What does a team of intelligent women and a 1930s farmer-turned-horologist have in common? Kristen Kelley.
The granddaughter of F.L. Kelley, founder of Kelley Jewelers, is now the third generation of Kelley family to sit at the helm of a business that has become an integral part of the Weatherford, Oklahoma community. Kristen successfully ties past family traditions with savvy business acumen to give the Kelley customer a good reason to come back. In fact, they come from more than 100 miles away just to own a Kelley piece. But like all great businesses it didn’t start out like this.
When Kristen joined the family business in 1984 she already knew what the retail jewelry business was all about. She’d been working in the store since she was little, watching her dad and granddad work with Kelley customers who were also their friends and family. She loved hearing her grandfather tell the story of trying his hand at farming: “When my grandpa graduated high school his principal suggested he go to school to become a watchmaker, but grandpa had different plans,” remembers Kristen. “Instead he borrowed $19 to run his farm for one year. At the end of the year he made exactly $19. That’s when he knew there must be a better way.”
Indeed, in F.L. Kelley’s own words, “I was on the northbound end of a southbound mule and I decided there must be a better way.”
With a new motivation, F.L. headed to Bradley Polytechnic Institute in Peoria, IL to become a watchmaker. He took part-time jobs as a barber and fry cook (who sometimes pulled teeth) to support himself while in school.
When he returned to Weatherford in 1931 he rented space in the local dry goods store where he set up his watch repair bench. He never aspired to sell watches or anything related to them until a salesman came by and left a card with six watchbands. F.L. had refused to take out credit to keep them, so the salesman quietly slipped out of the store leaving the bands behind and a retail jeweler was born.
F.L. went on to grow his business and in 1961 his son, David, bought the business from his father. David brought with him a renewed interest in the jewelry side of the store, especially diamonds, and he began investing time and energy into learning about them. He requested better quality side stones in the ring mounts he was purchasing but he was consistently told no.
Turning to an industry legend and friend, Abe Katz with William R. Katz Company out of Dallas, David learned the ropes of buying diamonds. Soon he was crafting the pieces himself with the quality of side stones he’d always wanted but couldn’t get. What started out of frustration quickly became one of today’s biggest selling points for Kelley Jewelers, the Kelley Label.
“My Dad produced thousands of unique designs that we have in inventory today,” states Kristen. “Unfortunately we didn’t put a label on his designs until after he passed away in 2005. Today we label and market it so that people come in asking for the Kelley Tag.”
Kristen earned her graduate gemologist degree in 1984. After interviewing at other jewelry stores she realized what a jewel Kelley’s Jewelry was and decided to go into the family business.
Like her father, Kristen bought the business and brought with her a passion all her own. With a passion for marketing and sales, Kristen is dedicated to empowering the lives of her all-female sales staff. The ladies are not only knowledgeable and experienced, but they are beautiful as well, which keeps everyone in the small town of Weatherford talking. Kristen has a passion to train and empower them to become the best they can be, which according to Kristen is pretty darn good.
“We have an amazing staff that averages around 15 years with the company. I have one person who’s been with us 37 years. One woman who’s been with us 13 years just sold $1 million for the second year in a row. My staff is amazing.”
With her bench jewelers winning design awards and her staff hitting remarkable sales goals it’s no wonder Kristen is happy her grandfather jumped off that southbound mule.
“I’ve already sold 20% of my business to Kim Ingram who will take over when I retire in five years and until then I’ll continue to provide exceptional quality and value to our customers.”