by John Hinge
Assistant Editor…National Jeweler 1-16-88
‘Bothersome’ Services Foster future Sales at Michael’s
West Palm Beach, Fla.—A mere mile and a half across the water from Rolls-Royces and manicured gardens, West Palm Beach’s Michael’s Jewelers seems world’s apart from the boutiques that line Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue retail strip.
Yet, customers regularly cross the bridge to the Palm Beach’s “ poorer sister” for Michael’s winning combination that they cannot get on Worth Avenue: exceptional service, value and affordability.
“ Even though they’re rolling in wealth, they’re very value-conscious,” maintained Murray Sperber, president of Michael’s.
Sperber uses that frugality to his advantage. He cited one Palm Beach millionaire who recently brought in 80 lighters to be filled. Michael’s probably lost money on that deal, he admitted, but the loss will be more than made up for the next time the women comes in to buy jewelry.
“The stores on Worth Avenue don’t want to be bothered with filling lighters,: he said. Sperber, on the other hand does not mind the “bother”; he figures that many of the customers will come back when it’s time to make a large jewelry purchase.
In addition to filling lighters, Michael’s does a booming business in watch band and battery replacement “because of the residual effect of the sales.”
But the store doesn’t confine itself to such “easy” service tasks. Michael’s has a full watch making facility, does its own casting-and Sperber is even considering doing his own gold refining.
One-Third of Staff in Shop
To support the demand for service, more than one-third of Michael’s staff is assigned to shopwork. Two full-time goldsmiths and a full-time watchmaker work in the back of the store. And Sperber’s son Michael, spends much of his time repairing jewelry and watches.
Repair on top end watches, such as Patek Philippe, Vacheron and Rolex, are sent out to a former Tiffany watchmaker who used to work for Michael’s and now works on a trade shop basis.
Keeping track of all the watch repairs, Sperber noted, has been eased by the computer system Michael Sperber recently introduced. He also has the stores ring inventory and gold inventory on the system; he’s hoping to get the store’s entire inventory coded eventually
Despite Michael’s proximity to Palm Beach, not all of the store’s customers are culled from the ranks of the gentry, Sperber emphasized.
“Our customers range from laborers to multi-millionaires,” he said. Accordingly, Michael’s sales range from Timex watches to, recently, a 53-caret, $250,000 sapphire.
Not surprisingly, sales at Michael’s 2,500-square-foot store (1,400 square feet of that is showroom space) have been increasing every year, he said.
From 1956 to 1973, he managed a leased fine jewelry department in Belk’s department store on the main drag, Clematis Street. In 1975, Sperber came upon the Clematis Street building in which he is presently located. He purchased the building, a former Thomas Mcan shoe store, and added a 6,000 square foot second floor office space. The location is surrounded by Federal and State office buildings and real estate mogul Donald Trump recently bought two buildings on nearby Flagler drive.
Bank Becomes Jewelry Store
In the meantime, Michael’s Jewelers has continued to flourish; Sperber served as president of the Florida Jewelers Association for the past two years and in January, in an effort to better tap the super-rich market, he opened another store just across the bridge in Palm Beach, itself.
Sperber's daughter Sue now manages the store with her brother-in-law and one additional employee. And although Sperber still considers the downtown, Clematis Street site to be the main store, he hopes the Palm Beach location will become a more sizable factor in his business—particularly in estate buying.
“We are privy to a lot of estates in the Palm Beach area,” Sperber noted. And with a special area of the downtown location devoted to estate jewelry, Michael’s does quite a business in estate jewelry, he said.
Not only are there healthy profits available in estate sales, but Sperber also sees estate buying as an opportunity to provide a service—and plant the seeds for future customers.
As court appointed jewelry expert for Palm Beach County, Sperber sees appraisals as filling a similar function.
Customer Makes It BIG
Sperber is no stranger to planting seeds. One of them planted more than 30 years ago, has blossomed into thousands of dollars of business each year—and a personal friendship.
Back in 1953, when Sperber was a salesperson at Ross Jewelers, a credit jewelry store near his present location, a young man named Burt Reynolds came in. Reynolds, who had grown up in the area, bought a ring for his father on layaway. But he was so impressed by Sperber’s personalized service that he kept up the acquaintance —even after he made it big. Through Reynolds, Sperber has gotten business from Loni Anderson, Sally Field, Tom Jones and others. Signed portraits of many of the stars dot the store’s walls.
But Sperber is perhaps most proud of the portrait of Reynolds that hangs on his wall. The portrait, a Christmas present from Reynolds three years ago, is signed “ To Murray, My Friend Always, Burt.” That’s just one example of how Sperber’s business philosophy has paid off for him.
“We do the little things,” he said. “We plant the seeds, and many times they flourish.”
That Was Then, This Is Now
We've come a long way since 1988, as have our West Palm Beach and Palm Beach locations. The revitalization of the downtown area and Clematis Street has brought an influx of new business. The “Baby Boomers” have arrived, as have their children. Night life, fancy boutiques, law offices and activity anew has us catering to the designs and styles that these groups thrive on. We have added chic lines like the inlaid stone jewelry of world renowned Acsh / Grossbardt and the titanium watch line presented by Boccia. Those looking for the retro look of 1940 to the 60s can choose from a wide variety in our estate department.
At times, we have gone on a search mission to locate the vintage Rolex or rose gold Estate Deco bracelet that our clientele desire. If we can't find it, our design and fabrication talents, along with the details required by the customer will permit us to create just what they are looking for. We make use of client's old jewelry and gem stones, when available, and rework them into something “hot” for today.
Having a presence on the Internet and connections with suppliers as well as customers world wide, opens up a vast means to meet demands and deliver information. We are set up to communicate via email and images with both suppliers and customers world wide. Palm Beach is the playground of the world's wealthy and many are customers of ours and have been for as long as 4 decades. We are able to acquire on memo, items that were out of reach prior to the Internet.
When in the Palm Beaches, make sure you stop by either one of our stores. The Palm Beach location is approximately 3 blocks from The Breakers Hotel on Royal Poinciana Way. The West Palm Beach store is in the heart of downtown on Clematis Street.
Oh, and we still do “the little things,” like installing watch batteries, making watch repairs, and, even refilling lighters if you so desire.