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[h4][dropcap cap=B]lood. It’s thicker than water. Because you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick … your friend’s nose. Okay, a boring cliche and a stale old joke … but there is a reason why we opened this particular feature with such hackneyed writing. Aside from the possibility that we’re just a bunch of hacks, of course. You see, this is a story about working day in and day out with family — a way of life that can come to feel like one giant cliche wrapped up in an endless blanket of stale old jokes.[/dropcap][/h4]

If you let it, that is. In the following pages, you’ll meet jewelers who are part of long-standing family businesses, who know all too well some of the pitfalls of such arrangements, but who nonetheless work hard to keep their outlooks as fresh as their inventory. Because while the benefits of working with family are obvious — built-in loyalty, cost-savings in various areas, hand-me-down expertise, etc. — the fact is, a falling out between co-workers who are also family members is a much more serious concern than a rift between acquaintances who happen to work together. You really can’t pick your family, after all (yes, that’s how the darn thing is supposed to go …).

So if you happen to be getting started in the family business — or even if you’re a first-generation jeweler with kids who may one day join the firm — listen to what the jewelers on the following pages have to say. They know what it’s like to take over the leadership of a business from parents, to pass those responsibilities on to offspring … and most importantly, to maintain a loving family all the while.

[componentheading]JOHN ANTHONY JEWELERS[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Philadelphia, Pennsylvania[/contentheading]


John Anthony Jr. may be 50. He may have worked in the jewelry business since 1971. But that doesn’t mean he’s the king of the castle — both his 80-year-old father, John Anthony Sr., who founded the well-known Philadelphia store in 1946, and his mother, who is the bookkeeper, still show up for work. “We don’t roll out of here in a hurry,” jokes Anthony Jr., who serves as vice president, while Dad is president and CEO.

Anthony Jr.’s parents, however, never considered their children to be part of the business plan. Besides Junior, one sister is in the health care industry and a brother works for Kodak. A third sibling is a housewife, but does restringing part-time at the store. When asked whether his parents pressed him to join the business, he laughs, “What are you, nuts?” Instead, he explains, they did everything possible to discourage him from making the retail jeweler’s life his livelihood. “They didn’t talk me out of it, but they tried to tell me that it’s difficult, that the industry is very hard,” he says. “It’s one of the few industries where you have to not only invest your time and effort but also inventory and everything else.” Anthony went to college and studied corporate finance, planning to specialize in corporate fundraising. “But the pay wasn’t what I could get in the jewelry industry,” he says.

In any case, Anthony had already fallen in love with the jewelry business. At age nine he was working at the benches, making his first tie-tack. “I soldered a post on and everything,” he remembers. Still, his parents didn’t give him the easy way out, even though he was the owners’ son. “Are you kidding me? I was the low man on the totem pole,” he recalls. “I cleaned castings, polished inventory, did all the twisting of the wire.” He worked at the store part-time throughout high school and college and finally made the move to full-time when he graduated. “I just liked doing it … so I didn’t stop doing it.”

Now, with three children of his own – John III, 13, Kathleen, 11, and James, 6 – a third generation is in line to take over. But Anthony says he won’t encourage them to join the jewelry game. “I would just as soon have them be lawyers, doctors, insurance brokers, whatever,” he says. “I’m making them very aware that this isn’t the business to get rich in.” But one son might already have the itch, he admits. “John III is very interested in gemology,” he says. “He’s very into stones, he wants to know what their chemical structures are and all that.”

And in the Anthony family, jewelry is very much a part of everyone’s life, whether they’re at home or at work. “There is no separation between our family life and what goes on in the store,” says Anthony Jr. “If you’re in our kind of business it all rolls together. There’s not separate wheels to a car – part of the program is that you learn to live with it.” The family members who work in the store have learned to negotiate and compromise along the way, says Anthony. “It’s just like being married. You have to pick your battles.” On the plus side, being a close and caring family means that all of the members know each other’s idiosyncrasies and can deal with them. “There are days when they bother you and days when you know you should just stay away.”

Want to learn from the Anthonys’ experience? Here are a few of his secrets to working successfully with family:


[dropcap cap=1.] Recognize different family members will have different philosophies. One of the toughest challenges, says Anthony Jr., is finding common ground. “You’ll want to do it one way and someone else will have a different way of doing things. Eventually you have to sit down and work it out.” Anthony Jr. says he had to drag his parents “kicking and screaming” into the 21st century, when it came to computerizing the business and putting up a website. “My dad never believed in credit cards,” he remembers, “so we never accepted them until we modernized.”[/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=2.] Give your kids the straight dope. Anthony Jr.’s parents didn’t mince words, and he plan doesn’t plan to candy-coat the truth if his children express interest in taking over the business. And he says all retailers should be as honest: “I would tell my child to remember all of those nights when I showed up at his basketball game in the third quarter, or all those Saturday afternoon games I missed because I had to be at the store. That’s the retail business, it’s 24/7.” If the kids do decide to come on, the Pennsylvania jeweler suggests that you make sure they know the business inside and out. John Anthony Jewelers has been a custom jeweler since its earliest days, he explains, and he would want his children to know about making classic jewelry as well.[/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=3.] Make sure you understand the legal issues regarding family succession. “You can’t just wake up one morning and say, this business is going to my son or daughter,” warns Anthony Jr. “It’s a whole sticky situation in its own right.” There are transfer laws depending on what state you live in and the government doesn’t make it easy, says Anthony. Consult your lawyer, he advises.
Over the past decade, Anthony has become the day-to-day head of John Anthony Jewelers as his parents have begun to slow down in their later years. However, his father, John Sr., is still “the main man”. “He’s the one who started this — I’ve been playing with his money for a long time now.” And while he knows the jewelry life is not an easy one, he has no regrets about signing on. “It’s nice to carry on the family name and do the same kind of work my father did,” he says. “There’s something neat about that.”[/dropcap] — SHARON GOLDMAN EDRY

[componentheading]SAMUEL GORDON JEWELERS [/componentheading]

[contentheading]Oklahoma City, Oklahoma[/contentheading]


When Gary Gordon’s grandson Braden was born, the possibility of a new generation of jewelers entered the world with him. “It would make my day if he became a jeweler,” says Gordon. “It would make my life.”

While running a jewelry business is never easy, Gordon loves the idea of his family running Samuel Gordon Jewelers forever. And so far, they’re doing pretty well toward that end: The business was founded in Oklahoma City in 1904 by Samuel Gordon, whose son Norman took over in 1956. Gary Gordon was proud to take the reins in 1982. A fourth generation came on in 1996, when his son Daniel, now 30 [pictured right, with gary], joined the biz. “I feel like everything’s happened the way it should,” says Gordon. “I think it is destiny that the right family members, the ones who were inclined, have taken over at the right time.”

But passing on the joy of jewelry didn’t happen by accident. Gordon’s interest in the business was nurtured at a very early age. In the first grade, his grandfather gave him his first melée parcel to sort. “I remember it clearly,” says Gordon. “I held my hands out and he put the open diamond paper in my hand.” Grandpa Norman slowly trained Gary in the business throughout grade school and high school, while the boy performed other store duties, including working in the mailroom and cleaning toilets. Gordon immediately loved working with his father and grandfather, but he gave the pair a bit of a scare when he began to pursue his favorite hobby, as a rock and roll drummer. “For a long time my father was scared that that’s what I would want to do with my life,” laughs Gordon.

“But I told him I wanted to be a jeweler when I grew up. The drums were just for fun. I loved jewelry – I thought it was so pretty and exciting. The day of my college commencement exercises I was at the store at 9 am.”

Samuel Gordon died in 1956; Norman Gordon in 1980. Since then, Gary has been at the helm mostly alone (a brother and sister used to be a part of the business but eventually left to pursue different careers) until Daniel came on board. Father and son have an excellent relationship, says Gordon, though he stresses that family members have to decide what their relative strengths and weaknesses are in terms of running the business. “There are many things he does better than me. He’s a better salesperson, a better negotiator, and is better at advertising.” As for himself, “Daniel would say I’m better at the financial side and designing the store layout.” As co-CEOs, the two have come up with an arrangement that suits them: Daniel is the store’s spokesperson and is in charge of advertising and administrative duties, while Gary is in charge of sales, works with the accountant and bookkeeper and handles display issues.

After working for so many years together, the family has melded their personal and business relationships – and they like it that way. “If anyone ever commented to us that all we talk about is the jewelry business, my father would always say ‘Well, if you need to have something to talk about it might as well be something you have a passion for.’ And we continue to adopt that attitude.”
So what can a retailer do to emulate the Gordons’ golden touch when it comes to passing on a family business? Here are his words of wisdom:

[dropcap cap=1.] Learn to give up control. Allowing a child to become a business partner – and not simply an employee – is essential in passing on a family firm, says Gordon. “They have to have room to breathe and grow and learn the business in a comfortable way. My tendency is that I’m very hands-on. But I have a talented, capable son and I need to let go, and we peacefully co-exist because of that. I respect him and he respects me.”[/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=2.] Show support early on. When your child shows he’s dedicated to the business, start transferring stock into his or her name, Gordon advises. “If they have the talent and are capable and dedicated, they deserve to have that kind of display of support.” And emotional encouragement is just as important, he adds. “When Daniel’s mother and I agreed to invite him to come into the firm on his 23rd birthday, we had his new business cards printed up, put in a box and gift-wrapped. At his birthday party, we gave him the box and his mother said, ‘Gee, I hope you like this cologne,’ He was struggling to act happy and then he opened the box and saw the cards. He freaked out, he was so excited!”[/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=3.] Get your child the proper training. Make sure your offspring has the right training – from the parent and from the industry — to support their desire to join the business, emphasizes Gordon. “My plan would be multi-pronged — GIA training, Jewelers of America courses, and then the school of hard knocks from the parent to the child – that’s priceless. I taught my son how to sort melée just like my dad and grandfather taught me.”[/dropcap]

Gordon can hardly believe that the family business will be 100 years old in 2004, but that doesn’t mean the staff doesn’t already have big plans in the works to celebrate. “I can’t say what we’re doing because we haven’t finalized anything, but I’m very proud of it,” he says. And he doesn’t mind when other retailers admire the family’s perseverance. “Yeah, when I’m talking with industry friends they think it’s cool that Samuel Gordon Jewelers is as old as it is,” Gordon admits. “When you have a multi-generational business, it’s a real asset.”

And if little Braden Gordon decides to take a pass on the jewelry business? “My son is very hopeful that he won’t, but for me, it’s whatever makes him happy,” says Gordon. Hey, you never know. — SHARON GOLDMAN EDRY

[componentheading]MARKMAN’S DIAMONDS AND FINE JEWELRY[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee[/contentheading]

Tennessee’s Harold and Ida Markman poured everything they owned into Markman’s Diamonds and Fine Jewelry when they launched the business in October of 1976. Their social life became their work.

Two years later, their son Steve entered the firm. A second son, Stewart Markman, offers legal counsel whenever it is needed.

The Markmans’ family business began as a single store with Ida and Harold both selling full time, helped by one part-time employee. They now have three stores: two in Knoxville and another in Chattanooga. Since April 2002, they have also had a new partner, Joe Sedges. Between the three of them, they have grown the business from $8 million annually to more than $12 million. They are recognized for their quality diamond pieces, custom work, repairs and watches.

“It’s an advantage to us that ours is a family business and when Steve was little, I used to tell him that,” says Harold Markman.

What are these advantages? Perhaps most evident is the communication between the partners. “It’s like a kitchen-table conversation, the way we sit down and talk straight-up to each other,” says Sedges. “We don’t have to put a special spin on things to please anyone. We can freely discuss what is happening without any fear of breaches of confidentiality or worrying about the way someone will interpret what you are really trying to say.”

In fact, Sedges wanted to join the family firm because he’d liked what he first seen between the Markmans. “There’s a certain emotional relaxation that father and son have together. They commingle without having any conflict. Theirs is a close-knit family,” he says.

Steve Markman concurs: “Decision-making is really very simple. Sometimes people ask how we all get along so well together. Perhaps it’s that we are big enough not to get in each other’s way. Each doing very different things within the business also helps.”

Each of the four who work daily in the business have different responsibilities and strengths. Harold likes to roll up his sleeves and sell. He’s in charge of the sales floor.

Ida Markman is happiest taking care of the customers. As Sedges describes her, Ida is “one of the rocks of the store. Many customers come in and just want to deal with her. She has a certain way of working; she never complains or argues. Here six days a week, she always opens and closes [the store]. Each customer has her full attention.”

Steve seldom deals directly with customers. He’s knowledgeable about diamonds and travels regularly to Antwerp to buy loose stones. Each one is chosen with incredible care. As he explains, “We do our own manufacturing and I oversee styling of all merchandising. I’m more particular because it is our name, I guess. You could say I go a little overboard trying to get the match but quality is what we’re about for our customers.”

When Sedges approached the Markmans, they were pondering how to expand their business. Sedges had been working in sales for another jeweler and wanted to come in off the road. “Perhaps they’d read the same article in the jewelry publication I had,” he says. “The writer suggested that family firms find someone outside the family to help bring a more objective tone to what they are doing.”

Before Sedges came to the firm, the family philosophy was more about getting on with work and doing better than yesterday. Sedges brought a stronger sense of organization to the business, computerizing the inventory, and developing staff training and reviews, as well as budget and fiscal planning.

“I like the business end of things. I’m not so strong on sales,” he admits. For the holidays, however, he still goes out on the floor with all the other staff and partners.

Markman’s employs three jewelers. When they renovated their original Knoxville store, they tripled their showcase footage and were able to expand their watch lines.

“We have too much work to do to have too much ego,” says Steve Markman about the way the four partners work together. “That helps all of us. We respect each other’s abilities and we have learned how to pleasantly agree to disagree. You may have an opinion and if that’s your opinion, go for it. We give each other that freedom and don’t step on each other’s toes.”

The stores are designed to look good and work effectively. “It’s a combination of all of us working together and reviewing the plans, “ says Harold Markman. “There are no arguments about it. We work until we get it right. None of us are adamant about how things must look; we’re pretty open-minded about the process. It’s important for us to feel special but not overwhelmed by the building. We like to keep it simple.”

To keep home life separate from work, Harold and Ida have an agreement not to discuss business outside the store. He and Steve do talk out of hours at times, however. And the Markmans are solid members of their community. The family firm contributes generously to local charities like schools and churches, and to national organizations. “We have a personal relationship with the community that comes from our commitment to the business. It helps create greater trust between our customers and us. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be the best we can be; it’s our name and our business,” says Harold.

None of the next generation of kids has as yet shown any inclination to join in the family business full-time, but everyone lends a hand and does giftwrapping and other chores during the hectic Christmas season. “We hope we can continue on in the family way,” says Joe Sedges. You can bet Markman’s customers hope so too — the tradition of providing good customer service and quality merchandise to anybody who comes through the door is a source of family pride. — SARAH YATES

[componentheading]DAVID RICE JEWELERS[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Winnipeg, Manitoba[/contentheading]

Goldsmith David Rice started his business in his apartment bedroom, using his night table for casting. He sold his work in boutique stores throughout Winnipeg, Canada in the 1970s.

Thirty-one years later, David Rice Jewelers is a recognized destination store in the prairie city.

When Marie Christoffersson first joined the business in sales, she was attracted by its Danish and Swedish designs. Her father had been a Swedish goldsmith. “I was very comfortable with that aesthetic because I’d been brought up in a visually-oriented world. It was already a beautifully developed visual philosophy, when David taught me his visual merchandising techniques. I had an immediate understanding of what they were doing so I could just step in,” she says now.

Marie married David Rice and continued to work in the store after the birth of their son, Osten. Her training in photography and graphic design and his in theater design and visual merchandising have contributed to the contemporary Canadian design and art aesthetic which helps direct the store’s operations. Subtly, through example and through hands-on teaching, Marie has passed on that training in visual merchandising and visual awareness to reaffirm their reputation as a contemporary aesthetic icon.

The 1200 sq. ft. store on Osborne Street in Winnipeg sells originally-designed jewelry in gold, silver and other metals and set with precious stones; 80 percent of it designed by Rice himself. The store also represents several other Canadian jewelry designers. Rice maintains a studio in the top floor of their home, within a few blocks of the store, where he works with another trained goldsmith, Calvin Kelly. The front of the store serves as a gallery, with work on consignment from internationally-recognized ceramics and glass artists. Christoffersson does all the buying for the store.

“Collaboration is sometimes a problem but we all tend to play to each other’s strengths,” says Rice. “It’s an ongoing and evolving shift in a family business as intimate as ours is. I think of the design and workings of a jewelry store like designing an experience. There’s a lot of romance in selling jewelry. You’re participating in people’s major life events like engagements, weddings, anniversaries, Christmas, Hanukkah and other gift-giving times. We try to deliver service coupled with the right environment to create that positive experience. But what’s the point of it looking good if it doesn’t sell?”

Currently, Rice and Christoffersson are interpreting the trend toward mall buying by adapting their own visual merchandising, whereby pieces are clustered in categories. “Customers are used to seeing lots and lots of boxes of rings all together, we interpret it our way but nonetheless try to keep abreast of these changes to make customers comfortable, even while we offer them a unique buying experience,” he says.

Meanwhile, Rice admits that because of his own intensity and perfectionism, it’s easier for everyone now that he no longer comes into the store as much as he once did … acting more as a consultant on day-to-day operations. He leaves the display and ongoing maintenance of merchandise to the women working on the floor with Christoffersson.

“A family business is a juggling act as far as keeping your personal life intact,” says Christoffersson. “Everything is so close and interconnected. You want to be able to create some space. It works fine now with the studio at home and the store elsewhere. Having a manager helps enormously too. The bookkeeping part of it has never been my skill and though I know what is happening, when bills comes up, it’s not me the wife talking to my husband and getting into an argument. It’s as if Jennifer, our manager, is a buffer between us.”

Manager Jennifer Bottomley has been with the business now for eight years and she’s an integral part of the family firm, though not a partner. “We’re very fortunate to have her … She is dedicated and devoted like a family member because she truly cares about the business and about us,” says Christoffersson. “Jennifer learns quickly, stays calm even when things get tense and is very good at dealing with clients who are difficult. She’s not afraid to stand her ground.”

Rice adds: “We count on the support [goldsmith] Calvin and Jennifer give us. After all, you’re spending more time with these people than your partner so you have to be able to get along and to share personal things. David Rice Jewelers is not a big corporate office; it’s small and we must work together as a team to make it work.”

Jennifer and Marie work together full time on the sales floor; they also hire three students part-time to work at various busy times of the year. Calvin works with Rice in the studio. Every Saturday, David Rice meets clients for custom design consultation.

The couple work hard to ensure there is some separation between work and home. “Once I’m home from the store we discuss a few things very briefly, then we don’t discuss it anymore,” says Christoffersson.

“When things need to get sorted out or when David or I have an idea for some changes, we make time during business hours to sit down and talk. At-home time is our time and it has always worked out well. You have to be aware of these things, otherwise they can consume you. You can have nothing but work, especially since the studio is in our home. It’s a delicate balance.”

Their son Osten has always been supportive and involved in the store’s special events, particularly their annual Open House prior to Christmas, but he’s never worked in the store. When he was younger, he made a couple of pieces in the studio, sitting on his Dad’s lap so he could be tall enough to saw the pieces on the bench properly. Rice admits he actively dissuaded him from direct participation, feeling the business was not a viable one for his son. But Christoffersson says, “If it was really in Osten’s heart, either the design or the business part of it, it would be great to have another family member, especially a younger one in the business. I think it would be kind of comforting.” In more candid moments she admits that it would be tough to balance the creative perfectionism which drives both men in her life.

Instead of a jewelry designer, Osten Christoffersson Rice became a chef. Now his original hors d’oeuvres contribute to that distinctive family look at all of the store’s special events like their annual Open House.

Each family member has separate responsibilities and each contributes separately as part of the team. David Rice is both pleased and cautious about the family business.

“I don’t feel David Rice Jewelers has been a huge financial success but we have certainly succeeded in developing a reputation and an image,” he says.

“We’ve been through the peaks and valleys of any business and encountered various difficulties as does any family or any business. But after everything is said and done, we do have credibility and we’re still going. I can’t think of any other thing I would have wanted to do with my life.”

When Marie Christoffersson returned to the store after some time away following the death of her father, and saw the way it had been decorated without her direct hand, she felt reassured. “Wow! What a nice store; it’s just beautiful, I thought to myself,” she said to Bottomley, who retorted: “We had a great teacher!”

Family and extended family continue to work together as a unit, making David Rice Jewelers a must-visit shop in Winnipeg … and for many regulars, the only place to purchase jewelry and objets d’art. — SARAH YATES

[componentheading]BORN TO THE BUSINESS[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Columnist and jeweler David Atlas gives a first-person account of growing up in the family store[/contentheading]

For many people in the jewelry industry a tale of being born into a family business will be very familiar. Families who own and operate small private businesses share a lot of common elements … and you often have to take the bad with the good.

A parent with a successful business often hopes that their child may someday consider working and continuing the family tradition. They may not push it very hard, but you can see them crossing their fingers and hoping that going away to the military or college won’t tear the fragile fabric which binds family members together in a joint venture. Mature adults know that it takes teamwork to run any business. Recently employed younger family members may not yet realize this fully. One can expect the most from their own family members who join the “team”. One can get away with not paying them a whole lot; let them live at home a while longer. They can commute with other family members and save a bit. They can all sit around and eat last night’s leftovers for lunch.

Parents might even hope that the child will always be dependent and never grow up and assert their own will on anyone … some “team rules” just are not as reasonable as others. Some families use good judgment. Others fail to let their family members grow into the roles that must be played.

An important issue is the expectation of total honesty, loyalty and agreement with the values set forth by those who currently run the business. Family members are expected to toe the line and not to readily or frequently question the business decisions of their peers. In these situations, an argument is not welcome. Even a suggestion may seem argumentative. It is really difficult to hold your tongue at work, when you have grown used to speaking your mind in more normal surroundings. One must learn to see the guiding principles of how the family has run and intends to run their business. One is reasonably expected to agree, submit or keep their opinion to themselves unless they like to fight in front of everyone.

My grandfather began our business in 1898 as a new immigrant to the United States. He must have worked hard because he was very successful in the early part of the 1900s. He brought the entire family here, over 30 people, and made sure everyone had a place and a job. He was held out to me as the consummate example of responsibility. I was born in 1947, and he died in 1948. I have a photo of him holding me in his arms. I never knew him, only of him. When I went to New York weekly with my father in the late 1960s and 1970s, people my grandfather had done business with told me he had been a great guy and a most honest one. They laid a huge burden on me with his tradition and reputation. My father never hesitated to reinforce honesty and responsibility as guiding principles of long-term success and as our business policy. It’s darned difficult to be honest and hold one’s tongue sometimes. I proved it was too difficult for me many times by having some memorable verbal exchanges with my father and the occasional customer. You might call them arguments; I prefer to think of them as boardroom discussions where raising the volume of one’s voice was allowed. My dad was very hard of hearing anyway, so when I would make my feelings known, I needed to put them into a slow and rather loud set of words. I used to boil over at any time and on any subject. I think I am over it at this stage. My children have not come into the business, so I won’t need to put myself to the same test.

What else about working in the family is difficult yet entertaining? How about when a member of the family has a good yet rather novel idea? How can the idea be accomplished without spending any money? How can one do it without changing any pre-existing concept or strategy? Who will accept responsibility for the extra work entailed and who will be willing to take the blame if it fails?

Who else dares to back the idea? Who will get credit if the idea happens to work? Big businesses operate in much the same way, but you are not related to the parties. Being related entails many more points of possible conflict. If you fight, will you not get invited over to their house again? Will their spouse say you are taking unfair advantage? Will you hurt feelings or even split up a family over a business dispute? There are many real dangers working so closely with those you are supposed to love and respect.

One thing which creates problems in family businesses is the passing down of the business to the next generation. Will it be funded properly? What about inheritance taxes? What about retirement pensions, continued salaries, extended health benefits? Who will be able or willing to pay? Will the next generation honorably and competently manage the affairs of the business in order to meet these obligations? What is the risk of some sort of default? What safeguards can be constructed to protect those who have worked a lifetime to create a good business, without weakening it so much upon their retirement or death that it can’t be continued? Estate planning is often left to only those who are planning on leaving the business, but I believe it should involve the younger generations too. Those who continue the business need to have knowledge of the issues and know how it is supposed to be resolved. It benefits all parties when done properly. When done badly, the business will weaken and likely not be there long enough for another generation to take over.

[span class=note]This story is from the January 2003 edition of INSTORE[/span]



Wilkerson Testimonials

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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Brand Portfolio

Kentucky’s EAT Gallery Aims to Feed the Soul

Brand identity tied to neon sign.



WHEN SIMON AND LAURIE WATT bought a downtown building that once housed a diner with a classic neon sign that reads “EAT,” they kept the sign, lost the food and gained an eclectic collection of art, jewelry and other treasures. Today, EAT stands for Exquisite Art Treasures. The store’s tagline is “EAT Gallery: We feed your soul.”

Social Media

Manager Katherine Cotterill, left, organized a contest called Thankful For, in which customers were invited to share what they were thankful for and why. The winner was given an original painting. Other contest winners have been awarded swag bags.


The Sign

The name EAT Gallery (Exquiste Art Treasures) comes from the neon sign that has hung on the front of the building for over 60 years.

Direct Mail

Glossy postcards for trunk shows and special events feature beautiful photographs of jewelry found in the store. Cotterill, who once worked for a Maysville portrait photographer and took some photojournalism classes in college, also handles most of the store’s product photography in-house using a lightbox and lamps she stores in the gallery’s basement.

Gem Gossip

Influencer Danielle Mielle visited EAT Gallery as part of Gem Gossip’s jewelry road trip series.

Theater Program

Maysville has a group called Maysville players, the oldest continuing theater group in the state. “We do a big glossy full page in all of their programs. We definitely stick to very artsy kind of organizations and groups, because all of the jewelry is handmade. When they leave with something, they have a story,” says Cotterill.


EAT Gallery’s bags are likely to bring comments and boost brand visibility wherever they go.

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ON A BUSY DAY THE week before Christmas, Howard’s Jewelry Center in an eastern suburb of Cleveland, is abuzz with activity. Customers come in waves all day, tracking down giant hoop earrings, a charm for a young granddaughter, or a seasonal splurge for themselves.

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Owner Howard Hurwitz hurries in for an appointment, stopping to exchange pleasantries with a customer he’s known for years, who congratulates him on the success of his business.

It’s a typical pre-Christmas week in many ways. Something’s different this year, though. Howard and Leslie Hurwitz have seen their store in a new light this season. So have their customers.

The couple won a $100,000 store makeover in a Jewelers for Children charitable giving contest, for which they raised $50,000. The renovation — the first significant change to the store in 30 years — was complete in December. “Customers are all pleasantly surprised,” Howard says. “We are very pleased and happy for everything that everyone did for us.”

One of the biggest changes is how drastically brighter everything is with fresh paint, new in-case displays and LED lighting.

Howard and Leslie own four stores in the Cleveland metropolitan area, and had been passionate supporters of Jewelers for Children ever since their first Facets of Hope dinner in Las Vegas touched their hearts 20 years ago.

There, they heard children talk about their struggles with catastrophic diseases and how they were helped by St. Jude’s Research Hospital, one of the charities JFC supports. “I’d like to get more people involved in it,” says

Howard, now a board member. “And I think if they could get to one of these dinners and hear the kids’ stories, they’d be a donor for life.”

JFC is woven into the fabric of their business. In all, they’ve raised $200,000 for the organization with collection canisters on their counters. The couple promotes JFC in their advertising and suggests their customers make a donation for watch batteries and other small repairs they offer for free.

For the redo, the Hurwitzes chose their Maple Heights flagship location, a busy place in a high-traffic area that sells jewelry and also makes loans on jewelry. Although they’ve occupied the space for 30 years, there have been few changes in that time.


The design team carefully considered which updates would bring the biggest bang for the buck.

Eric Zuckerman of sponsor Pac Team America says the goal was to make the buying experience comfortable, special and intimate. “You can take an old store that hasn’t been touched for 30 years and do some things to make it very fresh and inviting. Environment creates confidence. If the environment is not at the same level of the product and the training of the salesperson, that inconsistency will be felt. Simple and clean and presentable doesn’t have to be a major renovation.”

Zuckerman and Ruth Mellergaard of GRID/3 International agree that the improvements with the biggest impact were replacing the ceiling tiles and upgrading the overhead track lighting to LED bulbs.

“The ceiling tiles were in pretty bad shape and set the tone for the entire environment,” Zuckerman says. “Something as simple as their replacement alone made a big improvement. Same thing with adding case lighting and replacing their bridal in-case presentation. What was there was very dark and worn, which contributed to the entire store appearing worn out. New case pads and displays gave a fresh look that was visually impactful.”

A metal security gate near the threshold was an inhospitable eyesore by day, but a necessity by night. Now, thanks to a design by GRID/3 International, the gate is enclosed in new drywall partitions with flush detailed doors that completely conceal it when the store is open for business.

“When you walk into a retail environment, being greeted by what is essentially a metal fence is not ideal for establishing a warm shopping experience,” Zuckerman says. “Having them hidden while the store is open allowed them to serve their purpose without detracting from the store’s presentation.”

Ruth Mellergaard of GRID/3, who donated her time to the project, says the question she asked before beginning to outline an overall plan was, “How does the business work and how can we make it easier for them to deal with their customers, to make their customers feel wonderful?”

Heavy wooden chairs were replaced by modern chairs with a lighter profile to bring the diamond engagement area into the 21st century, and designated spots for a children’s corner and a custom refreshment station for coffee are designed to put customers at ease.

The interior and exterior have been freshly painted.

Many of the showcases were in good shape, but some didn’t match, so their fronts as well as the front of the service counter were updated with panels covered with 3M Di-Noc film, which changed their appearance completely.



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Wear Your GRACE, Santa Fe, NM

OWNER: Hillary Fitzpatrick Randolph; FOUNDED: 2015; URL:; BUILDOUT COST: $39,650; EMPLOYEES: 5, full and part-time; AREA: 650 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Owner’s GRACE pieces and Etkie (contemporary hand-loomed bracelets crafted by Native American artisans)

ONE DEFINITION OF “GRACE” is simple elegance. Another is refined movement. The word is also associated with the bestowal of blessings.

Artist and designer Hillary Randolph takes a creative approach to exploring the nuanced meanings of “grace” as the theme for her brand and her Santa Fe store, wear your GRACE. She also established “Share Your Grace,” a multifaceted program that benefits Santa Fe’s community, including its nonprofit organizations.

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Choosing grace as her theme triggers interesting conversations and builds meaningful rapport with clients, she says, who share what grace means in their own lives.

Randolph designed her Santa Fe store based on her aesthetic sense of what grace looks and feels like — warm and inviting with a dash of elegant simplicity. She opened her gallery in 2015 in a 250-year-old adobe building on

Palace Avenue in the heart of Santa Fe, just off the historic plaza. Her jewelry emphasizes graceful flowing movement. Much of the work is developed upstairs in the design studio.

Her approach to interior design is hands on.

A unique orb light fixture is an eye-catching element near the entrance. Randolph created it from a grapevine she found in Round Top, TX, that had been steamed, coiled, shaped into an openwork globe and re-dried. She took it home, painted the bottom of it with gold leaf and hung from it 100-year-old faceted crystal drops from France. The table below is also painted with gold leaf so it appears as if the crystals are dripping gold. It complements the interior design, with its gold-on-white palette and a trompe l’oeil tangerine curtain painted by a local artist across the back wall. The curtain painting creates a sense of flowing movement and acts as a backdrop for casually luxurious décor.

“The best decisions I have ever made came from feelings, instincts and hunches, rather than spreadsheets, schematics and trend forecasts. I’ve learned to make business decisions according to how I want my life to feel. The unique look of the gallery came from the feeling I get from certain colors, combinations and materials. I want my guests to feel as inspired by the store’s ambience as I do.”


“I hear people talk about the experience they have when they walk in,” she says. “The product is an offshoot of the experience.”

Randolph’s approach to sales is to honor each customer’s personal sense of style, wardrobe and lifestyle in general. “It’s our passion to truly connect with women from all walks of life, listening to their stories and encouraging self-expression through their jewelry,” she says. “So we connect, we listen and we always have fun.”

Although shopping in Santa Fe is a favorite pastime of tourists, more and more of Randolph’s regular clients live in town. So marketing is increasingly local as well, with in-store events and email campaigns. This year she plans to feature the “faces of Grace” in her marketing and discover what “grace” means to her clients to make her social-media marketing more interactive.

Another goal is to spend less time on paperwork upstairs in her office and more time downstairs in the gallery, being the ambassador of her brand.

Randolph’s career started in Palm Beach in luxury goods followed by a move to New York, where she worked with Ralph Lauren in his flagship Madison Avenue store. Other luxury brand retailers recruited her to develop their wholesale brands and open brick-and-mortar stores across the United States.

In 1999, she visited her mother in Santa Fe and never left.

“I never thought I would stay, and then I saw the moon rise over the ski basin and it was the biggest moon I’d ever seen in my life,” she recalls. “There was a certain connection with people from all over the country that I found here. I had conversations with them here that I would never have if I were sitting next to them at a dinner table in New York. There is a certain veil that is removed here, an authentic connection that feeds me.”

She launched her jewelry-design career in 1999 with Somers, a line based on the sculptures of her creative partner that was sold in galleries and jewelry stores around the country. Later, the idea for Grace took shape.

“Even today,” she says, “there are things I’m still discovering. A new hike, people, artists. It’s not boring here. There’s always something to feed you.”


She has found the business climate friendly, as well. Santa Fe, she discovered is the No. 1 spot in the U.S. per capita for women-owned businesses.

She finds inspiration for design in Santa Fe, as well. “I design in my head so when I’m on that hike the best design pops into my head,” she says, “If I’m just sitting there with the stones it doesn’t work as well.”

Randolph believes in being an active part of her community by creating a business model that gives back. She is a founding member of Santa Fe’s 100 Women Who Care, a group that meets quarterly to learn about and donate to a charity that the group selects.

Share your GRACE also holds invitation-only sales events throughout the year, during which a portion of net proceeds benefit non-profit organizations while boosting Randolph’s philanthropic profile in the community.

Randolph is certain she’s where she’s supposed to be — both literally and figuratively.

“I am living proof that if you choose to make decisions from your heart and persevere, you will never look back,” she says. “Creating GRACE has given me more connection, has inspired other women to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit and has led to deeper relationships with my clients all due to my own personal decision to choose GRACE as this next chapter of my life.”



Five Cool Things About Wear Your GRACE

1. Practical magic. Randolph is focusing on gemstones and custom-creating talismans using labradorite and rose quartz. They’re marketed as being an essential element of everyday protection. “Being in Santa Fe with all of our ‘woo woo,’ people love it,” Randolph says. The jewelry line that I am creating is the core things we need as women to feel safe, protected, guided, grounded, but it’s also an individual connection.”

2. The canine experience. Just outside the store’s entrance is the most popular “Dog Bar” in town, complete with treats tucked inside a mailbox over a trompe l’oeil of splashing water from a faux-spigot. Four-legged friends may quench their thirst in cool H2O. Pet owners peek in with an amused smile as they view candy colored leather dog leashes and collars engraved with “Walk with GRACE. Sales help support animal rescue groups.


3. Versatility behind the scenes. The second floor is the atelier, where the jewelry is designed and made from cast components. “I have used the space for open houses, gallery night on Fridays, and featured a painter here with her larger work upstairs,” Randolph says. “So it is a working studio, but also a social space. Or I’ll have a client come up and we’ll collaborate to remake something. Just minutes after a design is completed upstairs, it can be displayed on the floor.”

4. Guest stars. Randolph loves collaborating with artists she’s met on her travels, so she regularly features jewelry by guest designers and hosts events promoting other artwork she loves.

5. Coco’s Bangles. The wear your GRACE collection includes best-selling Coco’s Bangles, designed by Hillary’s teenage daughter, Coco. Coco donates a portion of the proceeds of sales to the Heart & Soul Animal Sanctuary outside Santa Fe.

  • Sofia Kaman: I love seeing a business that embraces fun, whimsy and a sense of happiness in all that they do. The dog bar is a brilliant touch!
  • Jimmy DeGroot: I love the concept and the business model.
  • Lyn Falk: Great website. Clever and sophisticated. Unique name and use of the name in marketing. Interior and exterior are well done — distinct, savvy, artsy with touches of whimsy. Unique displays pushed the envelope in terms of a typical retail experience. More like a gallery. Hillary appears to exude charm!
  • Tiffany Stevens: This is a beautiful store! The exterior encapsulates the rich history of Santa Fe while the interior is modern and unique.
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