The King and Queen of Bling: Olga and Kurt Stiles run a 21st century mom and pop business
James Swift/The Daily Tribune News
Kurt and Olga Stiles have operated Stiles Jewelers in Cartersville for 10 years.
Despite a decade of financial success, Olga Stiles recognizes that her business is still in its relative infancy.
"Ten years in the jewelry business is considered a baby," the 43-year-old co-owner of Stiles Jewelers said. "You have independents that have been in business for 100 years."
She and her husband Kurt - Stiles Jewelers other co-owner - definitely know that business well. He started working in his family's jewelry shop in Murphy, North Carolina, when he was a teenager and she had her first jewelry store gig working for Gordon's Jewelers in Ardmore, Oklahoma, when she was 16.
"We both basically worked ourselves up the corporate ladder," she said. "Both of our jobs brought us to Atlanta and that's kind of where we met."
The Stiles once worked for Helzberg Diamonds, one of the longstanding giants of the jewelry industry. Kurt also worked for two other retail titans, Zales and David's Bridal, for several years.
"We learned, basically, the tricks of the trade from them, the structure," she said. "They were great companies to work for. But at one point, it does get stressful and overwhelming, and the control factor is an issue."
Kurt would eventually leave the jewelry business altogether. The money from his new gig was good - six figures - but Olga knew the job could become obsolete at any moment.
After mulling their options, the Stiles decided to try their hand at operating their own jewelry shop in Cartersville.
"When we had our family we decided we wanted to have a stable income, so we decided to start small," she said. "We knew how it works, how to do this on our own and we'd have control over our income a little more ... we had worked enough for someone else and have seen jobs come and go, so we decided to say we're ready."
Kurt said it was nonetheless a big leap transitioning from an established corporate jeweler to running his own business.
"It's a whole different level of responsibility to the customer ... you have to care about it more because if something goes wrong, there's no cushion," he said. "It's on you right then and there's no one to pick up the difference or cover for you."
The first year, Olga said, wasn't very difficult. But pinning down local tastes proved to be a bit trickier than anticipated.
"The challenge came with putting the inventory in the store, not knowing the dynamics of Cartersville," she said. "It's been ten years of trial and error... you are always learning and you have to be willing to change, because if you don't that's when you kind of get stuck."
For the most part, though, she said Bartow's market demand hasn't changed that much over the last decade. "They know what they like and they respect change," she said. "If a new line comes in they're very open to it. But I feel like we can serve any client from a teenager to someone who's celebrating their 50 year anniversary."
Thin, layered chain necklaces are quite popular these days. So, too, are bracelets. "The more bracelets you have," she said, "the better."
And the classics haven't fallen out of fashion, either. Engagement rings with vintage designs are a big seller, especially halos. "Diamonds have been here and they'll always be here," she added.
For Kurt, the biggest challenge has been stiff competition - not from other local jewelers, but online merchants.
"You get competitors coming at all sides, but it's still rewarding and nice to be able to contribute to the community and work with people," he said, "all those things that are missing when you primarily deal with the internet."
That level of personal engagement, Olga said, has been a philosophical anchor for her business since the beginning.
"We, the owners, are in front of customers at any given point," she said. "We just wanted to be able to let [customers] know they can come in here and take pride in whatever they purchase, that they're going to be taken care of. And we feel like the best advertisement is what they're wearing and the word of mouth."
Another asset, she said, are their employees. "The staff that I have have been in jewelry for years, and everybody who works here has been in management," she said.
In addition to selling items from renowned brands like Pandora and Alex and Ani, Stiles Jewelers also offers additional services, including jewelry appraisals, on-site repair and free cleanings for certain products.
Olga said she's especially proud of her business' work with local partners like Advocates for Children, the Etowah Valley Humane Society and Cartersville Heights Care and Rehabilitation Center.
"We have kids throughout the years from Cass, Cartersville and Woodland come in and want to be sponsored," she said, "and we gladly sponsor them as well."
The Stiles live in Taylorsville with their two sons, Joseph, 14, and Mark, 12.
"It's taken us a long time to find ways to work together so we don't take it home, and still, in spite of ourselves, a good portion of the conversations at home actually turn out being about the business," Kurt said. "But we've made it work. If you think about it too hard or examine it too much you can get in your own way a little bit. You've got to play it by ear, day by day, to keep it going."
Olga said operating Stiles Jewelers is both rewarding and demanding. "You have the challenge of doing everything on your own," she said, "and you still have to juggle the kids and the business at the same time."
The key, she said, is finding just the right mix of work life and home life steadiness. Usually if she's working at the store, Kurt is at home with the kids and vice versa.
"You have to work together to make it all flow," she said. "The philosophy you lead in life, you also lead in business. It's just a marriage altogether ... it's a very delicate balancing act."