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05/30/2001 - Rings & Things Gains Global Growth

Rings & Things sold jewelry wholesale long before it opened its first retail store. Beginning over three decades ago, Russ Nobbs, Founder, drove a vintage Chevy van around the Pacific Northwest, peddling his hand-crafted earrings and gold wire pins to crafts shops, galleries, drugstores, and souvenir shops. Today, using UPS, Fed Ex, and the power of the Internet (www.rings-things.com), Rings & Things has wholesale accounts all over the United States, Europe, and the Orient. Operating from the heart of the Terabyte Triangle, Rings & Things ships to Japan, Germany, England, France, Hong Kong, Australia, Mexico, Luxembourg, and Canada.

Nobbs opened the first Rings & Things retail store in 2nd City in 1972 in 100 square feet of space. Its bead and filigree earrings, Native American turquoise jewelry, African beads, rings, and, well, things quickly became popular with Spokanites in all age groups. The jewelry was interesting, unique, and affordable.

While the retail business grew and prospered, so did the wholesale division. In those days, the wholesale business operated quietly out of the retail store. It continued to escalate even though much time, energy, and resources were invested in the various relocations needed for the retail store. Finally, it had grown to proportions making it necessary for the Rings & Things Wholesale to find an independent location. In 1990, Nobbs moved Rings & Things Wholesale into the ninth floor of the Bon Marche Building.

The operation fills 15,000 square feet and includes a show room, order accepting center, fulfillment, shipping and receiving. It contains the graphics shop, accounting, trade and craft show booths, administration, and a place to park bicycles. The main warehouse is also contained in the space. Rings & Things has more than sixty employees and an annual payroll of over one million dollars. Many of the items offered for sale, especially wood and plastic items, are manufactured here in Spokane for Rings & Things.

Rings & Things Wholesale’s primary business is the sale of jewelry findings and supplies especially for professional craftspeople. For that purpose, they have created a catalogue with over 200 pages packed full of items. The entire catalogue is also on the Rings & Things web site. Orders are accepted by telephone, fax, e-mail, and snail mail. A real person answers the telephone. “We are a very low tech company,” says Nobbs.

This “low tech” company has a local area network (LAN) with 100 mbs ethernet that connects most of the many computers used in Rings & Things operations. A DSL line connects it to the outside world. Rings & Things has its own server farm including an application server with fire wall, supported by a full time systems administrator. However, it doesn’t host its own web site.

“When we moved in,” says Nobbs, “we found 1950’s vintage wiring.” “Our first upgrade was coaxial cable, but lately we’ve been wiring our own.” Indeed, a web of network wiring is strung below the ceiling throughout the area. It isn’t pretty, but it doesn’t get in the way, it works, and it’s legal. “Sometimes, though, it isn’t the most efficient job,” says Nobbs. “Someday, we’d like fiber to the backbone,” he continued.

Nobbs is active in the downtown community, and likes the Bon Marche building location. “We have a lot of space, and the rent is low.” The drawbacks are lack of a loading dock, and no parking. Nobbs says that they deal with the parking problem by discouraging the use of personal vehicles. Bicycles may be parked on the premise, the bus is only a block away, or employees may use the arena lot under the satellite parking program. Although the retail store was closed in 2000, Rings & Things wholesale will be with us for a long, long time. - Billie Moreland


Billie Moreland
 
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