Whitaker, whose 112-year-old store is a staple in the community of Cooks Hill, New South Wales, specializes in diamonds, gemstones, custom and bridal jewelry. He attributes a large part of the store’s four generations of success to their client-comes-first approach.
“Open, genuine information builds trust,” he says, “and aids in creating an exciting, unique customer experience.”
Whitaker’s consumer education videos, which he posts on the store’s website, range from how to find out a woman’s ring size and natural style preferences, to why it’s important to buy a graded diamond.
“It’s important that the consumer is made aware of the differences in metals and stone qualities, so they can make a completely informed decision on what combination is right for them,” he says. “Most clients come to the store with a good general understanding of the 4Cs, but we have the knowledge and training to clarify any misconceptions – and enhance their appreciation of the stone through seeing it for themselves.”
Whitaker’s enthusiasm for people, jewelry and the retail experience is a far cry from his early wariness to enter the family trade. His great-grandfather, Reginald Wilfred Whitaker, founded Whitaker’s Jewellers in Muswellbrook, Australia in 1903, and after many years and expansions to new locations, the business was passed to John Whitaker, Sr., Whitaker’s father.
“When I was growing up, the one thing I didn’t want to do was be a jewelry retailer,” he says. “I saw how hard my father worked and couldn’t see his profession as suitable to me.”
But when Whitaker began training as a salesperson in 1987, he had a change of heart.
“I fell in love with jewelry, and being a part of my clients’ special occasions and moments,” he says. A trip soon after to the Basel Trade Fair in Switzerland confirmed his growing passion; Whitaker says he was “blown away” by the experience and still has vivid memories of the diamonds and colored gemstones he saw there.
As the young man wrapped up his traineeship and changed course on a career path, his father pulled him aside.
“My father, in his wisdom, said to me, ‘You’ll need to know more than I do to make it. In the future, what I know won’t be enough to be successful,’” Whitaker recalls. “How right he was.”
The elder Whitaker had heard about GIA through trade media outlets like JCK magazine. “We decided I should attend GIA to ensure I had the latest and most highly regarded jewelry industry training and career foundation on the planet.”
Whitaker’s time studying in Santa Monica – he earned his GG in 1989 – was so revelatory that he says he almost needed help “coming back to earth” when he returned home.
“My experience at GIA was absolutely amazing,” he says. “I was transported into the world of diamonds and gems to a degree that I had not expected. The chance to grade and identify the widest variety of gemstones made a huge impression, but the thing that made the biggest impact on me was how my view of the global industry completely changed. I realized how much more there was for me to achieve after having my eyes well- and truly opened.”
Whitaker worked for his father for many years and across several of the store’s locations, only leaving for a couple of years to gain outside-the-family-business experience in Sydney. He oversaw teams and marketing for Whitaker’s Jewellers until 2006, when he and his wife, Leonie, took over the business and moved it to Newcastle.
“If I didn’t have my GIA qualifications, I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing today,” says Whitaker, who personally trains every team member and provides monthly instruction in diamond education. “I love being with people, whether that’s my clients or my team. It gives me great pleasure to see my team grow and be able to reach their goals in their careers with our assistance.”
Whitaker says that in addition to continuing education, he keeps on top of his business by “staying close to the ground.”
“My clients are a great way for me to stay connected to the sales floor and what’s happening, and it’s still the thing I love best,” says Whitaker, who cites diamond selection and grading as another favorite part of his job. “You have to keep your knowledge up to date, because the world of diamonds and gems never stands still.”
“The only thing that matters is the outcome for the client. If you’re in wholesale, you always need to be focused with what’s happening for your retailer with their clients. And retailers should have the complete client experience in mind at all times,” he says. “It’s the in-store experience that will get them off their chairs and walking back into stores.”