Have you met Kathy Bigham of Bigham Jewelers?
It was her seventh grade choir instructor and basketball coach in suburban Cleveland whose choice of fashion accessories sparked an interest in Ms. Bigham that led to her career choice.
“I had a teacher who wore the most magnificent jewelry, which began my interest in jewelry,” says Ms. Bigham, who founded her business in 1995 after moving to Naples from Ohio.
From its start in a 2,800-square-foot, strip mall storefront, Bigham Jewelers has grown to the point that it now occupies an 8,000-square-foot, diamond-shaped, stand-alone building dubbed the Bigham Galleria on U.S. 41. Shortly after its 2005 opening, InStore Magazine selected it as the “Coolest Jewelry Store in America” for being a “luxurious, but ultra-cool store where customer service has never felt — or looked — so good.”
“I love jewelry,” she says. “I wanted to be able to wear and share it, and I wanted to be able to get into a business that I was passionate about. I wanted to be able to get up in the morning and say, ‘Wow, I get to do this every day,’ and to share in people’s special occasions all year long.”
Entrepreneurship appealed to her for several reasons.
“I really wanted to be able to have the flexibility to have a family and to be able to create jobs for my own family and for others,” she said. “I think family businesses are something that is more and more difficult to pass on.”
She is the product of a working-class background.
“I didn’t grow up with much, although I certainly had what I needed,” she says. “We lived paycheck to paycheck like most of the people we knew, but I wanted more. I take care of my family. My mom and dad (Dan and Linda Kelly) are both retired and I’m glad that they could do it.”
Her family played and still plays a role in the business. Her mother, her brother Dan Kelly, ex-husband Gary Bigham, and her sister-in-law, Bonnie Bigham, all assisted with Bigham Jewelers at its inception and continue to play a role in day-to-day operations.
Bigham Galleria features creations by award-winning designers such as Elizabeth Locke, David Yurman, Penny Preville, Picchiotti and Bilgore. Many designers make personal appearances at the store, bringing extensive collections and interacting with customers. The store also offers a selection of watches from Rolex, Baume & Mercier, Carl F. Bucherer, Sablier and Shinola, as well as pre-owned timepieces.
“It’s not like walking into a typical jewelry store,” Ms. Bigham says. “We have something for everyone.”
She received a bachelor’s degree in business from Kent State in 1989, graduating in four years while attending night classes. On weekdays, she worked the early shift at a trucking company, and on weekends she sold gold jewelry from a briefcase.
After graduating, she joined the former Akron Diamond Trading Company, rising from a sales position to vicepresident of store operations.
Upon opening her store, Ms. Bigham made community service, specifically causes that benefit women and children, a focal point. The Boys and Girls Club of Collier County, the Christ Child Society, the Naples Alliance for Children, The Naples Players and Baker Park are among the more than 50 organizations the business Bigham Jewelers has supported over the years. Those efforts led to her being named one of Collier’s Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame laureates for 2016. Ms. Bigham invited Kathy Leciejeski, the teacher who so profoundly influenced her, to the awards ceremony and she recognized her during her acceptance speech.
The tagline for the Bigham Jewelers’ TV commercials — “Have We Met Yet?” — has not only served as a warm, unique identifier for the business, but has also caught on with the public, Ms. Bigham says. “I can’t go anywhere in town without someone coming over and saying, ‘Have we met yet?” ¦
Interview with Kathy Bigham
Business mentors: A first and lifelong mentor was my uncle, Bill Wortzman. An entrepreneur in my Cleveland hometown, he established a respected and highly successful financial services firm, starting from scratch.
Locally, my favorite mentor is the amazing Myra Janco Daniels, whose wisdom and grounded advice continue to inspire me.
First job: When I was 10 years old, I got a paper route.
Business words of wisdom: One of my favorite quotes is by Yoda, the jedi master in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” He says simply: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” This quote inspired my business motto: “Make it happen.”
Favorite business book: Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” for its insights on what it takes to reach high achievement levels in different fields.
Things you look for when hiring: I look for three qualities in a candidate: That s/he CAN do the job, WANTS to do the job and WILL do the job. I need all three; if one is doubtful, it’s a no-go.
Any job openings now? Because we are fortunate to be growing steadily, we always look for that additional “right” candidate. When s/he appears, we will create the position.
Last time you had to fire someone — and reason: Truthfulness is a must-have in our company. Last summer, I had to separate a new employee who had misrepresented himself. ¦