When Carl R. Carstens joined the family business in 1953 after serving in the Army, he knew he was walking into a family legacy. C.A. Schnack Jewelry Company first appeared in 1865 in Alexandria, Louisiana shortly after the Civil War ended when Carl A. Schnack, a German emigrant watchmaker, bought the business from two Scotsmen.
Carl R., part of the fourth generation of the Schnack family to join the business, might have expected to walk right into a leadership role in the family jewelry store, despite his young age. After all, his father Carl S. Carstens was running the store. But the Schnack family was much too savvy to give anyone too much responsibility too early, and Carl R. found himself working as a trainee in the bookkeeping department in order to prove himself.
The Schnack family clearly understands what it takes to successfully maintain a multi-generational family business. For more than 140 years they’ve operated a thriving business which grew and changed hands – successfully - within the family six times. They’ve adapted inventory as the needs of their customer changed, going from guns, fishing tackle and watches to jewelry, eventually migrating to china, glassware and a fully stocked gift department in the 1940s.
Today, as customer demand dictates, Schnack’s carries primarily gold and silver jewelry including name-brand lines like A. Jaffe, Aromatique, Cordova, Diane Mazza, and many others. They handle appraisals, repairs, ring sizing, remounting, stone restoration, watch repair, pearl restringing and custom jewelry designs all with a keen focus on exceptional customer service. For Schnack’s, customer service is more than a great motto, it is at the heart of 146 years of business.
“I’ve seen many changes throughout my almost 60 year career in the jewelry industry, and the table top bridal business is not what it once was when silver, crystal and china made up at least 50% of our sales,” recalls Carl R. Carstens, great grandson of C. A. Schnack. “At one point we carried an extensive inventory of silver, flatware, crystal and other bridal registry pieces, but as prices began to increase, our distribution channels began to change. Now we have no table top items at all. We’ve had to adapt to the current demands of the market.”
Schnack’s flexibility is just one of the hallmarks to maintaining a successful business. Another important business element contributing to their success is the legacy of wise business strategies passed down from generation to generation. Carl S. made sure Carl R. knew how important it was not to over buy on inventory. He also told his son to continuously strive to give back to their community and to make sure their products were a good value for the customer.
“My dad would say, ‘if you really think you want something, go home and sleep on it, and if you still want it in the morning, then get it.’ He taught me that time gives you perspective to make clear decisions,” recalls Carl R. Carstens.
Bill Carstens joined his father, Carl R., in the early ‘80s after finishing college. He’d grown up stacking - and climbing on - boxes in the stock room. From the very beginning, Bill’s personality was not as conservative as his father and grandfather. But the patriarchs of the family entertained Bill’s ideas unless and until they were proven unworthy.
“When I came along I was fortunate that they let me bounce new ideas off them and I was able to get my dad’s perspective and utilize his vast knowledge in order to look at it in a different light. They would also think worst case scenario, and if it was something they felt they could survive then they’d decide it was worth a try,” Bill states. “They gave me the freedom to let me experience the positive and, sometimes negative, consequences of my ideas and I was thankful for the autonomy to think on my own.
“I also knew that professionalism and education were important. My grandfather, Carl S., was the first registered jeweler in the state of Louisiana in the ‘40s, and we’ve been members of the American Gem Society ever since.”
Five years after Bill joined the business his brother, Joe P. Carstens, followed and today heads up sales for the company. Bill simply states that “we’ve been in the business all our lives together and every day is a family reunion. I have my dad, my brother, my daughter, my wife and my aunt who work for us.”
Giving back is still a huge part of Schnack’s Fine Jewelry. Recently they had a ‘pink out’ at the store to support the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. They’ve also participated in a cancer fashion fund raiser, helped raise funds for the Hope House of Central Louisiana and continue to donate, host and participate with everyone who asks because, according to Bill, “the bottom line is the community built our business and we want to give back to them. They fuel the engines and we just steer the ship.”
As the 6th generation of family takes the helm, Schnack’s will continue the legacy of providing good product value and living out their family values. They will remain focused on product that provides the best value for their clients while paying more attention to trends.
“Regardless of which generation is running the family business, our priorities remain the same: providing value for our clients comes first,” states Bill. “I’m proud of what we do.”
Visit the Schnack’s website for more information at www.schnacks.com.
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