Four candidates are vying for three open spots on the Columbia Public Schools Board of Education. Ahead of the election on April 4, CBT caught up...
Mills Menser grew up in the diamond business. His father, Michael Menser, purchased Buchroeders Jewelers from the Buchroeder family in 1971. Mills purchased the company in 2007.
One hundred and twenty years after its creation in 1896, almost everything about Buchroeders has evolved, a trend Mills plans to continue.
“Average is a failing formula now,” Menser says. “You used to be average and keep your doors open and carve a living out of it for yourself. Today, if you’re average, and you’re a small business, you close. There are too many efficient businesses that will work harder than you.”
Like many industries, the internet has impacted how the jewelry industry works.
“It has flattened the profit margins in the jewelry industry, which is fine — it’s done that to every other industry, and those have all survived and thrived,” Menser says.
While the brick-and-mortar Buchroeders sells 600 engagement rings a year, online sales have grown because Menser has embraced the technology. The margins are thinner, he says, but their reach is much wider. Operating online, Buchroeders recently sold a canary diamond to someone in Australia and a Rolex to someone in Hong Kong. By 2020, their goal is for 25 percent of revenue to come from online sales.
Menser started the buying arm of Buchroeders, diamondbanc.com, in 2008. It acquires diamonds and jewelry nationwide, mostly online, and has locations in Kansas City, Charlotte, and coming soon in Atlanta, partnering with large stores established in those areas. They also buy inventories and diamonds from retailers ceasing operations, which keeps costs of manufacturing and mining down, lowering prices.
It’s all for changing ahead of the curve. “With the endless choices that consumers have in the world that we live in . . . the traditional jewelry retail model, in my opinion, is no longer viable,” Menser says.
Buchroeders has evolved to a hyper-focus on bridal jewelry, which accounts for 85 percent of business. Diamond engagement rings, loose diamonds, settings, and wedding bands.
The consumer coming in for bridal jewelry is always changing, one reason why Mills emphasizes keeping up with trends. That means offering wholesale or online pricing with a luxury experience. “Today, consumers have all the power, which is probably the way that it should be,” he says. “And so everyone wants the lowest possible price, and they also want the service. They no longer want to choose.”
Buchroeders has a non-stuffy feel: there’s Logboat beer on tap, chocolates from The Candy Factory, and they will text with clients instead of making phone calls. The environment has increased foot traffic and referrals, Menser says.
Shopping for engagement rings and wedding bands has changed with technology. Many brides now have Pinterest boards with exact ideas in mind, which makes customization more important.
Buchroeders uses computer-aided design software to create custom design ideas that allow customers to see options without paying. That, plus a repair shop with a certified bench jeweler and an insurance-like maintenance program on Buchroeders jewelry, ensures the company can help with all customer needs.
“We’ll buy it, we’ll sell it, we’ll repair it, we’ll appraise it,” Menser says. “We’re a 360-degree jeweler because we will help our customer on every front.”
The 12-person team that works out of the downtown headquarters is empowered with autonomy. Menser focuses on creating a horizontal work environment with little bureaucracy.
Office Manager Keri Barrett has been with the company 12 years. A Columbia native, she faxed in an application after graduating college and was hired by Michael Menser. Today, she runs operations and bookkeeping.
“I take a lot of pride in knowing I’m doing something good for the business, representing and furthering the business,” Barrett says. “I feel like I’m in my dream job. I’m surrounded by jewelry and beautiful things every day, and it’s kind of like I’m working for myself at the same time.”
While the company’s 120-year legacy does bring referrals, it isn’t what their success is about. Looking forward, Mills says their vision is to become one of the largest diamond suppliers in the Midwest. They won’t rest on the company’s reputation. Modern customers don’t value brand — they value experience, and they vote with their dollars.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the customer, not the brand,” Menser says. “It’s a feather in the cap. You value [the longevity] and celebrate it, but I would not say it’s a clear competitive advantage.”