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Keys to Success

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Ellis Jewelers still sparkles after six decades

After six decades in downtown Concord, Ellis Jewelers is almost as entrenched in the community as the Cabarrus County courthouse.

Ellis Levinson opened the store in 1953, thanks to a small bank loan and a few thousand dollars from his in-laws, who owned a jewelry store in Gastonia.

Sixty years later, Ellis Levinson is about to turn 86. One of his children, Dan Levinson, 50, bought the family business from him 13 years ago. And the jewelry store that once sold diamond jewelry alongside suitcases, razors, wallets and lighters, is now more focused on the bridal industry.

Though Ellis Jewelers still does repairs and custom designs, most of their business comes from selling a variety of loose diamonds, engagement rings and wedding bands.

Here are some of Dan Levinson’s keys to sustaining business success for more than 60 years:

‘Be part of a universe’: In 1962, Ellis Levinson helped found the Southern Jewelers Organization, a group of five noncompeting independent jewelers that use their combined buying power to negotiate terms and discounts from approved vendors. It was a way to compete with the emerging jewelry chains.

Now the organization has more than 50 members and hosts two private jewelry shows a year, says Levinson, who’s now joined a second group, as well. The networking is invaluable, he says, and because they’re all from noncompeting areas, they can speak candidly about a variety of issues, from how to find good staff to choosing the best health insurance plan for employees.

“It still plays a huge part in our success,” Levinson says. “It’s a whole lot better to be part of a universe than to be stuck on an island alone.”

Involve staff in buying decisions: Though Levinson works with customers every day, he still solicits advice from his four employees. After deciding on suppliers, he’ll sit down with employees and review the jewelry lines, side by side.

Levinson says they’re always telling him about new trends, styles and comments from clients.

“Three-fourths of what I buy has the imprint of my staff,” he says. “They see more clients than I do. Why not take advantage of their knowledge?”

As for finding those employees? Levinson says he’s always got his eyes open for great customer service, whether he’s at a restaurant or a department store.

Consider an update: Levinson says it’s more important now than ever to constantly update your strategy, merchandise and infrastructure.

“My father’s generation, they would make changes in five- or 10-year increments … and be fine and pay the bills and be successful,” Levinson says.

But with the advent of new advertising mediums, social media and the behemoth that is online shopping, staying competitive in the 21st-century economy means constant change, constant analysis.

“Now, every six months, every 90 days, we’re looking at what we’re doing, what’s working, what’s not working, what new things are coming down the turnpike,” Levinson says.

Since buying the store from his dad 13 years ago, Levinson says he’s renovated the space several times, with projects ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.

Last year, he expanded the front of the store and opened up the interior space. Passersby are always poking their heads in to compliment the work, he says.

“It says a lot about who you are, what you believe in,” Levinson says. “If you go into a store with carpet that’s 40 years old and wallpaper peeling, is that really someone you want to entrust with your grandfather’s watch? It’s a constant cycle of change. ... and I’m gearing up for 60 more years.”

McMillan: 704-358-6045 Twitter: @cbmcmillan
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