Celebrating a milestone anniversary in this industry is something to be proud of, especially if you’re still conducting business “old school” style. Neil Saunders, a diamond wholesaler out of Atlanta, still hits the road calling on customers across the US. His business model hasn’t changed much in his 25 years in business, but then why should it if it works?
Around the age of 20, Neil happened upon what was supposed to be nothing more than a college job. Working for a local diamond company (site holder in New York) in 1976, the young man who’d had no aspirations of joining the jewelry industry started learning how to cut diamonds. For two years he apprenticed, learning the art of faceting a stone.
From cutter he moved up to sorter and on to the sales floor before landing in the buying area of the company. His natural talent, along with his love for the industry and its people, fueled his career desires.
In January 1988 Neil found the financial backing needed to open his own diamond wholesale company in Atlanta. He’d traveled throughout the southeast and felt comfortable with his already established client base there. He also knew travel was easier to manage out of Atlanta.
“When I looked at my existing customer base, most were within 500 miles of Atlanta,” recalls Neil. “I knew it meant traveling a lot, and it’s funny, but that’s still what I’m doing today.”
Maintaining any business for more than a quarter of a century is impressive, after all, most marriages don’t last that long. Sticking to the fundamentals is what helped him become successful, and that philosophy still serves him well today.
Fundamentals like spending more than 100 days on the road each year. Traveling that much means you’re either smart and cautious or dumb and naive. Neil is definitely the first. He’s learned much about varying routes, blocking appointments and keeping distance between him and the next stop. What may seem like inefficient travel patterns to newbies is exactly what he attributes his safety to.
“No one does this anymore,” claims Neil. “I’m sure I’m a dinosaur still going door to door to visit my customers. But I choose to see my clients face to face and I love doing business while I visit with them. They are my friends.”
Neil still works with the same team that got him started. Gina Morris, a mainstay in the company and Neil’s right hand person, is the face of Neil Saunders Diamonds when Neil is on the road. Nef Santiago is the bench jeweler who continues to make some of the most beautiful pieces. Neil not only travels domestically, but makes between 3 and 4 trips abroad each year to buy diamonds. By now he’s learned the intricacies of negotiation, quality evaluation and forging solid distributor relationships.
“It still gets to me when I think about the fact that I’m buying the equivalent of a half of a million dollar house, except my loan terms don’t stretch out 15 or 30 years,” chuckles Neil.
Whether it’s Neil’s tried and true experience or Gina’s appealing southern charm or Nef’s amazing designs; one thing is certain, this dinosaur will outlive all the others if he keeps doing what he’s good at.
Happy anniversary Neil Saunders Diamonds from the Southern Jewelry News team.