Throughout the history of Hogan’s Jewelers, the size of its market has never been an issue. From helping Main Street customers in the early years, to servicing the immediate and outlying communities today, calling Gaylord, Michigan home has been nothing but pluses.
Small town values, superlative service rooted in decades of reputable repair work (and custom designs), plus rolling the dice with new jewelry lines has allowed Hogan’s to cater to a sizeable customer base in Northern Michigan.
With a local population of less than 4,000, Gaylord is a small, picturesque town nicknamed the “Alpine Village.” Perhaps this quaint quality factored in to Ollie and Geraldine (Gerry) Hogan’s decision to open Hogan’s Jewelers in 1958.
In business for more than 60 years, Hogan’s has changed with the times by taking measured risks with jewelry ranging from fashion to higher-end over the decades. But from the original founders to present day, the store has always remained steadfastly loyal to its roots in service, leading with exceptional repairs and increasing custom work.
“There are many days that we take in 40 to 50 repairs a day,” says store manager Eryn Maertens, who has been a fixture at Hogan’s for decades. “That serves our immediate market of around 4,000 people. But our reputation for offering the best repair work in the area is what allows us to pull in customers from other markets, with a potential customer base of 40,000 to 50,000.”
It took many years to achieve this goal. Hogan’s got its start after World War II when Ollie used his GI Bill funds to advance his interest in clocks and watches as well as precious metals and gems. “My father [Ollie] always enjoyed bench work,” says store owner Betsy Hogan Sanders. “But he enjoyed interacting with people more. That’s why the business focused on both retail and repair destination from the beginning.”
His people skills became the stuff of legend in Gaylord. Each day, Ollie would walk to the bank with his store’s daily deposits. And, each day he would stop in all of the businesses on the way to the bank and cover the opposite side of the street on the way back just to say hello and see if anyone needed anything while he was out. Always jingling change in his pocket with a skip in his step.
Over time, he expanded and diversified his business to accommodate customers. This earned Ollie the moniker of “Ambassador of Main Street,” literally selling jewelry and pulling repairs from his vest and pants pockets, and welcoming newcomers to the town.
In 1964, Ollie got tired of renting and moved his store two blocks to its present location. Owning your own store had its advantages. An active member of Michigan’s Democrat party, Ollie networked and finagled his way into making his place of business the Secretary of State office, which then handled many of today’s Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) tasks.
“We did this for about 12 years,” says Betsy. “Gerry handled office, store and the Secretary of State work out of the back office. I remember long lines running into the store. People saw our merchandise coming in and going out. That helped build our business and introduce the influx of oil and gas workers to Hogan’s as customers.”
Neighborly charm and added revenue streams helped get the business going in the first two decades, but more was needed to ensure Hogan’s future. In the late 1970s to early 1980s, Gene and Betsy bought the store from her parents. Betsy taught college prep English at the local high school for 31 years while Gene continued to grow the family business.
It was a seamless transition. Gene even took over Ollie’s ambassadorial role as well as other management duties, and earned his diamonds certificate from GIA. With a hard-earned reputation for repair work, he added fashion, bridal jewelry and other merchandise.
“We were one of the first jewelry stores in Northern Michigan to employ full-time goldsmiths and bench jewelers onsite, which has been a key to our business success,” says Eryn. “Gene and Betsy also expanded the size of the business to accommodate grandfather and wall clocks, fine crystal and collectibles.”
The changes brought in good business up to the new millennium. In the lead up to the store’s 50th anniversary in 2007, however, store management inherently knew the old ways of doing things had to change once again.
The sales of grandfather clocks and curio cabinets were declining while bridal sales were growing. To celebrate 50 years in business they converted their grandfather clock room into a Diamond Room adding 26 feet of new bridal cases complete with a private customer consulting office. After a hugely successful golden anniversary sale event, Eryn later brought on Makur, a jewelry designer known for their mainly rose gold and morganite jewelry she saw at a major trade show. Two pieces were brought back to the store.
In one month, they were literally sold off the hands of sales associates. More pieces were purchased and Hogan’s customers bought it up. Inspired by the success of the Makur line, Eryn brought on Dove, an Italian designer that specializes in fusing white (clear) topaz with other gemstones to create stunning, almost multidimensional jewelry. “The line has been a success since the moment it came in the store and continues to be for us,” says Eryn.
Eryn started at the store when she was 15-years-old. She received her GJG from GIA in 1999. Gene and Eryn were planning on a transition of ownership. This move was in the very early stages when Gene suddenly died in 2010. It was a jarring but transformative event in the store’s history.
“Gene managed his business very well,” says Eryn. “Although it was an unexpected loss, he hired people that did much of the work he performed each day. With hard work and determination, that’s how we honored his memory then and now.” Gene often stated, “You are only as good as your staff.”
Honoring Gene’s memory is more than hard work and dedication. More importantly, it’s a natural extension of the small town values Hogan’s is known for in Northern Michigan. Minus the stress of big market competition, Hogan’s perseveres with what they do best with a staff that has more than 100 years of industry, retail, sales and bench experience.
“Each day we continue to earn trust and word-of-mouth referrals for our repair work, which accounts for about half of our business,” says Eryn. “We also have to be relevant to our customers by offering the best service that includes educating them and carrying affordable to fine finished jewelry they can’t find in other stores. That’s why we’re a gem of Northern Michigan.”