North American Jewelers has come a long way since 1986, when President and CEO Kurt Steckbeck opened a simple repair shop in Chicago. Today, the company provides labor intensive styling and fine jewelry products to retailers and wholesalers around the world.
In the beginning the company focused on small repair jobs, such as sizing and refurbishing rings. “We started with one bench guy, and over the next five years, we built it up to 125 employees repairing 8,000 jobs a month,” Kurt says. “I sometimes kiddingly say it felt like we were a dry cleaning business, processing a lot of jobs for $2, $1.50, $3 each.”
While the company did not do any casting or have a product line, North American Jewelers employed people who had the ability to produce jewelry. Model makers, diamond setters and polishers were all on staff. Kurt decided to shift the business toward manufacturing and brought in an expert from New York City to teach him the intricacies of casting gold and platinum.
Fast forward five years and North American Jewelers was almost totally out of the repair business and had begun manufacturing mainly bridal jewelry for retail jewelers around the country.
Quality diamond sourcing and skilled labor set company apart
Seventeen years ago, Kurt recognized the importance of sourcing quality diamonds and labor. “We were growing by leaps and bounds, and I was trying to find the prime diamond source and labor skill sets I needed to maintain our growth. There was heavy competition from Thailand, China and India, where they were producing styling we couldn’t compete with due to the limited diamond supply and limited number of skilled professionals. After researching a n
umber of options, it was obvious the diamond sources were in India, and I knew to be successful we would need to open an additional facility there.”
Kurt bought a production facility in Mumbai in 2005 and opened it in 2006. Production is now split between the two locations. Chicago focuses on engagement rings and wedding bands in gold or platinum; the facility in India produces pieces in silver, gold and platinum. “Quite a few of the designs we build in India are not for our U.S. customers,” Kurt says. “We sell to 12 different countries right now. What sells in England is not what will sell in the United States; some things we sell in Japan would never sell here. We sketch out 100s of new designs every month, and we’re building up to 2,000 new models every year. We have plenty of ideas.”
North American Jewelers employs over 270 people across its two locations and anticipates expanding in Chicago. “We’re finding our customer base, experiencing tremendous growth, and we keep adding salespeople,” says Kurt. “We find ourselves experiencing about 20 percent growth each year, and we expect that 20 percent to continue over the next five years.
“We’ve also found there’s a growing demand for our domestic product – jewelry produced in Chicago and produced quickly.”
In fact, North American Jewelers’ Chicago location can produce an order within a week. “Stores don’t have to invest tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory. We have a prototype program and we can ship our customers what they need in a short amount of time. That’s contributed immensely to our growth,” said Kurt.
Goal & Quality Oriented -Customer Focused
Scott Knorzer, director of sales and marketing, points out a few factors that have contributed to the company’s success. “I’ve known Kurt for a long time, and with everything he does, he has a goal in mind. From the days in the repair business to the larger scale manufacturing business of today, he has always been very quality and customer conscious.
“Also, we don’t leap into things,” said Scott. “We build the base first, test it and then grow it. We’re not hasty to hire salespeople; those we’ve hired have been in the business for 17 years, 10 years, 12 years, etc. We’re hiring quality people as well as producing quality merchandise.”
North American Jewelers develops merchandise programs with the retailer in mind. An example is the company’s Halo Bridal Program, which features nine different fancy shaped center diamonds. The program has been a great seller for its customers. Models begin at 3/8 carat centers and every 1/4 carat size up to 2 ½ carat centers.
Scott says, “Our customers sell the collection as a ‘Your Choice $2999’ for a 1 carat total weight with a ½ ct center, which includes a display, and marketing materials. This is one of the hottest programs we have. This program would be difficult for the mall based chain jewelers to compete with!”
The company’s Eternity Band program is also unique in the fact that several styles are available in 4 different weights (1/2, 1, 2 and 3 ct) and in finger sizes 4 through 9, straight and half sizes. “We have merchandised the program so all finger sizes are the same price and same total weight. Our retail customers love the fact that they can quote one price for any finger size and have it in one week!”
Although North American Jewelers focuses on bridal designs and manufacturing, the company has tiptoed into fashion. “We do a nice job with colored diamonds – blue, red, green, chocolate. Our Dancin’ Diamonds, where we laser drill a hole through the top of a diamond, putting the diamond constantly in motion, is unique, and we’re offering it in colored diamonds as well. I haven’t seen anyone else do that,” said Scott.
Be sure to visit North American Jewelers at the following shows: JCK Las Vegas (booth #S 100271); RJO Show in Covington, KY; SJO Show in Charlotte, NC; and Atlanta Show in Atlanta, GA.