Catering to the community
With community being a top priority for Lugaro, this jeweller’s reputation is a direct reflection of the people behind its name.
by Irina Lytchak
photography by Katie Huisman
Elegant, poised and confident. These are the words that came to mind when we first met Clara Agopian, the woman behind the success of Lugaro Jewellers in Vancouver, B.C.
Jewellery aside, Clara firmly believes that community involvement is of the utmost importance. Lugaro’s clientele and list of charitable organizations is endless as is their impeccable reputation for giving back to the community. Some of the organizations that Lugaro is directly involved with include the Canuck Place, Canadian Cancer Society, SPCA, Canadian Liver Foundation, Rare Disease Foundation, and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra to name just a few.
“I really believe it doesn’t matter how much money you have, who you are, or where you live,” says Clara. “If your community isn’t healthy, you’re not going to enjoy it. If you go to any charity function today, you see that people always go to jewellers for contributions. Is there any other industry that has a bigger heart than jewellery? No, I don’t think so.”
Clara’s involvement in the community extends far beyond the jewellery store and into her personal life. She decided to make West Vancouver her home, where she serves on the local police board and is involved with the hospital foundation.
We first met Clara at our downtown Toronto office this summer when she stopped by while on a visit with her daughter. Back in Vancouver, Clara has been running Lugaro Jewellers along with her husband Steve Agopian and their business partner Sassan Pourfar for nearly 28 years. The chain currently has three locations and Clara is responsible for the Park Royal store, catering to Canada’s highest paying income tax postal code.
“The store itself is a big part of the cultural landscape of the North Shore,” she explains. “We’ve always been the community jeweller, so to say. But it’s not an average community. The client that lives here is an international dweller, with homes in Europe and Asia. Those are the kinds of people that shop in our store.”
Lugaro was initially established by Clara’s husband Steve Agopian, who also runs Seca Gems Ltd., a wholesale jewellery company dealing with mostly loose diamonds that he also launched over 40 years ago. The store deals with a lot of luxury watch brands as well as their own in-house jewellery designs, which are created by the Agopians.
“As far as our industry goes, I’m so excited about Canadian diamonds,” says Clara. “Social consciousness is something I really relate to. And I remember 20 years ago, I had Canadian diamonds in our stores. Supporting this has been so important to us.”
Clara never envisioned herself doing the kind of work she does today, having studied to be a microbiologist at the University of Alberta before meeting Steve. This prompted a move from Edmonton to Vancouver where she has since become synonymous with Lugaro and its refined image.
Lugaro has perfected the idea of creating an environment that’s lavish yet inviting at the same time. The store has an alluring atmosphere where customers are greeted with a cappuccino or a glass of champagne. And since relationships are built on trust, Clara insists that whenever someone gets engaged, they get a card from the store congratulating them on their milestone.
“We don’t just wait for brands to create that atmosphere,” she says. “We have to play the main role in creating and fostering an environment of unparalleled excitement and enthusiam for the client and their needs. The way I sell a large item to my clients is I make them visualize it. If you buy a necklace, it’s not for today, it’s for your son’s engagement party, or graduation party for your daughter. Can you see her wearing it? You have to build a picture; build a scene; you have to create a luxury environment. And I think a lot of jewellers have failed in that area.”
Lugaro carries over 3,000 items in a streamlined and stylish setting, spreading over an area of 3,500 square feet. Most of the staff in the store have been at Lugaro for over 15 years, with a total of about 35 employees working throughout the three locations. Clara fully understands the importance of her staff and places a lot of emphasis on educating them to be confident in the product they sell.
“I think that Canadians have this assumption that everything coming from the U.S. is better quality or cheaper,” she says. “It’s taken me 28 years to work with my staff and to give them the confidence to say, ‘There’s nothing out there you can beat if you’re competing with price.”
“Service-wise, we can be ten times above everybody else because of the knowledge, the sourcing ability, and the confidence that we have. For many jewellers, the minute they hear a client is shopping in the U.S., they just give up. They do not take the time to educate and work with the client on selling the value of a product as opposed to the price point. This is where we are different.”
The Lugaro stores weren’t always the way they are today. The chain used to have a total of seven locations but decided to downsize with a new strategy of catering to a more upscale customer base.
“The industry itself is changing; it’s brand controlled. Brands like Rolex are a definite draw for customers who are interested in prestigious timepieces. So concentrating on one larger and better location, we found, was far better for us. We have become the go-to location, albeit flagship store, for this growing upscale clientele.”
About a decade ago, the Agopians were honoured with an award by the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs B.C., which Clara accepted on the pair’s behalf.
“I made a speech saying, ‘When you go into business with your husband, they don’t tell you about all of the sleepless nights you’re going to have and all of the headaches and stomach aches and silent treatments you’re going to receive. But for those of us who make it, the rewards are phenomenal – in the bedroom and in the boardroom.”
At the end of the day, Lugaro’s success lies in its owners, the people that know exactly what their clients want and are aware of the ability they hold as a jewellery store to better their community.
“When the client comes in to buy something, they’ve done their research,” says Clara. “And what makes people successful is the ability to do research. They can make an informed decision. And the fact that they’ve been coming to us over and over again for the past 28 years means they’ve made the right decision.” CJ