20 RETAILER HALL OF FAME 2019 “There aren’t a lot of places that will show you the ins and outs of how they get to pieces and how everything was created.” Now, less than three years into the big shift, David and Julia say they’ve gained traction when it comes to marketing their business as its own brand. For colleagues, it’s another example of how the self-made business owners continue to be at the top of their game. “I think what you learn from them— and you have to apply it to your own situation—is that everybody’s got an unfair advantage from which they can compete,” Bromberg says. “The two of them took their strengths in building that store and turned it into their unfair advantage … You’re not going to be able to outdo them at what they do. They’re the best at what they do.” CARING FOR COMMUNITY A common thread among the indus- try’s most successful retailers is that they are also among the most active businesses in their community. But few seem to have taken it to heart quite like the Gardners. In College Station, they engage in more than 300 partnerships, big and small, on average every year to help various organizations raise money. The number, almost unbelievable in its scale, is the result of their unoffi- cial internal policy of “not saying no,” David says. Julia adds: “We both grew up here … and then we also had parents who were generous and gave, so it was very natural for us.” Lee, the former student, says the Gardners are “pillars in [their] commu- nity” when it comes to their generos- ity, love and support for the College Station area. Last fall, their involvement reached new heights. David Gardner’s Jewelers & Gem- ologists marked its 35th anniversary in 2018, and, not surprisingly, the Gardners opted to celebrate the milestone in a philanthropic way. Touched by the story of A&M football coach John James “Jim- bo” Fisher Jr.’s son and his fight against a rare blood disease called Fanconi anemia, the Gardners celebrated their store’s anniversary by hosting a fundraiser for Kidz1stFund, which Jimbo and Candi Fisher created to help raise awareness about and funds to fight the disease. And the Gardners did it at their house. More than 200 people turned out. They had a tent with a wood floor out- side, live music inside the house and out, and three different bars. They raffled off a necklace made especially for the event. Fisher was there too, as were a few football players and ESPN. The end result?They raised $150,000 in one night, all of which went to the Kidz1st- Fund.The Gardners absorbed all expenses. This doesn’t surprise anyone who knows them. Pittsburgh jeweler Henne is in the Retail Jewelers Research Group with the Gardners, in which participating retailers are transparent in their business operations with one another. Henne says as he was going through the Gardners’ financials in detail, what stood out to him is exactly how much they give to their community, charities or organizations. It also played a major role in the store’s relocation 13 years ago. A bigger store—7,500 square feet to be exact—has allowed them to be more “community involved,” David says. “You would not call it retail efficient … but we have a lot of fun with it.” They’ve had as many as 40 events in one year in the building, a figure that comprises more than just store events. The Gardners open up their space to community and student groups, for board meetings and fundraisers, which is all part of Julia’s “magical” marketing, as David refers to it, designed to get people into the store in an atmosphere in which they’re comfortable. “All jewelry stores, or most, have an intimidation factor,” Julia says. “The last thing in the world we want is for some- body to feel intimidated. Because our store is set up the way it is—with our shop/design studio in the middle—it does have a warmth to it and an energy. But they don’t know that until they come in.” It’s part of the “people-first” way the Gardners run their business and their lives, Lee says. Lee recalls that while working with David on his now-wife’s engage- ment ring, he asked the jeweler not to make it too expensive. David told him that as long as he paid something toward it every month, no matter how little, they’d make him the ring he wanted. Says Lee: “It’s those types of actions that make me, No. 1, a friend for life, but No. 2, also a customer for life.” DAVID AND JULIA GARDNER 2019 RETAILER HALL OF FAME “I always went to [AGS Conclave] and said, ‘I want to come away 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.” —David Gardner David and Julia Gardner opened their jewelry store in 1983.