Rick Kubes is perfectly happy with business to his jewelry shop being down 4 percent. In a market where being down 20 to 30 percent is the accepted norm, 4 percent is a good year.
But Kubes Jewelers on Berry Street in the 109 hasn’t been around for 65 years because it barely scrapes by. The company recently won the Greater Tarrant Business Ethics Award, which honors one company each year that has a proven history of ethical behavior. Besides that, it has a full history of community and consumer accolades under its belt.
The application the store turned in is about 200 pages filled with anything from thank-you notes from customers to charities to which the company has donated. Among these pages, though, is one of Rick’s favorite things – a collection of sayings from his father, the original founder of Kubes Jewelers.
“While he was doing his watch repair, he’d be telling me all the platitudes and philosophies and ethics of all ranges of humanitarianism,” Kubes said. “It was bred into me at an early age how it’s the big picture — it’s how you make a better society by not being part of the problem.”
When Joe and Rita Kubes founded Kubes Jewelers in 1945, they weren’t looking to form a dynasty. Their beginnings were humble. Catty-corner to its current location, they were relegated to the corner of a beauty salon on the drag along University Drive. For a while, they barely made enough to support their eventual family of eight children.
Rick began wiping down counters in the store when he was 6, and there began his education. His work there served a double purpose – with eight children, having him work at the family business was free babysitting.
Education on the job
“We were very blessed to get a tremendous education on the job while we were growing up,” Kubes said. “Of course now we have 13 family members that all work here, so I think the number one reason we all can work together and do work together without killing each other is that all the things that make the glue of a society he [Joe Kubes] had here. And that is the respect for other people’s opinions, integrity, being honest with each other, all these type of things, so that was the glue.”
The third generation, around ages 22-35, now makes up half the workforce of the store.
When Rick was around 15, a Zales moved in across the street from Kubes. At one point on a slow morning, he noticed that the competing store had a few cars in its parking lot. When he went to the back to ask his dad what to do, he found his father working.
“He told me, ‘Rick, don’t worry about what is going on over there. How can you make our store better? Are you ready for the customer? Is the store clean? Are displays arranged properly? Spend your time and energy doing things you can control.’”
Joe taught the Kubes family that strong businesses that treat their customers right would prosper. Customers of stores that closed would eventually find their way to those stores.
A few years later, the Zales closed. According to Kubes, it couldn’t compete with Kubes’ loyal customer base.
The back room at Kubes is a combination kitchen, supply closet and shrine. Near the center of the room is a set of work boots, a work shirt and a picture of Kubes patriarch Joe Kubes. Joe was a World War II veteran who learned watch repair while working on fighter jets in the Pacific. Any extra money he earned from repairing officers’ watches was sent home to his family.
The other side of the shrine holds a picture of Rick’s son Jeff, a lawyer who was hit by a car two years ago. Rick said he was astonished by the outpouring of support he and his family received because when his son died at 31, he didn’t think he could have made so much of an impact at such a young age. The Kubes family has established a scholarship in his name to the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law.
Family promotes education
The family promotes education, Kubes said, and even sometimes encourages rising family members to work outside the store to see how other businesses run. Kubes’ daughter is currently working outside the company because “she needs to add to her understanding of the specialness of how we run our business, then bring that understanding back, then she’ll be totally on board with what we’re trying to achieve, won’t have second thoughts later thinking she should work somewhere else,” Kubes said.
Between the 13 employees, a day’s work can consist of appraising, watch repair, gemology, bookkeeping and sales.
Shannon Shipp, the chair of the judging committee for the Greater Tarrant Business Ethics Award and a business ethics professor at Texas Christian University, said a company like Kubes doesn’t act ethically accidentally. Companies that earn their customers’ trust always share a set of values that tells them to act that way.
Brent Kubes, a gemologist, is one of the eldest in the third generation. At 34, he has been working full time for eight years, but has been at the store at least part time since high school. One of the most important lessons he learned growing up was the obligation to maintaining the family name.
“Your name is priceless,” Brent said. “How you treat a customer when they come in the door, from the products you deliver to them to how you treat them after the sale; that reflects on your name.”
Store encourages comparison shopping
At the store, Brent said they try to teach customers how to scrutinize jewelry and encourage them to look at other stores. That usually winds up bringing them back to Kubes, he said.
Kubes said that since jewelry is a luxury item, it is usually one of the first things people cut back on when the economy goes sour. But the store has enjoyed record years for the last 60 years and that, according to Kubes, wasn’t an accident. When news reports starting publicizing how many jewelry stores were using conflict or stolen diamonds, Kubes Jewelers was one of the few that didn’t have anything to worry about. They had been using the same suppliers for years and had carefully vetted each one. The store has also never had a lawsuit.
Shipp said that it is becoming more difficult for unethical businesses to fly under the radar because there are websites like Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau for customers to voice complaints.
He also said that ethical companies will repel unethical applicants because those people know they would be less likely to get away with poor behavior in a well-respected business.
In its 65 years in business, Kubes said they have never had an ethical problem with any employee. And their grade on the BBB website? An A.
When a company doesn’t advertise on television or in the newspaper, the only way to get your name out there is through word of mouth. And unhappy customers can be particularly vocal.
Kubes said the store receives so few complaints that each can be handled generously.
“We don’t work for the lowest common denominator here; we work for the highest,” he said. “If our work is going to be judged by our peers, or our peers at the highest level of our profession, we would want to look very favorable.”
That sense of responsibility extends to the community.
According to Shipp, family-owned businesses have an advantage in the marketplace because they foster a culture of ethics.
“It’s easy to talk about companies that do the wrong thing because they’re the ones that get all the press, they’re the ones that people see and they’re the ones that make the nightly news, he said. “But what about companies that do the right thing?”
Shipp said the store donates gift cards and pieces of jewelry for auctions and fundraisers.
Family ‘defines’ community support
“Rick and his family just define community sponsorship, community support,” Shipp said.
Kubes also said the most important thing for him was making sure that his store’s and family’s ethics were brought out into the community.
“We knew that we were a microcosm of what society should be and what society needs,” Kubes said.
“And what society needs is long-term vision, not short-term. His [Joe’s] vision has produced a tremendous, successful jewelry store, but it’s not based on money. It’s based on if you are a service to the community. If we all did that, if every one of our corporations, every one of our politicians ran their affairs that way with the whole United States or the whole city of Fort Worth in mind, we would have such a wonderful environment.”
Kubes has lectured at TCU and most recently has entered the community politically, throwing his name behind candidates he said best express the core principles of his store.
“We respected my mom and dad very much for how they did business. We weren’t ashamed of them,” Kubes said. “I think if you’re ashamed of, sort of deep down, not thrilled with what your parents are doing or something or you don’t see the respect they get from their customers for being honest you probably would try to do something different in life.”
He also was a supporter of the Berry Street Initiative, a program designed to improve the conditions of the businesses on one of the largest streets in the 109.
Family business advantage has an advantage, according to Shipp. It can pass on oral history, a verbal set of guidelines for how to run an ethical company.
Like all things in his life, Kubes said, he credits the store’s unbroken success to a higher power.
“We like to think we’re not being rewarded by God for running an ethical business, we’re being encouraged by God. There’s a difference,” he said. “With the first, you’re saying ‘it’s because of us that we’re being rewarded.’ With the other, it’s a more true and humble deal – we’re being encouraged.”
Kubes said he is not concerned about maintaining an ethical atmosphere in his store after he retires. However, the store has grown so popular that he is afraid that with some other members of the second generation retiring, they may have to turn away some orders if they can’t get to them in a timely fashion.
But the success the store has received ensures that the family will be supported, and with it, the family values carried on.
“I’m still learning. I still get critiqued. I’m almost 63 and I will still be critiqued by my family members,” he said. “It’s a never-ending deal and my parents, I’m sure we were critiquing them too… [Dad] always stressed – you can always get better, focus, be intense. Don’t dilly-dally about what you’re trying to achieve. Once you know what you want to achieve, strive for it.”