Connect with us

Get Inspired

IJO’s Penny Palmer Reflects on 30 Years

“I feel so loved. How many people go to work and have that feeling?”




Penny Palmer

Penny Palmer celebrates her 30th anniversary with the Independent Jewelers Organization this year, while the group itself is celebrating 50 years. Hired as a receptionist in 1992, Palmer was quickly promoted to meeting planner, and by 1998 was named director of member services. Before IJO, she had tried her hand at everything from property management to running an airport limousine service. But IJO, she says, is where she found her niche and her extended family, and where she still feels right at home.

Q&A with Penny Palmer

Q. What makes members successful?

A. No. 1, they aren’t working “out there” all alone. They have the resources of the membership, plus IJO. We have so many programs to increase their sales and, more importantly, increase their profits. I’m planning a seminar this summer with members sharing their success stories; I call them my poster children.

Q. To what do you attribute the individual success of IJO members?

A. It’s from the networking, the programs that we offer. It’s so many different ways that we help our members and it’s here for the taking. People may think they are too busy to come to a show, but if you come to a show and get one good idea it’s worth it.

When they join IJO and hit $2 million after having been at half a million they are operating a different business. You can’t do it the same way. People come to the business college, which turns their whole business around. It’s an intense evaluation that we offer for free to our members.

Q. What’s the difference between IJO and other groups?

A. The simple answer is, it’s not just about the buying. We began 50 years ago as a buying group. We’ve evolved and help our members work smarter, because the smarter they are, the more money they’re going to make. Many have told me if it hadn’t been for IJO they would no longer be in business. And they’re thriving. Others have said I’m going to retire because I’m getting tired but I’m at a point where I am able to retire comfortably because of IJO. If it had not been for IJO, they would not have had the luxury of making that decision.


Q. What are some of the changes in the jewelry industry that have made the biggest impression on you?

A. The product has changed with the times. Gold got so high and you ended up with some high end silver designers. That was kind of unheard of back in the day. Now with lab grown diamonds, that’s a whole new thing.

Q. What are your current challenges?

A. It’s been a very interesting evolution in this business. One of the things that matters to me is loyalty. We knock ourselves out to help our members and they might not remain loyal. They may be looking for a rebate or buying from another organization. We give a lot back to our members. Air travel, hotel, really nice perks. It saddens me when I see a lack of loyalty in people. But we have a core group of members who are so loyal and so supportive. We’ve weeded out a lot of the users and we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. We’re doing more in sales with slightly fewer members. We do give back an awful lot to them. I’m very proud of what we do.

Q. What’s it been like to see the transition of family businesses from one generation to the next?

A. That’s very interesting. We started a next-gen program and are trying to get them involved and feel like they’re part of this. So many young people don’t want to go into retail, it’s a hard business. We allow children and babies to go into the shows and the buying room. We have kids who grew up in IJO bringing their children and grandchildren. But maybe the son takes over and says `What do I need that [IJO] for’ and that breaks my heart, when they drop out. It certainly is a challenge, I have to sell the program all over again. We do have a huge next gen group that comes to our shows, though.

Q. What did you do before you came to IJO?

A. I’m 74 years old. When I went to college I went for nursing and after my first year in college, I got pregnant and gave the baby up for adoption. I didn’t go back to school. (I later found my son when he was 22.)

I used to work for dentists, I worked for an OB-GYN. When I got married the second time we owned several rental properties, with a total of 132 units. But when I got divorced in 1989, I lost everything; my job was tied in with him. I started catering, teaching an art program, started doing wallpapering and painting, I started an airport limousine service.

I started in IJO in the summer of 1992 and I was hired as a receptionist, then promoted to meeting planner. In 1998 I was put in this position and I’ve stayed.

Q. Tell us about your family.

A. My two boys that I raised, Brian and Ross, started helping at IJO when they were 11 and 13. They would stuff packets before shows; I brought them to Antwerp. Ross got a job with IJO for a while, then started the company Punchmark. He and Brian own Punchmark and they’re IJO exhibitors. Everybody knew them and they knew everybody. It helped them get a great start in the jewelry industry.

Everybody asks me, `When are you going to sell your house and move to Charlotte and be with the kids?’ I’m not ready to do that. And I love where I live in Old Greenwich, CT. My ancestors, the Palmers, settled here in the 1630s. This little tiny state the size of a postage stamp is home, it truly is.


Q. What would you say is your most memorable IJO experience?

A. I got to spend a week in Antwerp on the Antwerp Diamond Buying trip with our members, once a year for 28 years till COVID hit. We have members who have gone twice a year for 40 years. I’ve been privileged to take the jewelers to Prague, to South Africa, to Budapest. In October 2019 I took a group to Normandy. It truly is a privilege that I get to share this with members.

Q. I’ve heard you have an interest in theater? Do you have other hobbies?

A. I see at least 25 plays a year. I subscribe to three theaters in Connecticut and I go to New York for theater. That is something I missed so much [during COVID shutdowns]. I’ve seen 18 plays since December of 2020. I adore theater, and That’s what really really brings me the joy, that and seeing my children and my eight grandchildren. I also love going to visit historic homes and museums. I taught a program based at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ll take friends and IJO members on a tour of the Met. I garden. I read every day.



Moving Up — Not Out — with Wilkerson

Trish Parks has always wanted to be in the jewelry business and that passion has fueled her success. The original Corinth Jewelers opened in the Mississippi town of the same name in 2007. This year, Parks moved her business from its original strip mall location to a 10,000-square foot standalone store. To make room for fresh, new merchandise, she asked Wilkerson to organize a moving sale. “What I remember most about the sale is the outpouring excitement and appreciation from our customers,” says Parks. Would she recommend Wilkerson to other jewelers? “I would recommend Wilkerson because they came in, did what they were supposed to and made us all comfortable. And we met our goals.”

Promoted Headlines

Most Popular