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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]

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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:

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[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]

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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]

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America's Coolest Stores

America’s Coolest Stores 2019 – Winners Revealed!

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Check out America’s Coolest Jewelry Stores of 2019!

Congratulations to the winners of the 18th annual America’s Coolest Stores Contest! In the following pages — and in the months ahead — discover why these stores earned the stamp of approval from our judges. As in past years, we divided the entries into two categories — Big Cool (six or more full-time employees) and Small Cool (five or fewer). We asked two six-member teams of judges to evaluate stores based on their back story, interior, exterior, marketing, online presence and what we here at INSTORE believe is the most important intangible: individuality.

Our six America’s Coolest and additional 10 Cool Stores — each of which will be featured in INSTORE issues through June 2019 — represent creative approaches to doing business as well as aesthetically pleasing retail environments. Each of the six winning stores also offers an omni-channel shopping experience, with merchandise available for purchase online.

If you haven’t taken the time to enter yet, why not give it a shot in January 2020? Retailers have told us that the entry process alone can be inspiring and motivating because it requires them to assess all aspects of their businesses. And if you entered and weren’t chosen this time, fine-tune your entry and try again. That’s proven to be a winning strategy.

Check out America’s Coolest
Jewelry Stores of 2019!

Congratulations to the winners of the 18th annual America’s Coolest Stores Contest! In the following pages — and in the months ahead — discover why these stores earned the stamp of approval from our judges. As in past years, we divided the entries into two categories — Big Cool (six or more full-time employees) and Small Cool (five or fewer). We asked two six-member teams of judges to evaluate stores based on their back story, interior, exterior, marketing, online presence and what we here at INSTORE believe is the most important intangible: individuality.

Our six America’s Coolest and additional 10 Cool Stores — each of which will be featured in INSTORE issues through June 2019 — represent creative approaches to doing business as well as aesthetically pleasing retail environments. Each of the six winning stores also offers an omni-channel shopping experience, with merchandise available for purchase online.

If you haven’t taken the time to enter yet, why not give it a shot in January 2020? Retailers have told us that the entry process alone can be inspiring and motivating because it requires them to assess all aspects of their businesses. And if you entered and weren’t chosen this time, fine-tune your entry and try again. That’s proven to be a winning strategy.

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America's Coolest Stores

Here Are This Year’s America’s Coolest Store Honorable Mentions

These 10 stores will be featured over the next year in INSTORE.

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Big Cool Honorable Mentions

Day’s Jewelers

Nashua, NH

The Coreys

Jeff and Kathy Corey opened a 5,000-square-foot destination store, their eighth location, in 2018. With updated branding and imagery, the store design grabs millennials’ attention while maintaining a reputation for representing fine jewelry. A two-story vestibule creates a transparent glass wall along its curved exterior, establishing a theme that carries throughout the casework and ceiling. The curves create a free-flowing traffic pattern that leads patrons throughout the interior while also maximizing linear-display space.

John Atencio

Lone Tree, CO

John Atencio

Jewelry designer John Atencio’s sixth store was designed to create a visually compelling and luxurious experience while maximizing display space within a 600-square-foot footprint. The most striking aspect of the location is the large, transparent facade crafted from oversize panes of tempered glass. From the outside, the store looks sleek and inviting, and inside, the space is flooded with natural light.

Provident Jewelry

Jupiter, FL

Geoff Fear, Rob Samuels, Nick Linca, Seth Berman, Scott Diament

Owners Seth Berman, Scott Diament, Nick Linca and Robert Samuels teamed up to create a Dream Factory luxury lounge inside their flagship location. Clients can mingle, relax and enjoy a cocktail for a memorable in-store experience. Custom experiences for clients extend far beyond the store’s walls and have included test driving one-of-a-kind cars, meeting the CEOs behind watch brands, racing a car at YAS Marina Circuit, golfing with pro golfers, sailing on the America’s Cup committee boat in Bermuda and flying to Switzerland to tour a watch factory.

H1912

Princeton, NJ

Hamilton owners

Under the leadership of owner Martin Siegel and store manager Lea D’Onofrio, H1912 is part of the Hamilton Jewelers family of brands. It’s on the same street in the same small town as one of its parent locations of Hamilton Jewelers, but since its 2015 inception, it’s carved out a niche for itself that it backs up with a cutting-edge website, charity partnerships and a digital-first marketing plan. The 1912 in its name references the year Hamilton was founded and plays up the vintage angle of its inventory. H1912 buyers travel to estate shows, antique shows and auctions to handpick one-of-a-kind vintage pieces. Every vintage item at H1912 is refinished, refurbished, polished, or overhauled in-house before hitting the showcase.

Mitchum Jewelers

Ozark, MO

Mitchum jewelers

Mitchum Jewelers, owned by Randy Mitchum, doubled its size in 2018 in an upscale renovation orchestrated by store designer Jesse Balaity of Balaity Property Enhancement. One eye-catching element of the new building is the illuminated diamond prominently displayed on the building’s exterior. Mitchum has also set itself apart marketing-wise with a hugely successful TV commercial campaign that features customer testimonials. Use of the slogan “Your Jeweler For Life” in all of Mitchum’s ads has added to the branding surge, as has a related jingle that customers love to sing whenever they happen to run into Randy.


Small Cool Honorable Mentions

Yaf Sparkle

New York, NY

Yaf Boye-Flaegel

This is the second Lower East Side location and second America’s Coolest Stores Award for Yaf Sparkle, owned by Yaf Boye-Flaegel and Torsten Flaegel. When the couple moved into the new spot and peeled off layers of cement, they were excited to find old bricks in good condition crowned by an arched brick ceiling. They added a wooden floor and brought in furniture made of reclaimed wood for a vintage rustic look. The neighborhood is full of life and excitement, to which Yaf Sparkle contributes by spreading glitter across the sidewalk outside the store. Marketing benefits from an in-house photo studio. Customers have voted Yaf Sparkle as among the top three shopping experiences in New York City on Trip Advisor.

JC Jewelers

Jackson Hole, WY

Jan and Jeter Case

Jan and Jeter Case greet visitors from all over the world in their 240-square-foot log-cabin showroom in a gateway town to the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Three to 4 million people visit the area every year, and of those, about 1 million are from China. They’ve gone to great lengths to be hospitable, learning Mandarin phrases and labeling gemstones with translations. They also use Google Translate to communicate with non-English speakers. These efforts have gone a long way, they say, toward making international guests feel comfortable.

Malka Diamonds & Jewelry

Portland, OR

David and Ronnie Malka

Malka Diamonds & Jewelry, owned by David and Ronnie Malka, is a 1,000-square-foot boutique shop in downtown Portland that specializes in engagement and wedding jewelry. David is a graduate gemologist, who enjoys educating clients in a no-pressure atmosphere. The shop also highlights the work of two master jewelers on site. The store houses a collection of modern designs, antique and vintage jewelry and unconventional options, such as salt-and-pepper, rose-cut and unique-shaped diamonds. The store is bolstered by a cheerful staff and robust digital presence.

Talisman Collection

El Dorado Hills, CA

Andrea Riso

With a 3,300-square-foot showroom, this Small Cool store lives large! Owner Andrea Riso designed the floor plan to accommodate wide-open spaces, plenty of seating and a meandering river-style path that creates a sense of discovery. Décor is surrealistic and includes massive blown-glass fixtures, a library-lounge man cave, a tech oasis for kids, a bar and interactive areas that engage and enchant people of all ages. They’re known for designing and rendering original custom pieces for clients within 48 hours, as well as offering the custom-design services of 78 independent designer brands represented in the store.

Welling & Co. Jewelers

West Chester, OH

Bill and Daniel Welling

Father and son owners Bill and Daniel Welling built a modern, industrial-style jewelry store on a well-traveled road between Cincinnati and Dayton, in Ohio’s booming Butler County. The family-owned store, founded in 1920, makes its most recent home in a hangar built in the 1940s by a pilot to house a folding-wing airplane. Interior designer Leslie McGwire retained original interior brick from the building to set the tone for the renovation, which is complemented by an open slate-gray painted ceiling and a textured wood plank floor. A wide range of merchandise and price points adds to the welcoming ambience.

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America's Coolest Stores

Nautical-Themed Vancouver Store Finds Room for Imagination

A more relaxed Erik Runyan Jewelers is rejuvenated in its new location.

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BIG COOL 1ST PLACE: Erik Runyan Jewelers, Vancouver, WA

Finding Their Sea Legs

Erik and Leslie Runyan feel at home in a new store with nautical notes and a casual ambience.

OWNERS: Erik & Leslie Runyan | URL: runyansjewelers.com | FOUNDED: 1917 | OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017 | EMPLOYEES: 11 | AREA: 2,350 square feet | BUILDOUT COST: $300,000 | ARCHITECT: Wilson Associates Architects | DESIGN FIRM: Strong Associates | TOP BRANDS: Gabriel & Co., Mark Schneider, Bergio | ONLINE PRESENCE: 873 Facebook likes, 735 Instagram followers, 4.9 stars with 22 Google reviews


TO HAVE YOUR SEA LEGS is to be able to walk calmly and steadily on a tossing ship, or to become accustomed to a new or strange situation. For Erik Runyan, a licensed ship captain and fourth-generation jeweler, being at sea is natural. And being able to express himself in his new store has made him ready to navigate the vicissitudes of a changing jewelry market that unsettles many a mid-career jeweler.

He and his wife, Leslie, have found their sea legs at work.

Runyan is not a suit-and-tie kind of a guy at heart. So after spending decades buttoned-up, figuratively and literally, the couple let their personalities shine through when they moved to their new Main Street location in Vancouver, WA. They hunted for and then hung a canoe upside down from the ceiling, and it became a chandelier. They flooded the space with natural light. They played music they like, including Lyle Lovett, Jimmy Buffett, Johnny Cash and Van Morrison. They celebrated customers’ special occasions with their own wine label. And one day, Erik announced that he was finished with a business-attire dress code and began wearing jeans and polo shirts to work. Leslie was happy to follow suit.

If you want to be current today, you have to be old to be new. Our interpretation of the space as nautical took off like a ball of fire.

Although the previous location, where they’d been since 1991, was just blocks away, it was considered a more established commercial area, so moving to a new place seemed risky to some observers. “I had worked there all my life,” Runyan says. The store was beautiful, in a 1980s kind of way with oak cases, a false ceiling and brass track lights. “In my mind it was a proper 1980s mall jewelry store,” Runyan says. It was beginning to show wear, however, and although they had attempted to remodel, it just wasn’t working.

And then, with a new store in the works, Erik lost his father, Steve, just months before the move, making the transition seem even more of a significant milestone. “He was steadfast in his work, and came in every day until his passing. His jubilant spirit still surrounds the place,” Erik says.

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The new location is at the forefront of an unprecedented $2 billion Vancouver waterfront revitalization that has brought restaurants, wine-tasting rooms and nightlife to downtown.

The big brick building with 18-foot ceilings and lots of natural light beckoned to Runyan when it was being built out by family friends. “I walked in and I was blown away by all the wood on the ceiling and the height of it,” he says. “If you want to be current today, you have to be old to be new. Urban lofty is what people are looking for. We took the space, and because of my quirky background, it just organically happened. Our interpretation of the space as nautical took off like a ball of fire.”

That ball of fire was set in motion once they had found a canoe to purchase and Steve Strong of Strong Construction crafted it into a chandelier. After that, it was natural to install a galley coffee center under the stairs, to hang a ship wheel on the wall and make sure it actually spins, and to greet customers with an exotic-wood compass rose inlaid in the floor near the entrance. Other nautical notes include plank wood flooring, a “welcome aboard” sign, and visibly marked latitude and longitude coordinates.

The store is adjacent to the Columbia River, and the canoe is a powerful symbol for Runyan, for several reasons. The river and access to the ocean created the city of Vancouver and still define both the city and the store. When not running the store, Runyan can be found crewing aboard motor yachts from Mexico to Canada, as a licensed Merchant Marine 100-ton captain.

Erik and Leslie also tracked down the magnificent early 20th century Queen Anne ball-and-leg jewelry cases that Erik’s dad had discovered in Butte, MT, on vacation and used in the family store in the 1980s. When the 1991 store was built, those cases didn’t fit the space or the motif, and so were donated to a museum, and when the museum closed, the cases were mothballed. “We got them back and found craftsmen to refurbish them,” Erik says. He had complementary cases hand-built for the middle of the store by a carpentry shop, creating a cohesive look.

The company’s original cash register and safe look comfortable, too, in a store loaded with digital accoutrements and laser welders.

Staff members Kelsey Price, left, and Conor McHale enjoy the natural light on a June afternoon.

The combination of well-made furnishings and the lofty atmosphere set clients at ease, including young engagement ring shoppers who bring new energy. “Bridal drives it. That’s the first purchase. Between bridal and estate, that’s how I’m making a living,” Runyan says. “We purposely built it to be a more casual environment and to interest the next generation. Having food and drink and a comfortable environment, social media and digital platforms are all important.”

Along with eschewing business attire, Erik and Leslie have improved the quality of life for themselves and their staff by closing on Sundays and Mondays. “We had been open six days a week for 101 years. So the routine I was used to was Monday to Friday, 10 to 5:30 and 10 to 3 on Saturday, but I couldn’t get happy with that here,” he says. So they began closing Sunday and Monday, and now are open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. “I’ve made a lot of decisions in 30 years or so, and that was the best choice at a personal level, a quality of life level. We really enjoy that. Being happy at the end of the day creates a better result, and Saturday has become an important day for us in the business.”

Erik’s great-grandfather, W.L., started the business from a watch bench in the bus depot in the early 1900s, where the Pacific Coast Highway stopped at the Columbia River for the ferry crossing. In 1917, Runyan’s Jewelers was born.

The store is fun for Leslie and me. It’s an absolute rejuvenation. With a new environment, it feels like I almost have a new job.

“My first memories of the family business are looking out the windows of our house to see my impeccably dressed grandparents, who were our neighbors, headed off to work,” Erik says. “The jewelry store seemed to be a magical place. The first generation used watch repair to sustain the store; the second, William, used business skills to create a viable modern jewelry company; the third, Steve, was a trained bench jeweler who focused on the shop. Now it’s my turn. As the fourth, I’ve focused on diamonds, custom work, and Internet marketing. Certainly W.L. Runyan could not have imagined his great-grandson introducing the family business to the world over the Internet.

“This new store, built using century-old techniques, is the culmination of four generations and 100 years, and has been relocated back to its original neighborhood, in conjunction with its 100-year anniversary.”

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Erik describes the business as a living piece of history ready to move into its second century of business.

“Embrace change,” he says. “People — and my customers are no exception — resist change. It has taken time getting them accustomed to finding us at 501 Main. My payoff comes when they walk in the front door ready to complain about their ‘cheese being moved,’ but then stand there at the front door and start to smile and then audibly sigh, saying, ‘OK, now I get it!’”

“The store is fun for Leslie and me,” he says. “It’s an absolute rejuvenation. With a new environment, it feels like I almost have a new job. It’s made a difference. Life’s gotten a little better.”

Judges’ Comments

Benjamin Guttery: They really embrace their history and surroundings. From the nautical compass inlaid in the floor when you walk in, to the custom canoe chandelier (that has a hashtag and campaign around it: #underthecanoe), you know you’re in the Pacific Northwest. Again, the theme of today’s “coolest big stores in North America” is think, act, and be local minded.

Elle Hill: Love it! This is a COOL store. The rustic warm wood, the canoe light fixture, the feel of this man and how he loves the water can all be felt from the website to the store interior to the marketing materials. This is the type of authenticity all retailers should strive for!

Michael Roman: I like the history behind the Queen Anne display cases and the ornamental compass rose. Creating a wine label to promote business is a nice tie-in to the wine events held within the store.

Bob Phibbs: I love the sense of place in this location with the canoe chandelier as well as the refurbishing of the fixtures. The out-of-the-box idea of the wine and opening it with shoppers as well as sending it home is very creative. The online is a great mix of education and product.

Mark Tapper: The canoe chandelier is just so cool and so connected with the nautical theme of the store and the community.

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5 COOL THINGS ABOUT ERIK RUNYAN JEWELERS

1 Under the canoe. It’s the store’s tagline. and event theme. The canoe symbol is also used in ERJ’s advertising and social media. Erik has designed a canoe-motif necklace, as well, which will be made in sterling silver as well as in gold.

2 Proprietary wine. A wine label is part of the ERJ branding plan. “It gives me great pleasure to open and share a bottle with a customer or send them home with some to enjoy later,” Runyan says. They also introduced Wine Wednesdays, when light appetizers and local seasonal wines are used to create a fun and casual environment, under the canoe.

3 Reinvented inventory. The inventory is a mix of bridal, diamonds, custom and estate. Beyond that, the Runyans look for jewelry that isn’t found anywhere else. “There’s something unique about it that drives me to want to buy it,” Runyan says. “Prior to 2008, we had zero estate jewelry. It was 2010 or 2011 that I started acknowledging that it existed and that helped tremendously. Fifty percent of sales were lost during the recession and we had to find a way to reinvent ourselves, other than just nurturing the bridal.”

4 A spirit of adventure. The Runyans’ roots in the community and spirit of adventure offer an authentic brand experience. Erik and Leslie’s three daughters, now adults, grew up boating and riding dirt bikes on weekends. Erik continues to regularly pursue both of those hobbies, providing him with material for storytelling in the store. His staff, too, has a gift for gab, he says, in the tradition of life aboard a ship.

5 The shadow. Rae is a German shepherd who follows Leslie around the store like a shadow — all day. While she likes about 80 percent of the people she meets, she will simply ignore the others. She takes her job seriously, though, and will lie in front of the entry door while the staff is setting up for the day. When it’s time for her compensation, she will sit and stare at the treat jar, conveniently placed at her eye level.

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