While some family businesses may struggle to keep younger generations interested, Mills Menser knew at age 8, when he started working at his family’s jewelry store as a sweeper, that he wanted to succeed his father. He gradually progressed to gift wrapping, then sales in his teens and finally became vice president.
Buchroeder’s Jewelers, one of the oldest retail stores in Columbia, has sold jewelry since 1896. Mike Menser, Mills’ father, bought it from the Buchroeder family in 1972.
Mike Menser, who started in the jewelry business with his father-in-law in Athens, Ga., wanted to run his own store. While looking for opportunities, he got a tip from a friend that Buchroeder’s was on the market.
He recognized it as an opportunity to realize his goal.
“The fact that, in 1972, Columbia was the fastest-growing city in Missouri was a huge incentive to invest (in) the store,” he said.
Mike Menser, who is semi-retired and living in Idaho, remains the president of the company while the second generation, his son Mills, serves as vice president. Mills Menser has run the business since 2005.
“I serve more of an advisory function,” Mike Menser said. “I’m a resource book to my son.”
How to set yourself apart in the jewelry business and compete is a lesson Mills Menser learned from his father. Any store that sells jewelry is competition, so to compete effectively, Buchroeder’s offers an extensive inventory and quality service, Mills Menser said.
Mike Menser said the store also competes with the Internet by offering competitive prices and buying directly from cutters.
“We try to differentiate ourselves by offering a wider selection, financing options, a maintenance policy and repair work,” Mills Menser said.
To offer quality customer service, the Mensers “do whatever it takes to get the job done, literally,” he said.
The store is flexible with customers in terms of hours and the willingness to make a drive to Kansas City or St. Louis to make deliveries, and it does not require a lot of red tape to make changes, Mike Menser said. It’s one of the services that sets the store apart from chain stores like Kay Jewelers.
Another difference is Buchroeder’s commitment to accountability, Mills Menser said. “If you purchase from a big-box store, you will not get the same care,” he said.
The company has relied on radio advertisements and word of mouth to establish itself in a college town, both Mensers said.
Buchroeder’s has also adapted to changing times. Each sales consultant has his or her own desk and computer, and the store has a new computer system, Mike Menser said. It also redesigned its Web site, added a jewelry line and invested in a laser welder that makes repairs faster.
“In terms of change, we are either moving forward or back; there is no middle ground,” Mills Menser said.
Mike Menser said sharing in customers’ joyous occasions made coming to work every day an enjoyable experience.
“Everyone we deal with is happy because they are celebrating something,” he said.