Women-owned businesses are popping up everywhere. According to the 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express OPEN, women are starting 1, 288 new businesses per day! That’s double the rate from only three years ago. The jewelry industry is no exception. What was once unusual for this once male-dominated industry is now common as women rise to the top taking ownership roles typically occupied by men.
Jeanne Roe and her mother Jeri Kynion are trailblazers in female-owned retail jewelry stores. Jeri opened Roberts Jewelers in Del Rio, Texas in 1975, when few women were owners. Having gained experience managing a jewelry store for someone else, Jeri felt confident she could make it work and, with the backing of her husband, Roberts Jewelers opened for business.
Jeanne, who began helping at the store as a child, watched her mother actively participate in the industry through her local jewelers association and saw her continually seek further education on gems and precious stones. She also watched her break stereotypes connected with retail female ownership.
“I’ve grown up watching my mother work with her customers in the most honest, ethical manner,” remarks Jeanne. “I’ve also seen her take an active role not only in the Texas Jewelers Association, but in keeping up to date with the latest educational opportunities afforded to her. I’ve also seen her struggle in a male-dominated industry and come out with the respect of her male counterparts and her ethics intact.”
Being a female jewelry retail owner in the ‘70s was tough. Salespeople would call the store asking for the male owner. They were “shocked” to find a woman running it all by herself. Jeri knows first hand how difficult the 1970s and early ‘80s were for women in the industry and appreciates how much easier it has become.
By the time Jeanne was 18, her mother was on the board of the Texas Jewelers Association (TJA). As director, Jeri believed in furthering her gemological knowledge, not only through connecting with other retail owners, but also through education.
“When I turned 18 my mother took me to GIA in Santa Monica, CA. Together we took all the classes and studied and learned side-by-side. I finished first in the class and my mother finished third. It was a wonderful experience and taught me just how much she values education.”
To this day, the mother-daughter duo continue working and learning together. Jeri, who is 73, watches as her daughter not only follows in her footsteps, but takes the business to new heights as a second generation female owner.
“I’ve learned so much from both my parents about integrity, but it’s been so valuable watching my mom do the right thing every time an issue came up in the store. It’s what I believe is the cornerstone of her business philosophy.”
Jeanne has been a major driver in how the store has evolved since its inception. Starting out with a predominately Mexican clientele, the pair had to rethink their target market some 30 years ago when the peso lost so much value. That was when they made a conscious effort to market to the local military personnel located in nearby Laughlin Air Force Base. That meant jumping in with both feet.
“I joined the Military Affairs Organization when it first began 32 years ago, and to date we’ve sponsored over 50 classes of pilots and won the Atlas Trophy for best supporting community in the nation. I’ve even been on an incentive ride in a jet which required two full days of training, plus a physical, before I was cleared to fly!”
Watching Jeri hold executive leadership positions in the industry rubbed off on Jeanne as well, who not only joined the TJA like her mother, but has been on the board of the organization for the last 10 years. In fact, Jeanne has been an executive board member for the last five years, is currently the only female on the executive board, and will take her new role as president in 2015.
“This organization makes me proud of everything we’re doing. We’re moving toward more social events at tradeshows instead of keeping it restricted to Texas, and people are becoming more involved since these social events offer a more relaxed way to get to know others.”
Jeanne will take the helm in January and actively seek to increase membership and renew a relationship with Jewelers of America.
But perhaps the most significant contribution Jeri gave to Jeanne is her commitment to serving others. Jeri explains it like this: “I’m a Christian and I believe in Christ and what he taught which is to look out for our neighbors. As far as I’m concerned everyone is my neighbor. We get so many people from Mexico who don’t speak English and have no skills, so they barely scrape by. Their kids struggle in school and I’ve always felt like we should help take care of each other. I hope someone would do that for me.”
Jeanne took this philosophy to heart and led the charge to open a local food pantry three years ago. What started out feeding 300 families in the beginning now serves more than 1500 families. It took Jeanne two years of planning to put all the pieces in place, but with the help of her local school board, the city of Del Rio and volunteers from Laughlin Air Force base she was able to make it happen.
Regardless of the challenges that face Jeanne, she and her mother Jeri will continue to set the bar high for other retail owners, both male and female. Their rare combination of leadership and business skills coupled with a heart for service makes them standout retail owners.