Fire and Ice Shines Brightly
By Tina M. Wolfe
It was the summer of 1976 in a typical American town of Pennsylvania. Young Frank Nederostek, the only child of hard-working, first-generation Americans, had a decision to make. Like every other graduating senior in history, he needed to figure out what he was going to do after school. His father, taking his parental duties to heart, took young Frank with him to the cement mill where he had spent his entire career.
“I’ll never forget those days,” recalls Frank, owner of Fire and Ice Jewelry on Court Street in Marion. The Mill required young interns to work 5 days a week for 10 hours each day. “Every day you’d come out from working the kiln covered in sweat and they would have to cool you down with ice water,” he said. The kiln used in the manufacturing of cement heats the limestone and clay, or shale, into what’s called “rawmix”, which is heated up to 1450 °C before being ground into the final cement product. A tough job for certain.
At the end of that week, Frank’s father looked him squarely in the eyes and told him, “You can come to work here or find work elsewhere.”
That was a defining moment in Frank’s life who had watched his father faithfully endure the physical demands of his job for the love of his family. His father’s discipline and sense of honor were not lost on the young man, but Frank was born with an entrepreneurial spirit that steered him to a much different lifepath.
Perhaps it was the sense of honor and duty that landed Frank in a successful law enforcement career that lasted 11 years. But destiny would intervene, as she sometimes does unannounced, and open a door that would again change the trajectory of his life. While working a jewelry store robbery case, Frank went undercover where he had to learn to repair and work on jewelry. He had to look legit to crack the case.
"I enjoyed it so much,” he recalled. “I was really good at it too and I loved the creativity of it.” Frank was still on the job when he opened his first jewelry store in 1984, unleashing his aspirational fervor perhaps a bit prematurely. Within three years, he went from one store to three. “It was too much too fast,” he admits. While colleagues advised him to file for bankruptcy, it was his grandfather’s sage (albeit brutally honest) wisdom that convicted him. “I told him everyone was telling me to file for bankruptcy, but he simply replied, ‘You can do that, but if you do you will disgrace the family name and would not be welcome.’”
Frank knew it would be easier to file bankruptcy, but his own conscience knew that he needed to honor his debt. “What do they say,” he quipped, “Adversity is the mother of invention.” He understood that although difficult, this trial or what might be considered failure, was establishing a foundational philosophy for future success in the jewelry industry. Integrity and honor are valued commodities and can mean the difference between merely peddling wares to reaching a level of respect that opens doors reserved for the elite in the business.
In fact, those same qualities of determination, a smidge of scrappiness, along with honor and integrity are what has enabled him to reach the level he has in the industry. As a board member of the Southern Jewelers Association and member of the premier jewelry cooperative, The Retail Jewelers Organization, Frank earned exclusive access to the industry’s leading markets. This, he said, increases his buying power and keeps him in the know of industry trends. “Both of these organizations are important to my business. We share numbers and I glean great industry information to better run my business. Because of my great credit, it also gives me buying clout,” he added. “Honor is important. Now we can go buy diamonds in a particular situation where many can’t.”
The industry worldwide brought in $323.98 billion in 2020 and is forecasted to reach $480.5 billion by 2025. Much of what has been driving these number, according to industry reports, are innovative jewelry designs. An admitted numbers guy and pragmatist, Frank understands that marketing in the industry doesn’t always translate to demand. “There is a lot of marketing in the industry, and it actually inflates the value,” he said. Having a defined market to which he caters is part of his success story. Frank uses his buying power to provide his clientele, which is predominately blue-collar workers, the value without the inflation. Frank’s manager, Claudia Ollis has 22 years in the industry and 10 with Frank. She understands the trends and what customers want as well as what they can afford, he said. “She does 90% of the purchasing and she knows our customers.”
“I love picking out the jewelry and selling bridal sets,” she said. Claudia is also the creative mind behind some of their billboards around town. “I like to come up with fun and creative billboards.” She has an amicable sense about her and is more about relationships than she is about hard selling. When her eyes light up as she tells stories of couples looking for the perfect rings to gentlemen searching for a special anniversary gift for their 50-year celebration, she puts her heart into her work.
It’s important to both Frank and Claudia to serve their customers well. Keeping their merchandise at affordable prices and responding to what their customers want, such as fine estate jewelry, is priority. They accomplish this by offering what Frank calls, “affordable elegance” and cater to all customers with the same respect and courtesy whether they need a small watch repair or are looking to spend thousands on one piece. “Customer service and treating everyone with the respect they deserve is important,” Frank said. “Whether they come in here or our pawn shop next door, they receive the same level of service from us.”
“I have been in the pawn industry for about 5 or 6 years and have really learned the secondary value of jewelry,” he said. “We can offer beautiful estate bridal sets and even recycle or create new pieces from their family jewels.” Another way they provide great savings to customers is setting the stones themselves on most bridal sets. Unlike corporate stores, they have the ability to work with customers in creating the piece they want at a price they can afford, he added. “I tell my customers that jewelry is not an investment (of money), it’s an investment of the heart!”
With a combined 61 years in the business, Frank and Claudia treat their customers like family (hugs are free!) and take pride in providing honest, hard-working people the best value and service they can. They’ve been able to do this by practicing those time-honored traditions of Frank’s father and grandfather, with honor, integrity, and a bit of grit.
Fire and Ice Jewelry is located at 91 East Court Street, suite 3 in Marion, NC. Visit them on the web at www.fireandicejewelry.net. They can be reached at 828.559.2000.