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Heroes of the High Street: Why Gemma Murphy gave up social work career to run Jack Murphy Jewellers in Newry

In the latest in our exciting new series we talk to Gemma Murphy, manager at Jack Murphy Jewellers in Newry

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Gemma Murphy, business partner and manager at Jack Murphy Jewellers

Gemma Murphy, business partner and manager at Jack Murphy Jewellers

Freddie Parkinson

Gemma Murphy, business partner and manager at Jack Murphy Jewellers

Gemma Murphy, business partner and manager at Jack Murphy Jewellers

Freddie Parkinson

Gemma’s parents Pat and Jack

Gemma’s parents Pat and Jack

Cool FM presenter Rebecca McKinney wearing diamonds and pearls from the store

Cool FM presenter Rebecca McKinney wearing diamonds and pearls from the store

Gemma Murphy, business partner and manager at Jack Murphy Jewellers

Gemma Murphy (34) is a business partner and manager at Jack Murphy Jewellers in Newry, working with her parents Jack (70) and Pat (77), who are now semi-retired.

Married to music teacher Cathal Murphy (38) and with daughters Moya (5) and Aoife (2), Gemma also works with her brother Rory (42), who oversees the e-commerce side of the firm. The business, which employs 14 people, has just extended into an adjoining three-storey building.

Q. Tell me about Jack Murphy Jewellers and how and when it began.

A. My father Jack has been in the trade for over 60 years. He left school at 13 and trained as an apprentice watchmaker in Dublin. He also worked as a rep on the road selling to shops and learned a lot in that experience before he set up in Downpatrick with his brother Willie Murphy, who has passed away.

Then he moved and set up independently in Newry.

My mum and dad were originally from Downpatrick but he saw an opportunity in Newry being a border town and thankfully he did, because Newry is a thriving city today.

We had a business based in Hill Street in Newry for 48 years, so he has a wealth of knowledge and experience.

It started off as a small unit and has now extended into the unit on the left and now we've just taken over the three-storey unit on our right.

Q. Is there a family member who dominates the early history of the business?

A. My mum and dad were partners in the business and set it up together. They'll celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this June.

My dad was participating in the St Patrick's Day parade in Downpatrick and needed somebody to help. He had a donkey or horse in it and asked my mum to take part in the Murphy Jewellers float. That is how they met. So then she joined the business.

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Gemma’s parents Pat and Jack

Gemma’s parents Pat and Jack

Gemma’s parents Pat and Jack

My dad would always manage the stock and buying whereas my mum would have been in front of house and dealt with the customers. They wanted to be able to offer high quality items using their experience and expertise and bring good value and high quality to the customers. My dad had learned a lot in Dublin and was able to learn from what people were doing well and what people weren't doing well to make sure he didn't make the same mistakes.

Q. Tell us about the present generation who are in the shop, and perhaps the next generation who might take over?

A. We have myself and my brother who work here and my 10-year-old nephew also works in the shop part-time. He does a wee bit of everything - he's been a great help during the extension work.

When I joined 10 years ago my mum was semi-retired. They had initially planned to sell the business because none of us were in the trade.

I was a social worker at the time and I took a career break. I came into the business part-time, fell in love with it, left my job as a social worker and came into the business full-time.

I was working alongside my father and he was the best. He's an amazing teacher, with a great wealth of knowledge.

I was in my mid-20s so I had a great understanding of the market we were trying to target. My brother moved home from London three years ago and joined the business to help bring us forward with the website. That's something that we are hoping to launch this summer.

Q. Do you have many long-serving members of staff?

A. We have a mixture of long-standing and new staff members.

We've been growing so we had to grow our team, but we are very much a family business and everybody is part of the family.

We have somebody here who has been with us for 27 years, and others who have been with us for 20 years, 17 years and 14 years. They've been the backbone of the business and they welcomed me with open arms and share their knowledge and experience with me as we bring the business forward.

Q. Where do your customers come from?

A. Our customers would travel from the north and south of Ireland. We are very much a destination jeweller, we could welcome someone from Co Donegal or Co Cork on a weekend.

We have a huge local customer base but we definitely have a lot of customers from further afield.

Word-of-mouth would be an excellent recommendation. We find when somebody who works in an office in Dublin gets their engagement ring from us, their friends and colleagues would travel to us on their recommendation, whether they work in Dublin and come from Wexford, they would still travel to Newry.

We also have a huge audience on social media - we've platforms all around the world and engage and gain customers from all over on our social media. We have an influencer, Lisa Lustlist, based in Tullamore, who is a good friend and customer. She has shared her experience with us on her platform, which has allowed us to reach a wider audience.

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Gemma Murphy, business partner and manager at Jack Murphy Jewellers

Gemma Murphy, business partner and manager at Jack Murphy Jewellers

Freddie Parkinson

Gemma Murphy, business partner and manager at Jack Murphy Jewellers

Q. How do you guarantee good performance from staff?

A. Our staff probably can see how hard we work and how passionate we are about the business and they share that same ethos. To me, Jack Murphy Jewellers isn't just a job, it's a career.

It's somewhere we want people to continually learn and grow and enjoy their work.

It's always about what is best for the shop and the customer. We support each other and help each other and that definitely shines through for me and the family. When it comes to staff, we help each other. If someone is struggling we get behind them.

We have a huge return of customers and positive feedback and that is because our team offers customer services at a whole new level.

We won Retail Jewellers Inspiring Independent, in Ireland and Scotland, and we've won endless awards for our social media.

Q. What has changed over the years about the stock you sell?

A. We have really focused on our diamonds. We offer a bespoke service and our expertise and knowledge of diamonds is incredible, so we've found that over the years we have built on the service we can offer on diamonds and the bridal industry.

We like to offer something both traditional and unique and we bring our customers on that journey with us, so they can create and design the diamond ring they have always wanted.

Q. Do you think the founder of Jack Murphy Jewellers would be proud of its long survival?

A. My dad is extremely proud of us as a family and the entire team. He's delighted to see the extension that has happened. What we're offering now is a unique customer experience.

We're offering luxury showrooms with a champagne bar to ensure that every customer has a memorable experience. Although my dad is semi-retired and spends most of his time in Spain, every day he's in touch with the business and is cheering us on.

Q. How have you had to change to keep up with the times in the jewellery world?

A. I think Jack Murphy Jewellers is always trying to be one step ahead and that is why we are thriving today.

We change with the times and we try to constantly see what's happening and evolving. I travel the world to look at what other jewellers are doing and bring that back to our society in Northern Ireland. I want customers in Newry to receive the same experience as they would in Bond Street or New York.

To me the customer experience is hugely important and it's not just about selling, it's about someone feeling comfortable to come in and browse.

We love to put on events and involve our community, we do cocktail parties, fashion shows, we sponsor ladies' days.

We listen to our customers and ask what they would like to see and we take that on board and do it. Upcoming, we have a diamond masterclass in the Galgorm Hotel with Rebecca McKinney to give our customers an affordable and educational event and let them see diamonds uncut.

Q. Have you generations of shoppers, too?

A. We are very blessed that we get to share our customers' journey through life. We share all their special moments, from their engagements to their weddings, their anniversaries, the birth of their children right through to their children's graduation - and when their children return to get their engagement rings.

Q. How has your stock evolved over the last 50 years or so?

A. Our focus has definitely become the bridal industry, diamond rings and wedding rings. However, we have also introduced a lot of good quality fashion brands to our range.

Prior to my working in the shop 10 years ago, we didn't really see any branded fashion jewellery but now we offer brands like Chlobo.

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Cool FM presenter Rebecca McKinney wearing diamonds and pearls from the store

Cool FM presenter Rebecca McKinney wearing diamonds and pearls from the store

Cool FM presenter Rebecca McKinney wearing diamonds and pearls from the store

Back in my mum and dad's day, people got married so much younger and now we have young people today who are purchasing jewellery for themselves before they get engaged.

By offering this jewellery we get to know our customers before they get engaged and they are comfortable with us before they come to get their engagement ring.

Q. How are wedding trends changing?

A. Years ago, people would have bought plain wedding rings, whereas now the majority of our wedding rings for ladies would be diamond sets. We have a huge selection of diamond wedding rings, including the latest trends of stacking wedding rings. We like to offer unique designs for both ladies and gents. It was great news to see a change in the law for same-sex marriage and we're delighted to welcome all couples to our shop.

Q. What is the future for Jack Murphy Jewellers?

A. Our future is to continue to grow and develop. We have just completed phase one of our extension and by Easter our new showroom should be completely finished so we'll be looking forward to hosting a lot of in-store events. We also hope to launch our website this summer.

Q. Why has Jack Murphy Jewellers survived?

A. I would say because of our team and our customers, and our passion.

We work extremely hard to always try and be a great business.

We get involved in our business community, we're constantly training and learning, travelling the world to buy the best stock and seeing how we can grow and improve.

Q. Have you invested in the store recently?

A. We've invested hugely in our store and now we have our three-storey extension. We have three times the retail space and we now have a floor for our growing staff team. We hope to have a workshop on the third floor in the future.

Q. Are you hoping that the return of the Executive will mean improvements in the economy?

A. Absolutely, I am a director in Newry Chamber and just this week we met with Finance Minister Conor Murphy to talk about some of the challenges that businesses face today.

I hope that the return of the Executive will see positive and much-needed changes to Northern Ireland.

The most important issues for us would be the Southern Relief Road and rates.

Quickfire questions...

Tea or coffee? Tea

Online store, or bricks and mortar store? Bricks and mortar

Netflix or BBC? BBC

Christmas or Easter? Christmas

Retail hero/heroine? My dad

Favourite type of shop? Fashion shop

Favourite film? I'm enjoying rewatching all the Disney classics with my girls, such as Cinderella

Favourite book? I really enjoyed Can I Give Him My Eyes by Richard Moore, founder of Children in Crossfire

Favourite band? My current favourite is the Derry Girls playlist on Spotify

Best piece of advice? Believe in yourself. Thankfully I've had a lot of people believe in me

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