Chain of command

Heritage Fine Jewelry’s succession set in stone

By Leslie T. Snadowsky

Patricia Catalano moved her family and her jewelry business to Hilton Head in 1990. For the last 25 years siblings Patrick Safe, 52, Doug Safe, 50, and Jennifer Lance, 43, all became integral parts of their mom’s Heritage Fine Jewelry located at Shelter Cove Towne Centre. Each grew into leading different facets of the business.

When Catalano suffered a stroke on April 1, 2020, and died two weeks later, the ownership of the store passed seamlessly to her children through stipulations in her will.

“One minute she was totally fine and setting diamonds at 73 years old, and the next minute she was not,” Jennifer said. 

According to the most recent PwC family business study, only 34 percent of U.S. family businesses say they have a robust, documented and communicated succession plan in place. And while most family business leaders have at least an informal succession plan in place, only a minority have fully embraced the need to not only have a plan but to document it and effectively communicate it to all essential parties.

“We didn’t see it coming,” Jennifer said. “Truthfully, we thought that one day we would have to have a talk with our mom about slowing down and retiring, but we never had to do that.”

Patricia Catalano moved her family and her jewelry business to Hilton Head in 1990 and taught her three kids all about the business. When she passed away in 2020, she left a will designating them all as equal partners at Heritage Fine Jewelry.

Clarity of vision

Heritage Fine Jewelry strives to be a high-end store in a charming setting that customers shouldn’t feel afraid to walk into. Jennifer said they display a diverse inventory with something for everybody, with earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces ranging from $25 to tens of thousands. Jennifer said her mom’s dream for the store was to prioritize customer service, offer the best and most extensive inventory on the island and showcase unique designer looks without charging inflated designer prices.

“We all still share the same vision,” Jennifer said. “She instilled a really strong work ethic in all of us and taught us to treat people fairly and cultivate long-term customers. 

“It was already arranged in her will that the three of us would have equal shares of the business if she were to pass,” said Jennifer, who is certified in diamonds and diamond grading through the Gemological Institute of America. “Patrick is a master goldsmith and the one who does repairs, including remounting, ring sizing, engraving, clasp replacement, custom design, complimentary cleaning and inspections. Doug does some of that as well, but he mostly works out front with me. We all have equal shares, so there’s not really just one manager, and we really try to take it easy on those titles because we all pitch in equally.”

Personalized polish

According to the PwC study, 67 percent of U.S. family businesses already have next-gen family members working in the business and anticipate they will become majority shareholders within five years. 

While mom Catalano led by example, she never stopped working in the business herself. “I know that sounds kind of crazy, but she was just such a workhorse,” Jennifer said. “The business was her life, and it showed because she was really successful at it.

Her presence is still felt everywhere, and we still do things in the same way that she did things, including providing complimentary cleaning and inspections of fine jewelry and custom design work.”

Jennifer said she and her brothers have no plans to change or modernize the business because they don’t have to. She said their mom’s business model has worked for decades, and they don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

“I’m not going to say the business runs itself because certainly there’s a lot to it, but as far as the overall business plan, we just try to run a really good savvy business and make sure that we give good customer service to our customers,” she said. “That was always a big thing for our mom. We don’t take very much time off. That way when our customers come in, they see one of us, and they’re happy. It makes a difference.”

Patrick does on-premises jewelry repair, including remounting, ring sizing, engraving, clasp replacement, custom design, complimentary cleaning, and inspections.

Linked to legacy

Forty percent of U.S. family business leaders say they want to see the next generation’s increasing involvement in decision-making and management, according to the PwC survey.

Jennifer said the most rewarding part about working at Heritage Fine Jewelry is to keep it going.

“Even though it definitely feels different doing business without her, we all got to work together with our mom for a really long time, which was awesome,” she said.

Jennifer advises others in family businesses to treasure their time together, even in a work environment.

“It gives us a lot of peace of mind because we worked with our mom five days a week,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to spend that extra time with those family members, because time is something that you don’t get back.

“As far as preparing, we were never really prepared,” Jennifer said. “But I think being prepared for something like that is a really good thing for family businesses. Planning for the future is important.”

Both Doug and Jennifer continue their mom’s legacy by offering great customer service, an extensive inventory and showcasing unique designer looks without charging inflated designer prices.

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