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ROGER & PATTY STEWART
STUCK IN THE STORE, THEY JUST SAILED AWAY 

FLOATING PEACEFULLY through the waters of the San Juan Islands, Roger and Patty Stewart are either busy tending to their passengers, their boat, or simply admiring the view. 

As captain and crew of the Gallant Lady, a 60-year-old cruise boat that is a favorite among long-time vacationers in the Puget Sound area, there isn’t much time to reflect on the past — and the very, very different life the couple led seven years ago.  

In 1997, the couple were running Osborne & Stewart Jewelry in Centralia, WA. Their business was growing. Cash flow was healthy, as the couple had finally overcome the typical jeweler’s primary cash-flow killer — over-reliance on Christmas sales. But they knew something was wrong: something that was very difficult to admit. 

The fact was, they were bored with their business. 

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Patty had grown up in the store, formerly owned by her father, a goldsmith. Roger, a former school teacher, had been around the business for 15 years prior to buying it, and then worked in it for another 18 years. “Patty wanted to get away from retail before we got too old,” says Roger. “I agreed. We had 18 years worth of Saturdays to catch up on.” 

At the same time, the Kmarts and Costcos of the world were beginning to have an impact on customers’ perception of jewelry. “Seiko was selling ‘import models’ through Kmart at $59 apiece,” says Roger. “Never mind the gold plating, the erratic movements, or the almost-nonexistent warranties. They made our $129 Seikos look way overpriced.” Similarly, the Stewarts, as the only repair shop in town, saw the inferior quality of big-box jewelry firsthand. “People would bring in rings, and the gold was so thin that we couldn’t resize it,” adds Roger. “And the prongs were often sticking straight up in the air.” Price was all the rage. Quality didn’t seem to matter. And the Stewarts’ frustration was mounting. 

When their youngest of three sons graduated college in summer of ‘97, it seemed as good a time as any to get out. They had good income from a tract of land that was used for logging, as well as their building, which had 17 tenants. It was time to enjoy the fruits of their labors. 

Roger and Patty had never owned a boat before. But, living in “the boat capital of the world,” the Stewarts decided to go out and buy an old pleasure boat. While wandering, they saw one with a sign that read “Business Opportunity”. Says Roger: “It was the Gallant Lady. It already had 80% booking for the following season, which was still several months away. We figured, how hard could it be?” 

With a solid plan for their life after jewelry, they now needed a plan to go out of business. They turned to Mike and Bill Kmet of North Coast Jewelry. The brothers recommended a 60-day strategy with staggered discounting (based on merchandise age) that would increase as the sale went on. “We discounted our ‘dogs’ at 70% off immediately,” says Roger. “Some of the less aged merchandise was discounted at 30-40% off, and so forth.” Each week, they advertised what categories and items would be discounted even further. It worked. 

When it came time for the final GOB sale, which was scheduled for eight weeks, the Stewarts objected to the hokey signs that the Kmets pasted up in their windows, covering them entirely so that people could not see in from the outside. And they gasped over the proposed ad budget for the GOB sale — which was more than they typically spent in a year. But they went along with the suggestions … and were glad they did. The closing was a whirlwind, with no time to think or even catch a breath. And when all was said and done, the results were beyond their wildest expectations.  

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“We had only a shoebox worth of stuff left when it was all over,” Roger says. During the two-month sale, the company did almost two years’ worth of business. The Stewarts were able to buy the Gallant Lady outright for $180,000, put a new roof on their building for $60,000, and still have upwards of $160,000 of remaining profits from the sale.  

Both Stewarts recommend that other owners in their situation hire a company that specializes in going-out-of-business sales. “People who have tried it themselves are never happy with the results,” says Patty. “It costs more up front to hire someone, but it’s much better down the road.”  

Returning to the San Juan Islands on the U.S.-Canadian border each year, the Stewarts often stop to visit with celebrities, including Prince William, Ted Danson, and one former frequent visitor to the islands, the late Johnny Carson. One of the many islands is owned by Gene Hackman. “It’s like boating in a big bathtub,” says Roger of the peaceful waters, protected from harsh weather by surrounding mountain ranges.  

However, the transition from store owner to sea captain did not come without some hitches. “I had no idea what I was getting into with Coast Guard inspections, licenses, and training,” says Roger. Fortunately, the former skipper of the boat stayed on an extra season to train the new owners while Roger earned his captaincy through the Merchant Marines. Roger adds that many people don’t realize that in times of national emergency, he and other captains like him can be called into active duty, because they are licensed through the Coast Guard. “During Desert Storm, 60 captains of my rank were called up,” he says. 

While their income is not what it was back in the days their jewelry store was going strong, the Stewarts only have to work five months a year, and the venerable boat is booked well ahead of time. “I make more in a single three-day weekend than I used to make in a month of teaching,” says Roger. They also have the flexibility to visit their family often. More importantly, they can now take advantage of something they thought they’d never have: Christmas vacation. And as Patty says, “Would you rather be in a store six days a week, or out in the sun, on the water?” All a matter of perspective. — TRACE SHELTON.

JOHN PARRISH
RETAIL PAST, WHOLESALE PRESENT 

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THE YEAR WAS 1993, and John Parrish should have been sitting on top of the world. He was working in the family business, Parrish Jewelers of Searcy, AR, which his father had founded. But in an unusual arrangement, the family had two separate locations in the same town — which allowed Parrish to enjoy the best of both worlds. 

He had the support of his family, and also the autonomy that’s frequently lacking in a single-location family operation. Even better, 1993 was the year that Parrish got married. 

From the outside, he was the picture of small-town success. But inside, cancers were eating away at the family business — which would eventually die, of very natural causes, in 1998. R.I.P. 

The decline started, Parrish remembers, in 1993. Most jewelers will recall the competitive pressures that retailers all over the country were facing at the time — a weakened economy, a dearth of qualified help, as well as the paradigm-shifting rise of big-box mass-merchants like Wal-Mart. These behemoths of retail spared no small business, including Parrish Jewelers, whose bread and butter — the $300 and under wedding sets — they were now infringing on. “These sets you could mark up and make money on,” says Parrish. 

Many retailers decided that their glory days were gone … and weren’t coming back. One of those was Parrish’s father, who decided that, with tough times ahead and likely to get tougher, it no longer made sense to have two separate Searcy locations. So he retired, closing one of the family’s two stores, and leaving John in charge of the second, a 3,600-square-foot store in a strip center right next store to a J.C. Penney.  

The closing of one store, though, was the least of Parrish’s problems. The newlywed was given a surprise wedding present from his two-person staff. They quit.  
“I couldn’t believe it. They gave notice and soon I was faced with working alone, keeping everything together until I hired replacements,” Parrish says. 

Parrish found himself working in six days a week and more than 10 hours a day. Replacements were easy to find. But quality replacements were not. “I couldn’t find anyone over the age of 30 to come work in retail,” Parrish says, admitting he was really tired of supervising inexperienced, and frequently irresponsible, 20-year-olds. 

So he kept on working the brutal schedule, day after day, year after year. He was surviving, but something was definitely missing. “A life!” Parrish says adamantly. 

The young jeweler was clearly burning out and began getting a gut feeling that this rough patch he was going through might not be a temporary phase. You know, one of those “down periods” that makes the delicate dance of life so rich and rewarding.  

While his business had definite assets — loyal clients and a great location— the competitive pressures continued to chip away at his both his income and his sense of hope. The squeeze he was already feeling became even tighter with the rise in the late 1990s of the Internet. There seemed to be no answer for his problems … aside from working a little bit harder and eating a little bit less.  

Finally, in 1998, something clicked in Parrish — or perhaps you would say, it snapped. “I just got sick of it,” Parrish admits. “I decided then to get out and get out quickly,” he says.  

But what would he do? After all, jewelry retail was the only thing he lived and breathed. Parrish wasn’t disturbed at all by the fact that this was the only life he had known. In fact, he was calm and peaceful. Armed with the healthy attitude that all of life is a series of changes, Parrish began calling upon his wholesale and manufacturer connections and began plotting opening his own wholesale business.  

When news hit the community that he was closing up shop, no one believed it. 

“No one took me seriously. Here I was only 42 years old and telling people I was going out of business. They all said I was too young to do such a thing,” Parrish laughs. The idea of someone so young getting out of business was just not the norm, especially shutting down a family business. After all, family businesses only close when the owner retires well into his or her 70s — or if the owner dies. Shutting down at 42 years old? Unheard of. “I would joke with people and tell them that I was going to become a house-husband,” he laughs.  

In the three months it took to close the store, Parrish noticed something very interesting. After the first two weeks he was no longer seeing his loyal customers. “The remaining time was all new customers, mostly women buying on credit,” he says.  

Within three months the business, which averaged a half million in sales, closed forever.  

Though he maintained a show of bravado during the closing days, Parrish admits it was hard shutting the doors the very last time — leaving a job he had done most of his life. 

But soon after closing, he felt something surprising — a truly sweet sense of relief. Now he could have normal hours. Now he could have freedom. Interestingly enough, though, Parrish didn’t take a sabbatical or even a vacation after closing the family retail business. Instead, the former retailer started right away on building his loose diamond wholesale business, Parish Gems. Says Parish, “I feel at home in this business. Selling is only buying in reverse.”  

While still in the industry, Parrish now sees his role as an educator to jewelers. “I can now teach retailers how to make profits,” he says. His biggest crusade is getting jewelers to take back their business from the young people who are bullying retailers with Internet diamond price quotes. “Too many jewelers are shaking in their shoes when these customers come in. That should not be,” Parrish says.  

Overall, Parrish is happy with his career switch from retailer to wholesaler. “My blood pressure has gone way down, except when I don’t get paid,” he laughs. And he does miss one thing. “I miss my cash register. It was nice having money.” As for that time off from working that has yet to materialize? “That’s coming,” Parrish says. “Soon.” 

We shall see. — DONNA FRISCHKNECHT.

ANDY LAMPE
FROM MANNING THE COUNTER TO SERVING HIS COUNTY 

SAY “PROPERTY TAXES”, “average per capita income”, or “intergovernmental cooperation” and most people’s eyes glaze over. But Andy Lampe’s light up. 

As Lampe, a county commissioner of Washington’s Okanogan County, discusses local politics, you hear a man who is passionate about the people he serves and determined to represent them with integrity. But he learned about passion and integrity long before taking office — he learned them in a jewelry store. Once he called them “customers”… now he calls them “constituents.” For Lampe, his approach to the people he serves is the same.  

Lampe first started serving the public in 1982, when he and his brother Chuck bought a jewelry store in Omak, WA. This was an important step forward towards building a thriving second-generation business — his mother and father had opened the family’s first jewelry store in nearby Othello, WA, in 1971, and were working there with Andy’s older brother, Mike. 

Further expansion and even brighter possibilities arrived in 1998, when Andy and his wife Debbie moved to Powell, WY, to open the family’s third location. By this time, the Lampes’ parents had retired and the result was perfect symmetry — three brothers, three jewelry stores. 

That symmetry would quickly be shattered. First, Mike died suddenly in 1999. Then the following year, Chuck was diagnosed with leukemia (he would eventually pass away in 2003). 

Which left Andy in an almost impossible position. Chuck was in a hospital in Washington. Andy wanted to be with his family, where he was needed most. But, at the same time, his business in Wyoming was growing solidly at more than 10% per year. 

Another important issue for the Lampes was keeping the business in the family. They had always had a blood family member running each store, and none of them could fathom allowing an outsider to run a jewelry business with the name “Lampe Jewelers” on it.  

So the decision was made to consolidate. First, the Omak location was closed in 2001. Then, the following year, the Powell and Moses Lake locations shut their doors forever (the Othello location was closed when Andy’s parents retired). While it felt like giving up on a dream, all of the Lampes — even Del, the man who had founded the business 30 years before — agreed it was the right thing to do. “It was hard to move, but family comes first,” Andy says.  

The going-out-of-business-sales, three in two years, were both mentally challenging and physically exhausting —much more so than Andy would have believed possible. “When you go into business, all it takes is money,” he says. “Going out takes planning, preparation, and a lot of work.” 

He describes the atmosphere at the first GOB sales, held in the Omak store in December 2001, as “a feeding frenzy”. Cust-omers thronged the store, spilling out onto the sidewalk outside. The family was completely un-prepared for the traffic and sheer volume of trans-actions. Says Andy, “We did two months’ worth of business on the first day of the sale.” This inevitably led to some feelings of regret. “You do a lot more volume than ever before, and you wonder why you couldn’t do that regularly,” he says.  

With a little bit of experience under their belts, the family’s second set of GOB sales, held at the Powell and Moses Lake locations during the fall of 2002, went more smoothly. But no matter how well you prepare, Andy warns other jewelers that the effort of going out of business is huge: “It will be the hardest you’ve ever worked in your entire life, I guarantee it.” 

But he’s glad he did it. As Lampe’s was not a discount store and usually made substantial mark-ups on their jewelry sold, the family was able to offer deep price cuts during the G.O.B. sale and still make a profit on their inventory. If they had sold the business outright to another jeweler, they almost certainly would have had to take a loss on their inventory. Additionally, a jeweler purchasing the business outright would have probably insisted on paying the family in installments. The Lampes’ going-out-of-business sales always put money in their pockets immediately.  

With one dead brother and another critically ill, the process of splitting up the proceeds of the sales of the business had the potential to be extremely difficult. But it went smoothly. This was, in large part, due to the rules the three brothers and their parents had established when incorporating their business prior to opening up the second and third stores. “We laid out what we would do if one or more of us died, how life insurance would be spent, how shares would be bought up, and so on,” he says. The goal was for the corporation to always be owned by a Lampe, not a spouse or non-family member. All of the primaries signed the document. The brothers had their wives review it through outside counsel and sign off as well. “Chuck went through a divorce in the early 90’s, and the agreement showed exactly what his ex-wife would get. Everything was cut-and-dried, and that made a huge difference, both for that situation and the business closing,” says Andy. 

Says Andy: “I can’t recommend enough that people plan ahead for how to get out of their business. Do it while everyone is on good terms.” 

In the end, Andy says he was left with a “comfortable sum.” After the sale, Andy and Debbie returned to Omak. They soon bought a building and opened a new business: Lampe Design Center. While the business does some jewelry design and repair, its specialty is unusual techniques like sandblasting and rock etching. Andy says the business is “far more low-key and laid-back” than his previous store.  

However, it wasn’t long before another more powerful itch crept over him: politics. Because his family were long-time area residents, Andy had strong feelings about the local political scene. And when he saw Okanogan’s incumbent county commissioner, whose policies Andy didn’t quite agree with, running for re-election without any opposition, Andy felt that voters deserved a choice. He filed to run, and was elected in November. Says Andy: “I felt I would make a good commissioner, and I guess the people agreed with me.” 

Andy Lampe began his new job as Okanogan County Commissioner on January 3, 2005. While the commissioner’s position is not a full-time job, it’s already proved demanding enough that he’s relinquished his day-to-day duties of running Lampe Design Center to his wife and stepson. “It’s not technically a full-time job … but it is,” says Andy.  

Having only been back in Omak for a little more than two years, Andy is fully aware of the fact that the Lampe name stands for integrity and service in Okanogan County … in fact, he embraces it. In addition to his duties as commissioner, he officiates high school football and wrestling contests. “I’ve always enjoyed giving back to the community,” he says. 

He says that his experience in jewelry retail has prepared him well for his day-to-day dealings with the public. “You have to be able to listen, and if you don’t know the answer, you go find it,” he says. But the differences in his new role are equally striking. Says Andy: “When you own a jewelry store, you make the decision based on your own feelings. But in politics, you have to think about everyone. You have to be able to predict the outcome of every choice you make.” Spoken like a true man of service. — TRACE SHELTON.

DOUG ANDERSON
SAYING GOODBYE TO ALL THE PRESSURE 

TIGHT CASH FLOW. Underachieving employees. The demands of being “on stage”. Like an ox pulling a freight train, Doug Anderson carried a jewelry store on his back as long as he could … and then he got out. 

After 22 years as owner and manager of Anderson Brothers Jewelers in McMinnville, OR, Doug had experienced his share of success and come to love the inhabitants of this small town 40 miles southwest of Portland. But with the last of his daughters graduating from college, he saw light at the end of the tunnel. It was time to leave the jewelry business for good. 

A third-generation jeweler, Anderson began his service-oriented career not in jewelry sales, but as a high school math teacher. He quickly grew tired of having to discipline unruly students, and talked his father into buying another jewelry store in McMinnville. Anderson became the manager of Anderson Brothers’ third location. Eventually, he bought the business and ran it until 1999. 

Closing the 77-year-old business was a surprisingly easy decision, says Anderson. Both of his parents were gone, and he had long since realized that his future did not lay in store ownership. “I never felt like I was getting ahead,” says Anderson. “I would get through the holidays with enough money to pay off my line of credit. Then, at the first of the year, I would have to take it out again. I was making money on paper, but that’s all.”  

In the end, carrying on the legacy wasn’t worth the headaches it caused. His best salespeople were part-timers who really didn’t need the job, and he could never seem to motivate his two full-time staffers. Thus, Anderson always shouldered the responsibility of making sales goals himself. And while his kind nature was perfect for providing great service, a single complaint could sour his whole day. “There were times when I just didn’t have the energy, when I wanted to go to the back and size rings or sauter chains,” he says. “But my people always deferred to me in selling. I never found the solution to this.”  

To the pressures of running such a business, add the costs of putting three daughters through college — at private schools. A divorce in the early 1990s left Anderson responsible for child and spousal support, which siphoned half his income every month. For two back-breaking years, all three children were in school at once. He was ready to offload the store… but he couldn’t afford to. “I hung on for about three or four years after I was ready to go,” says Anderson. “It was the only way I could produce enough money to get my daughters through school. I couldn’t abandon that reliable income for the unknown.” In late 1998, the impending graduation of his youngest child gave Anderson the green light. He knew his time had come. 

In his search for an outside agency to help take the company out of business, Anderson contacted Mike & Bill Kmet of North Coast Jewelry, whom his sales reps had recommended. Other GOB specialists from around the country estimated that Anderson Brothers could do $300,000 in sales over the 60-day closing period. “With the help of the Kmets, we did over $500,000,” says Anderson. 

The decision was made to run the GOB sale during the holiday season, from November 1st through January 5th, when customers were already in the mood to buy. Anderson didn’t initially believe that the store would be able to consistently do huge numbers over the course of the sale, but he trusted North Coast Jewelry, as they had already been through the process many times over. “The quality of merchandise that Mike and Bill brought in was totally appropriate for our business,” he says. “They also handled all the media buying, using radio, cable, and newspaper. All I had to do was show up and count the money at the end of the day.” He had no idea how much to expect. But when all was said and done, Anderson took home $175,000 after expenses. He was 52 years old. “Some of my ex-employees think I’m a millionaire now,” he laughs.  

His customers were sad to see such a long-running operation go out of business, but Anderson says he still sees many of them during the course of fulfilling his duties for his new employer: the McMinnville Chamber of Commerce. He serves as the office manager, handling database duties and accounting work. His favorite part? The low-pressure environment. “I don’t take my work home, and I have Saturdays off,” he says. “I should have a sign on my desk that reads, ‘The buck doesn’t stop here!’” 

Nevertheless, like many jewelry store owners, one of his favorite things in life is being of service. “I’m glad I’m in a position that keeps me in public view so I can interact with people,” says Anderson. Still known as “Diamond Anderson” around town, he gracefully bows out of the requests he still gets for appraisals. But he does continue to provide one teeny-tiny service from the old days. “If a co-worker or friend gives me a watch, I make sure they get a free battery,” Anderson admits with a smile. “I keep a stash of batteries at home, and when I run out, I reorder.” Even though he doesn’t make a dime on it and can no longer profit from their good will, he still enjoys making people happy. “In fact, I just changed one for my boss this morning!” he chuckles. 

Six years since he sold the business, the two things Anderson misses most about owning a jewelry store are the “rush” of making a big sale, and the happiness of young couples after purchasing one of his pieces. Although he’s no longer active in the industry, he still maintains four or five suppliers and sells about a half-dozen wedding sets every year to children of former customers or church contacts. Other than that, Anderson is enjoying his time away from jewelry sales, catching up on his reading and improving his golf game. He has since remarried and travels often, visiting his daughters as often as possible (all three live out of state). 

With the world off his shoulders and at his feet, Anderson has never felt so free. His advice to jewelers thinking of going out of business? “Talk to lots of people who specialize in it, and pick someone you’re comfortable with that comes highly recommended,” he says. He adds, “Everything’s going to be okay.” Or, if you’re like Anderson, it could be even better. — TRACE SHELTON.

RUTH FITZGERALD
FROM RETAIL HELL TO A NEW ‘UNSTORE’ 

BREATHE IN. BREATHE OUT. Breathe in. Breathe out. One can only imagine this to be the thought that runs through Ruth Fitzgerald’s head each day when she opens the door to her “unstore” the cozy, living-room-like environment where she now sells her creations to customers on an appointment-only basis. 

Located in an office complex near the posh Town Center shopping center of Laguna Niguel, CA, Fitzgerald’s store, Jewelry Design By Ruth Fitzgerald, is low-key but opulent. More like a European boutique than anything typically found in America, every detail oozes tranquility — from the rich mahogany furniture, to the Oriental rugs arranged just-so, to the hand-painted fleur-de-lis stenciling. All in all, it’s a far cry from Fitzgerald’s go-go retail days, when she ran Fitzgerald’s Jewelers in a much bigger location nearby. 

“There definitely is less stress here,” Fitzgerald says. 
The peace in her voice sends a clear message: traditional retail is not the only path to success in the jewelry business.  

And Fitzgerald should know, because she tasted genuine success during her career in mainstream jewelry retail. And while it was sweet, that success ultimately left a bad aftertaste for this former Midwesterner with a discriminating palate. 

Fitzgerald moved to the West Coast and opened the doors to her thriving Fitzgerald’s Jewelers in 1997. She arrived in the Laguna Niguel area with a decade of jewelry experience under her belt, having already operated a small design studio in the Chicago area. Formerly the president and CEO of an economic development company, Fitzgerald loved the jewelry business. And she believed that her move to California would consummate the love affair – as she moved from small design studio to a full-fledged retail store. 

It was a “major” store, Fitzgerald recalls, with 1,500 square feet of space and 15 showcases. Decorated in shades of beige, blue and gold, the store was upscale and the inventory reflected that. Fitzgerald’s showcases featured many name designers, as well as her own creations, not to mention a massive selection – nearly 500 pieces — of high-end giftware from famed manufacturers like Llarado and Waterford. Her business struck a chord with upscale clients in the area, growing steadily at 10% a year. 

Yet, Fitzgerald wasn’t happy. The long hours, the fast pace, not to mention the advent of Internet retailing which made selling diamonds harder, made her desire for the “good old days” stronger and stronger. While she had always intended to eventually go back to running a small design studio, the desire to get out of her bigger retail store came sooner than expected. She knew it was time to make her move.  

However, the transition from retail store to design studio was not going to be easy. First, the jeweler began a year in advance scouting out the perfect location for her new venture. She didn’t want to leave Laguna Niguel or the Town Center area that offered the perfect combination of shoppers and business people. “People are creatures of habit, so I didn’t want to go to far from where Fitzgerald’s Jewelers was,” she says. 

Fitzgerald soon found a ground floor corner office in a nearby complex with a private entrance that would allow clients to drive up to her door. She was also pleased with the atrium in the building that could be used for hosting parties.  

“The space was definitely less complicated for people to get to me,” she says. The real challenge, though, awaited her.  

Now she had to break the news to her clients. And she did so with a bang. Well, it was more like a bash—a big party. “It was important to gather as many as my customers as I could to tell them what I was planning to do,” Fitzgerald says. “It is so critical to advise customers along the way that a store is closing. If you don’t, rumors get started.” 

Fitzgerald didn’t want negative rumors as to why she was closing to hit the streets, so she did all she could to explain her transition from retailer to private design studio owner. In spite of all her efforts to educate, some customers didn’t quite get it. “They didn’t seem to understand that I was making a change in the way I was doing business,” she says. 

So, in 2003, just six years since opening her store, Fitzgerald hung the “Going Out of Business” sign in the large front window of Fitzgerald’s Jewelers.  

The going-out-of-business sale, done by Wilkerson and Associates, took about eight weeks. Overall, the process went smoothly, she remembers. When the sale finally ended, Fitzgerald went right back to work. In the span of a week, Fitzgerald’s Jewelers was no more … and Jewelry Design by Ruth Fitzgerald was open for business. By appointment only, of course. 

As a proud new “homeowner”, Fitzgerald unveiled her new concept and new format by holding an open house for her former clients. Instead of a traditional store, now her store looked like a European parlor. Instead of 15 cases, there were now only two. And instead of numerous brand-name designers, there remained only one: Ruth Fitzgerald.  

Clearly, her customers were pleased – as Fitzgerald’s business has grown in double digits in each of the past two years. While she may have “downsized”—going to a smaller space with three staffers as opposed to six in her store—her sales and her clients have super-sized. “I am getting a more upscale client than I did in my store,” Fitzgerald says, explaining that being able to cut the overhead has helped her offer better quality merchandise at non-retail prices.  

Technically, Fitzgerald’s un-store is by appointment only but two years later regular clients will still drop by. 
“We welcome them to sit down and make themselves comfortable until we can take them and they don’t seem to mind,” she says. 

Yet with customers waiting, the stress she said that existed in traditional retailing is just not there in her design studio. Fitzgerald is able to create and sell without the retail frenzy.  

As for the retail hours she had hoped to bid farewell to … well, that has yet to materialize.  

“I said I was going to work less, but I find myself still working more than I intend too,” Fitzgerald laughs. With Monday and Tuesday her days “off” in her design studio business, she actually spends those days creating jewelry and meeting with her bench jewelers.  

But that’s just fine with her. After all, when you are doing something you love, who watches the clock? Fitzgerald’s exit from traditional retail to design studio has given her a less-hectic pace life. She has returned to her true bliss … breathe in, breathe out. — DONNA FRISCHKNECHT.

A NEW BEGINNING
MADAGASCAR-BOUND

Another former retailer who has gotten out of his store — and we mean way out of his store — is JEFF FIEBIG. A second-generation jeweler who spent his younger days touring gem mines in Brazil, Tanzania, Zanzibar and South Africa, Fiebig eventually took over the family business in Sturgis, MI, and ran it for more than 10 years. But he began chafing at the restrictions of retail life … in general, wanting to resume his gemstone-hunting adventures; and more specifically, wanting to source gemstones from Madagascar, while at the same time helping the people of that impoverished, but gem-rich, country. In early April, Jim will head off to Madagascar to establish a bank account and find a house for himself and his wife, JoAnn. They will live there until October of this year, working in the gemstone market and hosting small groups of Americans who want to come for gem-buying and tourism. In November, he will return to the United States for six months, offering in-store consulting to help jewelers benefit from his 25-plus years of building a profitable colored-gemstone business. If you’re interested in travelling to Madagascar or supporting Fiebig’s efforts, call (269) 651-3190 or visit his web site at www.jamesfiebig.com

TIPS FOR GETTING OUT

selling your store outright? don’t assume you can GET your asking price. It’s an absolute buyer’s market. Jewelry stores are traditionally very difficult to sell, as inventory costs are high and turn is slow. And your market is limited — you will need a buyer with jewelry management knowledge, the funds to purchase your business, and the desire. Hard to find. (Mike Kmet, North Coast Jewelry)

Use your customer list to its best advantage. Your best tool for ensuring a successful going-out-of-business sale is your customer list. Promote your sale via direct mail. Then, after the G.O.B. sale is over, offer your customer list to all the retail jewelers in your trading area and accept the highest bid. (Wilkerson & Associates)

Clarify warranty terms for your customers. Make it clear that a warranty is backed by the individual manufacturer. The duration and terms are spelled out in the document attached to the warranty or can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website. (Wilkerson & Associates)

Capitalize on your past customers. Tell them how much you appreciated their business via direct mail, e-mail or telephone. Invite them to your sale event. Consider a special night where your special customers get first choice at your sale. (Wilkerson & Associates)

Know what to do with your telephone number. If you have repaired items or special orders that have not been claimed, transfer your telephone number to a home or office to enable you to close the transaction. (Wilkerson & Associates)

Consider whether bringing in outside goods is right for your store. Most jewelry stores stock inventory in width, not depth, and could sell many more of a given item. And, sometimes additional fast-moving items are needed to help the slower-moving, large-ticket goods sell. However, it’s only worth it if you can still make a profit on these outside items at a deeply reduced price. Local laws should also be reviewed before any additional merchandise is considered. (Mike Kmet, North Coast Jewelry)

Negotiate a reduced rate structure for large memo diamonds if using a liquidator. Most liquidators charge a percentage of your gross sales during the GOB period. Large memo diamonds are already sold on thin margins. During a GOB sale, the standard percentage can take away too much of your profit on these diamonds. (Mike Kmet, North Coast Jewelry)

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Texas Jeweler Knew He'd Get Only One Shot at a GOB Sale, So He Wanted to Make It Count

Most retailers only have one GOB sale in their lifetimes. This was the case for Gary Zoet, owner of Shannon Fine Jewelry in Houston, Texas. “Wilkerson has done thousands of these sales,” says Zoet. “I’ve never done one, so it’s logical to have somebody with experience do it.” The result exceeded Zoet’s expectations. Wilkerson took care of everything from marketing to paperwork. When it’s time for you to consider the same, shouldn’t you trust the experts in liquidation?

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Cover Stories

How to Know When It’s Time to Go

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Author Seth Godin says strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations, while reactive quitting is the bane of those who strive and fail to get what they want. “And most people do just that, they quit when it’s painful and stick when they can’t be bothered to quit,” he writes in his book, The Dip.

In the case of retail jewelers, consultants say, some simply don’t have enough time to collect their thoughts, let alone devise a plan. Others may fear change.

If you’ve had enough, it may be time to call it quits and do something else. “Quitting is better than coping because quitting frees you up to excel at something else. All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy,” Godin writes.

Whether that something else turns out to be beach-combing in retirement, pursuing a hobby or reimagining a new way to do business, having a plan is a prerequisite to success. Jewelry store owners who do plan for the next phase of their lives express a strong sense of freedom, both before and after they activate that plan.

Consultant Bill Boyajian of Bill Boyajian & Associates has not run into any long-term jewelers who, deep down, don’t love what they do.

“That’s part of the problem,” he says. “They can’t envision what they will do if they leave their business. They haven’t had any free time to develop any hobbies. I encourage them to think about becoming a private jeweler, but being involved to a lesser extent.”

Josh Hayes, business analyst for Wilkerson, says retailers he’s worked with on retirement sales do want to stay involved with the industry. Many set up offices with a few display cases of sample lines and work by appointment. “It works out perfectly because you still have your customer lists from your store, so after your closing event, you can transition your old customers to your new endeavor. Then you have the flexibility to work as much as you choose.”

But even semi-retirement requires planning. According to David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy, 37 percent of jewelry store owners have no retirement plan at all; many just hope their exit works itself out. The key is to be in a position to retire — financially, physically, and mentally.

“Knowing that you can gives you answers,” Brown says. “Knowing that you can’t gives you stress.”
“Ask yourself, what options do I have: I can sell the business, close the business down, or I can groom the business so it runs without me, become an absentee owner and get a good income out of it,” Brown says.

On occasion, the millennial successor wants to speed up their parents’ exit, or in other ways would be an unpleasant or unsuitable business partner during a lengthy transition. In these cases, Boyajian advises the parents to liquidate most of their inventory in a sale to ensure they have money for retirement, and then simply let their kids take over the lease and the business and build up the inventory again.

Closing and retirement sales are regulated by law, and they can only be done once. Most of the store owners’ retirement income rests on the return from the sale event, so it’s incredibly important that the event is conducted properly. While Wilkerson can put together a closing event in about three weeks in an emergency situation, a year of planning will improve results, perhaps dramatically.

“Once the sale is complete, the new owner has lower inventory, minimal debt and can usually get some consignment inventory from vendors they know, and build up the store in the direction they intend to take it,” Hayes says.

Here are some examples of transition tales that show every indication they’ll be success stories.

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Cover Stories

The 19 Contrarian Rules of Business

Don’t promise excellent service? Run annoying ads? Business leaders insist these counterintuitive principles work.

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TO MAKE A POINT about how our brains operate, the American neuroscientist Gregory Berns likes to encourage people to close their eyes and imagine the sun setting on a beach. If you just tried it, odds are the image that arose was the clichéd one — a warm tropical island scene, most likely framed by the frond of a coconut tree, awash in orange, as opposed to, say, a dark, wind-whipped pebble beach off the coast of northern Scotland.

The brain “is fundamentally a lazy piece of meat,” Berns writes in his book Iconoclast. It needs energy to operate and has evolved to use it as efficiently as possible. As a result, it defaults to shortcuts as it can — past experience, other people’s opinions, common practice — to avoid the taxing effort of perceiving or imagining afresh.

There are, of course, people who make it a habit to buck convention, who have a knack of seeing something no one else does. Berns refers to these disruptive original thinkers as “iconoclasts.” Generally, they are probably better known as contrarians. These are the brave and often odd souls whose questioning of the conventions of society or their professional field have repeatedly caused history to change course or leap forward.

In business, entrepreneurs are often contrarian by definition — they see value and opportunity where others do not. The contrarian investor Bill Gurley notes that “you can only make money by being right about something that most people think is wrong.”

The idea of being an independent spirit appeals to many. In a recent Brain Squad survey, 58 percent of our readers identified themselves as contrarians compared to 30 percent who said they were conformists and 12 percent who said they were neither. Of course, by definition, it’s not possible for the majority to be contrarian, even more so in a tradition-bound industry like jewelry. We suspect the result reflects most jewelers’ thoughts of themselves as independent operators charting their own destinies in a world where most of their fellow citizens opt for the security of more regular employment.

It is not easy being a true contrarian. There is the risk of ridicule, having to live with constant uncertainty. Being contrarian for the sake of contrarianism is pointless.

There is, unromantically, much to be said for doing things the timeworn “best practice” way. We thus begin our exploration of contrarianism with a caveat — doing something differently is exciting, possibly liberating, often far more lucrative than the conventional way … and often dangerous. Go charging away from the herd with care. Ultimately, you want to choose the ideas — new or old, intuitive or rational, bizarre or conventional — that serve you best.

The customer is not always right

1It’s actually irrelevant if a customer is right or wrong. This is, after all, a commercial transaction, not a debate. Just because a customer wants, needs, or expects something does not mean that delivering it is the best thing for your business. Indeed, “keeping certain customers happy can be a horribly inefficient and downright distracting way to run a business,” note Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman in an article in the Harvard Business Review. It’s also not much fun.

As a business owner, you need to make decisions that best apply your company’s capital, intellectual energy, and product capabilities. Rather than customer satisfaction, the ultimate goal should be running a sustainable business. Have a written, legally defensible terms of service statement, warranties, guarantees, and a simple process to determine which clients or customers deliver the strongest ROI and which are actually costing you money. In some cases, it’s better for long-term growth (not to mention store morale) to jettison a high-maintenance client and focus on improving the quality of your customer base.

Ignore terrific opportunities

2One of the dangers of business success is that it leads to more opportunities. Pursue them at your peril. In business, there is always a trade-off. Doing one thing well invariably means you can’t do another at a high level as you spread yourself too thin. The result is a damaging mediocrity.

In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less, Greg McKeown cites studies that show the loss of focus is a key reason companies fail. The antidote? Spurning good opportunities. “Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well,” he says. “Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.”

Don’t give your staff the resources they need to fix a problem

3Constraints breed resourcefulness. This is an idea that has been gaining influence in business circles for the last few years. “Is there something in the nature of constraints that brings out the best creativity?” writes Scott Berkun, the author of Mindfire: Big Ideas For Curious Minds. Consider a good haiku or sonnet, and the answer is obviously yes: it’s precisely the limits of the form that inspire new ways of working inside them. In the workplace, that means no more “blue sky” brainstorming: if you want the best answers to a question, focus it narrowly; consider a time limit, too. Google sometimes puts fewer engineers on a problem than it needs; it inspires ingenuity. Behind all this is the counterintuitive insight that discipline and structure are often the path to freedom, not its enemy. See constraints as a game. Not only are games about fun, but they are distinguished by the rules that govern them.

Forget trying to fix your weaknesses

4In a series of bestselling books, the Gallup consultant Marcus Buckingham has made a persuasive case for a strengths-based approach to life and business: it’s both more effective and more enjoyable, he argues, than struggling to fix your weak spots. According to Buckingham, most people try to “plug” their weaknesses, while the really successful focus on exploiting strengths. You’ll rarely improve a weakness beyond mediocrity, argues Buckingham, not least because it’s hard to invest sustained energy in something you don’t enjoy. If you truly know what you’re bad at, you’re already ahead of the pack. Don’t throw that away by wasting your time getting slightly less bad.

Don’t believe in long work

5Few things are as American as the belief in the merit of hard work. The problem is too many small business people confuse work and progress. A day when lots of things get done, when you arrive home exhausted after holding six meetings with staff and vendors, clearing 300 emails from your inbox, and finally straightening those old files in the backroom, sort of feels like a productive day, but it’s unlikely to have helped your business take the next step forward. Marketer Seth Godin calls this bias for efficiency over effectiveness “the trap of long work.”
“Long work is what the lawyer who bills 14 hours a day filling in forms does.
Hard work is what the insightful litigator does when she synthesizes four disparate ideas and comes up with an argument that wins the case—in less than five minutes.

“Hard work is frightening because you might fail. You can’t fail at long work, you merely show up.”

The management guru Peter Drucker suggested the best way to address this issue was by constantly asking yourself the question, “What’s the most important thing for me to be doing right now?”

Think small

6In his 1994 book Built To Last, Jim Collins introduced the world to Big Hairy Audacious Goals, or BHAGs, his term for the ambitious long-term goals that he argued galvanized successful companies. And it seems the term is rolled out in every discussion of good business practice. But the problem is that the excitement, energy, and envelope-pushing boldness stirred up by such endeavors often dissipates quickly in the face of the day-to-day running of business. Worse, such big-picture thinking, telling yourself something is epic and of crucial importance, often leads to fear, resistance and ultimately inertia and disappointment. As the psychologist John Eliot writes in his book Overachievement, “Nothing discourages the concentration necessary to perform well … more than worrying about the outcome.” The marathon runner who’s reached a state of “flow” isn’t visualizing the finish line, but looking through a narrower lens, focusing on one stride, then another, then another. Like the formula for contentment (happiness = reality – expectations), it’s often better to forget the end goal, aim low and just focus on the process if you really want to get things done. This can apply to everything from setting low targets for salespeople (spurred on by achieving the goal, they will often break through and hit a higher number) to big projects. The young Jerry Seinfeld’s scriptwriting technique involved marking an X on a calendar for every day he sat and typed. His goal was an unbroken chain of Xs. If he’d aimed instead to write masterful jokes, he’d have been distracted and intimidated.

Forget audacious. Just go do it.

Get rid of the rules

7Too often, managers assume the key to improvement must be clearer procedures, more exactingly enforced. But the result is organizational structures that permit zero autonomy — and extremely annoying customer service (“Sorry, sir, our policy doesn’t allow you to …”). Perhaps even worse is that such management fails to capitalize on the talents of those lower down the hierarchy. Zappos’ contrarian founder Tony Hsieh made headlines a few years back when he said he was rolling out “Management by Holacracy,” which eliminates the traditional oversight role of the manager and instead relies on the employees themselves to decide how to get their day-to-day responsibilities completed on the basis that they probably know best. That may be too much for most business owners, but according to Harvard Business School research, “loose monitoring” of employees makes for higher profits as well as happier workplaces. Striking the right balance between autonomy and control is very likely the essence of being a good manager.

Give away your time

8Overwhelmed by work? Feel you are in a constant race against the clock to get things done? Try making some time for others. “While it might seem counterintuitive to sacrifice some of the very thing you think you don’t have enough of, our research shows that giving a bit of time away may, in fact, make people feel less pressed for time,” Cassie Mogilner Holmes, an associate professor at UCLA and Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard told the Wall Street Journal. Another hack to deal with time scarcity — erase a day from your schedule. Busy? Don’t schedule anything for Fridays. The work you didn’t get done will flow over, and you’ll finally knock off those to-do list items.

Hire more introverts

9On the surface, introverts don’t seem to have the makings of great salespeople or even managers. Social interaction tires them, they have trouble with insincere flattery, they don’t like to push people, and they don’t tend to contribute vocally to meetings or brainstorming sessions. But there are positive flipsides to all this: introverts tend to demonstrate a higher degree of sensitivity in emotional interactions, they are more likely to be experts in their field, they are less likely to be yes-men or women, and as for managing people, they do better than extroverts when the staff itself is full of self-directed go-getters. “Although extroverted leadership enhances group performance when employees are passive, this effect reverses when employees are proactive, because extroverted leaders are less receptive to proactivity,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Be last to market

10Among business gurus, few things are as unquestioned as the notion that innovation is the path to success. “Innovate or die!” goes one mantra. Yet if innovation were a surefire way for companies to achieve dominance, the world might look very different. White Castle, RC Cola, and Diners Club were all innovators, but think of fast-food, soft drinks and credit cards, and those are unlikely to be the first names that come to mind. The upsides of unoriginality are clear: imitators let others make the costly mistakes, and then incorporate the lessons learned into a far better product. (Exhibit A: the iPhone.) In his book Copycats, the management theorist Oded Shenkar argues we need “to change the mindset that imitation is an embarrassing nuisance.” Rather, it’s a “rare and complex” capability, one we could all do with cultivating, he says. In his book Zero To One, Peter Thiel argues that “it’s much better to make the last great development in a specific market and enjoy years or even decades of monopoly profits.”

Run annoying ads … often

11There’s a reason that grating TV ads work: the more they grate, the more you’ll notice them, and noticing — thanks to what psychologists call the “mere exposure effect” — leads to liking.

Depressingly, whatever we’re repeatedly exposed to, and regardless of any other reason to like or dislike it, we’ll end up growing fond of. According to Roy H. Williams, author of The Wizard Of Ads, there’s actually no way for successful advertising to avoid being irritating to some degree. “Ads that twist our attention away from what we’d been doing are always a bit annoying,” he says. But if you fail to get your audience’s attention, your ad has failed at the first hurdle. “Consequently, most ads aren’t written to persuade; they’re written not to offend. But the kinds of ads that produce results make us answer yes to these three questions: Did it get my attention? Was it relevant? Did I believe it?” Williams claims 98.9 percent of all the customers who hate your ads will still come to your store and buy from you when they need what you sell. “These customers don’t cost you money; they just complain to the cashier as they’re handing over their cash.”

Stop holding meetings

12Jim Buckmaster, chief executive of Craigslist, has a simple policy: “No meetings, ever.” There are several reasons why meetings don’t work. They move, in the words of the career coach Dale Dauten, “at the pace of the slowest mind in the room,” so that “all but one participant will be bored, all but one mind underused.” A key purpose of meetings is information transfer, but they’re based on the assumption that people absorb information best by hearing it, when only a minority of us are “auditory learners.” The key question for distinguishing a worthwhile meeting from a worthless one is this: is it a “status-report” meeting, designed for employees to tell each other things? If so, it’s probably better handled on email or paper. That leaves a minority of “good” meetings, whose value lies in the meeting of minds itself — for example, a well-run brainstorming session.

Drop some F-bombs

13The jewelry world is one of refinement, education and professionalism, not the place for profanity. Yet swearing, when done judiciously, according to various psychologists, boosts endorphins, promotes social bonding and makes people more persuasive. Periodically, let your staff and customers know you’re human.

Stop asking, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”

14Hiring employees who will challenge management is another staple of business advice, but everyone has probably worked with “yes, but” employees who basically oppose every new idea and approach. To find true contrarians, Thiel in his book Zero To One recommends asking the following question when interviewing employees: “Tell me something that’s true that nobody believes in.” (God, global warming and aliens don’t cut it.)

Don’t ask for the sale

15The traditional approach to selling says tout the benefits, close throughout, close with an assumption and then push for the add-on followed by another. You’re just efficiently taking the customer in a direction she wanted to go anyway. In contrast, the “slow sales” movement, which has been gaining ground for a few years, argues that there are intelligent, deliberate customers who prefer an almost “do-it-your self” zero-pressure environment. Granted, getting them to the cash register may take longer. But according to INC magazine, this technique alleviates the extra costs of post-purchase dissonance from returns, customer service time, negative feedback, and customer churn.

Look for mentors and staff who do it the “wrong way”

16Tim Ferriss has an interesting approach to considering contrarians: Be on the lookout for the anomalies, like the wispy girl who can deadlift 405 pounds. They’re performing with techniques rather than genes. “These iconoclasts show the differences in techniques and attributes,” he says. “If someone has become really good at doing something in a very nonstandard way, you can infer that the standard path isn’t necessarily the best methodology for learning a skill.”

Don’t promise excellent customer service

17Ask independent jewelers what is their point of competitive advantage and they’ll overwhelmingly say excellent customer service. But, something big corporations know (but never publicly say) is that delivering excellent customer service ultimately results in unhappy customers. Thus the field of “expectations management.” “If you want satisfied customers, it’s certainly wise to act in ways that will satisfy them. But it’s also wise to pay attention to (and, if possible, influence) their criteria for feeling satisfied,” writes Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian. Training customers, employees, and partners not to expect a “yes” in response to every single request might be crucial for preserving sanity. Far better to have a reputation as a jeweler who, for example, turns around a repair within three days than one who does it overnight — because in the latter case, as soon as you fail to deliver on that tight deadline, you’ll be seen as underperforming.

Ask customers for favors

18The “Ben Franklin effect” states that if you want to get someone to like you, you should ask him or her to do you a favor. The strategy, named for the founding father’s habit of borrowing books from opposing politicians to win them over, works because humans hate cognitive dissonance: we can’t stand a mismatch between our actions and thoughts. So if we find ourselves helping someone out, we’ll unconsciously adjust our feelings for them. The implications are striking. Don’t suck up to your customers — ask for favors or even just their opinions (“Where do you think the economy is headed?”).

Don’t be so professional

19We live in an era with more opportunity than ever to burnish the image we’re projecting, and more pressure than ever to do so. But in her new book, Cringeworthy: A Theory Of Awkwardness, Melissa Dahl makes a persuasive case for celebrating those times when “someone’s presentation of themselves … is shown to be incompatible with reality in a way that can’t be smoothed over.” Awkwardness pierces that facade, exposing the imperfect life behind it. Quoting the words of the philosopher Adam Kotsko, she says it creates “a weird kind of social bond” — a solidarity arising from seeing that behind the fakery, we’re all just trying our best to seem competent. The awkward you, then, is the real you, the one without the defensive performance. And people will like you for it.

Click here for 8 more Contrarian Rules, as well as the exclusive online article, “12 Contrarian Rules of Jewelry Retail.”

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Next Generation Owners See Opportunity in Bozeman

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When Jennifer Hornik Johnson was working in advertising in Atlanta, she might have had a hard time envisioning how she’d end up owning a jewelry store in Bozeman, MT. Born into a South Florida jewelry store family, Hornik decided to return there to work with her family, who sent her to the GIA to pursue a GG degree. While at the GIA, she met Cec Johnson, a former math teacher, who had also decided to work in his family business, Miller’s Jewelry of Bozeman, MT.

“It ended up being a marriage and a merger,” Jennifer says. For a while they commuted betweenSouth Florida and Montana, assuming a snowbird kind of schedule and working in both stores. But when their first baby came along, they realized they needed more stability and chose to settle down in Bozeman. Now they have two young children.

When Cec’s parents, Mark and Kay, turned 65 last year, it seemed like a natural time for them to transition into retirement. So on Jan. 1, Cec and Jennifer became the proud new owners of Miller’s Jewelry.

Miller’s Jewelry has been in the Johnson family for three decades, but it was established in 1882 — a year before Bozeman was incorporated — and had been owned by several local families before the Johnsons. The business has occupied one of the oldest buildings on Main Street for more than 70 years and is outfitted with wall cases built in the 1880s and safes from the turn of the 20th century. It’s a piece of history and a stop on city tours.

Cec and Jennifer Johnson are the new owners of his family’s store in Montana.

Cec and Jennifer see a lot of room for growth in Bozeman, which is both college town and tourist destination.

“We’re really excited about this chapter,” Jennifer says. “We knew what we were getting into. I do all the accounting and marketing; he does the inventory and he will have to take over more of the lab, which was his father’s domain. His mom was head of the sales floor, so we’re going to be doing more of that. We both did buying and inventory and merchandising and HR; we wear all the hats. It’s just going to be even more.”
Cec has two sisters who are not in the industry, so buying the business worked out best for their situation. “We did a big retirement sale and that was a way to touch more people and convey the message of the passing of the baton. And also sell a lot of inventory to lower our buy price and clean up older inventory.”

The new owners plan to ease out of the giftware business entirely to concentrate on fine jewelry. 

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