From Road Warrior To Retailer: Robert’s Fine Jewelry Finds Success In Office LocationJuly 13, 2016 (0 comments)
By Caroline Stanley
Houston, TX—Jeweler Bobby Wizig of Robert’s Fine Jewelry has industry blood running through his veins. He comes by it honestly, courtesy of his father, a former retailer and diamond dealer. Left: Bobby and Mira Wizig, Robert's Fine Jewelry.
“I grew up in the industry,” says Wizig. “My dad had a store in Shreveport [LA] in the 1950s. He ended up closing the store in 1959, when I was a kid. He went into the diamond business and was a Diamond Dealers Club member. In 1965, we moved to New York for the summer. My dad wanted to see what it would be like there, commuting into the city. It didn’t last long; he did not like the commute. We moved to Houston in 1965.”
Like father, like son? Yes, but on a reverse timeline. After college, Wizig traveled as a sales rep for 10 years, but by then, he was married with kids and traveling had lost its appeal.
“The economy was not great; I decided to get off the road and open my own place.” While starting a retail jewelry business is not what most people do in a down economy, Wizig clearly had a plan.
“I wanted a store in an office building, a fourth floor location. I also wanted to see how I would adapt to working 12 months a year in the same place, from working six months a year and traveling. A good friend of mine and I were having lunch one day. That was Van Wood, Corrigan’s Jewelers. I told him of my plan and the pros and cons of all the locations I had looked at. His advice was: go where the women will know where to find you. If the women know, the men will easily follow,” he says.
For Wizig, the location that everyone would know--including women—was an office building at a main intersection in Houston. That’s where he opened and where he still is, 30 years later.
Of course, for any new store there are challenges. “We had no clientele initially,” said Wizig. “I hadn’t worked retail before so I didn’t have customers to follow me. The first few years were not fun, but held a lot of learning. I got involved in a local breakfast group and networked, and as time went on, we became more established.”
Unlike King’s Credit Jewelers, the Shreveport store owned by Wizig’s parents Abe and Gita, Bobby Wizig targeted the high end when he launched his retail venture. Most of Wizig’s clients are referrals; the tried and true best way to find customers. Advertising in the Houston area does not come cheap, not that Wizig didn’t try initially. “You’ve really got to have both feet in the water when you do advertising; if not, you get drowned. You won’t be seen or heard for what little you can do for what you have to spend. My least successful venture was figuring out where and how to advertise.” Wizig does now advertise in the local paper and magazines for trunk shows and that seems to work well.
And other marketing? E-blasts. “We do one customer email a month,” he says. He also is getting serious about the web. For social media, he’s looking at a package deal that he found from Fruchtman at the Jewelers for Children silent auction at the 2016 Centurion Scottsdale show. He’s also working on his website, which is being redesigned.
Robert’s Fine Jewelry carries 15+ brands and also carries estate jewelry. Along with these categories, Robert’s is focused on custom work, Wizig’s favorite. “We’ve ramped up our custom work in the last five years. We have someone in town we work with on CAD (computer aided design) and we send jobs out for casting and finishing.”
Wizig says the biggest business difference today that he sees is that customers used to come in and say ‘What can I buy, show me.’ “Now they walk in with their phones and iPads and say, ‘These are the ones she likes. And we go from there to create a custom piece.”
Wizig also tells his male customers how to figure out what the special female in their lives would like. “The women are talking to each other on social media. Pinterest, Instagram, etc., they are sharing what they like and don’t like. If the guy comes in and doesn’t know, he needs to look at her social media accounts and the answers are there.
Wizig works with his wife Mira, and the two run the business from top to bottom. Mira handles the day-to-day accounting and inventory and some sales. Wizig handles the rest. He’s had sales associates over the years, but finds that an office building location is a different sell from a regular retail store. “Few people have come in and tried to do it. It was not as successful and I would have liked, or they would have liked. It’s a different mentality to get people to visit you in an upstairs office. You have to initiate sales, not intercept them.”
Two views of Robert's Fine Jewelry interior.
After 30 years, retail has worked out quite well for Wizig and it certainly suits him and Mira. Is there anything that he misses about live on the road? Yes and no. “I don’t miss the nights away, finding hotels and restaurants and a safe place for my line. I do miss visiting the stores and meeting the different people and seeing the stores. Some of those sales people are still good friends.” Wizig feels his traveling past has enabled him to be a better store owner. He learned a lot from visiting retail stores.
Wizig gets some of his camaraderie fix by going to trade shows. He goes to learn, to be with people he says are smarter than he is. To network. “I love to see what’s happening in our industry,” says Wizig. “That’s very important to me.”
So, choosing a retail job has worked out well, says Wizig of his forty-year career. “I never wanted to do it growing up; never wanted to be in the business. But I needed a job and it did work out. I’ve learned a lot. I love this job.”