A longstanding family motto has been well-tested at Ketterman’s Jewelers, especially during 2020: “Find a way or make one.”
Tammi Ketterman has applied her father’s advice in many ways since she and husband Dan Ketterman opened their doors in Leesburg, Va., in 1988. Now in its third Loudoun County location – a 10,000-square-foot standalone building not far from the strip mall where it first opened – Ketterman’s has found or made its way to honors as Loudoun’s Favorite Jeweler and Best of Virginia Jeweler for several years running.
“Folks have called us the Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops of jewelry stores. It’s kind of like a museum, or tourist attraction. Customers have brought their visiting friends, who then come back on their own,” Tammi says.
Indeed, Ketterman’s has become a high-end rendition of Vienna Variety, which Dan’s parents opened in 1951. “My mother-in-law came into the shop, maybe 20 years ago, and shook her head and said ‘Y’all are going the wrong way!’”
It’s a family business where everyone has gotten into the act at some point – six daughters, in-laws, extended family, family friends, and a Charm Girl or two.
Ketterman’s created the Charm Girls program in 2007, employing girls age 13-16 to help customers choose the newly introduced Brighton charms; they attended an in-store charm school and gained first entry into the workforce, and Ketterman’s donated to a charity of their choice. The program was so popular it became an annual feature.
“We have graduates who became full-fledged members of our sales force. And one enrollee is currently in GIA and is the leader of the Charm Girls.”
And did somebody say “act”? It’s a fitting term, given the events of 2020. Right after the elegant jewelry and gift store moved into its new digs, Ketterman’s had to rethink its marketing approach amid a nationwide COVID-19 shutdown.
“We moved the 12th of February to the new building and on March 20th had to lock the doors,” Tammi recalls. “Early on we were admonished for being in the store, even though our doors were locked. We felt strongly that we needed to be here for our clients. A customer could call and say, ‘You’ve got my grandmother’s diamond and I want to get it back.’”
When the store reopened in the summer, the team beckoned customers in with a light-hearted online video song-and-dance adaptation of “Be Our Guest.”
A yule-themed sequel was the inevitable next offering: Tammi recently sang herself hoarse in a closet while a techno-savvy daughter attempted to record a video-worthy version of “We Need a Little Christmas.”
“We’re trying to present a happy place to be. So customers can come here and they can feel good.”
The “find a way or make one” motto continues to do extra duty.
“Normally events are designed to get tons of customers. We’ve had to be strategic about having them in.”
Much of the strategy involved bringing in fewer but highly targeted customers. One of the first events of the summer: Breakfast with Friends, just three, seated in the store’s vestibule to eat on TV trays set with sterling silver and fine china.
“The focus is not on selling, it’s to re-establish connections with girlfriends,” Tammi says.
Similarly, in-store catered dinners for 40 were downsized to 10 or fewer. Ketterman’s has also rented space for luncheons with designers.
“The targeting is based on the interest level in a particular designer – Beverley K, Vahan, Don Conkey & Sons, William Henry, maybe Chatham Diamonds. We look at who would be the most likely to purchase, their history in the last three or four years, and we can say we’ve got some nice companion pieces. It gives the designer a chance to show the line, talk to them.”
In early October, Ketterman’s hosted a “fashion stroll” featuring items from Brighton and Joseph Ribkoff.
“We had people in groups of four in the showroom, and pairs – a model and an emcee – would stand in the middle and tell them about what the model was wearing, the clothing and jewelry. Then they’d stroll to the next group,” Tammi says. Instead of crowding at the register, customers received catalogs to mark up. “We would gather the items up and either deliver them on approval or they could come in and look at them and select them or try things on.”
The process, while prolonged, allowed for less contact and more sanitizing.
“Everybody’s looking for some reason to get out, and if you can make them feel safe and give them that chance, that’s what we want to do.”
Dan and Tammi’s daughters have all been involved in the business. The eldest of six, Jacklyn, works in shipping and receiving. Second daughter, Richlyn, runs the floor and handles purchasing and displays. Hattie Lynn, who died in 2013, would have taken over Tammi’s accounting duties. “We like to think she’s still here, looking over us, whispering in Jesus’s ear.”
Fourth daughter Katelyn is a bench jeweler. Pastry chef Dillyn prepares the rum cake served at the store during Christmas. Ellyn helps handle the social media and photography, and is the sound producer for those music videos.
The store offers several in-house designs – a signature hand-wire cuff bracelet, the bezel-set diamond Lizzy pendant, and the Mrs. Ketterman rondels – but custom designs are key.
“It’s more important to create a vision for customers,” Tammi says. “The best design is when a customer comes in with a piece that’s worn out, out of date, or they want to change. We can help them maintain a memory, or get rid of a memory they don’t want. … I personally love working with folks this way.”
Despite the COVID-centric emphasis of 2020, for Tammi the “find a way or make one” motto means customer service.
“We go beyond what normal jewelers do,” she says. Sometimes, beyond is equestrian: One customer lost a beloved horse, and Ketterman’s designed a ring using a tooth from the horse. For another bereaved owner, Tammi braided the tail of a lost horse for placement in a store-designed locket that held and displayed the braid.
“We don’t like to say no to a customer,” Tammi says. “We have a saying: If you feel a ‘no’ on your lips, find another associate!”