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My Jeweler founder, wife ready to retire

It’s not exactly a curtain call for venerable downtown Vancouver fixture My Jeweler, but visitors could be forgiven for getting that impression.

Going Out of Business signs fill the windows and walls, and the display cases are jam-packed with deeply discounted items. Just about everything in the store’s inventory is heavily on sale.

It’s the first major sale for My Jeweler in its 33 years, according to owner Joe Lanning. Lanning said he’s typically tried to avoid sales events and instead worked to present fair and consistent prices. But this December is different, because everything has to go.

“My retirement fund is my inventory,” Lanning says as he gestures around to the various display cases.

Lanning and his wife, Trudy, plan to retire at the end of the year, so they’ve embarked on a Thanksgiving-through-Christmas sale to try to sell as much inventory as possible. It’s a bittersweet departure, but Joe Lanning said he’s ready — he had set a goal to retire at age 70, and he’s already two years past that.

Longtime customers will be relieved to know the shop isn’t going away completely. Two familiar faces are partnering up to take over operations: the Lannings’ son Chad and the shop’s longtime goldsmith, Jeff Kuehl.

The new version of the shop will retain the My Jeweler name, Lanning said, but for him it still very much feels like the end of the line. Lanning has run the shop since its inception and is the sole proprietor of My Jeweler as a corporate entity, so the future version under Chad and Kuehl will be a business unto itself.

Growing the business

Lanning opened up My Jeweler, at 809 Main St., in August of 1986 following a previous career with J.C. Penney. At the time, he and Trudy lived in Multnomah County, Ore., so he spent the first several years commuting before the couple relocated to Vancouver in 1992 once their two sons graduated.

Trudy has been involved with the business from the beginning, first as the bookkeeper and then later joining Joe on the sales floor. Chad first joined the staff temporarily in 1992, then permanently from 2000 onwards. Kuehl started at the store in 1988.

My Jeweler was always envisioned as a full-service shop, so the back area today still looks a lot like it did in 1986.

“We’ve always done a lot of custom (designs) and repairs as well as just regular merchandise,” Lanning said. “I carve the waxes and we cast it here on site — most everything is done on our location.”

It’s the front where things have changed. The store started with minimal inventory, Lanning said, but over the years its front display area has grown from four show cases to a dozen. Wholesale trade has become a proportionally smaller part of the business as the direct retail side continued to grow.

“We’ve gone from probably more than half our business being wholesale trade work to probably about 15 percent right now,” Lanning said.

Lanning said his sales strategy has always revolved around educating customers, making sure they can learn about potential purchases and their own jewelry as well.

That approach has only become more important over time. Contrary to the popular wisdom, millennial shoppers do buy jewelry, Lanning said — but they tend to be deliberate about it and do more research in advance, so the education strategy has been a good fit.

“Our philosophy has always been that I’d rather make a customer than make a sale,” he said.

3 decades in Vancouver

With 33 years in a single storefront, Lanning has been through the thick and thin of the downtown Vancouver retail scene. He’s exiting at a time when the area has been undergoing a resurgence, with an influx of new restaurants and bars starting to rekindle the city’s nightlife scene.

“When we opened up (in 1986), at 5 p.m. the street would become deserted,” he said.

Still, Lanning cautions that there have been comparatively few new retail shop arrivals, and he said that might stem from a lack of suitably sized spaces for product retail shops. Too many of the downtown storefronts are too big for retailers who are just starting out, he said.

The slow-growing retail lineup limits the extent to which downtown Vancouver can grow as a walkable shopping area. Lanning points to My Jeweler’s own customer traffic as an example — very few of his customers are random walk-ins, he said — nearly all of them come to downtown specifically to visit My Jeweler.

Fortunately, My Jeweler has built up enough of a customer base to thrive, Lanning said. Some of his customers have been regulars since the store first opened, and lately he’s begun to see third-generation shoppers come in to take a look.

Many of those shoppers have stopped by in recent weeks. The closeout sale has generated a flurry of activity at the store; Lanning said a couple of longtime customers have even temporarily joined the staff to help keep up with the traffic.

“The first night was really emotional for Trudy and I,” Lanning said. “Everybody wanted to hug us.


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