Sisters Stephanie & Lindsay of Howard Fine Jewellers & True Bijoux Carve a Bright New Future Since Taking Over the Family Business, Bringing Insight and New Energy Into a Traditional Landscape
Work ethic is a strong thread in the Appotive family storyline. At only 16, Howard entered the jewellery world working for Mappins, located inside Freeman’s department store in Ottawa. He was just a stock boy but his passion for beautiful things and an eagerness for the business didn’t go unnoticed; he was soon promoted to the sales floor.
With passion, perseverance and an impeccable work ethic, only a couple of years later Howard started working for the Birks sales team, then became the manager of the watch department and later earned his gemology degree as he continued to rise in his career. Not too long after he joined the Barri Brothers in Toronto, where he had the opportunity to learn manufacturing. Naturally, the young and eager Howard jumped at the opportunity to learn and grow in the business and at his craft.
In 1967, Howard moved back to Ottawa and with a small loan from the bank (guaranteed by his Father) opened his own operation, Howard Manufacturing Jewellers. He focused on manufacturing, selling to local stores including Birks. Soon after he expanded his business into retail.
Working with his brother David, the pair worked tirelessly to build up the family business. Rising from such humble beginnings and with many obstacles to overcome it’s an amazing achievement that today the company has earned its reputation as a well-recognized name across Canada and a pillar in the industry.
And when the children came, naturally they were thrown into the mix. If you could sort, carry, help, smile or even take a nap in the back without disturbing anyone, you were part of a team. That’s how Howard’s two daughters, Stephanie and Lindsay, got their start.
While other children were playing dollhouse, Stephanie and Lindsay joke that they were sorting pearls. Perhaps there is some truth to that since today the women have taken rein of the family business, expanding it to include True Bijoux, an urban jewellery boutique with its own unique offering and a novel, open environment where clients can see the jeweller working on their pieces. The Appotive sisters’ responsiveness and attentiveness to the shifts they are witnessing around them is cementing their reputation in the industry at a time when transition is happening across the board.
From an early age Howard gave his daughters the adult treatment, bringing them to important meetings where they could listen and learn. Howard also instilled a strong work ethic coupled with an appreciation for impeccable customer service. These early impressions set the sisters up for successful entrepreneurship and today they are passing on that knowledge to their own children.
Stephanie: “Today, we have eight jewellers that work on site. We have a full laboratory with two full-time gemologists, a watchmaking division and a service centre division; we’re vertically integrated. We’re continuing the legacy of welcoming our children into being flies on the wall and letting them find joy in being creative, which has always been an amazing thing that our father gave us. We were taken to meetings at the banks or with suppliers. The deal was we just had to be quiet and listen. Afterwards, he would always ask our opinion and get our thoughts. He has always been a wonderful teacher.
We have a picture when my son was about 14 months old sitting on my father’s lap and they are looking at a diamond list on my father’s computer. My father was actually explaining to him why he would pick one diamond over the other. That’s just my father’s personality, start teaching at a super young age.”
A FAMILY AFFAIR- NEW ERA, NEW HANDS
In 2016, the Appotive sisters officially took over the family business. The transition has been smooth, with Howard staying on and continuing to work side by side- focusing on what he truly loves, his clients; meanwhile, the Appotive sisters have expanded the family business, opening a sister store: True Bijoux.
Stephanie: “What’s nice is it truly compliments Howard Jewellers and it allows us to always be the jeweller for our clients. If somebody doesn’t want to spend X amount around Christmas but they love dealing with us, they can visit our sister store and find a beautiful pair of silver earrings, which we don’t have at Howard. I think that’s something that we’re doing that’s a little different from other family jewellers in the industry; instead of opening up a second Howard, we’ve started a spin off business to further reach our clients’ needs. At the core, the creation of True Bijoux in 2006 required the existing leadership, our father and uncle to willingly explore the next generation’s thinking and passions, allowing us to pursue our own ideas even if they did not always understand them. It also required us to be humble and open to the experiences and mentorship of the elder generation as they have valuable insights. Working together for the common goal of growing the business into the future, having shared values and open communication while keeping egos at bay are all part of the recipe that has worked for us to have successfully transitioned into a second-generation leadership role.
Lindsay and I have always been in the jewellery world, our clients have known us personally for years and we are a true family business so any given day of the week you can walk in and see many family members and long-standing co-workers working side by side. Our clients love this experience of knowing so many familiar faces; the transition in many ways has been seamless and exciting for our clients to see us grow.”
The gift of Fresh Eyes
The Appotive family has always been ahead of the curve with innovation in their factory as well as with design. In tune with what is trending and anticipating customers’ demands, they noticed many were inheriting jewellery without much knowledge of what to do with it.
The accumulation of family jewellery will only increase in the future; part of the challenge will be translating these pieces into relevant and meaningful designs with contemporary functionality. The ability to solve challenges, the foresight to reinvent and look at things afresh has enabled the Appotive Sisters to embrace this opportunity for reinvention while creating invaluable pieces of family heirlooms that can continue to live and sparkle in the hands of their new owners.
Stephanie: “I started having clients asking me what they could do with their inherited pieces “you know, this was my grandmother’s, I love it but I don’t wear it, but I want to!” Or clients who say, “Oh my goodness, I’m just not wearing this anymore.” Giving new life to existing pieces is a passion. Sometimes it is as simple as sandblasting that piece or setting a few stones in, and all of a sudden you can have that designer look that you really wanted to have all along. Redesign is an interesting opportunity in the jewellery industry, especially when you have manufacturing capabilities. We have the capability to help them see those pieces in a completely different way, that’s an important part of our businesses. Lindsay does a lot of that even with fashion jewellery. So it really becomes a service to our clients; this allows you to become part of somebody’s jewellery journey. It’s not just about selling them a $10,000 ring or a $20,000 necklace.
It reminds me of an old Yiddish proverb which basically talks about making something from nothing; you have an old coat and the coat gets worn through so out of the coat you make a vest and when the vest wears through, then you make a handkerchief and when the handkerchief wears through, you make a patch.”
LINDSAY: “And you end up actually starting a relationship with a client when you think that way. That’s because they look at you as a problem solver. You have their best interests at heart, you’re being practical with them. It really reinforces that practical value that our parents instilled in us and it rubs off on the whole team.”
THE FEMALE SELF PURCHASER
In addition to embracing every opportunity to serve the needs of their clients through customization, varied price points and exceptional customer service, the Appotive sisters have seen more and more women buying fine jewellery for themselves. Paying attention to shifting customer behaviours, they spot amazing opportunities to service a niche clientele.
Stephanie: “This has been an exciting shift and we have curated our collections to specifically appeal to this growing category. We are working with many women that see the fine jewellery category more like a fashion accessory and we feel the biggest competition in this growing category ($295-$2500+) is luxury handbags & designer shoes.”
As businesswomen who also love fashion we get it, life is busy and if you can look great quickly that is very appealing. The simple act of throwing on, for example, a lariet pearl necklace with a great pair of gold earrings instantly elevates a simple outfit just like a Gucci belt or a Louis Vuitton handbag. It’s an investment but it reaps many rewards. Our clients look to us for guidance on growing their jewellery wardrobe in a fun way and that suits their day to day lifestyle.”
Although this is a growing category there are still challenges, including a strong sentiment by many that fine jewellery is to be ‘gifted’, as a husband to a wife for a special occasion. However, that’s no longer the case at all, the category is much broader. “We focus on delivering the right price and style that appeals to our clients while inadvertently challenging a well-established norm.”
Carrying on the legacy instilled in them by their father, the Appotive sisters focus on exceptional customer service across the board, whether for something significant or small.
LINDSAY: “Our focus in 2020 is ensuring that our clients consistently have the same wow experience across all platforms and in-store. It’s easier to control this message in a small store where the owner is a part of most, if not all, the interactions. However, as you grow and have more staff touch the client experience the challenges start to present themselves and it becomes apparent that continually developing and working on the store culture is a significant priority to maintain consistency.”
LINDSAY: “We all know that it is easy to motivate a great sales team with the prospect of selling large ticket items but the same drive is important, if not more, in the complimentary services we offer or the smaller purchases a client wishes to make. We want to be a part of our clients’ jewellery and watch journey and that might mean they are coming in for a $10 battery or a small solder job. They need to trust that for us ‘nothing is too big or too small’ This philosophy requires everyone to walk the walk; and in a team of 23 at Howard Jewellers or a team of 6 at True Bijoux, it is a priority for us to ensure that everyone shares this philosophy and embraces our store culture. We want our clients to always feel really well taken care of.”
Stephanie: “Of course, the industry has been talking about clienteling for a long time. We truly believe that the next level of that is an attitude of hospitality in retail. Our inspiration for that is more what you would see in the restaurant and hotel industry.”
LINDAY: “We had a customer visiting from California and she forgot her cell phone in the store; we went outside and tried to find her but obviously couldn’t. Through conversation the associate knew the hotel the customer was staying at. I said I would drop off her phone at the concierge.
Well, that person called me, sent me flowers and couldn’t believe it. That’s an experience she will remember and that’s what I try and instil in all of our employees. Whether you are a jeweller, whether you’re the concierge or a receptionist, let’s always try and make somebody’s day.
As for the shopping experience, clients should have fun and feel like they’re in your home. Providing a great experience does not necessarily mean giving the same experience to every single client. Some people want a cup of coffee, some people just want speed and fast problem-solving. It’s trying to cater to what they really need from you. We try to avoid a corporate experience where everything is the same across the board.”
Stephanie: “So experience for us is really about personalization. You also have to have wonderful partners in terms of wholesalers and suppliers and brands and designers who share that vision.
Really what you’re doing is you’re creating magic for people. That could be in a very small purchase, that could be in something that’s actually free. It could be a complimentary Rolex bracelet adjustment, for instance. That’s a new way to look at something and a new way to be teaching your team, that you might be meeting somebody for the first time and be giving a complimentary service, not focusing on a sale. You have to do that level of excellence, you have to have a long term vision.”
Lindsay: “We think one of the big challenges moving forward is delivering a personalized experience for people across the entire channel. It’s one thing to be able to master it in-store, it’s another matter to be able to translate that through messages you receive on LinkedIn, Facebook Messenger, Instagram.”
THE DIGITAL EXPERIENCE
Digital is the main focus for the Appotive Sisters in 2020. Recognizing the importance of fostering a digital environment that reflects the personality and experience of shopping in-store is their motivation and bridging this gap will allow clients to seamlessly interact with their brands on various digital platforms; some clients love Instagram, others Facebook. The Appotive sisters want to meet and engage with clients in the arena of their choice. They view social media as a new form of window shopping. Of course, the ultimate goal is for the client to come into the store to touch, talk, interact and treat themselves but it often times all starts online.
Stephanie: “I also really emphasize the in store experience and listening to clients. How do they want to have that in-store experience? What does that feel like to them? Because as wonderful as digital is the goal is to bring them in store but the experience has to be consistent. If they found us on Instagram and followed us does it feel similar when they walk through our doors?
With social media, we are using it as a way to connect with clients, we almost look at it like it’s our own magazine. It’s our opportunity to share content with people, it’s an opportunity to start a conversation and engage them. It’s really remarkable how when we spend time on delivering quality content; the responses that we actually get from that. Our way of handling it is we have our own in-store teams.”
Lindsay: “The reality is that my generation is on their phone.”
Stephanie: “And it requires all of us to be so dedicated to learning this new environment. We’re very lucky that we have wonderful suppliers and brands, who have also embraced it and who are focusing on helping to teach and share their own experiences with it as well, which goes to the importance of partnerships. Because if you’re carrying brands that do not understand that, then that poses its own challenge. We as retailers can’t do it alone.”
Lindsay: “I used to think of social media as a chore. And I had a mental shift, that this could be really fun. When I did that things started to change, I started to see sales through direct messages, customers coming into the store, showing me their phone, “I want this off the post”. If you don’t enjoy it, you have to find somebody who will.”
Objectively, a lot has changed since the two Appotive brothers opened Howard Manufactured Fine Jewellery back in ’67. The first generation was operated by two brothers, today it is run by two female entrepreneurs with their finger on the pulse of an exceptionally quickly shifting online environment, new shopping habits and demographics. The Appotives see these shifts as opportunities and are looking into the future with excitement. There is a lot to be done and so much innovation to embrace. The journey won’t necessarily be easy but their foundation for success and a hard work ethic has been set up by the generation previous.
Stephanie: “We want to be known as collaborators, we want to be known as innovators and we want to be known for delivering excellence. We’re very open to constructive criticism, open to becoming better. At the end of the day, we’re striving for excellence; but because you’ve reached excellence, you can’t rest on your laurels. It requires a lot of work to stay there.”
Lindsay: “I really believe in the journey together; with suppliers, with clients with everything. I don’t believe in the word No, I believe if there’s a will, there’s a solution and you can find it.”
Stephanie: “Which is something that comes from our father. The other thing that comes from him is that you treat everybody equally. That really feeds into your ability to deliver hospitality at a level of excellence to everybody. If it’s not in your mindset to treat everybody equally and to be open to people, then you can’t be hospitable in a genuine way.”
“To move into the future successfully, for everyone, I think we need to talk more amongst each other. We have many close friends in the jewellery industry who own other stores and who are suppliers and we really believe it’s about collaborating together. We both have a tremendous amount of respect for our fellow jewellers and we’ve learned a lot of them- we have a lot of mentors. We’re much stronger together than we are as individuals.”
HOWARD FINE JEWELLERS & CUSTOM DESIGNERS
Number of Employees: 23
Number of Locations: 1
Years in Operation: 53
Square Footage: 4250 Sq
Brands: Rolex, Tudor,
Howard Custom, Hearts
on Fire, Tacori, Fope,
Vahan, Furrer Jacot
Top jewellery style: Diamond rings
Number of Employees: 6
Number of Locations: 1
Years in Operation: 14
Square Footage: 2000 Sq
Brands: Gabriel & Co, Todd Reed, Belle Etoile, Benchmark, Thomas Sabo, Petit Bijoux
Top jewellery style: Vintage