One of Alan Fisher’s first jobs as a kid in Red Bank was to climb the clock tower overlooking Red Bank’s downtown to wind the clock weekly. He and that tower have a great deal in common – they have both remained fixtures in Red Bank for six decades and have overseen its many changes.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of A.H. Fisher Diamonds and Alan can mark the years by recounting both personal and professional milestones.
In The Beginning
Alan is the fourth generation of his family to live in Red Bank – one great grandfather was a woodworker in Red Bank; and a grandfather operated a confectionery store around the corner from A.H. Fisher’s current location. Alan vividly recalls the confectionery shop which his grandparents owned and operated for 40 years, retiring in the early 1960s when Alan was 10. Ironically, Alan’s first jewelry store was located one door away from the former confectionery.
He recalls his early years in Red Bank. It had a thriving downtown area which even survived as new shopping malls sprang up. “It was a small town where everyone knew everyone, and it had a very successful retail shopping area. Almost every store stayed open until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays.”
A self-described “studious, conscientious nerd,” Alan was also a band geek, playing the saxophone in high school. His biggest achievement was as a school photographer where he won the George Blair scholarship for his work.
In his usual tongue-in-cheek manner, Alan described his first claim to fame — winding and maintaining that clock above the Red Bank Police headquarters. It required climbing several flights of stairs, followed by ascending two stories of ladders through pigeon-infested nooks and crannies to get to the clock. The clock remains and is a regular reminder of the personal and professional changes time has brought to the Fisher family, his business, and the community of Red Bank.
A Gem of a Start
Unsure of his future direction, Alan was interested in engineering, “but my awful math skills killed that,” he chuckled. But, everything changed in 1968 when, through a referral by his grandfather, he was hired by a local jewelry business, Reussilles Jewelry to work after school, on weekends and in the summer, trying his hand at minor jewelry repair, polishing and machine engraving.
And then, in 1983, at the age of 31, while pondering his future and an urge to start his own business, his personal and professional lives collided. He parted ways from a job at a jewelry store in the Asbury Park area after working there for 11 years, and the same weekend went on a blind date with a girl named Karen. In the next two years, Alan cemented plans to open his own jewelry business and married Karen. Knowing he loved the jewelry business, but no longer wanted to work for someone else, Alan armed himself with a following of clients and a bit of courage and went to the local bank seeking his first-ever loan. He struck up a relationship with a certain loan officer who took a chance on a start-up company. (Alan is still friendly with that former loan officer who is now president of the bank.) The rest, as they say, is history – 35 years of it and counting. . .
On a professional level, Alan has seen many changes and weathered many storms – from the economic downturns of the 70s and 80s, two burglaries, to a change in the retail atmosphere. His is one of only five businesses to remain on Red Bank’s Broad Street; the others include a bridal shop, drapery fabric shop, another jeweler, and a music store. “Red Bank has definitely changed from traditional retail stores to more food-related, service-related than the retail cash and carry,” he said.
The two major events that make him beam with pride are the addition of his son, Matthew into the business – a fifth generation in Red Bank and second generation at A. H. Fisher; and the addition of his Claimlink Jewelry Replacement, which has put him on the map with major insurance carriers around the country.
In the area of personal milestones, Alan and Karen twice replaced retail message signs in their store’s window with welcomes for their first child, Matthew, and then daughter Lauren. A.H. Fisher is truly a family business – wife of 33 years, Karen worked there part time; even trying a short-lived role reversal leaving him home with the children while she ran the store. With both children grown, Karen has become more involved with the technical end of the business, including window design and general assistance with clients.
What lured Alan into the business and kept him hooked for 35 years? “The whole diamond and jewelry business is a retail business outside the box; it’s much more than buying and selling a product. There’s so much to learn, there’s an incredible degree of trust and relationship building involved. I’ve loved doing that. We don’t have one-time cash and carries – we have clients who have stayed for 30 years – we’re seeing their children now and Matthew is taking care of them.”
Source of Pride
Alan didn’t stop with learning through experience, instead he plunged into ensuring he got the top-of-the-line training and expertise. As a member of the American Gem Society, Alan completes annual exams to continue to be well informed of all current trends and technological advances. His greatest sources of pride are having his son work with him and hearing from customers about how pleased they are with him and his business practices. “I love running into people outside the business and they recognize us for products we’ve sold them, and I love seeing the reviews we receive. Now, Matthew, my second generation is catering to our second generation of clients.”
Alan is quick to point out the continued value of personal involvement, despite all the online businesses that have mushroomed worldwide. “I don’t ever want to get away from that personal connection. It is because of the way we treat each individual customer that they have been coming back over the past 35 years and now their children are coming to us for help with their engagements and weddings. It speaks for itself.”
In Dad’s Footsteps
As a boy, Matthew (Matt) hung out in the store, working weekends during summer and weekends through high school and college. “I remember going to the store at a very early age, maybe 6 or 7. My dad’s birthday is December 23, which is typically one of his busiest days, so I remember going into the store to celebrate in the back-office area,” said Matt. And then, upon graduating from the University of Delaware with a finance degree in 2009, Matthew joined his dad. “He caught on like a fish to water and he developed his own following,” said a proud Alan. Now the young Fisher handles the day-to-day management of A.H. Fisher Diamonds, while dad concentrates on Claimlink. Daughter Lauren took a different path and now lives and works in Jersey City and works in New York City.
Matt remembers being a typical kid – working at the store during high school merely for spending money, not out of passion for the business. “I think when I got into college I started to think more long term. I studied business with intentions to come back home after I graduated to give the business a try. I was interested in the inner workings of a business, how to buy and sell properly, the repair aspects, how to manage the things I maybe took for granted as a younger person. The thing that I noticed early on was mostly everyone is happy when they come into a jewelry store. I think it was an easier transition into the business world when I realized this. Early on my passion for jewelry and diamonds itself wasn’t quite there, but I felt like there was potential for me to not just like working in a business, but also to be passionate about jewelry and diamonds.”
So, when did the “jewelry bug” really hit Matt? “The first year or so I started to really watch my dad. He was always so good with the customers. I started to pick up little things here and there just by listening and watching, and soon was taking some of his sales tactics and making them my own. I think my dad’s passion for diamonds and jewelry started to rub off on me. I realized that I could combine a lot of things I was really looking to do. I loved the business aspects, but I also loved being on the floor and helping customers and trying to perfect my sales craft. To better my knowledge even further, I enrolled at the Gemological Institute of America to further my education.”
What does it mean to Alan to have his son working with him? “I’m so pleased that this has become a multigenerational business; it’s grown to where I can’t do it all myself and he’s fortunate to walk into a legacy with a successful past. “Multigenerational family businesses do have their ups and downs, but in the past nine years, we’ve found a somewhat successful balance to make it work,” he explained. Alan said having a younger person like Matt in the operation “has put us on the fast track with current marketing strategies and he has cultivated a clientele of his peers.”
So, what’s it like working with your dad?“I think we do well working together. I would be lying if I said it has always been that way! Early on, we would butt heads, but as we started to learn each other’s styles, I think we started to respect one another in the sense that we were trying to achieve the same goals, even though we may try to get to those goals differently. Working with a parent is truly a unique experience. We still will have our moments, but they are not as common as during the first few years.”
So, what have you learned from your dad? “You aren’t going to be successful unless you truly love what you do. Seeing my dad every day working, it’s clear he chose the right career path. The man lives and breathes his business. The commitment he gives is incredible, and I think that’s the biggest takeaway for me.”
And, how would he describe his father? “Charismatic, hardworking (workaholic), funny (sick sense of humor), passionate, creature of habit, type A.” Asked if there were any funny stories involving his dad, Matt said, “I have many funny stories, but I don’t know if my dad would appreciate my telling them because most revolve around him being the punchline.”
Paying It Forward
Alan believes in being a good neighbor – he’s always been active in supporting his community. Currently, he’s partnering with Middletown High School Touchdown Club; Christian Brothers Academy, Mothers Club, Catholic Charities, the Red Bank YMCA, the Red Bank Charter School and other local nonprofits. He also is on the board of the Red Bank Public Library Foundation.
35 Years and Counting
From a son’s perspective, what does it mean that A.H. Fisher Diamonds has been around for 35 years? “Humbling. It’s hard to be in business for yourself this long. It’s owed to our customers. But most importantly, it’s a testament to my dad and his commitment to the business.”
So, what does Alan think the future holds for A.H. Fisher Diamonds? “Growth. Consumers are looking for, needing, and wanting one-on-one service that cannot be provided through cyberspace, big-box stores, or national chains.”
And, is Alan ready to pass the gauntlet? While he does enjoy the beach, is a Giant’s fan who loves tailgating with friends, and is an auto enthusiast, first and foremost, he said, “I’m a workaholic; working six or seven days a week still agrees with me. I have no desire to retire or slow down.”
And, son Matthew is committed, too. “I don’t want to sit here and predict the future, but I know that I love being here, I love doing what I do, and I will continue to do so until someone tells me I can’t. Or until I can retire and play golf every day.”
And what advice would the younger Fisher offer his peers who are interested in operating a business? “Don’t think you’ll learn everything overnight, find a mentor, work hard, have fun.”
And, it appears that A.H. Fisher Diamonds will remain a fixture on Broad Street. “We recently signed a new lease that will keep us here for many years to come,” said Alan.