A year ago, Shetler Fine Jewelers was just a well-established retailer positioned in a neighborhood office building in San Antonio, Texas. Owner Michelle Shetler didn’t have a bench jeweler and didn’t think she needed an in-house shop. However, an “unexpected” acquisition led her to think otherwise.
“I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” Shetler says of her pre-acquisition perspective. The process began last October, when Shetler was invited to consider purchasing Medlars Jewel Masters, an offer very different from other ideas she had for expansion or growth.
Now she can’t imagine doing without all that she acquired: a sizable shop full of top-of-the-line CAD/CAM equipment, a team of four veteran jewelers – including two Master Jewelers – and a long list of loyal Medlars clients.
Former owner M. Chapman Stout quietly told his team earlier in the year that he was planning to retire, and in the ensuing months the jewelers in his shop persuaded him to talk to her.
“He said, ‘I’ve got this great team of jewelers and they want to stay together,’” says Shetler, whose store was established in 2005. “It caught me off guard. I thought, I can bring in one jeweler, but I don’t know if I can bring in four. I was flattered – Medlars had been there 40 years.”
Shetler said Stout had at one point offered Medlars to the jewelers for purchase, but they preferred to do their creative work and not own a retail business.
“They kept going to him and bringing up my name,” she says. “He could have sold his business to anyone, but their happiness was important to him. I think it shows great respect for them and for me that he did that.”
The transition required extensive renovations to Shetler Fine Jewelers, an “extremely destination” storefront positioned atypically in an upscale office building. Shetler overhauled both the 800-square-foot storefront and the 2,000 square feet of back-office space, whose makeover into a shop with manufacturing equipment required special permits as well as knocking out walls. Now, the store boasts a state-of-the-art CAD/CAM operation, including a 3D printer, a miller to do waxes, a laser engraver, and a laser welder.
The two master jewelers – Edgar Hidalgo and Roger Huckabee – bring some 80 years of combined experience to the operation. Hidalgo created jewelry in various places around San Antonio before he joined Medlars, and Huckabee, now semi-retired and working part-time, is a designer with thousands of pieces to his credit.
“We have all the electronic files – so if you had a piece done two years ago or 20 years ago, we have the CAD files, and you won’t have to start the design process all over again,” Shetler says.
In addition to the storefront viewing space, which is highly visible to the other businesses in the building and to curious passers-by in the small Alamo Heights neighborhood, the store now has a room called Shetler Privé – a much-needed private space with a separate entrance for clients to meet with jewelers and discuss their needs as well as view design, manufacturing and repair work being done.
During the transition, Shetler subleased the Medlars shop from March through May for the jewelers to use; they came onsite June 1.
And thanks in part to Stout’s endorsement, former Medlars clients have been “flocking in” at a rate of about 15 customers a week.
“For a small business, that’s extreme!” Shetler says. When word got out that Medlars was selling, almost 100 clients gave their contact information to the jewelers so they could follow them wherever they landed. Shetler says she’s still going through sticky notes calling customers.
“Our businesses are very much alike. We have loyal customers, we take care of our customers; our clients want to come in and have coffee or wine, they want to talk and visit. And my sales team is very customer-relationship-driven as well. It’s been a nice, easy transition in that respect.”
Shetler says she looks forward to adding two more full-time employees: an additional sales associate and a customer service associate who greets customers, takes in repairs, handles gift-wrapping and so forth.
“My team is learning something new every day,” she says. “We’re already doing more custom work than Medlars did during the holidays.”
While admitting that the new developments in her business have been mind-blowing, Shetler says the acquisition “feels right.” She’s always in projection or forecast mode and intends to let this previously unexpected turn play out until next spring before deciding where exactly to take it.
“I consider this in-house shop a second business, although it’s under the same name. … Medlars had a wholesale division, which I want to develop. I’m planning on growing our custom and repair shop. I’m growing the sales team to keep up with the new customers coming in the door. Our bridal business is only two years old. We were open only Monday through Friday for 14 years, and we started opening on Saturdays two years ago, and our bridal business has grown exponentially,” she says.
Another exciting development is her daughter’s plan to earn a graduate gemologist degree and join the business at some point.
“My daughter just graduated from college, and is attending GIA in London, to get her GG. She’s always wanted to be involved in the business to some degree, and ever since she was 16 and got her driver’s license, she would drive to the store after school, and continued to work at the store seasonally during the summer and holidays while in college.”
Shetler called her daughter’s transition a case of perfect timing because she also plans to develop an estate jewelry division, and her daughter will be qualified to appraise and quote antique and estate pieces once she joins the family business.
“I want this to be a business that my daughter can come into and then her children can come into it, and they can talk about how their grandmother started it.”