Nelson Coleman Jewelers
28, gemologist, assistant general manager, and future owner, sixth generation
Nelson Coleman Jewelers
67, co-owner, fifth generation
Nelson Coleman Jewelers dates back to 1856, when Adolph Doederlein founded the family business, Doederlein Jewelers, in Germany. The second generation brought the store to Baltimore in 1881. Chris Coleman’s father married into the business and in 1954 rechristened it Nelson Coleman after Doederlein retired. Today, Chris and his brother Mark share ownership of the store. Of their combined seven children, three have worked in the store over the years. Chris and his daughter, Amanda (who is poised to take over in the coming years), spoke with JCK about the ups and downs of keeping it all in the family.
IN THE BEGINNING…
Amanda: It took three tries before I finally was ready to enter the family business. I wasn’t ready for the commitment until I turned 23.
Chris: My brother Mark decided to work with my father. In 1977, Mark recruited me to work in the store. My first responsibilities were sales and addressing administrative and organizational tasks.
Amanda: During my first two attempts at joining the family business, I got bored. I didn’t really understand the business or professionalism. When I gave it another try at 20, I was a little better but just didn’t want a 9-to-5 job.
Chris: As a child, I cleaned jewelry, did the vacuuming, and ran errands. When I joined the family business at 34, I started doing similar jobs. But that quickly evolved.
Amanda: The job I loved most was working with my Uncle Mark taking in repairs. You have to know about all the components of a finished piece of jewelry, so I learned a lot about precious metals, diamonds, and colored stones. I still enjoy repairs.
Chris: I remember my father always saying, “Buy right. This is a jewelry store, not a museum.” He stressed the importance of maintaining good vendor and banking relationships and to never overbuy or overspend—because that’ll land you in hot water with your suppliers or banker.
Amanda: A lot of the business advice I take from my parents is the same advice I take from them regarding my personal life—be careful with money and buying. For business, listen to the customer first.
Chris: In serving the customers close to my age, I focused on being a savvy buyer. I listened carefully, was honest with them, and kept pace with technology and with the educational opportunities available to me in the industry.
Amanda: I’d like to sell to my generation through technology and customer service. Generation Y is a demographic that requires a lot of schmoozing, acknowledgment, and relationship-building.
IDEAS AND INNOVATIONS
Chris: One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was hiring my wife. As the inventory manager, she helped usher in and eventually master the new POS system and its supporting software. Over the years, she has kept us from giving away the store. Without her, we wouldn’t have been making the profits needed to stay in business.
Amanda: One of my better ideas was getting involved in social media. For years I’d been preaching to them to be part of these websites. When my dad heard how important they were to other industry professionals, I was vindicated. Although it wasn’t a big matter, it was kind of an emotional time for me and my dad. It was the go-ahead with that decision when my dad stopped looking at me as a kid and started viewing me as an employee.