You’ve seen their ads (perhaps one on your computer screen right now).
You’ve heard and probably laughed at their ads on WCHL – about bling, the end of the world or the choice of sleeping on the sofa with your golf clubs or in the bed with your wife.  Very fun and clever.
You may know about their awards:

  • Small Business of the Year by the Chapel Hill Carrboro Chamber of Commerce in 2002.
  • Best Jewelry Store by readers of the Chapel Hill News in 2005.
  • Best Jewelry Store in Orange/ Chatham County by readers of the Independent Weekly in 2008.
  • Best Jeweler in Chapelboro 2011.

 And you may know owner Berkeley Grimball, whose favorite line is, “We are hard-wired to love small shiny objects.”
What you may not know about is the polishing needed for Grimball Jewelers to become such a shining example of good business.  Polishing Berkeley shared with me when I interviewed him shortly after Grimball Jewelers won Business of the Year.  It was an interesting and inspiring story then.  And still is.  In particular to people in business who are going through rough times.  And so I thought Good Business would be a good place to re-visit and update the story.
When Berkeley was in college in the early 1970’s, he and his roommate started making jewelry by bending silver wire.  They created necklaces, bracelets and rings and sold them at craft shows and sororities.
In 1985, Grimball Jewelers opened in a 350 square foot space in Carr Mill Mall; moved to West Franklin Street in 1986; and to their current 2400 square foot location on Elliot Road in 2000.
That makes a total of forty years as a jewelry maker, manager, salesperson, bookkeeper, personnel manager and all the other roles a business owner plays. 
In my interview with him, I wanted to know:  “What were the rough times (or shall we call them “opportunities for polishing”)?  And what were the lessons learned? 
Here are six primary lessons, with stories about each by Berkeley.
1.  Communicate. 

Berkeley:   “One of the first epiphanies I had about management was when I hired my second employee.   
“Two days after we hired him, the first employee walked out – just quit on the spot – because we hadn’t really informed her of what the nature of the second employee’s job was. 
“So I thought ohhh, ok…that’s an eye opener…so that’s what managers have to do…communicate.  So that was a big one there.”
2.   Be prepared for crisis management and system development because businesses grow in fits and starts.
Berkeley:  “It’s never a smooth process.   Usually what happens is your volume starts to overcome a certain system and then there’s a crisis.  And then you figure out how to deal with the crisis and try to instate a new system – or a better system.  And hopefully you are able to put a new system in which will accommodate the increased volume and can carry on from there. 
“But that’s where all the stress comes – is when you’re constantly going from crisis to crisis and that’s when you really start to learn what managing is.   You know, in terms of trying to understand what the next crisis is or trying to head off the next crisis before it actually happens.” 
3.  Role definition is critical.
 Berkeley: “When you have a partner, role definition is completely critical. 
“In my experience, the most successful business partnerships have been ones in which one person had a role completely different from the other.  One was the numbers person, the other was the front person, one was the creative and one was the operations or something like that.
“It gets difficult when both people are too similar.  Then you start to butt heads and things like that.   It means that very little can ever get done.” 
 4.  Delegation is critical to success.
Berkeley:  “My main advice would be, you have to learn how to delegate.
“It’s easy to micromanage everything and if you do that you’re going to be stressed out all the time or  be making bad decisions because you can’t be on top of every single detail and that’s where key people come in.  It’s real critical, particularly in the beginning.”
Berkeley hired a consultant a few years ago and learned a lot.  One thing the consultant told him was that he needed to get a bookkeeper and stop doing the books himself.

Berkeley:  “It was one hat that I wasn’t wearing well.  It was a full time job as it turned out, and I wasn’t doing it as a full time job because I had too many other things to do.  So I got a bookkeeper. 
“It was a large step to take because it’s generally information you tend to want to keep private.  But it has made my life many times easier and made the business much much better because I’m able to concentrate on the things that I do better.” 

What did he see happen as a result? 
Berkeley:  “The whole strength of the business financially, is really much better. Just because someone is there taking fulltime responsibility for that part of it.” 
 What did he use that extra time to do in his business? 
Berkeley:  “Planning.  Trying to find out what the next step is.


“It freed me up to try and understand the bigger picture of where the business should be going.  Because the more bogged down you are with details, the more bogged down you are with trying to make sure the next dollar comes in the door; then the less able you are to try and understand where you want to be in the next years, in 5 years and that sort of thing.”

5.  The importance of persistence.

Was there ever a time that Berkeley wondered if the business would make it?

Berkeley:  “Absolutely. There was a period when…we had our store in Car Mill, we took on a third partner; opened a store in Durham and soon after,  moved to the Franklin Street location. There were all sorts of problems with the third partner and we didn’t have  nearly enough capital. 
“So there were about six months when  every morning I would wake up and I was sure we would never make it because we had so much more debt and no money was coming in. 
“We got rid of the third partner,  borrowed some money, sucked it up and carried on.
“So I would say to people, if you are sure you have a good solid business idea, then carry on.  We went for years  practically making no money while working 6-7 days a week ….and that was of course very stressful.  You can only do that for so long.  Fortunately it turned around.  There is always going to be a low spot.  You can probably minimize that by not making incredibly stupid decisions like we did. 
“I feel like I got an MBA’s worth of education in one year of huge mistakes.  That’s why I would say get advice – particularly in the beginning.  There is good advice out there.  There are books to read. 
“That’s when I realized I was going to have to learn a lot more about business… because up to that point I had simply been a jeweler.  I had no actual idea of what it takes – as far as the nuts and bolts of business.”
6.  The power of passion.
What kept him going?   Being in a business he loved.
Berkeley:  ” If we had decided – okay – let’s go into x or y business we certainly wouldn’t have carried on.  If I had simply said  – okay –  I’ve got a business degree and I’m going to start a business,  I’m sure I would have decided  to do another business at that point.   Since we came into it from nuts and bolts, the hands on part of it carried us through.”
What great messages from Berkeley Grimball about  the importance of:

  1. Communication
  2. Systems and crisis management
  3. Role definition
  4. Delegation
  5. Persistence
  6. Passion

 What else is important to success?  In a recent blog post*, Berkeley shared three guarantees which  can be expressed in  six words.  

1.  Tell the truth.
2.  Help somebody.
3.  Exercise.

 That’s six lessons plus six words – that have  contributed  to the shining of Grimball Jewelers.    
All good tips for good business.

It’s a beautiful article.  Here’s a link to Three Guarantees.
And here’s a link to the Grimball Jewelers website.
You can visit the store in person at 79 S. Elliott Road in Chapel Hill.

Are there any tips here that can help you polish your business? 
Got any others to suggest? 
Would love to hear from you. 
Use the comment section below or write to: