Jewelry is not just another accessory to make outfits feel more polished. For some, it’s a way to express their personality, celebrate memorable moments, or a family heirloom to treasure forever. With this in mind, master faceter and graduate gemologist Jennifer Farnes shares how she sparks change in the jewelry industry. As the successful owner of Revolution Jewelry Works, she dives into what separates their company from other jewelry crafters and how they provide full flexibility in custom design. Jennifer talks about her love for jewelry making and offers advice to people who want to start their own jewelry business.
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The Jewelry Revolution with Jennifer Farnes
My goal in opening up my jewelry store was to create a place that I would feel comfortable shopping. In all of my years of following my mom around shopping for jewelry or even shopping for my own engagement ring, I always thought that jewelry was very intimidating. I thought there has to be a way to change that environment. That was the primary driver behind creating Revolution.
On this episode, we have Jennifer Farnes. She’s a master faceter and a graduate gemologist. She’s the owner of Revolution Jewelry Works. I’ve had the pleasure of doing some business with her on a parking lot crash with my wife’s jewelry. Jennifer, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show.
Thank you so much for having me.
Tell us about your business and who you serve.
Revolution Jewelry Works, being in the beautiful mountain city of Colorado Springs, we do have a lot of military personnel locally. Beyond that, it’s a very rapidly growing city. That was where we wanted to start our focus. We wanted to create something accessible to the city of Colorado Springs with the goal of world domination. The big thing that was missing here in the Springs was a place that you could go for custom jewelry. There were a lot of old school jewelers where you could go and request something custom, but essentially you would sit down, and they would be hand carving wax for you and you would get a look at a chunk of green material and you say, “I think that’s what I want.” Maybe a year later, you would have a finished piece of jewelry and that is what it is.
With the technology, I knew that there was software out there that helped people visualize what was being created. Make it to where they could actually picture what this is going to look like for me and how it’s going to function in my life rather than having to guess. We’ve got an entire generation coming up of consumers that have been accessing flexibility in every aspect of their life. You can pick your shoes, you can pick your phone case, you can customize your car and everything about it. It’s one thing to go into a jewelry store and be told, “I can customize something.” You can pick this mounting and you can pick this setting and you can pick this shape of a diamond and put them together and it’s a custom, but that’s not custom.
We have people that we encounter day in and day out that are hardcore fans of World of Warcraft, which is an online video game. They found each other because of this commonality of a video game. They want to represent their love for each other because of this thing that brought them together where before they probably would have never met. We’ve created rings with a theme of World of Warcraft. We’ve created rings that have to do with The Legend of Zelda or The Lord of the Rings or any of the above, and it doesn’t have to be something of that theme. It could be that someone says, “I saw a ring that I loved, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted.” Whether they saw a ring that evoked emotions, but they have their grandmother’s diamond and that ring isn’t made for that diamond; how do you go about making that happen? At least half of the custom jewelry that we build is using heirlooms.
People are inheriting these very precious items from different family members, and they want to keep it as a part of their life. You hear the term disposable society, but there are still things that are very precious that people do want to hold onto and incorporate. Instead of letting a piece of jewelry sit in a jewelry box forever, why not turn it into something that you can wear, that you can enjoy and that breathes new life back into something that has so many cherished memories. That is something that was completely missing in this market was the ability to deliver that full flexibility in custom design. That’s what I wanted to create a safe, educational space that people could come and get what they want instead of being told, “These are your only options and just live with it.”
The fun part about this show is the reason that we’re doing this, is you’re doing some work for my wife. What you said reminds me exactly why she was here. We have a wedding band that has been in place for 30 plus years. It got beat up in an accident. We had the stone. My wife says, “I want to use some of the gold in my next recast. We were able to sit down and she said, “Thinner, thicker, taller, shorter this way, that way, the other, this kind of basket.” As you’re sitting here with the CAD, you can visualize, “Move the diamond, move the basket and twist of the basket, all of this detailed stuff. Once that’s done, you can say, “This is what the ring looks and there’s a picture of the gold or white gold, yellow gold or whichever. There are all of this custom visualization and the next step is you come in and you get to see a wax cast and have it done via your CAD program.
We take the exact digital representation of the ring that you approve on the screen. We have a mill as well as a prototyping machine that takes all of those digital components and creates it for us in the wax or in resin.
We came in and we got to see the wax cast and the wife goes, “Yeah.” She tried it on. “Yes, it fits,” and the whole bit. That’s fascinating in walking the talk, you’re not just talking about it. Part of the things I noticed here is the staff is excited to be here. You like being here. Talk to me about the leadership that you offer for your company and how that keeps your edge both in the marketing space and in the sales motivation that your team here has.
I have worked for so many different organizations before starting my own business, large and small. I worked for Target as a store manager. I worked for Victoria’s Secret as a store manager, and then I worked for a small advertising agency locally. I saw so many things about different leadership styles. I took away everything that I could from every manager that I had. One of the things that I found went the furthest with my team when I was a manager at Target was gratitude. When people do something that goes above and beyond the call of duty, just being thankful and recognizing, that can make such a big difference. When I was working for the advertising agency, the hardest part is you are always having to go above and beyond because it’s long hours. It’s hard hours and you’re dealing with a lot of other people’s money and you have to be sure that you’re putting your heart and soul into it.
In that situation, it was the reverse where it’s such a small company and everybody is so hyper-focused on getting their own tasks done that the management said, “Another day, another dollar.” Rather than, “I appreciate the fact that you were here until 2:00 in the morning to make sure that buy came together with the way it should.” With opening up this store, how do you motivate people? Money is a great motivator. How do you do that in a non-competitive way where you can make it a team experience? I wanted my business to be a profit-sharing company. I’ve been previously scoffed at almost like, “Why she would share your money?” For me, if you’re building a business from the ground up, why wouldn’t you? It makes so much sense to share everything that comes in and give it back to the people that make me successful because I’m not a jeweler. I can’t sit at the bench and play with fire and make a ring. That’s completely out of my wheelhouse.
I’m a stone cutter. When you take the equation to mean, “I am a part of something bigger and while I’m the one who has to make the big decisions, I can’t do anything with my business without my team,” then how do you turn that around and help motivate them? With the profit-sharing model that we have, it puts the ownership in the hands of everybody that works here. Instead of me micromanaging and having my fingers in everything, I can trust my shop that if they see something that’s not running efficiently and they know that it’s losing money for the business, they say, “That’s money out of my pocket. How do we fix it?” They’ve come up with some beautiful, simple solutions from practice in the shop and sharing ideas with me of ways that we can streamline our processes that saves us money and makes us more profitable, so everybody gets a cut.
You have this vision, the vision came from somewhere and then you go, “How do I take in and instill this culture?” Let’s say I’m the brand-new employee and I’m coming on board and go, “Let me tell you how this works.” What do you say to that new person that’s coming on board?
We have weekly meetings, but from the very beginning when we’re starting training with a new person, we always say, “Whatever experiences you’ve had in the past with management, don’t even think about that as a part of the equation. Think of this as your safe space. This is your second home.” We spend as much time with each other as we do with our spouses. When someone is coming into the business it’s, “This is your secondary safe space. This is where you can share your ideas,” Part of it is as an owner and as a manager, you have to be willing to listen because you never know when the next big idea is the one that saves your business.
Just because it doesn’t come from your own brain, it doesn’t mean that somebody in your company doesn’t see a way to fix a problem. If you put on blinders and you look away from all of the opportunities that could be right in front of you because they’re suggestions from your team. You can’t let pride get in the way. You have to be willing to take it from somebody else’s perspective and say, “Maybe I am approaching this wrong. Maybe I am thinking about this wrong.” Let them be a part of the tools that fix the problems that you may have or expand on the successes that you’re having and make them even more successful.
You and I talked briefly about this that it’s not just what you’re talking about. You can see it in the growth of your company because you’ve doubled in the past years.Be willing to listen because you never know when the next big idea is the one that saves your business. Click To Tweet
We started almost six years ago with our first year’s projections of $200,000. For a jewelry store in our city, that would be a pretty successful year. Our first year we did $405,000, double of what we projected. Then it was, “Where do we go from here?” It was putting projections out there but working towards those goals, how do we appeal to more customers? A big part of that is customer satisfaction. People are going to share a very good experience with other people and that’s a big factor in the growth of any business.
We were talking about that you guys are going to do the casting of my wife’s ring. We’re going to go from the wax to the metal and you guys said, “Would you like to come in and watch?” Who else does that? It’s part of the experience and my wife is highly excited about coming in and being able to be part of that.
That is very key because in so many situations you never get to see into a workshop and what that environment is like.
That reminds me of a chef’s kitchen when it’s open.
We had the wrap around windows because jewelry manufacturing is a dirty business and we want people to be able to see that. In a very small way, we end up being a part of people’s lives for the rest of their lives. If they don’t have a phenomenal experience, we’re the ones to blame. We need to make sure that every person that comes in loves what their experience is, but also shares that experience. Being a part of it is huge. Just to be able to say, “I got to see my ring be cast,” or “I brought in sketches on a napkin and they turned it into a reality,” and we’ve had that happen.
Everything about the way that we function is how we treat that person coming in our doors; they are absolutely paying our paychecks. We need to treat them with respect and compassion and educate everybody that comes through the doors so that way they can share that experience. And it’s even the same with my team; if they learn something, if they go to training somewhere and they learned something, they are excited to come back and share it with us. It’s sharing knowledge and sharing our passion. All of us are very passionate about jewelry.
We were pretty blown away by the visual representation of CAD. For you, innovation is obviously a key component of your success. How did that start for you? What was that decision like when you decided to use this particular tool or even this one that allows people not to use a loupe to look at stones?
There are a lot of jewelers that saw their heyday in the ‘80s and feel like business as usual is the way to go, big box stores included. We are finding that the technology that’s out there really makes everything; the sky is the limit. We’ve had people come in that have bought their own CAD software and tried to design a ring. It doesn’t quite work the same way because when you scale it down, what you see on the screen versus in reality. You always have to be respectful of metal tolerances. Just the size in general when you’re on a computer monitor versus when you’re creating a jewelry piece.
The technology that we invested in we had the opportunity to learn through the years. Pedro, the very first jeweler that I ever started with, got his training back in 2007 when the software that we use was brand new. He was working for a jewelry store in Wisconsin. They said, “Everybody’s going to learn this type of CAD software and we’re going to take it and run with it.” When he came on board, he shared the knowledge of CAD. It got me excited about it. My husband had experience in other CAD design software more for architecture and things like that. It was software that was absolutely necessary.
The big reason being is people are very visual. It’s difficult if you’re building a business that has very little inventory to help people visualize what it is they’re buying into. There’s no better way than to be able to give them a picture. You even saw how we could put a hand model into the picture that’s the size of the hand of the person who’s going to be wearing it to say, “Scale-wise, this is what this is going to look like.” If you go into a store and you see production jewelry, you’re going to see the same thing from store to store. 90% of what’s in big box stores all comes from the same three countries and the same twenty manufacturers – and that’s it. That’s why people sometimes come in here almost feeling exhausted because they’ve gone to every big box store in the mall and all of the larger stores in the city.
That was my wife’s experience, “Here’s the mount. Here’s the basket or would you like this particular ring?”
That’s not what you’re looking for. Since we don’t have that live inventory, we had to have a way to be able to share with people, “This is what you’re investing in. This is what you’re looking at, this is what you’re planning for,” and hold their hand and say, “Even with what you see on the screen, we can make little changes.” We include two hours of CAD design changes in every design that we do. Even when we go to wax, once somebody sees it and holds it and can interpret their proportions, if there are changes that they want to make from there, then they can. If it was a hand carved a piece, not so much. You can add a little wax.Make sure when you're bringing in new ingredients to the soup that you don't bring in something that doesn't belong. Click To Tweet
The thing I think is interesting, and I had thought about it a lot is the ownership of the experience by the guest because you go, “That’s my design.” Regardless of where they came through on CAD or whether you are driving the CAD design at the time. They’ll go, “I tweaked it here and tweaked it there and this and that and the other. That’s my design.” Shifting gears a bit, I’m thinking about your growth curve. You have this particular management insight that you got from your previous experiences. With that management insight, how do you apply that when you’re growing faster than your projections?
There are a lot of things that you can be looking for when you’re getting ready to hire on a new person and try to stay on top of the growth that you’re experiencing. We almost encountered a situation where we very nearly made it a very bad decision in the hiring process. The one thing that we stepped away from was interviewing for the personality to fit the team. You never know how someone is going to be from an interview to when they come on board, but there are a lot of big indicators when you’re going through the interview process. The big takeaway that I had from that is you can’t just go in and look at someone on paper and say, “This is exactly what we need and their interview was a little weird.” We were desperate at the time. This was when we were hiring our fourth employee.
How many employees do you have now?
There are eight full-time employees. We had encountered a very abrasive personality, but he had all of the other bells and whistles that we were looking for. It wasn’t until we were getting close to having him on board full-time. He was moving across the country and everything like that, that there were a couple of statements that were made over the phone that was like, “This is a red flag and we need to step back and reevaluate.” When you have that initial feeling upfront of, “Everything’s great. This is what we need,” but the personality doesn’t feel right, you should trust that gut instinct.
Since then when we’re interviewing people, we do bring them on board to spend half a day here and spend time with the team to see how everybody feels around that person. There’s a lot in making sure that when you’re bringing in new ingredients to the soup that you don’t bring in something that doesn’t belong. For us, the newest employee that we just added was like adding carrots to the stew. She was meant to be here all along and that’s what the focus should be. It takes all types to run a business and I recognize that, but I do think that being aware of who you’re interviewing and how they’re interacting with the team is a big indicator of whether or not they’re going to be successful in your company. You can’t force a square peg into a round hole.
I think about between Victoria’s Secret and Target, the number of people you must have come through the door on hiring and the wealth of perspective that came from that whole experience. With that, you weren’t always growing like this. You were a lean startup in the very beginning. On the human resource side, on a lean startup, if you were to look back over that timeframe, is there something you’d do differently?
I can’t say there’s anything that I would change. We dodged a bullet with not hiring the person who didn’t feel like the right fit. We’ve been very strategic in how we hire. When I was first starting the store, I said, “I need the best jeweler I have ever met in my life and I need him on board. I don’t know if I can afford him, but I’m going to try.” A part of my startup loan was I put two years of his wages. Explaining it to the bank, I said, “I think that I can make this work if I have the right person to start, but if I don’t have him, I’m not going to have the talent that I need to run the kind of business that I want to run.”
How did the bank take that because you did SBA?
I did SBA. The thing that I found is when you can smartly justify the decisions that you’re trying to make instead of saying, “I need this money just because,” especially working with a small bank, they’re very receptive. When we had first started going the loan process, I did try the speaking into a few larger banks and they were like, “It’s not $10 million. You’re not worth our time.” That was difficult. For someone starting out and wanting to start a small business and wanting to go that route of SBA, the biggest relationship that you can build on is a strong relationship with a local bank. You’re literally taking your life and your little nest egg and saying, “Please sir, can I have a moment of your time and a moment of your money to make this happen.” They’re more willing to listen to the reasons why, the how, and the plan than looking at a broad numbers picture.
In your business, creativity is a key component of what you bring to the table. Was that a skillset that you always had or how did that get instilled or created in you?
I grew up in a very unusual household. My mother was a painter and my father actually built bakeries for a living, large scale bakeries. The ones that do 500,000 loaves a day. When he got ready to retire from that business, he had a plan to, “I’m going to go into building homes. We’re going to move out into the country and we’re going to make it work.” It was scary there for a couple of years. My brothers are significantly older than me and were long since out of the house and married and I was a teenager. There was a winter that if my dad hadn’t shot a deer while hunting, we wouldn’t have had meat on the table. My family was a very proud family. We’re not going to go the route of seeking help from anybody or anything. We’re going to figure out how to make this work and we have to make this work, or we’re going to starve.
That was hard because as a teenager, everybody’s about the brand names and things like that. We were starving. I saw my dad’s entrepreneurial spirit where he said, “If I can’t build homes and if I can’t figure out how to find business, then I’m going to find another way to bring money into this household.” He started subcontracting services anywhere he could. If somebody had a broken water pipe and they couldn’t afford a plumber, he would go in and he would help for $50. It’s unlicensed contracting and we could get into another tangent on that, but it was, “This is how we’re going to survive.”The way people get better is by sharing knowledge and learning from each other. Click To Tweet
Even with starting up this business, I remember that. My big takeaway was when my husband was letting me put everything on the line, our house, our retirement and our cars. Everything that we had set aside through the years and risk at all, you can’t fail. You can’t let yourself fail. You have to look at little failures as opportunities. It’s a phrase that I hear so many business owners say, but that is the approach that you have to take. You can’t give up because something doesn’t go right. You have to say, “It went wrong. Now, how do I turn it around, learn from it and make myself a better businessperson?”
It is a common story. You go, “I want to make sure I won’t be the one that absolutely takes me out so that I don’t load up the gun and shoot at one thing.” There’s a generation that grew up in the depression and they behave a certain way. I think about the nature of what you observed firsthand because you suggested that you still do your own books. There’s nothing like keeping your finger on the pulse of your business. Now, do you still have the same bank that you started with?
Why did that relationship change?
The bank was sold to another bank and everybody jumped ship. I tried reaching out to find a new personal banker when the transition happened and I never got a call back. Imagine that. It’s the customer service.
It’s the antithesis of what you do because we called in one time and we asked to speak to you and they said, “I’m sorry. She’s with another guest.” A guest, which I thought was interesting. For you, you’re working on branding your company. We’ve got this brand, we have the markets that you’re delivering value to. What is it that you do, think or pursue to continue to brand your company?
I want people to recognize revolution as a change in the market. Revolution being the defining term. I have had the opportunity to still to this day work with a lot of other jewelry stores because of the technology that we have here. We’re able to assist when there are emergency situations for other jewelers. As a whole, I feel like revolution as a term is a change of thinking and a change of process. I always wanted to be the game-changer, not just in our market but in the industry. There are so many places that get stuck in the old school way of thinking because it worked for 20, 30, 50 years. It’s not just in the jewelry business, it’s in so many different businesses.
For me, the idea behind the branding is to have people see us as the place that you can go to do something differently. I want to be the place that everybody else strives to be. Obviously, there’s magic that happens here that we’re very fortunate to have created that can’t necessarily be replicated. I do feel like Revolution is doing something different, finding a new way and making it a reality. I wished that there were more businesses that when they start to see struggle, failure or anything like that, they take a new approach. Our marketing, we’re in movie theaters, we do social media, we’re on TV and we’re on the radio. It’s not spreading thin. You focus on key areas in those modes of advertising that work for you. The best advice I can give to anybody is if you only have $1,000 a month to spend in marketing, then spend that where you visit.
If you listen to the same radio station every single day, start with that. Start advertising on that one radio station that you listen to, but don’t spread yourself too thin. Hyper focus the money that you have. Working for an ad agency for so many years, it was the place that I would see a lot of companies coming in and spending their marketing dollars. They wanted to touch on everything. The campaigns that were the most successful were when you were focusing the money in a hyper-focused manner to a certain demographic at a certain time of day. That’s where the results would come in. That’s what we do with our money. We know that there are TV segments that we participate in that always drive clients into our business. We know that on Facebook, there’s a way of taking images that always gets a response. Take a look at your own habits of the way that you perceive other marketing. If you’ve got a little bit of money, then start spending it in the places that you frequent.
As you were talking about Revolution and you were talking about profit sharing, I’d like to follow the trail of thought process. Let’s say I’m the new employee and I said, “If we do this blue thing instead of this green thing, it will take and bring this to the bottom line,” so there’s a profit behavior. How is that relayed, shared or shown? For the rest of the employees, they go, “We did the blue thing instead of the green thing. This is what’s happening.” They actually understand profit in a business and how it affects them.
I operate the business as a very transparent company. At the end of the year, when we get through the holiday season and the insanity of all of that, in January we go out and we do a survival party together. That’s when I share all of the numbers in a final breakdown. I give them our balance sheet, I give them our profit and loss report and I don’t truncate anything. I show them all of the numbers that show all of the breakdowns so they can understand how our decisions are affecting the bottom line. There are a lot of companies that when I’ve gone and spoken with other jewelers, they’re like, “That’s scary to put that much information out there to employees.” Am I saying that it works for everybody? Not necessarily. But for me, I find that’s the only way that I can trust them to understand why our numbers are so important. Why we need to work together as a team to fix it is to share how we’re doing it, why we’re doing it and where we see success and where we see places that we can change a few things.
For the employees that are coming on board, initially what you see is we put up sales goal numbers like a thermometer. This is how close we are and this is what we’re striving for. Some of the newer people that we’ve brought on board, their background was working for commissions. There are months that you live very thin because it’s a slow season. In the jewelry business, the holidays roll around and you get commission checks in the $10,000 range. For me, I want everybody to work towards that bonus at the end of the year as their extra. I want people to be loyal and comfortable knowing that they have a good paycheck and a competitive paycheck. That there are all different benefits affiliated with working here.If it's your dream, you can't give up on that dream. Click To Tweet
We have a 401(k) plan. We do a lot of team things together so that way we can build that camaraderie. I think that it’s forcing that mind shift of, “I’m a part of a team. I’m not working for my commission check. I’m working for everybody,” the roof over their head, dance lessons for their daughters and softball for their sons or whatever the case may be. It’s a matter of how we work together to hit these goals and be successful for each other. Taking that competitive element out of commissions and shifting it to profit share is where that mind shift happens. The team member that I hired has only worked for commissions her whole time in the jewelry business. She was always making around $10 an hour plus whatever those commissions where. She’s making significantly more than that. She has a very solid paycheck now that she doesn’t have to wonder month to month, “How is this going to affect me? Do I have to make that sale?”
Instead, it turns into, “How do we make this work for this customer?” I don’t offer financing here. I don’t believe in it. When people are coming through our doors, and they have a budget in mind, I want to figure out a way to respect that budget so that way they want to come back rather than looking at a credit card statement every month and saying, “I shouldn’t have bought that $10,000 ring, but now I’m locked into it.” With us when they come in and they have a budget, we respect it and we figure out how to get them the things that they want and make it work. Educating them about what options there are to get them into the piece of their dreams, without having to go into a tremendous amount of debt. Since we’re not paying those commissions, nobody feels the need to pressure anybody into doing something that they’re not ready to do. Our customers feel a difference because when they’re coming in, they’re being respected and we’re helping them find a solution to what it is they’re looking for.
In thinking about your approach to entrepreneurship, which admittedly is not mainstream, if you to offer advice to a new business owner or the head of a company or a CEO, what advice would you offer that person if they were doing it for the first time?
Be prepared to accept change. That’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned in any business I’ve been involved in. I have seen businesses fail miserably because they’re not willing to accept change is coming. If you say, “This has worked for us and we had an off year, what can we change or what can we fix?” “No, nothing. It was just an off year.” There’s more happening if you have something that’s a little bit off. I think recognizing that, adapting to it and identifying what that problem is. We’ve always experienced growth and we’ve always had profitability. 2017 was a boom year for us. We put up sales goals and I had said to my team, “25% sales growth, that would be phenomenal this year.”
My head jeweler in the back said, “What are you going to do if we do 35% growth?” I said, “If we hit 35% growth, I’ll take everybody on a cruise.” Keep your promises because they did it. We had 38% growth that year, which is mind-boggling to me. Putting that number up and everybody realizing what had happened and it was mid-December. We still had two weeks in the year to go and we had hit that number. Growing up in the way that I grew up, it was an environment where your handshake is your bond and your word is your bond. I do believe that more entrepreneurs and small business owners need to do that. If you say you’re going to do something and your team helps you make that happen, then stick to it.
It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. What are the common misconceptions about you being an entrepreneur and your role?
I have a lot of other business owners locally that I have different lunch meetings with because they need help with marketing or they need help with team management. Being a mentor, when you found something that works is very important to help people learn from the mistakes that you’ve made or just to be a shoulder to cry on because that happens a lot in this business. One of the big misconceptions is everybody thinks I have oodles of college degrees and things like that backing me up. It’s not something that I normally ever share, but I have no college degree. I have barely a college education.
I went to school for one semester and realized that college wasn’t for me. I am a very focused person that I find I get the most gratification out of what I’m doing when I’m working with my hands and I’m sharing knowledge. When you think, 100 years ago, 500 years ago, a 1,000 years ago, universities weren’t a thing. The way that people get better is by sharing knowledge and learning from each other. There is this big paradigm shift that’s coming because we’ve had such a dramatic loss of hands-on labor force. That’s why so many jobs have gone overseas, but it doesn’t need to be that way. In the United States, there’s this tremendous opportunity for people to be willing to share knowledge of hands-on labor.
The apprentice program, which you are a product of, let’s talk about your passion.
Being the youngest child of three, my brothers were forced to drag along their baby sister when they were doing extracurricular activities. I had one brother that was very interested in fossil hunting and mineral hunting. Growing up, I was always dragged around behind my brothers and I was digging in the dirt looking for crystals and I loved it. It was a cool hobby. When my husband and I got married, I wanted to introduce him to what’s now commonly known as rockhounding and take him to a couple of public dig sites where you pay a fee and you spend a day playing in the dirt and pulling out crystals. That is what led to my apprenticeship opportunity. For our one-year anniversary, my husband was talking about getting me a pendant and he said, “Why don’t we have one of those crystals that we found together cut?” I knew that rocks come out of the ground one way and you buy him in a jewelry store in another way. I had never made the connection that there’s somebody in between that does the cutting.
I reached out through a local jewelry store and said, “Do you know anybody that happens to do rock cutting?” They said, “You need to contact this person.” I called this gentleman and he said, “Bring your crystals to my house. We’ll sit down. We’ll have a cup of coffee and we’ll take a look.” I went in thinking that I was going to meet somebody who could cut my rock. That was it. After a couple of cups of coffee and about three hours, he said, “If you like rocks this much, you should learn to cut.” I was blown away that he would even offer. He took me on as an apprentice and I did quite a few classes in his basement and this little rock cutting machine and learning how the formulas are written and how you interpret them. After about a month, he turned me loose. I helped him with a couple of repairs and did the journeyman process even. He said, “You need to go out and you need to pursue this.” At the time working for an ad agency, I had never even thought that that was something that could happen.
That’s not exactly congruent.
I know how to explain to people what I can do and I know how to get my name out there in a non-forceful way. I made a bunch of postcards and I went through the phone book at the time. I started mailing out postcards to jewelers all over the state of Colorado. Within two years I had to make the decision of, “Do I continue to pursue gem cutting or do I continue down the path of working in advertising?” At the time, I had moved up within the ad agency to be a media buyer. When you’re trying to balance time and decide, what do you want to do? I want to follow my bliss. I want to do the thing that makes me happy and is therapeutic. I want to sit and I want to cut rocks and I want to play with rocks all day long. When you start talking about, “How do you grow a business?” It started there where you do right by somebody.
The number of jewelers that were sharing my information with other jewelers in different parts of the country and eventually different parts of the world, I was getting fifteen to twenty shipments a week of gemstones that needed to be repaired; that the jewelry store owner’s previous cutter had gone blind or passed away. It was a dying art. At that time, there were only about 150 full-time cutters and master faceters in the United States. Thank goodness, there’s been this renaissance of gemstone cutting and there’s a new generation coming up that’s doing it. At the time I was a part of “in” the club that could handle it. It was all because of word of mouth and sharing the information and it grew my business. For the longest time, it was gemstone faceting. That was from apprenticeship to journeyman to turning it into a business, that was what I did. I did get to the point that I was making the same money doing stone cutting as I was working as a media buyer. It was very satisfying.
Looking at the business for motivation, what keeps you going? We were talking about you go 20 or 30 years down the road, what keeps you motivated to look down the road?
I look forward to not only meeting the children of the people that come in and buy wedding rings in their marriages, then their family expanding, and being a part of grandchildren, other family members; being involved in so many different people’s lives because we did touch them and we did have a positive impact. There’s an entire generation of people who don’t know what it’s like to have a family jeweler because they’re going away. I want to bring that back. The number of smiles, hugs, happy tears and even sad tears when we’re mourning together or celebrating together, whatever the case may be, just to be a part of that, I treasure it. It’s easy to get out of bed in the morning and to come in and say, “I’m affecting somebody in a positive way and how can I make this day even better than the last?”
I was going to ask you about self-talk when you get up in the morning, some days are better than others. Is there that internal discussion that you have or self-talk that keeps you fired up and go on?
I go back to when I was writing my first checks out of the store’s account. The first money that we had made that was going out the door, I wanted to do it in a symbolic way to remind myself where I’m starting. The first check went to Pedro because he was the person who said yes. The second check was to the vendors because if we didn’t have supply coming in to be able to cast and do the work that we do, then we wouldn’t have a business. I paid myself last. A big motivator for me is my employees. Being able to see how they’re getting to do things in their lives that they never thought they would be able to do. Whether it’s because they’re pursuing a different career path than they had originally started down, or because they’re on the career path that they always wanted to be on but never thought it was going to make them a lot of money. Being able to see them enrich their lives and getting to do things with their families that previously they had only dreamt of. Being involved in that way and knowing that while I may not have children of my own, I’m creating a legacy and an expectation of how to live your life better, that’s motivation every single day. Just to get up and to be a part of everybody else’s journey. My team is my family.
- For the folks who are going to like, “I’m all in. How can I find you on social media?” What’s the best way to find you on social media?You can definitely find us on Facebook, Revolution Jewelry Works. Also, on Instagram @RevolutionJewelryWorks. On Instagram, we’re posting photos of the fabrication process. On Facebook, we’re posting pictures of the things that we have completed. Our website is very unique. It’s RJW.Rocks. We try to keep people apprised of the things that we’re doing and we post videos all the time. There are a lot of opportunities to interact with our business, but also to become educated whether you shopped with us or not. If I can teach people a few things about how to buy jewelry and how to approach their shopping a little bit differently, then it’s a win for me.
Is there a quote whether you picked up elsewhere from your family that you find meaningful or that should influence your success?
“Never give up, never surrender.”
It’s not only a quote, but it’s a reminder when you go like, “What’s your choice?” “I don’t have one.”
There are going to be times that it feels exhausting and it feels almost like maybe it’s not rewarding but you can’t give up. If it’s your dream, you can’t give up on a dream. I’ve watched Shark Tank and I’ve seen people say, “Just let it go,” but don’t. If it’s something that you feel passionately about, then share it. You may need to change your approach. I do think that educating your potential consumers, sharing information and keeping your passion, that’s a huge driver for success. I feel it interprets to your potential customer base.
Thinking about the future, we talked about this a little bit, advice, maybe some business intelligence for the small business or startup that’s thinking about maybe somewhere down the road they’re going to sell their business. What type of advice might you offer about that exit thought process?
We built in an exit strategy. It was initially my husband and I, but the team has become involved as we’ve grown. For me, I want to create a legacy where I don’t want this feeling to go away when I’m ready to retire. For me, sharing my business philosophies and encouraging my team to embrace them and see how they’re working is a way to lead into the exit strategy, which is to sell the business to my team. I don’t want to sell to a corporate environment that comes in, breaks down and destroys everything about what we’ve done. I want it to be, “I’m creating wealth in my team. I’m am encouraging them to save. I’m encouraging them to build their wealth and they also know that down the road when I am ready to retire, they are going to have the opportunity to buy the business.” If they’re planning now, then they’ll be able to take ownership and continue the success that we’ve seen. Having it out there that someday this is going to be yours, if you’re in it for the long haul, is a great way to get the right people on your team that does want to affect change and do want to see the growth of the business. They believe as much as you do that they’re going to be the owners someday. It does make all the difference in the world.
Jennifer, you have been extremely forthcoming. My comment to anybody that is interested, it’s a remarkable experience. We were firsthand experiencing what you do. Hence, I said I have to get you on the show because I thought you were unique in your approach and what you offered. We’re looking forward to telling some of the folks that are in the family of the show that we have about what you do and what you bring to the table. Thank you so much for taking the time.
About Jennifer Farnes
Jennifer Farnes was born, raised, and attended college in Montana. As a child, her brothers would take her adventuring into the mountains in search of rocks, fossils, and crystals. From sapphire hunting and digging for garnets, to panning for gold and collecting minerals, her love of the outdoors and rock-hounding never subsided. In 2003 she accepted an opportunity to learn the art of stone faceting, which expanded her love of rocks into a new career. She is now a full-time Master Faceter, providing custom gemstone cutting and lapidary services to jewelers across the country. She has continued her education in the jewelry industry by receiving recognition from GIA as an Accredited Jewelry Professional. Jennifer is the heart and soul of Revolution Jewelry Works and provides expertise in all aspects of custom jewelry design.
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