A Vision Honored
Although husband, father and co-founder Mike Koerber passed away, his blueprint for success lives on.
STORY BY EILEEN MCCLELLAND
Ask Jacquelyn Koerber what she learned from her parents about the jewelry business and she’ll say, “Everything.”
Koerber’s Fine Jewelry
New Albany, IN
URL: koerbersfinejewelry.com .com
OWNERS: Felecia and Jacquelyn Koerber
OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2015
AREA: 2,600 square feet
BUILDOUT COST: $450,000
ONLINE PRESENCE: 4.6 stars and 4,583 likes on Facebook
TOP BRANDS: Tacori, Hearts on Fire, Gabriel, Pandora, Vahan
Jacquelyn grew up in the family’s jewelry business, but detoured to New York after college, where she worked in fashion for seven years.
When she returned to Indiana to join her parents, Mike and Felecia, at Koerber’s, they were planning their dream destination store and Jacquelyn was eager to settle in and learn everything she could from them about business management, customer service and continuing a family tradition of integrity and hospitality.
“I always joked that Koerber’s was my mom’s third baby,” Jacquelyn says. It seemed to be a living, breathing being, imbued with her parents’ warmth and gratitude.
For Jacquelyn, there was much to emulate.
Felecia met Mike in 1974 when she worked as what was called a “coffee girl” for an engineering firm where he was employed as a draftsman. In 1980, the price of gold climbed to $800 an ounce and they decided to try moonlighting. With no experience and only the handmade sign, “We buy scrap gold,” they set up at a local flea market for two years. Then they invested their $6,000 life savings into buying 14K gold chains and sold them to friends and family. Eventually, Mike’s sister offered them space in her beauty salon, where Felecia sold jewelry while Mike stuck with his day job. It wasn’t until nine years later that they had enough money for their own space. In 1994, they purchased land and Mike drafted blueprints for a shopping center, setting aside 700 square feet for their own store.
Twenty years later, they’d outgrown the space and decided to turn the entire shopping center into a 6,000 square-foot stand-alone building based on Mike’s drawings, again.
Sadly, in 2013, when the family’s dream was coming together at last, Mike was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and he passed away before they opened. But he did live long enough to see the finishing touches on his retail vision come to fruition. Recalls interior designer Leslie McGwire, “Koerber’s was an amazing project for me. Mike would say, ‘Leslie I love this. Leslie I love that.’ Mike told his wife it was his absolute dream look.”
When Mike fell ill, Jacquelyn, her education cut short, was able to step in. “When I moved home, I was able to have a full year of apprenticeship under my father where I actually was doing the accounting and a lot of behind the scenes work. With me being so like him personality-wise, I was able to pick up a lot. And when he passed away, I was able to fill that role in a way that I think he would have been proud.”
Her mom, Felecia, is the customer service expert. “She was the face of the business and my dad was behind the scenes.”
“My mother has an impeccable memory not only for faces but for names, kids’ names, where they went to school, and people continue to shop here because they get that level of customer service,” Jacquelyn says. “During the renovation, the last thing we wanted to do was make this an intimidating space. We treat everybody who comes through that door with a level of gratitude because without them we have nothing. We don’t do a ton of advertising; it’s all through word of mouth and our reputation.”
Jacquelyn says what they were looking for in the new space was the experience of being welcomed into their home.
To create a warm atmosphere, the Koerbers built a stone fireplace area with plush chairs where visitors can sit back and enjoy a cup of coffee or freshly baked cookies from the coffee bar. In addition, they christened the full bar Koerber’s Pub, where clients can enjoy a beverage or take a TV break while they shop.
“The pub is such a warm and relaxing place to sit and have a drink,” Jacquelyn says. “Just yesterday, one of our sales staff was sitting there for about 45 minutes sharing a glass of wine with one of our very good customers and they were talking about their grandkids, so it’s not about ‘Hey, let me sell you something and get out.’ It’s important for us to have that kind of experience here.”
Jacquelyn’s uncle, a carpenter, handcrafted the bar.
“The touches are representative of us, but they also still enhance the beauty of the jewelry,” Jacquelyn says. “You don’t want to take away from what you are trying to sell. It’s a pretty neutral environment that enables the jewelry to be the spotlight.” They used monochromatic tones to create a serene feeling. The distressed wood floor complements the lighter laminate/veneer on the simply designed wood cases.
Because Mike was an outdoorsman who enjoyed Colorado, they’ve hung paintings of Aspen trees, along with metal animal heads and antlered mirrors. They have framed several of his blueprints around the store.
There’s also a meditation garden in Mike’s honor. “Mike was my best friend,” Felecia says. “Not only my partner in business, but in life. When he passed, I wanted to create something special to honor him. Mike was as comfortable outside as he was inside. I wanted to give our customers and staff a place to pay their respects to him.”
Though Felecia is semi-retired now, she is still a regular presence in the store. “It helps to have a Koerber here. Our customers look to that; they value our opinion because we’re honest. And of course she still has her longtime clients who love to see her,” Jacquelyn says.
The business has been welcoming from the beginning. Throughout their growth process, the Koerbers naturally treated customers as friends and family.
Jacquelyn Koerber’s management philosophy is also her life philosophy.
“I try to treat people how I want to be treated,” she says. “I have an open door policy and I always try to do the right thing. I ask myself, ‘What would my father do? Or what is the right thing to do in this scenario?’ When you follow those golden rules, things usually work out.”
PHOTO GALLERY ( 16 IMAGES )
5 Cool Things About Koerber's
1. Local love. Koerber’s partners with local businesses to promote a “shop local” mentality. For Valentine’s Day, they gave away gift certificates to a local restaurant and a box of chocolates from a local chocolatier. Throughout the year, they give away wine from Huber’s Winery, which is in southern Indiana. They also like to keep fresh flowers in the store by using their local florist. Even the alcohol and beer served at Koerber’s Pub are made from local distilleries and breweries. “If we ourselves shop local and invest in other small businesses in southern Indiana, the entire community will thrive,” Felecia says.
2. Ruby the mascot. Jacquelyn adds to the homey feel by bringing her dog Ruby, a red heeler, to work with her, bringing smiles to customers and staff alike.
3. Focus on Instagram. Jacquelyn hired a professional photographer to take pictures of her wearing jewelry for Instagram and for use by a local blogger, adding to millennial appeal. “As a millennial, I shop via Instagram all the time,” she says. “I follow a lot of brands and I noticed how much it impacts my life, and so I wanted to convey what we have to offer here through Instagram. A lot of our younger consumers out there aren’t aware of what we have to offer because we don’t have the money to blast the airways. Through Instagram, it can be done in a genuine and authentic way.”
4. Statement of trust. “Using the pillars of trust and integrity, we built this business from the ground up,” Felecia says. “We’ve always done business by just trying to do the right thing. We have a quote above our coffee bar stating, ‘You should know your jeweler just like your doctor, dentist or lawyer. Someone you can trust. We treat all our customers like family so there is always enough room for one more person at our dinner table. Enjoy, The Koerber Family.”
5. Fashion sensibility. Bridal sales are about 70 percent of sales. But Jacquelyn and Felecia also have an eye for fashion. “We have that customer who comes in here for new looks,” Jacquelyn says. “We don’t want to carry things that you can see in the mall. And of course we have some staples like Alex and Ani and Pandora that appeal to that everyday customer.”
TRY THIS: SOLICIT DONATIONS FOR WRAPPING GIFTS
For years, they wrapped gifts for free, but in the past few years, they’ve taken donations for hospice, raising more than $5,000 for their local Hosparus branch.
This article originally appeared in the March 2018 edition of INSTORE.
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