In today’s episode I sat down with Rob Shinsky who is part owner, Designer & Jeweler at Les Olson Jewelers right in here in Palm Harbor, FL. Rob has been in the business for 20+ years and is very passionate about creating the ultimate experience for the customers. His family has built Les Olson Jewelers into the company it is today over that last 25 years and they just moved to a new location in Downtown Palm Harbor in the middle of 2020! What a year to move right!?
Tune in as I talk with Rob about his experience, passion and what separates Les Olson Jewelers for others.
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Rob Shinsky | Les Olson Jewelers
In this episode, we sit down with Rob Shinsky from Les Olson Jewelers right here in Downtown Palm Harbor. They moved to the downtown area of Palm Harbor. They have been in Palm Harbor for many years so you have probably heard of them. If not, they are right there downtown, right where everything is going on. Be sure to check them out. I’m super excited to sit down with Rob, pick his brain and learn more about him and his company. Let’s jump right into it.
Rob, I appreciate you jumping on with us. I’m excited to chat with you and learn more about your business and what you are doing. You’ve got the new shop there in Palm Harbor. It’s right there in downtown as Downtown Palm Harbor is growing. Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about the business, like what you do in Les Olson Jewelers? We will go from there.
We are located in Downtown Palm Harbor. It has always been a cool and vibrant place with good restaurants. We have always had our eye on possibly moving down here. We have been in the Alderman Plaza for such a long time for over 30 years. The opportunity presented itself where this building was for sale. It was a perfect time and our lease was up. We jumped on it and got it. We couldn’t have picked a more perfect location, building and downtown setting. It fits us.
We are not your typical jewelry store. We do our own repairs. We are a custom-design studio. Everything we do, we do it here. We do the modeling here. We print, cast and finish everything here. It’s a process that can take as quickly as you want. If the customer wants to be as involved, if they want me to send text messages every day of every step, I will do that. That’s the process that we like. We are different. We don’t want to be like every other jewelry store. When you come in, we are relaxed.
It’s very light in here. We have bright colors and loud music. We are smiling. We want to be that escape. When you go to traditional jewelry stores, it feels overwhelming and you feel intimidated. You feel like, “They are going to put my credit card information. What am I doing?” That’s not us. We are relaxed and chill. Nobody works on commission. There are no high-pressure sales. We would rather you feel comfortable and enjoy the experience. The experience is what it’s about. We want it to be different.
What people and businesses are looking for is experience. That’s the huge part of it. You are always going to have those people who buy based on price but having the value-add and experience is going to be a huge difference-maker for businesses going forward. It’s good to hear that you are focused on that. Tell me a little bit about how the business got started. It’s a family business. You have owned it for quite some time now. Tell me how all that came together.
Years ago, my parents had a trade shop in Binghamton, New York, where they did repairs for other jewelry and department stores. They are working for other stores. This was in New York. It was cold and taxes were high. They wanted to work for themselves. Les Olson Jewelers went for sale. They wanted to buy an established name so you would have a customer base with that reputation. They bought Les Olson Jewelers.
The day they turned the key, they have invested in all the merchandise. They had to make everything themselves. That’s why custom jewelry is in our blood. Our survival depended on doing our own repairs. When you start off, you can’t do your own repairs. You’ve got to pay someone else to do it with that extra cost but then that helps you build trust. If you bring your merchandise to us and I’m looking at it, I’m the one who is going to do it.
We are hands-on. My mom used to draw the designs on paper. We have some scrapbooks here and it’s cool to see. My dad would translate it into a wax model. Back in the day, that’s how it was done. It took a lot longer than now. Now, I got my computer program. I can send a rendering to the customer and then print the model here. They can come and try it on and then I can cast it. It’s easy now. It’s a lot different. It’s not carving waxes. The custom do-it-yourself mentality is what we exemplify.
I don’t know much about the jewelry business. I haven’t purchased anything other than my wife’s wedding ring from a jeweler. You said that you had to build your inventory. Do you create everything you have in the shop? Do you buy a piece and then add a gem or something to that? How does that work?
For the vast majority of what we have, we made about 90% to 95% of everything in our showroom with the exception of chains or bracelets. That’s pretty much it. It was our goal for a very long time to make that. We make our own stuff. You can’t price-shop us anywhere. We are our own brand. We make these one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry. We don’t want to make the ring that you see everywhere else. The same people have the same ring.
To touch on what you said, we have catalogs of stuff. If there’s something that we don’t have in stock, we use catalogs for ideas. A lot of times, the customer will pick something out of a catalog, “Can you add some stones here? Can you put this here?” We are like, “Yes, we can. We are the ones who do it.” We know if it can be done by looking at that. If we can’t do it then nobody can. We can modify things. Even if they have a ring that their mom gave them and they don’t like it or it doesn’t fit and they want to do different things to it, we can make alterations to current jewelry as well.
Is that different than another jewelry store where they will have the catalog and buy those pieces to keep them in-store? Since you are building them yourselves, I would imagine other jewelers don’t have that expertise as well.
It’s a lot harder as a business model to do it all yourself because, first of all, you have to have the skills and knowledge. You can’t just throw money at your inventory and advertise. You will probably get someone in and have them leave quickly. That’s not us. We take our time. It’s a different business model. Every store has its own. I’m not saying one is right or wrong. Some consumers want to buy something. If they want to buy a 5-carat diamond ring for $10, they will go to a place and it’s going to be made for $10. It’s not going to be made to last. We make things last.
My background is in repairs. I have done repairs my whole life. I have been in the business for many years so I know what can go wrong with jewelry. When I’m making a custom piece, I make it so that it’s bulletproof. What would go wrong, I make it so it won’t go wrong. We are designing every single line. Every single nook and cranny of that ring, pendant or earring, we are to work in that nonstop blowing up on our big screen. That’s the difference.
To touch on that, it’s the business model that we have. We are different. We like communicating and making you feel like you designed your jewelry. Sometimes the customer will come up with a sketch that they sketched. We will make it and so they did make it. To me, that’s more rewarding than throwing money and advertising, “I made money.” I love taking the time to make sure you’ve got what you want that it’s 100%.
You must have the right skills to advertise your business properly. You can’t just throw away money at inventory.
I don’t want anybody to leave in here thinking, “I liked what they did but I wish they would have done this.” Customers apologize all the time, “I’m sorry. I had to make you do this alteration.” This is what I do. I want you to be happy. You need to go and love what you take because it’s going to translate and you are going to tell everybody else. Making people happy is what we like. We love the process. I’m going to go back to the experience. It’s a different experience.
What is it about jewelry that you are passionate about? I can hear it in your voice that you have been doing this for a long time. It’s a family business. You enjoy this. What is it about it that you enjoy so much?
As a young kid, I used to build model cars and airplanes. I was always building something. I always like working with my hands and being creative. This is another extent of that. Now, I get paid to do this and be creative and work with my hands. Every day is different. No two days are the same. I repair and do custom designs. There are days when I’m on the computer or bench all day. There are days when I’m splitting my day. It’s the unpredictability of the day and what is to come in making people happy.
When you see their faces when they open that ring box and see the design that they designed, that’s what it’s all about right there. I would take this even further. I’m an outer space geek. I love outer space. I’m a nerd for that stuff. The metals that we work with were created by exploding stars. That to me blows my mind. Diamonds take billions of years to form on Earth. We are working with new jewelry but it’s old material. There are a lot of cool parts.
You touched on some good points. It’s interesting to think about what jewelry is or what these stones are and how we have polished them up or changed them a little bit to make them into what they are. It’s pretty cool that it’s made by nature and Earth.
I’m taking courses with GIA and working to become a Graduate Gemologist. I have been doing this for many years and I’m learning new stuff every day. That’s the cool part. We are still discovering new techniques on how to be a jeweler. I’m learning things about metals, diamonds and gemstones. Every day, there’s something new. There are new materials and techniques being found and formed. It’s that nonstop learning about new stuff.
Not even just as a business owner but in general, you have to have that approach to life. How you created jewelry in the beginning when you first opened up your business is completely different than it is now. If you wouldn’t have adapted, changed and used the technology, you probably wouldn’t be in business or as profitable as you would be now.
Having the 3D printer, you can talk about adapting. The economy changes every second. Look at 2020 of how it has evolved. You have to radically and quickly change or you are going to get crushed. In the many years that I have been doing this, the industry has changed dramatically. We purchased a laser welder. I was sitting right next to it years ago. Before that, “What is a laser welder? Why do I need this?” It makes working with diamonds and gemstones way safer because you don’t have to remove them.
You are not applying heat. You are using laser technology and welding. You are not soldering. You are using actual pure metals to bind pure metals with a 3D printer. Years ago, you would have said, “You are going to get a 3D printer one day.” I’m like, “Can I make photocopies with that? What is that?” Now, it’s the way of life. I sit at my computer. I send the design through the air and it hits the 3D printer. It’s constantly evolving and changing. You’ve got to keep moving with it.
Speaking of that change, 2020 has been a unique year with COVID and everything that has happened with the economy. How have you been affected by what has happened with 2020?
We are fortunate that we built our business on good fundamental business practices to where we are not overextended in debt. We were able to withstand pretty much any economic circumstance. We have been in business for many years. We have been through recessions, depressions and hurricanes. You name it. We are focused on things we can control, not the things that are out of our control. There’s no sense in worrying about what is going to happen next week, two weeks from now or a year from now.
That ties into that experience and we preach it to our employees, “When someone comes in, you need to be the happiest person that they face. They need to come here and feel like this is an experience. It’s an escape from what is going on outside.” Building our business on strong core fundamentals and pillars helped us stay the course.
When business is great, you can’t be too high. You’ve got to understand like, “This is probably temporary.” When the business goes down, you say, “This is temporary. Stay the course.” Even your business a year ago, you can’t do the same things a year ago that you are doing right now. It won’t work. The economy always changes. You’ve got to be willing to evolve and change. Don’t just do something because it’s what you have done.
What you touched on is huge as far as having good fundamentals like, “Here’s the foundation of our business. This is how we want it to look, run and feel.” There are all these other moving parts. That allows you to grow, learn those new techniques, try things, fail, learn and then add things to the business that stick and work. I’m jumping back into failure. Failure is one of those things that’s necessary. It’s going to happen. You’ve got to learn from it and move forward. What are some of the things that you have tried or failed at? Talk about some failures with the business that people can learn from.
It’s important to fail from time to time. Nobody wants to fail. If you fail, you are going to learn from them. They are opportunities to grow and become better. When you hit the wall or face plant into the ground, you’ve got to learn why you did that, what happened and what was it that caused that. For us, this is going to tie back into how we evolved as a business. Newspaper advertising used to be our bread and butter. We used to kill it with newspaper years ago but not so much anymore. We had to evolve and for a while, it worked. It got to a point where it stopped working but we kept doing it.
We tried TV and radio advertising. Although it’s entertaining to see yourself on TV and hear yourself on the radio, we didn’t get the return on investment for us and it was hard to track. There are ways that you evolve as a business. We spent a lot of money. Could we have spent it wiser in other areas? Yes. That was the light bulb in our heads. That’s when we were like, “We need to focus on Google SEO and online presence.” We focus on pushing those types of things.
Stay on course by building your business on strong core fundamental pillars.
We are involved in networking groups with Chamber’s BNI groups. It’s a lot more work. Networking is harder than throwing money at a TV budget or radio budget. If you are going to do that, you sit back and you don’t have to do anything but networking takes hours. It’s ten-something hours a week. We find that face-to-face interaction is so much more valuable and effective. We learned from us throwing money at TV and radio.
Doing the face-to-face is hard. It takes dedication and a lot of work. It’s slower but you build the relationships. You can also build a relationship with TV but it’s artificial. You build that relationship by shaking hands and seeing yourself face-to-face. We talk through what it is that you want in jewelry. We build that trust. For us, it’s building trust because I know people don’t trust jewelers and I get it. That’s the reality of the world we live in. Networking has helped us establish trust. That was very important.
It goes back to what you are built on about the experience that you are talking about. As the customer comes into the store, you are getting to meet the people outside of the store so they can get to know you and build that trust. They become a more loyal and lifelong customer, hopefully. You moved into your new shop in Palm Harbor. It’s right there in Downtown Palm Harbor right off Nebraska. Why Palm Harbor? Tell me a little bit about the area on why you like it so much.
We have always been in Palm Harbor. We were in the Alderman Plaza for many years. We didn’t feel like it would be appropriate to completely leave Palm Harbor. We have built up our name locally. Palm Harbor was very important. We have looked in Downtown Palm Harbor in the past and the right spot wasn’t available. They were too small or it was off the beaten path. My dad and I were at the MJSA Manufacturer’s show in New York City at an Irish pub. We were talking about business and I was like, “We need to look into finding a new place or building. Our lease is going to be up.”
This wasn’t the first building we found. We found a house on Nebraska Avenue. It turned out it wasn’t a good fit and I thought we had the bug. I started looking and called my realtor. We found this place and jumped on it. The reason it’s Downtown Palm Harbor is they are building mobile parks on US-19. Eventually, at 19, it’s going to be in overcapacity especially over Alderman Road. We knew that eventually we were going to have to leave.
It’s a historic and quaint district. It’s got an artsy feel to it with a cool atmosphere. It’s relaxed. It feels like a house. We want to build that experience. We don’t want to seem like any other jewelry store. Downtown Palm Harbor is vibrant. It’s up-and-coming. There are a lot of new restaurants. There are more coming. There are a lot of different changes. They are expanding it. They want to make the downtown bigger. Nebraska Avenue is going to be a lighted district. They are going to have lights on this road.
It’s cementing ourselves for future growth. We believe the future is going to be in the cities off at 19. Years ago, it was on 19. If you weren’t on 19, you didn’t exist. Now, it’s reverting. Look at Downtown Dunedin. It’s beautiful. In the past years, it has taken leaps and bounds. It’s an amazing place. Downtown Palm Harbor is going to be approaching that. There’s a lot of growth happening. We feel like we fit in better here. We love it.
You hit on some good points about Palm Harbor. I live in Palm Harbor myself. When we were buying a home, we rented a home at Palm Harbor. We wanted to find something in Dunedin because of what Dunedin is. It has that quaint little city vibe in the downtown area. We found a home in Palm Harbor. We are right in between Downtown Palm Harbor and Downtown Dunedin. We love it. It’s the perfect spot because of what Downtown Palm Harbor is doing. It’s expanding and growing with shops like yours that are coming in and occupying some of these older buildings. It’s cool to see the history that’s kept alive there as well too.
One of the things that we wanted to do when we moved here was to learn the history. We are learning about the whole city and it’s so cool. There was a college across the street here at one point. There’s so much history in the area that you live in and you don’t realize it. Now that we are in the district, we have been trying to learn more about the history. It’s very important.
From my perspective, it seems like there isn’t a lot of history but you have to dig a little bit and discover the history that you find in Dunedin and Palm Harbor especially the school that was there at one point in Nebraska. It’s a cool area with lots of history if you dig deep enough.
The hardest thing is lunchtime, figuring out where we are going to eat. There are many good spots. Even when I leave here at night, you can hear the bands playing and the people. That was another good thing. Once things started opening up, it was good to see signs of life. People are out enjoying themselves and enjoying life. They are not in fear. It’s nice to see that it’s very reassuring.
What is one of your favorite spots to go and eat dinner at in Palm Harbor?
I’m going to name them all because I like them all. It’s gaining the reputation that you can’t have bad food in Palm Harbor downtown because you are not going to make it. Bar Fly has lobster grilled cheese, which is to die for. You want to take a nap after that. There’s a new Cuban restaurant. They are good. Thirsty Marlin is a staple. I have not been to Salty Lime but I have heard good things about Salty Lime. If you pick your poison, you can’t go wrong. You get almost every kind of cuisine too.
You get a mix of everything. You could eat out every single night there and have a great meal every time.
It’s a bit more common too, which is great. I forgot about Reel BBQ. Their barbecue is phenomenal. You can’t beat it.
The first time I went there, I had the Cobia Sandwich. I don’t think I have ever had Cobia before that. That sandwich was good.
Building relationships through TV and radio may feel artificial. But building relationships through shaking hands and seeing people face to face is much deeper.
They are great. You get the brewery next door so you can get your fish sandwich with some beer. You are good to go. What else do you need?
Outside of the business and working, what else do you enjoy doing in the area?
I’m hanging out with my family. My son plays hockey. I love watching his games. My daughter does dance. It’s family stuff. My days off are Sundays. We love the beach. That’s where it’s at. I feel like I’m way too pale to be a Floridian. When it gets to 70, it’s winter for us. Being outside is where it’s at for me.
We are the same way in being outdoors. We are fortunate enough we have the beach and lots of great parks in the area that you can get outside pretty easily. I appreciate you joining us and taking the time out of your busy day. Where can people find you? I know you have the shop off Nebraska. Tell us where they can find you either location-wise and also on the internet.
We are located in Downtown Palm Harbor at 1210 Nebraska Avenue. It’s pretty much right across the street from Fran Haasch. We are a block away from all the food. They could follow us on Instagram @LesOlsonJewelers and Facebook @LesOlsonJewelers. We are on Pinterest as well, @LesOlsonJewelers. We are on Twitter @LOJRocks. We do a lot of social media. That’s our bread and butter. We are very active on social media if you want to see our new designs and what is going on in the showroom.
We are active in the community too. We do blood drives. We try to schedule those every several months. That’s where they could find us. Stop by and check out the experience. Donnie, thank you for having me on your show. What you are doing is great. Local and small businesses need this voice in the community. I hope we can do this again sometime.
I will definitely have to stop and say hi to you at one time here coming up. I appreciate it. Go check them out, say hello and see what they are all about.
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