While multi generational family businesses are not uncommon in the jewelry industry, it is exceptional to find one today with three generations working side-by-side like Hoover & Strong.
In business for 109 years, Hoover & Strong is the leading precious metals manufacturer of environmentally and socially responsible jewelry products made in America. Hoover & Strong also offers contract casting, diamond setting, assembly, finishing and eco-friendly refining services.
George Hoover, CEO and third generation of this fifth generational family business, started with the company 70 years ago as a factory apprentice, working his way through the ranks to become company president in 1970.
At age 91, George still works in the office, but only four days a week now. As “a mechanical guy,” he says the multi-faceted nature of the business keeps things interesting, as there are so many different aspects to jewelry production, milling and refining.
George became CEO in 2001, when his son Torrance (Torry) took the helm as president. Today, two of Torry’s children work for the company, son Torrance Jr. (T.D.) is refining manager and daughter Danforth (Dani) Cutler is customer service and marketing manager.
Work Harder, Be Smarter
All three generations say that working in the family business was not expected of them, rather something they were interested in doing. But what is expected of family who join the company, says Torry, is to work harder and to be smarter.
Among the prerequisites, family members must have work experience outside of the family business, and in order to rise above mid-level management, must earn a master’s degree, tells Torry of the company’s family contract.
“George has made it clear, and I’ve passed it on that this is a business, and we also are a family, but don’t confuse the two,” says Torry. “If George did not feel I could manage the business he would not have entrusted me with the job.” Torry, a 40-year company veteran, quips that H&S has “rather long apprenticeships.”
There’s no pass go and straight to management for family members at Hoover & Strong, who must start at the entry-level. For George, his first job was cleaning the basement and tending to refinery and milling equipment kept there. Torry, who joined the business in 1981 in the sales and marketing department, while attending night school, was initially tasked with cleaning neglected storage rooms in the attic. T.D. and Dani painted and worked the foot presses in the factory and fielded customer calls.
In fact, Dani was still working the foot presses six month after earning her undergraduate degree in 2010, and finally went to Torry to say she wanted to start using her skills to offer more to the company, to which he replied, “I was just waiting for you to ask.” She moved to the office and began working on the company’s website and marketing, which helped her decide what her master’s would be, brand management, which she earned in 2014. She received her current title at Hoover & Strong in 2018.
The company is bullish on training its entire team – from key management leaders to the factory floor – to be jewelry experts proficient in the more than 30,000 products, technical specifications and jewelry techniques Hoover & Strong offer, which are among the most prolific in the trade.
Being around family is a joy for George, especially sharing lunch together. “We get along great,” he says, teasing that “sometimes we swear, but we patch things up quick.” Torry says the family has “spirited debates for the best ideas,”
Running a family business is a team effort, with all hands on deck when and where needed, as Torry tells of his wife Jill working in the factory since October making earrings to help keep up with demand. “It has been our busiest year in history. We’ve been working late nights and weekends to keep up with orders.”
It’s unknown if this will happen again like this, says Torry, who attributes the extra money in the economy and postponed travel and entertainment freeing up discretionary dollars being spent on jewelry.
There are fewer American jewelry manufacturers, says Torry, noting that Hoover & Strong has benefited as one of the last bridal findings makers in the country, after making several major acquisitions – Baker Fendt, one of the largest ring findings manufacturers in the country, in 1991, adding die-struck findings and a custom casting and finishing division to the company; Keystone Findings in 2009; and Stonewall Silver Company and Performance Contracting in 2011.
With supply chain challenges, particularly internationally, U.S. jewelers appreciate American-made products says Torry, noting that in 2021 orders more than doubled. This has impacted delivery times, which are also affected by carriers experiencing a labor shortage to handle the demand. Improving delivery is a company priority for 2022.
Investing in Better
A philosophy of sustainability has been at the core of Hoover & Strong since Jay Hoover and Harry Strong founded the company in Buffalo, New York in 1912. The original venture was the recovery of platinum from industrial light bulbs, refining the metal and selling it to local platinumsmiths.
Harry stayed with the company for only three years, as business could not sustain both partners. With money invested in the sign and stationery, the name remained. As supply of industrial scrap metal diminished, the company began purchasing platinum and eventually scrap gold jewelry.
Jay’s son Dudley joined the firm in 1927, and together they developed repair products like sizing, half-round, square and flat wire, as many small repair shops sprang up in jewelry store backrooms nationwide. As jewelry manufacturers moved from Buffalo in the 1930s, Hoover & Strong followed their customers by establishing a mail order business. Dudley became president in 1947 when Jay passed, but just five years later suddenly died, and his widow Marie took the helm.
Nearly a decade after George became president, following the blizzard of 1977, he relocated the company to Chesterfield, Virginia in 1979. Seeking room to grow the company, George considered three locations – Atlanta, Georgia, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia. Stuck in Atlanta traffic on the way to see an industrial site knocked that choice off the list for George, and a plus for Richmond was that his wife had a cousin who lived there. The company celebrated 40 years in Richmond in 2019, with over 100 employees.
Sustainability is Future
Hoover & Strong has grown through the years by responding to what its customers want. Its greatest growth experienced has been since 2008 when the company launched its Harmony line of responsibly sourced diamonds and gems and 100 percent recycled metals.
Since then, Hoover & Strong has been certified by SCS Global Services for its recycled metal content in 2009. In 2011, it became a LEAN manufacturing company, and in 2012 it received the Responsible Source Certification from SCS Global Services for its green refinery. In 2017, it launched Harmony Made lab-grown diamonds, which have been a bestseller.
A supporter for artisanal miners, Hoover & Strong intends to make the advocacy of Fairmined Gold a priority for the company in 2022. In 2013, the company partnered with the Ethical Metalsmiths to bring Fairmined Gold to the U.S. market. In 2014, it added a select group of mill products made from artisanal-mined metals from Fairmined certified mines in Colombia and Peru. But there have been supply issues to overcome to bring the product to market.
“We plan to reintroduce Fairmined Gold in 2022 and do some coop advertising and get this thing going,” says Torry. “We believe that a rising tide floats all boats and we need the whole industry to help promote Fairmined.”
The reason Hoover & Strong and George have endured, says Torry, is because both have changed and adapted with the times. “George may type his responses all in CAPS, but he uses a computer, iPhone and iPad.”
George, who takes the time to talk with everyone, making all feel special, says he can’t wait to see what’s next, and has no intention of retiring any time soon.