Retailer Hall of Fame 2019: Steve and Judy Padis

IndependentsJul 30, 2019

Retailer Hall of Fame 2019: Steve and Judy Padis

The Padises have created a thriving, multi-generational family business completely on their own terms.

Judy and Steve Padis pictured with daughter Alexis, Padis Jewelry president. The Padises have been inducted into the National Jeweler Retailer Hall of Fame in the Multi-Store Independent category.
It all started with some beaded necklaces in 1970s Berkeley, California.

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.

Steve Padis was a student at the University of California, Berkeley, which was known for, in addition to its prestigious academia, being a magnet for the era’s hippie culture.

But Steve wasn’t the average bead-shilling flower child.

“I went from stringing beads and making necklaces and selling them on Telegraph Avenue as a street artist to wholesaling to other street artists,” he explains.

This knack for entrepreneurship turned into a full-fledged career for Steve upon graduation, when he opened a wholesale showroom in Berkeley.

Though it would be nearly a decade before they married and began working together, it was at that first Berkeley location that Steve met his wife-to-be, Judy, a buyer for the store Beadazzled.

“We actually met the day I moved from Berkeley to San Francisco,” says Steve. “She came to buy jewelry from us [at the old location], and we were literally packing it at the time! So, we had to unpack it and were looking at it …”

“…we were sitting on the floor,” Judy Padis interjects.

“…because all the furniture had already been moved,” Steve continues.

Just as a successful, sustainable business takes times to establish, Steve and Judy weren’t immediately a couple following that first encounter sitting on the showroom floor. First, they were business associates.

Judy, too, was something of a wunderkind. Her boss at Beadazzled, owner Carl Stark, appointed her vice president when she was only 22, putting her in charge of 250 employees. Located in shopping centers, Beadazzled had four stores when Judy joined. When she left 14 years later, it boasted 50 locations. 

Beadazzled was the biggest buyer of Padis Jewelry’s beaded necklaces. And as Steve and Judy’s relationship blossomed, so did Padis Jewelry.

The move from Berkeley to the much-larger San Francisco market propelled the business to the next level.

“[In San Francisco], our volume increased dramatically,” says Steve. “We went from a 500-square-foot showroom, which was essentially four counters in an alley just off Dwight Way in Berkeley, to a 3,000-square-foot store in San Francisco in one of the design centers, so instantly our volume quadrupled.”

Padis Jewelry’s St. Helena, California location
Padis Jewelry’s St. Helena, California location

Steve began working in silver jewelry, then gold chains, then started incorporating gemstones into his work, growth he describes as “little by little, over a 40-year period,” eventually resulting in today’s booming diamond bridal business, selling directly to consumers.

There were a couple of steps along the way that proved particularly prescient.

After occupying the original San Francisco showroom from about 1976 to 1984, Steve decided it was time to move Padis Jewelry to the San Francisco Jewelry Center. The only problem? It didn’t exist.

In 1983, he bought a 70,000-square-foot warehouse and converted it into a jewelry center, replete with 60 showrooms. It officially opened in 1984.

Steve asserts it’s the best investment he’s ever made.

“It was quite a dilapidated warehouse. At the time I purchased it, it didn’t have walls. It had a floor and a roof and literally fencing and corrugated fiberglass for sides,” he recalls. “I converted it into what was for more than 30 years: the San Francisco Jewelry Center.”

This year, with San Francisco’s real estate market at a fever pitch thanks to its techie headquarters status (neighbors include Airbnb), the Padises sold the building.

“It was an offer too good to refuse,” Judy explains.

Yin and Yang
Steve and Judy know better than anyone that their ability to see the larger picture beyond the limits of the traditional jewelry retail model—to make decisions like establishing an entire jewelry center—is a result of their professional synergy.

The pair married in 1983, as Steve was establishing the jewelry center.

They had the blessing of Stark, Judy’s boss at Beadazzled; he was so close with the couple, he was even in their wedding.
“He was the greatest champion of our marriage,” Steve says.

“If it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” Judy adds.

“You have to have the ability to switch, to move, to change direction because if you try to stay and do the same thing, you will not be successful in today’s market. Every day is a new day.” — Steve Padis

Judy remained at Beadazzled during the first few years of their marriage, continuing the professional supplier-retailer relationship with her husband.

“I was Steve’s biggest customer,” Judy notes, “so it was kind of a good gig.”

The power couple also began working together unofficially, establishing a jewelry trade show, the San Francisco International Jewelry Show, with the intention of promoting the jewelry center.

“That time period was when we were having our four children,” Judy says, “so I was [constantly] pregnant and trying to sell booth space.”

After two years of doing the show, in which about 70 companies exhibited per edition, a San Francisco trade show company bought them out.

Judy and Steve Padis with their four children
Judy and Steve Padis with their four children

It was 1986 by then and, without the show to work on, Judy left Beadazzled and joined Padis Jewelry.

“When we merged, it was much better for the company,” says Steve. “Judy is really great at merchandising and marketing, and her degree is in accounting and she still basically runs the accounting side of the operation.”

Judy says that Steve’s talents are “his ability to see into the future what the next hot thing is going to be, and also his diamond buying—there’s nobody like him.

“I used to think I could come in and do what he does and I can’t. He just knows how to make a deal work for everybody. He lets everybody make a profit without overpaying.”

Combining their varied talents allows the Padises to tackle their operations in a way few individuals could.

“Judy has a very strong retail background,” Steve says, “and I have a very strong manufacturing and wholesale background. When you merge this, all of a sudden you can have a very large retail operation with the ability to do your own manufacturing, and the purchasing power to be able to buy from the largest sources in the industry and largest sightholders in the diamond business.”

Judy says their respective skill sets work so well because, despite working in physical proximity for decades (their desks are mere feet apart), they allow each other figurative room to flourish.

“We respect each other’s talents instead of trying to compete with each other,” she says. “He’s so good at what he does with diamonds—I don’t even think about competing with him on that. And he respects me for what I do with all the designer buying. He doesn’t question it; he’s very supportive.”

The Only Way Is Up
Padis Jewelry opened a second store a mere three blocks from the San Francisco Jewelry Center in the San Francisco Gift Center Diamond Mart in 1990, then a third store in the same building.

With their proximity to Silicon Valley, Judy, a self-proclaimed “computer geek,” stayed tuned in to technology trends as computers became a regular part of the American household.

“My first website was in 1996 before anybody was doing jewelry websites,” she says. “Having young kids also really helps [in keeping up with technology]. You have to be so with it now, and I think the kids have exposed me to a lot.”

“You have to be dynamic,” Steve adds. “If we tried to stay doing what we were doing, I know we would be out of business. You have to be relevant today; you have to have a seamless connection online and in-store.”

Fast forward to 2015, Padis Jewelry pivoted in a new direction—north.

While their previous locations had been in San Francisco for decades, they decided to move further afield, opening a store in St. Helena, California.

It’s located in Napa Valley where, in true Padis fashion, Steve and Judy have more than a jewelry store.

They embraced their love of wine by opening their very own vineyard in the valley’s Oak Knoll region in 2008. (For more on Padis Vineyards as well as other jewelers who have expanded into wine and spirits, see the feature “Jewelers Uncork New Opportunities.”)

Of the company’s openness to change, he says: “You’ve got to be willing to change on a dime. You have to have the ability to switch, to move, to change direction because if you try to stay and do the same thing, you will not be successful in today’s market. Every day is a new day.”

Opening the St. Helena store wasn’t the biggest development in the Padis’ recent history, however.

Daughter Alexis Padis joined the company a little over a decade ago, with an MBA in entrepreneurial management and some corporate-world experience under her belt.

“It was right in the middle of that kind of social media pickup from zero to 60,” says Alexis, “and timing couldn’t have been better in terms of the needs of the business and the impact I could make by joining it.”

“She’s young, she’s a millennial and she has different ideas, which helps guide us into the future,” says Steve of his 32-year-old daughter. “With our traditional thoughts and her new innovations it’s been a very important part of our growth.”

Padis Jewelry’s Tacori shop-in-shop
Padis Jewelry’s Tacori shop-in-shop

Working with her parents on a daily basis has demonstrated to Alexis that career passion is sustainable through decades.

“Every day is an adventure with them,” she says. “They have an infectious level of energy and there never seems to be a day off for that energy.

“They’re so passionate about what they do and they’re so enthusiastic. My dad walks into the store every morning whistling.”

The next step in the company’s growth is a unique venture that would be easy to get excited about.

“Every day is an adventure with them. They have an infectious level of energy and there never seems to be a day off for that energy. My dad walks into the store every morning whistling.” — Alexis Padis, on her parents

The Padises are set to own and operate the first Forevermark boutique in the United States, which will be located in Walnut Creek, California.

“I see that as a turning point,” Steve says. “We recognized early that De Beers had the ability to spend marketing dollars and that’s very important to establish a brand. When you sell generic diamonds the margins are very minimal and really unsustainable, so we moved into Forevermark diamonds because we believe in them, and it allows us an avenue to sell what we feel is the best diamond at a fair price.”

Judy adds: “The Forevermark store will create the next chapter. If this one works well, hopefully we’ll open others.”

A Legacy for the Future
Steve and Judy have continuously demonstrated their ability to embrace new avenues of growth for Padis Jewelry. One direction they’re certain of, moving forward, is within their own family.

In March 2019, they elected Alexis president of the company, with Steve stepping into the role of chairman.

“I don’t think me taking over as president is a sign of them slowing down, by any means,” says Alexis, “but it’s a nice nod that they’re looking to share some of the responsibilities and are looking to grow the company in a way where they need to take on somebody else in command.”

In addition to their innovative thinking, Alexis wants to perpetuate her parents’ values, values like treating everyone with respect and kindness.

“They’re some of the most generous and loving people I know. I think that’s been the biggest joy for me in getting to work with them in the jewelry business every day—getting to know them as people and as friends. I would choose them as friends [even if we weren’t related].”

Steve and Judy say if they could go back and do something differently in their careers, they wouldn’t. What they value the most is the relationships they’ve made.

“We have such amazing clients,” Judy says. “The people we meet become our friends. We vacation with some of them. We’ve been to their weddings and baptisms. You become a part of people’s lives. We both just love what we do.”

The Padises so enjoy their work that at times it’s difficult for them to take a break.

“When we go on vacation, we go to jewelry stores,” says Judy.

Steve concurs: “If we vacation for more than two or three days, I can’t wait to get back to work.”

Though growing up Alexis didn’t know if she would join the family business, her first engagement ring sale instilled in her the magic of selling jewelry that marks milestones.

She intends to carry forward the passion evident in her parents, the passion that eventually drew her into the company.

“Being a jeweler is the dream job because, as I found out with that first sale, you’re selling somebody a piece of jewelry that becomes such an important part of her or his life and there’s nothing better than being involved in that moment.

“It’s truly something special and something that all three of us live and breathe. I want to keep that passion going.”

And, lest Alexis forget Padis Jewelry’s humble beginnings 40 years ago, she had one of her father’s original beaded necklaces framed and hung in the office, a constant reminder of the company’s journey.
Ashley Davisis the senior editor, fashion at National Jeweler, covering all things related to design, style and trends.

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