It’s a new day for Michigan’s Wachler family, whose jeweler patriarch David started the company way back in 1917. With great appreciation for traditional business practices and values, the family today has embraced a new store, a new concept and full utilization of modern social networking.
“My grandfather’s dad came from Germany and started a manufacturing jewelry business,” says the fourth generation’s David Wachler. Almost a century later, a lot of Wachler family members were working together in one store, and it wasn’t as comfortable as it had been in the beginning so David’s father Gary, who had long been collecting antique jewelry, revolutionized the basic custom design business by creating the Wachler Estate Collection in Birmingham, a Detroit suburb.
“Cousins wanted to go separate ways, and I partnered with my dad,” David says. “I helped him find a location, which is in the heart of downtown Birmingham. My grandfather joined us in our new store. It took off like crazy. My dad, grandfather Jeff and mom Susan all work together in the same place, and we work with my Uncle Link who did custom designs for the other store before going out on his own six years ago.”
Along with Uncle Link, David’s Uncle Glenn who lives in Charlevoix travels back and forth to the store, picking up items for the showroom. “It’s a family that’s very close,” David says. “All these guys work together to make a good business.”
David does all the signed pieces and fine watches, Gary does estate buying, custom design and diamonds, Jeff is a master appraiser, and Susan assists with merchandising, display and refreshments for customers. All are involved in sales. “We’ve been in our new store for a year, and it’s a lot of fun,” David says. “It’s been going a lot better than expected. Most of our business is referrals and word of mouth, and we’re almost busier than we can handle. We’ll sell a little sterling item for $100 up to a $250,000 piece in our store. Customers are comfortable spending any amount because they know we’ll take care of them.”
Trading Station for Luxury Items
At 1,400 square feet, the Wachler Estate Collection is not a huge store, but its clientele is loyal and appreciative, and the store has come a long way in a short time.
“When my dad left the other business and started Wachler Estate Collection three years ago, he started doing estate shows,” David says. “We’d hustle and travel around. I even had my own show at the flea market with Australian silver. I liked selling, and people seemed to like me. My dad is very trustworthy, very kind, very sweet, very old school. There are a lot of people who might not be similar in style to us, but big players mesh well with my dad. He had a great thing going, and I have a lot of clientele who like signed pieces and high-end watches.
“I knew it was too ambitious to think we could carry these lines; it would cost millions of dollars to keep it up. I said what if we could have a store that had Harry Winston, etc., what if it was all estate; wouldn’t it drive a crazy amount of traffic to the store? My dad loves old antique, vintage jewelry. And when I go to the shows, or to stores, I’m buying up signed pieces.
“So we provide a trading station for luxury items. People walk in and see these things for a lot less – older pieces that you just can’t get right now. We have new people coming in every day, and people come back every week to check out what’s new. We have an ever-changing inventory, and it’s creating a buzz around town. That’s what I brought to the business.”
The Wachler Estate Collection, whose philosophy is to buy and sell customers’ jewelry “as heirlooms rather than as scrap,” is eclectic in many ways. “You walk into the store and may see vintage Cartier watches, then you’ll see a Tiffany ring from just a year ago,” David says. “We also have brand new, custom engagement rings from our friends at Mars, Elma Gil, Valina and Venetti. So it’s a well-rounded business model. We’re not even thinking twice about Christmas; we don’t count on one time of the year to make our business. There are lots of reasons to come into the store besides hot chocolate and cookies – which we do provide sometimes! We’re multifaceted, so we’re not hurt in slower times.”
Careful Business Approach
David clearly takes pride in the way his father does business. “When jewelers go to a show, they pick out a bunch of stuff, and they have terms of payments, 30-60-90. There’s a lot of leverage in jewelers’ inventories. They get overwhelmed and have trouble paying the money back. My dad is different. He buys only what he can afford.
“We had a company that wanted to sell us all kinds of merchandise, $100,000 worth. Dad said, ‘Send $2,000 now and we will purchase more later.’ They’d never seen that, but they liked it, knowing we were honest. We now have a ton of new items on consignment from big New York jewelry companies. They know we’re not leveraged and when we sell something, we’ll pay them within a week. The whole concept is we want everyone to be taken care of. We want to make something too, but everyone must be treated right.”
The Wachler family started Comfort Bears for Kids in 2007, donating teddy bears to area hospitals for children who are having surgery to help them through a difficult time in their lives.
While David’s predecessors established the solid values of the family business, he’s making his mark with social networking. “I created an Instagram account several years ago and now have over 19,000 followers,” he says. “It took me a long time to build it, but I have friends who are celebrities, actors, and these people have a ton of followers. They give me a shout out and follow me. There are a lot of people in Switzerland, Dubai, China, Los Angeles and Florida who are following me, and I use Instagram to post current inventory.
“I try to make it cool and fun. I’ll put a diamond necklace on my uncle’s Pomeranian and post it online. When I was at a Las Vegas JCK show, I saw an Indian dealer who I recognized because he follows me on Instagram. He’s about 70 and posts things on Instagram like selfies in front of the Taj Mahal. When he saw me he said, ‘Oh, you’re that kid on Instagram.’ I follow him because he’s a diamond dealer and a funny guy. From there we’ve done a lot of business together. Instagram shows me and my family, me and my dog, and the jewelry. And now customers feel comfortable buying from me when I post a Rolex or a diamond. They trust me.
“Instagram helps us bring in a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t know who we are. It’s a combination of old trust and respect, with the new social media, the young network. That combination has become extremely powerful for us. We have developed a strong retail, wholesale and Internet business which all works well together to grow our business.”