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Dickens gives small jewelers a boost


Sarah Dickens grew up around gems and precious metals. Her grandfather, father and uncle own Herteen and Stocker Jewelers in Iowa City, and she spend many hours at the store, watching people select jewelry to commemorate special moments in their lives. Now Dickens works in the jewelry industry, too, though in a very different way. Dickens, 24, is associate executive director of the Retail Jewelers Organization.

The RJO was established in Pella in 1966 to help smaller jewelry stores compete with larger chains. The organization is made up of 780 independent jewelers and 180 vendors. Collectively, the jewelers can command larger discounts from their suppliers. The organization also offers buying trips and other services.

Dickens grew up in Iowa City and worked in the family jewelry store during high school and while attending college at the University of Iowa. She received a bachelor’s degree in communications in 2002 and then joined the RJO, which she had heard of through the family business. Dickens jumped into her job, planning events and crafting the group’s message. Six months later, the organization was “reorganized” and Dickens was then given the title of associate executive director. Because the executive director works off-site in Iowa City, Dickens is in charge of office management for the headquarters in Pella. She also helps to set yearly budgets, organize buying trade shows, and put into place new policies.

“The toughest part of my job is making sure we minimize the gray areas in our policies and procedures and are fair and consistent overall with our hundreds of members nationwide,” Dickens said. “As my first job out of college, it has been a great experience.”

Her favorite part of the job has been event planning –– overseeing gatherings for 600 to 1,000 people –– and seeing a different aspect of the jewelry industry. As a salesperson at Herteen and Stocker, she got to see how customers reacted to the finished product in the store. Now she gets to see how professional buyers choose their stores’ wares.

“We don’t get to play with the jewelry, but it’s fun to see new lines from the vendors and see how vendors sell to sales reps,” Dickens said.

The Retail Jewelers Organization is changing as many of its initial members retire, handing over their businesses to the next generation in the family or looking for new owners. Though it will be sad to see them go, Dickens feels that the new generation of members will help the RJO move forward, perhaps with greater use of technology and a stronger online presence. She also anticipates a national campaign to increase membership and “stake our claim as the buying group to belong to.”

“It’s a fun industry,” Dickens said. “Jewelry is a luxury item that really warms the heart, because it’s given on special occasions and everyone has their own unique   

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