The path to maintaining a family jewelry retail business for nearly 135 years is never a straight line. For Siebke Hoyt the century-plus journey spans five generations – and counting. From a modest watchmaking and optometry shop to a 10,000 square foot standalone modern jewelry store, each generation has contributed much to keep the ambitions of two German immigrants born in the 1800s alive for more than a century.
Founded in 1889, Siebke Hoyt will celebrate its 135th anniversary in 2024. It’s a little early for the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based jeweler to share exact celebration plans, “my guess, we will have more fun, larger events, and parties on our 135th,” says fourth generation jeweler Joseph “Jay” Hoyt, when comparing next year’s anticipated celebrations to the store’s 100th anniversary in 1989.
The Siebke Hoyt narrative starts with the tale George B. Ludy and Robert P. Taylor. The immigrants were experienced watchmakers. In 1889, George and Robert opened a small watchmaking and optometry shop on 225 First Avenue North East in Cedar Rapids.
In 1914, they hired a young watchmaker named Gustave Siebke to assist with the workload. Gustav’s work experience, coupled with credentials from Bradley-Horological Institute, made him an invaluable employee. In 1921, he became a full partner in the business giving the store a new name of Siebke and Taylor Company.
The Hoyt name enters the store’s timeline two decades later. In the mid-1940s, Joseph M. Hoyt returned from his service in World War II. In 1945, he married Gustav’s daughter Marilyn Siebke. The following year he began working in the family business.
Joseph M. became a full partner in 1953. And, the name was changed to Siebke Hoyt. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the store name that has stood the test of time since the early 1950s.
As time marched on, the Taylor and Siebke store lineages changed. When Robert Taylor died his wife Pearl took control of his ownership of the company. She eventually sold that share to Joseph M. Hoyt. Gustav Siebke maintained his chairman of the board position until he died on Christmas Eve 1973.
Joseph M. Hoyt continued to work at Siebke Hoyt until his retirement in January 1975. He died eight years later. Fourth generation jeweler Joseph “Jay” Hoyt is the store’s current president. He joined the family business during the Christmas season in 1974. Jay’s younger brother Thomas joined the business in 1986. Today he serves as vice president of Siebke Hoyt.
In 2011, Joseph “Jay’s” son Joseph Thomas Hoyt became the fifth generation of jewelers after completing relevant gemology course work at GIA. For 12-plus years Joseph Thomas has been helping his father and uncle with all levels of operations.
It’s humbling to look back on 135 years of a business. The roots of today’s Siebke Hoyt jewelry store took hold while America was still being formed. In 1889, North and South Dakota became the 39th and 40th states respectively. Today’s five-state area wasn’t even a defined region when George and Robert opened their doors.
Early on, business founders George and Robert had to move from their original 2,000-square-foot space after a fire. With fresh starts come fresh perspectives. More jewelry lines were added, along with giftware, china, crystal as well as specialty services – namely watchmaking, and watch and jewelry repairs.
Subsequent generations added more clock and watch repairs along with hand engraving while expanding jewelry and giftware lines. But when Joseph “Jay” and his brother Thomas joined forces, big changes came along.
“We were the generation that kick-started the company,” says Jay. He joined the family business at 14 and enjoyed being part of a family-owned store. He wasn’t without options with college degrees and a keen interest in pursuing law school. But he scrubbed those plans to work in the family business. Thomas also joined the company at an early age.
The Hoyt brothers were ambitious, by some assessments perhaps overly so, with a Main Street jewelry store and two mall-based stores. By the early 1990s, Siebke Hoyt’s management had to do some hard soul searching. The mall stores cost them their American Gem Society (AGS) accreditation. And, malls and downtown areas were quickly becoming outdated and outmoded places to do retail.
In the wake of the dot.com bomb’s recessionary period, and the economic impact of 911, Jay and Thomas decided to build a massive 10,000-square-foot standalone store. It was a gutsy move to open in 2001, but the nation’s economy and its spirits bounced back in time to make the dice roll a big win.
“We wanted to create a wondrous single store location, bringing in the best merchandise and the best people from all of our stores and creating a new experience, offering giant inventories, kids’ rooms, TV rooms, a bar, and a full factory,” says Jay. “We became the anti-mall store, selling quality, fashion, and service at a fair price.”
Milestone anniversaries are a reflective time: Periods in a company’s history when the right decisions, business acumen and work ethics are celebrated. For Jay the five key business decisions that have given Siebke Hoyt its longevity include the basics that are routinely forgotten, often overlooked or just taken for granted – starting with the need for constantly innovating to keep the store moving forward.
Next, taking risks with inventory to avoid complacency and boredom. One of Jay’s favorites – it’s always better to own than rent. Another personal favorite for obvious reasons – “Raise smart kids that appreciate and understand the hard work that’s involved in a constantly-changing business,” he says.
Lastly: “Have fun each day, creating an atmosphere of warmth, excitement and enhancement. So not only our clients can feel it, but all that work at Siebke Hoyt as well.”
Another cause for celebration is Gen 6.0. Joseph Thomas’s son Joseph G. was born this spring. In looking ahead at the future of Siebke Hoyt, Jay is very optimistic. Fifth generation Joseph Thomas has been an astute observer of family history in the store as well as seeking out strong retail mentors.
Highly degreed and tech savvy Joseph Thomas, along with his watch aficionado cousin Clayton, give Joseph “Jay” a sense of pride and confidence for the years ahead.
“To see young guys, like Joseph and Clayton, cut from the same mold makes me proud, for they do not even know how unique they are in today’s jewelry business,” says Jay.