In tough times, the diamond that is M.R.T Jewelers shines on

CRAFTSMEN: M.R.T. Jewelers President David Audette, right, looks on as jeweler Mario Antonio makes a piece at the East Providence jewelry store. / PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
CRAFTSMEN: M.R.T. Jewelers President David Audette, right, looks on as jeweler Mario Antonio makes a piece at the East Providence jewelry store. / PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY

PBN Business Excellence Awards 2020
Excellence at a Family-Owned Business: M.R.T. Jewelers

WITH SO MANY WEDDINGS and other events postponed over the last eight months, the jewelry business has been experiencing something akin to a natural disaster. Nonetheless, East Providence-based M.R.T. Jewelers is weathering the storm well.

M.R.T. is a family-owned enterprise that got its start in a small, upper-floor shop in downtown Providence, mostly as a jewelry repair and supply business, more than a century ago. The current owners, the Audette family, have overcome their share of serious challenges in the form of recessions and other downturns over the years.

Still, the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic was daunting, especially at the onset, according to Joseph and David Audette. The father-and-son duo have owned and guided the business since the early 1970s.

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“March was scary, how bleak it was,” David Audette said. “When you’re forced to close your own business, it’s terrifying. Being forced to close your door and having to lay off employees, it’s just heartbreaking.”

It turned out that the downturn was temporary. David Audette said business has been incredibly busy for M.R.T. from mid-June on.

David Audette said he expects sales for the year to be off about 25%, with the bulk of lost business coming during the store’s seven-week closure. But, M.R.T.’s 7,000-square-foot Warren Avenue showroom means that maintaining social distancing is easy to accomplish.

Before 2020, the business had already begun increasing the use of appointments, partly in response to the younger generation’s preference for purchasing engagement rings in such a manner. Booking appointments with an individual focused on their needs is attractive to customers, David Audette said, and M.R.T. has booked even more appointments since the pandemic’s onset.

“They like that someone is waiting for them and focused on them when they have an appointment set up,” David Audette said. “That’s a huge trend within our industry in general. It prevents people from having to make so many trips to stores; it makes each visit so much more productive.”

While jewelry shoppers around the country like to browse online, they typically make their purchases in-store. David Audette said that brick-and-mortar businesses continue to outsell e-commerce, particularly when it comes to purchases of greater than $1,500. M.R.T. averages 50 to 65 transactions per day at its store.

With two dedicated jewelers, both of whom have worked for the Audettes for more than 40 years, M.R.T. designs and manufactures about 80% of the jewelry it sells, a practice that is facilitated by the personalized service of pre-booked appointments.

Both father and son spend a good amount of time interacting with clientele.

“We don’t sit in the back and have people out there running the business for us,” Joseph Audette said. “When people come in, they see the family at the counter.”

David Audette said that for a family-run business such as theirs, connecting with clientele personally is all about respect and gratitude. “When someone takes the time, with all of the opportunities for a client to make a purchase, whether it’s Amazon or online, to walk in your door and give you an opportunity to serve them, we really feel that that is a blessing. And it’s not taken lightly here. All of my staff feels the same way.”

While the younger Audette had been exploring a possible satellite location or two for M.R.T. prior to COVID-19, he has opted to put those plans on hold.

“Although my thought process does still go there, there are more immediate considerations to make sure that we get through the next 12 to 18 months,” David Audette said.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a business that sees generation after generation of members of the same families coming in to buy engagement rings and other pieces of jewelry, as soon as M.R.T.’s doors reopened, customers began coming in to check on the family and say hello.

“That is something that makes us a little bit different,” Joseph Audette said, “in the extent that people are concerned about us and about how the business is doing. It makes me feel personally very good. I have no doubt that we will get through this, and we’ll be fine.”

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