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Meet Tracy Wilke of G.H. Wilke & Co. (Wilke’s) in San Gabriel Valley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tracy Wilke.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My father in law hired me at the jewelry store for my first job in sales. I worked for a short while with my husband and his brother, and then later another brother in law and my sister in law. Holidays and birthdays were often spent talking “shop” and we all enjoyed a unique and shared camaraderie. I later worked for and with my sister in law and her husband. I learned so much from working with long time professionals, benefitting from several generations of jewelers’ experience.

Our customers were the real gems. They came from different backgrounds and educations, different life experiences and perspectives, and all of them taught me lessons that made me who I am today. I laughed with them, cried with them and shared day to day joys and sorrows, much like an extended family. That is the most precious thing I’ve taken away from my work at the store – the people I’ve met. I took some courses at G.I.A. (Gemological Institute of America) and attended annual jewelry shows to select jewelry and colored stones. I especially found colored stones to be the most fun. I love to look at the colors and I just last year met another person, a man who sells colored stones, who feels as I do that the most beautiful colored stones are the ones that look good enough to eat.

I can’t say I would have gotten to where I am now without the support and friendship of the people I work with. My business partner Dario Pirozko is one of the most talented goldsmiths I’ve ever met. He designs very thoughtfully and is as much artist as architect. Also a very nice, genuine and honest man. He can sit with someone for however long it takes to determine what they really want and then somehow create it. He’s so knowledgeable about every aspect of jewelry making – I can’t imagine a working jewelry store without an in house goldsmith. Our bookkeeper/sales associate/office manager is Mila Banez. She is just the greatest person you’d ever want to know or work with. She is highly organized (which we are not) and a whiz with numbers. There seems to be no end of what she can do efficiently and quickly. She has a big heart and I honestly believe that everyone needs a Mila in their lives.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
When Dario and I first took over in 1999, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. There were things we should have taken the time to understand more which would have prepared us to handle customers more efficiently in busy times. We have been slow to move our business online which I wish we had moved on much sooner. Overall I do regret that while working so diligently through the years, I didn’t spend more time with my parents when they were alive and my young nephews/nieces. If I had that to do over, I would just shut the store on a Saturday sometimes and maybe close for more weeks than we did. During this Covid time, it has become more pointed that we need to spend time with our loved ones.

G.H. Wilke & Co. (Wilke’s) – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Our business looks at customers as friends. We are honest about what work needs to be done and try to treat them as we would want our own families to be treated. For a small “mom and pop” store, we do very sophisticated work so there is no compromise in coming to a small place. We are known for our exacting repairs so whether you have a family heirloom or a chain solder, you can trust us to do it right. We educate people not only on the variety of colored stones available but their appropriate use. For example, I have had women come in who’ve been disappointed because no one told them that a fragile opal might not be the best birthstone gift for a small child. I keep hearing the same refrain to both our custom design and repair work, “…it’s beautiful. I had no idea it would look this great”! We refer to many stories over the years from customers for advice. I have had multiple customers tell me I’m like a bartender, listening to their stories and offering suggestions. That’s why we came out with our line, “What is your story?” We want to tell our customer’s stories, marking the many special occasions through fine jewelry.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I would study marketing and business more and would take more time off for family. That’s something that is talked about but hits hard personally. I would have taken more of the outside opportunities for sales that we missed because we were too “busy”. The only way to do this is to be organized, which is something I would recommend to anyone starting or continuing a business. Learn to be organized or hire someone to do it for you.

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Image Credit:

Carrie Barker

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