Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ben Moss Jewellers sparkles on after a century full of changes

Venerable firm keeps moving with the times

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THIS is not Brent Trepel's grandfather's jewelry store.

Well, actually it is, but it's safe to say Ben Moss would have trouble recognizing the national retailer that still bears his name.

When Trepel's maternal grandfather hung up his first shingle on Main Street back in 1910, his biggest-selling item wasn't engagement rings, it was dishware, cutlery, flatware and candlestick holders.

"I remember stories about my grandfather saying they would spend most of the day polishing the silverware," said Trepel, president and CEO of Ben Moss Jewellers.

The now-national chain with 63 stores across the country hasn't sold knives and forks for years and the silver it carries today is sterling and comes in rings, necklaces and pendants. But that's far from the only change the Winnipeg-based company has seen in the past century.

In the old days, Ben Moss's sales were driven through word of mouth and the occasional advertisement. Today, Trepel said the company sends out information by mail, email, and on Facebook and Twitter.

For example, some of its recent tweets include asking about people's favourite Christmas carols and what it would cost to buy everything in the 12 Days of Christmas, as well as tips about potential gifts of jewelry.

"There are a lot of different ways to connect with your customer so you become top-of-mind say, every five years, when (a customer) might plan to buy a piece of jewelry to celebrate another anniversary or the birth of a child," Trepel said.

To celebrate its 100th birthday, Ben Moss launched a big multimedia campaign to give away $100,000 in prizes. It received more than 100,000 entries, including countless clips on YouTube about how the company has played an important role in posters' lives and helped them share jewelry at milestone events.

In honour of Ben Moss's longevity, Mayor Sam Katz will present the company with the Organizational Community Service Award at city hall today.

"They've been an exemplary organization whose excellent leadership in the field of community service is greatly appreciated. They're the largest family-owned jewellers in Canada," Katz said.

The chain's founder might have considered the Internet some crazy concept from Mars, but there's no denying its growing role at Ben Moss. Trepel said while online sales represent less than five per cent of its overall revenue, they're up 25 per cent from a year ago.

"We have huge traffic on our website. We find a lot of it is people who are pre-shopping to look for merchandise, check our pricing and for product knowledge."

Trepel said there's no one answer why Ben Moss has endured the test of time while many others have failed.

"I think our success is based on having a core set of values that we've maintained through the decades, including honesty, integrity and treating people, both employees and customers, well and with respect. We've also changed our business model with the times to adapt to changing markets, changing competition, consumer needs and market trends."

Two jewelry outlets about to disappear

WHILE Ben Moss celebrates its centennial, a pair of longtime names in Winnipeg's jewelry business are about to disappear. Curpen Jewellers, which has served Winnipeg since 1971, is closing its store at Garden City Shopping Centre.

Owner Steven Curpen said he still owns a pair of City Jewellers locations and he's not ruling out relaunching Curpen Jewellers.

"It's time for a change. We've been in (Garden City) for 39 years," he said. "We may open in a different mall yet. We don't know exactly where. We're working on a couple of places," he said, noting another downtown store closed three years ago.

Curpen said he won't shutter the place for good for another two or three months while he unloads his inventory.

"We're selling a lot of watches, earrings and rings below cost just to get rid of them," he said.

Celia's Jewellery Ltd. in Osborne Village is also holding a going-out-of-business sale. Owner Marty Halprin said after 31 years in the industry, it was simply time to retire. He wants to spend more time mountain-bike and adventure racing and preparing to meet his soon-to-be-born grandchild.

He said Celia's specializes in pre-owned or "vintage" jewelry.

"Since we've been buying jewelry for 30 years, we have every oddball-shaped stone that you could possibly imagine," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2010 B3

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