It’s All Relative: Marshall Pierce & Co.’s Jerry Bern Jr. and Evan Bern

These Windy City slickers know Chicago is their kind of town

“You have to love the jewelry business to be a success,” says Marshall Pierce & Co. president Jerry Bern Jr. The Berns must really love it; they’ve been serving the Chicago market for four generations since 1897. (Their watch and repair business goes back another three generations to Sweden.) Jerry’s dad bought 40-year-old Marshall Pierce & Co. in 1968; today, the Berns preside over two locations—Madison Street and North Michigan Avenue—with the help of Jerry Jr.’s son Evan. It’s an exciting career, says Jerry: “love, money, emotion, and an endless stream of characters from around the world.” What’s not to love?

Changing History

Jerry: The course of the family business changed when I earned my graduate gemologist certificate in 1977. [We were] one of the first stores in Chicago to have a GG on staff and sell GIA-graded diamonds. Another first in our market was having an in-store gem lab, which generated a lot of appraisal business. When I purchased the business from my father, I moved the location and more than doubled our showroom to 5,500 square feet. The stature of the store helped us attract some high-end jewelry and watch brands such as IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Cartier. At that time, very few jewelers carried those.

Evan: I want to continue the aggressive expansion my father started two decades ago. Using social media and online advertising to drive traffic to our website will be critical. Keeping up with trends and brand names will also be a large part of continuing success. At the same time, we have to stay true to our history and never lose the special character our store has.

Family Advice

Jerry: My father’s philosophy was “Always give the customer a little something extra.” Whether that meant having a ring finished early or driving it to the client’s house, it was all part of over-delivering. When a client orders a 5 carat bracelet, give him 5.20 carats instead of 4.90 carats.

My Generation

Jerry: Baby boomers appreciate the value of the product. I work hard at making sure they make the best purchase possible for the money. I know experts advise we should always ask for the add-on sale, but I usually don’t. I’ve always figured the customer knows how much they want to spend. I always stress products that are of higher quality to give a long-term value. This has paid off—especially with bridal and diamond customers who bring back their jewelry years later to upgrade.

Evan: Selling to Generation Y is much different—we find information on the Internet. So while we still have to drive the business from a brick-and-mortar location, our online presence has to be updated and developed constantly. 

Room to Grow

Evan: At the moment, I’m not qualified to take over the family business. As a young manager, I’m on a steep learning curve. But I have learned a lot. Being able to answer any question a customer has comes with time. Also, being able to handle all of the unique personalities that come through the door is a talent that has to be worked on.

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