Updated: July 24, 2006 at 12:00 am
The “Serving You With Love” sign is posted in the showroom, a daily reminder to customers and employees of the one core value that is non-negotiable at Luisa Graff Diamonds and Jewelers in Colorado Springs. The slogan stands out in a retail setting where slogans are usually meant to emphasize quality, low prices, experience or some sort of product imagery. Love? To some that might seem a little too precious for a store selling precious gems. “People ask, ‘Well, what does that mean?’” Graff said. “To me it means integrity, it means service and creating memo- ries. Everybody who works here is committed to making it a better place. Not just to take, but to give. “I tease them, I say ‘When you feel you are giving 150 percent and you are taking 80, that’s probably when it’s fair.’ Because you always feel you are getting less than you are giving. It’s just human nature. So get the joy out of giving and they’ll come back to you.” Even at a time when retail is increasingly trending toward megastores and online shopping, this commitment to personal service is a natural fit with a jewelry store such as Graff’s. People buying a wedding ring or piece of jewelry for someone they love do not want the experience to be perfunctory, to leave the store with the same feeling they’d get from buying tools at Sears. As proof, Graff points to her bottom line. After more than 20 years with Megel & Graff Jewelers, Graff struck out on her own in late 1999. Her first full year of business in 2000 brought revenue of $1.6 million, well ahead of her business-plan target, followed by $2.2 million in 2001. Last year revenue surpassed $3.5 million at her Centennial Boulevard store. “About 90 percent of family-owned jewelry stores do $1 million a year in revenue, and many of them never break $2 million,” Graff said. “At first when I would tell people we were doing it with love, that was sounding kind of corny to gentlemen in the industry. But now that they have seen the growth that I’ve had, well, now they are listening a little.” Luisa Graff Diamonds and Jewelers was the Gazette’s Best of the Springs choice as best jewelry store for 2006 and also the readers’ choice. Graff gives most of the credit for this success to her staff of 20. The sales staff — almost exclusively women — is rarely chosen for their experience in the jewelry industry, or even the retail business, for that matter. What she looks for when hiring, Graff said, is a “good heart and a good spirit,” along with honesty and a desire to serve. “I have a tremendous number of employees who seem to come from the medical fields,” Graff said, “people who get burned out but still have that desire to love and help and do it with integrity. They do very well here.” As great as this very personal approach to retail plays in her business, Graff knows that the quality — and affordability — of the inventory has to be there for customers to return. This means travel — lots of travel. During the first five months of this year, Graff was on the road about half fo that time, shopping for new sources for her fine jewelry, attending conventions and doing speaking engagements. Graff is proud of the work and results she has achieved with it, but she never wants to come off like she is bragging about it. She went to an all-girls Catholic school in Lima, Peru, in her youth, and bragging was frowned upon. She has developed her sense of self through a mix of nature and nurture. Graff, born to an American engineer/metallurgist/chemist father, Wayne Davis, and a Peruvian mother, Anna Maria, identifies herself as “being born a very loving child.” But she also lived through a military coup in Peru in which her family lost all of its property and business, and her father was taken prisoner by the Peruvian military. “By the age of 12 I’d seen death,” Graff said. “I’d seen war. I’d seen the worst of man. I have been exposed to a lot, and I know what mankind is capable of. “But I refuse to let that make me bitter, and I do think that every morning each of us has a choice. We can get up and choose to be better and choose to make a difference in somebody else’s life.” Graff was able to leave Peru at the age of 12 and joined her sister Anna Charlotte living with their aunt in Colorado Springs. Graff graduated from Palmer High School in 1977 and attended two years of college at Claremont-McKenna College in Southern California before running out of money. Springs jeweler Ed Megel, for whom Graff had worked when not in school, offered to pay for her to be trained as a gemologist. She took extension courses from the Gemological Institute of America and then went to classes at its then-Santa Monica, Calif., headquarters, receiving her diploma in 1982. “It certainly wasn’t what I intended to do,” Graff said, “but I thought, ‘No education is ever wasted.’” At 22, she became the first female gemologist in Colorado and the youngest GIA diploma winner in the western states. Graff worked at Megels Jewelers until Ed retired, and then she purchased a 30 percent interest in the business when son Gary Megel took over to create Megel & Graff Jewelers. The decision to move out on her own was a logical progression, a chance to create a company true to her closest-held values. She said she was surprised when she came to America. “Here was America, the richest country in the world, and yet it was the poorest in love. Whereas in Peru at the time we had nothing, but we had a lot of love. “You try to help others, but not with handouts. Certainly you can’t change the world, but you can provide precious moments. That’s what I have tried to do.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0126 or firstname.lastname@example.org WHO SHE IS Occupation: Owner of Luisa Graff Diamonds and Jewelers. Hometown: Lima, Peru, before moving to Colorado Springs at age 12. Education: Attended Claremont-McKenna College, Claremont, Calif., 1978-79; received diploma from Gemological Institute of America in 1982. Family: Married to Matt Coleman since April 2005; sons Joseph Graff III, 25, and Andrew Graff, 21, from previous marriage to Joseph Graff. Previous jobs: Gemologist for Megels Jewelers, partner in Megel & Graff Jewelers.