After 17 years in his family’s retail business, Stuart Cohen has moved to the other side and is now running one of Australia’s most successful jewellery manufacturing companies.
Stuart Cohen’s career in the jewellery business began 17 years ago when he first began working for his family’s highly successful jewellery stores – Vivien’s Jewellers, a chain of over 30 stores.
During his time with the family business, Stuart enjoyed a variety of hands-on roles which eventually culminated in his position as senior buyer in 1992. Stuart so enjoyed his role as a buyer for the big retailer that he happily stayed in the position until fate intervened and the family business was sold to Zamels in 2005.
“Zamels made an offer to purchase the business and our families accepted as the timing was right for them to get out and start enjoying retirement,” he explains, “but it was a bit of a stumbling block for me. I was quite comfortable in my role and would have been happy to stay there in the retail environment, but sometimes you have to make changes…”
Stuart was however not quite prepared for how many changes he would have to face following the sale of the business.
Just two weeks after the official handover he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had to undergo surgery and treatment.
He then took some time off to recuperate and rethink his future.
“While recovering at home I was in limbo but was always looking for opportunities,” he says.
“During my time as a buyer for Viviens I had done a lot of business with Roz and Razmik Avakian and got very friendly with them.
“They had owned Jenique for around 25 years and were starting to downsize the business trying to get ready for retirement.
“Razmik had been out of the business for many years and Roz was largely running the business by herself. Their daughter Jenique (who the business was named after) had also left the business once she got married and shifted to Western Australia
“It was a good time for Roz to get out and start enjoying retirement.
“I spent a few weeks working with Roz to see if the business really was something I’d like to pursue. I decided Jenique was the perfect business opportunity for me as I loved their products and the company had always had a very good name in the industry,” he says. “I made an offer and they accepted.”
Shortly after purchasing Jenique in March 2006, Stuart moved the business office from North Ryde, one of Sydney’s northern suburbs, to Elizabeth Street in the centre of Sydney where he could be close “to the hub of contractors (setters, cutters, merchants, etc) that work in the city”.
Stuart opened the new office with the company’s existing range of mainly nine and 18-carat semi-precious coloured stone jewellery but has since expanded it with some of his own designs.
Today the company offers a selection of more than 300 earrings, rings and pendants ranging from “$150 to a few thousand dollars” wholesale.
“All the pieces we carry are unique,” says Stuart. “They are not the sort of pieces you see at Prouds or Goldmark.
“We carry some traditional pieces but are slowly moving into unique, trendy pieces for the fashion conscious person.”
In addition, Stuart says all of Jenique’s pieces are currently manufactured in Australia (although he will soon start manufacturing overseas to further improve delivery times) and have “selling features” such as heavier shanks and two or three-piece casting.
He says his immediate aim is to maintain the same standards of quality that Jenique established and maintained for the last 25 years and become a destination shopping experience for retailers.
“We will continue to offer unique designs, quality and service at an affordable price,” he says.
Although reluctant to leave his comfortable retail job in 2005, Stuart says he has no regrets and no longer wishes to return to the retail environment.
“I am very happy as a manufacturer as I love designing and developing new products and seeing the finished product becomes a good seller out in the marketplace – that’s the biggest thrill.
“I do however feel that my retail background helps me a lot in my current role as I’ve got a genuine understanding of what retailers have to put up with to make their customers happy. Therefore in most cases I will bend over backwards to make sure my customers get what they need to help them sell more products in their stores.”
“I also know what customers will like and what sort of price points will work in store – for a product to sell well it can’t be out of reach of most people.
“A lot of my products look expensive because of the quality and design but they’re actually very affordable.
“At this present time I’m happy to be the size business that I am, keep developing the range and get out on the road a lot more to get the products into the stores.
“I look forward to working closely with my customers, continuing to get to know them and developing unique quality products to meet their needs.”
Jenique, 320/185 Elizabeth St, Sydney NSW 2000.
Phone (02) 9267 6355 or visit www.jenique.com.au