Jeweler finds success through building relationships with clients
When Mark Jacobson and his brother Wayne opened the doors to Cumberland Diamond Exchange more than 30 years ago they had no idea just how significant a jewelry store could be. As new retailers they were committed to excellence, but little did they know their commitment would establish them as one of the core retailers in the Atlanta area. Believing their business was an extension of their personal lives, the brothers were determined to genuinely connect with each customer while providing them with excellent quality products at exceptional pricing. It is, according to Mark, what sets Cumberland Diamond Exchange apart. “It’s also what makes coming to work so enjoyable,” explains Mark.
The beginnings of greatness
When Mark started to work for a local Atlanta jeweler back in the late ‘70s he wasn’t fulfilling his dream or following in the footsteps of his family. He’d grown up in Virginia watching his father run his restaurant. He didn’t spend his summers sweeping floors or working behind the counter of a jewelry store after school. It wasn’t until he created a business proposal for a diamond broker that he truly considered going into the jewelry business for himself. That endeavor spurred him to come up with a plan, and within a year he opened the doors to Cumberland Diamond Exchange (CDE).
It wasn’t long before he recruited his brother, Wayne, to join him in the business. Wayne, who had a master’s degree in social work, left his special education teaching position in Virginia to join Mark at CDE in Atlanta. The two brothers worked side-by-side for two years until their business growth demanded adding staff into the mix. Finding someone with the jewelry knowledge they needed who also valued people and relationships was no easy task, but when they met Rhonda Aiken they knew they had the right person. Rhonda had the business knowledge of a seasoned veteran and had worked in HR prior to joining CDE. She had the same desire to connect with people, and in the fall of 1984 she joined the CDE team in what would become one of the most foundational decisions for the store.
“As a young child, I rarely passed a jewelry store window I didn’t peak in to. My passion for stones and metals was evident from an early age, and when I came on board at CDE I knew this was what I wanted to do,” recalls Rhonda.
Not long after Rhonda joined CDE she received a different type of proposal; the personal type. Mark asked her to marry him, and soon the couple took their passion for jewelry and for each other and turned it into retail gold.
“We became friends first, and then colleagues before we married,” states Mark. “But Rhonda was one of the best things we’ve done for the business. She helped our store grow more than Wayne or I could’ve ever done. She automated us and became the first Graduate Gemologist at CDE. She has driven us farther than we could think of.”
Rhonda and Mark treated CDE as an extension of their home, making a commitment to treat their customers the way they treated house guests: with a verbal greeting, an offer of something to drink and a place to sit and visit with the CDE staff.
Before long CDE customers became intertwined with Mark and Rhonda’s personal friends and neighbors, until, ultimately, they created a store filled with the warmth of friends and lots of bling – a winning combination.
“We’ve never viewed our customers as another number. Every customer offers another opportunity to establish a significant relationship,” states Mark. “And, being married and having a daughter allows us to really connect with customers. We can honestly say ‘We remember when…’ For us the jewelry industry is the best place to reap the emotional benefits of working as a couple.”
Built on quality and value
But don’t for one minute assume the three of them built the business on relationships alone. Quality products with a customer-friendly price have made CDE what it is today.
Mark takes personal responsibility for the merchandising end of the business. He handles all of the buying for the store and has a keen understanding of the importance of “buying well.” Even the strongest of relationships can’t weather inexpensive merchandise at elevated prices.
“I understand that we can’t be successful if I don’t buy well,” he comments. “We’ve established ourselves as one of the real jewelers in Atlanta that offers customers top quality for their money, and our customers, as well as industry affiliates, recognized that.”
In 2011 CDE is recognized as being in the top 5% of all specialty retailers in America and has the distinct honor of being named among the top national retailers chosen to carry Forevermark, the new DeBeers line of inscribed and branded diamonds. With less than 1% of all diamond production chosen as a Forevermark diamond, DeBeers hand selected which retailers it partnered with and CDE’s inclusion in that group points to more than just a quality seal on their stones. It is, in essence, a stamp of approval on their business by one of the most powerful diamond sources in the world.
CDE is also affiliated with the Gemological Institute of America, Georgia Jewelers Association, Jewelers of America, Jewelers Vigilance Committee, the BBB and the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers.
“We are proud of what we’ve created at CDE,” states Rhonda. “We’ve been successful because our employees, industry partners and customers are important to us. That’s why we feel so strongly about giving back. We regularly sponsor the Cobb Energy Performance Arts Center, the Georgia Aquarium – AqauVino, Jewelers for Children, the March of Dimes Chef’s Auction, the Well-Star Foundation, Zoo Atlanta’s Beastly Feast and the YWCA Stop the Violence movement.”
The family that started the business 30 years ago remains completely committed and continuously grateful for their success. Considering themselves blessed, Mark and Rhonda still find joy in all areas of their career: the product, the people and the purpose.
Here’s to another 30 years for Cumberland Diamond Exchange.
Learn more about Cumberland Diamond Exchange at www.cumberlanddiamond.com.