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How is your store planning for succession?

With retirement on the horizon, two family-owned retailers contemplate the next generation’s role in the business.
Oct 3, 2019 7:00 AM   By Phyllis Schiller
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I’m 90 years old; I’ve been working here at the store for more than 70 years. I only work six days a week. I haven’t formally planned for succession. But my two sons are going to take over the business; they own three-fourths of the store now. I’m a minority stockholder. We discuss what’s happening with the store and plans for what comes next.

“We are changing the mix of what we carry. We’re basically going to phase out of watches; we may carry two lines rather than the six or seven we previously have stocked. And we’ve grown in the diamond and precious-stone markets.

“Our town is seeing dramatic growth. The downtown area where we are located has several new high-rises, and a Target is coming soon. And while I think that will all help business, the plight of an independent store is difficult. I did try to talk my sons into selling the store two years ago and again this year. But they want to keep going.

“If someone else other than my sons took over the store, I would hope it would be an independent and not a chain store. The store’s reputation is built on personal contact with customers, and I just don’t think chain stores can have as great a relationship as we have. Having a family business is a definite advantage. One of our advertising slogans is that one of the owners is always in the store. And people come in and say, ‘I just love that. I know that I can come into the store and one of you is going to be here.’

“We never have a day where one of us isn’t here. So customers can talk to us; if they have a problem, we don’t have to call a corporate office to see what we can do for them. We bend over backwards to make people happy.

My father, Harold, is semiretired. In terms of succession planning, we made a decision to change our business model after we held a retirement sale for him. We realized that we have such a great business and such a great following, why would we want to give it up?

“We changed our operation to be more along the lines of an appointment-based private jeweler, more salon-style, open weekdays from Tuesday through Friday. We’ve gone away from what we call a traditional jewelry store. We closed the old store, and in February of this year, we moved into the 15th floor of a high-rise downtown. It has been a great decision.

“Our inventory has come down considerably, yet we still have too much. We have more people asking about lab-grown diamonds. While we try to stay politically neutral about whether clients should choose them, I would certainly recommend a natural diamond as a first choice.

“We give clients a highly personalized experience. And it seems like our clients are thrilled with our new space; some have even said they much prefer it to our old location. The only form of marketing we are running is a strategic email campaign that nurtures clients, with new industry topics blended with product promotions. We are fortunate to have a great organic search presence on Google, and this has really helped with getting new clients in our door.

“I don’t believe we would sell the business to anyone else. There’s no way it could work with the personalized relationships we’ve cultivated with clients. I think the only way someone would buy it would be to buy out the inventory. And we’ve never entertained that idea.
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