Rapaport Magazine

Gold standard

Josephs Jewelers in Iowa celebrates its 150th anniversary by bringing its family legacy into the future.

Styles may change, but Josephs Jewelers in Iowa proves that some traditions stand the test of time. As the retailer celebrates the 150th anniversary of its founding this year, its customer-service philosophy is as relevant today as it was then.

“We pride ourselves on the old-school approach,” says Jake Joseph, the company’s president. “The bottom line has always been to find out what customers want when they walk in the door, and then take care of them. As long as you listen and always focus on the customer, you’ll be successful.”

Joseph is the fifth generation to work in the store, which has locations in Des Moines and West Des Moines. He admits that it wasn’t always his plan to join the family business. But after a stint working in customer service while in college, he found that he enjoyed the “breadth of challenges” it presented. He switched his major from computer programming to accounting in order to get a strong understanding of the business’s financial aspects.

Staying current

A pocket watch fob that company founder Solomon Joseph made in 1871, on display at the West Des Moines store, is one reminder of the family history. But the iconic gold box that Jake Joseph’s father, Toby, introduced is very much a part of their brand. Topping the box is a hand-tied gold bow, and the ribbon is still produced on a machine that dates back to the 1940s, the younger Joseph notes.

While mindful of the company’s legacy, he recognizes the need to embrace the digital world. He points to social media — Facebook and Instagram — as “new avenues” to get the jeweler’s name and product out to people, and works to ensure that its website ranks high in Google searches. However, traditional media, including television and radio, are still part of the advertising mix — and word-of-mouth remains the brand’s “strongest vehicle,” he says.

Joseph has incorporated technology to make it easier to access information. The company digitized its sales records so staff could quickly identify customers’ earlier purchases for reference in guiding them through new ones.

The jeweler is also documenting procedures on “how we do things and what our expectations are to ensure that we can continue the legacy of what we call ‘Josephs’ Way,’” says the president.

Non-branded jewelry items continue to be the key to the company’s success. Bridal drives its business, followed by diamond fashion jewelry and then watches. Colored gemstones have “taken on a stronger life of late,” according to Joseph, who attributes the trend to the store’s “laser-focused” selling strategies. The more easily recognizable gems — sapphires, rubies and emeralds — are more popular than “cool, rare and collectible” stones such as tsavorite, he relates.

While both branches attract similar demographics, the suburban West Des Moines location produces a higher volume than the downtown Des Moines store — especially now, given the shift from office to remote work.

Succession planning

Joseph acknowledges that family businesses have responsibilities to future generations — both their own and their customers’. To that end, Josephs is in the process of taking a look at its internal operations. “Our primary focus is to identify what it is that makes us successful and how we can improve. We are examining our digital selling to determine how we can make it more relevant to our customers and propel our business even more,” says the president. Furthermore, he points out, technology is becoming a “bigger factor on the customer-experience side,” especially looking ahead to how consumers will shop in the future.

On the business-owner side, he recommends that family-run companies establish transition plans. “You can’t pull everything out of the business and hand it over to the next generation. We have consciously worked succession planning into our model to facilitate the transition from generation to generation. It is imperative to know the value of your company and make sure you build it to the point that you can comfortably get what you want out of it without wrecking the business. We have been very successful in leaving the business better for the next generation than it was for the previous one.”

A celebration of history

Admitting that he may sound like a “geek,” Joseph enjoys connecting the dots in diamonds’ mine-to-market stories. It begins with a diamond discovery in a remote area of the world, leading to a gemstone trade that enables people to earn a livelihood. The journey continues with the cutting and setting of the stone, which then makes its way to a store display and finally ends up adorning someone’s finger or neck.

“So much of that is a mystery to clients and customers. But it gives you a new appreciation for the industry,” he says, emphasizing the importance of responsible sourcing and protecting people and the environment.

Joseph is looking forward to the company’s big anniversary party in November. As part of the celebration, the jeweler will be giving out bottles of locally made bourbon from custom-distilled mash. An artisanal vodka, also custom-made for the occasion, will have gold flecks to symbolize the heritage of the gold box. Right now, Joseph is testing the formulas to ensure he gets it right for his customers — just as Josephs Jewelers has been doing for 150 years. josephsjewelers.com

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - September 2021. To subscribe click here.

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