Retailer Hall of Fame 2018 Inductee: Cathy Tivol

IndependentsMay 16, 2018

Retailer Hall of Fame 2018 Inductee: Cathy Tivol

The second-generation jeweler has navigated the trials and tribulations that come with a family-run business.

Cathy Tivol, National Jeweler Retailer Hall of Fame 2018
Cathy Tivol is the owner of Tivol, which has two stores in the Kansas City area. She is the 2018 inductee in the Retailer Hall of Fame's Multi-Store Independent category.
Growing up, Cathy Tivol showed a natural affinity for the jewelry industry, but she didn’t imagine she’d end up running the family jewelry store established by her grandfather, Charles Tivol, in 1910 and subsequently run by her father, Harold.

Click <a href="" target="_blank">here</a> to read the full story in the Retailer Hall of Fame issue.
Click here to read the full story in the Retailer Hall of Fame issue.

“When I was a little girl, about 7, I would go down to the store and watch my dad sort small sapphires and rubies with a tweezer,” Tivol explains. “He showed me how to hold tweezers, unfold a diamond paper and use a scale. I remember loving folding and unfolding those diamond papers, and the clink of the stones on the scale.

“At the dinner table, my father would talk about the actor from ‘Superman’ coming in that day, or [TV’s singing cowboy] Roy Rogers, and my brother Tom and I would get hysterical. I absolutely had no aspirations to join the family business until college.”

Once she changed her mind, Tivol embraced her decision wholeheartedly, taking GIA courses by correspondence while studying English and psychology at college. She liked her GIA diamonds course most of all. 

“Dad was very big on education and being knowledgeable in our field,” says the jeweler, who is being honored this year as the inductee into National Jeweler’s Retailer Hall of Fame in the Multi-Store Independent category. (Tivol has two stores in the Kansas City metro area.)

After graduating from college, Tivol went to work at the store, which, at the time, was owned by her father Harold and his brother, Jack. As a crash course, the brothers had the young woman spend a few months working in each of the store’s departments, from accounting to marketing, inventory, repair and back office.

“Looking back, I think this was so smart,” she says. She found that “doing a job, rather than observing, is the best way to learn.”

Tivol hasn’t stopped learning since. With her signature humility and candor, she recalls a mistake she made years ago that she now uses to educate her sales staff.

Cathy with her father, Harold
Cathy with her father, Harold

“I’ve made countless mistakes, too many to remember,” she says. “Many years ago, a man came into the store wanting to spend $10,000 on an upgrade for his wife’s original diamond ring. This was a guy I knew personally, and I knew that he was very wealthy. I tried to convince him to spend more by showing him larger, more expensive diamonds. He ended up walking, and buying somewhere else. Big mistake on my part; I didn’t listen.

“There’s nothing wrong with trying to upsell, but I should have also shown him stones in his requested price range. This has become a great example in our sales training of what not to do.”

Tivol’s major takeaway from that experience: Always tell the truth. And admit when a mistake has been made.

Fulfilling a Familial Legacy
Cathy Tivol officially joined the management team of her family’s Kansas City, Missouri, store in 1978, and 2018 marks her 40th year with the company. In 2005, she stepped into the role of CEO.

Tivol President Brian Butler, who began his career with the store as a salesperson in 1998, says that her management style is to lead by example, providing a hard-working, calm and composed role model for her staff.

“Her work ethic and willingness to do whatever needs to be done set a great example for others in a male-dominated industry,” he explains, noting that it’s common to see Tivol in the store six days a week. “At the same time, while having the drive and persistence of a savvy business woman, she is compassionate and accepting.”

Several people interviewed for this story noted that Tivol’s emphasis on personal connections stretches far beyond the boundaries of customer service or business relationships.

Butler continues, “You couldn’t ask for a better friend, confidant or sympathetic ear. She’s the first to bring food at the loss of a family member and there’s enough food for the entire extended family.  She has a fun and witty side that makes me smile just thinking about it.” 

Here Cathy is pictured with her father and son, Hunter Tivol McGrath.
Here Cathy is pictured with her father and son, Hunter Tivol McGrath.

Tivol’s son, Hunter Tivol McGrath, adds, “She has a way of relating to our staff and clients that is in our DNA from my grandfather, Harold Tivol. She is a smart, savvy businesswoman dominating her role in an industry with many men at the helm.”

After so many years in the family business, Tivol says continuing her grandfather’s legacy is what she’s most proud of, though she doesn’t credit herself with the full weight of that achievement.

“Our longevity is due much more to our staff than to me. Customers come in and see familiar faces, many of whom have become friends.” — Cathy Tivol

“[The fact] that Tivol is still here after 108 years is probably my biggest accomplishment, although I’ve only had a few years at the helm,” she says. “Frankly though, our longevity is due much more to our staff than to me. The fact that we have many employees who have been here for more than 15 years has allowed customers to form true relationships with our sales staff. Customers come in and see familiar faces, many of whom have become friends.”

The store’s century-plus in business sets it apart—particularly at a time when so many independent jewelers are closing. Tivol says it hopefully sends a message of stability to the community.

“The Tivol brand is strong, and we’ve remained true to it throughout the years. Integrity, value, and quality are living words to us,” she says. “We’ve also become known over the years as risk-takers for our humorous marketing and advertising campaigns.”

Tivol is referring to the store’s marketing campaign that began in the 1980s and lasted for nearly 20 years. It featured her father Harold, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 92, in funny print and television ads.

A Store That Feels Like Home
Tivol is also known for fostering a welcoming environment in her stores that extends to the designers she works with.

Geri Bondanza, a partner at Michael Bondanza, recalls meeting Cathy Tivol and her father in the late 1980s at a time when many retailers weren’t interested in promoting design.

“They started to realize that American jewelry designers should be recognized. They were really one of the leaders in giving designers a name in the stores,” Bondanza says.

Designer Penny Preville and Cathy Tivol
Designer Penny Preville and Cathy Tivol

Designer Penny Preville also met Tivol in the 1980s, at a JA New York show.

“I remember she came over to my booth, and she was really adorable and beautiful and had all of this wonderful energy,” Preville recalls of the meeting. “She really was behind the designer business. She was a great partner. Because she’s behind you, the salespeople are behind you.”

What stands out most to Bondanza and Preville is Tivol’s “welcoming” nature.

“She’s always open to listening,” Bondanza explains. “She’s always inviting people into her home.”

“I could always call her and talk to her,” Preville says. “We formed an amazing bond. Over the years we became really close and she’s become one of my dearest friends. It feels like you’re being welcomed into someone’s home when you go to the stores. She’s very easy to talk to and sets a really great example for the excellent staff, who have been there a really long time.”

The store’s strong local reputation, warm atmosphere and popular advertising campaigns aided the Tivols in opening a second store in 1994, in neighboring Overland Park, Kansas.

Weathering Storms
Successes aside, Tivol’s journey hasn’t been without its challenges. 

She and her team opened a third location in the Kansas City area that ended up closing after the 2008 financial crisis. Additionally, the Tivols have seen their share of familial ups and downs over the years. 

“A family business can be absolutely wonderful and fulfilling, and it can also tear families apart,” Tivol says. “It’s amazing that we’re still around because of all the family issues we’ve had over the years—my dad buying my uncle and aunt out and what that did to the family, my step-brother joining the business, my brother leaving the business. Through all the turmoil though, I’ve been very lucky because dad and I were on the same page almost 100 percent of the time.”

“There is almost no scenario she hasn’t encountered and navigated through. Internally and externally, personally and professionally, she has seen it all.” — Hunter Tivol McGrath

No challenge compares, however, with the personal tragedy Tivol endured in 2011 when her daughter, Brooke Tivol McGrath, died unexpectedly from a rare blood infection at the age of 28. McGrath was working in New York at the time as marketing director for jewelry brand Carelle. Today, Carelle and the Women’s Jewelry Association support an annual $5,000 merit-based grant in her honor.

Shortly after the family lost Brooke, Cathy’s son Hunter decided to join the company, representing the family’s fourth generation in the business.

“Hunter came to me several months after Brooke died and said he wanted to join the family business,” Tivol recalls. “I was still reeling from grief, and my husband Mark had the presence of mind to say that we’d love to have him, but that we’d like to find a consultant to help us do it the right way, a first for us.”

Cathy with Tivol President Brian Butler
Cathy with Tivol President Brian Butler

To avoid past familial issues and lay a strong foundation for McGrath, who is a CPA and graduate gemologist, she hired consultant Jim Murphy to guide her son’s transition into the company. 

“I think the key is for each family member to have a clearly defined role,” Tivol says. “Listening and being respectful and open is huge.” 

Introducing the younger generation has paid off so far. Today, McGrath is the company’s vice president, and has brought much to the table in terms of helping the older generation look at procedures with fresh eyes. 

“Hunter wants Tivol to continue doing what we do best but also look outside the box to stay fresh and relevant and ahead of the game,” Tivol says.

There is a synergy between the third and fourth generations of the business, as McGrath is able to bounce his new ideas off his mother’s hard-earned expertise.

“There is almost no scenario she hasn’t encountered and navigated through,” he says. “Internally and externally, personally and professionally, she has seen it all. She continues to amaze me with her resilience as we face changing times in an ever-fluctuating industry. Her ability to shift, to stay ahead of the curve, allows Tivol to remain a strong name in our industry.”

Preville adds, “I think she’s grown a lot through life experiences and the ups and downs of the business. It’s been amazing to watch her expand her father’s legacy. I think she’s a great leader.” 
Ashley Davisis the senior editor, fashion at National Jeweler, covering all things related to design, style and trends.

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