Discover a 68-year-old family-run business that succeeds by blending trend and tradition.
The Venier family name has been synonymous with jewelry in Dixon, Ill., since 1945.
“My grandfather, Lorenzo, came here from Maniago, Italy, to do terrazzo floor work,” says partner Mike Venier. “He picked up watch repair as a side business, working out of a local jewelry store, and developed a passion for the jewelry business. When Uncle Joe came back from the war, Grandpa suggested that the two of them open their own jewelry store together.”
Venier stops, looks around and grins. “And the rest, as they say, is history.” Louie Venier, Mike’s father, joined his father and brother at the original location, 210 W. First St., but in 1965, the family purchased the current location, at 117 W. First St., and built the store exactly as it stands today.
“The three of them hired help for many years, but as sons, grandsons and great-grandsons came of age and expressed interest, they brought us into the store,” Venier explains. “Now, the six partners represent the second, third and fourth generations to run the business.”
That includes Mike, wife Marguerite and their son Anthony; Mike’s brother Bob, their father Louie, and Uncle Joe. Succession planning involves beginning at the bottom and learning the business at the elbows of previous generations.
“I started in high school, in the Work Study Program,” says Venier. “I went to school for a half-day, and then came here to work for the rest of the day. I never thought about doing anything else. I learned the watch trade and jewelry business, all hands-on, from my grandfather, uncle and father.”
Brother Bob attended Gem City College in Quincy, Ill., and continues his learning by attending seminars and special classes.
“Otherwise, it’s all self-taught,” Venier says with pride. “The partners in the store today represent more than 200 years of combined experience.”
Although it’s early on a weekday, the store is busy. Venier moves to the ring counter to discuss stones and mounting options with a future groom and his mother, while the store’s mascot, Boomer, a frisky cairn terrier, entertains the little boy accompanying them.
In a nearby corner office, Anthony works at a computer, monitoring the store’s new website and social media accounts, while keeping a watchful eye on the sales floor. Up front, Marguerite signs for a delivery, while behind her, Lou and Joe focus on repairs and bookwork.
“Hierarchy is determined by age, so Uncle Joe is president and Dad is VP, but the six of us are pretty much equal partners,” Venier explains. “We all have our own specialties, but each of us is also pretty adept at all of the general jewelry business demands.”
Venier Jewelers is a full-service store, offering sales, repairs, custom designs, engraving, appraisals and more. Merchandise includes a large stock of mounted and loose diamonds, gold and silver, along with rosaries, watchbands and batteries, gift items for baptisms, First Holy Communions, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, and more. According to Venier, the main reason for continued success is simple.
“It’s just being straight up, guaranteeing everything and standing behind every service and transaction,” he says. “We offer reasonable retail and repair prices – like $5 for a watch battery, installed – and treat every customer with the same respect. We’re just as comfortable replacing your watch battery as we are redesigning an heirloom piece of jewelry.”
Loyalty is another key to Venier Jewelers’ longevity. “Relationships are key to staying in business,” says Venier. “We’ve seen some of our customers from them first coming here in strollers to picking out wedding rings and helping them to celebrate anniversaries.
“We recently had a couple stop in and tell us, ‘We’re celebrating our 65th anniversary, and we bought our wedding set from Venier’s.’ That was really special.”
Staying viable involves more than just fair prices and excellent service, however. “With the Internet, we’ve seen a more conscious shopper,” Venier says. “I would say the Web is our biggest competitor, but people still prefer to buy from someone they know and trust. Many of our customers are buying something that represents one of the most important moments in their lives, and we take that very seriously. A purchase represents a lifetime commitment to us.”
The store’s best advertising is word-of-mouth, Venier says, but the partners also utilize select print and billboard advertising, and recognize the value of tapping into the Internet and social media. “Anthony has been focusing on our new website since mid-November, and we’re on Facebook and Pinterest,” he says. “We have to get information out about our services and products, and re-educate and attract the new generations of shoppers.”
Reputation and loyalty are invaluable.
Loyalty goes both ways with these business partners. “We’ve had the opportunity to work with the top jewelry companies in the industry. Over the years, we’ve established trusted working relationships that allow us to offer very competitive pricing and unending services, ” Venier says. “Many have been with us since the beginning, and we’ll continue to support them the way they’ve supported us.”
The business is the perfect blend of old and new. The store’s footprint is exactly as it was built 48 years ago. Area high school students can still get their class rings from Venier’s. Shoppers can find jewelry in all of the latest styles, sold right next to the classic sterling silver dangle charms, St. Christopher medals and Spiedel ID bracelets and watchbands.
Dixon’s downtown was once home to six jewelry stores; today, only Venier’s and one other remain. Again, Venier attributes that longevity to reputation and loyalty.
“We’ve been asked by other communities to open up branch stores, and we never gave it much serious consideration,” Venier says. “We started in downtown Dixon, and that’s where we’ll stay. With our new riverfront, great downtown bars and restaurants and a very forward-thinking Main Street organization, downtown Dixon has a very attractive and welcoming vibe to it.”
The Venier family business motto is simple: Stay current with trends, without ever sacrificing tradition.
“We’re hard-working people who just want to continue on,” says Venier. “Retirement isn’t part of our business plan. Dad is 76. Uncle Joe is 86 and walks to and from work every day, no matter the weather. My grandfather worked on the day he passed away.”
With that mindset, the six partners hope to continue serving future generations of Dixonites for many years to come.