Jeweler shares his career transition story
No matter the jewelry store size, the population it serves or years in business, the decision to close a multi-generational, family-owned business is a monumental one. Scott Slobotkin and his father Jay discovered this in March 2019. That’s when the father-and-son duo realized it was time to close Warrington, PA-based David Jay Jewelers after 46 years in business.
“It was kind of a perfect storm of conditions that led to the decision,” says Scott. “My father was looking to retire at the end of 2019, our lease was expiring at the end of last year, and I’d lost the passion for the business. The good thing was both of us were on the same page, at the same time, about closing the store.”
Jay started working in the jewelry industry at the young age of 18. He spent many years learning the craft and understanding what it took to run a retail store. And, in 1974, Jay opened his first store in Springhouse, PA. A few years later Jay moved his jewelry store to Dresher, PA, where the family business would thrive for 35 years.
Scott officially joined the family business in 2002. He started at a young age with the usual tasks and worked his way up. Dresher proved to be a lucrative market for Jay and Scott. So much so that in 2007 they decided to open a second location in Warrington, PA.
“The Shops at Valley Square was a great location for us to open a second store,” says Scott. “It was a fairly upscale lifestyle center with a really good mix of 40 national, regional and local businesses. The surrounding market was solidly middle- to upper-middle class on up to affluent. And, the location allowed for a lot of foot traffic.”
While there was a considerable amount of competition, Jay and Scott realized the best way to differentiate themselves from other jewelry stores in the area was to continue specializing in custom design, fashion jewelry, appraisals and full service repairs with a shop on premises. They also wanted their second store to make bridal and high-end fashion main focal points. And, it was imperative to carry an extensive inventory.
For the first three to four years the Warrington location was doing very well. Thanks, in part, to a solid business foundation and many years of retail jewelry experience. Even though the 2008 housing market crash, and prolonged languishing recovery, “held them back a bit,” according to Scott, once the economy leveled off David Jay Jewelers got on solid footing.
Still, the cumulative impact forced Jay to close the Dresher location in 2009, making the Warrington location their flagship store. In the years that followed Jay and Scott were doing well.
But business at the Warrington lifestyle center “never dramatically increased for us,” says Scott. “In subsequent years, it became harder and harder to do the same amount of business, and from 2011 to 2013, things didn’t change much even with the economy picking up. Ultimately, in the last few years, the risk wasn’t worth the reward.”
Once Jay and Scott finalized their decision to close they had more than six months to plan and execute the store closure. “One thing we had on our side was time,” says Scott. “That’s my main piece of advice to jewelry store owners looking to close their business. Give yourself a long timeline to plan and strategize accordingly.”
The first order of business was to address all loose inventory, which included a number of loose diamonds and colored stones as well as pre-owned jewelry that could be refurbished. “Given the amount of loose inventory we had, producing set, saleable jewelry we could sell took several months,” says Scott.
In August, Jay and Scott felt the need to contract a liquidation company to help. “We were reluctant at first, given our prior experiences with these types of companies, but assumed most GOB sales required a liquidation company to help,” says Scott
The liquidation company provided very little info and content prior to the sale and communication was minimal, he said. As the sale began, they decided the efforts provided by the liquidation company did not compare to what Jay and Scott would be able to execute on their own. After weeks of deliberating, Scott decided to end the working relationship in early December.
Their last Christmas season in the store was quite stressful, starting with the mid-November official store closing notice going out to all customers. “We took a ‘thank you for your years of support’ approach to the mailer that was sent out on Thursday, November 12. Three days later, as the cards started arriving by mail, it was like a bomb went off that Saturday. The phones were ringing constantly.”
With the difficult tasks just getting started, Jay and Scott took the reins of their GOB sale. Scott decided to make his mainly digital campaign more “targeted,” directing the GOB sale at certain customers and demographics in his market. This proved to be “very effective,” says Scott. “Especially on Facebook and Instagram.”
And, e-blasts were all price-driven messages. “In the waning weeks and days we did a countdown approach with e-blasts,” says Scott. “Showing the GOB discounts helped bring in price-point shoppers and those looking for very good deals during the holidays.”
The GOB sale officially ended on Saturday, January 18. As luck and timing would have it, Warrington was bracing itself for several inches of snow that day. Despite the weather, the final GOB sale day was a ringing success. It was punctuated with what Scott calls “a sign.”
“Just as we’re closing things up close to 4:00 PM, the power in the entire mall goes out during our very last transaction of the store’s history,” says Scott. “It was a very good sale. We got through it the old-fashioned way, with hand-written receipts. Normally, power outages are momentary. This one lasted hours. When we locked the doors for the last time, we did so in the dark using the flashlights on our phones.”
These days Scott feels considerably less stress. And he is emotionally, mentally and physically ready for the path ahead. At press time, Scott was considering several options leading with the possibility of providing store closure consulting services to other retailers as well as continuing his development on a peer-to-peer online diamond marketplace. Jay, even at retirement age, is considering becoming a by-appointment private jeweler.
In looking back at the whole experience, Jay and Scott acknowledge the enormous amount of work their staff contributed to making the GOB sale an overwhelming success. “Telling them the store was closing was perhaps the hardest part of it all,” says Scott. “But everyone stuck with us till the very end. We couldn’t have done it without them and we’re immensely grateful and humbled by their commitment to our family business, years of service and loyalty.”