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In the beginning

How It All Started

Wilson Diamonds was established in Provo in 1974 by Keith and Richard Wilson, who were students at Brigham Young University. Their whole idea to start a store came from Richard’s attempt to buy a diamond engagement ring from the local stores.

After looking around at other jewelry stores in Utah, Richard was disappointed at the lack of real information available from salespeople about quality, price, and disrespect towards customers. Keith and Richard saw the opportunity to open a store that focused on the customer and their needs, while providing low prices on quality diamonds and engagement rings. Using Richard’s Belgian diamond source (another long story), they began to develop this side of diamond sales in Provo. Their whole philosophy was to sell better quality for less, focus on engagement and wedding rings, and empower people by giving them the tools they needed to understand quality with rings and diamonds.

 

Keith Wilson

Since 1986, Keith Wilson has pursued a teaching career and no longer plays an active part in the management of Wilson Diamonds. He now has a doctorate degree and teaches religion full time at BYU. His first love has always been teaching.

The way Wilson Diamonds teaches its customers is largely his legacy. He has eight children, 14 grandchildren, and lives in Provo with his wife of 35 years, Linda.


Richard Wilson

Richard now handles the day-to-day management responsibilities of the store, as well as a sizable wholesale network. Richard has been married for 36 years to Debbie, and they have six children and ten grandchildren. He lives in Orem.

Richard Wilson received his undergraduate degrees in microbiology and chemistry from BYU, with minors in English and Math. He also received a master’s degree from BYU. Richard went on to complete all GIA courses available on diamond grading. (see The Learning Center)

AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD WILSON

Your schooling was in the hard sciences. How did you get into jewelry?

It all started because I actually shopped for an engagement ring. I really hated seeing something so significant treated so sloppily. Being somewhat of a perfectionist, I decided there was a real need for someone to open a store that provided a different experience where people were treated with respect and sales pitches were legitimate. At first I just wanted to do it long enough to get through BYU, but the way we did things seemed to really hit a nerve. Consequently, the business grew rapidly and I decided to stay with it once my masters program was completed. That was 34 years ago.

So what did you do differently from other jewelers in Utah?

First, we decided we would charge less than anyone. This required us to buy very well and have a large following which we’ve been able to do.

Second, we decided to never have a “sale” marking up to markdown. Instead we decided to guarantee in writing the lowest price always. We hated the negotiating game and we’re convinced customers did too. We are a one-price store.

Third, we didn’t put our people on commission since it makes them pushy and greedy.

Fourth, we decided to specialize and only sell engagement rings. This allows us to have 3 to 4 times more selection than our nearest competitor in Utah.

Fifth, we chose to educate our customers how to buy a good diamond and compare prices accurately. We answer questions truthfully, directly, and completely, unlike most retail jewelers.

How is it that you can charge less and still deliver quality?

Lower mark-up is a big part of our lowest price equation. When you charge less, you get more customers. More customers allows even lower mark-ups. After 34 years of lowering prices you become a very tough competitor.

Another huge reason for our lower prices is how we buy. We are the only  jeweler in Utah that travels to India to buy directly.  India is the source where 10 out of 11 of the world’s diamonds are cut.  The prices are the best, but you have to have lots of cash to do business there.  Most jewelers in the Utah/Provo area have cash flow problems, so they borrow diamonds (called “on memo”) from dealers instead of buying them outright from direct sources. They only have to pay for them when they sell, but they pay 30-40% more for their diamonds doing it that way.

Cash flow problems also mean that most jewelers borrow money constantly. This creates interest overhead which further complicates cash flow. We have never borrowed money to run our business, but instead elected to grow at a slower rate and have cash with which to buy at the lowest world rate there is.

A third reason is our specialization. We only sell diamonds and engagement rings which sell much faster than watches, porcelain, and fashion jewelry. Our faster turnover gives us the cash with which to buy from direct sources overseas. We are the only jeweler in Utah that sells only engagement rings.

A fourth reason is our non-commissioned sales people. We don’t have to pay out a percentage on each sale as others do.

You're a charter member of the American Gem Society (AGS). What's that?

AGS is a non-profit jewelers organization that monitors their members for gemology expertise and ethical selling practices. Less than 5% of jewelers nationally qualify to belong, and even less are accepted. Member jewelers have to be re-certified yearly through rigorous testing. The advantage for the customer is the assurance that diamonds offered by an AGS jeweler are properly represented. By contrast, most jewelers answer to no one.

I hear you don't hire people with prior jewelry experience. Why is that?

We definitely wanted to avoid the canned sales pitches. We wanted genuine, “normal” fun personalities in our people. It turns out that people who sell jewelry for a living are typically scripted, impatient, or commission-driven. We didn’t want any of that, and it’s too hard to un-train people with experience. So we hired fresh, intelligent people and give them extensive gemological training. They are very good at creating the comfortable non-pressure experience we’re famous for.

What training do you require for your salespeople?

A new salesperson doesn’t help a customer until they have gone through 6 months of extensive gemological training. This includes GIA and AGS curricula, as well as customer service training. Most stores train for 2 days to 2 weeks. When you talk with our people they know what’s up.

At one point in their training they have to go and compare our prices with all other stores in the valley (41 of them!) . This gives them first-hand knowledge of how low our prices are. They don’t just repeat what they’ve been told, they know it.

Have you thought about opening more stores outside of Provo?

We had 3 stores at one time but found that it was too difficult long distance to control the experience for people. We didn’t want our name on a sloppy store, so we closed it down to one in Provo. Besides, one store provides sufficient profit if it’s run correctly. More stores often feed your ego but take up your life running them. I didn’t want to be that busy.

How do you ensure your diamonds come from legit sources?

We rigorously follow the Kimberly Process requirements for diamond purchases as laid out by the U.N. (see diamondfacts.org) We have written guarantees from our suppliers as well, and only deal with legit cutters buying directly from DeBeers. We also purchase many of our diamonds from Canada which guarantees no money gets into the hands of rebels.

Tell me about your humanitarian projects

I firmly believe in giving back to those less fortunate. We have put on several free concerts in support of Operation Smile. We support Special Olympics regularly. We employ a handicapped girl to work setting out and cleaning our rings every morning. We pay employees for humanitarian trips to Mexico where we help build schools and work with orphanages. My partner went to Guatemala for an entire month and took all eight of his kids. They taught LDS members how to play simple hymns on portable keyboards that they then donated. My next humanitarian trip is to Barmejillo, Mexico, in July for 12 days, to work at a school.

I hear you are quite the bicycle enthusiast.

Yes, I commute to work 10 miles on my bicycle and have done for the last 20 years, even during winters. It’s my contribution to air quality in Utah Valley. Plus, I actually like it. I’ve also ridden twice from Oregon to New York in an effort to bring attention to going green for America. It seems silly to me that most of us take extra time to exercise and then go hop in a car to go to work or school. I put about 4000 miles on my bike each year.

Any last words for people who are looking to get engaged?

I think you will enjoy the experience at my place. It’s different. No pressure, lowest prices, and an overwhelming selection of quality rings. I think we’re the real deal.

By the way, if you want to check out how our customers feel about us, and other stores as well, go to www.companyrank.com. This is place where people rate a business and vent about poor service.

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