When Mills Menser bought his own family’s successful jewellery business from his father in 2007, he wasn’t motivated by a desire to merely increase Buchroeders Jewelers’ sales operations and market share, rather he set himself the lofty goal of innovating and disrupting an extremely outdated industry
Kentucky-born Mills Menser has been immersed in the jewellery industry his whole life, having become active in the family business from an early age, personally overseeing huge sales and becoming the company’s top salesman and sales manager by the tender age of 18. But generating sales and turning a profit wasn’t enough to satisfy the ambitions of this young entrepreneur, who had a vision to completely transform the company, and the industry to which it belongs.
He did so by transforming Buchroeders Jewelers into a hybrid jewellery and financial company with the creation of Diamond Banc, defined as a national jewellery buyer and equity lender, and by pioneering the creation of a new capital market that enables access to short term capital for investors and entrepreneurs to expand their portfolios by borrowing against the equity that exists in items of jewellery that they already own. As a luxury brand that focuses solely on the provision of unrivalled liquidity solutions for owners of fine jewellery, Diamond Banc has today grown to include over half a dozen offices throughout the United States and continues to expand into key markets across the country.
Considering his upbringing, it comes as no surprise that Mills appreciates outstanding diamonds, luxury watches and unique items of valuable jewellers, but his true passion lies on the business side of the industry. Indeed, he has had an intense drive for business success since as far back as he can remember – to such an extent that, for him, entering the traditional family business as a third-generation entrepreneur was more about making the most of an opportunity than his innate love of the industry.
As he himself explains, “My father and I discussed the opportunity for me to join the family business from an early age, providing my results and success at my job earned me that right.” And they certainly did that: he soon earned a place among the ranks of the company’s management and had become Buchroeders top salesman and sales manager by the time he’d turned 18. And he’d done so while attending night school after holding down a fulltime day job at the company.
Seeing his son’s instant success and believing the company’s future was in safe hands, Mills’ father began considering his own future, and his ultimate decision to retire prompted Mills to buy the company when he was just 24.
His decision to change the company’s business model was almost immediate. He says: “it was obvious to me that the traditional retail model was broken… Clients demanded better pricing, category specialisation, transparency, and a non-stuffy, yet still luxurious shopping experience. The company was performing and profitable when I purchased it, but in need of a re-invention to create growth.”
He identified a gap in the market that prompted him to rebrand and relaunch the business as a hybrid jewellery purchasing and financial lending company. This would prove to be a first, with no such branded luxury companies offering a palette of financial liquidity options to clients wishing to leverage the equity of jewellery items in their possession and maximising their potential returns on outright sales.
“Supplying capital is always good business and it became my true passion,” says Menser. As he explains: “I founded Diamond Banc to purchase diamonds and other high-end jewellery from the public substantially below traditional wholesale pricing. Diamond Banc also offers luxury asset-based loans to the public using their jewellery assets as collateral. This concept has truly transformed the business at my retail store by vastly lowering cost of goods, dramatically increasing inventory turn, and improving cash flow. Diamond Banc buys both over the counter and nationwide through www.diamondbanc.com. Since its inception in 2008, we have acquired millions of dollars-worth of jewellery from the public via the website, as well as made loans in over 20 states.”
It was the needs of clients that led to the emergence of the Diamond Banc division in 2008, with Mills noticing that, although some people wanted to sell their jewellery items outright, some potential clients were inquiring about borrowing against their most beloved pieces of jewellery that they simply couldn’t bear to sell.
Customers cast votes with dollars, and few care today if the business they engage with is family owned… The concern is value, experience and efficiency
While there were plenty of companies selling jewellery, there was a distinct lack of well-funded and professional jewellery buyers with the knowledge required to be able to take into consideration every value-adding factor when purchasing diamonds and top items of fine jewellery – with the unenticing option of pawnbrokers often lacking the expertise needed to evaluate the true value of diamonds and thus typically undervaluing them.
“I identified the lending requests as the service that Diamond Banc could be the best in the nation at offering,” says Menser.
In a desire to retain the Buchroeders retail division as a separate entity, Mesner established the first branch of Diamond Banc in 2008, housed in a small office just a stones’ throw away from the family’s traditional retail outlet.
“It was bootstrapped in the beginning, and started with $20,000 in a checking account,” he says. “I invested a nickel to make a dime over and over again. From there, I found support from traditional banks that grew with Diamond Banc. Next, we took on private capital in the form of loans, returning above-market interest but never giving up any ownership.”
Diamond Banc formed a partnership in 2018 with Diamond Cellar Holdings, one of America’s largest privately owned retail jewellers, with the aim of accelerating the nationwide expansion of the brand and its offices.
Admittedly, Menser notes, convincing clients to submit their most valuable assets in order to borrow money and trust that the company will duly wire them the funds is challenging. “We overcome this with hundreds of positive customer online reviews, lots of educational video content and an extremely professional, knowledgeable, and responsive team of great communicators,” explains Mills.
Starting out with locations in Columbia, Kansas City, and Charlotte, Diamond Banc today has seven offices around the States and plans to double that number over the next two years, while it has to date already executed and funded over 3,000 loans.
Diamond Banc is also able to provide retailers with unlimited capital to help profitably purchase their own customers diamonds, fine jewellery and signed designer pieces. “We can also help you offer tremendously profitable asset-based loans to your clients and quickly increase your revenue stream by assisting your customers not only when they buy jewellery, but also when they wish to sell or obtain a loan,” explains Menser.
“Diamond Banc also makes asset-based loans secured by loose diamonds, mounted bridal, designer lines, diamond fashion, signed pieces, gold and silver bullion directly to jewellers and wholesalers. We are happy to make loans as small as several thousand dollars secured by one diamond or in excess of one million dollars secured by a substantial inventory.”
Menser’s plans for his flourishing and unique business include the opening of more offices in metropolitan areas, continuing to double down on online growth, adding exclusive designer fashion items like purses and handbags to Diamond Banc’s list of accepted items of collateral and achieving the target of an active loan book exceeding 100 million dollars.
Completely transforming a traditional family business that has operated in a specific way for many years is far from easy, and Menser is of the opinion that transitioning a family business successfully requires that the company remain under family ownership, but that the new family member heading the business possesses at least the same level of passion, ability and drive as their predecessor, if not even greater. As he notes: “customers cast votes with dollars, and few care today if the business they engage with is family owned… The concern is value, experience and efficiency.”
Mills is eternally grateful to his family for their unwavering support for his endeavours, and to his father, in particular, for providing him with the opportunity that resulted in him successfully launching Diamond Banc.
“Many of the lessons I learned from him and the values he taught me about persistence, work ethic, confidence, results, marketing, accepting mistakes and taking responsibility continue to service Diamond Banc and Buchroeders,” insists this pioneer of 21stcentury business.
Main photo: thriveglobal.com