Under the management of third-generation jeweler Brian Gunderson (company president), his family business will expand once again next month when Gunderson’s opens its fourth high-end fine jewelry store in Fargo, North Dakota. With three other stores in prominent Midwest towns and cities, and the opening of their new store, Gunderson’s further positions itself as a premier luxury retailer in the region.
Brian’s family business has come a long way since the company’s inception in 1946 when his grandparents George and Dee Gunderson opened a modest watchmaking shop in Sioux City, IA. George’s entrance into watchmaking is a familiar industry account of a serviceman that took up watchmaking during World War II. A watchmaker for the Navy, George continued his watchmaking education before opening his 500-square-foot watchmaking shop more than 70 years ago.
Back in the day, Sioux City, IA was a busy railroad hub. George and Dee’s watch shop was one of several in town supported by the railroad industry. Their son Gary got his training as the family’s second generation of jewelers early on when he helped source watch parts around town for his father. Gary took an early and keen interest in watches. He eventually formalized that interest when attending the Elgin Watch School. Gary also was a qualified bench jeweler, which expanded the shop’s repair work back in the 1960s.
When Gary and his wife Betty took control of the family business, theirs was the transformative leadership that took it from a watch shop to a jewelry store. But that required an incredible investment of time and resources, forcing Gary and Betty to be creative while raising a family and running a business.
“As the family story goes, Gary would help customers during business hours designing jewelry,” says company vice president Breanne Demers. “Then Gary would work from store closing till about 3:00 AM making jewelry. With a cot next to his bench, it made sense for him to sleep a few hours there until his wife Betty opened the store.”
For the industrious couple, this was their lives for some years. But hard work has a way of paying off. Gary and Betty had the financial wherewithal to move into a retail space that helped them gain an additional 100 square feet of space from their 500-square-foot shop.
The couple had three boys. Brian, the oldest of the three, took the greatest interest in the family business. He took the usual gradient steps into the jewelry and watch business, and officially joined it in 1977. Brian would become another transformative figure in the family business, bringing in even more finished jewelry and expanding watch and jewelry repair services. He also started slowly upping the quality of jewelry.
Gunderson’s evolution made another giant step forward in 1984 when Brian moved the business into the Terra Center in Sioux City. It was the strip mall location where Gunderson’s continued to expand its inventory and services while broadening its reach to an increasing number of customers in rural Iowa.
In the early 2000s, Brian turned his attention to his other vision of creating a luxury retail jewelry store loaded with amenities and interior design qualities that would make it a desirable destination in many ways. Leaving the strip mall for their own freestanding building, Brian wanted to create a retail store that would be as luxurious as the fine jewelry and watches they sold. Brian had then, and still has, a dogged insistence on creating a warm, welcoming store with amenities and features that service the customer in ways that create a memorable shopping experience.
Chief among these store features is a fireplace. When Brian and his team set out to build the Sioux City, IA store, they wanted to create a retail environment that would be the talk of the town and the region. Unbeknownst at the time, the Sioux City, IA store (opened in 2005) would be the gold standard for other Gunderson’s stores as the family business expanded into other Midwestern markets.
“The fireplace has become a Gunderson’s standard,” says Breanne. “The Sioux City store became our blueprint for future stores with certain departments, boutiques, customer service areas [bars and beverage service areas and customer lounges] and other spaces as part of the retail experience.”
As the new millennium continued on, Brian took his family business to Midwestern towns familiar to him, and brought a fresh and luxurious retail jewelry experience to rural markets in the region. In 2007, he opened a store in Sioux Falls, SD. Six years later he opened his third store in Omaha, NE.
“The expansions we made were part of Brian’s vision for the family business, but Rolex was helpful in tipping the scales of these decisions,” says Breanne. “They’ve been a strategic partner in many ways for Gunderson’s, including the new Fargo, ND, which opens in April.”
Gunderson’s new Fargo store will not only be the crown jewel of the family business but also in terms of luxury retail jewelry in the region - perhaps even the country. With its 6,800-square-foot showroom, Gunderson’s will have some noteworthy features, in part thanks to the store’s strategic vendor partners.
The new store will feature the country’s largest Rolex boutique, measuring 426 square feet. There will also be a Rolex lounge measuring 400 square feet. “This lounge will feature official Rolex custom-built furniture and fixtures,” says Breanne. The color? You guessed it. Green.
Gunderson’s Fargo store will also have the nation’s largest Forevermark Diamond boutique (600 square feet). In addition to the boutique, the new store will have some nicely decorated diamond buying “pods,” that are open enough to see the store, yet have a degree of privacy, according to Breanne.
Another cutting-edge feature is a projector and window system that will offer sun or shade by day, and image and video projection by night. “We’re all very excited about the new store,” says Breanne.
Brian and his team have had a busy two decades expanding the family business. For now, and the foreseeable future, plans are to make their now four existing stores premier jewelry and retail destinations in the Midwest, making those long rural road commutes to a Gunderson’s store worth every mile.