For 40 years, Preston Jewellers has been one of the first storefronts to welcome visitors to Campbell River’s downtown core.
Behind the blue awning and the glass windows on Shoppers Row is a subdued, climate-controlled store of treasures. Glass display cases gleam under pot lights, or glow with lights from within. Diamonds, gold bands, silver chains, all manner of beautiful jewellery glisten under the lights.
Many a Campbell River family started here with the purchase of an engagement ring and then, later, wedding bands. Other life milestones were commemorated with the precious jewellery found in this store: graduations, birthdays, retirements and more.
It’s that connection to life’s landmark events that places a jewellery store uniquely at the heart of a community. For 40 years, Preston Jewellers has exemplified that connection between a community and its milestones, not just through the sale of fine jewellery but by the Preston family itself living and growing in the community and being actively involved in community development for two generations.
“It’s a family business but it’s a very-involved-in-the-community business,” says Kim Stevens, manager of Preston Jewellers and daughter of business founder Brian Preston.
The Preston family has been involved in a range of community charities and support organizations both through their business and with their own personal time.
Brian Preston has been active in Rotary since the 1980s and is still involved. The family is active in church, the arts and on civic committees. The business supports multiple sclerosis fundraising, the Rod Brind’Amour Golf Classic fundraiser for cystic fibrosis, the Firefighters Burn Fund Fashion Inferno and international relief like the Asian tsunami effort of a few years ago.
Preston took to collecting and delivering to Thailand, shoes and sandals for people who had lost everything in the tsunami.
It all reflects the family’s belief in giving back to the community. That ethic is reflected in a simple philosophy.
“The only way you can make your community better is investing in it,” Stevens says.
“I like the idea of making it a better place. Not just for me but to keep people here and keep them happy.
“I mean, we like our town. We like our city.”
Of course, the store has been a big part of Stevens’ life, besides working in it full time for the past 13 years.
“I think I started working here first when I was 12. Dusting,” Stevens said.
Then when she was 14, she was allowed to talk to customers. Now she has a family of her own and manages the store. Her father’s still involved, coming in to do repairs amongst other things. Having been the son of a jeweller and running his own store for 40 years, he knows jewellery.
“He’s an amazing shopper,” Stevens says. “He just has an eye.”
At buying trips and trade shows, something will catch his eye and he’ll say, “boom, that’s it.” Sure enough, it will prove to be popular with customers.
The staff are almost part of the family too. With six to seven employees, most have been with the store 15-20 years.
“They’re pretty loyal and they’re great and knowledgeable,” Stevens says. “They can’t be here that long and not know the industry.”
And knowledge is important in the jewellery business. Keeping on top of the trends is important.
“There’s lots of fads and fashions,” Stevens says. “That’s part of what we do, look for something new.”
And how do you do that?
“We have to travel-l-l-l-l,” Stevens says in a sing-song voice, followed with a laugh. “The only way to see what’s coming is to go somewhere where they’re a little ahead of us.”
That involves places like Las Vegas and Toronto. That way they can see what they’re selling and then note that in two years they’d better be ready for that. They also learn of things that are hot sellers right now.
“So we’re always, always looking. We try to keep current.”
And it’s easier now because you can go online, but that has its limitations because what’s online is what’s selling now, not what’s coming down the pipe in two year’s time.
There’s always risk though, because you have to “trust that what they are projecting is right.”
But Preston Jewellers has an advantage in being so established. It allows them to take risks. When you’re new you have to be more invested in what’s tried and true because if it doesn’t sell, you’re in a bind. Being established, Preston Jewellers can afford to try something new because they’re an established business with a solid customer base and they can ride out something that doesn’t catch on.
“If it doesn’t work, we can try something else,” Stevens says. “We’re able to take the chances. Also, we do have a good customer base. People will come in and ask us what’s new.”
Repairs are a big part of the business as well. Like every facet of society, the jewellery business is being impacted by Baby Boomers. Preston Jewellers sees this manifested when Boomers inherit their parents’ jewellery. Sometimes they don’t like it, so they take the diamonds and the gold out and have it redesigned.
“We’ve always done designing but now we’re looking at mismatched sizes of diamonds and what are you going to do with it? So now we’re finding designs that will fit with that.”
It also respects family heritage and preserves family history by finding a way to keep the jewellery but repurpose it in a modern design.
“It still represents the history and getting it from their parents but it’s an updated style,” Stevens says.
Preston Jewellers itself has a 40-year history that keeps repurposing because of the vagaries of fashion trends.
The business began in 1975 when Brian Preston, with his wife and three children, moved here from Edmonton, Alberta. The plan was to buy an already established jewellery business – De Haan’s Jewellers, started by Jeep De Haan. The business was already operating out of the Discovery Inn, which continues to house Preston Jewellers, albeit occupying more space.
The jewellery business is in the Preston family’s blood. Preston’s parents owned and operated Preston Jewellers in Flin Flon, Manitoba. With the move to the Island, Preston was saying goodbye to a sales career of eight years. But he never looked back, quickly taking to life by the sea. The first thing he did when he arrived was buy a boat.
The store has weathered many fads from newfangled clock radios in the 1970s, mini ring watches and Swatches in the 80s, collectors plates in the late 80s and 90s.
Stevens says as the town has changed over the years, so has the jewellery business. One of the trends right now is the consumer wants brand names.
“We’ve found that in the past, somebody wanted a picture frame we could get any one but now it’s Wang or Pandora,” Stevens says. “It’s a good way for us to go too in that there’s a consistent quality as well.”
“People want a branded purse. They don’t just want a leather purse, they want a brand on it. A watch that has a name on it. People are so marketed to so that is what they expect. The name recognition is huge and that’s across the board.”
If familiarity is the strength of a brand, then the family jewellery shop in downtown Campbell River is a brand of its own, having served the community for 40 years and showing no signs of slowing down, no matter what the trend.