For those of you gearing up for the holiday season, remember that between the hoopla surrounding Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there is an equally important event upcoming this weekend, known as Small Business Saturday. Despite the ever-growing influence of the internet and the big box stores, small business remains the backbone of the American economy.They are most likely owned and operated by individuals who have an entrepreneurial spirit, want to be their own boss and aren’t afraid of taking risks.
The big guys will pay lip service to customer service and then put you on hold for an eternity after requiring you to punch a bunch of numbers to tell their friendly robot why you are calling. They hire clerks — piously referred to as “associates” — who make eye avoidance with the customer an art form because they have no stake in the company’s bottom line.
Not small business. Small business is customer service at its essence. Their customers don’t expect to talk to a robot. They expect to talk to a knowledgeable person who shows real interest in helping them. Otherwise, the business won’t be around long.
One small business that shines like the gems it sells is Cumberland Diamond Exchange in Smyrna, located near SunTrust Park. Now in their 37th year, Mark and Rhonda Jacobson, the company’s owners, say their success is all about developing a close relationship with their customers.
Rhonda Jacobson says, “People come to us for a reason. It could be to shop for an engagement ring or for a special event, like an anniversary, or to get an appraisal on items in a family estate.” Whatever the reason, the trick is to keep them coming back and the Jacobsons have done just that. Mark Jacobson estimates that more than 60% of their business is repeat or referral business.
“While we are in the jewelry business,” he says, “we are really in the people-pleasing business.” The Jacobsons cite as one example a person who came in to get a new battery for his watch, was impressed with the service and has been a regular customer ever since.
Mark Jacobson came to Atlanta after graduating from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, and started an advertising agency. His clients include a local jewelry store, where he soon became the store’s marketing head and later sales manager.
With his brother, Wayne, Jacobson opened his own jewelry business in 1982 in a 1,200-square-foot store. In 1985, a former human resources manager from a Chattanooga bank, Rhonda Atkins, joined the business.
She originally came in to buy a watch for a boyfriend. “We became friends, starting dating in 1984 and that was it,” Mark Jacobson recalls. The couple has been married for 35 years and work side by side in the company, along with their daughter, Melissa.
In the meantime, Cumberland Diamond Exchange has more than tripled in size to their current 5,000-square-foot store. They continue to grow. CDE ranks in the top 5% of independent, specialty jewelers in the U.S., based on revenue.
This while competing with a plethora of faceless competitors who run seemingly endless radio ads touting the quality of their diamonds and all end up sounding alike. What their competitors don’t do is involve themselves in the local community. That is good business and that is what makes the Cumberland Diamond Exchange stand apart.
Mark Jacobson says, “We feel it is our obligation to support the nonprofits in our community. We love being considered as the community jeweler that gives back.” Rhonda Jacobson says, “When you are blessed, you bless others.”
The company supports over 40 local nonprofits in Cobb County. These include Safepath Children’s Advocacy Center, the WellStar Foundation, Women in Philanthropy, the Cobb County Library System, the YWCA and the American Cancer Society among others. Their “Cufflink + Charms 4 Charity” program makes custom-designed jewelry for resale with proceeds going to the various charities.
Their efforts on both the business side and in the community have not gone unnoticed. Cumberland Diamond Exchange was recognized by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce as Small Business of the Year in 2015 and the 2016 Jeweler of the Year for the Southeastern United States by the 24 Karat Club, an organization of industry professionals. Rhonda Jacobson was named Smyrna Citizen of the Year by the Smyrna Area Council of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce in 2017. Both sit on a number of advisory boards in Smyrna and Cobb County.
The Jacobsons credit their company’s success to their staff of 16, some of whom have been with them close to two decades. “You can’t train people to like people,” Rhonda Jacobson said. “We are fortunate to have a staff that genuinely enjoys helping our customers.”
Rhonda and Mark Jacobson now have the business where they can enjoy some of the fruits of their labors. They enjoy traveling and entertaining friends and spending quiet time with each other, but they show no signs of slowing down. It is obvious that they enjoy what they do. They should. What they have done with their small business is big. Big indeed.