An emphasis on bridal jewelry and a commitment to face-to-face business make Hobbs Jewelers tick. The Athens, Ala., retailer has gone from selling and promoting everything more or less equally in its early years to selling everything, still, but with a strong focus on the bridal component.
The shift began around 2002, when the store moved to its current location on U.S. 72 and, according to store manager Anna Smith Alexander, doubled everything.
“Business-wise, we upgraded totally,” says Alexander. “We moved from a strip mall to a freestanding store, we doubled our store size, we expanded our brands, the size of our stones. … We went from a three-person sales office to six people.”
But the real push came after COVID came on the scene in 2020 and forced businesses to shut down for more than a month. For Hobbs, the reopening was a doozy.
“We shut down for five weeks, and we reopened right before Mother’s Day, and bam! It was like Christmas.”
With post-shutdown business booming, the bridal section, already a niche for Hobbs, became a huge part of the picture. So, the store went with the flow.
“Now we are concentrating on the bridal business. We want to be the largest bridal source in north Alabama. We want you to come to us. We want to carry every brand.”
Hobbs ramped up advertising of every kind, including TV, radio, and billboards.
“We want to get the message across that if you don’t buy diamonds here, you’re going to the wrong place – you paid too much.”
In the last quarter, Hobbs placed four billboards in ever-growing nearby Huntsville – depicting “Hobbs Jewelers with a diamond ring” – and picked up “tons” of bridal business.
“We pull a lot of customers from Huntsville,” she says.
Now when Alexander checks on the store’s digital presence, she sees Hobbs is searched four times more than “anything else” on Google.
And more than half the store is bridal these days.
“We have 22 counters, and 12 are bridal. We sell lots of different brands, and we keep up to 3-carat stones in stock,” Alexander says. The more than two dozen designer names on the Hobbs website include Kim International brands.
The freestanding Athens store is the second and only remaining location of Hobbs, which first opened in 1984 in Ardmore, Tenn., then added an Athens location in 1989.
Today the 3,500-square-foot store has 14 personnel, including Alexander, two bench jewelers, four full-time and two part-time sales associates, two office associates, and owner-siblings Steve Hobbs and Teresa Russell. One of the jewelers is earning a Graduate Gemologist designation from GIA, which Alexander says will open new ways for the store to do more with colored stones.
While the pandemic shutdown and ensuing comeback pointed Hobbs toward a focus on bridal, it also confirmed the importance of doing business in person. Facebook was the only way to stay in touch with customers for a while, but Hobbs still doesn’t sell on its website and only uses Facebook Live sales once a quarter. The events have been successful but have not supplanted that face-to-face component.
“It’s a good way to interact with customers. We are not just here to do business, we want to have fun,” Alexander says.
The same can be said of other high-tech offerings, such as Star Gems’ “custom studio” smartphone app that customers could use to view and select design ideas – if they wanted to.
“It seems like people still want to come in and sit down and work with us one on one. … People still want interaction. They want to feel important.”
The secret to success for Hobbs Jewelers: “We never stop learning.”
Alexander says she belongs to Diamond Bill Warren’s Ultimate Jewelers’ Mastermind Group, a monthly virtual meeting where jewelers share ideas for promoting business.
“It’s very event driven, we look for an event every month.”
Alexander says Hobbs is enjoying success with events such as Ladies Night and holiday promotions.
With a strong event schedule and an aggressive advertising rotation including radio spots that reaped the sale of several 3-carat stones between October and December, Alexander is looking forward to yet another bridal milestone.
“By the end of the year, I want to stock up on 5-carat stones!”