As a teenager working in a jewelry store, Isreal Morales was intrigued by Rolex watches. “I couldn’t believe a watch was worth that much,” he says. “The value of these little things intrigued me and drew me into the industry.”
Today he runs Sky Diamond Jewellers, a full-service jewelry store in New Windsor, NY. The five-employee company, which he co-founded with his wife Jennifer in 2016, brought in more than $1 million in revenue from his 1,000-square-foot store last year, and he’s now considering expanding into a second location or wholesale business. Morales was recognized as Entrepreneur of the Year by New York State Entrepreneurship Support Centers (EAC) earlier this year, after attending the 60-hour Entrepreneurial Training Program at EAC’s Women’s Enterprise Development Center in Poughkeepsie.
Starting the company was not easy. Morales’ father died before he was born, and when his mother died of cancer when he was nine years old, his brother Jose, then 17 years old, went to court and got permission to raise him and his sister. “He worked in a car dealership and was able to show a decent income,” says Morales. “He worked all the time and tried to provide. I remember him coming home, cooking and getting my sister ready for school the next morning.
Morales worked in jewelry stores in the area to earn extra money. An employer, ULTRA Diamonds, sent him to classes to learn sales. “Some people don’t attend classes. I took every class I could,” he recalls. Meanwhile, he attended college part-time at the College of Westchester to study business administration
His next job, at age 18, was at Hannoush Jewelers, a franchise, where he got to know a different side of the industry. “I bought gold and diamonds,” he says. “It was fascinating to me. I am still fascinated today.”
That led to other work in retail and then Monroe Jewelers, a family business in Monroe, NY. Morales had a side business where he would buy and sell gold he bought from the public, through sites like Craigslist, for a profit. “It got to a point where I thought, ‘I’ve got to try this and do it for myself,'” he says.
Morales’ breakthrough came when someone contacted him to sell him $16,000 worth of jewelry products. Morales only had $4,000 in his bank account that day. He said to the seller, “Let me keep the products for a day. I have to authenticate everything. I’ll bring you the $16,000 tomorrow. I knew there were pieces that a customer would buy.
Morales made a few sales and paid him the $16,000. He estimates that he earned another $40,000 from the merchandise he sold. It gave him the confidence that he could build his own business full time.
“Right now, me knew– whatever happened, I was opening a jewelry store,” he says. “This was the most money I’ve ever had in my life. If I made $60,000 to $70,000, it would take me forever to accumulate $40,000.
Working with the EAC, he and his wife drew up a business plan mapping out what the store would look like if no compromises were made in following the plan. Once the document was complete, he contacted the owner of a local square and shared the plan with him, hoping to rent a space. The owner knew his family and the story of how his parents died. He asked if Morales had any money. When the answer was “No”, the owner said to him, “Maybe I can help you.”
Initially, Morales asked for $250,000, the cost of opening the “no-compromise” version of his store. His would-be financier dismissed him four times to cut costs.
Thinking creatively, Morales found a used safe for the store. He got four quotes from every contractor he needed to hire to get the store in shape and used his industry relationships to buy products from suppliers who allowed him to pay for them after each piece was sold. Jennifer, who studied graphic design at university, helped him with branding and marketing. These efforts reduced his planned start-up costs to $140,000, and the mall’s owner agreed to loan him the money. “In the end he had no choice but to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to give you the money,'” Morales says.
Morales was able to pay him back in two years. Although Sky Diamond was closed for three months during the pandemic, it used the time to improve its website and social media to increase the store’s visibility. One hallmark is its specialty in engagement rings, built around marketing related to one of the most memorable events in a couple’s life: the marriage proposal.
Since opening shop, Morales has also introduced on-site repairs, gold purchases and appraisals. He customizes purchases for his customers by using computer-aided design.
Morales isn’t sure what the future holds, but he believes owning his business has been critical to him and his family. He and Jennifer now have two children. To give back, he’s donating to Newburgh Free Academy High School, a local public school, and Safe Harbors on the Hudson, a mixed-use affordable housing provider. “This was a great catalyst to move our lives forward,” he says.