Made in Middleton: The Chalmers Jewelers Model

The Chalmers family reveals its store’s all-custom, all-the-time business plan

Making the transition from selling men’s clothing to selling jewelry came easily to Scott Chalmers. In 1979, he quit his job at Lord Jim’s in Madison, Wis.; a year later, he joined the staff of Dunkin’s, where he began a lifelong love affair with the jewelry trade. Chalmers finally opened his own store—a 3,000-square-foot space in a local strip mall—in 1992. Six years later, he was ready for something bigger, so he took over a Country Kitchen restaurant in the Madison suburb of Middleton, Wis. Chalmers gutted the 5,000-square-foot spot, built an expanded shop, and hired bench jewelers. With the help of his wife Ruth, their oldest son Garrett, and daughter Devon, the family is taking a D.I.Y. approach to future business. “Our goal is to produce as much quality fine jewelry in-house as possible to brand the Chalmers name,” says Garrett. “In 18 months to two years, we’ll be producing 100 percent of our own jewelry.”

A League of Their Own

Scott: I’ve always wanted to provide customers with styles no one else has. That’s what gave rise to my goal of producing as much as possible in-house. Right now, about 80 percent of the ­jewelry sold in our store, we’ve made.

Garrett: I’ve been working in the store 18 months. I’ve studied CAD/CAM, earned my Graduate ­Gemologist ­certificate from GIA, and studied ­jewelry business management. This is helping us sell more of our own jewelry while increasing our custom orders.

Devon: I’m going to Madison Area Technical College working on business entrepreneurship and sales academy. [Then] I’ll earn my Graduate Gemologist certificate and learn more about grading gemstones and CAD/CAM.

Guiding Principles

Scott: Since day one, I’ve always put a significant portion of my profits back into the business. Reinvesting has always been about new machinery to keep moving operations to a new level. But it isn’t just about better equipment. In 2001, I became a Rolex dealer—one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Garrett: We want to stand behind a warranty. Sometimes that’s ­difficult with vendors. When it’s our ­jewelry, we can quickly determine a quality problem and repair the jewelry faster.

Devon: When I’m in management, I’d like to keep investing in the staff’s education with gemological and sales training. I’d also like to keep our inventory stocked with beautiful custom pieces.

Points to Ponder

Garrett: My father always talks about truth in pricing. We don’t mark up just to mark down for a sale. Quality of fine jewelry over a quantity of lesser-quality jewelry is our guiding principle.

Devon: My parents are very particular. The store is always clean, organized, with no clutter; there’s a certain order to things. This is part of my work ethic: making sure the work I do is done well. Like them, I’m very results-oriented.

Scott: The lessons I’ve tried to share with my children are to work hard at the start so you can enjoy your success and your family later in life. And success is something that’s hard-earned and doesn’t come for free.

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