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The Chicago Smart Jewelry Show

Monday, April 4th, 2011

I just returned from attending and speaking at the Instore Magazine, Smartshow at Navy Pier in my hometown. The educational seminars started on Friday and the show officially opened on Saturday. I was honored on Friday to be asked to introduce the keynote speaker, David Liu CEO of The Knot, the premier wedding, bridal lifestyle website. The Knot has grown since 1996 to be the number one destination for to-be-weds in the country. David was fascinating and very personable with amazing statistics and recent survey information to share with the assembled jewelry store owners and managers (I was able to chat privately with David about where he saw our industry going and he replied that we now have the digital technology to treat all of our clients as if they were our most special client. he gave me a couple of great ideas that you will see soon in our gallery). I was also asked to moderate a session where David invited three, Chicago area, to-be-wed couples to be on a panel to answer questions from myself and the other attendees. The couples were incredibly honest and sincere with all their observations and comments. Two of the couples gave high marks to Steve Quick Jewelers in Chicago for their personable service. The audience was able to interview the couples (with my moderating the conversation) to glean valuable suggestions of how to alter their own client interactions and to better design a customer experience in their own stores. David was able to show how The Knot’s current data survey, with over 10,000 responses, was perfectly reflected by the responses given by his three, to-be-wed couples.
I also was able to spend some quality time observing the bench challenges which were a sort-of Olympic games for the best hands-on jewelers in the country. Wax carving, stone setting, hand engraving and CAD design challenges were displayed on large flat-screen monitors for everyone to follow the handwork. I was also privileged to meet Jim Tuttle, who owns one of the largest (if not the largest) custom design studio in the country, based in Seattle, Washington. His huge operation is called Green Lake Jewelry Works and employs upwords of 40 craftsmen. Jim was a pleasure to talk with and was very generous in sharing some of his best methods with me. He brought a few of his jewelers with him to compete in the challenges and we all were able to enjoy a fun dinner together including Cindy and Terry Chandler who ran the education of the show. I was thrilled to be sitting around the table with the current “hotshots” of my industry. I was also able to enjoy one of the most amazing dining experiences of my life at the Chicago eatery, “Moto”. The diner to my right was one of the partners of the Denver Broncos and he had brought his 13 year old son from Denver, just to try the restaurant. If you are ever in the Windy city, book a reservation at Moto and try Tapas from the 22nd century! Ok, aside from food, I was able to try some of the newest jewelry tools coming available and to experience how social media is influencing the jewelry industry. Feel free the next time you stop in the gallery to ask me about some of the show highlights and to view the unbelievable, Ethiopian opal I brought back with me.
Now that I’m home, I definitely feel smarter…and more proud of my own jewelry team!

David Liu CEO of The Knot & Mark Loren


Olympic Arts Museum Opening

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Haise with HSH Prince Albert of Monaco

I have just attended what I believe to be the most elegant and exciting event of the year (taking nothing away from WineFest). The grand opening of the Olympic Arts Museum in downtown Fort Myers was spectacular in many ways. The organizers and planners of the event did an amazing job of welcoming all the notables including HSH Prince Albert of Monaco and over 20 international, former Olympic athletes and now artists and your normal host of local celebrities. My youngest daughter Haise attended with me and was able to secure a photo with Prince Albert and a few other giants in the crowd (as well as a seat at the head table near the Prince). Our local county commissioner Tammy Hall gave a splendid performance hosting the evening (and wearing awesome Mark Loren Jewelry) and keeping everything moving along. Dance Alive, a fantastic dance company entertained with beautiful versions of simple dance and Olympic style interpretation. I mentioned to Dr. Marcus Sherry, one of the Board Members of AOTO, that a flame had been lit that night and all the Olympic athletes who were in attendance were fanning it hotter and that we needed to make sure we continued to stoke it. You could feel that a momentum had been created and all the athletes were commenting on what a rare and incredible facility our new museum was. The decor was the most spectacular I have ever seen Harborside decorated (way to go Erline!) and it was a fitting display for our international guests. The piece we had donated for the evening was worn by Cathy Oerter who is the wife of the late, great athlete and visionary Al Oerter. Cathy described our piece and the bidding was deliberate and focused. Thanks to Pamela Templeton for her purchase price of $7000! My daughter and I also had the grand pleasure of meeting the featured artist, Gold medal winning Olympic Athlete Larry Young and his wife Candy. Larry won his gold medal Racewalking! His stunning bronze sculptures were a favorite of Al Oerters and he filled the upstairs gallery with jawdropping pieces. He graciously explained to Haise and I what his inspirations were and how his work had progressed over time. He invited us to visit them at his foundry in MO. We hope to create some miniature versions of his large works to aid the museum in their fund raising efforts. I couldn’t stop myself from looking at his sculptures and quietly thinking ” this one and this one would be great pendants and that one would be a gorgeous brooch”. His wife Candy agreed wholeheartedly…take a moment if you are downtown and stop in upstairs at the museum and experience the amazing art of our Olympian artists….right here in little ‘ol Fort Myers!

Looking down our table


We usually are much further ahead of current trends…

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

My last post shared with you our coolest, newest, two-finger ring design. Then I was on the stair-climber in the gym when I saw the latest issue of a magazine and this little blurb about the “Hot Trend” of two-finger rings…well, I’m usually much further ahead with unique designs that become trendy, 3-5 years later. I’m having to revisit my creative wellspring to see if I really am losing my grip on being innovative, unique and original or if someone is watching our website too closely…

I trust my clients, friends and staff to let me know if I’m getting to mainstream or lazy with our designs.

Still, it’s nice to know that when I won a National Spectrum Award 10 years ago for Innovative use of Platinum, it was with a two-finger ring showcasing an amazing Tanzanite and matched Emeralds…two finger ring Mark Loren Designs

Beware and be Aware

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Cameron just showed me an email he viewed on CNN about a Craigslist post gone horribly wrong. It seems that a Washington State couple posted a diamond ring for sale on Craigslist and actually invited people to their house to view the ring!!! Here is the link so you can read the article for yourself:
Folks, it would seem to be common sense that you do not invite strangers into your home for any reason…Unfortunately, this incident ended with the husband shot, the wife brutally beaten and her two sons witnessing the entire ordeal. We always recommend that your keep your valuables, cash and even prescriptions locked in a well hidden safe or similar lock-box. The keywords being “well hidden”!
If they don’t know where it is they can’t get into it…don’t use your bedroom closet or bathroom…that is where they look first. Try the laundry-room cabinet or food-pantry. There are great, small digital safes available that are similar to hotel room safes and they are easy to install with a power drill and some screws. Don’t tell your kids, maid, babysitter, pest control guy or other family members where it is…the security is in it being unknown and hidden. We also keep a can of police-quality pepper-spray right next to our front door, Diamond Shaped Caution Signwithin easy reach…”cause you never know when you’ll need it. Being in the jewelry business for so many years we are accustomed to being aware, vigilant and always using our alarm system while trying not to be paranoid. It is a shame that we have to prepare our homes for possible invasion or robbery…but these are desperate times and a lack of morals can substitute for reason and humanity.
Beware and please be aware…

An incredible gift to FGCU

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Coffee cans and tins of gems

I have been working the past two days, while the gallery has been closed for Memorial Day weekend. Actually I have been working on this particular endeavor for over a year! I agreed to appraise a gem/mineral/rock collection that belongs to Dr. & Mrs. Gil Collings. The late Dr. Collings, was a resident of Fort Myers and along with his wife and family, collected gems, minerals and assorted rocks for over 40 years. He had a classroom business in New Jersey where he loved teaching gem-cutting, faceting and jewelry making. Mrs. Collings approached me over a year ago to see if I knew of someone who could assist her in appraising the collection so she could donate it to Stetson University. It seems that they wanted the collection but did not want to pay the approximate $20-30,000  appraisal fee that would be required. This type of collection is incredibly difficult to value as there are high-end faceted gems, unique mineral specimens, lapidary material in the rough and cabbed as well as assorted gem cutting and jewelry making equipment. Most appraisers do not have this depth of knowledge across so many areas. Many of the items are still in their packaging when purchased over 20 years ago!

Multiple trays of Various gems

I suggested to Anne (Mrs. Collings) that if she were to, instead, donate the collection to FGCU, I would be willing to do the appraisal for only a $2000 fee. I knew that the students at FGCU would be able to put the entire collection to use and it could be the foundation for an entirely new Gemology and Lapidary Department! Most universities would catalog the collection and store it in drawers down in a sub-basement. At FGCU, I could visualize students walking past showcases highlighting these amazing mineral specimens, while hopefully inspiring many to pursue the Indiana Jones adventures of mineral collecting, gem cutting or jewelry making. It has taken me far more time than I had first thought and in ways I hadn’t even imagined to complete this appraisal.  I have spent 1/3 of my time on the internet researching possible prices for material that hasn’t been mined in 20 years. I have researched specimens that I have never heard of and would call friends of mine that are agate lickers (passionate rock collectors) and email pictures of material back and forth. My staff thinks I’m a little crazy because I continually run into the darkened bathroom with a UV light to test rocks for fluorescence.

Even more trays of jewels to identify and price

The FGCU Foundation President and Anne Collings have been VERY patient with me as the process has taken five times longer than I anticipated. I have attached photos to illustrate how much there is and the variation of the material. Boxes, bins, coffee cans (I’m sure some of these are collectible), cigar boxes and cookie tins are part of the storage scheme. Luckily, Dr. Collings was an early user of computer databases and the entire collection is cataloged in a DOS system. The material has numbers on most pieces so it has been a process of identifying, weighing and pricing everything…A once in a lifetime opportunity and research experience. I have developed such an admiration for their collecting and cataloging abilities. My hope is that many future generations will be able to touch, examine, and explore this collection of a lifetime.

Who would sell gold to these guys?

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

I’m driving down US41 and there’s a girl standing on the back of an open pickup bed, shaking her jean shorts clad tushy, waving a sign offering to pay cash for gold. Same on most other streets in our county except sometimes they are guys waving the sign. My question is “who would sell their gold to these places”? They have temporary rents, usually month by month and have pretty unsavory folks at the counter. I like the one I passed where the guy inside at the counter had his hat on backwards and wore sunglasses indoors. I’m thinking, someone must be selling their gold to these places because they are springing up faster than fleas on my dog. In the state of Florida, to purchase gold from the public, a business or person must be registered as a secondary precious metals buyer with the state. If you are selling your gold to someone at a home party and they don’t have the license, they are committing a third class felony. Unfortunately, the state has left enforcement of this law up to local law enforcement. We know how busy and under-funded they are already…so who is checking up on these characters? We also buy gold (only from existing clients) and take it in on credit or exchange but we use the metal and re-alloy it to create much of our new inventory. We can offer a high dollar per ounce because we use it in our goldsmithing operation. I can’t say what these places are doing with it but I’m sure law enforcement is interested in where it is coming from. That’s why we have to fill out required paperwork for every purchase from a client. Why anyone would risk stepping into one of these places is puzzling to me….and potentially dangerous.

Our 25th is complete!

Monday, May 24th, 2010

News-Press ArticleThe News-Press just published an article in the business section of today’s paper in regards to our 25th anniversary celebration. I was pleased that they mentioned the fun events that we created with the community and the impact that we have been making with the philanthropic work we do. I can’t believe that our 25th has come and gone! The next opportunity awaits…the questions are already being asked: How can we make an even bigger difference in our community with the work that we do? What new events can we create to showcase our creative talent and reach new clients? How high can we set the design bar for new work? What difference can we make in our lives and our clients lives in the next 5 years?

All good places to start…any thoughts for us?

Mark and Anisa


Mark in front of armored car



I feel smart from the Smart Show

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Just got back from the In-store Magazine Smart Show in Chicago at Navy Pier. This was the second year for the show and it was all they had promised. I was especially thrilled as I was interviewed Saturday morning by Terry Chandler, who is the  national executive director of the Diamond Promotion Service. Terry asked questions as to why and how we are a cool store and what best practices I could elaborate on. This followed a similar format from last year with a greater amount of retailers attending the interview. After a quick 45 minutes (where does the time go when elaborating on oneself?) many jewelers stayed after to ask particular questions. I clearly remember a day when it was me hungering for any tips that could enlighten the mysteries of the retail business. The rest of the day was spent haunting the show and checking out new designers (so much stuff looks alike and not exciting) and perusing a few rocks, pearls and other seminars. Climbed exhausted onto the bus for the hotel ride and my quiet room. Too quiet, so down to the gym and the exercise bike. I keep forgetting that the downtime is critical for me to let my mind wander and let creative thoughts flow. I was surprised by the calm and eerie silence in the gym (unlike my house after work) and how my mind reviewed the day at the show and the highlights of the seminars with the best tips rattling around in my head…definitely need to do more of  this. On Sunday I presented my seminar on the opportunity of philanthropic giving to boost your bottom line. A large seminar ended upstairs and tons of jewelers flooded my area and took up seats…I was ready with my first ever powerpoint presentation that Sara had assisted me with and I really wound up using it as an outline for my session. I was pleased to see how incredibly receptive everyone was and how easily the info flowed along with the prompting slides. I was besieged with questions and people understood that what I was talking about was not a strategy on how to manipulate charities but an organized plan for mutual success for both parties. The difference between the two is critical and the key in obtaining the results that we have experienced. Check out the video where some of us coolstore owners wrap up the day in a general, recap conversation. I have also included a clip of the showfloor to illustrate how the show is laid out.

The organizers did a brilliant job of creating seminar spaces on the showfloor where jewelers could wander into an ongoing seminar, listen for awhile or longer and then stroll back out onto the floor and continue hunting. There were areas for interviews, seminars, Peer-to-Peer experiences and marketing seminar areas…. Folks did not have to wander out of the show and into the back catacombs of Navy Pier to find the seminar rooms. Really well done. Thanks to Cindy Chandler, head of show education for inviting me to share some things that work for us and that might work for others. I also want to thank many of the jewelers I met who were kind enough to share their thoughts with me about what they are doing to improve their store at home. Thanks to Lucette and Seth Belenky of Belenky Brothers in Soho, NY for a great lunch and many awesome ideas. I look forward to seeing you both on my next trip to Manhattan!  I can safely say that I returned from the Chicago show distinctly smarter and a little poorer.

On being awarded Philanthropic small business of the year

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Sheri, myself and a few special guests attended the “Philanthropists of the year” luncheon at Quail West on Monday. It was an incredibly well organized event and Kelly Burns was our terrific MC. I was amazed at who was in the crowd and how many folks and clients we knew. At our table we had invited longtime clients as well as new clients/friends who have been incredibly supportive of our work. I don’t mind public speaking and Sheri would even say that I love it but, I was not sure how to address the honored crowd who were there to award us with a big “thank-you”. Fortunately, other honorees went first and while their comments were gracious I was still wondering what would come out of my mouth when our turn came. Gulfshore Life had prepared a cool video with the photos I had sent them (not being sure what they were going to do with them) and I was momentarily speechless as I watched the presentation and was simultaneously introduced by our creative PR wizard, Carolyn Rogers. Standing at the microphone and looking out, I felt incredibly proud that  my mother was there to share this with us. I began by acknowledging my parents yet, I felt alone, as if there should have been a crowd standing with me and passing our award back and forth. I realised that my staff should have been there as well and I acknowledged them for giving me the opportunity to further our creative vision in a much bigger way than I could do alone. It’s funny how time slows when you are at the podium, not reading from notes and you have to say something that is appropriate and hopefully gracious, while not being pompous. Luckily, my heart took over and the emotion of joy that we experienced from our Mother’s Day event and all the grateful stories we had heard, choked me up and made me pause. I was able to share how special we felt by not being just a “retailer” but by assisting our clients in communicating their love for another with our jewelry designs. I know that coming from that context in what we do, differentiates us from the retailers in our business who think it’s just about the numbers. I’m so proud to be able to work and design with very creative staff who realise what it’s really about.

25th Anniversary and where’s the Party?

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

I have been subconsciously ignoring the fact that my business’s 25Th anniversary was approaching. I didn’t want to recognize the reality of how much time has passed since I first began this endeavor. When Gulfshore Life magazine asked me to submit photos that tell my story of our progression til now, I wasn’t sure what to send them. The jewelry designs tell most of the story, I thought to myself and yet, many crucial moments along the way started to reappear in my mind: The very early days of almost zero jewelry in the showcases, begging vendors to extend me a nominal amount of credit, begging banks to do the same, working horrific hours late into the night, struggling to understand the financial reports that my awesome CPA Gail Markham tried to explain to me and wondering why I never seemed to get ahead, getting called by the alarm company at 4am and arriving at the gallery to find the windows smashed or a hole bashed through the wall, paying for and installing our first computer and not understanding how the hell the thing worked at all, attempting to go on vacations only to find out hurricanes were heading our way and returning before the vacation ever started, swallowing my anger and urge for retribution when other lazy jewelers would copy our original designs, the frustration of trying to train apprentice jewelers who had no aptitude for the work, burying my ego and pride when I needed to make a wrong customer right…and many more. Precious memories have also been cascading in:  Our first Gallery opening party, new clients coming in by referral, designing new pieces with amazing gems and materials, designing pieces for my parents, having vendors seek us out to open business relationships, my staff surprising me with fun birthday parties, late night work sessions when my friends would stop by and crack open the fine wine to keep me company, doing fun commissions for Bob Rauschenberg and the long philosophical conversations with him over ping-pong and champagne, my first national Spectrum award, discovering the joy in creating charitable works with partners like Patty Berg, having my dog Sapphire with me sleeping under my workbench, developing an ongoing jewelry education by attending trade shows and asking a bazillion questions, meeting wonderful local bankers who appreciated our relationship, getting my first line of credit, grasping what the hell my financial statement was telling me, being a judge for a national jewelry design competition,  splurging on a laser welder when no one had one, excited that people actually wanted to come to our event parties, meeting my wife in a business networking group, having good clients become great friends, meeting the President of the United States, finally being able to pay back friends and family that had loaned me money to start my business, being on “Extreme Home Makeover” for my first gallery manager when their home was rebuilt, watching my talented staff win national design awards, moving into our own building, seeing my jewelry in a book of master jewelry designers…and many more. I can’t escape the reality of time passing when a handsome young couple comes in for an engagement ring and I was the one who had designed their parents engagement ring! I’m reminded of the Rabbi’s story of a little boy who comes upon a stone-cutter hammering away upon a huge rock.The stone-cutter is bathed in sweat and his arms are rippled with strong muscles. He watches the man strike the hammer to the chisel for many blows and then suddenly, the rock separates. The boy congratulated the mason on his mighty last blow. The stone-cutter thanked the boy, took a swig of water and replied “yes and the previous 5,000  blows were just as important as the last one”… Let the party begin….