Last updateThu, 17 May 2018 7am

Bill Spencer talks jewelry, family and the secret to a successful 3rd generation family business


Seventy three years and three generations is a long time to operate a jewelry store. Especially when, according to a Jewelers Board of Trade statistic, over 1,500 jewelry business owners ceased operating in 2016. Yes, that includes wholesalers, manufacturers and Canadian businesses, but surviving in today’s retail environment where competition is both around the corner and around the world pits independent jewelers against almost insurmountable odds. 

Spencer family MarchBut Bill Spencer, second generation owner of Spencer’s Jewelers in Athens, Georgia, sticks to his father’s decades-old business approach: “Quality is your best value.” He, like his dad, believes in the basics of business, including providing good service and high quality products at a fair price. Call it simple, even old-fashioned, but Bill knows word of mouth advertising is the best there is and, like his dad, he wants every customer to tell their friends about the positive experience they’ve had in his store.

And there’s no denying his approach works. Spencer’s proudly welcomes 3rd generation customers whose grandparents tell stories of buying jewelry from Jewel (yes, you read that right) and Eva Spencer, founders of the store back in 1944. The two met while working at Fickett’s Jewelry Store in Athens, GA in the early 1940s. He was a war veteran hired to manage the store where she worked. The two bought the store from the original owners and opened their own store in 1944 as business partners and subsequently married in 1949.

Like so many multi-generation business families, Bill grew up in the store, dressed in his best coat and tie helping customers. At age eight he may have needed help calculating sales tax, but he was never told he was too young to work in the store. In fact, he remembers making the two-block walk to the local post office carrying merchandise to ship out, something unheard of today.

Today his son and daughter have joined the business. Chris and his dog Champ, now the store mascot, help manage the day-to-day business alongside Bill’s daughter, Kim, who designs jewelry.

“Having this third generation helping to run the business brings a new flavor to our store,” explains Bill. “Chris brought Champ to work a few times and now people stop in just to see him. And Kim’s designs were different than any other line we carried, yet it sells well and customers love it. I’m proud to work alongside my children and my wife and make a living with my family.”

Looking back on his four decades in the business Bill makes note of an important shift: “Today, more than ever, you can’t pressure a customer when they walk in the door. We educate our customers, especially when they’re shopping price. They often don’t realize what they’re looking at in our case is not the same as what they found on the web. That’s the sticky wicket. We want to make sure they’re comparing apples to apples. Customers, in general, are loyal, but I’m not sure that customer loyalty is as strong as it used to be.”

Bill’s right. Customer loyalty is shifting sand, especially when your store is only a few miles from the famed arches of the University of Georgia. College towns are transient communities, and yet Spencer’s continues to succeed in spite of the revolving student and faculty population by serving the Greek community and the student body, many of whom come back to purchase engagement rings from him.

Spencer dogs March

Perhaps Spencer’s possesses that unique ability to make every customer feel special. “Whether it’s a former local celebrity like Mrs. Kenny Rogers, a family friend, or a UGA graduate who’s come back to make a purchase, we want to make every customer feel special, even the ones who graduated from Georgia Tech.”

Leading the Georgia Jewelers Association

Currently Bill Spencer, is serving as the president of the Georgia Jewelers Association (GJA); a state professional jewelers organization that promotes the jewelry industry through continuing education and the practice of  high ethical standards. This non-profit organization promotes and protects the welfare of retail jewelers across the state making their collective efforts reap greater benefits than could be achieved individually. Their upcoming annual convention, co-hosted with the Alabama Jewelers Association, is scheduled for March 31 – April 2 at the Marriott Grand National Resort in Opelika, Alabama.

Judy Lince, GJA executive director, remarks on Bill’s contribution to GJA saying: “Bill has worked hard to ensure the vitality of GJA not only promoting a reception at the Belgium government’s consulate in Atlanta, but also encouraging participation in the Antwerp World Diamond Center (AWDC) inaugural trip to Belgium in September. He has also visited retail stores inviting them to join GIA, as well as spearheading phone drives reaching out to current members. All of that while he’s busy helping coordinate plans for our annual convention.”

GJA also advocates for the highest ethical standards for all members and promotes professional business practices. For more information about GJA, including membership information, please visit georgiajewelers.org or call 770-367-2809.