Former husband-wife team up to redefine long-time jewelry store

TRAVERSE CITY – The jewelry industry might have lost a bit of its luster during the current downturn, but that's not stopping the owners of Traverse City's Federico's Design Jewelers from taking some bold moves to preserve and grow the landmark downtown retailer.

After five years of running her own independent clothing design business, Laurie Wildman is back at Federico's, leading day-to-day operations, inventory and marketing.

George Wildman continues his role as president and owner of the business, directing sales and custom design.

The twist? The two are divorced, but mutually decided that "merging" was the best way to uphold the fashionable fixture of downtown.

"We were a team for a long time as husband and wife with Federico's. Now we've come together as a team again," Laurie Wildman noted, reflecting on the store's legacy. "I think that our clients will be excited about it."

As Americans – and northern Michiganders – cut back on many luxury items, the Wildmans are changing more than their working relationship.

Some staff changes have also been implemented, and inventory is being tweaked to satisfy tighter consumer budgets. Although many popular diamond pieces remain, new, lower priced lines are being introduced.

According to Laurie Wildman, diamond and jewelry companies have developed new product lines that are still considered "fine jewelry," but carry retail price points of $100 to $500 instead of $500 to $1,000.

"We're still promoting fine jewelry. Our lower price point, however, will allow newer clients to come in and find things for $100 to $500, whereas before it was $500 on up," said Laurie.

"Many of the new pieces are manufactured in silver instead of white gold…and black onyx, white agate, and turquoise are the stones of choice that may take the place of semi-precious stones and precious stones," she said.

The transition also includes the loss of key brands Rolex and Tag Heuer, two names that assuredly bring a cache but also two companies that Laurie Wildman says were requesting higher inventory levels and were less willing to work with extended payment terms.

"Watches just aren't as popular as they used to be, so we put our money elsewhere; more into the custom design jewelry in the case," George Wildman added.

It's a strategy the Wildmans hope will help them survive the downturn and emerge even stronger, unlike former jeweler neighbors Martinek's and Gold & Silver Center, both of which are now gone from Front Street.

Complicating the challenge is the real estate situation. Federico's owns the entire building at the northeast corner of Front and Cass Streets, which includes an upper level space for lease.

"When we purchased the building, 29 & 8 was up there with a rather long lease. Things changed for them when they joined with 7 & 4," Laurie Wildman noted. "We've been trying to lease it out, but it's a lot harder than we anticipated. So, now we're a retail store that is now paying for a very large building."

According to George Wildman, the store's on-site jewelry repair and custom design business have been bright spots. He said some twenty percent of clients who walk through the door use those services.

Laurie Wildman will continue with her own business, Laurie Wildman Designs. She is also planning on events that involve both Federico's and her fashions.

"We have our big Christmas party every year, that's tradition. However, we'd like to start doing something during the summer season because we have such an elegant setting." BN