Ostbye, a leading manufacturer of bridal and related jewelry, is a highly successful Minneapolis family operation that’s been around since 1920, spanning four generations. But that’s not to say it’s a big family.
“When my parents, my brother and I get together, basically it’s a family reunion,” laughs Craig MacBean, Ostbye’s president representing generation number 4.Ostbye, which started out in a Minneapolis subbasement with Craig’s great-grandfather Walter Ostbye and partner E. Gust Anderson, has about 65 employees now, including workers at its suburban, state-of-the-art, 20,000 square-foot manufacturing facility, along with independent representatives throughout the country. Loyalty to the company is remarkable: One of its employees has worked for all four generations, and Ostbye still does business with its very first customer.
“We manufacture jewelry for thousands of independent jewelers around the United States and Canada, and a little in Europe,” Craig says. “We sell just to retailers, primarily single-store operations, sometimes to small chains. Our focus is not the big box store. We really cater to the independent jeweler, and to the consumer who chooses that independent jeweler.”
Ostbye, the Independent Jewelers Organization’s 2005 Supplier of the Year and the Retail Jewelers Organization’s 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011 Vendor of the Year, strives for broad-base consumer appeal with its products. The company offers point-of-sales display programs, along with marketing and advertising materials for its customers.
“Our focus going forward is technology, putting tools together to help the retailers be more successful,” Craig says. “Our website has all of our information just one click away, and we’re also developing an iPad application for retailers to use with their consumers.
“Our focus has always been to exceed our customers’ expectations. We do everything we can to make life easier for independent jewelers and increase their sales. We do a printed catalog and holiday flyer program to help stores market themselves during their most important time. We also do a bridal book. We offer in-store support with brochures... anything a retailer might need to help market our products.
“We’re just a good Midwestern company going the extra mile for our customers.”
Ostbye traces its roots back to downtown Minneapolis, when the company’s history nearly took another route. “The story goes that my great-grandfather Walter was going to work at Wimmer’s in Fargo, N.D., and at the last moment he changed his mind and decided to stay in Minneapolis to start his own manufacturing business,” Craig says. “He was a young man at the time.
“My grandfather Roy took over from Walter, and he ran the business for many, many years. My father, Jack MacBean, then married my mom, whose maiden name is Ostbye, and he came into the business when he was in his 30s. He likes to call himself the illegitimate third generation since he’s the son-in-law,” Craig laughs. “He ran the business until he retired about five years ago.
“Both of my parents were only children, and my one brother works in medical sales out of Denver. Even though we’re a family business it doesn’t feel that way because there aren’t multiple family members here.
“I have a 10-year-old daughter, an 8-year-old son and a 4-year-old son. So there’s potential for the business to go to a fifth generation, but that’s still a ways from happening! I don’t know what their interests or passions will be.”
Bridal is at the heart of Ostbye’s business, but the company has been known to branch out. “We’ve done everything over time, with the company reinventing itself every 20 or 25 years,” Craig says. “For the last 50 years, bridal has been our focus. Over the last five or six years, as people have looked for lower price points, we’ve been doing more in silver and fashion. But bridal is our mainstay.
“We’ve acquired collections over the years like the Diamond Marriage Symbol and Christian Marriage Symbol from Dangler. It’s a great complement to our bridal jewelry, a great love piece a husband can give his wife on their wedding day or later, on an anniversary.”
Ostbye became the official distributor and manufacturer of the symbols last summer.
“Dangler does a great job with those products, and we have expanded them into more markets,” Craig says. “Anniversaries are something that jewelers sometimes miss, but people celebrate anniversaries every year, and this is a great gift that they can market to all of those customers who have purchased engagement rings from them in the past.”
Longtime Customers & Employees
Ostbye’s goal is to “build jewelry and customer relations that will last a lifetime,” Craig says. “Wimmer’s in Fargo, N.D., where my great-grandfather had once planned to work, was our first customer in 1920, and they’re still customers today. JB Hudson Jewelers in Minneapolis was our second customer, and they’re still with us as well.
“Our strength lies in our employees,” Craig adds. “We have multiple employees who spend their entire careers here. Linda Broadhead, who works in manufacturing, has worked here for all four generations at Ostbye. Multiple employees have been here over 30 years, and we’ve had employees who were here 40 and 50 years. The strength of this company has always been the loyalty of our people.
“Our newest customer service agent has been with us six years. Our manager has been here 17 years. Our other customer service reps have been here 16 years.
“Everyone knows them by name, and customers are used to calling our reps on the phone and getting the answers and support they need. We take pride in our customers not getting stuck in voice mail. If they call here, they can talk with someone; someone will answer. We’re doing our best to exceed expectations.”