Feature Friday – Brian Barnes
Then There Were 4
Late in the second half of the Elite 8 game between my beloved South Carolina Gamecocks and the Florida Gators, we arrived back to the hotel from Stuller in Lafayette, LA. Tied ball game. Eight minutes left. The only thing to do was finish watching the game at the hotel bar with my now lifelong friends Bob & Cole Gholson of Gholson’s Originals in Waco, TX. The Gamecocks played their hearts out and ended up winning, advancing to the Final Four for the first time in school history! Which puts me here, right now in lovely Phoenix, AZ (my first Final Four), writing about the incredible relationship Barnes Jewelers has with Stuller.
I’m Brian Barnes of Barnes Jewelers in Lexington, SC. We have done business in the Lexington area for 37 years. My father Freddie started in the jewelry industry in the mid-70s where he met my mother. He told me, “She would always come into the store to look at jewelry during her lunch hour.” After they went to a baseball game and McDonald’s on their first date, the rest is history. Together, they opened Barnes Jewelers in 1981, one block down the road from where we are now. Between the three of us and our jeweler, we run the everyday operations.
I was born into the jewelry business and I love it. It’s all I’ve ever known. The only time I wasn’t working at the jewelry store was when I moved to Myrtle Beach, SC for a couple of years to attend Coastal Carolina University (I graduated with a doctorate in surfing). Living away from the business made me realize how much I enjoyed it. So much so, I moved back and put everything into the store and haven’t looked back since.
Over the past decade, I’ve come to realize what I truly enjoy doing most — getting to work with customers one on one when designing their custom piece. The process of understanding what they want, creating it as a digital design, and finally watching their gleeful reactions when they see it for the first time — that’s the most fulfilling part of my job. My favorite custom piece to date is a diamond and garnet gamecock pendant set in 14k white gold.
But as many of you already know, owning and operating a small family business requires much more than having fun designing and bringing rings and other things to life. From changing watch batteries to trash duty, it’s all under my job description. Simply put . . .
Technology at Barnes Jewelers
Did we ever think inventory would be our worst enemy?
After attending Stuller’s Bridge Event in August 2016 and Bench Jeweler Workshop in March 2017, I began to understand how much this industry is shifting towards “custom” pieces. We’ve all heard it: “I like this, but do you have it in two-tone? Or all yellow?” OR “This is perfect, but I need it with blue topaz and amethyst.” When you add rose gold to the mix, it increases in popularity. But even without the rose gold addition, there is no way we can stock everything on any given day. This makes the word “custom” more important than ever. And not just custom, but fast with the same great quality we expect.
Our store added CounterSketch in November 2016 and we’ve done about 20 custom jobs since, nearly one per week. On average, the time frame is two weeks and ticket sale is around $1,400. The best part? It’s easy! I’m not an I.T. guy and I surely don’t know any more about software than the average person. With that said, I practiced and taught myself the basics of the program within a few weeks. Add in tremendous support from great friends I met at the Bridge event, Fred Hornshuh & Jonathan Nobles with Carlson Brothers Jewelry in Tacoma, WA and it was easy to catch on. Don’t forget: you receive as much as you put into it. We eliminated one showcase and replaced it with a 50″ flat screen. Now, I can show a customer a simple design, gold color and gemstone specific, within minutes on the TV. And now and then in the fall, you might catch a football game on that same big screen.
During a focus group at Stuller, they asked, “How do you use technology on a day to day basis?” My answer was, “In what areas do we not use technology on a daily basis?” My personal responsibility at work is social media: Facebook page (go like our page!), Twitter (follow us!), Instagram (follow us here too!), & website (check it out!). Also, we constantly use Stuller Showcase through our website. As for front of the store technology used for repairs, we use DinoLite. This microscope presents crystal clear images of what certain repairs entail. We use our TV to broadcast the images to our customer, and suddenly, that single re-tip develops into a new head. That sizing turned into a quarter shank. The single melee replacement and reset under the microscope showed several chipped diamonds that transitioned the repair from a $ job to a $$$ job!
Making Memories at Barnes Jewelers
Selling an engagement ring is exciting! For others to allow you to help them with one of the most important purchases of their life is a humbling feeling. It’s a big step for customers and I mustn’t let them down. Even from behind the counter, the best memory of working in the jewelry business was purchasing an engagement ring, which my wife now wants to upgrade. (Side Note: We’ve been married 5 years) I don’t know if it was what she saw in me. It was more like what she saw on me: Jazzy Pants! I wear Loudmouth pants everywhere. It’s a part of my lifestyle that I have transitioned into the workplace. Some customers will stop by just to see what crazy pants I’m wearing. It’s always good for a quick laugh. I think people feel more relaxed in an informal setting and not interacting with someone in a 3-piece suit. Customers feel at home with us whenever they stop by, whether for a diamond, a watch battery, or to poke fun at my pants. We love seeing new faces as well as making great friends.
I am approaching 40 pairs of Loudmouth pants. From Santa to Sharks, there is a theme for anybody and every day. I still can’t talk my Dad into getting a pair, but maybe that will soon change. I know one thing that won’t change: our love for jewelry, our customers, and the South Carolina Gamecocks. #ForeverToThee #FinalFour
Brian visited this year’s Bench Jeweler Workshop. In case you missed the action, here’s a recap of the event.