Business Still Thrives After Six Decades

The owner of Key's Jewelry said his small, family-owned business has beat the odds.

It’s unusual for small, family-owned businesses to stay open for 60 years.

And, it’s rare for third-generation business owners to be successful, said Doug Key, owner of Key’s Jewelry.

That’s why Key said he’s thankful to be celebrating that milestone this weekend.

“Our customers are the ones who keep us there, and we’re very much aware of that,” Key said. “We know it’s not us. It’s them.”

Key's Jewelry was opened on the third floor of the Galt Building by Key’s grandfather, Vernie, in 1951 with one showcase and a work bench, which was used for Vernie Key’s watch repair business. A few years later, the shop moved to the first floor in the Galt Building. In 1956, Vernie Key bought the store’s current building on East Main Street and, in 1957, the store reopened in its present location.

Vernie Key’s son, Marion, bought the business in 1979 and, in 1998, Doug Key purchased the family business where he had worked since leaving high school in 1974. Throughout the years, Key’s Jewelry has become a destination store in downtown Canton.

“A lot of people come downtown just to see us,” Doug Key said.

While the Internet diamond market has hurt retail diamond sales and big box retailers have become competition for small, locally-owned stores, Key said he’s been blessed by the fact that Cherokee County hasn’t seen a lot of change. Whenever a new outlet for jewelry comes onto the scene, it sparks curiosity among customers, but Key said he has a core of customers that have remained faithful to his business.

“You have to do everything to make those people your customers for the future,” he said. “A lot of people seem to be realizing that small town businesses have a lot to offer, the personal service and being able to build a relationship. They realize if they don’t support the local business, (businesses) won’t maintain the support they need to stay open.”

There have been many jewelry trends over the last 60 years, from the pink ice craze in the late 1970s to the current Pandora trend, which Key said has been a big boon for the jewelry industry with new styles and types being added regularly.

“It’s been very good for us,” Key said.

But, while some styles have come and gone, there are those that have remained popular over the years, such as earrings and chains, the latter of which are always sought after, Key said.

“Those things are always in need, whether it’s for a pendant or a chain you wear by itself,” he said. “The basics are always there. Strands of pearls, things (like that) that are timeless.”

And, Key’s carries pieces that are considered unique, such as Galatea jewelry. Collections range from the Davinchi cut to the Diamond in a Pearl. The Davinchi cut includes light-colored gemstones set upside down with two rubies and two emeralds set underneath in a cross. The piece changes color and its look as it moves in the light.

“We’ve done pretty well with that,” Key said. “It doesn’t appeal to the masses, but it appeals to enough that we turn over enough product in a year’s time.”

Key’s also sells interchangeable jewelry, in which stones can be changed out to match outfits, and 18-carat lines with black and white, and chocolate and white diamonds. Those have gotten a lot of attention despite being higher ticket items, Key said.

“It’s a line that a lot of people 'ooh' and 'aah' over,” he said.

The beauty of this jewelry business, though, comes down to building relationships with the customers. Key said he and his staff have gotten to know them very well throughout the years.

“Any small retailer, that’s what they need to be about,” he said. “Relationships with their customers, not just being a place to come buy (things).”


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