Johannes Hunter Jewelers

Linda Hunter started her jewelry career in the early 1970s as a single mother and college student, selling turquoise and silver Native American jewelry out of a shoebox along the roads of Montana. Today, Hunter owns Johannes Hunter Jewelers, an AGS guild store in downtown Colorado Springs, Colo., with annual sales between $4 million and $5 million.

Hunter opened her first shop in Montana in 1976. Over the years, she moved her business from Montana to Idaho to Colorado in search of better markets and better locations. She settled in Colorado Springs in 1988, and the company has prospered. The store’s staff includes two gemologists and one gemologist in training. In 2004, Johannes Hunter Jewelers was named the area’s best jewelry store by the Colorado Springs Business Journal. In an exclusive interview with JCK, Hunter discussed some key strategies behind her store’s growth and success.

  1. As a first-generation jeweler, what were some of the most important things you did early on that helped you achieve and main-tain success? We started very humbly in Montana and dealt with a lot of clients that didn’t look wealthy, but were. This teaches you to treat every client well. Also, our philosophy was to always pay our bills on time. There are lots of people in this business who do not. This got us tremendous support from our vendors right from the start. Another thing that helped us was growing organically rather than leveraging ourselves to the hilt. We could have grown much faster, but being slow and steady has worked for us. We’ve been in Colorado Springs since 1988, and we’ve expanded three times. We always went to trade shows, read the trade magazines, took GIA courses, and did a lot of training. We’ve always been education oriented, and that hasn’t changed. We joined a Scull group in 1998, and we’re still learning about what we don’t know.

  2. What do you do to set your business apart from your com-petitors? We’ve developed a great clien-tele as a guild store that sells a lot of color, custom, and designer jewelry. In fact, the largest sales we’ve ever made have been color. This has set us apart. We also try to treat our clients individually. We’re into gifting clients. We try to give them something that has meaning for them, such as individualized gift baskets and taking them to plays. We do 90 percent of our business with the top 10 percent of our clients, so we do everything we can to take care of them. We also have a second store, Glenn’s Jewelry and Loans [also in Colorado Springs], which is a pawn shop and jewelry store selling lower-end items. That gives us the high and low ends of the jewelry business, but not the middle. We think this is where it’s at.

  3. What has been your most suc-cessful sales initiative? We have done lots of trunk shows/parties in our store, and they have been very successful for us. Some of them account for one-tenth of our year. We especially do a lot of them with colored stones. We try to do four trunk shows per year.

  4. What has been your greatest business challenge? Staffing is by far the greatest challenge we face. When you come up through the corporate environment, you learn to manage people effectively. I didn’t have that training. I always felt like I was behind the curve. I learned as I went along the importance of communicating in a timely fashion, being clear in your expectations and holding people accountable.

  5. Where do you see the greatest growth opportunities for your business? We think there’s still a lot of opportunity for growth in fine color, and we are trying to figure out how to further leverage our expertise in the category. One thing we’ve done is to start a colored-stone roundtable. We bring a colored-stone dealer into the store and have a cocktail party for 10 to 12 of our best customers. It’s part cocktail party, part colored-stone exhibit. We pass the gemstones around, give them an opportunity to ask questions and to buy. The store we borrowed this idea from made this a significant part of their business, and we think we can do the same. We’ve only done one so far; our goal is to do four per year.