The owners of Ed & Ethel’s Fine Jewelry in Christiansburg, Va., know what to do when a door opens in front of them: They walk through it. Before they ever met, Brooke and Jonathan “Chase” Brinson followed their instincts into the jewelry business. Brooke took a part-time job at Kay Jewelers while attending Virginia Tech in nearby Blacksburg and then stuck with it after graduation. Chase was a 20-year-old car dealer who dropped into a jewelry store one day and wound up accepting an invitation to give jewelry sales a try.
The rest is history. The two met working at Kay, fell in love, got engaged, found themselves idled during the 2020 pandemic, and hatched an idea to strike out on their own. While their store is new, the couple share a combined 17 years of experience in jewelry and have wasted no time developing a promising brand.
“Chase had always had a dream of owning his own business,” Brooke recalls, “and this was something we could do together. Due to COVID, we were furloughed, so we had a lot of time to think about it. It really felt as if God kept telling us, I’ll open this door for you and if you go through it, I’ll open the next one.”
Chase and Brooke have done well with event-driven marketing such as whiskey tasting and Pirate’s Treasure events.
That was May 2020, and the local Kay and Zales stores closed and left the area where Brooke was born and raised. The following September, the Brinsons, who have a 4-year-old son, opened their own store in a 1,400-square-foot space in a strip mall.
Eager to build beyond their front-end experience and strength, the Brinsons soon realized they needed to develop their back-end game, and Chase became a bench jeweler under the guidance of veteran jeweler Mark Holder, who had retired from his store in Greensboro, N.C., and moved to Patrick County in Virginia.
They have soaked up ideas, education, and contacts by traveling to expos such as the Atlanta Jewelry Show – where they discovered the idea of selling handbags within their store and now offer Myra bags, a local favorite that fills a niche left wanting after several boutique closings.
And they’ve joined “Diamond” Bill Warren’s Ultimate Jeweler’s Mastermind group, where they quickly became believers in event-driven marketing and the relevance of Warren’s mantra “Be Your Own Brand.”
Their budding brand started with that unique store name. Brooke chose Ed and Ethel’s to honor a beloved couple, dear friends with one of her biological grandmothers, who “chose to become mine and my sister’s grandparents” and took care of the girls while their mother and father worked.
The branding continues with a unique event of their own making: Brooke and Chase partnered with a local distiller that has a similar history: J.H. Bards, founded by a couple of friends who walked through the pandemic door in 2020 and decided to fulfill their long-held dream of distilling great whiskey.
“Our first whiskey tasting was a guys’ night,” Brooke says, “right before Christmas. And we got lots and lots of response from females saying, ‘Hey, what the heck? We like whiskey too!’ So, then we did a co-ed whiskey tasting and it was a huge success. … The point is to get people in the door. And the last time, we put what we called Vault Finds out on a counter: items purchased over the counter – silver coins, random pieces we don’t normally keep in our cases.”
An especially promising branding opportunity has come along thanks to the store’s proximity to Virginia Tech. The university has its own quarry that supplies dolomite, dubbed the Hokie Stone, after the school’s team nickname. The campus buildings are made from the stone, which Brooke says has huge sentimental value.
The Brinsons have partnered with a lapidary to make some jewelry pieces of the stone that no one else in the area offers.
Until they can secure licensing from VT, they’re calling it Gobbler Stone, after the HokieBird, the school’s turkey mascot.
Originally, only one of the Brinsons was certain of the success of the collection. As a VT alumna, Brooke knew she would be a prime consumer of dolomite items and that many other Hokies would feel the same.
“I thought she was crazy,” Chase recalls, “but it worked!”
The pieces soared to popularity around May, graduation season.
Chase notes that Ed & Ethel’s may be the only area store that has a laser and uses a wide range of technology extensively, including video chat, Facebook Live, and CAD.
“Our next big purchase is a laser engraver,” he says. “We want to engrave guns. It’s something no one around here offers, and it’s important in this area.”
As they continue to learn and develop their new ideas, they rely on their community of jewelers.
“This to me is the most incredible thing about the jewelry industry: I’m so blown away by the camaraderie, the teaching, the veterans in the industry who are willing to give back,” Brooke says. “I’m so thankful that they’re here.”