The Real Gem of Portland
Rick Mahler is the owner of Packouz Jewelers on Broadway Street in the heart of downtown Portland. Established in 1917, Packouz has become an institution in Portland. Originally founded by Nathan Packouz, the business was passed to Nathan’s grandson, Larry Packouz, who became the owning manager for 45 years-while the business has been in the family for 92 years overall. Rick Mahler met and worked for Larry as the manager for 15 years before taking over the business. “It was a really nice honor to be trusted with it,” Mahler said. His five-year anniversary owning Packouz will be in April, after having previously remodeled the entire store while still keeping the doors open and maintained. Originally from Eastern Oregon, Rick is a family man and an avid fan of football and car racing.
Was it always your dream to own a jewelry store?
Not exactly. I was working in broadcasting before I got into the jewelry business. I eventually worked in some jewelry places and surrounded myself with really good people. Then I met Larry Packouz and he was the nicest person I’ve ever met. When he began talking about retirement, we talked about a plan for the store and it included me. I felt so lucky to be able to take over for a place that meant so much to me. I’m a “lifer” when it comes to jobs, so I knew when I dedicated myself to this business I would be in it for life.
Why did you decide to be a part of a family owned business instead of something corporate?
We make our decisions based on our clients’ needs, not corporate policy. Corporate means a secure paycheck, which is of course nice but not of interest to me. I believe in taking big risks to get big rewards.
What kind of services do you offer at Packouz?
We are an authorized Rolex and Tudor watch retailer. We offer jewelry from around the world and a range of fashion brands. For jewelry we do hand engraving, custom design, jewelry appraisal, repair and restoration and pearl/bead restringing. For watches we offer: polishing, service and overhaul, watch straps, battery replacement and link clasp repair. We strive to be the best in our niche. Who and what we are is all based on our customers. Anyone can sell watches, but we create what a client might want, personalization.
What kinds of diamond cuts are available through Packouz?
We have pear, emerald, round, heart, oval, cushion, marquise, princess, Asscher, radiant and square radiant.
What are some important things customers should know about choosing a diamond?
I think people should be familiar with the jeweler they are buying from. The seller should be knowledgeable and professionally equipped to answer questions and sell you the best quality piece he or she has to offer. The seller should keep the client as the first priority, not his or her own personal taste. You should also take the time to review a diamond grading report, which is hard proof of your purchase. It includes scientific information that helps ensure that you’re selecting something authentic. Then there are the “4 C’s of Diamond Quality.” They include diamond carat, diamond color, diamond cut and diamond clarity. All of these elements should be taken into careful consideration because diamonds can be so vastly different, depending on what you are looking for and you should be aware of the ins and outs of your purchase. Lastly, you should have it appraised and insured so that you know the value of your diamond and protect it in case it gets damaged. You can also have your diamond laser inscribed with its GIA number so it can be located it is stolen or lost. Be sure to take care of your diamond so it stays in great condition over the years.
How is Packouz involved with the community here in Portland?
We are actively involved with the Boys and Girls Club, Transitional Youth, The Dougy Center. It is so crucial to be contributing and actively supporting things in the community because I believe in an evolution not revolution mindset. We are first and foremost a part of the service industry, so we believe in taking care of customers and the people that directly surround us.
What are some of the designers you feature in the store?
Carrera Y Carrera, which is made in Madrid and is an absolutely stunning and exciting brand. Oscar Heyman, William Henry, bavna, Penny Preville, Tudor, Vendorafa, Gemlok, Heather B. Moore, JB Star, Martin Flyer, Rivoir, Dawes and Michael B.
Portland is so eclectic. There is definitely that Portland stereotype in which people seem to think that people don’t enjoy dressing up or being fancy, but that isn’t the case. People think wearing shiny things can’t go with the style here, but it’s our goal to change that. It’s an exciting thing to be a part of.
What is the most common occasion people come to you for?
Anniversaries, birthdays, events for loved ones. Events for loved ones are always going to be number one. We don’t rely solely on holidays for our business, but rather the customer and their needs.
What is the hardest part of the jewelry business?
Time and time management. I work with my wife and a staff of five people. We each do everything from cleaning to working on the website to inventory, etc. I’m still learning how doing that. I have started really using Sundays as an unplug day to keep a good balance of work and home life which is really important.
What is your favorite part of your job?
By a mile, the clients. They have become friends. It almost makes you emotional to be so involved on an intimate level with them. You share in their life’s moments with these people each and every day. We could be selling other things and in a different business altogether, but there is no value in sharing your life with your clients.
Have you considered opening another location?
We have, but that’s not really what we are working toward at the current time. There’s still room for improvement in the current location, we already have, and we want to really focus on that. That’s not to say that we haven’t thought about it or that it won’t ever happen, but I think it’s smart to really perfect what we already have going before we think about opening up a new location.
What is your favorite piece you offer in the store?
I personally really enjoy the colored gemstones from Oscar Heymen. Heymen has been around since 1912, and is known for colorful, dramatic pieces of jewelry for women. Passed down from three generations, European techniques are used to craft each piece. They’re so fun to sell because they look like big pieces of candy. Our most popular piece that we sell though is diamonds, by far.
What are the future plans for Packouz?
We just want to continue to improve how we run day-to-day business. We want to remain involved with our charitable relationships. Enjoy the non-stress of remodeling. 2015 will be a huge year. Packouz will be looking to expand our website and online sales. We will really become active on platforms like Instagram and Pintrest. From a business standpoint, we are looking to do more in fashion jewelry this year. I am excited, positive and thankful for all we have accomplished. It is so important to have and continue to make connections in the community.
What is the difference between your male and female customers?
Women tend to take longer. They like to browse and take their time looking at each item carefully. Men tend to point and choose quicker. We actually offer a wish list service to our customers, which makes it easier for the women to say what they want and the men to know exactly what to buy.
How important is family to you?
Family is absolutely my number one priority. I have a wonderful wife and two sons, one, which works at Packouz. As long as he enjoys it wholeheartedly, he could definitely run the business someday. My other son wants to be a chef and the same advice goes for him as well, he could run a place and dedicate his life to it just as long as he truly enjoys what he’s doing.
Who inspires you most?
My parents, Larry Packouz, all the wonderful people I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by. The people who helped guide me when I first started in the business. Clients that continue to trust and depend on Packouz. My children and most definitely my wife because she’s far smarter than I am.
How do you feel about the evolution of the online presence in the jewelry industry?
Online is important, to be recognized. For our industry, I think it’s important to be able to come in the store and physically touch the items, feel it, know what it really is. It’s more of a hands on approach. There are intimate aspects of a piece that are really important. Our store is like Cheers, everyone knows everyone’s name and the atmosphere is all a part of the experience of coming in. I understand and embrace the online aspect, and definitely see the benefits of both aspects of the business.
Tell me your favorite memory about helping a special customer.
I helped a local client a while ago who I had the immense pleasure of knowing for quite a long time. He had several children, all of which we previously helped with engagements and weddings and things of that nature for many years. One day he told me, “You guys represent something in our family tree.” We had become a part of his family, and him ours. It’s such a joy and an honor to be valued and trusted to help people select pieces for such big life occasions and events in their life. That piece of jewelry is something that will likely be worn every day, and serve as a memory for a happy and memorable time. Jewelry is a true symbol for people, and I was very touched by his sentiment and will always hold he and his family as dear friends and clients.
What makes Portland an ideal location for Packouz?
Packouz means something in Portland; it doesn’t mean something anywhere else. Being downtown is such an advantage. We are in the heart of the city, and Broadway Street is the best. In terms of competition, there are so many nice stores in Portland, I see them opening up all the time, and it makes me happy to see the industry still thriving and sustaining. There’s enough to go around and I wish everyone in the industry well. As long as they represent the business well, then I’m all for it. Be honest, have integrity.
Photos by Dax McMillan