NATIONAL JEWELER 17 memberships in associations such as the American Gem Society, and the store’s status as a trusted town fixture helps too. STRAIGHT TO THE SOURCE Though David started in jewelry at a young age, working in a Zales Jewelers store as a teenager tasked with taking repairs to a local jeweler (with whom he would even- tually apprentice), he still didn’t necessarily think that’s where he would end up. He and Julia married young, and worked their way through college. David graduated with a degree in marketing but eventually found himself working for another jeweler who designed everything he sold in his shop.There, David discovered his passion and talent for design and made the decision to stick with jewelry. The Gardners opened their store in 1983, building the business from the ground up, with David serving as the creative force behind design and Julia overseeing their marketing efforts. Aftermorethanthreedecades,they’vehad toadapttomorethanafewchangingcon- sumerhabitsandtrends. The conversation of how to reach younger buyers is one the entire retail industry is having, but it’s of prime importance for retailers like the Gardners, whose store is literally surrounded by consumers ages 18 to 21. To make sure they’re getting the right messaging out, the store goes straight to the source: they’ve established a Student Ad- visory Council, usually comprised of about 30 to 45 college-aged kids. And they know how to entice them to participate: they bring the students into the store and feed them dinner while soliciting their feedback and advice. For example, this spring the store was planning a bridal event. Before they got too far into it, David and Julia asked a group of male students to give feedback on the event names they had in mind. What they found out was the guys thought calling it a “bridal event” was confusing. Instead, they chose “Ring by Spring,” a melodic play on words that also has significance to students, who get their class rings by spring of junior year. “We found out that our community [College Station] doesn’t ask their opinions. That’s not something people do,” Julia says. “We think we know them because we read about them, the millennials. But they eat it up. It’s very lively, very interactive and high energy … We love to learn from them, and we implement what they say, and that feels good to them.” RETHINKING BUSINESS The Gardners run their store by the pillars of honesty and integrity, and, both children of professors, they also put a strong emphasis on education and knowledge. They value it not only for themselves but also for staff and will help staff members cov- er costs associated with jewelry education. “We want every person here at the first of the year to say, what is going to make this year great?And it’s usually not just money. It’s about helping them achieve something they haven’t achieved before,” David says. He attributes much of what they have achieved to AGS. David served as board president of the society from 2012 to 2014, a term that in- cluded overseeing the return of the Young Titleholders committee. “Y ou don’t become the president of the American Gem Society unless you yourself are a good person,” Bromberg says, referring to the additional time and effort required of serv- ing. “He made that commitment.” But it’s safe to say David feels he’s gotten as much, if not more, from AGS than he has put into it, crediting the organization’s annual Conclave with providing the inspiration for some of their best ideas. “I always went to the meeting and said, ‘I want to come away from Conclave with an idea that will impact my business at least a million dollars in volume.’With that in mind, it forces you to listen better, to focus on application, to ask the right questions.” Indeed the Gardners have asked the right questions over the years, adapting their retail store to an ever-changing consumer base. A little less than three years ago, their listening led them to jettison almost all brands and, instead, focus on their own. While it was a bold move, it wasn’t an unfounded one. David and Julia say consumer response to their DG brand drove the decision, and the numbers supported it. “It wasn’t as crazy as you would think. We were already having tremendous success [with our brand],” David says. “We just weren’t focusing on it, so that’s where I think the normal way of doing busi- ness was actually hindering us, and it was time to clean it up.” Continued on page 19 “The strength of the business is the duo ... each one has extreme strengths in certain areas, and in each of those areas they complement one another.” —Underwood Jewelers President Clayton Bromberg David and Julia Gardner pictured with, from left, daughter Angela Gardner Bomar, son-in-law Scott Bomar, and grandchildren Piper and Logan