A focus on the family – and the extended “customer” family – is how the Camgozlu brothers run Mary Jewellery & Lapidary.
by Wayne Karl
When Apel Camgozlu describes his company, Mary Jewellery & Lapidary Co. Ltd., a small, family-owned and operated wholesaler in Toronto, his modesty shines through.
That’s just the unassuming nature of Apel and the rest of the Camgozlu family who run Mary Jewellery & Lapidary – they’d rather focus on others, namely their customers. Indeed, providing excellent customer service is precisely how the company strives to distinguish itself.
You’d expect nothing less for an outfit started by three brothers – Ohannes, Paravon and Garabet (Apel’s father) – who left Istanbul, Turkey and set out for Canada to build on the jewellery experience they gained from their father. In 1982, they launched Mary Jewellery & Lapidary in honour of their late mother, Mary.
To this day, a focus on family values and customer service, true to Mary’s honour, is the cornerstone of the company. To whit, of the 12 full-time employees, 10 are family members. And though they don’t use the titles in practice, Ohannes serves as chief executive officer, Paravon as chief operating officer, and Garabet as chief financial officer.
Apel, the de facto general manager of the business, “joined” the business as a child, hanging out in the shop when he was as young as four years old. “I would come in every Saturday, and once I was in high school I would come in every Friday and Saturday to help out,” says Apel. “As the years went by, it became full time.
STARTING IN CANADA
Simplicity and strong family values that date back to the very beginning have stood them well over time. The three Camgozlu brothers started in Canada by purchasing a small lapidary shop in Toronto, and operating that for a short period before expanding into manufacturing.
With mixed results in that business, the Camgozlus further branched out into retail, with two successful shops on Yonge Street in the downtown area, as well as a manufacturing and repair facility. When the building in which their company was located was set for redevelopment, it was time to move on. Mary Jewellery & Lapidary moved to its current Queen Street location, scaling back on the repair aspect of the business and focusing more on wholesaling.
“Customers started asking for more products, so we started bringing in more lines and selling more and more jewellery,” says Apel. “It got so busy we closed our retail locations and focused on the wholesale part of the business.”
Today, the company’s primary business is wholesaling to other retailers, mostly the mom and pop shops that comprise what Apel estimates to be 60 to 70 per cent of the market in Canada.
For Mary Jewellery & Lapidary, working with independent stores, as opposed to large chains, is more than just befitting a family-run company – it affords simplicity of business.
“We get paid on time,” says Apel. “Big companies often ask for terms that are more difficult for smaller jewellers to handle. It’s not for us.”
Even though the company operates from a single location in Toronto, it sells direct throughout Canada, without the use of local sales reps in regional markets.
As with many companies in an industry that largely counts on consumers’ disposable income, Mary Jewellery & Lapidary has seen its challenges presented by the soft economy over the last few years.
“We have a good product line and we’re constantly busy, but in general it’s slow,” Apel says. “When I speak to my retail clients, they’re not too happy. There’s general concern about the economy, from east coast to west coast.”
The rising price of gold in recent years has had a negative impact on business, in terms of rising raw materials costs.
“As a jeweller, we don’t prefer the price of gold to be high at all,” says Apel. “The lower the price of gold, the more sales we make. With gold being as high as it is, it really doesn’t help us at all.” The result is higher, unsold inventory.
Since most jewellery is either a gift or a personal buy, Apel says, sales can be significantly affected by rising costs.
“When people are used to paying $150 to $200 for a baptism gift, for example, and getting something nice and half decent,” he says. “Now, that $150 to $200 is costing the retailer that much, so when he flips it to the consumer, it ends up being $400 to $500. They just go a different route – they’re not going to spend that for a gift.”
If it’s a personal purchase, on the other hand, people are more likely to indulge and spend the larger amount. To his point, Apel cites wedding bands as a long-time staple at Mary Jewellery & Lapidary. “These are personal buys, and for wedding bands, no matter what, people are willing to spend,” he says.
TRENDS VS CLASSICS
Another challenge to the business is being able to keep up with ever-changing trends. “Everybody wants to know what’s hot, or what’s going to be hot, before it’s actually hot,” says Apel. “Yet trends in the jewellery industry, like fashion, change so often and so quickly that it’s really hard to keep up. You can’t predict the market, unfortunately.”
Rather than trying to hit such a moving target, Mary Jewellery & Lapidary takes a steadfast approach to “take it as it comes, take it as it goes,” and to delivering, quickly and consistently, on clients’ demands.
Apel recalls two particular trends from the past five years that quickly came and went. Circular pendants, “because Oprah wore it once on TV and then everyone had to have one,” and Shamballa bracelets.
He says the items that are “hot” now include jewellery pieces made from tungsten, titanium and steel. “That’s all doing really well for us, especially for men, who like the lower cost, durability and low maintenance,” says Apel.
Wedding bands and charms remain steady and predictable, he notes. “We have more than 10,000 SKUs, but bands sell the best, mainly because I keep everything in stock. So when a customer from Vancouver or wherever calls and needs a specific band, I have it in stock, I can ship it out right away and they’ll have it the next day.”
There’s that customer service element again. It always comes back to that.
“Customer service should be, by far, the most important thing for any company,” says Apel. “If you can’t keep your customers happy, who are you going to sell to?”
It’s a philosophy the founding Camgozlu brothers and their family live by, and one that would make Mary proud. CJ