James Avery, a family-owned jeweler in the Texas Hill Country, has a Cinderella story that began in 1954, with $250 and a wooden workbench in his mother-in-law’s (Gladys Ranger) garage. Having left a teaching career, he knew he needed to make a living to support his growing family. With three children, one of them a newly-born future President and CEO of the company, he worked alone for the first several years to create jewelry that had a special meaning for him and his customers, as well as pieces that had lasting value for each generation.
Thus, James Avery Craftsman was born, and the rest is history. But sometimes history has a way of evolving and adapting, changing creative direction. Not at today’s James Avery. President and CEO, Chris Avery, (3rd of 6 sons of James Avery who worked in most areas of the business back in high school) discusses e-commerce web shopping with customer wish lists, call centers, manufacturing and distribution centers. Together with brother, Paul Avery (Executive Vice President and 6th son), they tell us about the importance of keeping the founding design principles of simplicity, integrity, meaning, and universality. They sat down with us in their corporate offices to talk about their grand plans for the future, as they relate to the past.
According to Paul, “We are one of the only truly, vertically integrated companies in any business segment; meaning, we design, manufacture and sell our own product.” Almost all aspects of operations are completed in-house, from the original concept of each piece of jewelry to producing the pieces for their retail stores, to designing their catalogs, and even building their own furniture. Every detail has a purpose geared toward quality-control and making the customer’s experience a memorable one that remains true to the original spirit.
Employees of James Avery are as loyal as their customers. Twenty years of service is not unheard of. Employees are corporately recognized for their longevity, with several staff who have worked for James Avery thirty, even forty years. Employees are treated like family, and they are valued beyond what they produce for the company. It’s a quiet culture in a clean, safe work environment that is reflected in the shopping experience.
James Avery employs as many as 2,700 people in peak season, with 1,400 being the average for full-time personnel. 330 people work at the Kerrville headquarters. With workshops in four different Texas communities, they represent one of the largest private employers in the area. Considering the populations in Comfort and Hondo, with 150 and 90 employees, respectively, they are definitely the largest employer in those towns. They employ 60 in their Fredericksburg workshop as well.
Customers can shop several different ways with James Avery. Many make the pilgrimage to James Avery’s Kerrville store based on the 40-acre corporate campus. Driving onto the property, you notice how neat and tidy the landscape is. Limestone rock buildings with mature oak trees scattered about indicate you are somewhere special; this is the heart of the Hill Country. Visitors are directed to the retail store or Visitor’s Center. Holiday shoppers may find parking at a premium, but patience will prevail as some happy buyer drives away with their bounty.
As with many retailoriented businesses, James Avery ventured into internet commerce about nine years ago. In the beginning, it was strictly an online catalog and you called to place your order with a customer service representative. Since then, JamesAvery.com has developed into a dynamic tool that allows the shopper to develop Wish Lists (because we get what we want when we make lists!), and browse by every imaginable category.
The promise of a new direction in e-commerce became a reality when John McCullough came on board in 2006. As V.P. of Sales & Marketing, John has oversight of marketing, sales and real estate. He comes across as contemplative, and has a quiet focus that complements the executive team. Focus on the customer to drive the future is something they all agree on, by providing the right shopping environment, whether it’s the retail store, online or through the call centers. It’s totally dependent on how the customer wants to shop.
When asked about the catalogs, they are quick to note that technology may be driving the future of jewelry sales, but catalogs will continue to be a means of communication with the customer. Each year, James Avery designs and produces 7 separate catalogs of various titles and sizes to be mailed to consumers, and this year alone, more than 29,000,000 catalogs (using recycled paper) will be delivered through the US Mail. There is just something about receiving that textured p aper booklet and sitting down with a cup of tea to peruse and dream.
Retail stores are still a mainstay of sales for James Avery. What began in a garage almost sixty years ago, with one man, has expanded to sixty-nine stores throughout Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, as well as Texas. According to Chris, “We think there are [still] opportunities in Texas, but we also believe that we need to be successful out-of-state. Out-of-state growth will be a major focus over the next five to ten years.” McCullough adds, “We have opened more stores out-of-state rather than in-state, in the last few years.” This poses a unique challenge in developing brand recognition and bringing it up to the same level as their Texas presence of 50+ stores.
The buzz about a new retail store in Kerrville is true; you heard it here first. They are in the midst of planning to build a larger store on the corporate campus. It will provide glimpses of the past with a fresh, updated look that will be gradually implemented into other locations. The new store will also be built in conjunction with a new Visitor’s Center. Attributes, such as “well thought-out and laid out” and “better access, with more parking” bring visions of a more contemporary design. If we know anything about the history of this group, it will remain true to its roots and the new style will blend effortlessly with the existing. Though still a secret as to the timing of work beginning, we learned they are working toward a summer 2014 completion. Ladies, mark your calendar for the Grand Opening!
We came away with confidence that the company is in trusted hands with its present leadership, and the future is promising. James Avery is experiencing steady growth, and plans to add another eighty-five employees in manufacturing this year. They believe they are on the right track and are excited about the future grand plans.