A Step Ahead For Decades

A Step Ahead for Decades

published in Business People Magazine

You don’t stand the test of time by standing still, but by staying one step ahead.

Will Jewelers has done just that, with a few big leaps of faith along the way.

Donald Will spied opportunity early. “When he got out of the army, the only ones who had fancy cars were the undertakers and the jewelers,” says his oldest son, Darrell, now president.

Donald went off to school thanks to the GI Bill. After working in the business for a while, he went out on a limb and opened his own store, Will’s Jewelry, in 1959 in Versailles, Ohio. It was a bold step for the then-father of eight.

“He worked night and day,” Darrell says. It wasn’t long before his children joined him. “We lived over the store,” Darrell says. “I would occasionally help people. I could just barely see over the counters. I made change for him.”

Donald moved his business to Delphos and expanded by doing watch repairs for a number of other jewelers around the country, including Baber’s Jewelry in Fort Wayne. In 1964 Baber’s made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, so he moved his wife and then nine children west.

It was the first of a series of moves for Will Jewelers. And every time, Donald had a knack for staying one step ahead. He opened a store in Southgate Plaza when it was new; Georgetown Square when it was new; Sleepy Hollow when it was new. A store in Denver, also run by the family, has always moved just ahead of the growth there as well. Will Jewelers’ newest location, in the new Chapel Ridge at Maysville Road near Interstate 469, meets the growing demand for retail on the far northeast side.

Staying one step ahead in merchandise has also been key to Will Jewelers’ success. Over the years the Wills made trips to Antwerp, Belgium, to establish diamond-buying relationships. Darrell and his nine brothers and sisters—all of whom work in the business now—take turns attending the international jewelry show in Las Vegas each year. Choosing the right mix is a constant challenge, Darrell says.

“Just because we like it doesn’t mean the customers will,” Darrell says. “But for the most part, we’ve been pretty smart in what the public wanted.”

That relationship with the public has been the best part of the business over the years. “Working with people, that’s the most enjoyable,” Darrell says without hesitation. He remembers one customer who wanted a one-of-a-kind Rolex. Will Jewelers worked with the company in Switzerland to develop an original watch, complete with a guarantee from Rolex. “He went away a very satisfied customer,” Darrell says.

It’s that commitment that has made Will Jewelers’ customers seem more like family. A major part of their business is service and repair. In fact, Darrell is one of only a few hundred watchmakers in the country. His brothers and sisters have gone to school as well to study gemology and goldsmithing. They’re all trained to meet their customers’ needs.

Staying one step ahead is isn’t something you do once, of course. “We’re constantly evaluating plans to expand,” Darrell says, “trying to find the right niche in the jewelry market.”

And though Donald has passed away, his willingness to be first and make a move inspires his family still.

“I was so proud of him,” Darrell says. “He took a lot of risks.” Clearly, they were steps in the right direction.