For the third installment of our Retailer Corner series, we sat down with Tonia Ulsh, co-owner of Mountz Jewelers in Central Pennsylvania. Tonia gave us some excellent insight into running a family business, getting local jewelry stores involved in the community, and trends in the area.
About Mountz Jewelers
Tell us about Mountz Jewelers. When was Mountz founded, and how many locations do you have?
In 1979, my father purchased Mountz Jewelers, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There was only one location at that time. We currently have 3 locations in Pennsylvania – Carlisle, Camp Hill, and Harrisburg.
Tell me a little about yourself and your background. What inspired you to work with jewelry?
My brother Ron Leitzel was involved from the beginning and eventually bought the business from my father. In 1989, I joined the business and bought part of it from Ron. Mountz is a family business; we live locally and we have always lived in Central Pennsylvania.
Growing up in the business, you see the customers’ excitement and get exposure to a lot of interesting things. I’ve always been fascinated and intrigued by jewelry, so I decided to attend the GIA. I became a Graduate Gemologist, and after that I also studied with AGS to become a Certified Gemologist Appraiser. So, when I started in the family business I did a lot of diamond grading and appraisal work.
If you haven’t always worked in the jewelry industry, what other spaces have you worked in?
I’ve never worked outside of Mountz Jewelers, but as my role has grown over the years I have had to wear many hats. Through the jewelry store, I’m a financial planner, I’m in marketing, I’m in merchandising – you name it.
Tell us 3 things that you love about Mountz that your potential customers should love, too.
- Our team. They really are the best around. We have knowledgeable employees and we take the customer experience to the next level every opportunity we get. We do offsite training to help our employees create an experience the client won’t forget, focusing on how to create memorable situations in the store. We also give them all the knowledge of the brands we have, and we encourage them to take any classes that they think are needed to improve their skills. We have daily meetings, weekly meetings, monthly meetings, and we are always trying to elevate our employees.
- Our passion.
- Our jewelry.
Buying Engagement Rings
How do you feel today’s jewelry consumer has changed compared to past generations?
The consumer today knows more when they walk through the door than they have in the past, but they are still looking to have a special experience and relationship with their jeweler.
How does Mountz adapt to a changing customer base and a changing jewelry market?
We have two young women in our marketing and advertising department, which I think is key, because they know more about technology than the older generation may know. We also partner with a lot of companies who are on the cutting edge of technology – such as Ritani – who do a lot of research in the market space.
We also have an outside partner that we work with who conducts market research, and they have resources within their company to better develop digital marketing strategies.
What do you like most about your partnership with Ritani?
Ritani really has their finger on the pulse of what’s happening with the current engagement ring consumer. They have done so much research into ways to reach the millennial customer. Ritani is a great partner for Mountz, because we are trying to do the same thing while delivering the best value and experience for our clients. Ritani makes sure that their styles are the designs that the consumer wants to buy. Again, they do lots of market research and they pay attention to trending designs so they will never be behind the times.
How have engagement ring buying habits changed over time?
Today I don’t think there actually is a true “buying habit” compared to how it used to be. When I first started in the jewelry business, it was the guy coming in alone, buying her a diamond ring. He didn’t know exactly what she wanted, and the engagement ring was given to the woman as a surprise.
Today, we have guys coming in who know how much is riding on the purchase, so they come in knowing what style their significant other wants. We also have couples that come in side by side to shop together, and collaborate on the ring purchase. There is no one way to buy an engagement ring anymore. Rather, there are multiple ways that people buy engagement rings today compared to past generations.
What is the biggest concern you see men having while shopping for an engagement ring or wedding band?
I think the biggest concern I see is that they have a preconceived idea about the process of buying an engagement ring when they walk in the door. They are often fearful because they are purchasing both a high-value product, and a different product than they are used to buying. When they first walk in the door, the comfort level isn’t there yet. So, we try to make engagement ring shoppers comfortable and our sales associates keep them informed during the purchasing process.
What advice would you give someone shopping for an engagement ring and starting from scratch?
We held focus groups and found that men are nervous and scared to go into a jewelry store. The advice I would give them is to go to a local jeweler that you can trust, so you have someone assisting you throughout the entire process. This will make the purchase process so much more comfortable.
Jewelry Trends in Central Pennsylvania
What are the jewelry and engagement ring trends you see in Central Pennsylvania?
We are still seeing that the halo engagement ring is a very popular style in our market. Also, we are still trending more towards white metal – white gold and platinum, to be specific – but lately we see more orders for yellow gold and even some for rose gold.
In terms of diamonds, we have seen an increase in interest for fancy shaped diamonds. However, the round brilliant cut still dominates the market overall.
Which Ritani engagement and wedding ring styles are the most popular at Mountz?
The most popular Ritani engagement ring in our stores has been the Royal mounting. This is a solitaire setting that allows the diamond to rest high on the finger, making it the center of attention.
What is a current jewelry trend that you love?
I wouldn’t say it’s a “current trend” per se, but diamonds are such a staple. They aren’t a trend, they are always in style. You can get any piece of diamond jewelry and it’s going to stand the test of time. You can wear it today or you can wear it 20 years from now; you really can’t go wrong.
It’s a piece that you can pass down for generations, that your daughter or grandchild could wear, and they would remember you wearing it. Because of their durability and lasting beauty, diamonds make great heirloom pieces.
How would you describe your personal jewelry style? What is your favorite piece from your own jewelry collection?
I usually prefer more statement-type jewelry, but I love diamonds and you can never go wrong with diamonds. My favorite piece from my collection is my engagement and wedding band, which is all in one piece. I love the design of it, I love my center diamond, and I love what it stands for.
Mountz in the Local Community
What do you do to get Mountz involved in the community?
We are involved in over 100 charitable organizations in our community of Central Pennsylvania. We try to cover as many charities and charitable events as we can, because we believe in giving back to the community that gives us our business. We are also involved in a lot of women’s recognition events – these are very important to us – and business recognition events.
Mountz Jewelers participates in wedding and bridal expos to showcase our products. We are involved in all of the chambers of commerce in our area as well. The list really goes on and on.
It certainly sounds like it! Tell me about your favorite events at Mountz.
Because we are so deeply involved in our community, we host both in-store events, and events in Central Pennsylvania.
The Diamond Dig is a great event that we put on each year at Metro Bank Park. This is where our local minor league team, the Harrisburg Senators, plays. Here’s how it works:
There is a box planted in the ground, in the infield before the game. After the Senators game is over, all women over the age of 18 are invited to dig for a diamond pendant worth $2500. All of the participants are given a metal spoon to dig with, and we rope off the general area of where the pendant is hidden. There is a timer, and if the timer runs out and no one has found the pendant yet we re-rope the area and make it smaller, reducing the area again and again until the box is found. It’s a really fun event, and we have a great turnout.
As far as in-store activities, we have diamond-focused events that are very popular. The amount of jewelry when the customer walks in the door is vast, and we have diamond experts there to help them through the research and purchase process, teach them about diamond ring restyling, and more.
After bridal expo season, we do wedding band events in-store with all of our wedding ring brands. We give them a fun T-shirt with a wedding band on the front, and “RING SECURITY” on the back. It’s a great way for our customers to see the vendors face-to-face, ask questions, and form relationships.
What do you think are some of the best places to propose in Central Pennsylvania?
We have a beautiful river here in Central Pennsylvania – the Susquehanna. The Susquehanna provides a lot of scenic backdrops, and it’s always charming to propose in front of the water. Also, the state capital is an excellent place to propose in Harrisburg. There is a beautiful fountain on the grounds, and an enormous staircase leading up to the capital. The fountain, staircase, or the Harrisburg capital building itself are all great proposal locations.
Or, you could always propose on the Jumbotron at Metro Bank Park. Perhaps during the 2015 Mountz Jewelers Diamond Dig?