Last updateTue, 16 Jul 2019 9pm

Chuck Koehler

The Retailer’s Perspective: It’s a Brave New World

You know, I've been doing this jewelry thing for over 30 years now (yes, I started when I was 2). I've often wondered lately what my life would have turned out like if I hadn't answered that ad for ‘warehouse help needed' that Best Products placed in the Dallas Times Herald in 1978. Where would I have ended up if I hadn't looked at the paper that day? What do you say we explore that... kind of like ‘It's a Wonderful Life,' - starring me.

The Retailer’s Perspective: And you looked so normal walking in the door...

Sometimes you can spot ‘em getting out of their car and sometimes they just outright surprise you. Yep. It's the crazies. They're baaaaccckkkk.

I had just perfected my new barbecue chicken recipe - I pre-boil my chicken for about 30 minutes in any number of spices that I have laying around (I change this every time), then I take it off the stove and set it aside til it cools, then put the stock pot in the fridge to chill overnight. In the morning, I pour off the water and put the chicken in a zip lock baggie and put it back in the fridge til that night - just absorbing all of those flavors. Right before dinner I put it on the grill to heat it up and just barely burn the BBQ sauce and it's a "no knives needed" masterpiece. The leftovers come to work with me for lunch because it's even better the second day. It was right here, just as I was taking my first bite, when she walked in!

The Retailer’s Perspective: Recession Recovery 101

Man, what a crazy ride we're on lately. I don't know about you, but I'm just tired of it! I am soooo ready to just get back to "life as I once knew it".

The other day when I was having a "to hell with all of this... I quit" moment, something occurred to me. What would I do if I just walked out? No one's hiring. Anywhere I could find a job would be way worse than what I'm doing now. The proverbial "I can just get a job flippin' burgers at McDonalds" is no longer valid unless you've got a masters degree in finance or psychology because that's your competition right now. Life as we once knew it is not the reality right now. Will it get back to normal? I think so, or at least some reasonable facsimile thereof. But here's what's going on in my mind at the moment.

The Retailer’s Perspective: Made in America Part II

After my first 30 days of trying to buy only American made products and services, I've learned a few things I‘d like to share:
  1. There are no artist paint brushes made in America.
  2. Wal-Mart and Target carry no jeans, t-shirts, or polo shirts made in America. Here's how I found this out.

After many years of remodeling my house, I'm down to doing minor touch up painting in the front half of the house (yeah!). Just a spot here and a spot there. I decided to buy a set of artist brushes and I would just walk around and touch up all the various places and colors at the same time, just like Picasso. I'm excited because in about a week I'm going to be able to dust my house and then not have to dust it again the next day. (Okay, maybe that's not true... I didn't really dust it the first time cause remodeling is such a mess, so why bother?) Wal-Mart should have what I need, so off I go. I started in the school supply aisle, but the only ones they had were cheap plastic ones... plus they were made in China. I think I've already established I ain't going there anymore. I went to the paint department and found something close, but not exactly what I wanted, but once again... made in China. So I go back a couple of acres to the hobby section and asked the lady working there to point me in the right direction. Cha Ching! There they are... just what I want. High-end brushes, long handles, 15 brushes to the set... oops. Made in China. Other than that, they were perfect.

I went and found the lady again and asked her if there were any more. She took me right where I had already been and pointed at them like I was blind and couldn't see the 15-20 choices they had. I informed her that they were all made in China and I would only buy brushes made in America. She actually asked me: "Why?"
In my previous column I wrote how I thought it was going to take about 547 people to ask that question at a store before it started making any real impact. I'm now certain that I was her first. I hope she remembers me because we all know you never forget your first.

"I'm just not gonna buy them unless they are made in America," I informed her. She just shrugged and we had nothing further to say to one another, so we went our separate ways. But, since I was already there I may as well grab some things I needed anyway, right? Normally, the things I needed would have taken me about 10 minutes to throw in a basket. That day it took me over an hour. I realize now that most companies bury the made in America label. We need to change that!

For the first time in my adult life I was not selecting products based on the price. I was making my selection based upon the country in which it was manufactured. And if it wasn't manufactured in America, I didn't want it.

By most accounts, Americans are creatures of habit and we buy the same products and the same brands over and over again. Once you've read the labels and know which items are made in America you can just grab it off the shelf and be done. By the second or third time of reading labels, shopping will be back to normal again. It's just the first couple of times that you really have to read the labels.

After I got home I made a note of what I purchased so when I go back I won't have to spend an hour scanning the fine print on the products. By the way, Febreeze is made in America. My store smells soooo good right now.

On this particular trip, I feel certain that a new world record was set. I left Wal-Mart with 18 items, all Made in America. I know, I didn't think it was possible either, but I did it. And you know what? You can do it too. A little bit of your time is all it takes to begin to stimulate our struggling economy. But I still don't have those darned paint brushes I need.

I went to the Lowes next door and found out they only carried a made in China option. Stopped at the Target... same thing. Stopped at the local hardware store... finally... nope... made in PRC (Peoples Republic of China). Now don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against China. It's just right now we've got to put our own oxygen mask on first and get our factories and our workers working again.

After about a week of diligently trying to find a set of artist brushes made in America, I realized I was now only helping the Saudis with all the gas I was burning on my quest. I finally gave in and went back to Wal-Mart and bought the ones I saw a week ago. They're just what I wanted, and I'm glad I bought them. I'm also glad I at least put forth an effort to try and help an American company, I just couldn't find one. Which brings me to the next phase of my quest.

As Captain Gus McCrae (Robert Duvall) said to Deets (Danny Glover) in Lonesome Dove: "Deets ain't one to give up on a garment just cause it's got a little age on it."
He could just as easily have been talking about me. I almost look homeless when I wear jeans and a polo shirt to work these days with as many times as I've burned them or spilled acid on them. I had to go to the store and buy some new work clothes, so I headed over to Target to get some new duds.

While there I learned a great trick I'd like to pass on. I hid my glasses in my jacket pocket and grabbed a sales lady to help me. I pretended I forgot my reading glasses and asked her if she could help me. Hah! I made her look for the made in America options instead of me. She knows the inventory better than me and could do it faster anyway. After my Wal-Mart trip I know how long it can take. We (okay not we... she) looked at a lot of tags on a lot of clothes because I really wanted to just buy the clothes and be done with it for another three years. After about 30 minutes, she'd gone through every option available and did not find one single garment that had been made in America. I thanked her and left without making a purchase, but I accomplished a couple of things. One, she's now a convert to my cause. She was very nice and understood what I was doing and why. Secondly, she was going to inform her manager about the lost sale and the reason.

So now, when the next 546 of you walk in that Target, and get the same sales lady and ask her the same question, she's gonna tell you there are no made in America options at the moment because she already looked and doesn't have to go through the inventory again.

Somewhere down the line though, the manager of that department is going to have a conversation with the store manager, who's gonna have a conversation with the garment buyer, who's gonna say she's been hearing that from a lot of stores lately.

The garment buyer will tell all the store managers that she has found a few factories in America that manufacture garments and she just placed a large order, but it's going to be a couple of months before they can deliver because they have to hire 300 workers in order to fill the order. Damn. All of that because I made the sales lady look at tags for me.

I'm telling you, it's gonna work, but I can't do it alone. When you go into any store to make a purchase, make the store personnel help you find a made in America option because then you can recruit them to our cause and ask them to always recommend that option to their customers in the future.

If you're on board with me in my quest, please write and tell me your story. Hopefully it will encourage others to follow suit. And remember, in these troubled times, it is the patriotic thing to do.


Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. You can contact him at 615-354-6361, www.CMKcompany.com or send e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Why buy American?

About 3 o'clock the other afternoon I was hungry and wanted a snack. Turns out the only thing I could scrounge up was a package of those cheese and peanut butter crackers. Man, I love those things... except now they'll kill you. I put them back in the cupboard and went to the mini mart for something non-lethal, but it got me to thinking.

The Retailer’s Perspective: Will it be fine in 2009?

Man, if that's not the question of the day... or the century for that matter. With so much bad news being thrown at us every day it's hard to get a handle on things - until now. Oddly enough, in the middle of all of this craziness I made a startling discovery. I really had no idea how many recessions and economic downturns I've survived. All I can say is apparently I've had a hard life. Let me explain.

The Retailer’s Perspective: Location, Location, Location

About 3 years ago I made the biggest decision of my professional life and decided to shut down my retail store - the retail store that I planned on owning for the next 30 years. It had been in that location since 1947 and I was hoping to make it last till 2047. Then the unthinkable happened. It failed. S.L.O.W.L.Y!

There was no warning. No precipitating factor like the factory next door shutting down and laying off my entire customer base. I wasn't doing anything wrong. If anything, I was doing everything right, just like I'd been doing since I opened my first jewelry company in 1983.

I got up every morning and went to work and turned on my OPEN sign and people came in and did business with me. Until my location died.

It was a painful and expensive time (of course that pales in comparison to the last four months of 2008) to go through. Now I've just experienced my second Christmas season in my new location and my 31st as a jeweler. And, yes it was slow, but it wasn't dead. If I'd stayed in my old location the last year and a half, I'm certain I would be bankrupt by now. And I think I've learned some valuable lessons the last couple of years I'd like to share with you.

Moving your business is a lot like moving from one neighborhood to another. Yes, you'll miss your old routine. You'll miss your old friends. You'll miss your house. But most people don't move from their house to one in a really bad part of town that's crime ridden and in decay. Most people move to a better neighborhood with more to offer than their last.

The same is true of moving your business. When I was looking for a new home for my store I wasn't looking in crappy, crime ridden areas. I was only looking in the best areas that offered the most long term growth. It took me almost a year to find my new location. It was kind of like looking for a new house and not liking anything you've seen. Then the perfect house comes on the market, and you know it's perfect because you've seen everything else. Then the move is not so scary. In fact it's exciting. Heck, the hardest part was the decision just to move.

Back when I was going through the process, I talked to lots of other jewelers who were in the same situation I was. Some moved. Some didn't. Those that did move have new stores, new customers, new sales, and a positive outlook. Those that didn't move.. well, their situation hasn't changed.

In my new store, I average about 5 people a day I've never seen in my life coming in for something. Most times it's just a $10 watch battery, but they are in my store.

The hardest part about building a new business is getting people to physically walk through your front door, but once they're in you can do your dog and pony show and make them a long term customer. We all know that word-of-mouth is the best advertising, and I'm averaging 5 new people a day. I'm thrilled. This would have never happened if I hadn't moved.

With the tough economic situation the country is facing, being in a bad location is only going to get worse. I'm glad I made the move because I've at least got a shot at surviving this mess, whereas in my previous location I had no chance.

Oh yeah, one other thing about moving. Just like how you'll miss your friends from your old neighborhood if you sell your house, the neighbors you really liked will still be your friends and you'll still see each other. And the neighbors you didn't like will be out of your life. When you move your business it's a lot of the same. The customers I really liked come see me at my new store. The customers that didn't really like me (or me them) tend to find someone else. There's a few I still can't shake though.

So what's next? Retail is next!

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Brad Lawrence. Brad owns Goldcasters Fine Jewelry in Bloomington, Indiana. If you've never been to Bloomington, it's an hour south of Indianapolis and an hour from any major interstate, and the home of the Indiana University Hoosiers.

A small quaint city in the middle of the country with one incredibly successful jewelry store. I was curious how someone could build a business of that magnitude in an out of the way place like Bloomington, so I went to check it out. Brad gave me a lesson or two on how to run a jewelry store.

First and foremost I learned that Brad was a retailer - not a jeweler. Yes, he's owned a jewelry store for over 25 years and has all the credentials and training available, but he doesn't see himself as a jeweler. He see's himself as a retailer.

Brad told me that most of his peers see themselves as jewelers. The difference is remarkable if you really think about it. Brad doesn't buy something because he likes it. He buys something be cause he thinks he can retail it, not just sell it.

How many of us have tons of dead stock in our cases and dead giftware that we thought was a sure fire seller? Most of us bought it because we liked it and never really thought about retailing it. Yeah, we gave it some thought, but did you really look at it like a retailer?

Ask yourself; Could you pull all of the cases out of your store and fill it with clothes and be successful? Brad Lawrence could. It's not the product you are selling that's important, it's your ability to retail that product.

Everyone reading this just happens to sell jewelry. So tell me, are you a retailer or a jeweler? For the last 30+ years I've answered that question "I'm a jeweler." In 2009 I'm going to become a retailer and damnit, I'm gonna buy a new private jet too - just like Brad!

Brad also made a statement that's stuck in my head: "If you're selling diamonds, you're doing okay in this business. If you're not selling diamonds, you're probably in trouble." That's pretty profound if you really analyze it.

Back in the day before Blue Nile and the Internet. I sold an average of 15-20 big diamonds a year. Considering at the time I was a small retail custom and repair shop, I was selling a big diamond about every 2-3 weeks, so I always had a couple of big sales in the pipeline and made a great living.

I don't think I've sold 20 big diamonds in the last 5 years, so how is Brad doing it and I'm not. It's relatively simple to explain, but it's going to be harder to put my new plan in place, but I'm gonna do it.

When I go back and really analyze those previous diamond sales, I realized I was just lucky. I never had a plan. I had something better - a jewelry store. It was just by default that I ever sold a diamond in the first place. Just pure luck.
I think a lot of jewelry store owners out there fall into this same category. You had a jewelry store and that was the only place to buy a diamond. Where else was someone going to go other than another jewelry store?

It was easy pickins back then. If I missed a sale, I had a couple of others in the works, so no big deal. Now the options are unlimited with the Internet. So since I never really had a plan, I had no ‘Plan B' if something like the Internet happened.
What I'm coming to realize is that the Internet is no different than any other competitor if you're actually in the business of selling diamonds.

There were a lot of stores that got killed when the Internet came along, and a few, like Goldcasters, that didn't. Simply because Brad was in the business of retailing diamonds, not selling diamonds - retailing them.

It took about a week for everything Brad and I talked about to soak into my thick skull, but once it got in there, it stuck. I encourage all the jewelry store owners out there to really think about what Brad has to say because it really works.
That being said, look out world, I'm about to become a retailer. God help the competition and the other airplanes up there!

Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. You can contact him at 615-354-6361, www.CMKcompany.com or send e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..