After growing up in her parents’ jewelry store, seeing the retail operation through a rough patch, and coming out at the other end a concierge jeweler, Doris Butler gets to enjoy all her favorite parts of the jewelry business – and on a very cozy scale.
Butler Diamonds and Fine Jewelry is the latest rendition of a jewelry store that began in Selma, Alabama, before the Civil War. Census records indicate the business started around 1845, and confirming documents go back to 1859. Doris’s father bought the place and named it Roger Butler Jewelers in 1963, when she was 3 months old. Doris and her then-husband bought the store in 2002, and he led operations under the name Butler Truax Jewelers while she owned and operated a gift shop. In 2014, Doris found herself single again and taking over the struggling jewelry store alone. Then in one month, February 2017, she oversaw the store’s closure and its reincarnation.
When she renamed the business, she reclaimed the Butler-only name and referred to diamonds and fine jewelry to convey seriousness. She deals in 14k gold, platinum, diamonds, and colored gemstones – no costume jewelry or silver. A GIA Graduate Gemologist, she does appraisals, remounts, and some custom designs.
One of the oldest businesses in Alabama, the jewelry retailer occupies its fourth location – all within the same downtown area.
“It was big, bigger, biggest – and now very tiny,” Butler says. Her store occupies about 200 square feet and has two “very full” showcases in addition to a safe. Because she works alone, she prefers to see customers by appointment, so that they don’t overlap, and she can give them individual attention. She also maintains regular hours to welcome drop-ins.
“Chuck Frey saved my life,” Butler recalls, referring to the owner of Charles Frey & Co., which managed her going-out-of-business sale. “He had a sales rep who told me there was a way I could keep my corporation and still be a part of RJO. … Thank goodness I did.”
Butler says the Retail Jewelers Organization is the secret to her success, both before and now with her concierge business. She appreciates the education RJO provides, and the buying power she enjoys as a member.
“They guarantee vendors will be paid. So now, vendors will send me anything I want, because RJO doesn’t let anybody in that doesn’t have a great credit rating.”
Frey’s sales supervisor, Richard Jackson, now deceased, was a concierge jeweler himself and urged Butler to try the concierge model.
“He suggested it. He said, ‘With your reputation and your experience and your customer base, it’s a win-win-win!’”
Butler says Jackson’s encouraging words gave her the confidence she needed after a tough couple of years.
She started small, with wholesaling a part of her new business model, but the travel became a burden soon enough: “The pandemic put that out of its misery,” she says.
Now, with a little help from her 84-year-old dad, she does everything: “I am the buyer, the salesman, the bookkeeper, the gift wrapper, the cleaning lady.”
She has hosted several successful events, including estate sales and an Artinian gem event, and she plans a few evening events, including one with a furrier and one with a couple of well-known local artists. Which means the party-planning offers her “another hat to wear!”
Butler says she misses all the people in the bigger stores but likes the fact that she has the correct information to give to customers without worry that an employee will accidentally get it wrong. And she enjoys the ease of operations with no personnel, which means less overhead, and no need to schedule people or install a PA system.
“If I’d had employees during the pandemic, I would’ve been a basket case!”
Her fondness for the jewelry business began early: Butler recalls being 4 years old, sitting on a stool behind the counter and greeting a customer with a friendly “May I help you?” She worked the store every summer and every Christmas from age 14 and earned her GG in 1986.
“I wanted to work with my family,” she says. “And I thought all my friends had boring jobs. I had a fun job. I was in on all the birthdays, weddings, anniversaries. I got to be a part of all the best times. …
“I loved it, still love it, and will always love it.”
Butler says people often ask her what it’s like.
“Lots of people want to slow down. I think we’re going to see more and more concierge jewelers in the future.”