Stuller Settings, Inc.
Stuller Settings, Inc.
Founded: 1970 as South Central Distributors
Sales: $285.7 million (1999)
NAIC: 339911 Jewelry (Except Costume) Manufacturing; 339913 Jewelers’ Material and Lapidary Work Manufacturing
Stuller Settings, Inc. is the nation’s largest wholesale supplier of findings and mountings used by retail jewelers and artisans. Stuller maintains an inventory of over 100,000 jewelry items, each of which falls into one of six major categories: findings; mountings; loose diamonds and colored gem stones; finished jewelry; tools; and supplies. With an account base of over 40,000 independent jewelers throughout North America, the company relies heavily on its catalogs or source books, from which its customers place their orders via telephone, fax, or e-mail. The company has manufacturing facilities in Lafayette, Louisiana and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Its service division—Stuller Service Centers Inc.—maintains key sites in Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami, Chicago, and Philadelphia. There, it stores its product line in sufficient quantities to assure “just in time delivery” of its settings and mountings to retailers throughout the country. The company also has buying offices located in Ramat Gan, Israel; Bangkok, Thailand; and Bombay, India. At these sites, gem dealers provide the company with its needed supply of diamonds and colored stones. Stuller emerged as an industry leader in the 1990s due to the quality of its product line and the company’s efficiency, which featured a one-day turn around order service.
1968-81: Part-Time Job into a Successful Business
The company’s founder, Matthew Gordy Stuller, began learning the jeweler’s trade in 1968, when he started working part time for a local jewelry store in his hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana. At the time, he was just a sophomore at Our Lady of Fatima High School. He worked first at Clark’s Jewelers in downtown Lafayette, and then later at a store called the House of Diamonds. There, he was taught the jewelry trade by Jack Stern, a veteran jeweler who befriended Stuller and acted as a mentor to help him get started. Although young Stuller could only work after school, he quickly picked up the essentials of the business, and within just a few months had both learned the craft of jewelry repair and also worked his way into sales. In his senior year, Stuller and Stern started their own business—Hub City Jewelers—a trade shop they opened in a corner office of a suite of offices leased by Stuller’s father, an orthodontist. Stern died shortly thereafter, and Stuller decided to shut down the business.
Stuller was just 19 years old when he developed his first wholesale product line and went on the road, operating under the name South Central Distributors. After securing a loan from a Lafayette-area bank, he bought the findings inventory from Jewelmont, a New Orleans company. At first, Stuller drove throughout Louisiana in a Nissan 240Z, selling his line from the back seat and trunk while also making important connections. When his territory soon expanded into two other states, he bought a Winnebago and remodeled the inside by adding store fixtures to display his line of findings, mountings, tools, and supplies.
By 1973, Stuller was able to hire salesmen to cover his territory for him, but the road experience stuck with him. Although slow and cumbersome, the decision to continue working on the road helped to shape some key ideas in his business philosophy—notably his belief that a manufacturer and wholesaler of a jewelry line owed his customers both quality merchandise and quick, efficient service. He had already been one of the first to offer same-day shipment of orders, providing that service from the outset. Over the next several years, refinements in procedures continued to improve the efficiency of his company. In 1972, while still working the territory himself, Stuller began offering toll-free telephone ordering. Later “Stuller milestones” adopted in the 1980s and 1990s resulted from his earnest conviction that efficiency in getting his company’s products to its customers was second only to their quality.
A few years later, Stuller finally left the road work to others in his company, while also changing the name of the company to Stuller Settings, Inc. At that time, the business issued its first catalog and began special-order manufacturing. Within a short time, it also began casting its own findings and mountings—a base product line that became the core of Stuller’s future operations.
1982-92: Stuller Thrives during Louisiana Recession
In 1982, Stuller Settings, Inc. moved from its original location into a new, 11,000 square foot manufacturing and distribution center that was constructed to fit the special needs of the firm. In that same year, Stuller began offering automatic second-day air delivery for open accounts and prepaid orders—an industry first. It was also in 1982 that the company issued its initial full-color mountings and findings catalog, which was another manufacturing and wholesale jewelry trade innovation.
Two years later, Stuller Settings began marketing its line nationally, and in 1985 had to break ground on an addition to its plant in order to accommodate the rapidly increasing business. The expansion was completed in 1986 and doubled the size of the facility. By 1989, however, it was already necessary to double the company’s main facility’s size again. The company was outgrowing itself faster than was imaginable. In 1993, the executive offices and administrative operations were moved to a high-rise office building. In 1994, the company’s main facility was again renovated to create more space.
The success of Stuller Settings through the 1980s and early 1990s came at a time when Louisiana’s petroleum industry was reeling from an oil bust that sent the state into a deep recession. While many oil-related businesses were closing their doors, Stuller Settings kept widening its own. Its growth in the period remained one of the few bright lights on the area’s economic scene. The recession hit South Louisiana particularly hard, including the company’s home base of Lafayette. That the company thrived in such an economic climate showed that the state’s economic future well-being would depend on the sort of diversification the company represented.
During those years, Matt Stuller repeatedly won recognition—not just as a successful businessman, but as a model of the sort of entrepreneurial spirit that Louisiana desperately needed in its efforts to break away from single-industry dependence. Among other awards, in 1989 the company received the U.S. Senate’s Productivity Award for Louisiana for “outstanding achievement in productivity and quality improvement.” In 1991 the company also received the Lantern Award from the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry for its economic and civic contributions to the state. Individually, Matt Stuller was honored in 1995 with the “Entrepreneur of the Year” award given by Inc. magazine in the wholesale distribution category for Louisiana.
Stuller’s success cannot be measured merely in quantitative terms, however. The company had always prided itself on the quality of its product line and on its swift service, which assured clients that orders would be shipped on the same day that they were placed. Through its history, it had worked to finely hone its production and delivery system, making it one of the most efficient companies in its particular industry. In 1988, it added toll-free fax ordering to its distribution service. In the next year, it enhanced its automation by implementing a fully computerized order entry, inventory, and manufacturing applications system. The year after that, it began offering automatic second-day air delivery to COD accounts. In 1992, it began providing next-day air delivery to all its customers. During the same period, it pushed the order deadline for guaranteed next-day delivery to continental U.S. accounts to later afternoon hours (3:00 p.m. Central Time). By 1994, Stuller had pushed the order cut-off time to the end of the working day. This “rolling cutoff” allowed jewelers in any of the 48 contiguous states to place an order by 5:00 p.m. of their local time and still be guaranteed next-day delivery.
Hand in hand with its ever increasing efficiency, Stuller enhanced its product line through additions and quality assurance. In 1987, using its own proprietary metal molding technology, it introduced a new line of wire basket settings. Three years later it introduced its in-stock finished diamond and colored stone jewelry program. The introduction of a line of religious jewelry followed in 1992. Also in that year, the company implemented its in-stock platinum product program.
Each of these new lines or programs were supported by a full-color catalog made available to its customers. Stuller also gathered all of its printed source books into an electronic catalog—a single CD-ROM that made them available in an easy-to-access, computerized format. This electronic catalog allowed the company’s customers to select images for their own web sites or to display in e-mailings to their own clients; it also included such features as stone maps, allowing jewelers to make selections confidently from Stuller’s huge inventory of diamonds and other gem stones.
We want to do it right the first time, and that takes people who are dedicated to the details. As a company, we treat our people right. We treat them as individuals. So that’s how our staff treats every one of our customers. Enthusiasm and commitment are contagious. Our customers feel it every time they do business with us.
1993-2000: New Services and Expansion Plans
In 1993, Stuller introduced its “Match and Bag” program, one of the mainstays in its “Have it Your Way” service. Put in place under the company’s Diamond and Colored Stone Department, the program allowed customers to reduce their inventories and save considerable time by having Stuller’s expert staff select gems to match customer-ordered mountings. Always concerned with both quality and security, in 1998 Stuller also began offering Gemprint digital registration for diamonds sized at ⅜ ct. or larger. This laser reflection technology allowed the company’s customers an important tool for use in the identification and recovery of stolen diamonds.
In the 1990s, the company also added to its line of special kits for retail jewelers. According to Dr. Charles D. Lein, Stuller’s president and COO, these kits offered “a great way to focus attention on a particular category of jewelry,” giving jewelers a means of grouping their inventories into discrete and distinct segments. Included among these were family jewelry, gold wedding bands, diamond stud earrings, children’s jewelry, and teen jewelry kits.
By 1997, Stuller had plans to use $42 million to further increase the size of its physical operation by 2000 and to double its payroll by 2004. The company briefly considered expanding at a new location but eventually decided to remain in Louisiana. The new projections called for hiring 1,300 more people, bringing the staff to 2,419 and increasing the annual payroll from $21 million to $54 million. Estimated land and building costs totaled about $24 million and equipment purchases another $17 million. Scheduled for completion in June 2000, construction on the large addition to the manufacturing and distribution building commenced in 1999. When finished, it would add 238,000 square feet to that facility, once again doubling its size. Construction was also begun on a new five-floor administration office building adjoining the plant. Also scheduled for release in that summer was the company’s newest tools book, a comprehensive guide to the various tools and supplies that the company makes for the bench jeweler.
Facing the new century, company founder Matt Stuller singled out three areas of attention that the company would address in its plans for helping independent jewelers compete successfully with large department store and chain outlets: the industry’s increased attention to jewelry branding; the need for jewelers to create unique, customized pieces; and a rapidly expanding e-commerce.
M. Fabrikant & Sons; Lazare Kaplan International Inc.; OroAmerica, Inc.
- Company buys findings inventory from Jewelmont in New Orleans and begins wholesaling its inventory under the name South Central Distributors.
- Stuller begins marketing its line nationally.
- Company doubles size of facility.
- Second expansion again doubles size of plant; company receives U.S. Senate Productivity Award.
- Company receives Lantern Award from the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry.
- Administrative offices move into separate high-rise headquarters.
- Third expansion once more doubles manufacturing and distribution facility.
- Company introduces its “Have It Your Way from Stuller” service.
- Construction begins plant addition and new office building.
“Business Briefs,” Advocate (Baton Rouge), January 16, 1997, p. 1D.
Guarisco, Tom, “Fruit of Loom Parent’s Taxes Cut—481,382 Request Ok’d; Other Denied,” Advocate (Baton Rouge), December 11, 1997, p. 1C.
Roskin, Gary, “Stuller Embraces Digital Gemprint,” Jewelers Circular Keystone, October 1998, p. 30.
“Stuller Settings’ Specialty: Small Orders for Small Stores,” Jewelers Circular Keystone, January 1987, p. 144.
Theriot, Stella, “Bringing up Baby,” Times ofAcadiana, July 14, 1999, p. 23.
Walowitz, Hedda, “Stuller Settings: Growth Through Service,” Jewelers Circular Keystone, November 1988, p. 166.
—John W. Fiero