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Invaluable

Kerrville Area Business Magazine by Jeanna Goodrich
February 2010

55 years ago, a man sat down on a workbench in his two-car garage with the goal of creating meaningful, hand-crafted, quality jewelry. Today, James Avery jewelry is recognized across the world as a symbol of quality, craftsmanship, and superior design. Chris and Paul Avery, James’s sons, plan to continue these traditions of family-established values, in Kerrville and beyond.

The brothers have been involved in the company for almost two decades, but both grew up with the business for most of their lives. “Chris has been here almost 20 years, and has been the president of the company for 18 years, plus he worked here growing up as a child,“ Paul said. “And I’ll have been here 19 years this year.“ Chris added, “Even though Dad has been retired since May of 2007, he still comes to the office just about every day, and still contributes new designs.“

Though they grew up with the company, neither of the brothers really had any plans to stay in the business. “Mom and Dad both didn’t expect us to go into the family business,“ Paul said. “They really wanted us to do our own thing.“ Chris added, “They said, ’Find something you love to do, find something you want to do, because you’re going to be doing it for the rest of your life.“ Luckily, the brothers found themselves back at the business, continuing the tradition of value and integrity their parents had instilled in them from the very beginning.

Paul had moved from Kerrville when he was 11 following their parents’ divorce. “I was kind of lost and didn’t know what I wanted to do,“ Paul said. “I ended up going to Southwest Texas for a couple of years and then to Texas State Technical College in Waco to get my associate’s degree in Horticulture. I did something I enjoyed!“

“But,“ Paul continued, “After moving away, I wanted to try to go back home. After working in San Antonio for five years, Dad pulled me over and asked me, ’Why don’t you come and work with us?’ I was just about to have a baby, and I looked at it as the perfect opportunity to come back home to Kerrville.“

Around the same time, Chris had begun his journey back to the business. “I was here practicing medicine, and Dad invited me to be on the board of directors. The following year after I came on, the company went through some significant transitions.“

When Chris was approached by the board of directors about coming on board and becoming chief operating officer, he was initially hesitant. “At first I said no, because I loved what I was doing in anesthesia,“ Chris said, “but then I thought, ’Maybe this is the right thing to do, to give my time to the company.’“

Chris recalled that working for the company wasn’t the initial path he’d seen his life taking. “I remember going off to college, and ironically, I remember thinking there were two things I never wanted to do: one was work in the family business, and the other was go in to medicine. Well, I ended up going into both of them!“ he laughed. “It’s a true story—I remember riding the Greyhound bus to school, wondering what my life was going to be like ten years from now. I had no idea what I wanted to study, so I went through the process of elimination, and one thing I didn’t want to do was work in the family business. At the time, it just wasn’t my passion.“

“I had worked here during the summers,“ Chris continued, remembering the company at its beginnings. “I started out years ago when we used to have summer camps, which is how we really got notoriety. Dad would make these charms, these mementos, for the campers, and it became a ritual in the early 60s with the girls who went to various summer camp, once word got around that Dad made these charms. He’d have me selling Cokes for the campers and free beer for the parents. We had to cut that out years later, as you might imagine.“ During high school and college, Chris would work in a lot of the plants, and grew to know many of the long-time employees.

“I started thinking about how I knew a lot of people, had grown up with the business for years, knew a lot of the long-term employees,“ Chris continued, “and I would have hated to see something negative happen to the business that Mom and Dad had built, that I had grown up with. So I decided to change my career and work together to get some stability going again.“

The Avery brothers set out to keep the values of the business that prided itself on quality, craftsmanship, and care. “We have a passion for the business and to see it work well. We have a commitment to the people and the employees and to be good stewards of a business that has been here for 55 years,“ Chris said. “Dad originally started in the garage,“ Paul said, “right up the road. As the company grew, we expanded on some land, which was where we lived as well. ’The shop,’ as we called it, was connected to our house. In 1968, the company expanded to this building—Paul said of the retail showroom where the interview was being conducted. “The company operated everything out of this building,“ Chris added. “One wing was manufacturing, one casting, polishing, offices, even accounting and shipping.“

Since then, the business has grown to incorporate five manufacturing plants—one in Hondo, Fredericksburg, Kerrville, and two in Comfort—and 54 retail stores, including stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Colorado, Louisiana, and Alabama. “We have been in business 55 years, and we have 54 stores,“ Paul said. “Yes, we have picked up the pace in the last few years building more stores, but we have to match the pace of our business growth in order to stay profitable and take advantage of the growth opportunities.“

Chris added, “We’re not out there to grow fast, and we’re not concerned about being the biggest. We want to make sure that, even though we’re expanding, we want to maintain our overall quality throughout the organization and continue to create great designs. It’s easy to start cutting corners to save money, but that starts a slippery slope and compromises quality, but we value maintaining quality and integrity.“

“We’re one of the largest jewelry companies in the United States that is vertically integrated,“ Paul said, meaning that James Avery designs, manufactures, and sells their own jewelry, with little outsourcing involved. “A lot of our jewelry starts as a pebble of silver or a pebble of gold, and works its way through our own plants to become a piece of jewelry.“

“We look at our business as having three distinct product lines: faith, jewelry with connection and meaning—like pendants for mothers or special occasions—and casual wear,“ Chris said. “The jewelry has touched a lot of people’s lives over the years, especially through the faith and connection part of our business. It’s interesting how they open up with their stories and share them with us.“

Paul agreed. “The greatest things are the letters that we get that have wonderful things to say about what jewelry represented in their life, or that they passed down to someone else through generations,“ he said. “And those stories really mean a lot to us.“

Incorporating this meaning into the core of the business, the Avery family understands that these values are what keep the business moving. “Ultimately, you have to build a business culture in which values almost transcend the family, because at some point in time, you may not have family in the business anymore,“ Chris said. “Very few ’family businesses’ make it past the third generation, and so recognizing that, we have to ask, ’Is it the family that is the most important, or is it the values and culture that we are so proud of in our business?’“

Outside of their immediate family, both Chris and Paul recognize the employees that have become a part of their business family over the years. “We have a lot of loyalty with our employees,“ Chris said. “We have people who have been here 20, 30, 40 years of their lives here. It’s great to look around the company and see people happy with what they do. It makes me feel that we’re providing a good environment for our employees.“ James Avery Craftsman employs about 400 people in manufacturing and 1,200 people overall, with 350 of those employees in Kerrville.

“Some of our values have been for a long time to take care of four constituents: our employees, our customers, our shareholders, and our community,“ Chris said. “We keep those at the forefront of our business quality. Mom and Dad raised us in a culture of giving, where those of us who are more fortunate can give to those more needy than ourselves, and that has always been a big part of our company: always giving back. We give away a lot each year, locally and nationally, and primarily to health, education and the arts.“

Both in charity and in community appreciation, the Avery brothers attribute their adherence to family- and faith-based values—ultimately, their core business values—to their mother and father. “When we talk about the values of growth, we incorporate something else Mom and Dad taught us: When are we content enough in live with what we have? A lot of businesses are driven by monetary or materialistic growth—the ’I want’ that drives them,“ Chris said. “Instead, we are blessed to have what we have, and it has been fundamental for our concept of growth.“

“The saying is very true for us, it is better to give than to receive,“ Paul added. “And we feel that adhering to that philosophy will reflect in our business practice and help us grown in the right direction.“