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Houston Jewelry Retailer Builds on a Family Legacy

Brad Marks reimagines the business with a store update.




Brad Marks

Brad Marks this spring is overseeing the first total reinvention of IW Marks in Houston, the store his parents, Irv and Diane Marks, founded in 1978. “One of the things I’ve learned growing up in the business is that if you don’t evolve, you’re not going to be around,” Brad says. “I think my dad would love the plans for the new store.” Working in jewelry was Brad’s career choice, second only to his pro-basketball aspirations. “When I was growing up, I thought I’d be in the NBA playing basketball, but when I got to high school I realized I was probably not going to be in the NBA. In high school, I would work Christmas time and during the summer, and I thought I could see myself doing this.” Brad took over the helm in 2008.

Q&A with Brad Marks

Brad Marks this spring is overseeing the first total reinvention of IW Marks in Houston, the store his parents, Irv and Diane Marks, founded in 1978. Prior to the store’s remodeling project, he conducted a clearance sale with the help of national store liquidator Wilkerson.

Brad and Joanna Marks are prominent philanthropists in the community. The couple is involved in multiple charities and organizations such as the annual Holiday Shopping Card benefiting the American Cancer Society, the Periwinkle Foundation, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Educational Scholarships, The Snow Drop Foundation, The Mission of Yahweh, the Houston Humane Society and Rice University athletic scholarships. Their dedication to serving the community has earned them multiple honors including being a five-time recipient of the Business Committee for the Arts, Inc., FORBES Magazine’s national Business in the Arts Award and the Jefferson Award for community service.

Brad Marks talked about the renovation in progress, as well as his early experiences in the business, working with his dad, in a recent interview with INSTORE’s Eileen McClelland.

Q. What are your early memories of the family business?

A. “When my parents opened the store I was about 6, my youngest son’s age now, and I would go to work with my dad. I would Windex cases for 10 cents a case. I used to love to come to the store with my dad. There used to be a cafeteria next to us and he would give me 5 bucks and I would go eat and bring him the change. It seems like yesterday that I was a little kid coming to work with my dad. My dad knew so many people and he was so very well respected. I enjoyed getting to spend time with him and learn from him and build relationships with clients and friends. I wanted to earn people’s respect on my own and not because I was IW’s son, but because I was Brad. I wanted to earn it on my own merits.

Q. What did you learn from your father?

A. “I learned a lot from my father, but when I was growing up I always thought I knew more than he did and that he was being mean to me. Then, later I could always call him and get his opinion on whatever it was. Now I can’t do that. That’s when I realized that when I thought he was being mean to me, he was teaching me, getting me ready for when he wasn’t around. I learned from my dad that you have to be honest and you have to evolve. Keep up with the trends and keep up with everything that goes into running a successful business.


Q. Has the store continued to grow in its original location?

A. It’s always been in the same spot for 44 years. We’ve expanded. The original store was 500 square feet. And then we expanded to about 2,500 and then to about 7,500 and then we went up to about 12,000. Three years ago, I downsized the store to about 7,500 square feet. That’s plenty of space. It’s not too big and it utilizes the space so well. I like the size of the store now. We can do everything we need to do.

Q. Why was the time right to redesign the store?

A. We parted ways with Rolex and that left a lot of space that we had to do something with. I thought maybe I’ll just repurpose the cases and move things around and redo the floor. But then I thought, why would I do that? Let’s just do everything right now.


Q. Why did you part ways with Rolex?

A. It’s a business decision. Rolex demand is as big as it’s ever been, but they can only make so many watches. Outlets are dwindling in order to make sure stores have the right amount of product.

Q. What were you looking for in your total remodel?

A. The way the jewelry industry is, with the typical store you have your case line and your salesperson is behind the case, which implies the salesperson has all the power. I don’t want that anymore. I want someone to come in and feel comfortable. As we build a relationship with customers they really become friends. We want to change the way business is done and have a level playing field.

This is the first real reinvention. We’ve had the same cases, we’ve redone and recovered them and changed color schemes. This involves knocking walls down, all brand new cases, new lighting. With LEDs now you can get a much brighter store. We still have track lighting, which has been out of style for 10, 15 years. It’s about time we brighten up the store, and create more of a fun atmosphere. I also wanted a private viewing room. Some people just want privacy. I met with Identity Architect and the design was all theirs but it was exactly what I was wanting.

Q. How was the clearance sale partnership with Wilkerson a learning experience?

A. After this is all done Wilkerson is going to make us better salespeople. Our salespeople were able to watch Wilkerson demonstrate the right way to connect with the customer. How, when somebody walks in, introducing yourself and breaking down that awkward first meeting. Just being able to connect with the customer, find out what they want and help guide them to the purchase. Each of my sales people is different and something that works for one of them, may not work for another one. You take all of the things that you learn, become a sponge and you take what works for you.


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When There’s No Succession Plan, Call Wilkerson

Bob Wesley, owner of Robert C. Wesley Jewelers in Scottsdale, Ariz., was a third-generation jeweler. When it was time to enjoy life on the other side of the counter, he weighed his options. His lease was nearing renewal time and with no succession plan, he decided it was time to call Wilkerson. There was plenty of inventory to sell and at first, says Wesley, he thought he might try to manage a sale himself. But he’s glad he didn’t. “There’s no way I could have done this as well as Wilkerson,” he says. Wilkerson took responsibility for the entire event, with every detail — from advertising to accounting — done, dusted and managed by the Wilkerson team. “It’s the complete package,” he says of the Wilkerson method of helping jewelers to easily go on to the next phase of their lives. “There’s no way any retailer can duplicate what they’ve done.”

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