This year the Jewellers Association of Australia has awarded Alfredo Salera, from Salera’s, the honourable JAA Lifetime Achievement Awards for his sustained contributions to the industry, exceptional personal integrity and high standards and his service as a role model to his peers. Here is his story.
In 1952, a young Italian jeweller and watchmaker by the name of Alfredo Salera boarded the Castel Felice on its maiden voyage from Genoa, Italy to Melbourne, Australia.
During the voyage, the ship’s captain learned of Alfredo’s trade and approached him to repair his watch. After Alfredo refused payment for the repair, Captain Matarese offered to set up a stand on the ship for Alfredo to tend to the watch repair requirements of other passengers throughout the journey.
By the time the ship landed in Melbourne, Alfredo had earned enough to open the very first Salera’s store in North Melbourne, Victoria. Not long after, he relocated the store to the suburb of Footscray in Melbourne’s West where there was a significant European migrant population.
At that time there was a general lack of fine gold Italian jewellery available in Australia. Alfredo and his wife, Mirella, worked hard in the store and built up the store’s stock to a point where the store became a destination for customers throughout Melbourne and even country areas looking for Italian jewellery. They also focussed on engagement rings and it was traditional for European customers to buy engagement rings for both men and women as well as a collection of jewellery for the bridal event. The store would often be filled by family on both the bride and groom’s side who would attend the store and assist with the selection process, which would last for hours. It was often the case that Alfredo and Mirella would then be invited to the weddings and they would attend many customer weddings each year.
As was typical for jewellery stores at that time, the product range was vast and included clocks and watches glassware, silverware, pens, music boxes, picture frames and offered services including in house watch repairs, jewellery repairs and even in-house ear piercing. However, Alfredo recognised the need for watch brands that were recognised by his customers. It took him considerable time and energy for him to convince the distributors of fine Swiss brands to allow his suburban store to be an agent for their product. His persistence paid off and Alfredo established relationships with Swiss watch suppliers that often lasted for decades. The secret for the long-standing relationships was simple, he would always treat then with respect and provide his suppliers with support when times were bad.
For example, when the Swiss watch company went through the Japanese invasion of the watch industry, brands like Omega would ask Alfredo to take up their excess stock. Alfredo always followed the policy of being a big buyer and good payer and was happy to assist whenever possible. In some cases, he assisted knowing that he would not be making a good stock purchase but did so in order to assist the supplier. These favours were never forgotten, and the suppliers would always provide Alfredo with opportunities before offering them to others.
Recognising the appetite for gold jewellery, Alfredo started a wholesale gold business. He operated this from the back office in his retail store and employed agents throughout Australia to sell his product. He also opened a furniture business which included several retail stores plus a furniture manufacturing factory specialising in Italian style furniture.
The retail business continued to prosper, and Alfredo decided to double the size of his original store and then open a second store in the same suburb of Footscray. Realising that he could not successfully run all these businesses he decided to focus on his first love, being the jewellery retail. However, it was not long before shopping centres started to appear and compete with strip stores. Fortunately, the Salera’s stores were still offering a product that was not generally available and the personalised service ensured continuing customer loyalty for some time but it was clear to Alfredo that the business had to move with the trend.
In 1985, Alfredo and Mirella’s sons, Frank and Robert, joined the family business. This provided the additional manpower that would allow growth beyond the two stores and the company expanded to Swanston Street, Melbourne and soon after to a number of suburban shopping centres where the Salera brand was well received. The company then expanded into Queensland opening a number of stores in that state.
Now, over 60 years after its humble beginnings, the diverse collections of diamonds, fine jewellery and premium watches found in Salera’s are available across locations throughout Melbourne and metropolitan Brisbane. However, for Alfredo it was not just about the business but more about the relationships. As a migrant to Australia, he arrived with a small amount of money but received considerable support from people both within the industry and outside. Alfredo has a distinct and likeable character and made a point of always being true to his word.
His first car was bought with money that was lent to him by his a local ‘Aussie’ butcher who he came to know who gave him the money on a handshake. When Alfredo returned the money well ahead of time the butcher told him that he could hold on to the money for longer and use it for his business. Alfredo politely declined the offer. The assistance that he received in the early years from friends and business suppliers was appreciated to the point where he would do whatever he could to assist anyone who needed help. If a sale rep was unfortunate enough to lose his job Alfredo would be the first to ring his other suppliers to try and secure another job.
Relationships with suppliers, sales reps and customers were the foundation for Alfredo’s love of the jewellery business. The opportunity to speak to these people face to face provided him with the motivation to happily go to work every day.
Now, at the age of 92, Alfredo and his wife Mirella still attend work seven days per week at one of their stores in the Western suburbs of Melbourne where they serve the grandchildren of their first customers at Footscray.
The jewellery trade is not a job, it is a lifestyle that satisfies all of their needs.