written by Paul Holewa
There’s a generational quality to family businesses in the gem and jewelry industry. Some families’ characteristic commitment to the trade, however, seems almost genetic. Such is the case with Elliott Herzlich, owner of Elliott’s Jewelers, who started his career with a chain store but some day in the distant future will retire as a private jeweler.
Elliott’s father and grandfather were diamond cutters. Elliott is fond of the Herzlich family boast that his father “Cut the diamond in his mother’s wedding ring.” The Huntsville, Texas-based jeweler is just as proud to say that he still has the diamond cutting tools used to fashion that diamond, and many others, still in his possession. As if that weren’t enough family invested in the industry, Elliott’s uncle were goldsmiths.
Similar to many sons from generational businesses, Elliott’s career start was almost prodigal. In his early twenties, Elliott decided to go into the restaurant business. It took only a handful of months for him to realize he’d made the wrong first step. Returning to his family’s history, Elliott walked into a Zales store in the Highland Mall of Austin, Texas and strongly petitioned for a sales associate position.
His start in the food industry, along with other personal and professional experiences, was enough to get the job. A natural in diamonds, Elliott quickly excelled at Zales, working his way up to be the merchandising manager for the Southwest and eventually adding on the Western region of the country, purchasing goods for 400 stores in the combined areas.
After five successful years with Zales, Elliott was nabbed by Federated Department Stores. He stayed with them for nearly nine years and then took his career in the tech direction holding management positions with Verizon and Comp USA, then eventually Sykes Enterprise as a strategic alliance manager.
When Elliott and his wife became empty nesters, he took stock of his latter earning potential years, which is key not only for retirement nest eggs but also to pursue professional passions while able.
“What the gem and jewelry industry is for me is what working in higher education is for my wife Alisa,” says Elliott. “As she grew in her profession, she wanted to seek out a leadership opportunity at a university, at the same time I wanted to get back into jewelry.”
The two pursued these goals. Alisa eventually became chair, dean and vice president of a university in Tyler, Texas and Elliott opened his own store in Tyler. Several years later, Alisa became president of a university in Tennessee. Elliott closed up his store and opened a private, appointment-only, jewelry enterprise in Clarksville, Tennessee. After a successful venture there, Elliott was ready to move one more time to Huntsville, Texas, with his wife so she could assume the presidency of a university there.
Both changes came at a good time. Elliott was able to pare down his jewelry business in a way that reduced stress, was less investment intensive, and offered more manageable scheduling in terms of serving retail jewelry clients. In Tennessee, he built a reputation as a consultative partner with clients to design custom pieces they would treasure. He learned what worked as a private jeweler, which has been a blessing as the nation continues to do business as best it can with COVID-19 restrictions.
Elliott’s move to Huntsville, and the transition from being jewelry store owner to being a private jeweler, couldn’t have come at a better time. “The whole country is by appointment-only these days and that has been my business model for more than five years,” says Elliott. “I don’t keep regular store hours, but there are times of the day where I’m in my office suite for several hours at a time, but it’s not designated ‘open for business’ hours.”
With more people working from home and their children doing distance learning or hybrid programs at their schools, more consumer research is being done online than ever before. Although Elliott grew up in the old school years, he’s totally committed to advertising and promoting his business in new media, chiefly social media websites. That’s how he’s keeping up with existing customers as well as meeting and making new ones.
“As a one-man operation I offer what other businesses can’t – direct access to the business owner,” says Elliott. “People like that. And, given the more in-depth research people are conducting online, along with phone conversations that follow, when appointments for store visits are made, it’s pretty much a pre-qualified sale.”
Elliott’s luck isn’t just with timing. It’s also with location. Huntsville has a population of 40,000 and growing with young professionals in various industries, chief among them the universities and the penal system. The greater Huntsville area is also showing promise in the medical field with new hospital openings and medical schools. Of course Texas is also known for its farming and cattle.
When looking for an office space Elliott found a modest 500-square-foot suite in a bank building. As with all bank buildings, these structures have some of the best physical security in the financial sector. Elliott’s Jewelers has the jewelry store essentials, with five display cases, seating, office space, a safe and refreshments for guests. With a public bathroom down the hall, Elliott has it all covered.
Coming from a tech background, Elliott is like many self-made, modern entrepreneurs. As long there an internet connection and a computing device, there’s an ability to do business. Such is the case for Elliott, who runs most of transactions on his iPad and does his social media work on that device or his laptop.
In looking back at his jewelry retail career, Elliott does miss the days of having a regular jewelry store with open hours. “I enjoyed being open when people were in the neighborhood or just wanted to stop by for whatever reason,” says Elliott. “But for now, in the age of COVID-19, things have changed. As a one-man operation I’m classified as a consultant, which makes me an essential worker. So I can remain in business should another shutdown occur.”
Even with COVID-19 restrictions, Elliott continues to leverage his tried and tested methods of reaching members of his community. He’s actively involved with his local Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club as well as working with many area non-profits.
“The key to working with many non-profits and charities is finding ones you’re passionate about and stick with them,” says Elliott. “And, when it comes to silent auctions, don’t just donate dated inventory. Create a custom piece that’s worth talking about in press releases and at the event itself. This creates the buzz jewelry store owners need to create interest and sales.”