As the new owner of Benold’s Jewelers in Austin, TX, Maria Aguirre certainly has her work cut out for her. The business, founded in 1929, was family-owned for most of its lifespan and then sold in 2006 to its manager at the time, Milton Doolittle. It was in 2017 that Aguirre—already an employee of Benold’s—purchased the store. Below, we talk with her about longevity, keeping stock, and looking forward to the new year.
JCK: Give us some background about how you got into the jewelry business.
Maria Aguirre: I have owned Benold’s Jewelers since June 2017, but I have been with the company for 18 years! Over the years, my position has grown from salesperson to buyer to manager, and now to owner. I do a little bit of everything most days.
I attended the University of Texas at Austin. During my freshman year, my family’s 50-year-old grocery store began to go downhill, so much so that my parents told me to get a job. I worked for a corporate chain, and eventually landed with an independent jeweler. I knew early on I wanted to be in the jewelry business, whether for myself or for a family-owned store. My name was given to Benold’s Jewelers, and the rest of my life changed.
JCK: Austin is a very hip city! Have you found, over the years, that you’ve been able to maintain a steady business, or have you had to evolve?
MA: The key to our longevity is the ability to adapt to the trends of our city. Even as big box stores have moved to the city, we keep our focus on personal service, which has always been at the core of our philosophy. We have always been a traditional jeweler, but we make sure to offer a selection catering to everyone’s budget. We are not afraid to experiment and introduce concepts before they are trending. One concept is our open wall case, which is a big hit.
As for our advertising, it’s almost completely digital with a throwback to the occasional print ad in local magazines. I think print is coming back.
JCK: Benold’s has a fantastic lineup of jewelry designers in-store. How do you select what to stock, and are you open to trying new and up-and-coming brands?
MA: As the buyer for the past 10 years, my goal was to develop long-term relationships with a few of my vendors. I wanted to grow the relationship in order to fully access the jewelry lines. I like the idea of buying as many of the items as I need from one source; I believe it makes our company important to that source. I try to utilize all of their offerings, from stock balancing to marketing.
I select our stock by analyzing our sold inventory and current inventory, trends in pop culture, and a little bit of personal style. There are many times I want a piece for the store but pull back because removing your personal style is critical. The store can have its own style, just not necessarily my style.
I am open to trying new brands. I try to add a little something new every year. We introduced several new brands last year, including UNOde50, Les Georgettes, and Irthly Jewelled Adornments.
JCK: What’s the hardest part of any given day working in retail? How do you tackle it?
MA: Finishing the simplest task is often difficult because you bounce from the office to the floor. I miss being on the floor full time. I try to stay organized, and I keep a steno pad with me to write down bits of phone conversations and interactions with customers. This enables me to stay productive and focused. I am learning to delegate and to ask for help. I am fortunate and grateful to have a wonderful, knowledgeable, and supportive team with whom I have worked for a decade or more. I am eternally grateful to them for their support and for helping me achieve my goals.
JCK: What’s your social media platform of choice? Do you have a strategy when it comes to your store?
MA: I love the visual nature of Instagram, and I try to give customers a glimpse of store happenings through our account. I want to try selling on Instagram and Facebook, and I may tackle that project later this year.
JCK: What are your goals for 2018?
MA: One of my main goals for 2018 is to survive! I feel an immense amount of pressure to live up to the 88-year-old legacy of Benold’s. Our continued ad campaign reinforces the message of our longevity in the community: “Austin’s one and only for more than 85 years.”
We have a few top-secret events planned for 2018. I am also partnering with different charities to help introduce a new group of Austinites to Benold’s Jewelers.
JCK: Describe your personal jewelry style.
MA: I love to wear black all the time—it’s the perfect canvas for showing off jewelry—but I force myself to wear other colors, too. I love to wear a mix of new and vintage jewelry, and encourage customers to peek through our estate case and find their statement piece. Earrings are my weakness. They’re hard to resist. I wear the same three Vahan bracelets every day, and many sales are initiated because of that. I am currently in love with a pair of Victorian gold, enamel, and pearl earrings à la The Age of Innocence.
JCK: What are you looking forward to most at LUXURY by JCK this year?
MA: I am looking forward to viewing Sofer Jewelry, Raymond Mazza, and Simon G. Jewelry’s collections. I want to see the handbags from Les Georgettes to plan the next brand extension—we are launching their rings and pendants this Valentine’s Day. I also enjoy the informative talks with other jewelry retailers, and the inspiring presentations during breakfast.
For more on the Austin retailer, visit benolds.com.