After college, Ray Bleser committed to working in his father’s pharmacy for at least one year. He lasted all of one day. So in 1980, Bleser took over an aging coin dealer’s shop, rode out the volatile precious-metals market, and eventually transformed the business into a full-fledged jewelry store. The first Northeastern Fine Jewelry was incorporated in Schenectady, N.Y., in 1985. Today, Bleser has four locations in upstate New York and Vermont and is planning a Pandora store in Rockaway, N.J. While he oversees day-to-day operations and diamond buying, his daughter, Valerie Kelly, handles marketing and fashion-jewelry buying. She’s been at Northeastern since 2006—about five years longer than Bleser lasted at his own father’s business.
Father Knows Best
Ray: My dad does everything in his [pharmacy]. He knows every part of the business and constantly works at improving and expanding it. I didn’t work in the pharmaceutical business long, but I studied it for five years. That industry is very exacting. And as a result, I’m very picky about how work is done, constantly refining policies and procedures. I’m also very particular about merchandise. Gradually bringing on leading jewelry and watch brands is how I’ve expanded. If the brand works, keep it. If it doesn’t, let it go.
Valerie: What I value most about the way my father manages the business is being known as an innovative and trendy jeweler. We’ve done that with our jewelry and watch brand choices, creative ads, and effective direct mail campaigns. The next step is going deeper into social media marketing. Right now we have more than 2,300 people who “like” us on Facebook.
Valerie: I worked in the store as a kid and during college. But on my first official day as a full-time employee, my father gave me a parcel containing 100 diamonds and asked me to grade them in one hour. I’d? just completed my Graduate Gemologist certification from GIA.
Ray: I learned you have to eat lunch fast because when a customer walks in, you jump. I also learned about inventory control using a pad and your eyes. There was no software in those days.
Valerie: What I learned from my father was to welcome customers as if you’re welcoming them into your home. We make sure people are acknowledged within 30 seconds of entering the store. At the first possible opportunity, offer them something to drink. He also taught me to treat vendors well, even if you aren’t interested in what they’re selling. You never know when you’re going to need them. And treat everyone the same way regardless of the purchase.
Scoring With Fans
Ray: At every Siena College basketball game, fans can win a chance to shoot a basket from any position in the court to win a store gift certificate. The big money shot is the half-court shot for a $25,000 gift card. A few years back, a young man made the shot. It was all over ESPN and went viral on YouTube almost instantly. That video is shown before each home game. It’s a real plus to have our name attached to such a historic local event.
Valerie: My father is a nut when it comes to buying diamonds. It’s like he’s purchasing every diamond for himself. When he finds the perfect “parcel,” he acts as if he hit the lottery. I think he enjoys this part of his job the most and that’s why he’s so good at it.