Thinking Outside the (Jewelry) Box

In Memphis, Tenn., jewelry stores are like gas stations—”there’s one on every corner”—according to Steve Ballin, partner, King Furs & Fine Jewelry. So when this purveyor of luxurious coats diversified into fine jewelry 13 years ago, it relied on its fur customers for many initial purchases. “People trusted us for fur coats for so long that they figured they could trust us for jewelry, too,” recalls Ballin of King’s first foray into jewels.

But jewelry and furs weren’t always on this family’s retail agenda. The Ballins and their partner, Michael Frankel, bought King’s Furs—a community fixture since 1947—from a family friend in 1985. Warmer weather in Memphis and the recession of the early 1990s cut into sales, though, and the business had to adapt. To make up for lost revenues, the retailer added fine jewelry and changed its name to King Furs & Fine Jewelry. Jewelry naturally complemented furs and the family had an in: Uncle Ralph Weinman, retired from the Continental Buying Group, along with daughter Andie, helped the furrier select appropriate lines, such as S&R Designs, and also helped on the operations end.

Now, depending on the season, the merchandise mix is roughly 40 percent jewelry and 60 percent furs.

While the fur business developed the jewelry business—fur clients come in twice a year to clean and cold-store furs, and new customers come in to shop—King’s now intends to “let the masses know there’s another choice in town for jewelry,” says Ballin. But don’t look for staple goods in this store; like jewelry, fur has become a lot more fashionable in recent years, so King’s offerings are very fashion forward. “Our customers are looking for a coat with more pizzazz than just a basic mink,” explains Ballin. “So they’ll also look for jewelry with more fashion sense than basic diamond studs.”