Industry / Retail

Bernie Robbins Gives Away the Store


Harvey Rovinsky, owner of Bernie Robbins Jewelers, wants to make it clear he’s not selling his 61-year-old company to his staff, nor is he establishing employee ownership through a share plan, like Day’s Jewelers did.

Instead, he’s outright handing the Somers Point, N.J.-based three-store chain to his current management team—composed of around six longtime employees whose names Rovinsky isn’t revealing right now.

“I’m not selling it,” he tells JCK. “I am giving it to them. Giving! They’re not paying me anything for it.” (No financial terms were disclosed—presumably because there aren’t any.)

Rovinsky started formulating the idea last year, after he sold his Marlton, N.J., store to Watches of Switzerland and began to wonder what would happen to the remaining three locations.

“I had no succession plan,” he says. “My daughter and son-in-law aren’t interested in running the business. I looked at people to buy it. There was nobody who I thought would be a good successor to [wife] Madalyn and me. I could close it, but if I closed it, I have 40 really fabulous people [who’d need jobs]. So there was three options: Close it, sell it, or do what I’m doing.

“Since, thank God, we’re financially okay, I figured I’d do something for these people who have worked with us for 30 years. We’re saying to them: ‘Here it is. Take it and run with it.’ These people have been running the company for the most part and they will keep up the standards set by Madalyn and me and continue the business started by my father-in-law.”

There are no guidelines on how the new ownership will be split. “It’s their decision,” says Rovinsky. “They will have an attorney help them. They all get along because they have worked together for so many years.”

Before the Rovinskys give up the business, the store is throwing them a retirement sale, which should clear away any remaining debt. Rovinsky has arranged bank financing so the stores can be stocked with new merchandise.

But the Rovinskys aren’t going away completely. Harvey says he will remain CEO “as long as they’ll have me” and earn a “nominal” salary. Madalyn, the company trendspotter (and daughter of its founder), will also remain involved. Yet the couple will change from owners to employees.

Asked if he knew of other examples of business owners bestowing their company on their employees, he says, “Not really.” He adds that there’s no tax advantage to what he’s doing and that his attorney advised him against it. But he believes he’s made the right choice, as unconventional as it is.

“To me, an entrepreneur is the highest calling that there is. I respect entrepreneurs. This is an opportunity for these people to be entrepreneurs,” he says.

“We love these people. This is like a third generation taking over. Because even though they’re not family, they’re family.”

(Photo courtesy of Bernie Robbins)

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By: Rob Bates

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