Kesslers® Diamonds is in its fourth decade of business and Richard Kessler is one of the most recognized names and voices in the Midwest. So who is this guy we hear all the time on the radio? This is Richard’s story...
“Who is Richard Kessler?”
“I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. where I spent the first 26 years of my life, but it was a life going nowhere. I knew that I had to make a change, and I had to go somewhere different and make a fresh start. So, I borrowed $700 from my father and started driving. I drove as far as Milwaukee and decided that this town looked as good as any. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. was going to be my new home.”
“How did you get your start in the jewelry business?"
“Well, I knew the $700 wasn’t going to last long so I set out to find a job. After fumbling around for about six months, I finally found an occupation that I liked. I actually got my first job by agreeing to leave. I convinced the owner of a jewelry store to hire me on a 30-day trial basis. I told him, “If after a month, you’re not satisfied with me, I’ll go willingly.” At the end of four weeks, he not only gave me the job; he fired his brother-in-law to do it.
The funny thing is, I knew absolutely nothing about jewelry when I started at the store, but my sales were great. What I did know was how to serve my customers. I found, that by really listening to the customers, they would tell me exactly what to do to make them happy. I became a sponge at that store, soaking up everything I could learn about the jewelry industry. After just 10 months, I bought a tiny, struggling jewelry store in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.”
“When was that?”
“That was January 15, 1980. I had a partner named Curt, so we called our store C.R. Gems. It was supposed to be a play on words but the only people who got it were Curt and me. Our partnership lasted for two years and we realized that this business was not going to support two families. I bought out his interest and then spent 9 years trying to figure out why I did that.
Things progressed very slowly for many years. I was trying to do everything that the other jewelers were doing. I was trying to be everything to everybody. There were many times I even considered getting out of business. Once I even offered to give the business to another jeweler, lock, stock and barrel just to be able to walk away from it, but he wouldn’t take it off my hands.”
“What turned things around?”
“In April 1991 I spent a weekend with Tony Robbins and it changed my life. Tony Robbins is a trainer who has helped tens of thousands of people realize that the only thing holding us back is ourselves. I have always believed that the most successful jewelers in Milwaukee got that way because they had been around a long time. After spending a weekend with Tony, I decided that wasn’t true at all. Anyone could rise to the top if they just served the customers better than anyone else.”
“So what did you do differently?”
“I set some outrageous goals for myself and started to believe that I could make them happen. I decided that I wanted to be ‘the most respected name in diamonds in southeastern Wisconsin.’ That was my vision. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, especially because I was then the smallest jeweler in southeastern Wisconsin. I wrote that phrase on the wall and thought about it every day.
I knew that I had to re-analyze the business from the customer’s point of view. I decided to study all of the bigger jewelry stores and eliminate all of those things that did not directly serve the customer. The first thing I did was to lower all my prices and put a little sign in every showcase that said, ‘Don’t wait for a sale, there isn’t going to be one.’ We still have those little signs in every showcase today and we haven’t had a sale in over 25 years. I learned that most customers hated the negotiating game. I did too.
Next, I decided to focus on engagement rings and loose diamonds. Instead of trying to be everything to everybody, I decided I was going to be the best at one thing. I started to put together the biggest selection of engagement rings and loose diamonds in the area. Then I added Kessler’s Miraculous Warranty. The only thing we don’t cover is loss of entire piece or theft.
Another very important change was to remodel the store so that all the showcases were low sit-down cases. There are chairs everywhere in our stores. If I invited you to my home, I wouldn’t say ‘please stand over here.’ And just like in my home, we serve a variety of refreshments, from Andes Candies to Cappuccino.
None of our employees wear suits and ties. We dress casually just like our customers. The music we play is mostly rock and a little louder than you might expect.
Most of our employees come to us with no jewelry experience. We try to hire people who enjoy making other people happy. If their heart is in the right place, we can teach them the jewelry business.” I'm asked all the time, "Who trains your people?" The answer surprises most folks. "Their parents do!"
“It seems like the changes worked”
“Well, it’s not rocket science. If you treat people right, they’ll treat you right. Our clients have been terrific. They’re loyal and they have really helped our business grow by sending their friends and family to us as well.
In 1995, we opened our second store in Greenfield, Wis. In the spring of 2000, we opened store #3 in Appleton, Wis., which is in the heart of God’s country. In the fall of 2002, we opened our fourth store in Brookfield, and we opened our fifth store in Madison, in 2005.
In January of 2010, we moved from our longtime home in Menomonee Falls to a huge new facility in Germantown that houses our corporate offices, state-of-the-art main goldsmith shop, and a stunning diamond store that has to be seen to be believed. That move consolidated our operations and enabled us to offer even better service to our deserving clients.
In October, 2015 we opened store #6 in Downtown Milwaukee. It is located in the heart of the city in the 150 year old George Watts Building. In November of 2015 we opened our first out of state store in Grandville, Michigan, located on the west side of Grand Rapids.
We are now the largest seller of diamonds and diamond engagement rings in the state of Wisconsin. During this growth, we have maintained our core value and that is SERVE THE CUSTOMER.”
The most exciting news at Kesslers® happened on January 1, 2011. That is the day that Kesslers® became Employee Owned. The company formed an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) which is designed to transfer 49% ownership to the Employees over the next few years. Once the majority of that transfer is complete, Richard will sell the remaining stock to the Employees, making Kesslers® 100% Employee Owned.
“What does the future hold?”
Our future plans include opening one store a year for the next 5 years.
“We would like to keep growing, but in a controlled, deliberate manner. We never want to grow so fast that we lose the culture that our people have built, or that we can’t serve our clients in the superior manner that they have come to expect from us.”