written by Paul Holewa
One of the best things about a family business is the “family” part. This is especially true when siblings share in not just similar career choices but also have similar goals and aspirations of taking their collective work skills and experiences to another level. That’s what happened 25 years ago when Gabriel Sep and his two brothers started Sep Jewelry Tools of Chicago.
In the 1990s, Gabriel, Robert and Yona Sep were all working as bench jewelers. Each was based in the Midwest working as independent bench jewelers. The three Sep brothers worked in different jewelry stores in the Midwest but were united in similar thoughts: an industry-specific tools and equipment distributor is needed to serve the region.
“When we were working as bench jewelers we saw a need for a tools and equipment distributor in the Midwest,” says Gabriel, product and sales director at Sep Tools of Chicago. “We decided to use our collective knowledge in the industry to open a wholesale company. So we decided to open Sep Tools in May 1996.”
As with most new companies, the ideas and goals were the easy part. Getting the actual start-up schedule and opening the doors to a new business were the real challenges. Financing a career dream was the first step.
“We were fortunate,” says Gabriel. “Family members shared in our dreams of creating our own company so some start-up money came from them. And, the banks also helped with financing.”
With the goal of being region specific, Gabriel and his two brothers decided opening their family-owned tools and equipment business in Chicago was the best location to serve the Midwest. The Windy City is home to one of the country’s best-known retail jewelry districts – Jewelers Row. And, historically Chicago has enjoyed the reputation as a business and population center of the Midwest.
With tools and equipment stored in inventory, and a showroom to display their wares, it was time to bring in customers. Starting a business in the fledgling days of the internet meant promoting and marketing a new company had to be done the old fashioned way – knocking on doors and handing out flyers.
Even with larger, more established tools and equipment companies serving retailers on a national scale, the appeal of Sep Tools in 1996 hasn’t changed in 25 years. “We are a tools and equipment company founded, run and managed by bench jewelers who know the industry,” says Gabriel. “We came from the trade and understand the needs of our customers.”
Customers certainly appreciated this unique aspect of Sep Tools, but going from a start up to gaining noticeable early inertia took some doing. As Gabriel and his brothers started settling in to their then new business they realized that they have much in common as their retail jeweler customers.
For starters, theirs is a family-owned tools and equipment company serving family-owned jewelry stores. Retailers liked that about Sep Tools in the formative years and today. As Gabriel likes to say about his company slogan, “Don’t just be a customer be a part of our family.”
Equally important, and similar to the retailers he serves, customers don’t have to go through “corporate channels” to reach the founding executives of the company. “We’re as accessible as any member of the team to our [retail jeweler] customers.”
The Sep brothers also embraced a common inventory management saying of retail jewelers: you can’t sell something you don’t have. “From the start Sep Tools carried a full line of jewelry tools and equipment, watch-making tools as well as gemology tools for gem and diamond dealers.”
Early into their venture Gabriel and his brothers were getting the much needed traction in their business. By 1998 they started exhibiting at industry trade shows and created catalogs. In addition to serving hard-earned existing customers the Sep brothers were attracting new ones. Two years after founding their company, Gabriel, Robert and Yona knew they were on to something good.
“From the start we were very lucky and blessed,” says Gabriel. “The company grew and expanded fast. Within two years after opening we knew we had made the right decision. Our combined experiences were helpful in not just starting the company and establishing sales quickly but doing so without making any costly mistakes. We thank God to this day for that.”
With the new millennium came new ways of promoting and marketing their business. Sep Tools, like many other companies, embraced the then new media. Today Sept Tools is active on social media platforms, leading with Facebook. Sep Tools has a large group of followers and showcases tools and equipment using high resolution images and videos.
In May, Sep Tools officially celebrated its 25th anniversary. Yona, the oldest of the Sep brothers, retired in recent years. But Gabriel and Robert are continuing on with the family business and the family traditions of hard work and perseverance that not only gave the company its start and early momentum but its continued success over the years.
Milestone anniversaries aside, for Gabriel and Robert: “We celebrate [our success] every day,” says Gabriel. “In our hearts we always believed that we’d last this long. A 25th anniversary is certainly a milestone moment, but for us it’s just another successful day in business. And, we look forward to many more.”