Nothing says a jewelry store owner can’t use a little humor when assessing the status of their business. “It’s like a Fabergé egg in a paper bag,” says Craig Husar, when discussing his high-end jewelry store currently located in a Brookfield, WI strip mall.
Seven years ago, when Craig purchased the family business from his father Lyle, he set a goal to build a freestanding store to commemorate the store’s 50th anniversary year. Given the store’s history, moving into the strip mall was a good fit and a good idea 28 years ago. But after three sizable and very costly renovations, Craig decided it was time to make a bold move into his own freestanding jewelry store.
“Over the years we’ve not only offered more services to our customers, but also elevated the quality and selection of our jewelry as well as the stature of the store in our community,” says Craig. “When examining long-term development of the store, its strip mall location and size were two growth-limiting factors.”
For Craig, family members working in the store, and staffers, going from a 5,000-square-foot store to a 7,500-square-foot store isn’t just about having more space to offer more products and services. In looking ahead toward future milestone anniversaries, it’s more about the progression of the family business. Chief among these evolutionary changes is increasing the brand equity of the Husar name in the Brookfield and Milwaukee markets.
Based on the interior design and floorplan of the new freestanding store, many sweeping changes are planned for the way Craig and his staff will sell jewelry. But the most exciting for Craig as the owner and president of the family business (also known as the store’s Chief Romance Officer) is the sizable design studio that will be headed up by Craig’s daughter Becca.
“Becca is an amazingly talented designer,” says Craig. “She’s been producing incredibly creative and innovative jewelry designs for our custom clients. The two of us have been collaborating for the past several months on our own Husar Signature Collection which will be launched in early 2019.”
The Husar family business has come a long way since Lyle opened the doors of Husar’s Tic-Tok Shop in late May 1968. After serving in the military, Lyle visited his cousin’s jewelry store to buy an engagement ring for his wife Alice. The family member encouraged Lyle to pursue watchmaking. Acting on the advice, Lyle did just that and opened a watch and clock shop.
As jewelry was added to the store’s inventory, the name changed as well. In 1988, when Craig’s sister Christine Husar-Anderson began offering custom design services, the name changed to Lyle Husar Designs.
Craig’s memorable experiences of working in the family store set the hook deep for working in the gem and jewelry industry. But like most ambitious professionals in their early twenties Craig wanted to do other things with his life.
At 23, Craig moved to Southern California. At this stage in his life, he earned his Graduate Gemologist certificate from the GIA and stayed on at the Institute’s Santa Monica campus to teach gemology. One afternoon, a 90-carat, uncut, Colombian emerald arrived in the GIA Gem Trade Laboratory. Craig held it in his hand and was awestruck. It was his first encounter with Spanish treasure.
The next moment changed his life. He called underwater explorer Mel Fisher, who had discovered the giant emerald aboard the 1622 Spanish shipwreck, Nuestra Senora de Atocha. The call led to Craig joining Mel’s team of treasure hunters in Key West, FL. Later Craig would become the exhibition director for the “Treasure of the Atocha” exhibit, which travelled to 85 cities across North America.
In 1998, the giant emerald (along with a $40 million collection of treasure) came to the final stop on its North American tour at Lyle Husar Designs. As the treasure tour was coming to an end Craig decided it was time for his role in the family jewelry business to begin.
Craig has come a long way in the family business. He remembers the days of working in the store as a child with his father and mother and the sacrifices they both made. “My father borrowed my mother’s life’s savings to open his store,” says Craig. “They worked so hard. She did the bookkeeping while dad repaired watches and worked with the customers.”
Craig’s mother Alice worked as many hours as she could at the store while taking care of the kids at home. Lyle worked long, hard days expanding and growing the business. The rugged Eastern European work ethic wasn’t the only quality Craig picked up from his father. Perhaps more important was his dad’s ability to make customers laugh.
“My father is always smiling and has a fantastic sense of humor with customers,” says Craig. “It was never about cracking jokes. It was more about telling stories with amusing elements. He always says that making people laugh is the icebreaker that gets customer relationships off to a good start. I admire those qualities about my father and have made them my own over the years.”
After his seven-year hiatus from the store, Craig got down to the business of being in the family business. One of the first elements of successful succession planning was a crystal-clear definition of each family member’s duties.
“It seems like an easy task, but it’s more of a challenge than many people think,” says Craig. “Shane Decker [president of Ex-Sell-Ence] worked with us not only on sales training but also making these clear definitions of each family member’s duties many years ago. It’s what helped make us a multi-generational business.”
Another important part of the family business is family time outside of the store. It is a Husar golden rule not to talk about gold, gems or anything even remotely related to the store when it’s family time.
“We work very hard, each week putting in long hours, side by side with family members,” says Craig. “We’ve all become very good at leaving work at work.”
Lyle Husar Designs will officially become Craig Husar Designs in the first quarter of 2019. Ideally, Craig wanted the new store’s grand opening to happen on or near the actual 50th anniversary date in late May 2018, but the goal of opening a new store had many hot and cold moments over the last seven years. The chief consideration was the optimal building site.
Just when Craig thought his dreams of building a new store were dashed, he discovered the perfect spot. A lot directly across from a new, high-end lifestyle shopping mall called The Corners of Brookfield. The new store site is in an ideal location. It’s one of Wisconsin’s busiest intersections, with 70,000 motorists driving by each day.
Craig attributes much of the store’s current success and promise of future accomplishments to his younger sister Christine. “Her business mind, creative abilities and support over the years has meant everything,” says Craig, “I wouldn’t be here today without her.”
As Craig, his sister Christine, and daughter Becca continue to transform the family business, they never forget the lessons learned from previous generations. The original Husar Family values of exceptional customer service and exceeding customer expectations will always continue to define Husar Designs, no matter if there’s a Lyle or a Craig in front of it.