Oshawa Jewellery

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A Love Story

 

Rachel Berdugo’s journey from Israeli kibbutz to Canadian jewellery store has the makings of a great novel: adventure, drama and true grit. But it’s love – for a man, a country and an industry – that is the heart of this story.

By Janine Druery

Left: Tally, Rachel and Samuel Berdugo may have opened its doors in 1983, but its origins go back long before then, to a time and a place far from its address in the small Southern Ontario city of Oshawa.

It starts about 45 years ago and approximately 6,000 miles away on collective farm called a ‘kibbutz’ in Israel. There, a young woman named Rachel Berdugo (sent there at age nine after her father died and her mother was left to raise three children) fell in love with a handsome, Moroccan-born soldier named Samuel.

Rachel, who today owns and operates Oshawa Jewellery with her son Tally, was swept off her feet by the older, world-wise Samuel, who soon after asked her mother’s permission to bring Rachel to Canada and begin a new life.

Young and in love, with only $10 in her pocket, clothes unfit for a Canadian winter, and no English language skills, Rachel made the move across the world in December 1968 and, as they say, never looked back.

“I can still remember coming out of the plane and seeing the vastness of Canada, and the cars, and it was cold,” says Rachel, who took odd jobs, and upgraded her education in London, Ontario while her husband studied to become an electrical engineer. “And I soon realized that the milk and honey is in this beautiful country.” 

RETURN TO THE PROMISED LAND

It wasn’t until returning to visit her family in Israel in 1974 with newborn son Tally in tow that she considered a career in jewellery. A relative in the business entrusted her with pieces worth about $10,000, which she promptly wrapped up in baby diapers and brought to Canada (then Sault Ste. Marie). She started hosting wine, cheese and jewellery parties with a good friend and had some fun with it until her friend moved to Vancouver to open her own jewellery store.

Several years later, after Rachel and Samuel moved to Oshawa, the same friend came in for a jewellery show. Rachel joined her at the event, met people in the industry, and soon after flew to Vancouver to “absorb, sponge and learn” so she could begin her own business back home.

“Samuel gave me our life savings, which was $33,000, and by the time I built the showcases and bought a few chains, I didn’t have any more money for anything else,” she recalls.

Always enterprising and tenacious, she went to see a diamond wholesaler and asked him for some merchandise to sell. Then she went to a gold wholesaler and so on, managing to amass a fair bit of inventory to sell in a small shop she opened in downtown Oshawa in 1983. It was then that Oshawa Jewellery was born.

“On the weekends I worked the flea market with my two little suitcases,” says Rachel, who also spent a lot of time standing on the street handing out pamphlets and arranging jewellery parties for local women.

MEETING HER MENTOR

In 1992, after working long hours and battling the politics of the business, Rachel met a man who would ultimately become her mentor. That man was Aruj Arkarakis from Master Design, a jewellery manufacturer, who put his trust in her. He gave her a briefcase full of merchandise, told her to sell it and to pay him later. “I thought there are people who care in this world,” says Rachel. “He wanted me to succeed. I felt it.”

This was how she put herself on the map and got ready to open up a store at the Oshawa Centre, the biggest mall in the city. “To move to the mall was a big, big challenge,” she says. “I’m ethnic, I’m a woman, I have a private business and there I was in a mall with all of these flagship stores like Birks, Peoples, Eaton’s.”

But despite the challenges, and despite the fact that the store previously belonged to Bell Canada and was all “cement, wire and steel,” it was hers and she was happy. “I’ve got chutzpah,” laughs Rachel. “I decided to open the store and I actually did it.” 

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Fast forward to 2013 and the store is a much different place. It has been redesigned to be a warm, welcoming place, and Rachel co-owns it with her son Tally Berdugo. While Tally went to university for commerce and business, he grew up around the jewellery store and eventually decided to make it his career.

“I saw a lot of places where I could apply what I learned in school to our business,” says Tally, who put in the store’s inventory control system. “The business was growing and really needed some systems in place to allow us to grow and manage the business properly. I figured I would rather work hard for my family and at least any benefits I could have on the business went to my folks instead of some big business.”

Other family members are also involved in the store. Rachel’s husband of 45 years, Samuel – who she calls “my gem, my rock” – is now retired and helps her out. And her daughter Liora is also in the business; she works as a designer for Tacori in Los Angeles, and her husband Avi is a diamond supplier for Tacori.

“It’s like a comedy show in here every day,” says Tally. “Rachel and I have a lot of fun and get the job done – hopefully well – in the process! Samuel keeps us in check too, as well as doing a lot of the back office work such as inventory and managing the accounts. We are all good at different aspects of the business and I believe we have a sort of synergy in our work.”

In addition to actual relatives, Rachel says her staff is like family to her. She sends them all for training and makes an effort to learn about their lives. She even feeds them!

“My devoted team humbles me every day with their willingness to deliver and give our customers such a great service and a feel-good sales experience,” she says. “They are truly my extended family and they allow me to enjoy my success.” 

STRONG CUSTOMER FOCUS

Oshawa Jewellery carries an array of high-end jewellery and timepiece brands such as Tacori, Simon G., Scott Kay, Thomas Sabo, Gucci, TAG Heuer and Tissot. They also do custom work, appraising and repairs.

They use a combination of new technology including CAD/CAM design techniques and old-world techniques (with an expert goldsmith on the premises) to create the custom jewellery. “That’s what sets us aside from anybody else in the mall,” says Rachel.

“I really like to walk a customer through the design to purchase process,” says Tally. “I always try to go over and above a customer’s expectations and get a lot of joy from seeing their reactions to a well-made custom job!”

And their commitment to customer service is second to none. “My mantra and my philosophy is that I’m going to treat everyone so well – anyone that comes though my threshold is going to be my guest,” says Rachel.

Rachel’s mission is to ensure everyone in Oshawa has beautiful jewellery at a fair price. Although Oshawa is a bedroom community of about 150,000 people, approximately 60 km from Toronto, she wants to ensure people there don’t have to go to the bigger city to get top-notch merchandise.

So she makes sure not to overlook any detail. “Everything leaves here with the Oshawa paper and the Oshawa ribbon and the Oshawa feel-good. And if I need to deliver it personally, I’ll do it. And if you have an anniversary, I’ll send you flowers.”

Tally notes that he has a much different approach than Rachel. “We are a good team – she is good with the more emotional side of selling and I am great with numbers, technical stone aspects, CAD-CAM and other details.” 

WHAT’S NEXT

It’s been a winning combination thus far. And Rachel and Tally are starting to expand the business. In June, they opened a new Pandora shop in the mall and are looking forward to running that.

“Pandora became a successful brand for us,” notes Rachel. “We were doing so well at 120 feet so opened 850 square feet across the hall.”

And while Rachel dreams of opening her own complex that would offer those in Oshawa the best of everything, from food to clothing to accessories, for now it is just a dream. Her feet are firmly planted on the ground at Oshawa Jewellery, and she is very happy there.

“No life plan could have prepared me for this amazing vocation,” she says. “I’m a jeweller, self-employed, and every day I feel blessed to be able to share my passion for the jewellery business.” CJ

cover story

PORTRAITS by ANDREJ KOPAC

“I’ve got chutzpah. I decided to open the store and I actually did it.”

Name: Oshawa Jewellery Inc.

Owners: Rachel Berdugo and Tally Berdugo

Location: Oshawa Centre mall in Oshawa, Ontario

Store Size: 1,800 square feet

Staff: 31 employees

Known For: High-end brands, custom design, appraisals, repairs

Brands: Tacori, Simon G., Scott Kay, Thomas Sabo, Gucci, TAG Heuer, Tissot, etc.

What’s New: Recently opened a Pandora store in the mall

Cool Factor: Rachel Berdugo’s unbridled enthusiasm

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