An Interview with J. F. Kruse Owner Melissa Kelley
February 17, 2017
MELISSA KELLEY, OWNER
Team member since August 2000
What are your earliest memories of the store?
I was 14 when my dad started the store. We had just gone through a really difficult family situation, and he, my sister and I were struggling to figure out where we fit in the world as individuals and a family.
Dad had left his job in the jewelry industry after 22 years with the same company and was trying new things. He worked construction for a while until he suffered an injury. He also worked as a traveling sales rep, but that job wasn’t conducive to raising teenagers. When a silent partner approached him about starting the jewelry store, it seemed like God was dropping an opportunity in his lap.
I was so young and excited for him. I just wanted him to be happy. I would get dropped off at the store every day after school so that I could clean, organize and sort for him. I have a photo of us hanging pictures on the walls together because he didn’t have much money for décor.
What positions have you held at J.F. Kruse Jewelers?
One of the things I respect most about my dad is that he made me work harder than everyone else. I really had to earn each new role I played in the business. When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate that—but I’m grateful for it now. (laughing)
I was about 16 when he first started to trust me and give me sales training and coaching. I remember selling my first pair of yellow-gold earrings to a cute little elderly woman. She was so sweet and so fun. We had a connection, and the experience was magical to me—not the selling part but getting to know her and suggest things she might like.
Once I earned my spot on the sales floor, I had to earn the opportunity to do advertising. Then, I worked as the custom manager. And finally, in 2008, I asked my father to make me general manager because the business needed that kind of direction.
The only thing I haven’t done is be a goldsmith. I know what it’s about, but you do not want me setting your gold. (laughing)
When and how did you realize you wanted a career in the jewelry industry?
I held other jobs during high school because I wanted to know what it was like to go on an interview and work for someone besides my dad. I also explored other career paths, like being a nurse or an architect.
Right around the time I graduated though, I knew for sure I wanted a career with the store—in small part, because I wanted to continue my dad’s legacy. But I didn’t make the choice for that reason alone. And I certainly didn’t say, “I already work here, so I’ll just stay.”
At the end of the day, the biggest attraction for me was people. There is just so much joy and celebration in the work we do with our customers. It is such a privilege and honor to learn people’s stories—to go deeper into their life experiences and connect with them on an incredibly meaningful level. I love that jewelry enables that kind of connection and that they trust us to do that with them.
How did you prepare?
I worked full time while I earned my degree in business with a minor in sales and marketing. I also completed my degree in gemology, which took about four years and included both online and face-to-face classes.
Did you know that you would eventually take over ownership of the store?
I knew it was a possibility, but, if I’m honest with myself, I had absolutely no clue what that even meant. It sounded exciting and glamorous. I understood that it was a good opportunity, but I had no idea how much work or how many sacrifices would be required.
It’s easy when you work for someone else to think, “I should just go work for myself.” But then you do, and you sometimes wish you could go back to being an employee. (laughing)
When Mike and I got married in 2008, we were both committed to owning the store. In 2010, we got our feet wet by buying in. We completed the purchase in 2014.
Do you have any regrets? Would you do anything different if you could do it all over again?
There are days when I’m convinced it would have been simpler to start something new. I can’t say that I have regrets though. Sometimes, things are difficult, but I learn so much from them. School was great, but there’s nothing quite like getting out of the boat and sinking or swimming—having to figure situations out for yourself.
You mentioned that you’ve done just about everything in the store. What do you like most?
For me, it’s all about the people. When I come in on a Saturday morning and am busy working with customers on the floor, I can be here all day, but it feels like only 20 minutes.
We don’t set individual sales goals or offer sales commission, because we believe in doing what’s best for the person in front of us. I love that we can be honest with customers and offer the very best options for them, even if they’re not the most expensive ones. We do have a monthly team goal. If we hit it, every single member of the team gets rewarded.
Our team members are amazing, and it is a privilege for me to work with them. They could go anywhere—they are that good—which makes me work even harder because I want them to be here.
Our turnover is very low. When we hire, we care more about the person’s values than we do about experience. My dad set the standard, and we continue it. Everyone here practices a selfless kind of service—the kind that involves treating others the way we want to be treated and putting the needs of others in front of our own.
Can you share any stories or experiences that are special to you?
About eight years ago, I helped a gentleman, who was completely blind, select an engagement ring. I felt a very special connection with him. Although he’d faced significant challenges in his life, he was so fun and upbeat—it was inspiring to hear him talk about his fiancé and why he loved her. It was also incredibly humbling that he trusted me to help him pick the perfect ring. They ended up moving to Nebraska, but they still come in to visit when they are in town.
A couple of years ago, a family asked us to create jewelry from their grandparents’ fingerprints because the grandpa was very ill. We made over 30 pendants—one for every member of the family. It was an honor to help them celebrate and remember his life.
What is your favorite piece of jewelry?
I don’t have a ton of jewelry. I am a very sentimental person, so each piece means a lot to me and has a story behind it. Mike gave me a ring when we were dating over 13 years ago. He bought it from my dad. (laughing) I still wear it.
What advice do you have for people buying jewelry as gifts?
The price is completely irrelevant—the thought you put into it is what matters. I have jewelry that is worth very little but means the world to me because of who it came from and what it symbolizes.