The owner of Jo & Co. Jewelers was a freshman in college with plans to be a globe-trotting detective when she entered the jewelry business. Sure, she loved her job at Haywood’s Jewelers in Rocky Mount, Va., but the jeweler’s life wasn’t her destiny – or so she assumed.
“I double-majored in international studies and Russian with a minor in criminal justice,” Joanna Gruver recalls. “I was going to travel the world.” After she graduated, she even interviewed with the State Department and with NCIS “before there was the TV show.”
When the year-long interview process ended without an offer, Gruver turned to her employer and mentor at Haywood’s, Harold Ingram. By this time, she had been working with him for nearly six years.
“We were talking about Smith Mountain Lake and the potential for opening a store there, and he said, ‘If you can come up with half the money, I’ll come up with the other half and we’ll open another store.’ … I was 23, and had no money, so I begged and borrowed from friends and family, and in 2004 we opened a store at Smith Mountain Lake.”
Although the new store was also named Haywood’s (Westlake), Gruver was a 50-50 partner and operated it independently while Ingram continued running the original store in Rocky Mount. Ingram’s daughter Bernice worked between the two stores.
Whereas Rocky Mount serves many lifelong residents, Smith Mountain Lake is home to both lifelong locals and well-traveled customers who moved there to access beautiful lakes and golf courses.
“The two stores are pretty different,” Gruver says. With the latter clientele, Gruver finds her store does more custom work, and “probably more fashion looks, rather than traditional bread-and-butter jewelry.”
In 2014, ten years after opening, the store under Gruver’s guidance and her team’s hard work outgrew its space and relocated to a larger spot in the same shopping center, the Westlake Town Center.
From there, she enjoyed growth of a different sort: In 2022, she and Ingram agreed it was time for her to strike out on her own, and she bought his share of the store.
And finally, this summer came the rebranding: The new name, Jo & Co. Jewelers, debuted officially on July 1.
“It’s been very well-received,” Gruver says. The branding includes a stylish new sign and logo that looks like a vivacious signature written with a fine-tipped marker, a theme that repeats itself in sections of the store
Established customers respond favorably to the new look, even when caught by surprise, Gruver says.
“They’ll say, ‘OK, I love it but just wanted to make sure my people are still here!’”
Jo & Co. is almost all female run, with Gruver’s brother Joel, the office manager, being the only male in the operation. It’s a coincidence, but it works, thanks in part to longevity.
The store manager, Charity Evans, has been with the store some 16 years, since she was about 18, and Gruver can relate to that. She says they have a truly special friendship and bond.
“She and I can read the same paragraph and it will mean one thing to me and a completely different thing to her. We challenge each other,” Gruver says.
The two usually work together and arrive at an interpretation that falls between their two disparate perceptions. And then a third perspective comes along when Sierra Dubbeld, the assistant manager, weighs in.
Rounding out the femme-strong team are lead sales associate Caroline Adkins and the store’s amazing jeweler, Gruver’s tremendous friend and colleague Beverly “Bev.” Coleman – Gruver stresses that “if you spell it ‘Bev’ you have to put the period!”
Gruver says everybody on her team is passionate about what they do, and that’s what makes it work.
“We all genuinely like each other, and we all go out and do things together outside of work. It is great working with some of your best friends.”
Legacy and newer challenges abound: On the legacy side, Jo & Co. remains committed to continuing a 19-year pattern of giving back to the community. Often, the store designs and donates pieces.
“If there is something going on for a charity in our area, you can almost guarantee we are helping to support it,” Gruver says.
A major charity event is the annual Diamond Dig, which entails the store setting up a sandbox stocked with a grand-prize 2-carat diamond and thousands of dollars of other loose gemstones. Patrons can donate $35 or more to receive a small bucket, scoop out some sand and move to a sifting station – and they can keep whatever stones they find.
“This year we raised $21,000 in four hours for the American Cancer Society,” Gruver says.
As for new challenges, Gruver says developing the store website, something completely out of her wheelhouse, was the biggest. It resulted in something to be proud of, and she looks forward to growing the online side of the business.
Gruver says she likes to network and finds the biggest impact on her business has been her 11-year membership in RJO. The friendships, discounts and education have all impacted her business in a huge way. She sits on the Merchandise Review Committee and also travels as part of a think tank. These things give her “a great pulse on what is going on in the industry,” she says.
Besides networking, Gruver says her favorite part of the jewelry business is building relationships with her customers and community.
“And I like pretty, sparkly things!”