Independent jewelers have much to offer their customers and their employees: experience, knowledge and know-how. But wisdom gained through personal challenges may be their greatest gift, and their younger colleagues may benefit most.
Just ask Ben Adams, a 49 year jewelry veteran, what it takes to be successful and the door into extreme highs and lows opens to reveal a man with great business savvy and tremendous tenacity. His is more than just a good story, it’s an opportunity to learn from one of the best.
An Early Start
While still in high school in New Orleans, Ben Adams started helping out at a local jewelry store after school. When he moved to Texas he carried that knowledge with him taking a job with Sweeney Jewelers in Houston, Texas. Eventually this led him to own and operate the jewelry department at a local Texas department store called Frost Bros.
Over the next 20 years Adams grew his leased business from one to four stores and his success was obvious. Content to continue down this path, Adams could see himself retiring with 14 store Frost Bros., but fate had a different plan.
For more than five years Frost Bros. battled financially hard times, and, when the big oil bust occurred, the company finally sold the troubled business in 1987.
Ben not only found himself without a retail space, but he was forced to sell his inventory just to pay the bank.
“I had a choice, give it up or find a way to keep going,” recalls Adams, “and it was difficult to start over from scratch at the age of 50, but I asked God, my children and my friends for help, and I got it. I went to my New York suppliers and told them that I had no money and no inventory and they supported me, no questions asked.”
Working out of his house with just a few cases, Adams started over with the help of his oldest son and a few people from Frost Bros. sales staff. The first four months of the new Ben Adams Precious Jewels opening were successful. With momentum on his side he found a vacant china and crystal shop to renovate and soon he had his new location in San Antonio.
What he did next catapulted his business beyond what he thought possible. He implemented an extraordinary marketing and public relations campaign which not only helped him reach younger consumers, but let the city of 1 million know about his new store location.
All of Adams’ hard work paid off with his grand opening event grossing more than $100,000 in sales in a single night and his marketing campaign winning a 1990 SAMI (San Antonio Marketing Innovations) award.
So successful was the re-launch of his business that a year later he opened a second store specializing in estate jewelry.
Today Adams has expanded his original space to incorporate the vintage jewelry inventory in the main store and has added staff, including his three sons.
“Each one has their specialty,” explains Adams. “Randy, the oldest, is my buyer and handles operations. My middle son, Scott, is the comptroller and handles inventory, and my youngest, Brad, has an eye for design.”
|Original designs from Ben Adams.|
But don’t think Adams opened the jewelry store doors to the boys the moment they turned 18. Although each one asked to join the business, Adams knew the value of hard work and wanted his sons to know it as well.
“Each one asked to come work with me, and I told them no. They needed to learn how to punch a clock and experience what it was like to work for someone else. I knew if they’d started with me it would be easier to find excuses to leave early or come in late, so I kept my word and made them work somewhere else for at least a year or two before they could work for me.”
Indeed, each boy (now grown men) did a myriad of different jobs, from selling copiers to construction, as they experienced life outside of the family business. Two even found jobs in the industry working with retailers in other cities.
Eventually, all of them made their way back and, today, the three sons and their dad argue some, cry a little and hug a lot as they continue growing their family-owned business together.
“I have 11 grandchildren now and I’ll be moving out of the way soon. I tell them, ‘This is yours to lose because I can only take it so far.’”
|Original designs from Ben Adams.|
Keeping a small business afloat is tough enough, but keeping the family in a ‘family’ business together is nearly impossible, but not for Ben Adams. When it comes to nearly impossible the Texas jeweler has done it all.