Now that the pandemic largely is the rear-view mirror, store owners nearing the end of their careers have pivoted back to contemplating jewelry retailing’s notoriously tricky final act: retirement and/or succession.
The Zing Report talked to several jewelry retailers who’ve gone through—or are currently going through—such transitions, to get an understanding of how family-owned retailers are handling hand-offs and closings.
Slow & Steady Succession
Celebrated jewelry designer and retailer Jorge Adeler, the Argentina-born owner of Adeler Jewelers in Great Falls, Va., and his two daughters, Valentina and Wendy Adeler, have been moving toward a soft handoff of the business for years.
Jorge built the 47-year-old store into what it is today, a customer service-oriented shop specializing in bespoke jewelry. Now, focusing on his eponymous brand, which is sold at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, Adeler is handing over the reins to daughters Valentina and Wendy Adeler. Valentina is taking over jewelry design while Wendy is focusing on marketing and advertising.
Valentina, who’s a Gemological Institute of America-trained gemologist, said a big part of her transition into leadership has been learning to develop her own design style. She recommends learning all you can from your parents, but also respecting the differences between you (the future owner) and them. Valentina works in 18k gold, platinum, and colored stones to create jewelry inspired by organic nature. “I’ve learned a lot from [my father], but I’ve also learned to step into my own shoes, and not necessarily do what he has always done,” she says.
Jim Adair, former owner of Adair Jewelers in Missoula, Mont., decided to get out of the business outright in 2020. He operated the store for 40 years before he ran a retirement sale two years ago and a going-out-business sale this year. He partnered with sale specialists Wilkerson & Associates to conduct the sales and, although the retirement sale was good, the going-out-of-business sale was even better. “All I would say to anybody is do whatever you need to do between now and Christmas to get as liquid as possible,” he said, noting the “worst thing” he sees colleagues do is sell businesses to children, saddling them with debt in the form of inventory.
“The economy is tightening, and people have to eat and buy fuel; they don’t have to buy jewelry,” he says. “Get rid of your inventory and fade off into the sunset!”
For Torin Bales, retirement was fulfilling a promise. “I told my wife I’d retire at 55,” said the former owner of Torin Bales Fine Jewelry, which has one location in Victoria, Texas. His two daughters, who are 29 years old and 26-years-old, had no interest in taking over the business, so Bales did just that.
But that meant five years of gearing up for the ultimate event, a going-out-of-business sale scheduled over an elongated timeline centered on the holidays: Nov. 15 to Feb. 15. “It was such a scary thing to do,” he recalls. “It’s easy to walk away from something that’s not doing well, but when you’re leaving on top, it becomes not fun.” In the end, it turned out to be one of the best decisions Bales has made. He now spends his time acquiring and rehabbing old buildings and leasing them out. “I enjoy the hunt,” he said. “I got burnt out in the store.”
Bringing Outside Experience
Troy Underwood of Underwood Fine Jewelers in Fayetteville, Ark., was all of 23 years old when he first broached the topic of getting into the family business with his father, Craig. As Troy’s grandfather taught his father, the prerequisite was to attend GIA, graduate from a jewelry design program, and then work in an outside firm.
Michaels Fine Jewelers in Baton Rouge, La., gave him the opportunity and he ended up training there for two years. Now vice president of Underwood, Troy is grateful for the outside world experience. “Without a doubt, being able to work and learn best practices at an outside business broadens your horizons,” he said. “I would highly recommend it.”
Roger Gesswein III, market development manager at Bridgeport, Conn.-based jewelry tools, supplies and equipment purveyor Gesswein, was also required to work elsewhere before joining the family business. He learned from his parents that it’s just not enough to sinply absorb your parents’ knowledge via proximity and parent-child talks. “You have to add value to the business,” he says. “You want fresh ideas, and you have to have passion and understand the whole business.” For Gesswein, that meant completing an MBA at UCLA Anderson and working multiple jobs in sales, the warehouse—anything to get a better a handle on how successful businesses function.
An Employee-Centric Approach
Joe Corey, president of Day’s Jewelers with eight stores in Maine and New Hampshire, is helping to phase his parents out of the business and into retirement. After the holiday season, the business was sold into an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). “The thought of selling was not appealing to us,” Corey said. “We built such a culture, so the idea was really appetizing to give back to employees.”
He’s gearing up to bring on new hires to make the transition easier for everyone. So far, “Things are going great. It’s a change that must happen. Business continues to be strong for us, but new faces will really put us in a good position.” Corey’s parents will continue to sit on the board. He recommends putting “a solid plan together and mapping out a timeframe” because, “You just can’t do it overnight.” —Kristin Young