buying less live inventory. Prototypes also help us sell our custom [work]; we romance the process and provide glamour shots of the finished product. Customers love these touches.

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