Third time is a charm. In the multi-generational business of retail jewelry perhaps the old saying could be changed to “third generation is a charm.” As the owner of Swansea, Illinois-based Reiniger Jewelers, Paul Reiniger has made tremendous strides to expand the century-plus family business since taking the helm in 1993.
Since his father retired in the early 1990s, Paul has made many prudent business decisions to grow the business. Recently huge changes have happened in a very compressed time frame. Paul, his family and their staff weathered the perfect storm of change when going from two locations to four stores in less than a six month period.
Of course these enormous business expansion opportunities presented themselves during the busiest time of the year. And, it’s worth mentioning that Paul added two stores while the nation was coming out of a global pandemic and heading into historic inflation levels. But Paul is used to overcoming challenges and adversity.
“Over the 30-plus years that I have run the business so many things have changed and evolved,” says Paul. “I re-established retail locations, rebuilt inventory levels, survived 9-11, the rise of the gold market, COVID and so much more.”
Throughout Reiniger’s 104-year history the family business has dealt well with change and adversity. Paul’s grandfather partnered with Harry Lieberstein in 1918 and opened a small shop above a dime-store in East St. Louis, IL.
The original store location worked well for the business in the formative years. In the early 1950s, Paul’s father took over the store. Over the course of the next decade, however, East St. Louis took a turn for the worse. By the 1960s crime was on the rise in this area of the city. The family store was robbed and there was an attempted firebombing incident.
“At that point he was forced to close that location in February of 1968,” says Paul. “My father moved one showcase into our home in Caseyville. He created a workspace in the basement and continued to serve his clients while taking on watch repairs from other stores.”
The seventh of nine children, Paul was the only Reiniger child to show interest in the family business. “I was 20 years old when I approached my father about working in the family store,” says Paul. “To be honest, I think he was rather surprised at my decision. But the decision came at a good time as my father started thinking about his retirement.”
Paul’s father suggested Gem City College. It was the place where Paul learned engraving, jewelry making, repair and design. After graduation Paul worked with his father and two other independent jewelers. During that time he also did wholesale repairs for JC Penney, Zales and Sears.
Each generation of business owners makes invaluable and indelible marks in a family store. Paul’s legacy in the history of his family’s business will be expansion in favorable markets coupled with sales growth while giving an old store some new tricks.
One of Paul’s first decisions was to use The Edge retail software. “The software has improved business overall,” says Paul. “We have adjusted products and services to meet our customers’ needs and have created great relationships with our vendors.”
Before officially taking over the store, Paul and his father decided to move it to Swansea Schnuks Plaza in 1992. In the early 1990s the wholesale repair business had grown to the point where more shop space was needed.
In 1993, Paul decided to open a second location in nearby Columbia, a 30-minute commute from the store’s second location. Paul’s instinct of moving to this vibrant market served him and the business well. But a decade later the city of Waterloo was showing even greater promise. In 2003, Paul opened the new Reiniger’s in a popular strip mall while keeping the flagship store in Swansea.
Quality repairs, fine jewelry and design work brought much prosperity and growth to Reiniger’s for nearly 20 years. Then COVID hit. Fortunately for Reiniger’s, the store had diversified ways of providing goods and services. In fact, Paul came out of the COVID lock down years well enough to buy a Zales store located in Effingham that was forced to close due to the pandemic. Last autumn Paul decided to open a third location.
“The Zales’ Effingham store had closed during COVID and had left everything – showcases, counters, safes, everything at the location,” says Paul. “Former employees suggested this would be a great new location for Reiniger Jewelers. After looking at what the store had produced and what competition was in town, I had to make sure I would have enough staff to run the store. Within a few days I had a full staff. Clients are happy they have a new store that is open.”
While Paul was pulling the Effingham store together he visited a fellow RJO (Retail Jewelers Organization) store owner in Alton, Illinois, to purchase some tools and equipment. Last fall, Charlie Maneke was planning on retiring and closing the store that bears his name.
“Time passed and I began to get calls from sales reps telling me that his employees were looking for a place to go and how well he had done in Alton,” says Paul. “In mid-December I called Charlie to see how things were going and he invited me to his store. After he had shown me the place and we talked I realized what he had been doing for 75 years was exactly what I had been doing. He had told me he did not want to just sell a few things and offered a package deal. All of the numbers made sense and I requested several things which he agreed to. At that point I had purchased the fourth store.”
It was a seamless transition and a total no-brainer for Paul. “Maneke had a client base already established,” says Paul. “After they realized we had taken over it was like business as usual. With no other competition in the area this was not a hard decision.”
The COVID shutdowns only impacted Paul’s store for three months. He attributes coming out of it unscathed to his “dedicated associates.” The Effingham store had the entire infrastructure needed for a swift transition. Maneke’s store needed some operational changes, which Charlie agreed to, and with minor renovations it became an official fourth Reiniger store in February.
Despite global pandemics and a national recession, Paul made careful and calculated business growth decisions. And, his family business is better for it.
“Business has been good and I see potential in the new locations, plus now I can split some advertising dollars between all of the stores,” says Paul. “The additional stores will increase revenue, increase brand awareness and serve communities that would no longer have an independent jewelry store.”