According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 50 percent of small businesses fail within 5 years and by year 10 the percentage that succeed drops to the mid-thirties.
Ware Jewelers in Auburn, Alabama has defied the odds and this year is celebrating their 70th anniversary. Located in a college town with a community population of approximately 60,000 people, their chance for survival seems even smaller than the national average. But Ronnie and Tina Ware, second generation owners, take pride in defying the odds, just like Ronnie’s father Lamar, who founded the store.
“When my dad graduated from Auburn University he was offered a job at the local bank,” recalls Ronnie Ware, owner of Ware Jewelers. “But he wasn’t interested. Instead, he asked his father, who was a professor of horticulture at Auburn, if he could borrow $5,000 to open a jewelry store. Although my grandfather agreed to the loan, he told my dad he was crazy and he shouldn’t open a jewelry store.”
|Auburn, AL-based Ware Jewelers has come a long way in 70 years.|
Crazy in a small southern town can go either way. Fortunately, Lamar and his wife Libby knew what they were doing. Although they were following their dream, that didn’t mean the first few years weren’t rough. It was 1946 and the depression was just ending, and it wasn’t a great time to go into the luxury items business. The population of Auburn was roughly 8,500 and the only space Lamar and Libby could afford was a 10 foot by 40 foot space. With very little capital they bought only enough merchandise to get them through the week. Lamar sold anything he could, including color televisions.
And it worked. As the young business began to grow the Wares started acquiring property around town. They also negotiated one of the shrewdest lease contracts in history. Somehow Lamar secured a 40 year lease on his retail space with a guarantee of no increase in rent! As recently as the mid-’90s the store still operated under that lease paying the original negotiated amount of a few hundred dollars per month. Not only was it an incredible financial deal, but the location was phenomenal as the retail space was located downtown, directly across the street from Auburn University.
“We sit directly across from Toomer’s Corner where, after every Auburn football victory, the students, fans and locals come equipped with toilet paper and roll everything from power lines to trees to lamp posts. We’ve seen it all through the Ware Jewelers windows and it makes us proud to be a part of the community,” explains Tina Ware, co-owner of Ware Jewelers.
Ronnie, like many second and third generation owners, grew up unpacking boxes. By age 15 he was engraving, and at 16 he started selling behind the counter. After graduating from high school he “packed [his] van and went across the country to the Gemological Institute of America.”
Ronnie then returned home to help run the second Ware Jewelers location. Working under another long-time employee instead of his father proved beneficial for both of them, and gave Ronnie the confidence to ask his dad for a managerial position.
“I was 21 years old when I asked dad to let me manage the second location, but he said no. He told me I was too young, but I reminded him that he was 21 when he opened the business and that convinced him to let me try it.”
Ten years later Ronnie transferred back to the original location to work with his father and, time, maturity and experience helped him eagerly soak up everything his dad was willing to teach.
Ware Jewelers headquarter store throughout the years: (top left) 1946, (top right) 1970, (bottom) 2012 – present day.
Today, with Ronnie and Tina at the helm, the 70th anniversary is a major milestone evoking great nostalgia and bright hope for the future. It is a time to reflect on the growth from the once 10’ x 40’ space into a 15,000 square foot, three story flagship store which sits at the helm of a four store company. It’s a time to celebrate the many AGS-certified, registered jewelers on staff, as well as their exclusive Rolex watchmaker and their engraver rounding out the company’s more than 20 employees. It’s a time to take pride in the many globally recognized lines that the store has been able to secure in spite of its small town label. From David Yurman, to Rolex, to Tag Heuer; Ronnie knows the value of bringing big names to small town America, even if others called him crazy too.
I think the saying goes, “Like father like son.”
Here’s to 70 years of generational connection on both sides of the jewelry case.
Congratulations Ware Jewelers.