Siegel, along with brother Jim, runs the oldest family-owned business in West Michigan: Siegel Jewelers. And they do it with a flair that has kept the Siegel name in jewelry-seeking customers' minds since 1889.
Starting as a shop that sold and repaired watches, owned by Siegel's great-grandfather, Joseph, the jewelry store has since gone through four generations and transformed into a chain of stores that currently numbers three.
Joseph Siegel, trained in watch repair in Russia, came to the downtown Grand Rapids area to set up shop nearly 113 years ago. His modest shop was then handed down to his two sons, Norton and Arthur, who added products to the store to increase its size, based upon customer demand.
Norton and Arthur then passed the store to Miller and Leslie, Joel's parents. Currently, Joel, brother Jim who is president, and Joel's wife Arlene maintain the operation.
Siegel's store not only continued to add product to its shelves, additional stores were added over the years beyond the original shop in downtown Grand Rapids. In the late '60s when Woodland Shopping Center opened, a new Siegel Jewelers opened with it. From there the business expanded to a store in Kalamazoo, one in RiverTown Crossings in Grandville, and one in the Amway Grand Plaza, which has since closed.
Siegel said the key to keeping the business strong is having a knowledgeable staff — including a number of employees with more than 20 years of experience — and offering individually selected products of higher quality, including diamonds, colored stones, giftware, crystal and fine china. Siegel also keeps four jewelers and two watchmakers (who repair watches) on staff.
The key to growth, however, has been stability, Siegel said.
"We see a lot of grandparents who bought their engagement rings from us that come back for all of their jewelry, watch, crystal and gift needs," Siegel said. "Jewelry tends to have a higher emotional value with people and you need to deal with a jeweler that you trust. And that trust is something we have built in our customers."
In recent years estate jewelry, including buying, selling and trade-ins, has been another area of growth.
"The secret to keeping good employees and good customers is treating people well. It is a tradition that has been in my family since I can remember and something that my father instilled in me," Siegel said. "It's not really a secret, but a lot of people still haven't learned it."
Being the fourth generation in a family jewelry operation has been a wonderful opportunity, Siegel said. "Being part of a viable family operation and also being able to step right in — with some training, of course — has been a great chance," he said.
After pursuing other avenues, at the age of 27 Siegel joined his brother Jim, who had started working at the store immediately after college. "This was a gradual process, of course," said Siegel. "But I learned everything I know from my great-grandfather, my grandfather, my mother and father, and continue to learn from my brother and wife. I have worked in the store since I was younger, and after trying other things decided this was right for me."
As for Siegel and his brother, both look to keep the jewelry store in the family for years to come. It may again be as simple as looking to their children.Joel has a son who may be interested, and Jim's 23-year-old daughter is also considering the possibility of following in her father's footsteps. "They are both taking some time to look at this as an option and also explore other avenues," Siegel said. "But they also both know that this is available to them."