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All In The Family

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At INSTORE, we often refer to family-owned jewelry stores as being the heart of the independent retail jewelry business. So, for our December issue, we’ve collected photos of some of the faces behind those family businesses. Whether they represent second- or fifth-generation jewelry families, they’ve learned something about how to navigate these close relationships and achieve a balance between their personal and work lives that transcend time and generational differences.

Brothers Gale and Flint Carpenter, from left, and Gale’s son, Chance.

An Unexpected Succession
Big Island Jewelers, Hawaii | Founded: 1983

When Chance Carpenter, already an entrepreneur in his own right, told his dad, Gale Carpenter, that he wanted to join the family jewelry business, Gale said it blew his mind. “He had never spoken to me about any interest in the business whatsoever,” Gale says. “I would have started grooming him much earlier.” Gale founded the business with his brother Flint, a goldsmith. When Chance joined the business in his mid-20s, he apprenticed with Flint, and when Flint wanted to retire at age 70, Gale bought him out through a stock-reduction plan. “Chance learned from a master working a foot away,” Gale says. “It was invaluable. Because you can’t learn 35 years of technique in a classroom. It just doesn’t work.” In another four to five years, Gale says, Chance will take over and begin buying his father out of the business.

1. Heather Wahl with her parents Bob and Barba Wahl. 2. Four generations, circa 1945. From left: F.X Wahl, F.C. (Frederick Charles) Wahl with baby R.C. (Robert Charles) Wahl, and F.F. Wahl. 3. A 1989 photo in front of the store’s original location 4. Barba in a 1970s era newspaper ad for the store.

125 years, five generations
R.C. Wahl Jewelers, Des Plaines, IL | Founded: 1894

“I am so proud of my family’s longevity in the jewelry industry!” says fifth-generation family member Heather Wahl, who is the first woman to own the business. “This year we are celebrating one family, five generations, 125 years!” Her parents, Bob and Barba Wahl, met at an Illinois Jewelers Association event in Springfield, IL, in the late ‘60s. “Mom worked at another jewelry store in Illinois and they were seated at the dinner together and the rest is history,” Heather says. Heather’s parents are retired from day-to-day operations but make special guest appearances and step in to help as needed. “They are fabulous sounding boards and have a wealth of background and knowledge to share,” she says.

Harold, Cathy & Hunter

A QUALITY TRADITION
Tivol, Kansas City | Founded: 1910

Charlie & Mollie Tivol

Immigrant Charles Tivol opened a jewelry shop in downtown Kansas City in 1910, meticulously crafting each piece of jewelry by hand and launching a family tradition that would continue through generations. His son Harold began working in the store as a boy, studied at the GIA and joined Tivol in 1946. In 2003, Tivol was recognized by the American Gem Society as top retail jeweler of the year. Harold’s daughter Cathy, representing the third generation, has worked in the family business for three decades. In 2010, Tivol celebrated a century in business, and a year later, Cathy’s son, Hunter Tivol McGrath, joined the company as a salesperson at the Hawthorne Plaza location, making him the fourth generation of the Tivol family to work for the company. Harold Tivol remained chairman until his death at the age of 92 on July 6, 2016.

A STRONG WORK ETHIC
Josephs Jewelers, Des Moines, IA | Founded: 1871

Toby Joseph, Trisha Joseph, Jake Joseph and Deb Joseph.

Jake and Trisha Joseph represent the fifth generation of the company founded by watchmaker Solomon Joseph in 1871 as a repair shop that also was officially in charge of timing the trains for the railroad. By the turn of the century, Josephs had expanded into fine jewelry and giftware. In 1934, Josephs was a founding member and investor in the American Gem Society. They attribute their success to respect, teamwork and a strong work ethic. “The Joseph family has always lived a modest life,” Deb Joseph says. “No one has ever had a second home or taken any more vacation than what their employees have. Toby is almost always the first one here in the morning and Jake, Trisha and I are usually in the group that is the last to leave the store.”

FAMILY COMES FIRST
Tapper’s, Troy, MI / Founded: 1977

Founder Howard Tapper is the company’s CEO, brother Steven is vice-president, son Mark is president, daughter Marla Tapper Young is a director and Mark’s wife Leora is heavily involved in the store’s merchandising and runs its estate department. Mark ascribes the company’s success in part to the tight family bond they all share. “We hired a family business consultant who asked each of us individually, ‘There’s no wrong answer, but is it family first or business first?’ And each of us answered ‘family first.’ We don’t always agree, but once a final decision is made, we all get on the bus and start driving in one direction.”

Founder William Croghan’s granddaughters and great-granddaughters form the current management team.

LAUGHTER IS A CURE-ALL
Croghan’s Jewel Box, Charleston, SC | Founded: 1907

Mini and Kathleen Hay; Rhett Ramsay Outten, Mariana Ramsay Hay and their mother Mary Croghan Ramsay.

Founder William Croghan’s granddaughters and great-granddaughters watch over the store that William opened around 1930 at 308 King Street. By 2000, granddaughters Mariana Ramsay Hay and Rhett Ramsay Outten, the third generation, began to knock out walls and expand the jewelry business in that original building. They’ve since been joined by fourth-generation Mini Hay and Kathleen Hay. Says Rhett: “Too many retail jewelers hang onto the image or idea of who they’ve been in the past. Our survival has been based on ‘Let’s try it; let’s see what happens.’ We also believe that laughter is a cure for just about anything, so we laugh a lot. And probably most importantly, we are always counting our blessings and looking for ways to give back in a meaningful way to this community that has given us so much.”

Robert and Jonathan McCoy

Old Place, New Course
Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, MO | Founded: 1965

Jonathan and Jennifer McCoy, left, with Robert McCoy and Samantha Smith, head of operations.

“When I was growing up, it was more like a routine,” says Randy Mitchum of the family store. “My dad, a watchmaker, went to work during the day, then he came home and we ate dinner and watched Wheel of Fortune.” Although he’d been assigned chores in the store, he never really thought of it as his life’s work. Randy graduated high school in 2000, but after a year in technical college, he lacked direction. “I asked my Dad, ‘Why don’t you let me work in the store part time?’ At first he told me, ‘No, I don’t think we’d get along very well.’ Then he needed someone after my first year in college and I started working in the store. The next semester came along and I wanted to work full time in the business.” Although he was trained on the bench, his dad told him, “You’re a hell of a better salesperson than you are a bench person. Why don’t you stay on the sales floor and make some money?” Randy never did go back to college. “Once I got into the store and started working, I saw some potential and started taking some ownership,” he says.

John Mitchum (right), shown with his son, Randy, purchased Trantham Jewelry in 1965. It came with a prominent, double-sided clock on the town square that now has a new name and a place of honor in their current location.

JEWELERS IN RESIDENCE
McCoy Jewelers, Dubuque, IA | Founded: 1973

The McCoys not only work together but also live above their business. Founder Robert McCoy, a master gemologist, jeweler and designer, lives on the third floor, and his son Jonathan and daughter-in-law Jennifer live on the second floor. Although semi-retired, Robert still works a couple of days a week on design and repairs. Jonathan is the head of bench operations, custom design, CAD/CAM and repairs; Jennifer oversees bridal and sales. “It’s hard to play hooky,” Jonathan admits. “My wife and I converse about the shop almost daily. Once you get in that mindset, it’s difficult to get out of it.”

Julia, Jeff and Daniel White

REBEL, REBEL
Jeff White Custom Jewelry, Las Vegas | Founded: 1995

When Jeff White opened Jeff White Custom Jewelry with 300 square feet in an office building, he received a stipulation from his wife, Michelle White. “My mom’s one condition was that he not be allowed to hire any of the kids,” says their son, Daniel White. Michelle came from a family business and knew the stresses associated with that kind of operation. Despite that warning, Daniel and his sister Julia both landed in the business (“I guess there are worse ways to rebel,” Daniel says). “My dad has cut back from his 60-80 hour work weeks — he has given me the ability to run and manage operations in the event he does decide to take off for a while. My sister, Julia, keeps our books clean and our staff happy. She is pregnant with her fourth child right now, but insists on coming in one day a week to manage the books and schedule, and when the holidays come around, she is our top salesperson. My brother, Joseph, got out of the business and became a hospital administrator; he still has an opinion on the direction of the business, but none of us listen. I have an older sister and a younger sister who are also not in the business, but they love jewelry and my dad loves giving it to them, so no one is complaining.” In total there are 11 grandchildren in the third generation.

Michael Kanoff and his father, Lenny Kanoff, became partners in 1996.

LIVING THE DREAM
Michael’s Jewelers, Yardley and Fairless Hills, PA | Founded: 1976

Michael’s Jewelers was founded by Lenny and Karen Kanoff in 1976, but the family’s jewelry roots run deeper than that. In 1918, Daniel Kanoff, a watchmaker and silversmith, emigrated from Russia to the U.S. and got a job working for a watch repair house in Philadelphia. A decade later, he opened his own business, Philadelphia Case & Repair. Daniel’s son Irving became a watchmaker, and his grandson Lenny became a retailer. Their son, Michael, fell in love with the business. “I knew I wanted to be in the jewelry business since I was 2 years old,” Michael says. After he earned his GG from the GIA, he worked at a variety of jobs in the industry. “In 1996, I was working as a jewelry rep in Atlanta, and I got a call from my father,” Michael recalls. “He said they were building a shopping center in Yardley and asked if I would like to partner with him and open a store in my hometown. So in 1997, we closed our Richboro store and we opened Michael’s Jewelers Yardley.” Michael says he is living his dream by owning a jewelry store and raising his three children, ages 9 to 13, in his hometown. “At this point, my children don’t have any interest in the jewelry business, but that might change,” Michael says.

Fourth-generation jeweler Sarah Hurwitz Robey, her parents, Jeff and Patty Hurwitz, and her sons, Tucker and Lincoln.

ALL AGES WELCOME
Colonial Jewelers, Frederick, MD | Founded: 1920

Fourth-generation jeweler Sarah Hurwitz Robey has brought her sons Tucker and Lincoln with her to work since they were 6 weeks old, with the help of her mom, Patty Hurwitz, and a babysitter. “We have an awesome staff who are like family to us and are very understanding of all of the nuances of working for a family business, whether it is Lincoln learning to crawl on the sales floor or Tucker running in from preschool excited to show everyone what he made that day. I feel like I have a dream situation. I get to work at the store, which I have always been very passionate about, as well as have my babies close to me.” The business was founded in 1920 by Sarah’s great-grandfather, Benjamin Hurwitz. Sarah’s father Jeff Hurwitz, president of Colonial, learned the business from his own parents, Will and Marilyn. They’ve had a recent surprise addition to the family lineup at work: “My 94-year-old great-uncle, who worked in the business with my grandfather, recently came out of retirement and is our official Saturday greeter. He’s a huge hit with our customers, may of whom remember him from years ago,” Sarah says. “I don’t ever want to put any pressure on my boys (the way I was never pressured) but I am hoping that having them here so young may instill in them the same love of the business that I have,” she says.

A JACK OF ALL TRADES
Spath Jewelers, Bartow, FL | Founded: 1986

Tina and Gene Spath, from left, work with their daughter Emily and son-in-law Matthew Clark.

Spath Jewelers founders and owners Tina and Gene Spath work with their daughter, Emily Clark, and her husband, Matthew Clark, who both have the title VP of operations. Tina handles community relations and marketing. Gene works as a liaison between their two locations and oversees jewelry and watch repair. Emily is custom design manager and oversees diamond sales, HR, scheduling and marketing. Matthew handles inventory, staff training and development, marketing and sales. “In a small business, there is a lot of overlap in job responsibilities, and you eventually become a jack-of-all-trades,” Matthew says. “The way to succeed in a family business is to help and advise other family members in their areas of focus when they request the advice, and stay in your lane when advice is not needed or requested. A wise man one said, ‘You never want too many cooks in the kitchen or the food will come out tasting like you know what … ‘”

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Getting Along in the Family Business

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Mark Tapper wasn’t sure, as a young man, whether he wanted to join the family business in Michigan. He was motivated to work on Wall Street, first, which he did, but still realized he felt a pull to be an owner operator, to chart his own destiny. That idea kept him coming back to considering the family business.

“During summers, when I had the opportunity to come home, I worked in the business,” Tapper says. A turning point came when he worked with a customer to repair the watch their son had been wearing when he was killed in a car crash. “I created an emotional bond over that repair and felt more of a connection with the business. I realized that we see our guests at the best times of their lives and at the lowest times of their lives, and we can develop long-term relationships with them.”

When Mark did join Tapper’s, his father and uncle were ready to slow down a little bit. “My dad realized he wasn’t connecting with younger generations, and my sister and I were young and ambitious; little by little, he gave us more responsibility and opportunity. My dad coached us, but he handed over the reins and allowed us to make mistakes and have successes.” 

David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy says such openness is key to family harmony. While the younger family member needs to be open to learning from the older generation, the older generation benefits from being receptive to new business methods and opportunities. “We live in dynamic times, and what got you there won’t keep you there,” Brown says.

Outside experience, whether in or out of the jewelry business, can be invaluable. Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts says that ideally, family members should spend a year or more working with another, similar jeweler in another part of the country, learning sales and operations as an employee rather than as an heir.

Peterson also advises owners to be sensitive to their existing associates when bringing new family members into the fold. “Communicate honestly with staff members about your hopes and expectations for your son or daughter, about the steps you’ve taken to ensure his or her value and contribution to the team, and about how you see the chain of command evolving — both in the short and long term.”

Peterson says it’s important, although challenging, for the owner of the company to separate their roles as business owner and parent.

“Talk to your son or daughter as you would to any person applying for an eventual management position with your company,” she says. “You’ll want to make sure that your objectives, as well as your understanding of career path and process, are compatible. Now is the time to discuss timelines, expectations and performance standards.”

Mike Kanoff of Michael’s Jewelers in Yardley, PA, says he started at the bottom of the family business, an experience which, looking back as an adult, he recognizes as formative. “This is what made me the person I am,” he says. He advises patience on everyone’s part, because despite the best of intentions, parents will inevitably view their offspring as children, no matter their age or experience. “Don’t take it personally; it happens to all of us,” he says. “They will appreciate you more as they and you both get older and grow together.”

When a family member joins the firm, says Toby Joseph of Josephs Jewelers in Des Moines, IA, they will benefit from exposure to different areas of business to figure out what they enjoy. Discuss among family members and key members of the team how you can find someone to take on areas in which no one is strong or interested.

Sarah Hurwitz Robey credits a clear division of labor for ease of operation at her family’s store, Colonial Jewelers in Frederick, MD. Everyone plays to their strengths. “It’s not always perfect, but having different areas that we are responsible for, which happen to be the ones we enjoy the most, helps to give us all our own space to do things our own way.

“For example, my dad is responsible for diamond buying and inventory controls. He is really great at keeping our inventory lean and turning well to leverage our buying to make it as profitable as possible. So when a question comes up about bringing in more merchandise, I would defer to him on the purchasing budget, but we would pick out styles together. One of my areas is marketing, and while we will collaborate on the marketing budget for the year, the details of the way we spend it and the creative aspects are up to me. My mom, whose pre-jewelry store background was in social work, is our master of dealing with staff, customer relations and community philanthropy.”

Rhett Ramsay Outten, who owns Croghan’s in Charleston, SC, with her sister Mariana Ramsay Hay, says her third and fourth-generation family management team would all agree that working together is one of the thrills of their lives. “Our relationships have evolved and matured, and honestly, we really just like each other. The interesting thing about our situation is that we all bring very different strengths and weaknesses to the table. We know our lane and we have allowed each other to lead and excel in the area in which we each thrive.”

The Tapper family has been open to innovation and new ideas as younger family members come aboard.

Outten is the creative one, while her sister is a problem solver and planner. “Next generation Mini and Kathleen are similarly opposites. Kathleen has a love of spreadsheets and data and enjoys the analysis of numbers. Mini is an artist and designer, our style director. They work beautifully together.”

Although they have very different skill sets, they all share the values handed down from their grandfather and mother, she says, which include a deep faith, a belief in ethics and honesty and putting family first. “On challenging days, sometimes you just have to wake up and decide that the most important thing is to get along,” she says. “Our mother would expect that of us.”

MAKE SURE EVERYONE IS ON THE SAME PAGE

W hen Mark Tapper moved into the business, the Tapper family met individually with a family business consultant, who asked each of them if the family or the business came first for them and told them there was no right answer. “We all answered family first,” Tapper says. “So we had that as our foundation that the decisions we are going to make are for the family. That really helps drive the family culture, the business culture and the business performance.

“When things aren’t at their best, it’s because we aren’t communicating,” Tapper says. “The more you can talk and plan and be open and honest with one another, it benefits the family and it benefits the business.”

Brown says that effective, regular (timely), structured communication and meetings are vital, but only if they have context. If people don’t know what the goals and objectives are and where they all fit in, there isn’t much to discuss.  With those things in place, family members should meet weekly for an hour to review what’s working and what’s not.

Third and fourth generation owners of Croghan’s Jewel Box say that working together is one of the thrills of their lives, but on challenging days, they make the decision to “just get along.”

At Croghan’s, Outten says the family meets once a week with their CFO, their head of HR and their store manager. “This is where we discuss all of our plans, problems and triumphs,” Outten says. “It is a crucial part of our success and allows us to be on the same page as well as to be intentional in both short and long-term planning.”

Brown notes that multiple generations working together must know and agree on the short-term (one year), medium-term (five years) and long-term (five years and beyond) goals and objectives of the business and the family members involved. It’s important to discuss expectations upfront, including who will be running the business in the future. “There are few things more destabilizing than surprises, such as one of the younger generation thinking they will be taking over the business only to find someone else is earmarked for that role,” Brown says.

Other important topics are: How do the current owners get paid? How do they make it equitable? “There is nothing worse than close family members falling out due to a lack of understanding about where they fit in and how it is all going to work,” Brown says.

ADDRESS QUALITY OF LIFE ISSUES

O wners may discover that family and quality of life issues are at the forefront of expectations when it comes to millennial and Gen Z employees. “Expect to hear ‘I can’t put in the kind of hours you did’ and avoid the temptation to utter the dreaded phrase, ‘Pay your dues,’” Peterson says.

Robey is grateful that her parents recognized how important it was to her to bring her young sons to work, ever since they were six weeks old. “If someone just needs a hug from Mommy, I am right here,” she says.

Matthew Clark joined his wife’s family’s business, Spath Jewelers, in Bartow, FL. Emily works there, too, and they both have the title of vice president of operations. For them, working together is quality of life. “People are amazed that I work 10 hour days with my wife and say they could never do it,” Clark says. “But I could not imagine working 10-hour days away from her and coming home to see her just a couple hours before having to go to bed. I know it would not work for everyone, but we are very blessed to make it work and I would not have it any other way. ”

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Tacos, Tequila and Tattoos: Gold Casters’ Contest Draws a Diverse Crowd in Bloomington, IN

Unusual event infuses King Baby jewelry line launch with excitement.

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Flyers combined with a radio and social-media marketing campaign created interest.

FINE JEWELRY STORES often face the challenge of balancing elegance with approachability. Tequila, tacos and tattoos go a long way toward melting the ice, discovered Brad Lawrence of Gold Casters Fine Jewelry in Bloomington, IN.

Lawrence, who specializes in bridal jewelry and high-end watches, found a fun way to break down those threshold barriers on a Saturday with, of all things, a social-media-friendly tattoo contest to introduce the jewelry line King Baby.

Lawrence considered it the perfect complement for King Baby, which he describes as having an edgy biker look. In addition, he surmised that people who like to adorn their body with works of art would also find a deep personal connection with jewelry.

“We are what would be called a guild jeweler, and we are always trying to look for ideas that are more on the casual side,” Lawrence says. “Most of our events in the past have been black-tie or at least more traditional.” Yet Bloomington, IN, is a college town where students make up a significant percentage of the 100,000 population.

He called the event Tacos, Tequila and Tattoos.

Once he had conceived the idea, Lawrence worked with his affiliated marketing experts on getting the word out. The store placed flyers with a Harley Davidson dealer and biker bars, along with a bevy of print and social media marketing created by Porte Marketing. The event was also promoted with a radio campaign orchestrated by Roy Williams.

On the day of the event, margarita-sipping shoppers lined up for the taco bar, purchased pieces from the jewelry collection and were invited to share the story of their tattoos with the store staff, who judged the contest. Each participant received a $25 gift certificate. The contest winner received a $250 gift certificate.

Those who shared their tattoo stories defied any stereotypical expectations. “It was a much more diverse crowd than I would have expected,” Lawrence says. “We had people in their 60s and 70s with tattoos. Some people had full sleeves.

Several people had investments of $10,000 or more in tattoos.

“The event was very inclusive of our community and yet brought in a different demographic for us. It was a way of gaining new customers and having people feel more comfortable. Without question, 90 percent of the people we saw that day were new faces.”

After the event, the marketing team invited others among the tattoo-clad Bloomington population to share photos and stories of their tattoos on Gold Casters’ social media, continuing to give participants $25 gift certificates and also selecting an online winner by Facebook vote, who was awarded another $250 gift certificate.

The stories behind the tattoos turned out to be fascinating, Lawrence says, and in all about 100 people shared their stories in store or online with photos or videos.

King Baby is known as a men’s line, primarily, which the store needs, but it also has the magical versatility of being unisex. “We turned our entire investment in the line,” he says. “We sold all of the highest-end pieces we had in stock.”

The event attracted media coverage on social channels, on the radio and in the newspaper. “It was very well received by the community. People are still talking about it today.”

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