6.30 am – 8:30 am (for 7:00 am start)
Wednesday 2nd September 2020
Albert & Toby Bensimon | Shiels Jewellers
Toby Bensimon is the Managing Director of Shiels Jewellers, taking the position in 2013. Shiels Jewellers one of the leading online jewellery retailers in Australia and operates a network of retail locations across SA, WA numbering over 40 stores. Toby has guided the business through the recent retail downturn and has ensured that the company continued to grow during the current period of digital disruption in the retail landscape.
Toby is also the co-founder of Podpac, Australia’s largest manufacturer of coffee capsules. They contract pack for many well known brands as well as under licence for brands such as Bailey’s. Their own brands Podista and their subscription business to vonsumer brand Urban Brew continue to lead the market in recyclable and compostable innovation in this space.
Albert Bensimon was born in Cairo Egypt and is of French Jewish decent . In 1969 Albert married and he and his wife Nyra took off on a working holiday to Europe . They travelled on a motorbike for one year then decided to come home via Canada. The intended month in Canada ended up being 7 years and his first child Tanya was born there. In 1977 after extensive work experience and marketing studies they decided to return home to Australia . Albert decided that he would put his newly acquired marketing skills and his hobby i.e. making jewellery together and decided to open a jewellery store. As luck would have it the recent widowed Mrs Shiels, of Shiels jewellers had decided to sell their store. Albert bought it and employed her for several years.
His new brand of marketing which had never been employed by jewellers worked very well and the business flourished. His son Toby was born in 1979. Toby was drawn to shiny objects and seemed to be a natural to take over the company one day. After leaving university Toby applied for a position. He was not interviewed by Albert yet still managed to get the job. Toby has worked his way up from kitchen duties, sales associate, manager, regional manager and now managing director. Albert’s other child Tanya lives in Melbourne and runs a very successful independent high-end jewellery boutique – called – you guessed it, Bensimon.
In 1994, Albert helped to establish the Helpmann Academy named in honour of the famous South Australian Sir Robert Helpmann. The academy is designed to promote the arts in South Australia. He was the first chairman and he established its charitable foundation. He is a long-serving member of Rotary and is a Paul Harris Fellow.
Albert has been a great supporter of the arts and of the community in general. Alberts moto is always give a minimum of 2% of ones income to worthy causes. Both has children have followed this rule.
In 2020 Albert was recognised for his efforts in these fields when he was awarded an Order of Australia medal.
Toby is also co-founder of a company called Urban Rooms that manufactures and sells indoor office pods and outdoor home office rooms across Australia. This business was created during COVID.
Welcome the month of September with a hint of sparkle when we sit down to Breakfast at the Next Level with Shiels jewellery proprietor and chairman Albert Bensimon and his son, Toby Bensimon, Shiels managing director. After purchasing the Shiels business in 1977 from the widow of founder Jack Shiels, Albert and his team have grown the retailer from one store in the Central Markets area in Adelaide to a total of more than 40 outlets in all major shopping centres in Adelaide, Perth and, most recently, Brisbane.
The Bensimon’s commitment to quality at great prices has been the foundation of the Shiels business model. When Albert and his wife, Nyra, took over the original Shiels store, they invested in putting solid gold and diamonds into the offering, selling it at “exceptionally good prices”.
“Within three years, Nyra and I had started creating a chain business. Wherever Westfield went, we opened a store,” Albert said. Soon, Albert learnt that operating a multi-store organisation was completely different to managing one store, and required a different skill set.
“Chain stores require a different level of management. Earning trust from customers is easier on a one-to-one basis in a boutique store. On an overall basis, trust comes with good service, good prices, and good product. We’ve done that, and people come flocking through our doors in large numbers”.
Over the next 20 years, Albert became one of Adelaide’s best-known retail identities. His riotous ‘no hoo-haa’ advertising campaigns caught the attention of the Adelaide public, lifting sales during what was a tough time for the business. Albert says that being willing to take risks has been an important part of his entrepreneurship.
“Our business hasn’t always made money. It has gone through some difficult periods where it has actually lost money, so disrupting the market has sometimes been essential to our ongoing success,” he said.
Toby Bensimon began working for Shiels at the age of 15, and has learnt the business literally from the ground up – among his earliest tasks were vacuuming and cleaning windows. Since taking over the managing directorship from his father, Toby has been key to the growth of the Shiels. As well as making inroads in the jewellery trade, he is a co-founder of Podpac, Australia’s largest manufacturer of coffee capsules.
Among Toby’s biggest influences at Shiels has been turning the focus of the business’ marketing to the millennial age group.
“Millennials are our biggest customer group, but not at the exclusion of other age groups. For example, we recognise that Millennials dislike receiving phone calls. So, text-based conversations have been an important addition to our communications.
“We divide our marketing strategy according to the age group of our customers. Understanding our customers to that level is the difference between success and failure in an age where we can choose to communicate through multiple medias,” Toby said.
The culture of Shiels is also important to Toby. He says Shiels fosters a culture of acceptance. “We truly value the input of people who are better at their jobs than (Albert and I) could ever be. We surround ourselves with people who are outstanding in their field, and we do well to listen to them.” Albert agrees, saying “A third of our office employees have been with us for more than 40 years, since day one.” “I think we are reasonable employers,” he continued, with a smile.
The Bensimons are working towards having stores nationwide, and lifting online sales.
In recognition of Albert’s service to business and to the community, Albert was made a member of the Order of Australia in this year’s Australia Day Honours List. In 1994, he established the Helpmann Academy to promote the arts in South Australia. He is a long-serving member of Rotary, and is a Paul Harris Fellow in recognition of his individual financial contributions to The Rotary Foundation.
Join us for this special event. Enjoy the morning with Albert and Toby Bensimon, and hear more about how they have stayed ahead of the competition to create their successful group of stores.
Stan Kontos is a speaker, coach, entrepreneur and author with a passion for developing human potential.