I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Michael Phen of Phen Jewelers as my first Minority Owned Business Spotlight. I could not have chosen a better first interview. Michael was inviting, warm, and passionate about his business. I stumbled upon Phen Jewelers a couple years ago when I was doing laundry in the same strip mall. I was amazed at their work, and they were the first place I thought of writing about.
Phen Jewelers has been in business for 4 years and Michael’s family has been serving the Rochester community with their jewelry needs for about 35 years, a fact which makes Michael proud. Michael’s father was one of the original jewelers at Rochester Lapidary Jewelers, and that is where Michael got his start. He worked there for about 10 years before going out on his own as a subcontractor and then finally opening his own store front. Michael’s business is the ultimate “Mom and Pop shop” as he literally has no employees. He runs the business himself and in the mornings, his mother stops in to keep him company. He keeps a toothbrush in the bathroom, and it’s clear he spends most of his time in his shop.
Michael says perhaps someday if the company grows larger than he can handle he would consider hiring some employees, but as of now, he thinks it would be too much of a hassle. If you wonder, as I did, how then is Michael able to take a vacation, the answer is, he doesn’t. Michael just laughed when I asked if he took vacations. He said occasionally he will close the store for a couple days to attend a golf tournament, but that is about it.
Michael is laid back and we chatted for close to an hour. When I asked him if the reality for the first year of business was anywhere close to his expectations, he stated that his only expectations were “to survive”. As the business is still around 4 years later, he is happy enough with that. Things are tight as a small business owner, though, and he never claims to have it easy. Michael states, “It’s hard to pay bills,” but that part is up to his wife. His demeanor changed when he talked about this. He clearly respects his wife’s participation in the family business stating, “It’s tough, and I feel selfish because she has the burden of paying the bills. I just manage the store and make jewelry and make sure the business grows little by little.”
Michael’s main focus is costumer service. He does repair work, subcontract work, and also sells some regular retail pieces, but his passion is his custom work. He lights up when he talks about creating custom pieces for people. He takes people’s ideas and pictures to create one of kind jewelry. Between working on these commissioned pieces and his subcontract work, he has very little time to work on his own designs. His future goal is to have 90% of the store filled with his own work, though for now, he has a about a quarter of the display cases filled with his own designs, with many stones and settings in storage just waiting for his attention.
I asked Michael who his biggest competitor was in town. His answer confirmed that I had picked the right person to interview for my first Minority Owned Business Spotlight. He said, “I am not in competition with anyone; I am here for the customer. I just want to serve my customers and the community that I live in and love. That’s not something to compete with.” He did conclude by saying very confidently that his prices are fair and better than anywhere else in town.
I spent some time walking around the store admiring his work. It truly is one of a kind. He has excellent attention to details and an astonishingly creative eye. I couldn’t tell you what my favorite piece was as I was amazed by all of it. I am not much of a jewelry gal, but I was dying to try on some of his pieces. If a client hadn’t walked in at the end of the interview, I would have asked. What I do know is that when my husband and I decide to upgrade our simple wedding bands, this is where we will be going! His work is flawless and his customer-service focus sold me for sure.
If you have any last minute holiday shopping to do, please swing by Phen’s Jewlers at 4170 18th Ave NW, Rochester, MN 55901. You can find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/phenjewelers.
I promise you will find something that makes you smile. I did!
(If you are reading this dear husband, hint hint, honey.)