A hundred years in, a family-owned jewelry chain bearing two venerable family names – Saslow and Henebry – continues to make its mark across two states, maintaining strong local ties and a shared commitment to being the best in the towns they call home.
Founded by Barnet Saslow in 1922, the original Saslow’s jewelry store opened in downtown Greensboro, N.C. A vintage photograph shows the store tucked between Mangel’s and Kress on a bustling Elm Street. “Barney” Saslow had grown up with relatives in the area since 1904, after arriving in New York from Ukraine-Belarus unaccompanied at age 6. The store he eventually founded weathered the Great Depression and two wars abroad before multiplying. Son Everett worked with his dad between service stints in World War II and the Korean War, and when he returned for good in 1953, the pair opened numerous stores across the state.
Third-generation owner John Saslow, Everett’s son, remembers his grandfather was known for shuffling around with a cigar in his mouth, giving people little gifts, ashtrays and change trays, and running ads offering a diamond ring for $1 a week.
John joined the business in 1985, returning to his hometown after about five years in Texas as an oil and gas lease broker. A graduate of University of North Carolina, Saslow says his father didn’t want to pressure him but intended to close if John decided not to join the business. Ultimately, he came home to be near family and friends. Although he took jewelry and gem courses, his emphasis at Saslow’s has been on the merchant and management side. He is a member of Jewelers of America, Diamond Council of America, and Leading Jewelers Guild.
“I went from leasing hydrocarbons to selling hydrocarbons,” he quips.
“The best thing is, if you compare it to selling property or casualty insurance, or medical prosthetics, or auto mechanics … in jewelry, people are happy, they’re in love, they’re making a family member happy,” Saslow says.
Saslow recalls how his family’s store was like many of its contemporaries in selling all manner of goods besides jewelry – TV sets, radios, electric frying pans – and how he was surprised when a customer wanted Saslow’s to repair the sewing machine she’d bought from them long ago.
In the late 1990s the family acquired the prestigious Henebry’s Jewelers group, a fixture in Virginia since 1900 and a perfect match for the growing North Carolina chain.
Both groups can proudly claim their managers are either from their communities or have close ties to their communities – an important distinction that sets Saslow’s and Henebry’s apart from corporate competition.
“They were a great business, and we were so compatible, culturally, geographically – and we didn’t want to drop their name,” says Saslow.
“They’d been in business since 1900, and that’s important. … The transition went very smoothly. They’re great people.”
Soon after the acquisition, the company began co-branding the chain as Saslow’s and Henebry’s Diamond Jewelers. Although the stores have retained their original signs, the paired names appear on a single shared website and shared Facebook account.
With the addition of Henebry’s and several new Saslow’s stores opened in the early 2000s, the chain reached a peak of 23 stores, but the economic downturn of 2007-08 led to some cutbacks. Saslow’s by then had relocated from downtown to the Four Seasons Town Center, and then wound up closing that store – its only Greensboro location – for want of a suitable alternative spot in the city. It was one of several recession-related closings, followed in the past half-dozen years with some openings.
Today Saslow himself works in an office in Greensboro, while jewelry customers can find 14 locations of Saslow’s and Henebry’s across North Carolina and Virginia.
Nine stores are in enclosed malls and five are standalones or situated in small strip centers. Stores range in size from 800 to 2,500 square feet, with the average being between 1,200 and 1,400 square feet, and about 80 to 90 people operate the stores.
The idea, he suggests, is to be the best, not necessarily the biggest.
“We concentrate on growing our sales per square foot rather than growing square footage,” he says.
The regional compatibility helps boost the co-branding effort.
“They carry all the same basic merchandise, with maybe a 5 percent variance,” Saslow says. “A lot of national chains, they’ll do the same merchandising for their stores in California, or Buffalo, New York, even though those customers are not at all alike. … Our customers are culturally and regionally similar, and they have similar tastes.”
Through all the changes his family business has experienced, Saslow says the one big constant is the importance of taking care of customers.
“That’s the key,” he says. “If you’re going to be buying diamonds, you would like to have a friend you can trust to advise you. … Our managers, the customers love them, they invite them to their weddings. You become a trusted advisor, like the family attorney or doctor. … We have a reputation as the hometown jeweler.”