By Jayne Gest
At a time when the competitive nature of retail is high, and buyers have global access to products, Diamond Cellar Holdings LLC remains committed to providing the quality products and top-notch customer service that keep its customers coming back.
As one of the largest independently owned jewelry stores in the U.S., the company serves customers around the globe with two Diamond Cellar locations and two STORE 5a locations in Columbus, and a Bruce G. Weber Precious Jewels location in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Diamond Cellar Holdings LCC employs over 100 people, with 15 of the staff creating in-house jewelry designs. The company specializes in designing jewelry and also sells luxury brands and jewelry created by world-famous fashion designers. It partners only with brands and designers that are selective in their distribution, because it wants the experience to match the quality of the craftsmanship.
CEO R. Andrew “Andy” Johnson says the company works with brands and designers that understand great craftsmanship.
“They aren’t just salespeople; they’re jewelers who design and manufacture their own jewelry,’ he says. “We don’t work on disposable things, where you buy it, it’s in fashion for a year, and then you throw it away. We work in things that are going to last a long time, if not a lifetime. It’s not that we don’t have competition; there’s always competition. But it’s not mass-market competition. We don’t need to be in every mall.”
Johnson’s father, Robert W. Johnson, started the business more than 70 years ago as a trade shop, repairing jewelry, setting stones and making mountings for department and jewelry stores around Central Ohio. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Diamond Cellar—which earned its name from an early location in the basement of a bank—began dealing directly with customers.
The younger Johnson opened a store in Upper Arlington in 1975, the company’s first foray out of downtown. He was 21 years old.
“My father laid it out very simply,” he says. “He didn’t care what age you were; if you took the responsibility and worked hard, you got remuneration. He never held anything back. If you pulled a man’s weight, you got a man’s wages.”
Johnson didn’t initially plan to join the family business, but he loved the creativity, the products, and most important, the customers.
“I love growing and building businesses, and I get to do it with the greatest customers in the world. My customers have become my friends,” Johnson says.
Now, the third generation—Johnson’s sons, Jesse and Robert Alexander “Alex” Johnson—have chosen to join the business.
“You never want your children to be in business unless they want to be there and unless they love it, unless they add value to it. So we were very conscious of what role they play and where they add value,” he says.
Growing up, Alex Johnson admired his father’s freedom as an entrepreneur. When Alex moved to New York as a young adult, he landed a job in the jewelry industry, then moved to a small boutique.
“I fell in love with the intrinsic value of the materials, and I got to work with celebrity clients, so I fell in love with the people who were shopping for it,” he says.
Today, Alex Johnson is a watch and gemstone buyer for Diamond Cellar.
Jesse Johnson took a different path. He initially pursued music, and wasn’t attracted to the family business until he interned with Diamond Cellar’s marketing team. There, he hatched an idea for a store where Diamond Cellar’s customers could sell back their luxury jewelry, watches and handbags.
“I immediately became hooked; it’s the thrill of building something,” he says.
STORE 5a began as an online store three years ago and today has physical locations in the Short North and the Easton area. STORE 5a helped Diamond Cellar diversify, and it further diversified with the purchase of Bruce G. Weber Precious Jewels in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and a controlling interest in Diamond Banc. It now has five stores around the country and is opening two more in Florida.
Now that Jesse and Alex are involved, the family is in the early stages of formalizing its succession plan. Andy Johnson is grateful that his sons are passionate about the business, and that passion often bleeds over into dinner table conversations.“When we’re at the table, I don’t ever feel as if we’re issuing mandates. It’s never like ‘Hey, did you have those numbers ready?’” Alex Johnson says. “We’re sharing our dreams. We’re sharing our fears. We’re sharing what we appreciate about the business, where we want it to grow. It’s exciting conversation.”
In your corner
Having somebody advocating for you in tough times can make all the difference. Diamond Cellar CEO R. Andrew “Andy” Johnson became an even bigger fan of Huntington after his experiences from 2008 to 2010, a difficult time for many businesses.
“With Huntington, it felt like I always had somebody in our corner advocating for us,” he says.
Huntington has been exceptional at localizing and communicating with its customers, Johnson says. During the Great Recession of 2008, his bankers challenged him, and he sometimes challenged back. But everyone understood that it was about doing the right thing and finding a way through it.
“We had a lot of great conversations. We didn’t always agree, but they were truly conversations; they weren’t edicts. And the people at Huntington made the difference,” he says. “I don’t look at Huntington as a corporation; I look at it as the individuals, and the individuals pulled through for us.”
For more information, visit diamondcellar.com.