Mark Priest is president of Legend Jewelers, an American Gem Society store in San Angelo, Texas, that sells a mix of contemporary custom design—including creations that focus on Texas history—and traditional jewelry. The retailer’s historic building, built in 1901, once housed a famous bordello on the second floor. Known as Miss Hattie’s, the space is now called Miss Hattie’s Bordello Museum.
1 What are your best sellers?
Leadin QuestionOne of the pieces we make is the Texas Ranger, which is a bezel around a star in the middle, like the famous Texas Ranger badge. It can be worn as a charm or pendant. Around the bezel, it says, “100 percent Texas Woman.” We offer it in 14k gold for about $240 and in sterling silver for about $35. In the three years since we introduced it, we’ve sold more than 1,000.
2 What has been your most successful marketing program?
A couple of years ago, we ran our first “Pop a Rock” event the day before Valentine’s Day, and it was the best thing we’ve ever done. We filled helium balloons and had prizes inside each, ranging from free jewelry repair to a $2,000 shopping spree. For $5, customers could pop a balloon to see what they won. We advertised it through radio and newspapers. We sold 1,500 balloons and tripled the sales and traffic we normally have for Valentine’s Day.
3 What has been your best money-saving initiative?
Because I pay my vendors in cash right then and there, I expect a discount. More of the industry is going toward memo, but the way I learned the business was to pay for things right away. Thanks to this policy I always have a sterling JBT rating and no problems getting product, because vendors that do business with me don’t have to worry about getting paid. By paying right away and asking for discounts, I probably save $10,000 to $15,000 a year.
4 What has been your best strategy for increasing sales?
We are really involved in the community, which is where a lot of referrals come from. I’m an executive member of the Texas Jewelers Association and serve on a lot of boards. I also do volunteer work for the Children’s Advocacy Center [a national organization to help abused children] and even serve on their board. Three or four years ago we launched the Champagne and Diamonds Valentine’s Day Dinner, a charity event to raise money for CAC in our region. It costs $100 a head, and we provide 100 champagne glasses—99 of which contain a 1.00 ct. CZ, and one with a 1.00 ct. diamond valued at $3,000 to $4,000. We always sell out the event, which raises $10,000 for CAC, and we come in contact with all the doctors, lawyers, police, and other professionals in the community. We do it to help the kids, but when you’re involved in the community, people get to know you and trust you, and you get a lot of referral business.
5 What was your biggest challenge, and how did you resolve it?
How to choose where to put our advertising dollars. We tried to do this on our own, but I’ve got so much on my plate I couldn’t handle it anymore. So last year we started using an advertising agency. For $15,000 or $20,000 per year, you get expert help in choosing what, where, and when to advertise to make your best buy. They have a lot more buying power representing 20 companies than you do on your own, which means they negotiate better buys than you can. This has really helped us—it takes a big burden off me, and I don’t have to worry about missing the right advertising opportunities.