Douglas Schlotthauer came to Hartford one fall day in 1973 because of an ad he saw in a small jewelry trade magazine advertising a jewelry store for sale. Doug had worked at a jewelry store in Milwaukee for 10 years and wanted to open his own store. He chose Hartford simply by virtue of the ad.
What he found was a small community, in good proximity to Milwaukee, with its own identity and industry, and with some of the most friendly and welcoming people you’ll ever meet.
Doug returned to Hartford one year later and opened his store in a rented a space on Main Street. One year after that, he purchased the building of his current location and has been there ever since. His building, located at 30 N. Main Street in downtown Hartford, has held a jewelry store for the last 144 years, minus one when it was a Singer Sewing Center.
Doug says, “It’s like a shoe. It fits.”
When Doug came to visit Hartford the first time, he met with a lender at a bank in town who declined to give Doug a loan. With that experience in mind, he chose to open business accounts with First National Bank when he came back to Hartford in 1974 and opened in his first location. Naturally, when Doug moved forward with purchasing his building, he went to First National Bank for the loan.
“I walked in the front door at First National Bank and I met with Dennis Carroll,” Doug said. “He gave me the loan to buy the building, and I’ve never considered banking anywhere else. Years later, the other bank tried to get me to switch my accounts to them. I said, ‘I don’t need you now. I needed you before.’”
Doug created a store focused on quality products at fair prices with an emphasis on customer service. Over time he expanded his product offerings.
“I started with costume jewelry and had some watches and a few wedding rings and engagement rings,” Doug said. “As I could afford more, I added more.”
Doug says his prices are frugal because he’s frugal.
“We really have fair prices. We don’t lose many engagement ring sales because if people shop around they find that we are the best value,” says Doug. “We don’t have a big mark-up because our store isn’t huge and we don’t have big expenses. Sometimes people assume that the small store will have higher prices, but that’s not always the case because we have 100 percent control. We don’t have to answer to a corporate office telling us what to do and how to do it.”
After 44 years, Douglas Jeweler has earned its reputation as an honest, reputable jewelry store. They offer everything from custom-made engagement and wedding bands, jewelry repairs, watches and designer jewelry, to $3.00 watch batteries and complimentary cleanings and ring inspections to everyone who walks in the door.
Doug is grateful that serendipity brought him to Hartford.
“The Hartford community has been wonderful to us. We’re selling to third and fourth generations of customers. You really do know people and their families. You think, ‘Oh, she sounds like her mother,’ or ‘I know who his father is.’ It’s nice to have longevity. Some businesses aren’t blessed with that.”
For Doug, the next phase is transitioning the business to his son, David.
“I had always drilled it into my boys’ heads that the store is dad’s baby and when dad’s gone, the store is gone. I didn’t want the kids to feel beholden to this store. I told them to find their passion,” says Doug. “But really David loves it as much as I do.”
David, like his two brothers, worked at the store off and on during high school, but it wasn’t until the summer after his freshman year at UW-Madison that he really started to view it as a career option.
“I learned a lot that summer,” David says. “I kept working summers and breaks, and by the time I was a junior in college I was 100 percent sure that I wanted to come to the jewelry store.”
According to Doug, the two complement each other well and David has been able to bring new ideas to the store to attract younger customers.
“We get customers because their mothers and grandmothers come here. We also get customers because they read our Google reviews. I would probably be stuck in some old ways if David weren’t here,” Doug says. “You can’t resist change. David sees things with different eyes. And frankly, there are things I don’t want to learn. For example, I don’t talk Instagram,” says Doug.
While they like to tease each other about who picks the best-selling product lines from the jewelry shows (hint: sometimes experience still outsmarts youth), they both agree that the job never feels like “work.”
“I’ve been here for eight years and never once have I dreaded coming to work,” says David.
Doug echoes, “I haven’t either; not a single day. Today is like my first day here.”
David and Doug also agree on the secret to the business’s success.
“I think it’s that we treat customers like family,” says Doug. “Our customers are like gold to us. Some of my peers think they’re something special. I think it’s more important the way you treat a person than what you sell them.”
David agrees, saying, “Whether we sell a $3 watch battery or something for $500, we treat you exactly the same. Customers see us and know that as a small, family-operated store we have more skin in the game. Being honest and having excellent customer service goes a long way in the jewelry industry.”
“There are a lot of parallels between banks and jewelry stores, including that both can feel stuffy. I don’t get that feeling at First National Bank at all — it feels like coming home. Just as we give every one of our customers the same great service no matter what they’re in for, the same is true for First National Bank. Whether you’re taking out a loan or just there for change for a dollar, you’re still going to get excellent service.” — David Schlotthauer
Throughout Douglas Jewelers’ 44-year history in Hartford, First National Bank has stood behind them. Doug recalls a time he went to a jewelry auction and unexpectedly wanted to bid on some of the jewelry.
“I called Dennis Carroll and said, ‘Could I have $40,000 to buy this jewelry?’ Dennis said, ‘Yep.’ At other banks, those decisions are not made locally. At First National Bank, those types of decisions are made right there by people who know you. First National Bank has always worked with us.”
David remarks about how unusual it is to receive such personal service at a bank in today’s environment.
“My wife lived in a larger community before we were married and she can’t believe that you can go to any teller at First National Bank and they know who you are,” David says.
“The tellers know so many of their customers, and it’s not just customers who have been there for 40 years.”
Doug and David also appreciate the commitment First National Bank makes to the community.
“We can be thankful for all of the things that First National Bank has supported in the community. Whether donations to the hospital, the library and the Aquatic Center, or programming at the Schauer Center, they’ve been very good to the community,” says Doug.
“We’ve been in Hartford for more than 40 years. We’ve been a customer of First National Bank since the day we came to town.” — Douglas Schlotthauer