Jennifer Farnes owns and operates Revolution Jewelry Works in Colorado Springs. From opening its doors nearly a decade ago to shattering sales goals year after year, Farnes' "brain baby" is the torch bearer for a revolution in the jewelry industry.
Revolution Jewelry Works reinvented custom jewelry, redefined the employer-employee relationship, and changed the way people shop for custom jewelry.
That being said, in the great game of business, the real story is the journey and struggles that lead to eventual success. Farnes' storyline mirrors this, but it's tinged with love, entrepreneurial trail-blazing, and some anxious moments of uncertainty.
Where it all began
For Farnes, her fascination with crystals started while growing up on her family's horse ranch. During camping trips with her brothers, she began exploring rock formations and searching for crystals.
Later, Farnes and her husband spent their honeymoon rock climbing in Montana and Colorado, digging for crystals along the way. The desire to have one of those crystals turned into a pendant led Farnes into a big box jewelry store as the stone had to be cut. Farnes was introduced to the cutter by the jewelry repair manager.
A long conversation and a newly cut pendant later, Farnes had met her mentor and did an apprenticeship with him, learning how to facet stones and repair all gem types. Farnes was a quick study and took up the artisanship naturally. The mentor soon encouraged Farnes to step out into the business world, adding that anything he didn’t teach her she would figure out naturally.
Open for business
In the early years, Farnes built her business catering to other jewelers, utilizing her talent with stone cutting and repairs. She then had an opportunity to buy an existing jewelry business and secured an acquisition loan. However, the jeweler backed out of the deal just two weeks from the closing date.
That didn’t stop Farnes. She searched for a building where she could open her own custom jewelry store. However, switching from an acquisition loan to a startup loan proved problematic. Farnes found it to be a different, intimidating process, but she persevered.
"I put everything on the line, and we opened the business in 2013."
Let's start a revolution
With her own jewelry store starting from empty retail space, Farnes could bring her vision to life. Big box jewelers advertise customization. Farnes' speciality is extreme customization, essentially building jewelry from scratch as long as physics allows.
Revolution also never wants to be the cheapest or the most expensive option in town. The team focuses instead on standing for quality and service; and striving to change the industry locally by setting the bar high for client expectations of repairs and custom design.
Revolution also has viewing windows throughout the studio, so customers can watch their jewelry transform from a rough stone to faceted gem, or see their heirloom being sized to fit perfectly. In their casting room, clients can watch as liquid metal pours into a flask, creating their new jewelry piece in raw cast form which cools to the touch in 10 minutes.
"We’ve completely reinvented custom design," said Farnes. "If other jewelers can't do it, I hope they'll refer business to us, and all the cool kids will want to come work for me."
In short, that is what happened. Revolution enjoys strong partnerships with other jewelers who appreciate Revolution's tech and talent for repairs. Many jewelry professionals would like to join Revolution Jewelry Works. Be prepared for a bench test – a day where you light up a torch and work. You must prove to Farnes and her staff that you have the skillset.
Treat staff like family
Another tenant of Farnes revolutionary mantra calls for taking care of her people. For example, Farnes believed money is a great motivator. She instituted profit-sharing for all her staff, which is unheard of in the jewelry industry. Farnes shared her profit-sharing strategy at a jeweler conference. The crowd chortled and snickered, but Farnes got the last laugh.
Employees are fiercely loyal to Farnes. In addition to profit sharing, Farnes shares the company's financial advisor with her staff, who consults with them on their financial matters and life goals. Revolution also provides a 401k match, a differentiator for a small business.
Outrageous sales goal
2017 was Revolution's fourth year in business, and sales projections called for $700,000. Farnes challenged her team with a promise. If the company broke one million in sales for the year, Farnes would take everyone on a cruise.
You know what happened next. Revolution hit their sales goal, and Farnes had to deliver on her promise. They closed the store for a week and went on an Alaskan cruise.
Everyone knows what happened in March of 2020. The world shut down. Rewind to January of that year when predictions are made. The jewelry business was set to have a great year. Optimism was high for the industry, and Farnes closed on a loan in January to purchase the building that had been home to Revolution Jewelry Works since day 1.
Covid-19 hit and shutdowns started in March. Revolution shut its doors, like every other business, but Farnes' business had a first loan payment due in April and a payroll to meet. It was scary times.
Farnes called Steve Ingham, her banker at the time from Academy Bank. "What am I going to do?” asked Farnes. Both Farnes and Steve cried on the phone. "I seriously thought we were about to lose everything," she recalls. Steve assured Farnes that Academy Bank wanted her to succeed. He had no answers yet but was confident the bank would figure it out.
After a weekend of worrying, Farnes' phone rang early Monday morning. It was Steve from Academy Bank. He told Farnes that the bank would put in a stay on the loan, that this event was unprecedented, and Academy Bank would monitor and report to her on developments.
Farnes then faced her staff and assured them as best as she could. She told them that she had two months of salary in the bank to pay everyone and not to worry about that. The decision was made to work in rotating shifts and implement curbside service. Some people were still planning to propose, and their engagement rings needed to be completed. Others needed emergency funds to buy groceries so Revolution was buying their scrap gold and old silverware to help people bridge the gap during the shutdowns.
Revolution struggled through Covid-19 like any other business but unlike other jewelers who closed during this period, Revolution ended up in positive numbers. In 2020, Revolution finished up 27 percent over projections.
Revolution Jewelry Works store
Why Farnes chose Academy Bank for her business
The best business advice Farnes ever received was to build a relationship with a small business bank. That led her to Academy Bank, and she values the relationship.
"They treat me with respect and listen to my concerns, even if it's a random question because goodness knows I have an inquisitive mind."
Whether it's an SBA loan for Revolution's building or a PPP loan to keep the business afloat, Farnes relies on her partner, Academy Bank. There is an open channel between the business and the bank. For example, the day the government announced the PPP loan program, Farnes heard the bank's plan and approach by day's end.
If there's a change in personnel at the bank like after Steve Ingham’s retirement, Farnes receives the introductions months ahead. Luke Smith, Farnes’ new point of contact is focused on bridging and building the relationship.
"There's a business side with Academy Bank, but I feel like we're building friendships, too," said Farnes.
A promising future
Farnes is sitting pretty but not sitting pat. She envisions growth and opportunity and dreams of franchising her business, knowing exactly how she wants to do it. But if the lessons of 2020 taught Farnes anything, it's to proceed cautiously and keep your bank close.