Gerard McCabe – a fortunate business

On the cusp of launching his store nationally, Adelaide-based jeweller Gerard McCabe explains why the McCabe family name is still going strong despite the fact…

Gerard McCabe may have opened the doors to his first jewellery store on April 1 in the midst of a recession but his success in the 24 years since certainly prove that the decision wasn’t foolish.

In fact April 1, seems be a date of good, rather than bad, fortune for Gerard and his thriving Adelaide business, Gerard McCabe Jewellers.

The company moved into its current head office/workshop on April 1 in 2006 and began the lease on its third retail store on April in 2009.

Family History

Perhaps even more coincidentally, Gerard’s grandfather Frank took on his first partner in his jewellery business on the same date 77 years earlier. 

Although Frank, began his career as a tailor running his own business in Adelaide’s Pirie Street, the arrival of the Depression caused him to rethink his future and convert the store into Frank McCabe Jewellers in 1932 to “buy and sell sovereigns”.

According to Gerard, this was an extremely lucrative venture at the time.

“There were so many customers that my father used to serve some customers and then race out the back of the store to the Mint to cash in the coins so he could purchase more from the next ones.”

A year later Frank wanted to expand the business but as “bank loans were almost impossible to get” he opted to take on a friend, Eric Simmons, as a partner instead.

Eric’s cash injection and coveted gold buyer’s license saw the business flourish for the next 30….years.

The business grew even further when Patrick, the eldest of Frank’s eight children, joined in the late1940’s.

Patrick spent his early years working on the bench but rapidly progressed to become the store’s opal buyer, valuer and designer.

Gerard says the store thrived during these years as an opal exporter, a gemstone and stock wholesaler and a retail-manufacturing outlet, but after Frank’s death in 1974 business started to wane and Frank’s share was sold to Eric.

Sadly for the remaining McCabes, this meant that the Frank McCabe Jewellers name lived on but the business was no longer in the family’s hands – although Patrick continued to work for Eric until his retirement in 1986.

The New Generation  

Fortunately though Frank McCabe’s legacy now also lives on in Gerard McCabe Jewellers which was started by his grandson (Patrick’son) Gerard McCabe 12 years after the sale of Frank McCabe Jewellers.

“My wife Pauline and I opened our store in Room 428 of the Edments Building on April 1 in 1986,” recalls Gerard.

Gerard, who had worked at Frank McCabe Jewellers with his father and managed a chain of jewellery stores said he had a strong desire to run his own business like his grandfather.

“We (Pauline and I) liked the ethos in my grandfather’s store much more than that in the chain stores I had worked in,” he says. “We really wanted to sell jewellery that we liked with people we liked to people we liked.

“Our store in the Edments Building really was just a large storeroom without any windows but it was our own business so we were happy.

“Dad (Patrick) was worried that we were opening up in a recession but I said ‘Dad it is the only time I’ve got’.

And indeed it proved to be fortuitous timing as the Gerard “took $10,000 worth of orders” in the store’s first day.

“My strategy for success was simply was talk to as many people as possible,” he laughs.

“I didn’t inherit the money associated with the original McCabe jewellery store but I was fortunate to have inherited the McCabe name, which was a well-respected name thanks to my grandfather and father, and a hatbox full of some of Frank’s old jewellery.

Both helped Gerard and Pauline establish their fledgling business.

“We literally started trading with some of grandfather’s old broken up jewellery that I repaired,” says Gerard, “and people who already knew and trusted the McCabe name became some of our first customers.”

Gerard says the business also benefited greatly from its location.

“Although we weren’t on the street level we were surrounded by suppliers so when customers wanted to look at emeralds or any other gemstone I would just go out the back to one of the gemstone dealers next to us and bring back a tray of 500 emeralds.

“People got a really good deal and thought we had all this stock but in actuality we had nothing.”

Gerard and Pauline, assisted by Patrick, stayed in the Edments Building for three years until spiralling rent costs “forced” them to look for new premises.

“We’d grown our business and just couldn’t turn over any more stock so we really had to move.”

The McCabes found a suitable shop in the Adelaide Arcade and moved in a week after Patrick died.

“It was a difficult time losing dad as he was a great support personally and professionally,” says Gerard.

“He didn’t have money to give me but he had tremendous expertise (he was an expert valuer and a government opal adviser) and helped me a lot in the day-to-day running of the business.”

Although somewhat overshadowed by Patrick’s death, the move into the Adelaide Arcade in 1989 nonetheless increased the store’s turnover by 51 percent in the first year.

Two years later, the store expanded into the shop space next door and increased annual sales by another 48 percent.

Since then the company has opened another store in Rundle Mall in 2002, a head office/workshop in Gawler Place, and relocated the Adelaide Arcade store to the entrance to the arcade in 2009.

Brand new beginning

Having established the brand in the South Australian jewellery market, Gerard now plans to expand the reach of the family name further.

“We’re trying to focus on being a brand and grow into the next level,” he says.

“So in 2005 we decided that as we didn’t like the way we were travelling with other people’s brands we better develop our own brand and have been slowly doing so ever since.”

Today the company has developed an extensive collection of branded jewellery and will begin producing its own watches this year.

“We are now at the stage where we don’t carry anyone else’s brands,” beams Gerard.

“We are happy to just promote our own brand as people know and respect our name.”

The company’s promotion of the Gerard McCabe Jewellers’ name is certainly extensive with advertisements in South Australia’s Unique magazine and Adelaide Advertiser newspaper as well as national publications such as Harper’s Bazaar and Madison.

The company also recently held its second annual Noir fashion event which featured 30 models wearing black designer clothing and Gerard McCabe own jewellery.

The event, which won the title of best fashion event in South Australia in 2009, attracted around 400 guests at $38 a ticket and was lavishly covered in Adelaide’s newspapers and magazines as well on the local television and radio stations.

“The media response blew us away,” says Gerard. “We couldn’t believe the success of it.”

In addition to traditional media advertising and promotions, Gerard is now also targeting new social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter to garner the attention of younger jewellery buyers.

“We know our name reaches the baby boomer market really well but we also know we need to connect with Generation X and Y if we really want to thrive as a brand,” explains Gerard.

“We want to encourage younger people, who are the future of our business, to see us as a good brand for them – aspirational but within reach.”

To achieve this goal, Gerard McCabe Jewellers has its own Facebook page and Twitter account.

Furthermore, to ensure success with future generations, three of Gerard’s four children are now also playing an active role in the business.

26 year-old Justin is manager of the arcade store, 28 year-old Jessica is marketing manager and 20 year-old Daniel is a sales person in the Rundle Mall store. 23 year old Lauren occasionally consults with her marketing expertise.

Together, they are determined to turn the Gerard McCabe name into a national brand – the first interstate store is due to open in the coming year.