The following article appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Jewelry Business Advisor.

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first few small steps. The same can be said about the journey of running a successful small business--one must first start with a few small steps. Fourteen years ago, in 1998, Naifeh Fine Jewelry began that journey. Valerie Naifeh, an entrepreneur in Oklahoma City, started out small (a one hundred thousand dollar loan) and has grown a very successful jewelry store doing three million in gross sales in 2011.

A graduate of Tulsa University in 1986, Valerie was first exposed to jewelry design while in college. After graduation, she was employed by local designer, Ann Garrett, where she learned all aspects of the industry- -working as a bench jeweler, a model maker, and doing a lot of polishing work. During this time Valerie moved from Tulsa to Oklahoma City to manage a second retail location for the business. Having a broad experience in the industry, she claims, has been instrumental to her own success.

After working for two retailers for just over 14 years, Valerie started her business in September of 1998, sub-leasing 150 square feet of retail space in the middle of an upscale women’s department store in Oklahoma City, Balliets. With one full time and one part time employee, Valerie filled her two, small jewelry cases with her original designs and a few other lines to round out the collection. With a focus on custom design, the small company began an upward trajectory that hasn’t stopped.

The relationship with Balliet's worked well for several reasons: sitting in the middle of a prominent department store saved Naifeh from having to invest in advertising, as there was always a steady stream of high end clientele streaming past the counters. The cosmetics, shoes and sportswear that brought women to Balliets many times led to an impulse sale at her counter. Another big benefit was that it allowed Valerie to make a lot of friends and create relationships that she passionately works to maintain today.

The four years at Ballliet's worked nicely and the business grew each year. The fourth year it became apparent to Valerie that her business had out grown the location. Much of her time was spent shuttling back and forth to an off-site jeweler, taking and picking up pieces that were being custom designed or repaired. She quietly began to explore locations that might be a good fit for her business. Knowing that "location, location, location" was very important, and also knowing the demographics of her customer, she found a corner location in a strip center a mere two miles from Balliets, well within the ten mile radius of the majority of her customers and across from a prominent, private school. In 2002 the move was made to Casady Square. Naifeh Fine Jewelry now occupies

4,000 sqft., 1800 of which is showroom space. The remaining space consists of two private showrooms, office space and, most important, a manufacturing studio where custom design work and repairs are completed by three full time jewelers. Her customers--her friends--followed Valerie to the new location and the business began to grow in leaps and bounds.

Valerie Naifeh will readily admit that, "it has not always been easy." Over the years she has come to focus in four key areas or activities:

1. Make a lot of friends and create relationships

2. Know and understand your customer (and what they value)

3. Consistent year round advertising

4. Networking

The move to a new location confirmed Valerie's core belief that the success of the business was due to customer loyalty. Valerie does not believe in "high pressure" sales, and likes to sell the way she likes to buy. Likability is emphasized and is a best practice executed daily. Most new clients result from referrals.

The move from Balliets posed challenges that were not first apparent. The department store environment generated more impulse and accessory sales. The new store now had to attract the old and new customer. A build out was done for engagement rings and wedding bands, and more emphasis in advertising to position her business as a leader in this category.

Valerie’s thought on bridal was "build it and they will come." She now admits that this is half true. You build it-- then advertise--and they will come! That experience has kept her focused on bridal marketing, and she is quite honest that it was trial and error in discovering what advertising worked in bringing in the bridal client. Several types of print media have proved effective for Valerie, though the advertising focus for each is radically different. For the 18-35 crowd, an offbeat, free weekly newspaper that is distributed in the city's restaurants, pubs, supermarkets and convenience stores features a weekly, quarter page ad devoted solely to the bridal category and, occasionally, watches. Naifeh Fine Jewelry “owns” the third page of a high gloss, monthly magazine that the city's affluent read. Advertising here focuses on high end designers and watch brands like Temple St. Clair and Ebel. This type of print advertising works so well that, on occasion, husbands and boyfriends come into the store, ad in hand, and ask, "now what?"

Valerie Naifeh believes in advertising year round. She thinks that keeping the name in front of the public consistently positions the business as the "go to" store when an event arises calling for jewelry. Direct mail is an important part of the marketing equation as well. The business now has a mailing list of over 6500 active customers who are notified of new trends or events. She is also proud of her website that allows a visitor to take a virtual tour of the showroom floor.

While Valerie stays focused on advertising, she also has become a big believer in networking. Her membership in the local women's business group led to her being invited to speak in front of small groups, which she views as a networking event. Using PowerPoint, she will give presentations and many times display jewelry that the audience can pass around to both see and hold. At networking events, which usually are attended by high net worth people, she does little promotion but focuses on learning about the people she is socializing with. She has a firm conviction that if people get to know you and trust you on a personal level-- they will eventually be your customer and brand ambassador.

Obviously, Valerie works hard and enjoys her business. She admits that there is a lot of trial and error in retailing. Recently, though, years of “relationship building” paid off: a customer's friend in Texas was seriously robbed of her fine jewelry. While visiting in Oklahoma City, the customer brought her friend into Valerie's store and she proceeded to replace her stolen diamond necklace, wedding ring, diamond bracelet and watch, resulting in a six -figure sale and the single largest transaction the store ever had. Valerie says, “If that’s not a testament to the power of the referral, I don’t know what is!” JBA