SBA Names Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year

Release Date: 
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Release Number: 
Patrick Saxton (612) 370-2325

Saint Cloud – Jim Kruse, Founder and Melissa Kelley, President of J.F. Kruse Jewelers based in Saint Cloud, have been named the Minnesota Small Business Persons of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The Small Business Person of the year is selected annually based on growth in sales or unit volume, increase in the number of employees, financial strength, innovativeness of product or service and evidence of contributions to community-oriented projects. Gail Ivers, Vice President of the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce and Barry Kirkhoff, Executive Director of the Central Minnesota Small Business Development Center (CMSBDC) at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, MN nominated Kruse and Kelley for this award.

As a teenager, Jim Kruse discovered a talent for sales while potting plants at a greenhouse in St. Paul.  In 1979, he was hired at D.J. Bitzan Jewelers in St. Cloud, as a bench jeweler and trained as a diamond setter.  However he soon found himself in sales there as well.  Jim made the decision to change careers due to unforeseen family struggles and turned to construction.  But a workplace injury resulted in cracked ribs and the need to find another way to make a living for his family.

Jim returned to jewelry as a diamond setter but began making his own creations and selling them on the side.  In 2000 he opened J. F. Kruse Jewelers at the urging of friends and customers.  The store started with two full-time (Jim and his sister) and two part-time employees and did $200,000 in sales in its first quarter.

J. F. Kruse Jewelers made use of the SBA 7(a) program in the early years.  From 2000 to 2003 they received three different loans to help with the start-up of their business.  All of them have been paid off.  They received assistance in 2011 and 2012 from the CMSBDC in St. Cloud with their expansion.

Customer service and the dedication to custom jewelry are two things that stand out about J. F. Kruse Jewelers.  They are the only custom jewelry store in Central Minnesota that can create a piece in-house from start to finish and sell it retail.   Customers can walk into the store, talk to the staff about what they like, and the staff of artists can create the design, create a wax carving of it, make the piece and adjust it until the customer loves it.

In 2013, J. F. Kruse doubled its size with a new store on Waite Avenue in St. Cloud.  Jim was joined in the business by his daughter, Melissa Kelley, 29, who started cleaning the toilets at the store while she was still in junior high school. Today she has a degree in business, is a graduate gemologist, and has taken over ownership of the business, while Jim retired in January of this year.

J.F. Kruse Jewelers takes advantage of their focus on custom jewelry for special types of fundraising.  One third of the profits from a special line of jewelry, known as the “Becoming” series, are donated to a revolving list of charities that help deal with crisis pregnancies.  Currently they are working with the St. Cloud Children’s Home to develop a similar philanthropic plan.  The store often donates jewelry and gift certificates to raffles with a particular focus at raising money for sick individuals and families hit by disaster.  In general, they make in-kind donations to local families and community organizations every week.

J.F. Kruse Jewelers started with nothing to supporting 17 employees and continues to increase their customer base every month. Sales have increased by 7% each year since opening the door.  Today J.F. Kruse Jewelers has developed a unique niche in custom jewelry designed and manufactured on-site.

J.F. Kruse Jewelers will be honored at the Minnesota Small Business Week Awards program on May 7, 2015, at the Minneapolis Marriott Northwest.

For more information:

Jim Kruse
J.F. Kruse Jewelers
110 Waite Ave S
St. Cloud, MN 56301

Melissa Kelley
President and Owner
J.F. Kruse Jewelers
110 Waite Ave S
St. Cloud, MN 56301