Family-owned jewelry stores promote a personal touch in the struggle for survival

When Morris Green began selling quality jewelry from a cart on the streets of Waterbury, Connecticut in 1898, he couldn’t have imagined that more than 120 years later his business would be one of the oldest family-owned jewelry stores. the United States. Today, its five sites on the east coast are overseen by the fourth generation of Greens.

This thriving family business is one of many competing with jewelry chains with thousands of stores. Signet Jewelers ranked first in 2020 in National Jeweler magazine’s State of the Majors report on the top 50 sellers at $ 100 million. It recorded 2019 jewelry and watch sales of $ 5.6 billion in 2,757 locations, according to the report. Retail giant Walmart ranked second with $ 2.7 billion in watch and jewelry sales from 7,632 outlets, while online leviathan Amazon, fifth, recorded sales of $ 1.6 billion, up 21% year on year.

John Green, President and CEO of Lux Bond & Green, explains the strengths of family retailers: “Great people are no secret, but the best ingredient for success. Being part of the community is also vital. . . because networking opportunities are very important.

The family touch Lux Bond & Green is an attraction for New Yorkers to travel the 100 km to Hartford to buy jewelry costing between $ 20,000 and $ 2 million. “Certainly, Walmart had more people to help with its digital and online presence, but listening to our customers and having feedback from our stores and our staff gives us an advantage,” says Green. “Buying the way customers want, with in-store, online, sidewalk pickup, by appointment both in-store and virtually, is a benefit of family businesses. “

Ben Bridge is a long-standing family business on the State of the Majors list. The Seattle-based jeweler ranked 24th and generated $ 301 million in 2019 watch and jewelry sales across 95 locations.

“My great-uncle had a plaque that summed up our philosophy: ‘Service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy on earth.’ The level of true involvement and contribution comes from the community bond, ”says Lisa Bridge, who belongs to the fifth generation of this family jeweler founded in 1912, and his first woman president. Ben Bridge is now a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway but is still run by the family.

Ben Bridge, pictured in his Seattle jewelry store circa 1928

“My dad always said his biggest upbringing was going to lunch every day with his dad,” Bridge adds. “So when I came to work in the company, I too had a daily lunch and an education. For years our desks shared a wall, and I smiled whenever I heard her keys land on her desk in the morning.

Zadok Jewelers in Houston was founded in 1976. Its transactions range from a few hundred dollars to several million, according to its partner Jonathan Zadok. “We are seventh generation jewelers with two active generations in the family business – my parents and their three children,” he says. “We also have my two sisters-in-law who work in the marketing department. It’s hard to attend a family dinner or an event outside of work without discussing business.

But resources are often limited. “It’s getting harder and harder to compete as an independent jeweler in the United States,” Zadok says. “We don’t have economies of scale when it comes to administrative and support staff, including marketing and purchasing teams. “

The Zadok family © Scott Ross Productions

There are more challenges in everyday life. “You can’t all go on vacation at the same time. Someone always has to take care of the store, ”says Lauren Kulchinsky Levison, curator of collections at Mayfair Rocks in the Hamptons, Long Island. “Weddings – I mean we have to close. “

There are a few advantages. “Large chain stores cannot replicate the family atmosphere of an independent jeweler,” says Zadok. “They usually don’t know the product as much and have a constantly rotating staff. “

Families must also ensure that its members are able to make the business successful. “Communication and clear roles and responsibilities are essential,” says Andrew Mitchell-Namdar, marketing manager at Mitchells, another clothing and jewelry company in Connecticut. “We have a family council and an outside advisor. Succession planning takes years to successfully orchestrate and it’s important to start early.

“We also have a strict policy regarding entry into the family business: five years of outside experience, a college degree, an open ‘real’ position and reporting to someone other than a Member of the family. A job here is not a family birthright.

Even so, longevity is a concern for family businesses. Zadok has experienced numerous closures. “Some don’t have a succession plan or are kicked out of their space because the rent becomes unaffordable,” he says.

Sid Potts, owner of the eponymous jeweler in Shreveport, Louisiana, believes small retailers offer a sustainable business model. “Not everyone wants to buy online. Fortunately, we’re in an industry where people always want to touch, smell and see before they buy, ”he says.

Kulchinsky Levison, however, is betting on the next generation. “Years and years ago, the mom-and-pop jeweler survived the Christmas season,” she says. “Now it is self-purchasing and all luxury is in competition with luxury. “

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