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Tuesday, Feb 27, 2024
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From Immigrant to Jewelry Industry Titan

SDBJ Q&A: A Chat with Unicorn Jewelry’s Fred Nasseri

Independent, family-operated Unicorn Jewelry & Watch Boutique has been in business for more than four decades, which in and of itself is a feat worthy of celebrating.

Just as remarkable is that the store, which from its beginnings has been specializing in offering designer brands and creating and repairing custom pieces of jewelry and fine watches, has been at its same location on Bernardo Center Drive in Rancho Bernardo since 1981.

Fred Nasseri

And its original owner, president and CEO Fred Nasseri is still at it, with no intention of stopping the hands of time or diminishing the sheen and shine of his business.

Nasseri, who emigrated to the United States from Iran when he was a teenager, has grown his store in several ways, offering more items and increased services, expanding from its original 444 square feet to more than 3,000 square feet, and growing from running the store with his sister, father and wife to employing 16 people.

Nasseri came to the United States in 1975 against the wishes of his parents – who would eventually join him in San Diego – to get away from the bullying he said he was often subject to because of prejudice, and also because he was enamored with the U.S.

A proud member of the Jewish community, Nasseri, who turns 64 in March, said he had a comfortable life in Iran but was harassed for “always being that rich, Jewish kid.”

“The prejudice got to me, to get beaten up almost every day after school because you’re Jewish?” Nasseri said. “I said, ‘Enough is enough’ And I was very much in love with the United States from an early age.”

Unhappy with an initial foray in Florida, Nasseri looked toward San Diego. He said in order to stay and succeed, he had to be proficient in English. He said he did nothing but study English for the next 2½ months.

“I didn’t see daylight,” Nasseri recalled. “I studied like a robot. I would fall asleep with headphones in my ear.”

After passing an entrance exam when he was 17, he started attending United States International University, where he eventually earned a degree in business administration and management.

His first job was at Radio Shack on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach, but he said he was drawn to jewelry world, which was the business that his mother’s side of the family ran in Iran.

One year after graduating – barely 21 years old, he said – he opened Unicorn Jewelry, making his own showcases out of plywood and sheets of velvet, taking no time off and staying focused on creating a successful venture.

“We had very limited inventory and some nights I had to sleep in the store because I couldn’t afford my insurance,” Nasseri recalled. “But you know, you chip at it, you chip at it, you chip at it… You put your head down and you go at it.”

Five years later, his sister, Minoo Anvari, fled Iran and became a partner in the business. Their father, Dr. Said Nasseri, who came to the US. following the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79 and who has since passed away, was also part of the ownership early on. His wife, Mitra Nasseri, also helps run Unicorn.

He said he is thankful for the community’s longstanding support, especially during the challenges during past recessions and throughout the pandemic.

“It hasn’t been easy in any way, shape or form,” Fred Nasseri said. “There have been a lot of challenges and it has been a long, long journey but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

SDBJ: Unicorn has been a family-run business for more than four decades. What are the key elements for running a family business successfully for so many years?

Fred Nasseri: A family-run business or any business foundation is based on knowledge, quality of work, service, and positive attitude. We present quality commodity and best value possible in a disciplined and ethical manner. In my opinion, what sets a small family business apart from larger or corporate counterparts is the sense of pride in ownership and dedication and personal attention to every detail of each project and satisfying your clients demands to perfection.

SDBJ: How do you cope with inflation and the high cost of running a business?

Fred Nasseri: Over the course of our business in the last 42 years, I have learned that you must adapt and adjust and accept the reality: cost of both labor and commodity are on the rise, which requires some price adjustments. However, I have learned that you can minimize this increase by a tight belt policy such as repurposing reviving and reinventing on hand inventory, and replenishing what is needed for daily operation is a great way to cope with inflation without compromising the quality of service provided.

SDBJ: How do you help people justify the need or desire for a luxury good like jewelry?

Fred Nasseri: Every person has a desire to be the best, to have what they like and to have jewelry or any luxury item is a desire. A desire to reward ourselves or someone we love or admire. Yes, jewelry is a luxury item, but you must remember that is one of the few materialistic items in our lives that can be handed down from generation to generation, defining and capturing that special moment in our lives or family history and that one moment is priceless.

SDBJ: What are the biggest challenge today versus the previous 42 years in business?

Fred Nasseri: When I started my business 42 years ago, there was no social media or any of the technology that exists today. As a result, our wide angle zoom lens was a lot narrower.  You did not have to worry about what your colleagues did around the world. However, in the age that you hold the world in the palm of your hand and you can connect to any resource anywhere in the world, the angle of your lens has become much wider and you need to be much more informed about the global trends, marketing, pricing, presenting and convenience. However, one very important factor has not changed: presenting best quality of service and creating the best experience and the personal touch that is the corner stone of family business,

SDBJ: How do you see the role of technology changing the way you do business?

Fred Nasseri: Today’s consumer is attached to and dependent on technology. Most of their everyday tasks including shopping is done online. Technology has changed the clients’ expectations dramatically and drastically. Quick service, quick answers, quick and informed information, and fast delivery has become the norm. Today’s consumer has access to the vast world of knowledge on the item they are interested in and its value. As a result, we must be far more informed and provide best service to our clients.  All of us have to remember and keep it in forefront of any business decisions that we make: You are being watched, compared and judged by many at any given time.

SDBJ: How do you see the future of your business? What are your goals for your business for the next 42 years?

Fred Nasseri: In the last 42 years the world of retail has changed immensely form the way we buy, present and market, to the way the consumer purchases and approaches any business. The world on both sides of the aisle has changed completely with one exception: Service, particularly with the younger generation culture of instant gratification, plays a key role which is completely different from the past generations. I believe, as we move forward our industry, like most with merge more and more with technology and the world of AI and we will witness more boutique style stores and far stronger reliance and demand on personal and concierge service which puts higher demand on people in our industry to be far more prepared and informed.

SDBJ: What advice do you have for the younger generation looking to start in the jewelry business?

Fred Nasseri: I love my industry. I am so happy to see so many young people showing interest involved in and build their future in this field. My advice to those who want to be part of this very exciting and fun yet demanding business is: A: Be knowledgeable. B: Be disciplined. C: Be ethical. D: Be consistent. E: Be enthusiastic and passionate about your work. F: Accept, adapt, and change with the new ideas and trends.

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