Making Diamonds out of Coal – The Bensimon Family Story
with guest speakers Albert & Toby Bensimon
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.