Jeweller takes a closer look at the history of JM Leech Jewellers with Adam Tuohy, owner and manager, as it turns 93 this year.
FOUNDED BY Jessie & Johnstone Melmore Leech
LOCATION Bendigo, Castlemaine, Echuca and Marysborough VIC
JM Leech Jewellers was founded by my grandfather and grandmother more than 90 years ago and today, is the oldest jewellery store in Bendigo.
My grandmother, Jessie, used to work for a department store and my grandfather Johnstone Melmore Leech fancied her, so he had his brother take a note to her and ask if she would come and work for him instead!
They ended up getting together and started JM Leech Jewellers in 1928.
In 1930, when the business was only two years old, the Great Depression really began to hit Australia; then, a few years later, Johnstone went off to World War II.
There have been so many obstacles over the years; there were times when they couldn’t get stock – if you wanted an engagement ring in the 1930s, you had a choice of two!
From wars to depressions and recessions, I take my hat off to them. I know we are going through tough times now, but I think if we were to take our minds back to what the previous generations went through, we’d have a bit more appreciation for how tough times really were back then!
My grandparents had personal struggles too; their daughter was born in 1937 and tragically died when she was two.
They had my mother, Faith, in 1941 and were told she would be in a wheelchair by the time she was 30 as she had a double curvature of the spine.
To help with her condition, they got her into swimming when she was five; by the time she was 12 years old, she was the fastest female swimmer for her age on the planet.
She ended up going to the Olympics, winning a gold medal and bronze medal in 1956 as one of the Golden Girls alongside Dawn Fraser. She also worked in the family business until the mid ’90s, when she retired.
My grandfather and grandmother were very determined – they built up an extremely good business over the years. We struggled a bit in the ’70s and early ’80s, but since then we’ve gone from strength to strength.
I purchased half the business from my grandmother and the other half from my mother in the 1990s; it wasn’t handed to me, I wanted to buy it. That’s how it worked.
When my grandparents started the business, jewellery stores were different than they are today; they were a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’.
Alongside jewellery and watches, we stocked Royal Doulton, Royal Albert, Limoges porcelain, Belleek pottery, Delft Blue giftware, stainless steel cookware, cutlery sets, pens, paintings – you name it!
We phased out giftware from the early ’90s and over a period of 15 years, became purely a jewellery and timepieces store, which we remain to this day.
My wife Anna joined the business in 2001 and this proved a game-changer for our growth. She has strengths I don’t, and vice versa.
Anna has a business background and her eye for market trends and selecting fast- selling stock is something to be seen!
Anna’s involvement has allowed me to work ‘on the business’ rather than ‘in it’ which is a primary reason for our expansion to date.
When you boil it all down, if you look after the customer the rest takes care of itself. If you’re honest and do what you say you’re going to do, you earn repeat business and referrals.
We’re in an industry where the lifetime value of a customer is massive; they start with kids’ jewellery and the first watch, right through to engagement, wedding, anniversaries, milestone birthdays – the works.
We have customers whose great-great- grandmothers got their engagement rings from my grandfather. Having said that, of course, you’re only as good as your last game!
Our second store opened in 2005, and we now have four locations; we always say we’re not going to have any more, but opportunities come up and we end up opening another!
We are very proud – extremely proud – of our history. We are the oldest jewellers in Bendigo and that’s something no-one can take away from us. We’re the ‘last man standing’, and we’ve been in our position in Hargreaves Street – now Hargreaves Mall – since 1928 and no-one else is even close to that.
Our kids may or may not want to be involved with the business. If they do, that’s awesome and if they don’t, t hat’s fine too. But I jealously guard our heritage, so it is something that I want to keep going.