Many people start working while in high school to make money for the family, for expenses, to learn responsibility.
In the Schechter family, the kids start young. Sandra Hequin was 5 when she started working in the family business, Morays Jewelers, a downtown Miami fixture since her grandparents Murray and Sally Schechter opened the business locally in 1944. Morays dates to 1900 Austria when founder Max Schechter emigrated to New York and sold watches from a pushcart.
Hequin, who, at 5, took a broom and swept the store floors, dusted showcases and arranged window displays, would become a sixth-generation owner in 1994 when she bought the business from her father, Richard Schechter. She led Morays, housed in downtown’s DuPont building at 50 NE Second Ave., through the 2008 recession. Three years later, The Commonwealth Institute-South Florida named Morays Jewelers among the top women-led businesses in Florida.
Hequin died Nov. 7 at 53 of cancer. Her son Beau, already groomed by his mom to become a seventh-generation leader, is the chief operating officer.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“She knew he could handle it,” family friend and colleague Chris Haake said.
That’s Sandra Hequin.
“She believed in the best of everyone and even if you thought you couldn’t do something she’d throw you to the wolves knowing you’d come out OK,” Haake said. “That’s the greatest takeaway working with her. She believed the word ‘couldn’t’ didn’t exist and that you could play with the big boys.”
Hequin — born in Miami on March 19, 1961, and a 2007 “Retailer of the Year for Leadership” honoree by the Florida Retail Association — quadrupled the size of the original store and eschewed a move from downtown Miami to Aventura in northern Miami-Dade or south to Coral Gables where, conceivably, wealthy customers existed for the company’s high-end goods.
That wouldn’t be in keeping with Morays’ family flavor on Flagler. “We decided to take a leap of faith,” Hequin said in a 2007 Miami Herald profile as she expanded and moved to the first floor of the DuPont building her father owned. “Somebody had to be the first. One day everyone will catch up to me.”
Hequin was a “friend and a mentor who showed me a passion I didn’t know existed in this industry,” Haake said.
Hequin, who studied business at the University of Florida and graduated with a bachelor’s in business administration from the University of Miami in 1984, used her schooling and family business savvy well during the post-2008 downturn.
Sales that 2008 holiday season were down by more than 30 percent at name jewelers like Mayors and Tiffany. “Bling is out,” Hequin said in a 2009 Valentine’s Day story in the Miami Herald.
“Nobody wants to be flashy and call attention to themselves and make others feel bad. They want to be conservative. Classic, investment quality is what people want.”
Morays’ luxury watches, brands like Baume & Mercier, Audemars Piguet and Bulgari, sold.
“Miami has always been very different than any other market. We always have someone with money to spend,” she said.
Two seasons later, Morays sold more than two dozen luxury watches ranging in price from $100,000 to $500,000 and diamond necklaces and rings were hot items, too. “It was like the floodgates opened and the big spenders returned,” Hequin said in a December 2010 Herald article.
Her staff, many of whom have been with Morays for decades and newcomers like Haake, respected that guidance and leadership.
“Even though she was tough on you, that came out of how she was raised,” Haake said. “She’ll be proud of you because she knows you can succeed. … Morays was truly a family store.”
In addition to her son, Hequin is survived by her parents, Richard and Libby Schechter, her daughter Tiffany Hequin and her sister Jill Leslie. The family requests donations in Hequin’s name be made to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.