Dan and Hope Wixon, owners of Bloomington, Minnesota's Wixon Jewelers, have been inducted into National Jeweler's Retailer Hall of Fame in the Single Store, Independent category.
Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in the print edition of the 2021 Retailer Hall of Fame. Click here to see the full issue.
Bloomington, Minn.—Even when Dan Wixon was just starting out in the jewelry business with, according to him, “one employee and two showcases,” he could envision the luxury experience Wixon Jewelers is today.
“One thing I knew from the day I opened the store is someday I was going to apply for Rolex and Patek Philippe. I never lost that long-term part of the vision,” he says.
“I started [applying] in the mid-1990s, eventually getting both brands.”
He opened Wixon Jewelers in 1988 in Bloomington, Minnesota, in the same location it occupies to this day.
After four expansions over 30-plus years, and now with dozens of employees, the store looks a bit different than it did when the business was “selling gold chains by the gram weight: figaro, diamond-cut rope, and the magic herringbone,” laughs co-owner Hope Wixon.
“We had Black Hills gold and blue topaz and no watch brands,” she adds.
Dan is from a small farming town in the state and had no familial connection to the jewelry business.
He chanced into it when, upon returning from fighting in the Vietnam War, he began selling antiques in the Twin Cities area.
“I got involved with jewelry, learned about that, and started with a ring or two,” while “hauling old oak dressers around. I finally decided that stuff was too heavy and headed full time into the jewelry business,” he explains.
Dan and Hope met at a little bar in New Prague, Minnesota, and Hope came to work at Wixon Jewelers, at first just helping gift wrap and set up displays.
She says, “I was actually going to be a lawyer and he convinced me law was not the happy alternative and that jewelry was far happier.”
The partnership stuck. The two married and today have two children, a daughter and son who are twins.
If You Can Dream It, You Can Be It The Wixons say their most important professional achievement is the business’s growth from a couple of showcases to a store that delivers the highest quality fine jewelry services to their clients.
They wouldn’t have progressed to where they are now, though, if they hadn’t set out with a specific purpose and goals in mind.
“That’s my only talent: I can see 10 years out,” Dan jokes. “I think we’ve always been good at spotting what our next niche should be.”
“Jewelers have to get past worrying about the small things. People stop themselves from becoming great.” — Dan Wixon
The biggest moments of growth were “when we made a visible move to go for these high-end watches and when we visibly went away from selling things as cheaply as possible to going after a high-end clientele, selling large diamonds, and carrying a lot of color.
“Those were all moves … that put us in a special place, doing things other jewelers didn’t. We were very niche-oriented, and we still are.”
Seeing and addressing gaps in the market is, arguably, another of the Wixons’ talents, like identifying the need for a jewelry store in their area that understood and stocked fine colored gemstones.
“We decided early on to be a force in color because other jewelers weren’t,” Dan explains. “We’re passionate about color. We’re in Tucson every year and do a big [business] with color and are very proud of those achievements.”
Omi Gems’ Niveet Nagpal, who first met the Wixons in Tucson nearly 20 years ago, says their passion for gems is apparent.
He praised the Wixons’ eye for selecting stones, which is no small compliment coming from a gem expert like Nagpal.
“They have great taste in jewelry and especially in colored stones. They are always focused on quality and beauty above all else,” he says. “They have a real passion for what they do, and it shows through every aspect of their business.”
Self-belief is a key aspect of the Wixons’ success, which sets them apart from their competition.
“Jewelers have to get past worrying about the small things,” Dan explains. “They stop themselves from becoming great. If you mire yourself in your own shop fixing chains for the rest of your life, that’s exactly where your store is going to stop and that’s what it’s going to be.”
Hope adds, “If you think you can’t sell more than a 1-carat diamond because blah blah blah, then you’re always going to be a 1-carat diamond store.”
“You have to stock those 2- and 3-carat diamonds because if you don’t have them, you won’t sell them,” Dan continues.
“You have to try it,” says Hope. “Everyone has an excuse about why they can’t.”
Dan concludes: “You have to dream, and you have to follow that vison. You have to execute.”
The Business of Building a Team As Wixon Jewelers transformed and grew over the decades—acquiring watch brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Panerai; selling large diamonds; and stocking colored gemstones, the store, naturally, added employees.
Learning the Wixon Jewelers’ sales process is a “three-year learning curve,” say Dan and Hope, and they pride themselves on building a team that sticks around.
Dan’s very first employee from 1988, for example, still works at the store. It’s not uncommon for team members to have 10- or 15-years’ tenure. Employees with less time at Wixon Jewelers are likely in newly created positions.
“If we don’t think something is going well we don’t have layers to go through, we just change it.” — Hope Wixon
Designer Joshua Javaheri, of Joshua J, has witnessed the Wixons’ dedication to their staff.
“It’s impressive to see what they have done to cultivate a team that supports their vision and is just as enthusiastic about it as the owners are. It says a lot about Dan and Hope’s leadership style,” he says.
Nagpal of Omi Gems adds, “Not only do the Wixons learn as much as they can about the product and gemstones, but they also take the time to educate their staff.”
Dan and Hope adhere to a hiring philosophy that’s worked for them: Jewelry can be taught, but clienteling skills cannot. You either have them, or you don’t.
“We learned you have to hire by personality because that’s not something you’re going to change,” Hope says. “Most of the time, when we hire someone, we have to retrain them to our philosophy. If it’s a great personality who fits our mold, then we can teach or train them on almost anything.”
“Over the years, our philosophy has become: Whichever person we can hire who will take the best possible care of our clients – that’s the one we want,” says Dan.
“We have a group of people who do exactly that. They’re clienteling experts so we have a happy client base. I’m very proud of that.”
Taking the business digital has made hiring the right people essential since, “the business changes more in two years than it ever used to in 10,” according to Dan.
Today, Wixon Jewelers has a three-person marketing team and a back-of-house team to handle online orders and shipping.
“You used to be able to get away with having a jeweler and a sales staff and now there are so many more avenues you have to cover,” says Hope.
The Wixons hold daily meetings to keep their staff on the same page and do a lot of reading and studying to keep up with the latest retail news.
Having employees from different generations also helps the store stay tuned in to the latest way retailers are connecting with clients.
The couple approaches new ways of selling head on, constantly adapting to changing retail practices.
“Our motto is change is good,” says Hope, noting that one positive aspect of being a small business is agility.
“Our [great] ability is, if we don’t think something is going well we don’t have layers to go through, we just change it. We have that ability to be nimble and adapt to situations that are arising. I think that allows us to be quick on our feet and make critical moves at critical times.”
This adaptive mindset is intrinsic to the Wixon way of business.
“We like to try new things,” says Dan. “I always tell people: You can call them mistakes or failures, but to me they’re just things we tried that perhaps didn’t work. So, you don’t get all depressed about it, you don’t focus on ‘failures,’ you move ahead to the next thing, throw something else at the wall and see what happens.”
Integrity Matters No matter how the business grows and evolves, the Wixons hold steadfast to certain core principles.
Designer Javaheri praises the couple’s “Midwestern work ethic,” saying, “I believe part of their ability to reach the level of success they have thus far is their commitment to their core values in business as well as their personal lives.
“It’s rare to find store owners like Dan and Hope who are able to balance everything they have on their plates so successfully. The Wixons have a reputation in our industry for being committed to quality in every aspect.”
Nagpal agrees that the Wixons are known for their integrity.
“Dan and Hope work very well together and they have grown their business by focusing on quality and people,” he notes.
The people the Wixons serve extend beyond the ones shopping in their store or online. An important part of their brand ethos is giving back to their community.
They have a three-pronged approach to charity.
First, they donate to and work with organizations that support children in great need, “not necessarily getting new baseball jerseys or hockey jerseys, but kids who really have need,” says Hope. They also support animal welfare and rescue organizations and, finally, the elderly, which is a segment of the population the Wixons believe many businesses overlook when giving back.
“As a lot of the population is aging, I think their needs become greater,” says Hope.
“There’s no one more grateful than the elderly, so we like to go and meet them,” adds Dan.
In the past, that’s involved projects like visiting a nursing home to deliver each resident a box of chocolates. Interacting with people on an individual basis makes such a big impact, says Hope.
“They have a real passion for what they do, and it shows through every aspect of their business.” — Niveet Nagpal, Omi Gems
The Wixons fully embody their charitable ethos at home as well.
They live on a 300-acre property they’ve dedicated to wildlife, using it as a sanctuary that supports the local ecosystem.
Dan says they’ve restored prairies and wetlands and planted 100,000 trees and shrubs that are dedicated to food and shelter, so the area is now “full of animals.”
The Wixons’ life as conservationists is another example of Dan’s foresight.
Similar to the Wixon Jewelers store, Dan bought the first piece of their property in 1992. Over the years, the couple has added seven adjacent parcels of land.
Their love for animals is apparent even among the watches, diamonds, and gemstones at the store.
The Wixons’ three Labrador retrievers—Bob Barker, age 13 ½; Joe Dynamite, 4; and Timmy Walnuts, 2—accompany them to work.
“You’ve always got someone crawling on you and taking your slipper,” Hope says. “There’s never a dull moment around here.”
For the Wixons, the line between professional and personal life isn’t clear cut, and it doesn’t need to be.
“There is no balance,” says Hope. “Whatever needs the most attention at the time is where [your attention] gets directed. You can’t go, ‘Well, we stop everything when we walk through the threshold of our house and engage with our kids and dogs.’ Work is 24/7 and any business owners who are a couple will tell you that.
“It could be Easter [Sunday], but you may be talking about business. Or something could be going on with the kids and that’s your priority at the moment. You have to stop worrying about ‘balancing’ it as much as just making sure you are paying attention to everything.”
A Year Unlike Any Other Like many fine jewelry businesses that already had a digital presence and were connecting with customers through multiple platforms and channels, Wixon Jewelers had an excellent 2020 despite the global pandemic.
“We’ve never been busier,” says Dan. “We are almost overwhelmed with business; I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Hope adds, “It was the most stressful year but, by far, the best financially. It’s an amazing thing.”
The Wixons attribute their success to clients’ lack of travel and lower spending on things like restaurants and clothes.
But they also know that they laid the groundwork for success in challenging times.
Part of that is hiring and keeping a superb sales staff, whom Dan describes as “people who love their clientele and stay in touch with them.”
Developing their reputation for customer service started at the beginning.
“It took us 30 years to accumulate that level of clientele,” Dan says. “Part of the process was that, at some point in time, when I knew I could afford it, I did anything to make a client happy. If [a client] had a problem, I fixed it, I didn’t care what it was. That’s a place where a lot of [retailers] stop themselves also.”
In more than three decades, the Wixons’ passion for their trade has only grown.
“It’s such a great industry,” Dan muses. “We’re so passionate about the people we deal with and the business we are in, and the products we are allowed to sell—the fine watches, the color we love, and who doesn’t love a great diamond? It’s easy to be inspired when you sell these kinds of things, so you have got to love it. We do.”
Javaheri sums up the couple as National Jeweler Retailer Hall of Fame recipients: “In our industry, trust, integrity, and relationships are key to successful long-term partnerships. The Wixons’ reputation for upholding these values is Hall of Fame worthy in every aspect.”