Vin Lee makes our list of the 1,000 most influential people in the Jewelry Business.
Vin’s aggressive drive to push the luxury envelope came early in life. “I was fortunate to have gained some modest success as a teenager. It gave me a sense of purpose and perhaps overconfidence to go after my dreams and ambitions with a ferocity,” he said.
Vin Lee is CEO of Grand Metropolitan, and owns an interesting and impressive portfolio of 130 brands, past and present luxury companies…mostly jewelry retailer brands, many of those he scooped up as distressed assets out of bankruptcy. When added up, the brands achieved over $250 Billion collectively since their founding.
“The community I grew up in Michigan wasn’t very entrepreneurial. It was heavily automotive influenced with the majority of the people aspiring to work for the Big Three. In the late 1980s, none of LVMH brands had a presence in the entire state. There wasn’t a Lamborghini or Ferrari dealership. Even Cartier and Tiffany had no idea that Michigan existed. The language, the experience of luxury was foreign to most of my peers and family members.”
In Michigan, Vin was a strong promoter and a super salesman… his hunger for success was developed further by meeting important role models along the way.
“Throughout those early years, floundering to find direction with my patents in one hand and outsized ambition in the other, I had opportunities to meet some of the most successful men in business. Sumner Redstone, H. Wayne Huizenga, A. Albert Taubman and more allowed me momentary glimpses into the world of billionaires.”
Vin was attracted to the jewelry industry for the allure of great success and also the extreme challenge to understand the highly fragmented business.
“When I first invested in the jewelry industry, I took an office in the back of one of the showrooms that was closest to my house. The business had been there for over 50 years, with the most recent 20 being from the owner I had purchased it from. My office had stacks of industry publications going back decades. I spent probably two years reading through generations of transactions and industry trends in those trade magazines. I received an outsider’s perspective from a macro and micro point of view. A PhD in an extremely dysfunctional industry with a messaging problem.”
“After leaving Michigan, by way of Atlanta, Georgia, I found myself in South Florida being drawn into both the cigar and golf industries while attempting an industry roll-up in the beleaguered jewelry industry starting with Samuels Jewelers. I suffered over two years through my efforts to acquire what was then one of the top 10 jewelry retailers in America boasting $114m in revenue from about 120 locations. I was not successful.
What is different from the jewelry industry from most retail is that it really is a micro market unto itself. Most of the 26,000 jewelers in North America are owned by independent business people, often second, third, or fourth generation artisans. Many of the corporate managers and staff of the multi-location firms are professional retail managers not pure play jewelers. Rarely, the two shall meet.”
One of those companies that Lee acquired after bankruptcy, Finlay Fine Jewelers, established in 1887, was one of the largest private jeweler groups in North America. Finlay leased space and operated the fine jewelry departments in many department stores. Finlay operated 182 such locations, including 67 Bailey Banks & Biddle, 34 Carlyle and four Congress specialty jewelry stores, Macy’s Inc. (Formerly Federated Department Stores), Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor, Dillard’s, and Gottschalks. and 77 licensed departments with The Bon Ton.
My how the retail landscape has changed!
“It’s been a crazy ride! The tennis earring (ear climber), my signature jewelry, started gaining traction on the red carpet. I soon found myself flying between both coasts every few weeks, a jet as my home. Over the next two decades, we acquired dozens of incredible luxury brands with emphasis in jewelry, home furnishings, and fashion from Rodeo Drive to Moscow,” Said Vin Lee.
Vin Lee’s secrets for Success:
- It up to you. While everyone else is planning their weekend, you’ll more than likely be in your office late into the night and on weekends. It can be very hard to find someone to share your concerns with or even identify with the challenges you have.
- It costs twice as much and take twice as long as you plan to achieve your goals. You need to take the time to learn and research the people and organizations you are working with.
- Overnight success often takes 20-30 years to achieve. Very few people actually hit it out of the park their first time at bat. Study those people that you find successful in your field.
- If you are ultimately successful, it will come at a higher price than you can fathom when you start out your career.
- Success is different for everyone. Some people run marathons and climb mountains to prove to themselves they can do it. Success comes in all forms.
- Don’t do just one thing in life. Find a balance between work and family, sure. But also don’t focus so intently on just one purpose professionally. Everyone has a side hustle these days. Look for new and exciting ventures.
- Hopefully if you are going into business for yourself you are following a personal passion. One of the things I have done is turn my private interests into businesses.
- None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Obviously, my parents gave me an incredible start in education and exposure to what life had to offer. Ms. Lynn Olson was my art instructor for much of my education and was responsible not only for encouraging my own creativity but also fostering my love of fine art and the masters.
Bling Beverly Hills asked Vin Lee what he sees about the future on the jewelry industry.
“I hope to change the way that people purchase their jewelry and increase the trust and relationship the consumer has with the industry.
The engagement ring can be the third largest purchase of a couples relationship behind of course their home and automobile. Often it is the largest outright expenditure at a time when incomes are lowest and expenses are the highest in terms of simply building the beginnings of a life together.
I intend on improving the transparency within the diamond industry from a “Mine to Yours” slogan. Your relationship with your local jeweler should be built on trust and be more than just a one time transaction. We hope to restore confidence and integrity to the diamond business and prosperity to the more than 2 million people the industry employs worldwide.”
Vin is very active on social media, considered an influencer on Linkedin, and spends his time between the Gulf Coast, Florida & Southern California