At the ripe young age of 17, Cesar Barreras is already a jewelry veteran with big plans. Growing up in his father’s shop – Barreras Jewelry in Tampa, Florida – he was exposed to the industry organically, and then went on to learn the craft as a teenager.
“You could say I’ve been in the business since I was born. I was raised here in the jewelry store. But it wasn’t until about one or two years ago that I really started getting involved. The wheels started spinning,” Barreras says.
One thing that drew the young jeweler in and sparked his ambitions was the introduction of new technology to the store.
“We had thought about purchasing a laser engraver,” Barreras recalls, “and when my dad was going to order it, he told me, ‘You’ve got to get it running, or else we won’t do it at all.’”
Once he began using the laser engraver, he started seeing other opportunities to learn and grow.
“My father taught me everything, just the way he learned from his father. He started teaching me how to polish and clean jewelry, how to mix metals so I can make a good plate,” Barreras says. “Now he’s teaching me how to set stones and solder various things.”
He plans to take a gemology course after high school – currently he studies online through Penn Foster, which offers high school completion and career-focused college education and he plans to continue to the college level with business and finance.
Today Barreras divides his time as needed between the storefront and bench, answering the phone, contacting customers, assisting in sales on the floor, and working in the back to clean, design, and make jewelry.
The store of about 1,800 square feet is in northern Tampa, around Egypt Lake. It’s a step up from the previous space of about 900 square feet – and from the flea market where the young jeweler’s father first opened when he came from Cuba in 1995.
On a street that has three or four retail competitors nearby, Barreras Jewelry enjoys a unique niche in that it’s a combination retail and manufacturing facility.
“Most stores around are just retailers, so they come to us because we have all the technology and experience to manufacture as well,” Barreras says.
An energizing highlight for Barreras was the Atlanta Jewelry Show, which he attended with his parents in October.
“It was my first time going to AJS, or any particular industry event,” he recalls. “It was eye-opening. … And my parents, it was their first time too. It was a very different experience from what they expected.”
Barreras said his family saw abundant opportunities for networking and education through trade shows and organizations membership. And the connections made on that trip proved invaluable. The night the show ended, the family met Guy Pineda with Jewelry Store Marketers, and soon afterward Pineda began working to develop their digital presence.
Before AJS, the Barreras Jewelry website had a simple “About Us” page and stock images, while Barreras ran the store’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. None had robust sales or marketing functions. To step things up a notch, Pineda began developing content marketing as well as a strong e-commerce component.
While Barreras attends school, working around his store duties, he eyes plans for the near and distant future.
Off in the distance is expansion of the business.
“One goal I have is to open a second store, so we can be on two sides of the city, more to reach different customers,” he says. While “big jewelry” is popular in his current area to the north, the south side of town appears to tap into a wealthier community with different tastes and expanded opportunities.
In the more immediate future, Barreras hopes to log a lot of time in the back of the store, taking advantage of his father’s many “tips and tricks” for making and designing jewelry to please his customers.
One recent project was for a long-time customer who had a special design in mind.
“We’ve done rings, pendants, all kinds of things. We did a bracelet for this big customer. He came in and said, ‘Hey, I want you guys to make me something ridiculous, exaggerated, crazy.’”
The customer had a party to attend and wanted to get all the attention. His idea entailed incorporating two dice, one showing five, the other with six.
“Using that idea, we made this monstrosity, a double Cuban link bracelet that weighs almost 3 pounds – 1,200 grams. … He’s a longtime customer, so he knew we would deliver, and we out delivered! He stayed in the store for an hour just looking at it and admiring it.”
That response was exactly the reward that keeps Barreras going.
“I love seeing the end result, the satisfaction on a customer’s face, how excited they are when they see their vision turn into a reality.”