In the late 1930s, John H. Epp was a full-time warehouse worker at Piggly Wiggly/Safeway, the nation’s first self-service grocery store, supplementing his income by selling watches and men’s shavers door-to-door. In 1939, he outgrew his briefcase and opened a small shop, and three years later moved operations to Notre Dame Avenue—where Independent Jewellers still operates today. John’s son Ernest joined the business in 1970, and Ernest’s sons Jonathan and Jeremy eventually followed suit. With a brand-new location at the Polo Park shopping center, the Epps are hoping to attract a new, youthful clientele with an extensive bridal selection and big-name watches.
IN THE BEGINNING…
Ernest: After graduating from the university, I began working in the family business doing whatever I could, from licking stamps and sweeping floors to running errands. One of the first things I noticed about my father and the way he managed the business was his soft-sell approach. And my father hired good people, one of whom was a store manager who became my mentor. He taught me more about the business than anyone else in the store—including my father.
Jeremy: I’ve only been with the business for about 18 months. At Independent, we have staff who have been with us for five to 40 years. This is a great environment in which to learn. But it’s a challenge walking that fine line between being the boss’ son and being a staff member when working with so many experienced people.
Jonathan: Early on, I made a decision to join the family business. This resolve was strengthened during my years studying commerce at the University of Manitoba. I loved the idea of being my own boss, and the travel appealed to me. What I hated was putting all of my eggs into one basket. This business is risky. I was only about 60 percent in…but my dad told me I had to be 150 percent in. So I decided to roll the dice.
Ernest: We’ve been in the Polo Park location since the early ’80s. For many years it was mainly a watch and clock store, but that changed in 2003 when we doubled the size and made it into a full-service jewelry store. We’re committed to staying in the mall, and we think it has the potential to reach a younger demographic. When Safeway took out its 40,000-square-foot store, the mall owners asked if we wanted to move, so we took that opportunity to relocate closer to two fashion outlets: Forever 21 and BCBG Max Azria.
Jeremy: We’re putting in brands that will attract younger customers, such as Scott Kay, Hearts On Fire, Canadian Ice, and a Swarovski shop-in-shop.
Jonathan: Once we get a good product mix and put in place the right staff to educate, inform, and convert bridal and watch sales, this store will be a tremendous asset. There are no high-end jewelers in this mall. Our goal is to make Polo Park a destination store for people in the area.
Ernest: Both boys have different management styles and talents.
Jeremy: I have a lot of ideas, but I don’t always have the most viable or best approach in executing them. That’s where Jonathan comes in. He helps to keep me grounded and not bankrupt.
Jonathan: Jeremy is a better salesperson than I am. He’ll have about five to six ideas and share one or two with me. Together, we’re always thinking of what can be done for the store.