CARBONDALE — T.J. Martin, owner of TJ’s Fine Jewelry in Carbondale, has more than 20 years of experience in the jewelry business. When he opened his store in 2005, his goal was offering customer service at a level far above the norm.
Since the beginning, the Illinois Small Business Development Center at SIU Carbondale played a significant role in establishing the store and its success. Martin worked for months to create a business plan, but when visiting banks about financing, he was frequently asked if he had been to the SBDC.
Martin then quickly learned of the services that the SBDC staff provides new and expanding businesses as the center supplied the expertise to help in revising and improving his plan. He has continued working with the SBDC since.
“I probably missed the boat that I should have been on to begin with. If I had started out there, it would have made my life easier,” Martin said. “From that day forward, they’ve been great, helping with everything from securing funding to press releases to providing me with helpful information that I would have never gotten otherwise.”
The center assisted him with a business location as well, initially helping him rent space in University Place and later advising as he purchased a building.
Martin said the SBDC has helped him avoid many common and sometimes costly missteps.
“I would say areas that don’t have a resource like this are really lacking,” Martin said.
After being in business nearly 10 years, Martin said customer service is still what makes his business stand out from the crowd.
“It’s about customer service and the one-on-one interaction. It’s about knowing your customers’ names when they come back after the sale,” Martin said. “Some of the places I worked at, it seemed that once they got the money, the transaction was over.”
Martin said that giving the high level of customer service and going above-and-beyond isn’t about making money, but about really taking care of patrons. For instance, the business offers pickup service. As an example, an employee will pick up a customer’s watch in Marion, change the battery and return it for $11.
Martin also educates customers about the products he sells and encourages them to check competitors before making a purchase.
“If we don’t have the right product at the right price, then I’ve not earned your business and I don’t think I deserve it,” Martin said.
Martin said that although being a small business owner requires a lot of time and attention, the advantages include being able to adjust his busy schedule to devote time to his family and having a real passion for his career.
“Being a small business owner is 24/7, just not always on location. It never leaves your mind,” Martin said. “You have a sense of ownership and pride that never leaves.”
Martin also advises other small business owners. First, Martin suggests that business owners consult the SBDC and take advantage of the services and help available. He also encourages them to support other local businesses and worthwhile causes in the community.
“If people are going to purchase from you, then you should give back,” Martin said.
The Illinois Small Business Development Center/International Trade Center, is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and hosted by Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
For more information at the SBDC or the numerous services it provides to new and growing businesses, contact Robyn Laur Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-536-2424.