Family Jewels: The Next Generation of Sutton Smithworks Leaders

by Tanya Misseghers
Photo Credit: Flashbound Photography

Tom Sutton started working as a goldsmith at the age of 19.

Now, 38 years later, Tom and his wife Peggy are developing their young staff as the next generation of Sutton Smithworks leadership.

Assistant manager Holly Knight began her association with Sutton as a teenage client.

“In 2012, I needed a stone replaced in a ring. Every jeweller I visited treated me with disrespect,” said Holly.

“When I walked into Sutton Smithworks, they were like no jeweller I had ever seen before, including the one I was working for. I was treated like family. My small job mattered to them.”

“I started referring my customers to Sutton. A year or two later I was picking up repairs and Peggy asked me to come in for an interview. I thought my role would be purely retail or administrative. I was stunned that Tom and Peggy had a larger plan in mind.”

Winnipeg is founded on family legacies in retail and commerce. Today, boomers are retiring. The heir is not always apparent.

“Our clients include a number of local family businesses, coming to us for assistance,” acknowledged Inga Sheane, Senior Vice President, Transaction Advisory Services, with EY (Ernst & Young) in Winnipeg.

“In some cases there is a leadership gap. The next generation may not quite be prepared to take the reins and as such these companies need to consider other solutions to bridge the gap.”

Sutton Smithworks is taking a long-term approach to meet this challenge.

Repairing jewellery since 1993, Sutton’s goldsmiths have more than 35 years of combined experience. They offer state-of-the-art equipment to complete professional creations and repairs on site, plus jewellery straight from European designers, not found elsewhere in Winnipeg.

“We will shift ownership to the younger generation over the next 8-10 years,” Tom affirmed.

Samantha Sousa is an apprentice goldsmith, James, Tom’s son, is the CAD/ CAM technician, and Holly Knight is assistant manager.  Each of them brings skills to the table.

Samantha represents a new trend of young women learning the goldsmith craft.

“My son James is a design wizard,” said Tom. “He works in a language I do not understand, using the CAD/CAM program to create complicated three-dimensional prototypes of our custom pieces.”

Holly achieved her Accredited Jewellery Professional diploma and is seeking further education through the Gemological Institute of America.

“All three embrace our values of quality, integrity, innovation, and service,” said Tom. “It shows in their work ethic and in the respect of our clients and vendors.”

Together, the Sutton team has modernized the company’s operations, branding and business model. Sutton’s move from Portage Avenue to the Exchange District in 2015 proved to be the catalyst.

Working with the Suttons, Holly developed a social media community, driving traffic to the website via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She installed an integrated, electronic point-of-sale, inventory, and customer relationship management system.

When the Canadian dollar declined, Holly initiated an e-commerce shop on Etsy. Sutton Smithworks has since attracted business from the United States, England, France and Germany.

Tom likens most of his competition to museum owners – couples in their late ’50s or early ’60s who purchase jewellery at tradeshows to their personal taste – assuming customers have the same wants and needs.

“The market has shifted from 10-15 years ago. The current generation wants bold, unique, fun designs. Samantha and James bring this vision to life. Holly brings it to light.”

Samantha, James, and Holly are excited. “Look at our neighbours, look at the Foxy Shoppe, and at Lennard Taylor. Look around at all the new restaurants, cafes, and lounges. The Exchange community is a vibrant hub, and we’re part of it.”

“Our staff represents our future. To us, they are all family,” said Tom. “Peggy and I are confident that Samantha, James and Holly will carry on the Sutton Smithworks legacy.”

Sutton Smithworks invites you to experience their professional services and custom jewellery. Check out their new stock and special offers during the Winnipeg Fringe Festival at 103-250 McDermot Avenue, online at www.suttonsmithworks.com, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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