Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/9/2018 (421 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With the world of business so disrupted by technology and changing dynamics it’s rare to see a family enterprise that’s survived three generations of uninterrupted operation at the same location and continuing to thrive.
Independent Jewellers Ltd. — or IJL as it’s now branded — has just started its latest chapter in a brand new building that just opened at the same site that the father and grandfather of current proprietors, Jeremy and Jonathan Epp, operated from, at the corner of Isabel Street and Notre Dame Avenue.
The Epps have spent at least $3 million — Jeremy Epp says that’s a conservative number — on a 5,200-square-foot building immediately west of the former building. Construction was planned in such a way that the store was only closed for about six days in total.
"It was funny but on some of the more chaotic days when there was demolition going on we were busier than ever," Epp said. "We had people coming and going through it all."
IJL is the only dealer in Winnipeg for such iconic luxury watch brands as Rolex, IWC Schaffhausen and Tag Heuer and Forevermark diamonds by De Beers.
With such strong connections to such valuable brands, Epp said it became apparent that the old building could no longer handle what the business needed.
"Rolex, for instance, wanted to invest in a space that they can have longer term partnership in," Epp said. "What is the expression, ‘Don’t put new wine in an old wineskin’."
The new building also allows IJL to continue to maintain the tradition of being one of — if not the only — jewellery store in Western Canada with a full-time watch-maker, goldsmith, appraiser, and designer on site.
Not everything in the store cost tens of thousands of dollars but the neighbourhood certainly does not reflect that glamour of that which is on display inside. But don’t try to bad mouth the neighborhood in front of Jeremy Epp.
"I think it takes time for things to get better," he said of the location kitty-corner to the less-than-glamorous Balmoral Motor Hotel. "There are a lot of surprisingly strong businesses in the area including a brand new Wilderness Supply store right next to us and there are some unbelievably good diners around here."
And why wouldn’t he pump up the locale? His customers, some from four generations of the same family, have been coming to the same location for 75 years, located a few blocks down from its original location at 593 Notre Dame Ave. The company was founded in 1937 by Jeremy's grandfather John H. Epp, who started the business selling watches and shavers door-to-door in the North End.
You also get the the feeling the neighbourhood suits the Epps’ own modest style. Unlike the stereotypical jewellery store owner, Jeremy Epp is not dripping with gold and diamonds.
A simple wedding band and a 15 year old watch (he wouldn’t show the brand) is all that he wears.
A new advertising campaign that features Winnipeg Jet’s centreman Mark Scheifele discretely flashing a nice wrist watch, tagged, "Timing is Everything" effectively launches the re-branding of the store as IJL and its new building.
Epp said Scheifele was their first choice for the campaign. Scheifele projects an image of someone who has a dedicated passion for excellence.
Epp said, "We’re thrilled to have him as a partner. I don’t know him well personally but from what I picked up, family is very important to him."
The retail space is about twice the size of the old store even though the building is smaller. (The old one had apartments above the store, though they had not been occupied for many years.) Elegant displays for all the exclusive watch brands occupy much of the wall space with jewellery in the centre.
Epp acknowledges that the business world certainly has changed over the years as has style and fashion.
"But trust doesn’t change," he said, pointing out that the long-time tag line for the family business has always been "A Tradition of Trust".
"You still need to trust people," he said. "At the end of the day what a good jeweller does... we get to be part of these great moments in people’s lives. The best part of what we do is sitting in this room having conversations about life, about why people love each other."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
Updated on Wednesday, September 19, 2018 at 11:02 AM CDT: corrects date in current location