The path that a person takes to become a retail jeweler says a lot about how they’ll one day manage their business. Those coming at it the generational way tend to be more measured and cautious. Then there’s the non-family, non-jewelry types that break all conventions and run their jewelry business based on smarts, gut instincts and life experiences that move their ambitions forward then upward.
Val Fawley, owner of Tru Luv Jewelers and CEO of Val Castings, proudly belongs to the latter group. When Val was in his mid-twenties his father brought him into the family’s construction business. Val learned the essential trade skills and got to work with his older brother. He liked what he was doing, but construction didn’t allow many outlets for his innate creative flair to flourish.
On a chance meeting, Val was hired to do a bathroom re-do for a jewelry making client. Upon completion the client was impressed with the work. It wasn’t just the home improvement essentials of plumbing, tile work and electrical – Val’s creative approach and finishing touches took a bathroom re-do from good to great.
“The client really liked what I did for his bathroom and asked, for whatever reason, if I was into or interested in jewelry making,” says Val. “As much as I wanted to be part of a family business, construction didn’t seem to be the path for me, so I took his suggestion and got into jewelry making.”
Mainly self-taught in his jewelry making and repair skills, Val sharpened his emerging talents by leading seminars at MJSA (Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America) shows. He went from learning the basics to learning how to be productive and proficient.
In 1986, Val took his new-found skills to Florida. He enjoyed the Sunshine State’s beaches and the leisurely lifestyle that comes with sand and surf. But all play and no work caught up to Val. He decided to work for Melbourne, Florida’s well-established Sullivan’s Jewelers.
“On my first day at work they gave me 40 blank mountings to set and told me this would be a week’s worth of work,” says Val. “I had all 40 done in six hours.”
Val’s jewelry factory background wasn’t just “make rate” work. After closely inspecting Val’s handiwork on the 40 blank mountings, the owners of Sullivan’s were stunned at not just the speed of his work but the attention to detail.
The store owners gave Val the rest of the week off. After three years at Sullivan’s Val decided to start his own casting company. He started by doing casting and mold making. Then he moved into repairs, which helped the business quickly prosper.
Val was always looking for ways of specializing products and services for his customers. In the late 1990s, he watched with great interest the amount of tanzanite that was entering the market from Africa. He decided to make his casting business known for its fine colored stones set with quality craftsmanship.
“I bought up as much tanzanite as I could get my hands on and set it in a variety of jewelry for the Las Vegas Show in 1997,” says Val. “Naysayers thought I’d never sell all of my inventory. By the third day of the five-day event it was sold out with a good chunk of it going to my old bosses from Sullivan’s in Melbourne. They were pleased to see my progress.”
Being the kind of person that operates best when presented with a challenge outside of their comfort zone, Val returned to Ohio. The resort town of Port Clinton is where he decided to hang his hat. Driving through the tourist town he noticed there wasn’t a jewelry store to be found. He decided the resort area needed a jeweler and he was it.
Port Clinton is located near the shores of the Portage River and Lake Erie. The town of 6,000 was established in 1828. It was named after DeWitt Clinton, a governor of New York who was instrumental in creating the Erie Canal, which connected the Midwest along the Great Lakes to the markets of the Hudson River and New York.
Port Clinton remains a small town at heart but its location near Lake Erie and the great lake’s islands has made it a resort destination like no other in the Midwest. With its luxurious marinas, PGA-certified golf courses, like the Catawba Country Club, various attractions (including Camp Perry for target and long-range shooters and a variety of wildlife sanctuaries) as well as being the “walleye capitol of the world,” Port Clinton attracts thousands of visitors – many wealthy – to this area of the Buckeye State.
Starting with the basics, Val knew he had to build his customer base by creating a solid social media base. Facebook being his social media website of choice, his efforts grew slowly and steadily. Val’s start in retail jewelry, and his social media efforts are bound by a similar philosophy.
“Make people feel special and they’ll love you and be loyal to your business,” says Val.
Giveaways and contests have been huge for Val. In a town of 6,000 residents, he has been able to accrue a fan base of 5,000 Facebook followers in less than four years. Considering the size of his actual market, and the number of out-of-market clients he serves throughout the Midwest as well as many Southern states, Val is quite pleased with the fan base gains over the years.
“When a giveaway or contest is posted it gets hundreds of views,” says Val. “I’ve had great success with these social media events. I do 30 to 40 giveaways each year and it has helped build my following tremendously. A normal posting talking up people or product or both generates as much as 200 to 300 likes, or comments. When these giveaways are posted [on Facebook] they get 2,000 to 3,000 likes, or comments and loads of shares. People love them.”
The content that makes people feel “special” are quick snap shots of people visiting Val’s jewelry store or sporting their new jewelry purchases. He sprinkles in many homemade product shots and videos of his mainly sea life, nautical and seasonally themed jewelry which sells extremely well in his store.
With a Midwestern coastal town challenge done, Val is thinking of opening a jewelry store in Florida, where he’ll need his Midwestern coastal life essentials including a boat at the local marina, a golf cart and Vespa scooters in the garage.