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L’Aura Williams

L’Aura Williams thinks of herself and her husband, master goldsmith Lane Williams, as two parts that complement each other. 

“Lane is a right brain; I am a left brain, and together we make a whole brain,” she said.

That’s a key factor in the success of their business, Lane Mitchell Jewelers.

Lane Williams (Mitchell is his middle name) has been a jeweler for 47 years, L’Aura said. After apprenticing at Southgate Jewelers and managing Manitou Jack’s, he started his own business in his garage. 

Williams opened his first store in 2001 in a tiny studio in downtown Colorado Springs, doing repairs and custom design. He and L’Aura met in 2006, and while they were dating, L’Aura, who has a degree in business administration, “kind of had a feeling his business could use me,” she said. She joined the business in 2007.

Since then, Lane Mitchell Jewelers has grown steadily. The couple hired their first employee in 2009 and moved into a larger rental space at 102 E. Pikes Peak Ave.

Eventually they opened a second store in Manitou Springs and grew from three to 13 employees. All four of their children continue to be involved in the business.

L’Aura Williams talked about how the business has developed over the past 12 years, why they decided to close their downtown store and how they’ve turned obstacles into opportunities.

How was Lane Williams Jewelers able to continue growing and hire someone during the Great Recession?

We kind of adapted to what was going on in the country. A lot of people were selling their gold to pay their mortgage, and we started buying gold jewelry, silver and things like that, and we’d restore it and repair it. Then we had all this inventory, so we decided [in 2010] to open an eBay store. So our model was starting to change, and it felt like it was changing organically. We were just walking through the doors that opened. 

When did you open your Manitou store?

About the time we started selling on eBay, we were approached by an antique dealer in Manitou, Larry Nelson, and he asked if we wanted to rent a space in his antique store — because a lot of the jewelry we were buying was antique jewelry, estate jewelry, vintage jewelry. That was another door that looked like it was just opening for us. … So we moved into a booth and hired another employee to man this booth. It got really successful, and pretty soon we had taken over the whole store. Larry moved to Florence with his antiques. 

[When the Waldo Canyon wildfire and subsequent floods struck,] our basement got flooded, …  and Manitou became kind of depressed economically. That created an opportunity for us to purchase a building on Manitou Avenue. So we moved from a rented building near the Arcade to our own building [at 727 Manitou Ave]. We bought the building in 2013. It took about six months of intensive remodeling and restoration, and we opened our doors in Manitou on Memorial Day weekend in 2014.

You’ve talked about walking through doors that opened up for you. What other factors do you think have contributed to your success?

We’ve expanded our model. … We now do appraisals, we do consignments, we sell Native American jewelry. We have adapted, and we also update our technology. When online selling became a thing, we didn’t hesitate. In 2007, we put up our first website. So we’re adapting, pivoting, changing, updating; all those things have kept us relevant as a business. 

When and why did you decide to close your downtown store?

When COVID hit, it was a quick decision to close permanently downtown. In our long-term planning model, we had seen us eventually moving everything to Manitou. Having two stores with two inventories, two sets of employees going back and forth — it was crazy. It made sense to us because we own the building in Manitou and we were paying rent downtown. … Also, we had always had issues with the problems inherent with having a convenience store in the same building. There was a lot of loitering, people smoking pot and doing other things on the corner in front of the convenience store. It was not a fit for us to sell high-end jewelry when the streets were cluttered with people that were not coming into the jewelry store. The other reason is the building was being sold. Our lease expired in December, and so COVID provided the opportunity for us to consolidate in Manitou Springs. When something big happens like that, whether it’s COVID or whether it’s the housing market crisis, you can view it as something awful that’s happening, which it is, but you can also see it as an opportunity. We always wanted to be there because we live in Manitou, and we are community-involved in Manitou. 

How did the move enhance your business?

Consolidating and moving to Manitou allowed us to have more options for people. We provided Zoom conferencing for custom design. We provided people with the option of dropping off and picking up the repairs. We’re now on seven different online channels. We’ve implemented a point-of-sale system that fully integrates with our online channel. So if we sell something in the store, it automatically comes off eBay, it automatically comes off Etsy and eCommerce and Facebook and Pinterest and all the other places. … And it saves us the overhead of the rent downtown. 

How does your foot traffic in Manitou compare to what it was in Colorado Springs?

The foot traffic in Manitou has been phenomenal. A lot of people aren’t traveling out of state, but when it looks like a nice weekend, ‘Let’s go to Manitou.’ We figured that when we left downtown, we’d lose customers — and that’s one of the reasons we ramped up online sales to make up the difference — but it didn’t happen. All of our customers now come to Manitou. We’re servicing second generations where we made the parents’ wedding and engagement rings, and now their children are coming to us for their engagement rings. 

In Manitou, we have a lot of people that are not looking for a jewelry store that just happened to wander in and decide to buy something. And it has been remarkable how much foot traffic and repeat business we get from people who just wandered into the store because they happen to be in Manitou. That’s one thing we did not have downtown.

What do you think keeps those people coming back?

When Lane first started the business, his goal was to be able to provide one-on-one service for customers with a jeweler and master goldsmith. So when people came into our store downtown, they had access to him. He continues that to this day. They call ahead and they can sit down and design a ring or discuss the repair. And we have so many skilled staff members. Stephanie Satow, the first employee we hired, has been an incredible part of our business. She is a third-generation jeweler and a national award-winning custom designer. All of our employees are enthusiastic about what they do. Lane takes a lot of pride not only in the store itself, but in the work he does. He’s a perfectionist when it comes to jewelry. So that’s why people keep coming back. 

Are you doing more online business now compared to in-store business?

It’s about the same. I would say the quantity of online sales has increased but not the dollar amount. People are buying more, but less expensive, items online. People are buying more expensive items in the store. I think people are a little afraid to buy real high-end jewelry online. But our sales — considering that we closed one store and were shut down for two months — we pretty much kept up with all our previous years, both in-store and online. And that’s because we adapt to the changing economic climate and we pivot our business to accommodate people’s needs. 

How would you characterize the way your business has grown over the past 12 years? 

It’s grown at least fivefold as far as revenue. Over the last five years, we’ve remained pretty constant. Our big growth spurt was from 2010, when we started buying jewelry, to about 2015, when we did most of our expansion into online markets and into Manitou.

We’re very content where we are. We don’t really need to grow and expand our operations anymore. We feel like we’re at a good place with how we relate to and service our customer base. We’re always looking for new customers, and we’re always looking to better ourselves and make a more efficient business. But our expansion model is pretty complete.

Reporter

Jeanne Davant is a graduate of the University of North Carolina. She worked for daily newspapers in D.C., North Carolina and Colorado, and has taught journalism and creative writing. She joined the Business Journal in 2017.