A Perfect Fit

Some might call it the perfect match. Bill Bash, the owner of Bash Jewelers in downtown Lancaster, Pa., was in his mid-60s. He has owned the jewelry boutique for more than 40 years, and he was ready to spend more time on the golf links and less time behind the counter. His daughters and sons-in-law were not interested in taking over the operation.

Mark Maurer owned a large Van Scoy diamond-jewelry store located in a suburban strip mall adjacent to an enclosed mall outside Lancaster with a strong diamond and bridal jewelry business. He wanted to augment his business with designer lines and find his own place where his business wasn’t dictated by mall policies. He also had a son who was following his father’s footsteps in the family business.

Bill and Mark were longtime friends and while discussing their ambitions saw opportunity. About two years ago they agreed to merge their businesses. “We’ve just been friends for a long time and decided to create a full-line store to serve all of our customers’ needs,” Maurer says. “We decided that the sum of two parts is better than one and that’s the way this worked out,” added Bash.

The combined store, which opened in May 2004, is named VanScoy Maurer & Bash Diamond Jewelers.

A NEW LOCATION

To make the plan work, the two owners decided they needed a new venue to showcase their store. They bought a building less than two blocks away from Maurer’s store and designed a space from scratch. The new store sits on an easily visible corner property and has plenty of parking.

They chose local firm N.W. Lober and Associates to design the interior. Nelson Lober chose a plan that splits the space almost evenly between showroom and backroom operations. He described the design as, “Contemporary in style with nice features that provides a comfortable place for customers to shop.” It was completed, he adds, with a “sensible budget.”

Dark neutral colors predominate. Indian stone was used on the back wall and tinted glass for side walls. Most of the showroom area is carpeted in brown. To light the space, recessed Capsylite lighting was used.

The floor layout was created with more than 120 linear feet of customized, cherry-finished showcases arranged to separate the different jewelry departments while providing customers with a comfortable, open environment to view products. Lober says there are plans to bring in more displays.

The store has a separate appraisal area, a diamond-buying room, and galleries for designer lines such as David Yurman, John Hardy, and Roberto Coin. A bench area, part of the backroom operations, is viewable from the showroom.

“It’s fabulous,” Maurer says. “I wanted a look that was open and airy. There’s freedom of movement, not a trapped feeling. I like the flow of it. People could just flow from one area to the other and feel freedom of movement. Visually they can see all the different departments.” Adds Bash, “We were interested in keeping it open and light, and that’s what we achieved.”

The new space also had another advantage. It was large enough to allow installation of a wine, coffee, and espresso bar. “We want a person to sit here and feel as if they are in our home,” Maurer says. “To take their time and feel comfortable.”

The bar area also allows the jewelers to host sales events and community fund-raisers. “We just had a fund-raiser. We took the center island and used it as a food display area,” Maurer says. “We had hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, and we raised a bunch of money for the [American] Cancer Society. We could not have done that in our old places.”

MERGER OF STRENGTHS

Combining operations can be the most difficult part of a merger. But this union was relatively easy, according to the two owners. There was very little overlap of product lines and clientele. “We put about 6,000 customers in the pot and we shared probably 100 or so,” Maurer says. “That was a real merger of strength.”

Merging automated systems can be challenging, but the two owners found a practical solution. “We chose our inventory system and chose Bash’s accounting system,” Maurer says.

Some jobs were eliminated when the two staffs merged, but the majority of employees who didn’t move into the new space were either on the verge of retiring or were not interested in continuing with the new store.

“Some people retired,” Bash says. “They’ve been with me a long time, and they were ready to leave. A couple of office people decided not come with us, but that was okay. Our whole staff is invigorated by the atmosphere and the excitement of what this new store does.”

Customers are also excited about the store, Maurer says. “The reaction has been fabulous. They love the wider range of merchandise, the bigger facility, the easy parking. They just drive right up to the door, and they just love it.”

RESIDUAL BENEFITS

Joint ownership also brought some other benefits for the owners. In addition to the Lancaster store, Maurer also owns another jewelry store, Avalon Jewelers, in Allentown, Pa., which became included in the partnership. Like the suburban Lancaster store, Avalon Jewelers went from a diamond and bridal store to a full-line store carrying several designer brands.

In addition, Bash owns a wholesale Japanese-pearl business. He buys pearls from a supplier in Kobe, Japan, and sells them to about 16 stores in the United States. This operation is also part of the joint ownership, and Bash is teaching Maurer the business.

However, the most impost important benefits for Bash and Maurer are personal. Maurer now has full control of his store, including his hours of operation; he’s the owner of a full-line jewelry store; and he instantly increased his customer base.

“I like the building,” Maurer says. “The visibility is better. I wanted to be in a freestanding location. I was in a strip center before. This store is twice the size, and I have the ability to create my own hours, instead of being in a strip center controlled by a developer.”

Bash remains active in the business but he also has time for himself. He serves on the boards of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry and at a local hospital. He also has more time to golf and to travel. He knows his business is in capable hands.

“The merger afforded me a lot more freedom,” Bash says. “I don’t want to not work, but I’m 68 years old. This affords me the opportunity not to work on a full-time basis and be actively involved and work when I need to work. My greatest concern is our joint success. When I’m in town I work everyday and I play golf sometimes, too. I’m there when I need to be there.”

He continues, “I didn’t want to close the doors and walk. Mark is younger and has a son in the business. We knew each other. It was natural for us to get together. We had two different types of businesses. His was more diamond engagement ring–oriented and mine focused on designer lines. These were things that I was able to bring to the table, and he was able to bring together the marriage market and younger people.”