It was 1976 when Milly and Carl Gandia opened their doors Greenwich St Jewelers in downtown New York City, a block and a half south of the World Trade Center. Over nearly three decades, they’ve built a base of loyal customers who flock to the store for repairs and custom pieces.
But when the towers fell on 9/11, the unspeakable devastation also hit their beloved store. The structural damage sustained forced the Gandias to close for nearly a year, and when they finally reopened just two blocks from their original location, they found the area had changed dramatically.
“It was really hard to have a business in that neighborhood in the [first] few years after 9/11,” Jennifer Gandia, now co-owner of Greenwich St. Jewelers with her sister Christina Gandia Gambale, said. ukbusinessupdates.com. “We used to joke about the tumbleweeds coming into the streets. It was very quiet.”
At the time, Gandia worked in marketing at a cosmetics company, but she left that position in 2003 and used her skills in her parents’ shop. Gandia Gambale, then still in college, saw the ‘comradeship’ taking shape and wanted to join in too. So after graduating from GIA with a gemology degree and working at a number of different companies, that’s exactly what she did.
Along the way, both sisters have learned a lot about what it takes to rebuild and persevere in the face of dizzying but clear challenges over decades.
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“There was always a ‘let’s try, see’ mentality. And I think that’s what really helped us survive in these moments.”
In those early days after 9/11, according to Gandia, every year was critical. It was mainly about ‘staying afloat’, including using the support services available to companies affected by the attacks. One of the programs offered a coach to integrate more technology into the business, ultimately inspiring them to revamp their inventory process and set up a website in 2006.
Gandia’s marketing background also played an important role in rebuilding the company.
“I was constantly looking for ways to let people know we were open and what we’re doing,” explains Gandia. “We’re a service business – we provide jewelry repair and watch repair to the community. People were still having birthdays; they were still engaged. And people wanted to support local businesses.”
Greenwich St. Jewelers joined City Search, a now-defunct review platform similar to Yelp, for more exposure, and entered the digital marketing game, which was relatively inexpensive at the time.
“We were early adopters of that,” Gandia says, “and it paid off.”
Greenwich St. Jewelers once relied on customers in the immediate area, but the new marketing era has turned that standard on its head.
“Now we were attracting people from all over the city,” Gandia says, “sometimes from Brooklyn or Connecticut. So that was one of the ways we started growing outside our neighborhood, what we had to do to survive.”
Being in ‘survival mode’ meant trying anything that might work, including opening the shop on the weekend – something the Gandias had never done before.
“It’s a testament to all of us, and especially our parents — when shifts had to happen, or we had to turn around, everyone had an open mind and was willing to try,” says Gandia Gambale. “There was always a ‘let’s try, see’ mentality. And I think that’s what really helped us survive in these moments.”
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Image Credit: Courtesy of Greenwich St. Jewelers
“For founders and folks going through this scary time, look inside your company for the things that are sort of recession-proof, if at all possible.”
That willingness to pivot whenever possible was needed just a few years later, when the 2008 recession hit.
Again, Gandia drew on her cosmetics background to navigate the chaos. Familiar with the ‘lipstick effect’ – the phenomenon that people continue to spend on small luxuries, such as lipstick in times of economic crisis – Gandia wanted to apply that logic to the family business. What will people who are used to coming in buy without thinking too much about it? The answer required some flexibility.
“For a while, we introduced product lines that we wouldn’t normally sell,” Gandia says. “So we brought in what we call a bridge or fashion product, so it was still made with gemstones, but maybe it was gold vermeil or sterling silver.”
Greenwich St. Jewelers also built up its bridal offerings because, just like in the post-9/11 uncertainty, some things, like people getting married, are constant no matter the circumstances.
Of course, that fact remains just as relevant today, as fears of inflation and recession leave many entrepreneurs wondering what exactly their next steps should be.
“For founders and folks going through this scary time, look within your company for the things that are kind of recession-proof, if at all possible,” advises Gandia. “Even if it’s not something that will make you grow a lot, but will just help you survive lean times, and focus your attention and time on them.”
In addition, Gandia recommends keeping the lines of communication between your company and its partners open and productive. “Take the time to connect with [your partners] and see if you can anticipate problems you might have,” she says. “Discuss how you can work this out together if there’s a problem — if there’s a cash flow problem, if there’s an inventory problem. What can we do to work together to keep both our businesses going?”
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Image Credit: Courtesy of Greenwich St. Jewelers
“We’ve been here before and we can do this again, so let’s put our heads together and see what needs to be done.”
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic presented Greenwich St. Jewelers with challenges both old and new.
Gandia Gambale recalls panic: not only were the immediate prospects of the company uncertain, but the nature of the health crisis presented even more hurdles.
“I think what immediately helped us in our thought process was, ‘Okay, we’ve been here before and we can do this again,’” says Gandia Gambale. “So let’s put our heads together and see what needs to be done.”
Despite having a website, most of Greenwich St. Jewelers’ business took place in the store, so a quick switch to remote transactions was essential.
“We started making virtual appointments very quickly,” says Gandia Gambale. “We happened to be ready to launch a new website around the same time. So we brought that forward to make sure that website was up and running within a month of closing.”
“I remember one of the first conversations was like, ‘Okay, we need to keep everyone posted,'” Gandia adds. “We sent our employees iPads and made sure they had what they needed at home. We had to take leave and lay off some people.”
Gandia and Gandia Gambale had to translate the in-store experience that earned them rave reviews into an equally impressive virtual one, and thankfully they were well versed in handling the unexpected opportunity, and were able to do just that.
The sisters and co-owners of Greenwich St. Jewelers have seen a lot over the decades and, like all entrepreneurs and business leaders, they know they need to be prepared for whatever comes their way. But take it from them: with a little agility and careful planning, even the biggest business challenges can be overcome.
“A great piece of advice I can give to other entrepreneurs is to know your business from the financial side,” says Gandia Gambale. “Understand where your expenses are, what’s fixed, what’s variable, and plan three scenarios: the scenario where you grow, the scenario where you stay consistent, and the scenario where you are lower.”