Retailer Hall of Fame 2023: Holly Wesche

IndependentsOct 17, 2023

Retailer Hall of Fame 2023: Holly Wesche

The third-generation owner of Wesche Jewelers is a devoted team player, a faithful servant of her community, and the picture of resilience. 

Holly Wesche
Holly Wesche, owners of Wesche Jewelers, has been inducted into National Jeweler’s Retailer Hall of Fame in the Single-Store Independent category.
Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in the print edition of the 2023 Retailer Hall of Fame. Click here to see the full issue.

Wesche Jewelers has been a familiar name in Melbourne, Florida, since the ‘70s. What started as a small beachside store is housed today in a custom 15,000-square-foot location that hosts dazzling events and attracts people with its welcoming family atmosphere.

For third-generation owner Holly Wesche, it’s more than just a stunning interior—it’s the culmination of decades of challenges and in the face of them all, ongoing perseverance.

Given the chance, Holly’s employees and friends will tell you it’s her grit that got her there.

Holly will tell you it’s her faith and, above everything else, her team.

Taking over the business may have been far from the plan for young Holly, who grew up surrounded by industry talk that did not interest her in the least. But once she found her groove selling jewelry in college, she never looked back.

Growing Up Wesche
Holly has familial roots in the jewelry industry on both sides of her family.

On her father Jim Wesche’s side, Holly’s grandmother—a female entrepreneur ahead of her time, Holly notes—owned Wesche’s Antiques in Orlando, Florida, where she sold jewelry, china, crystal, silver, and some fine furniture.

Holly’s maternal great-aunt and -uncle, June and Herb Underwood, were the owners of Underwood Jewelers in Florida, founded in 1928. Her maternal grandparents worked there as well.

Jim and June Wesche
Holly’s parents, Jim and June Wesche

When Holly’s parents married, her father Jim started working at Underwood Jewelers and ended up managing the store’s multiple locations in Jacksonville, Florida. He also became a student of her great-uncle.  

Along with being a dedicated mentor to Jim, Herb was active in the industry.  

From 1967 to 1969, he was the board chair of Retail Jewelers of America, which would become Jewelers of America, where he later served as president of the board. He also served on the boards of the American Gem Society, Jewelers Vigilance Committee, the Florida Jewelers Association, and the Florida Retail Federation.  

When Underwood Jewelers was sold to Bromberg’s in 1974, both Herb and Jim stuck around. Jim remained the manager for a few more years before amicably departing for Melbourne, where he and wife June opened the first Wesche Jewelers store in 1977.  

“When I was growing up in Jacksonville, every time we would get together for Thanksgiving or Christmas, everything was about the jewelry business,” Holly says. “I had it all around me. My entire family was independently owned businesses in the jewelry industry/jewelry world. Literally since I can remember, everything was about, ‘How’s business? What’s selling? How’s the economy?’  

“So, I guess it was destined to be, although when I was growing up, I had no interest whatsoever. I thought I would do something in broadcast journalism.”  

After high school, Holly attended the University of Florida. She had made an agreement with her parents that they would pay tuition, but she had to work for any “play money” for fun things like shopping.  

“When I went there, it must have been the beginning of fate,” —Holly Wesche on finding her first job in jewelry while in college. 

“My parents really wanted me and my brother and sister to have work experience. That was as much a part of it as anything,” she says. “I think I helped in the store like one half a day taking inventory.”

She noticed a new Luria’s department store near her college was hiring, so with her mother’s voice in the back of her mind, Holly applied for a job with Wesche Jewelers on her resume as past work experience.

“When I went there, it must have been the beginning of fate,” she says. “[The interviewer] was only talking to me for maybe five minutes, and she excuses herself and gets up. A man comes back and he’s the general manager of this Luria’s that’s about to open, and believe it or not, he’s from Melbourne, Florida.

“He said, ‘I know Wesche Jewelers, you’re hired, and we’re going to put you in the jewelry department.’”

After a year or so at Luria’s, Holly upgraded. She walked into a nearby Rutherford’s Jewelers, applied for a job, and got it.

“My mother said she knew I’d gotten bitten by the jewelry bug because every time I called home, I wasn’t talking about my schoolwork, I wasn’t talking about my boyfriend, I wasn’t talking about my sorority; I wanted to talk about what I was selling.”

Throughout college, Holly worked at Wesche Jewelers when she was home in the summer and at Rutherford’s when she was back at school. After college, she remained at Wesche, and the family began discussing the possibility of Holly taking over the business.

“My parents sat me down and said, ‘OK, we want to make sure this isn’t a fad … are you serious about this?’” Holly recalls. “I said yes, we got a consultant, and we designed a buyout plan. But we never anticipated that my father would get brain cancer.”
Sudden Succession

Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1998 and passed away 14 months later, in July 1999, at 61 years old.

Holly and Jim Wesche in Antwerp 1990
Holly and her father Jim during her first buying trip to Antwerp, Belgium in October 1990

“We had a plan for succession, but that plan never considered something like that could happen. We just thought my parents would grow old and at certain points in the timeline, I would gain more and more equity in the business,” Holly says.

When Jim got sick, Holly’s mother June left the business to care for him, leaving Holly at the helm. At this point, Wesche Jewelers had two locations, a strip-center store and a freestanding store her parents had built.

Back in 1977, the very first store Jim and June opened was a little beachside shop. Later, they opened another store in the community’s new regional mall, Melbourne Square, where much of the area’s growth was concentrated at the time, and closed the beachside location. After 10 years in the mall, the Wesches built a freestanding store down the street and moved there.

“Right before my dad got brain cancer, I wanted us to open a second store in this strip center a few miles from this new part of our community called Viera, and I had almost gotten him to agree to that,” Holly says.

The developer of the strip center knew the family was looking for a location near Viera and reached out to Holly.

“He gave my mother and me a sweetheart deal because he wanted a strong local tenant in the strip center, so that’s how we ended up with the freestanding store and the strip-center store,” Holly explains. “That store did extremely well and put me in a financial position to buy the land and build the big store that we’re in now.”

Following Jim’s passing, Holly’s mother decided she didn’t want to stay in the business without him. She and Holly redid the agreements, and in doing so, had to address the question of logistics, like how Holly would buy two stores and how her mother’s retirement would be handled.

Holly and Jim Wesche in Antwerp 1990
After Holly's father Jim unexpectedly passed away from brain cancer in 1998, the Wesche family began the process of her taking over the business.

From 2000 to 2001, the family worked with a consultant friend to help arrange for June to sell the freestanding location because the family owned that building and land. The sale was her retirement.

Then the business was evaluated, and in March 2002, Holly received a loan to buy Wesche Jewelers. She became the official owner of the remaining location in the strip center and all the leftover inventory from the closed store. Holly later decided to buy property, and in September 2006, she built the 15,000-square-foot store, closing the strip-center store once business took off in the new location.   

True Grit
Holly’s “right-hand person and partner in crime,” Sandi Brockert, recalls the beginning of that new era vividly.

“We looked at plans together, we drove out every day to see it coming. We watched as it progressed. We stood on the flat ground saying, ‘My gosh, the store’s not going to be very big’, but then, all the sudden, it went up, and we were like, ‘Wow, it’s huge!’” Brockert says.

“[Holly] always wanted it to resemble a resort. One of the things I remember distinctly is, it being a two-story building, we talked about having a grand staircase, semi-circular coming down from the upstairs.”

Because the team anticipated children would be in the store, the staircase idea was nixed for safety reasons and instead, a kids’ playroom was put in. Now, it’s a selfie room.

Prior to her retirement in 2015, Brockert worked for Wesche Jewelers for a little over 20 years as the merchandise manager and general manager.

Holly Wesche and Sandi Brockert
Holly and her “right-hand person,” Sandi Brockert in one of the former stores

In the ‘80s, when the Wesches had their store in the Melbourne Square mall, Brockert was working across the corridor at a different family-owned store. She and the family were on the mall board together. Eventually, the store Brockert worked at closed and she put in an application at Wesche Jewelers.

“[The Wesches] were very prim and proper people of that generation, of my generation,” Brockert says. “You’d never see [Jim] without his business coat on, but his interest above all else was just helping the customer, helping fulfill their dreams and Holly went forward to do that.

“People who have known her forever will say that Holly is Jim [reincarnated].”

After moving away for a while, Brockert ended up back in Florida, working for Holly and helping her transition to the new location. While building the new store was an exciting time of dreaming and planning, it was also a stressful time for the team, who, in the process, dealt with stolen funds, hurricanes, and the Great Recession.

“It was horrible timing, because imagine opening a big, huge store with a big, huge mortgage in September 2006 when the worst recession to date was right around the corner,” Holly says. “The only time in my entire career—and I’m 58 years old now—I had the conscious thought, ‘I might go under,’ was December 2008 because business was so bad that month.”

It wasn’t an easy journey, but Wesche Jewelers pulled through.

“Holly kept us going,” Brockert says. “She stayed in touch with all her vendors. We worked with anybody in any way we could to get people in the store, came up with clever advertising, just did as many fun things as we could.

“She managed to keep employees employed. If you needed $50 or $5 or $5,000 and asked her, she’d be the first to say, ‘I’ll move heaven and earth to get that for you.’”

Nights To Remember
The team at Wesche Jewelers always considered themselves the best at making customers feel special, but one place their creativity shines is through themed events hosted at the store, something the bigger building allowed them to take to another level. At the grand opening event, 900 people showed up.

“We know that because we teamed up with a charity and you had to have a ticket. That was crazy,” Holly says.

From major community fundraisers and live bands to fully catered ladies’ nights and invitation-only private dinners, Holly has hosted a variety of special events, some of which repeat annually.

Wesche Jewelers Diamonds and Denim event
At Wesche Jewelers’ “Diamonds & Denim” event, the store team dons black and rhinestones.

“The details are what make the event so super. It’s everything from the store décor to the signature cocktail to what you’re serving [and] how you’re tying in the theme,” Holly says. “At our Le Vian event, we served a chocola-tini because Le Vian, you know, the chocolate diamonds.”

Quality is important to Holly as well. She makes sure clients receive nice gifts and the food and drinks are top notch.

“My most fond memories are tied to a lot of our great events. They’re super-hard work, but it’s a bonding time for our team and it’s relationship-building with our clients. We’ve really done some amazing and out-of-the-box events in the store,” she says. “That is a lot of what we laugh about and talk about now.”

It’s rare to hear praise for Holly without the mention of how she interacts with her team, in all aspects of the business.

“Anybody who thinks you can be a success today without a solid team is dreamin’,” Holly says. “It’s the fantastic people we have had over the years that we could not have done it without.”

A Loving Leader
Holly’s longtime boyfriend Jim Woodard, owner of Woodard’s Diamonds & Design in Tullahoma, Tennessee, has seen her evolution as a business owner and team leader from the beginning.

Holly and Jim at the Gem Awards
Holly and Jim at the Gem Awards

Woodard started in the industry in 1974 in high school working for a family jeweler. He and Holly met over 30 years ago in a networking group headed by Joe Romano, owner of jewelry consultancy Scull and Co., who invited jewelers from all over to come together twice a year.

“[Holly’s] father was bringing her into this group of jewelers to help her communicate, get to know the industry better and make friends in the industry, which is very important to do, as well as be working with jewelers of like-mind and like-size,” Woodard says.

“He was kind of the patron saint of the group because he had more wisdom and knowledge and skills than any of us combined … Holly was just really kind of coming in and learning how to run it and operate it.”

After a few years, Holly and her father moved into a bigger group, but because Holly’s father had become a mentor for Woodard, they all stayed in touch.

“[Holly’s] dad spent a lot of time with her, and she modeled an awful lot of his teaching and coaching, and she was a great student,” Woodard says.

The education and training of her sales team, especially the store’s Friday morning meetings, is a top priority for Holly. She often brings in highly regarded industry teachers such as Shane Decker, who hosts sessions at the store for her team.

“She spends a great deal of time and money interviewing candidates if they need people,” Woodard says. “She’s always been a promoter of making that team No. 1. For her, [it’s worth] the amount of time and energy she puts into training her employees and hiring the right people.”

Holly says her team regularly talks about what’s changing and what they, as a store, can do differently. Innovative thinking is something she encourages of her team, especially after COVID.

Wesche Jewelers Gem Show event
The Wesche Jewelers team in their safari attire at the store’s annual “Gem Show” event, which features “Gem Hunter” David Artinian

“The pandemic was a blessing for the jewelry industry. It forced us to innovate, it kicked us in the butt in some ways, which was good,” Holly contends.

“Before COVID, I had two salespeople who did quite a bit over the phone. They would send videos or pictures, but usually to clients who were out of town or maybe were busy at work. Now, everyone on the sales team does that all the time every day.

“We even talked about getting a greeting card franchise in the store, so that way a guy can come in, get his wife a card, get her a gift, we gift-wrap it beautifully; it’s a one-stop shop.”

For the store, it’s all about taking the shopping experience to the next level and using forward-thinking strategies to incorporate new technology. It’s a strength she often relies on her team for, knowing they each can bring something different to the table.

“I don’t consider myself a very innovative person. I’m kind of a sure-and-steady, tried-and-true, extreme grit and perseverance ... kind of person.”

You could say Holly knows herself well because those closest to her echo the sentiment, including Woodard.

“One of the greatest attributes of Holly is her grit, intentionality, and focus. In her lifetime, she’s had a lot of challenges and setbacks, but she has fought hard to push through them and never let any of that defeat her. One of her greatest characteristics is her willingness to just never give up and always push forward.

“She didn’t always have a 15,000-square-foot building. She was quite the visionary to take that step,” Woodard says.

Holly and Jim at the Gem Awards
Holly and Jim at the Gem Awards

While Holly’s generation is certainly different from her parents’ generation and the way the store does business has evolved, there are morals and values she learned from her father she still holds close to her business, and to her heart.

“When I met Jim Wesche, I was impressed with his sincerity and his knowledge … He was always a really humble, kind, and compassionate man,” Woodard says. “I’ve often said the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”

Family Legacy and Service
Serving the community was, and still is, just as important to the Wesche family as serving the customer. 

“My family has always been very involved in the community and very involved in church. Faith is very important to us. I run my business with the foundation of Christian principles, but that’s what was modeled for me, frankly, my whole life,” Holly says. 

At her church, Faith Fellowship Church, she’s served as a Sunday School class leader, board member, and board chair in various capacities since 2012. 

She’s been an active member of the Melbourne Regional Chamber of Commerce for over 20 years, where she served in leadership positions including as a board member and an executive committee member for approximately 15 years. 

Holly also served on the board of the Florida Business Bank Advisory from 2005 to 2008 and was a board member of the Health First Foundation from 2014 to 2016. 

She was named one of the 100 Most Influential Business Leaders in Brevard County by Space Coast Business magazine in 2008 and received an Outstanding Business Leader Award from the Florida Institute of Technology’s Nathan M. Bisk College of Business in 2011.

“I’ve gotten to a more seasoned place in life where I really give my time and energy and resources to things that are important to me.” —Holly Wesche   

And Holly’s been just as busy serving the jewelry industry, a family tradition she is proud to carry on. Wesche Jewelers is both a JA and an AGS member store. Following in her Great-Uncle Herb Underwood’s footsteps, Holly started volunteering her time with JA in 2008.

“Holly served on the board and the executive committee, including her term as board chair, for 14 years. That is an extraordinary run and shows her passion and dedication to Jewelers of America,” JA President and CEO David Bonaparte says.   

He joined the association in 2012 and formally met Holly at his first board meeting. At the time, she was on the executive committee.

“I could immediately sense that she cared deeply about the organization and our mission. Her great-uncle was a past board chair and she was always very focused on making sure JA was healthy and well respected in the industry,” Bonaparte says.

“Holly always brought new ideas for growth, was an ambassador for membership and talked positively about JA at various industry events.”

Holly served as JA board chair from 2019 to 2021.

“When my great-uncle was board chair of RJA, I was 2 years old,” Holly says. “Little did he know—because back then, women were not on boards, women [couldn’t belong to the 24 Karat Club of New York]. This is the old days—his 2-year-old niece would hold that seat 52 years later.”

Holly Wesche Chair of JA Board of Directors
Holly Wesche was elected Chair of JA Board of Directors in the fall of 2019, 52 years after her Great-Uncle Herb Underwood held the position.

Holly says before her, only three women had ever served on the JA board. She made it her mission to get more women on the board with her. Nine of the 25 JA board members for the 2022-23 term were women, including Holly.  

With multiple decades under her belt, Holly remains an avid and energetic volunteer, though she has fine-tuned how she expends her time and energy.  

“I’ve gotten to a more seasoned place in life where I really give my time and energy and resources to things that are important to me. I’m more selective about it and go a little deeper with it,” she says.  

“It’s very satisfying to know you contributed and hopefully made a difference. It feels good to give back to our community, to support various charitable organizations, to be involved and support other locally owned businesses. I think it just makes for a more satisfying life when you’re involved with others. I think we’re made to be in community. I happen to believe that’s how God designed us.”  

Lauren McLemoreis the associate editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments.

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