The business: Zimmer Brothers
Date founded: 1893, by Thomas Zimmer
Number of generations: 5
Number of family members working together: 2
Owners: Michael Gordon, president; daughter Jocelyn Klastow, vice president
What it does: Retails fine jewelry, handles custom work and repairs
Why it’s succeeded: “We keep up with the times and keep trying new things, though our basic formula is the same today as it was 50, 60, or 100 years ago: to deliver top customer service,” says current president Michael Gordon. Michael has defied the odds of many family businesses by being given leadership and ownership roles despite being a son-in-law, a decision many experts say is fraught with peril in case of a divorce. Michael married third-generation owner Leonard Jr.’s daughter Debby in 1970 and gave up his career as a radio disk jockey a year later to join the business. “They thought I’d be good because of my outgoing personality,” Michael says. He started on the floor learning to sell, moved on to overseeing sales and handling advertising, and worked closely with his father-in-law, who passed away seven years ago.
Jocelyn joined the business in 2001. “I had helped my dad and grandfather, so it was a natural,” she says. She helped develop the company’s website and handles merchandising, marketing, and sales. “The website gives us a chance to show potential customers who we are before they come into the store, since everyone today wants as much information as possible,” she says. Her father oversees company finances, the seven employees, and estate-jewelry buying. Both generations are busy getting ready to open their second store in the heart of Rhinebeck, right around the corner from another family jewelry business, Hummingbird Jewelers. Father and daughter credit much of their success to good communications and listening to each other’s ideas. “I learned that from my father-in-law. He was always open. If something seemed bizarre, he told me,” Michael says. And now he and Jocelyn continue the family-business dialogue in their shared office and over their daily lunches. They also share equity, though Jocelyn holds the larger percentage. “She’s the future,” says Michael, 70, who has no plans to retire.
Other lessons learned: Leave work behind. “My father-in-law told me early on, ‘When we lock the door and leave the store, we leave all that’s there behind and don’t take it home,’” says Michael, who’s followed that mantra with Jocelyn, from whom he says he learns “what the younger generations want, since they’re different. She knows their taste better,” he says.
Biggest challenge: A second location in Rhinebeck, Internet competition with misrepresentation by online companies, keeping merchandise current.