Genuine, heartfelt rags to riches stories serve as a reminder how hard work and perseverance can propel one beyond survivalist solvency. Even to the point of owning a fine jewelry store in one of Colorado’s fastest growing cities.
As the owner of Luisa Graff Jewelers in Colorado Springs, CO, this is Luisa Graff’s story. In 1972, Luisa was 12 years old living in Peru with her family. Four years prior, left-wing General turned dictator Juan Francisco Velasco Alvarado overthrew the Peruvian government making himself the 58th President of the country. His dictatorial reign would last until 1975. In that time it cost Luisa’s family everything.
Like many families, Luisa’s looked to America for freedom and survival. With the assistance of the American embassy and a network of family contacts young Luisa escaped Peru, entered the US, and then made her way to Colorado where her father’s sister took her in. It was a new country, a new language, and a new start in life for a girl who had been traumatized by war.
A couple years later, Luisa’s mother was allowed to leave Peru and came to meet her daughter. Luisa’s mother went to a small Colorado Springs jewelry store and sold some emeralds she owned to care for her family. The owner took a liking to Luisa and hired her to do light maintenance around the store and run errands.
This gesture of kindness had a profound impact on Luisa. Years later, after studying at Claremont McKenna College, in Claremont, CA, Luisa returned to Colorado Springs in hopes of doing biological research. But the owner of that same jewelry store persuaded her to join the trade, and so she did.
Luisa would soon become one of the youngest gemologists in the western U.S. and the first female gemologist in Colorado. In 1999, she opened a small store of her own, leasing space in a modest strip mall. With the help of her two employees, Luisa broke the $1 million barrier her first year in business.
Increased marketing and promotions, and re-investing revenue back into her business allowed Luisa the opportunity to develop and build her own destination store (with more than 8,000 square feet) in 2010. Today Luisa Graff Jewelers employs 29 jewelry professionals, and has been “blessed with consistent and profitable growth,” says Andrew Graff, vice president of the family business, who joined his mother in 2014 after six years in the US Navy.
If Luisa’s personal history and professional history has proven anything, it’s that good timing and good location certainly are solid accompaniments to hard work and resolve. Colorado Springs is home to a population of roughly 600,000 and growing. In addition to a solid foundation of local military complexes (being a veteran-owned business certainly helps) and tech sectors, the township is located at the foot of Pikes Peak (the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains) which allows the town to benefit from a robust tourism industry.
Adding to the local economy are healthcare, professional services and defense related businesses to round out an attractive place to pull in young educated professionals to fill any number of jobs in these industries. And, Colorado Springs has one of the fastest growing populations of millennials in the country, many of whom are looking to begin their relationship with a fine jeweler.
As with most jewelers, CRM (Customer Relationship Management) isn’t just the retailer-customer dynamic. It’s also about all the relationships that benefit her business. “Serving the market is about relationships,” says Andrew. “Luisa is personally engaged in many of the key civic organizations, ranging from the Chamber of Commerce and EDC (Economic Development Corp.) to the Rotary Club. The store also supports over 50 area nonprofits through gifts and participation.”
Fueled by aggressive old (radio and TV) and new marketing methods (social media platforms fueled mainly by originally-produced video content) Luisa Graff Jewelers has become a household name in Colorado Springs, with Andrew and Luisa as the store’s very visible spokespersons.
Luisa Graff Jewelers is the consummate family business, built on loyalty and relationships. But what has made her jewelry store well known in the Colorado Springs market is the ubiquitous presence of Andrew and Luisa as the store’s main faces. Perhaps it comes from his chain-of-command military background, but Andrew worked his way up the ranks to the executive position he holds today.
“I have a universal refrigerant license and I actually went into HVAC [heating, ventilation and air-conditioning], which was my training as an engineer in the Navy,” says Andrew. “Luckily, everything happens for a reason, and one day I had a feeling that my mother needed me. I sent my application to the HR department without my mother’s knowledge. They hired me and I started from the bottom in 2014. It has been an incredible journey and I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”
True to the family history, Andrew’s tenacity paid off. These days Andrew and Luisa are a mother-and-son dynamic duo. In addition to covering the three community essentials well (local media, local business groups and local non-profits), the two have a prolific presence online as well as on radio and TV.
“Luisa Graff Jewelers is unlike every other jewelry store in our market, and you sense that as soon as you see a commercial or event announcement,” says Andrew. “You also feel it, in the interplay between us - it is very fun and very real. There is an energy that just runs throughout the store.”
Luisa and Andrew have also come up with store events that are greatly anticipated. In addition to monthly customer in-store education sessions, perhaps the best attended store event is their annual Ladies’ Night. “Before Christmas, we invite women to come in, try on jewelry, get a glamour pic, and fill out a wish list that their special someone should know about. It’s a hoot!”
The most hotly anticipated store event, however, is the annual $5,000 ring giveaway. “Remembering her humble roots, Luisa wanted to make Christmas special for everyone,” says Andrew. “When you register to win, there is no purchase necessary and we do have guests that come in just to register - which is something we encourage. We have given away a diamond ring every Christmas for the past 10 years and it is amazing the joy that we can bring to others through the gift of jewelry.”