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There Is a Story Behind Every Store Closing
In his latest Squirrel Spotting column, Peter Smith chats with Kevin and Kathi Main about why they closed their California jewelry store.
In his book “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way,” Dan Buettner wrote: “With more citizen participation, the town’s focus shifted away from optimizing the business environment to maximizing quality of life.
“As a result, San Luis Obispo gained a more aesthetically pleasing downtown, with less traffic, less pollution, more gathering places, projected green spaces, a farmers’ market, thriving arts, and an environment where it is harder to do things that are bad for you (smoke, eat fast food) and easier to do things that are good for you (walk, eat vegetables, recreate in nature, bike). The result is arguably the healthiest and happiest city in America.”
Buettner also could have added that San Luis Obispo, California is where one can find one of the coolest jewelry stores in the country, Kevin Main Jewelry Design & Studio. At least you could have, until they closed their doors for the final time on Dec. 27.
Like many of the 10,000 or so jewelry stores that we have lost in the last decade or so, Kevin and Kathi Main have their own unique story.
In the many years that I have known them, they have vacillated between a desire to grow their business and thoughts of wanting to be free of the shackles of not so much owning a jewelry store, but of being owned by the jewelry store, with all of the attendant demands and stresses that come with that responsibility.
What separates Kevin Main Jewelry Design & Studio from many of the other stores that have closed in recent years is their business was profitable. In fact, one might reasonably argue that they really seemed to have figured out many of the challenges that confound other retail stores and created an impressive model.
Their beautiful store features exposed brick, original hardwood floors and tastefully appointed case-lines that are much more a reflection of what retail can be at its best than what it was in 1998, when the store relocated to San Luis Obispo from Morro Bay.
I recently spoke to Kevin and Kathi about their decision to close the business. Here’s what they had to say.
Was there a specific moment when you decided that was it?
Kathi Main: It was probably a culmination of things in 2017. My mom passed, which had put some restrictions on our movement. We also moved closer to the store
Kevin Main: I want to go ride my bike. It was time.
Were there any other options besides closing the business?
Kevin: We definitely would have preferred to have someone take over and carry it on. It just didn’t work out. (As of this writing, Kevin and Kathi are still hoping to have another jewelry retailer take over the space.)
Did you have any second thoughts?
Kevin: I probably had more second thoughts than Kathi. In America, when you ask somebody who they are, they tell you what they do. I’ll have to work through that, but I’ll find a way to stay involved at some level.
What will you miss most about running the store?
Kevin: The personal relationships with multiple generations of customers.
Kathi: Our friendships with employees and giving back to our community. We’ll still be involved, but it’s not the same as when you own a business in the town.
What will you miss least about running the store?
Kathi: Employee hassles. San Luis is a well-off community and it’s expensive to live here. It makes for a vibrant customer base, but finding employees was always a challenge.
Kevin: Neither one of us was a very good manager.
What was the biggest takeaway from the closeout process?
Kevin: Brands outperform generics. Hearts On Fire, Marco Bicego and Forevermark did really well, but it was much harder to move the non-branded goods. Good luck if you are looking to close out with junk.
If you were starting your store today, what would you do differently?
Kevin: We would have had an exit strategy right away … even if it was 20 years in the future. It would have made our later years so much more enjoyable if we had known what the plan was.
What are you most excited about now?
Kathi: Freedom to plan my day. Learning to cook again. Taking up painting. Pursuing interests that have been on the back burner for 20 years.
Describe the moment when you closed the doors for the last time.
Kevin: It felt really good. I was turning the page of that chapter and moving on to the next stage of my life. I did everything I needed to do.
Kathi shared with me some notes and messages they received from customers and vendors as word got out that they were closing.
The Mains were surprised when they realized many people in the community, and in the industry, thought they were closing due to challenging finances or failing health. It took a while to let people know they were going out on their own terms, at their own time.
One of the many notes they received came from a woman who had thanked Kevin for making a beautiful bracelet for her now-deceased husband. She wrote that he had worn the bracelet for years as a symbol of his sobriety and his battles. Now that he had passed, his widow was wearing the bracelet and, she wrote, she plans to hand it down to her children.
Another note came from a 10-year-old boy whom Kevin had befriended. The boy had learning disabilities and could never stay focused on anything until his dad introduced him to Kevin and Kevin introduced the young boy to rocks.
He wrote: “Thank you for inspiring me to become a gemologist like you. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have done all this rock stuff … I probably would be playing video games. With the bunch of rocks I now own, I am going to start a business, like you.”
The young boy could not have found a better mentor and inspiration than Kevin Main. Our industry was all the richer for having had he and Kathi amongst our numbers for more than four decades.
Here’s hoping they enjoy their well-earned retirement.
Peter Smith is president of Memoire and author of two books, “Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions to Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent,” and “Sell Something: Principles and Perspectives for Engaged Retail Salespeople.” Both books are available in print or Kindle at Amazon.com. Connect with Smith on LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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