My dad was more or less brought up in the jewelry business. His mother worked as the credit manager in the original Zales store in downtown Wichita Falls, Texas (The store where Zales started). As a little kid, he always enjoyed going downtown with his mom on Saturdays. He would spend part of the day in the back of the store tinkering with things while the jeweler and watchmaker weren’t watching. Then, to relieve the jewelers of a curious little boy who liked to touch too many things, she would send him down the street to the barbershop for a haircut or to the movie theater for a dollar show.
When Zales opened their location in the mall in 1974, he reached working age and they gave him his official start as the stock boy. After a few years, the jeweler taught him how to do simple repair work like sizing rings and soldering chains. Only five years later, he had the opportunity to take over as the in-store jeweler and taught himself the rest of the trade. In 1982, he opened his own store across from the mall. After nineteen years, he moved back into the Zales store. Finally, in 2008, Zales made a corporate decision to send all of their work to a centralized repair hub. My father moved right down the hall and reestablished his own business, thus K Bond Jewelers was born.
It made sense that my brother and I would be raised in the jewelry business as well. Braeden got to grow up in the “old shop” across the street from the mall. He started out about 15 years ago, helping with simple repairs. He did repairs in the morning then spent his afternoons on his bike returning jewelry to stores.
Over the years, his skill-level has progressed, allowing him to perform most of the repair work. Now, dad can focus on things like diamond setting and finish our custom work. Braeden has also played an integral role in growing our diamond business tremendously. Diamonds were something that Dad had always dealt with, but Braeden wanted to try a new approach and really expanded our selection. After quite a lot of research and starting his education with GIA, our diamond business has taken off.
I’m eight years younger than Braeden, so I didn’t get my start until about eight years ago. We reestablished our store when I was a freshman in high school. I worked some days after school and Saturdays. I named myself office manager and began organizing paperwork and waiting on customers as they came in. It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I discovered my eye and passion for jewelry design. My dad bought a 3D wax mill that he hadn’t had much time to master, and I started playing around on it one day. I figured out I really had a knack for it! I decided to stay here and attend Midwestern State University so I could oversee building a modern design department for our store. So I spent the remainder of high school and my first year of college mastering the basic 3D program. Then one day, we got a visit from a Stuller/Gemvision representative, and my world changed forever. He hooked me up with both CounterSketch® and Matrix®!
Such technology has consistently allowed our business to innovate. Within our first year, we bought a laser welder, which expanded our repair capabilities and enabled extreme efficiency. At least once a week, I’ll hear Braeden say, “Hey Dad, have I told you lately how much I love this laser welder?” Our CAD program and 3D printer have also helped our business tremendously. With these tools, I can sit down with customers and involve them in the entire design process. They get to see realistic renderings and a model before pulling the trigger — two fantastic selling points!
Family is a big part of our business, so when customers step through our door, we make every effort to make our customers feel like they’re one of us. Larger stores no longer place much value on customer service, so we work to build solid relationships with our customers to keep them coming back again and again.
Repairs truly are the backbone of our business. Year round we have a constant stream of work, and through it, we get to build our relationships with customers. By creating that first good impression, more often than not, customers return for the next repair. Then, they come back when they need a diamond ring, or they tell a friend or family member about us, who tells somebody else and so on.
There are three of us here every day — Dad, Braeden and me. We like to say that I’m the Head Designer, Braeden is the Diamond Specialist and heads the repair department, and Dad is just the name on the wall. When Dad went to work for Zales, he would sign any paperwork “K Bond,” and that name just stuck when he decided to go into business for himself. We tell him all the time that the “K” in K Bond Jewelers could easily be changed to a “B” or an “S” at any time!
Running a store with just the three of us has become tricky and somewhat trying over the past few years as our business continues to grow. We keep acquiring more and more hats. Each of our job descriptions expands well beyond our pay grades, but such is the life of an entrepreneurial family. We all work on jewelry part of the day and take out trash or scrub toilets the other part. Each day presents new tasks and challenges, which keeps things from turning boring and monotonous.
During the school year, we even have Braeden’s two little boys (a one-year-old and a three-year-old) here on a daily basis. Braeden’s wife is a school teacher, so they get to come to work while their mom is at school. We absolutely love them, and our customers do too. Some drop by just to see the babies! I’d say they are pretty good for business. So we have two more little jewelers on their way up. How cool would it be to have third generation jewelers?
The best thing about working in this business is coming to work each day to do what I love with the people I love the most. We have a really cool relationship, and work is just fun for us. Sure, the hours are brutal, and that gets old sometimes. But we have each other to laugh with and lean on.
We all find it rewarding when a customer leaves the store with a piece that we’ve all helped to make. We created one of our favorite rings for the son of a longtime friend and customer of Dad’s. He was getting engaged. Dad talked to him, to understand what he wanted. Braeden picked the diamond, and I designed a mounting. It was really neat to work with someone who Dad watched grow up, and even more special that Braeden and I got to help in the process.
When Dad worked at Zales, there was a man who had lived in Louisiana and knew Matt Stuller’s story. When Dad went into business on his own, he picked his very first findings from Stuller because he had a great deal of respect for the story. Over 38 years later, we’re still dealing with Stuller, and we could not be happier. The company has the best of the best, in products, and people. It’s clear Stuller invests in their employees. If we have a question, we can pick up the phone and call somebody. If they don’t have the answer, they put you in touch with someone who does. I urge all to utilize the resources Stuller has to offer, and I promise, you will not be disappointed.
Our biggest challenge recently has been trying to compete with online retailers. We have lots of guys (those “millennials” as Dad likes to say) come in who have self-educated themselves about diamonds on the internet and want to flash their knowledge and diamond specifications of the latest deal they’ve found on Blue Nile or Brilliant Earth. Despite this, Dad always says to listen to the younger generation and don’t be so set in our ways about changing. Try new ideas they suggest, and grow with them!
Just a sample of design capabilities from K Bond Jewelers
In case you missed last week’s Feature Friday, read all about Matt Stuller’s right-hand lady here.