You’re not officially a jewelry store until you sell gold chains. That’s what Beth and Wayne Guntzviller, founders of Traverse City, Michigan-based Miner’s North Jewelers, decided in the late 1970s as the couple transitioned from a rock shop and lapidary equipment supplier to a fledgling jewelry store.
With the 50th anniversary three short years away, the founding couple is easing toward retirement. Their son Jeff has taken the helm as general manager of the store and their daughter Julie is managing inventory.
Beth and Wayne are pleased with their success and their succession plans. Going from a 800-square-foot rock shop in 1975 to a 3,500-square-foot modern, full-service jewelry store in 2019 (after a major expansion and renovation – during a global pandemic, no less) represents a lot of hard work and sacrifice spanning decades. But even with their achievements and accomplishments over the years, it’s still difficult to let go of something that was built from nothing.
“The transition was not easy,” says Beth. “After being in charge for years, making the decisions, I used to be important. Now I’m a PIP [Previously Important Person].”
After nearly five decades of owning their store, Beth and Wayne have watched their business evolve in tandem with rapid changes in the jewelry industry. Looking back at simpler times at their start, compared to the complexities of running a business today, They are somewhat relieved that Gen 2.0 is transitioning into decision-making power.
“The industry is changing tremendously,” says Beth. “Our staff has grown. The computers, phones, security system, technology, in-put of inventory, guarantees, customer service, all have changed.”
Beth and Wayne are hardly Boomer-aged techno-phobes timid of change. They’ve adapted and integrated like most jewelers that came of business age during the disco years. The couple caught a big break with two kids that entered the family business. Although there were some doubts as Jeff and Julie considered other opportunities, they eventually found purpose and solace in taking over their parents’ store.
The transition of power, thanks to Kate Peterson, president and CEO of Performance Concepts, was the somewhat easy part. It’s the letting go part that is most difficult for Beth and Wayne, especially for Beth as it was her family roots that got the whole thing started in 1975.
Beth’s father Frank owned a rock shop. When Beth and Wayne were in their early years of marriage she needed a job. “So why not open a rock shop,” says Beth. Why not indeed.
Working in her father’s rock shop gave Beth some basic knowledge to draw on. But in looking back she admits: “There was no real plan at all. I knew a little bit, not much. We knew nothing. Zip. Zero.”
Being young and ambitious can be enough of a push. But the real inertia came from Frank. Beth recalls the day when Frank pulled up in his orange Ford Econovan full of jewelry-making supplies. “We borrowed $500 from the bank, made a sign out of plywood, hand-cut the letters of the store name, and then painted it black. Store shelves were sawn wood and pieces of glass. And, we used a fishing tackle box for our money and a small safe my father gave us for valuables.”
At the start, Beth and Wayne sold macramé cord, wooden beads, crystal prisms, as well as locally-sourced goods such as Michigan’s famed Petoskey stone, green stones and copper. Eventually the couple upped their game by purchasing inventory from jewelry trade shows as well as craft and gift shows.
Gold jewelry and diamond vendors made the trek to Traverse City. And, as the inventory grew, services had to diversify. Wayne taught himself bench work to add jewelry repair and gemstone setting to the store’s offerings.
Trade magazine ads offered help through consulting firms. Joe Romano and his Scull group were the first trade group the couple joined. From there they hired Roy Williams of Williams Marketing for radio ads and Kate Peterson for a range of consulting help.
As their store began shaping up to being more of a jewelry store and less a rock shop, they became members of Continental Buying Group and eventually Independent Jewelers Organization and then hired sales trainers Brad Huisken and Shane Decker.
Things were humming along. Suddenly their kids were old enough to work in the store and consider making retail jewelry a career. Julie had a degree in teaching, did that for five years, then came back to the store in 2012, handling inventory management and visual merchandising.
After graduating from college, Jeff attended classes at the GIA. In 2009 he began working full time. It was time to take succession planning from possibilities to planning. Four years later Jeff was given the title of general manager and began managing day-to-day operations under his parents’ tutelage.
“The thing that appealed to me most was the personal relationship part of everything at the beginning,” says Jeff.
Miner’s North Jewelers has been fortunate to benefit from local customers, which have been growing in numbers over the years, plus tourism traffic during the summer months. But over the last decade Jeff has wanted to make their store a bridal destination. Selling more diamonds has definitely “fueled the store’s growth,” says Jeff.
With that bridal box checked it was time for another growth-spurring decision. In October 2019, the retail space next to the store became available. Jeff jumped on the opportunity before he even knew how the additional square footage would be best utilized. In early 2020 COVID shutdowns happened and everything stopped.
For Beth and Wayne, they saw it as their children’s defining moment. “I could not have done what they did during the shutdowns and the pandemic,” says Beth. “Wayne and I would have been one of those jewelers to call it quits. But Jeff and Julie pulled us through.”
After successfully navigating the 2020 shutdowns, the following year Miner’s North Jewelers created a 3,500-square-foot store. The major renovation was completed in March 2021. It added all sorts of new showroom and office space. “Customer reactions to the renovations have been great,” says Jeff.
As Beth and Wayne look forward to more time with grandchildren as well as their hobbies and non-jewelry passions, the couple is confident decades of hard work will give their children satisfying careers. Jeff and Julie are grateful for the opportunities afforded to them and the store’s staff. Jeff and Julie plan on keeping the essentials that worked in the past as a blueprint for the future.
“They [Beth and Wayne] were always evolving and trying to do the right things to grow,” says Jeff. “I remember when my mom told me to surround myself with as many smart people as I could. What she did, and what I still do today, is to be a part of as many things as I can in the industry and to use people who are smarter than me in certain areas. Also, I just always admired how hard they worked and how much time they put into everything.”