Last updateTue, 19 Jun 2018 9pm

Fresh from ‘boot camp,’ small-town Kansas jeweler polishing new tricks of the trade


When business is going along as usual, sometimes it’s a good idea to listen to someone else’s good idea. That’s what James and Sonya Cantrell of Coffeyville, Kan., did, attending a 2½ -day “Destination Business BootCamp” designed for independent business owners like themselves who want to make their store a “consumer destination.”

Cantrell James“We wanted to learn how to attract customers not only to our store but also to our local community from outside of our market area,” Sonya says. “We had no idea how much we’d learn when we went to this.”

Destination Business BootCamp is offered three times a year in Colorado by marketing consultant Jon Schallert (www.destinationbootcamp.com). “One of the things we learned, which resulted in this article, was to send press releases,” Sonya says. “We never really thought about doing them. Jon Schallert said when exciting things are happening send a press release, and don’t send it just to your immediate area; send it to publications outside your local market, which we did to see what would happen!” she laughs. “And we’ve had very good response.”

“We draw people from 45 minutes, an hour and a half away,” James adds. “But think four hours. People will drive. To go where you’re having jewelry made for you is important - and it’s one reason we’re sending out press releases. Think not just local, but out further.”

“Another thing,” Sonya adds, “Jon encouraged us all to take a look at our website and make it more engaging to tell our story of how we came about, such as James’ background, how he became a jeweler. So we’re working on that now; we’ve employed a company to do it. It’s better to hire people who are experts in their field, but we’re leading them through the process.”

Participants in the boot camp also were encouraged to create a unique positioning statement and to make it public. “It’s a short statement that helps define what’s unique about your store and what separates it from the chains or big box stores with the multi-million-dollar budgets,” James says. “You put it into a concise statement and put it out there for the customers.”

Accomplished & Established

James is a Jewelers of America Certified Master Jeweler with decades of experience at the bench, specializing in custom design and heirloom restorations. Cantrell’s Fine Jewelry opened its doors in Coffeyville 10 years ago, and in 2009 opened a second location in Independence. Each store has one employee besides James and Sonya, who trade turns working at each location.

Cantrell ring

James was 11 when he moved to Coffeyville, in southeast Kansas. After graduating from junior college, he traveled to small towns and worked in trade shops in Kansas and Oklahoma.

“James worked for his father four years, then worked for a family business about 25 years,” Sonya says. “They were ready to get out of the business. They came to us and said, ‘Do you want to buy our inventory and open your own store?’ We looked at each other and said, ‘How the heck do we do that?’ We basically raided every vacation fund, every dime we could find, everything. It was unexpected; we weren’t planning to do this. But with James having worked here 25 years and us growing up here . . . we didn’t want to pick up and move, so it just kind of happened. It’s worked out pretty well.”

Sonya worked for the local school district 25 years. Three years ago she took early retirement to help James in the store. “It’s so fun,” she says. “It’s generally a happy business. People get married and have birthdays, anniversaries – to be a part of that has been very fun and rewarding.”

Light Bulb Moments

Part of Destination Business BootCamp focused on management, how to manage a better business. “I spent 41 years at the bench, and being a leader doesn’t come naturally to me,” James says. “The business side of it doesn’t.

“Jon asked why you’re doing something this way, what are the results? What if you do something different? Step back and take an objective look at yourself, your marketing, your website, see what your customers see through your website. Things that were simple, even to me, but it spelled out some of the tricks of the trade that can make a difference, which was helpful to me.”

“It really draws you away from your business for 2½  days and helps you look at where you’ve been, where you are and where you want to go,” Sonya adds.

James particularly liked the consultant’s advice on “ultra services” - going above and beyond. “Do the unexpected for a customer, like going out to the parking lot to help someone with mobility issues or to a nursing home to do something for an elderly customer. Go above and beyond and meet people where they need services.

“Some of it was common sense, and some was like a light bulb moment where you think, ‘Yeah, we can do that!’ ”

Sonya liked Schallert’s idea of creating a “monument,” something totally unexpected inside or outside the store. “The idea is to create something that will attract people to your store, something they don’t expect,” she says. He gave an example of a grain silo made to resemble a huge teapot. “People come from everywhere to see that teapot.

Cantrell trio

“He encouraged James to respond to articles written in our field. If someone were writing about diamonds, James could have a positive reflection to give back to them. It’s a way to build a network and possibly make a way for him to become a resource for people since he has knowledge.

“A lot of the ideas aren’t difficult things to do. One was writing thank you notes to your customers, whether they purchase something big or small.”

Community Involvement

Although Cantrell’s is looking for ways to improve, the store is already on some pretty solid footing. James says his store is involved with helping the community in low-key ways such as sponsoring softball and soccer. James always makes a custom piece of jewelry and donates it to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraiser.

Also, he says, “We bend over backward to accommodate our customers and make them happy.”

Sonya says it’s “not unusual for a customer to walk through the door and say, ‘I’ve been everywhere to try to get this done. Can you help me?’ Well, we’re going to help them, one way or another. That’s happened multiple times. People don’t want the same old jewelry anymore. They want something personal to them.

“One thing we try to do is to make everybody feel welcome, to make them feel like family whether they’re buying an $8 watch battery or a $10,000 engagement ring. We just want everybody to feel welcome. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience.

“James does a lot of heirloom restoration, pieces that have been in a family forever. He gets an occasional hug, and he also makes the ladies cry when he makes their jewelry look new.”

James says, “It’s probably the best part of our business. I had a 92-year-old woman come in the store and I restored her original wedding set. She burst out in tears! She said it looked just like it did when her husband gave it to her when she was 16. There was not a dry eye in the place.”

For more information about Cantrell’s Fine Jewelry, you can call 620-251-3530, visit www.cantrellsjewelry.com or send an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..