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LeRoy Jewelers

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TACOMA, WA

font-family : Verdana, Geneva, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;font-size : 15px;color: #333333;font-weight : bold;50% IN 1 YEAR

SOMETIME IN THE late ’60s, a group of suppliers’ reps huddled in a downtown Tacoma hotel room to lay bets on which store would be the next to fall.  

Of the 12 jewelers that had plied their trade along the nearby Broadway strip at the start of the decade, just six remained. It was only a matter of time, they figured, until ?that dame,? Hazel Farber, at LeRoy Jewelers was forced to close too, another victim of the new Tacoma Mall and a recent city ordinance that had banned all vehicle traffic from the downtown area. 

But over the next 30 years, Farber made sure none of the salesmen would collect on their bets, even as all the other retailers on her block folded or fled for the suburbs. She worked tirelessly to build up and maintain customer relationships, getting involved in community affairs and networking. ?She outlasted them all,? recalls Phyllis Harrison, Farber’s daughter-in-law. 

Two years ago, after six decades of keeping LeRoy’s afloat, Farber finally called it a day, handing control of a sound but very tired traditional jewelry business to her son, Steph. 

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The younger Farber was aware things had to change and he quickly set about making the business more of a team operation as well as one that better reflected its market’s changing demographics. Tacoma was no longer simply a town of longshoreman and lumber workers. A mixed crowd of urbane empty nesters and young artistic types fleeing Seattle’s booming real estate prices was moving in downtown.  

At about the same time, JayRay, a local ad agency, convinced the store to rebrand with an edgier image that reflected its one-of-a-kind designs and ?destination store? status. In sometimes racy billboards and newspaper ads LeRoy’s turned heads, and caused a little outrage. The local transit service refused to run one ad for earrings that provocatively asked, ?Tired of men staring at your breasts?? 

?We had about 14 complaints, including one woman who said ?you’ve stolen the innocence of my children,’? says Steph Farber.  
Steph Farber and Harrison also made a host of other changes, including: 

Refocusing on custom work, which now accounts for more than a third of sales;  

Running more event-based marketing activities, the most successful of which are Gemstone Roundtables, after-hours events in which a dozen or so potential customers are brought together with a visiting gemstone carver or dealer and LeRoy staff to pore over colored stones and discuss design ideas. ?Husbands who for years failed to find the right gift for their wives, love us for it,? says Steph Farber;  

Replacing a traditional giftware section with a contemporary craft gallery; 

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Getting involved in the arts community via auctions, program ads and sponsorships; 

Empowering staff to work more with customers on design, and to support the store’s relaxed, fun ethos. ?We’re not one of those stores that immediately seeks to vacuum the wallets of every customer who comes in the door. We get them a cup of coffee, let them handle the merchandise, … and then we vacuum their wallets,? jokes Farber. 

Bringing in Digital Goldsmith software, which allows clients to see what the finished product will look like, and the store to e-mail high-resolution images to distant clients. No longer do gold-buying customers complain of wax models: ?But this is green!? 

The turnaround took hard work, with Farber and Harrison regularly putting in 60-70 hours a week . But in the last year, the returns have begun to flow. After 66 years of battling to survive, LeRoy Jewelers is doing better than ever. Sales, in the ?mid six figures? in 2005, are up 50 per cent in the last year and a potentially bumper holiday season awaits.

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