The jewelry trade is a global body with myriad moving parts. And while we can make some generalities about the roles each of us play, in the end, every participant has a unique story all their own. To explore this idea more, I recently sat down with jewelry wholesaler Nate Mannstedt, of Oakmont Jewelry (www.oakmontjewelry.com) and turned the loupe back on him to discover the route he took to find his place in our industry.
One of the assumptions we can fall victim to is assuming that others in the gem and jewelry trade have family connections. So naturally, they just come down the pike and jump in when they’re ready to embark on that preordained career path. In reality, not everyone has a dad or uncle or aunt in the business.
DJ: Nate, tell me what brought you into the jewelry trade.
Nate: My road into this business was a bit odd. I had no family in the industry and it never even crossed my mind until my senior year of high school in Minneapolis. I was randomly put in to an introductory jewelry class when my school informed me that I couldn’t take 4 physical education classes! It took me about three days to fall in love with this industry!
DJ: Not having any mentors for guidance could have resulted in a dead end for you. But you must have had to learn on your feet to keep going. What stands out in your mind that kept you focused?
Nate: One thing I learned just about 6 months into my jewelry career was that the entire industry was built on relationships. Everything from manufacturing, wholesaling, and retail – it’s all about the relationship with your suppliers and customers.
DJ: How did that revelation work out?
Nate: I have met some incredible people along the way and made some great friends.
DJ: Not having connections, or ready-made customers that you would have had in a family business must have made gaining traction a steep uphill climb, right?
Nate: Of course, I started from zero. Being on the road, the only way you actually meet clients is by walking into stores, introducing yourself, and creating the foundation that your future relationship will be built on. So, I did it one store at a time.
Know When to Hold ‘em, Know When to Fold ‘em
DJ: Have retailers ever said “no” outright, but you still gave them another shot later on?
Nate: Oh sure. I’ve actually had three or four stores that gave me a stern NO! but became customers after my 2nd or 3rd persistent attempt.
DJ: So, you’re self-tutoring as an entrepreneur, then?
Nate: One thing I’ve had to learn is knowing when to quit, and knowing when to push a little more. There are some times when it just isn’t going to work. Wholesale jewelry sales is not all about selling. It’s just as much about being there for your client, and helping them succeed in the retail space however you can.
DJ: What do you want potential clients to understand about your customer service that would make them want to add you as a supply source?
Nate: I would want all new clients to know that my role is to help them succeed. For instance, I will tell them honestly if something does not sell well that they picked out, and instead push items that I know will make money for them. Someone who just sells to a store and leaves won’t be me. I can help stores with their displays, or even online presence if they want.
DJ: So, your customer-centric sales calls are geared to each client individually?
Nate: Absolutely. Every sales call is different. Most of my appointments last between 1.5 to 3 hours. It’s really dependent on what they need from me. Honestly, I have had sales calls that lasted over 7 hours!
Sometimes a Home Run; Sometimes a Strike Out
DJ: What was a ‘stand out’ piece that you sold to a customer and why did they love it?
Nate: I recall a really stunning 14K gold vintage-style pendant I got from a closeout company. It featured a .78ct natural yellow cushion cut diamond. It had colorless melee diamonds around it and a GIA report. One of my Michigan stores saw it and within five seconds, simply fell in love with it. They bought it straight away and I’m fairly certain that piece of jewelry never made it into their display case!
DJ: Not all sales are success stories though. You must have had some tough pieces to sell, because that’s part of the learning process. What comes to mind?
Nate: Yeah, I can recall one closeout item that I shouldn’t have ever bought! It was a huge lady’s diamond dinner ring with almost two carats of diamonds, and it was ‘a looker’. The problem was, it was about as ugly as jewelry can be. It had a sharp point and was a pear shape. The entire design was horrible. I ended up selling it to another wholesaler at a steep discount.
DJ: Since you’re still fairly young in this business, what do you do to keep yourself motivated?
Nate: Well, I guess you’d say there are a few parts to my self-motivation. First of all, I love what I do. If I won the lottery on Sunday, I’d still be excited to go to work on Monday! Secondly, helping and seeing people grow and succeed is so much fun for me. I also get to meet some incredible people and that is always a blast. I’ve made hundreds of new friends in this industry in a short time.
On the Road Again
DJ: At this point your sales region doesn’t cover all over the US, but where exactly is your beat, currently?
Nate: Right now, for personal customer calls, I’m focusing on a broad sector of the Midwest; including MN, KS, MO, MI, IN, KY, TN, OH, WV, NC, and SC. But I’ve got international customers, and now that my new website is up, I’m getting sales from everywhere online.
DJ: So, do you have favorite stops that you look forward to?
Nate: Not really, all of my states are great to be in. But I do love driving through Michigan, as it is quite gorgeous there. But I don’t have a favorite in terms of business.
DJ: Someone who has not made that leap into an entrepreneurial venture like yourself may be hesitant to take the big step. What would you tell them?
Nate: I would encourage any jeweler or entrepreneur to chase their dreams. I heard a motto a long time ago, “Chase your passion, and money will chase you. Chase money, and you may never find your passion.”
DJ: Where do you see yourself 5 years down the road?
Nate: I see myself doing the exact same thing I’m doing now with more customers, and also hiring people to create a team just as passionate as I am.
Just the FAQs Please
Oakmont Jewelry is a wholesale company offering retailers a wide range of fine jewelry, including bridal, diamonds, and colored stone goods. Retailers enjoy exceptional value, Nate tells me, because he specializes in sourcing stylish close-out goods that he can then pass on to his customers at “unmatched prices,” he says. Products range from a store’s “bread and butter pieces, up to higher end goods,” he explains. Find many items priced in the $60 – $2,000 range with lots of them retailing for $400-$999. Visit www.oakmontjeweler.com to browse through their fast-moving inventory.
Award winning trade journalist and gemologist Diana Jarrett is a Registered Master Valuer Appraiser and a member of the Association of Independent Jewellery Valuers (AIJV). She’s a popular speaker at conferences and trade shows. Jarrett writes for trade and consumer publications, online outlets, her blog: Color-n-Ice, and www.jewelrywebsitedesigners.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit her website at www.dianajarrett.com, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter (Loupey).