A.A. Friedman Jewelers
Founded : 1920
Activities : Retailing fine jewelry/operating leased department stores
Parent Company : Finlay Enterprises
Stockists : 122 locations
Origin : Oakland, CA
A Tale of Two Brothers in the 1920s
The history of Friedman’s may be traced to two brothers, Abraham and Benjamin Friedman, in south Georgia. In 1909, a merchant named Sam Segall came to the town of Savannah on the coast of Georgia, where he founded a jewelry store. In 1920, he died, and his two nephews Abraham and Benjamin took over the business. Because their name was Friedman, they changed the name of Segall’s store. At some point Abraham moved away from Savannah, heading north to Augusta, on the Georgia-South Carolina line. Benjamin stayed behind, and in time they split up their holdings, which consisted of seven stores.
By all appearances the parting was amicable, and the two agreed that neither would interfere in the other’s territory until their companies had grown more. Thus out of the line of Abraham came A. A. Friedman, an Augusta-based jewelry chain with 127 stores in 1997; and from the line of Benjamin came Friedman’s Inc. For generations, it appeared that there would be no conflict between the descendants of Abraham and the descendants of Benjamin, because both were family-owned businesses.
However, by the late 1990s, Benjamin’s former stores would no longer belonged to Benjamin’s children. By contrast, A. A. Friedman remained under the control of the Augusta, Georgia Friedmans. Ultimately the two companies would clash over the right to the Friedman name, but before the owners of Friedman’s took their troops into the fray, an empire would have to be built.
Friedman’s Inc. was a chain of some 600 specialty retail jewelry stores throughout the southeastern United States and adjoining areas. Based in Savannah, Georgia, it had stores in 22 states, and sells to a low- to middle-income clientele in the 18-to-45 age bracket.
The company maintains its position as “The Value Leader” (a registered trademark) among specialty retail jewelers by offering a wide selection of merchandise, prices comparable to those of such principal competitors as Zale’s, and strong customer service. Founded in 1920, Friedman’s remained outside the limelight until its purchase by the Morgan Schiff & Co. investment firm in 1990.
Since then it has experienced explosive growth, in the process employing a strategy that focuses on “power strip centers” (or power strip malls) as opposed to large upscale shopping malls. This allowed it to operate at considerably lower overhead than jewelers selling from more prestigious locations, and during the mid-1990s Friedman’s rapid expansion elicited a great deal of interest in the financial community. By the latter part of the decade, however, it had experienced growing pains which led to a shuffle of upper-level management.
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