Bauer Jewelry Designs

Had the economy been more favorable, IB could have written about the opening of Kim and Jake Bauer's Middleton jewelry store five years ago. In the long run, however, delaying the store's debut may prove to be fortunate.

The mother-son duo recently opened Bauer Jewelry Designs in the Middleton Hills neighborhood. Kim, 53, who just left a leadership position at American Girl after seven years, says opening the business is a family dream. "In the corporate world, you sacrifice a lot of family time to be successful. Now I can do both."

For Jake, 28, who remembers jewelry shopping with his father, it's finally a chance to showcase his creativity after 10 years in business. While a student at Oregon High School, he took advantage of a school apprenticeship program that led him to a two-year position at Goodman's Jewelers. He then graduated from the Howard Academy for the Metal Arts in Stoughton, and later honed his hand-engraving skills through a program he completed in Kansas.

Jake's unique designs, meanwhile, encouraged his mother's long-dormant artistic side. Her first job out of college was in diamond sales, but after raising her family, she opted for the financial field. "I loved it and learned it inside and out," she said, "but I always had a passion for design and creativity."

In 2007, the Bauers purchased a 1,100-sq.-ft. business condo in Middleton Hills, then found themselves in the grasp of the economic crash. The downturn presented opportunities neither had imagined. First, it allowed them time to more carefully prepare for the store's hoped-for launch. While working full-time at their
respective jobs, Jake handled construction details while Kim managed the financial end – the business plan and finances. She also used the time to earn a graduate diamonds degree from the Gemological Institute of America.

Second, they were able to fund the start up with a low-interest business loan from Summit Credit Union. Third, with residential contractors cutting rates, construction costs came in about $30,000 less than original bids, allowing the Bauers to purchase inventory and install a security system with the savings.

The business condo idea also was an attractive alternative. "If we were to rent this space, it might cost about $3,000 a month," Kim explained. "But our mortgage payment, with the build-out included, is $1,400 a month plus $150 in condo fees. Plus, we own the building." Equipment costs have totaled about $16,000, and they've also purchased a $2,000 POS system for retail operations.

The store features Jake's one-of-a-kind designs and designs made elsewhere, but his custom work will be the store's focus. One of the biggest misconceptions, the duo agreed, is that custom jewelry is expensive. "Custom homes might be," Jake said, "but when it comes to jewelry, I can make a piece retailing at $600. It's less expensive because I'm taking away the middleman. I'm the manufacturer."

Bauer Jewelry Designs opened in November. "The economy will always be there, so you have to price yourself differently to service the customer well," Kim reasoned. "People will pay for things of value – dolls for their children, for example. It's the new economy."

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