Local jeweler takes helm of statewide association

May. 04, 2013 @ 04:59 AM

She started out wrapping gift boxes at a Sanford jewelry store and thought she was going to get fired almost immediately. But she wasn’t, and now she’s president of the North Carolina Jewelers Association.

Lora Wright, owner of Southern Jewelers in downtown Sanford, took over the top spot with the state’s premier group of jewelers last month for a two-year term. The only Lee County jeweler to ever have even been selected to the Raleigh-based group’s board of directors, Wright previously served as a general member, then second vice president and most recently as vice president. And although being named president wasn’t a complete surprise given that track record, she said she’s still a little nervous.

“I told them for once in my life, I’m glad I have size nine feet because I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” she said.

However, she said she has been a go-getter ever since she was a 16-year-old high school student hired to wrap presents during the Christmas rush at the now-defunct Saslow’s Jewelers. Not a lot of people wanted gift wrapping done, she said, but many were waiting impatiently to be helped by a sales associate. So despite strict orders not to do so, Wright said she started working the floor, selling various products. Soon after, her supervisor confronted her about it.

“He came up to me and said, ‘You’re never going to wrap boxes at Saslow’s again,’” Wright said. “I was so scared and sure that I had just been fired, but then he said, ‘That’s because you can make us a lot more money selling to people.’ I’ve been in the jewelry business ever since.”

Wright eventually bought the old Saslow’s building, across the street from her current shop, to remind herself of her humble beginnings. And now, the self-proclaimed great public speaker said she’s itching to take on the new challenge of being the face of the North Carolina jewelry industry, a job that will entail doing a little bit of everything from lobbying to recruiting, arranging a convention and hosting design competitions. Sipping a coffee drink in her office this week, Wright said she tends to “stay pretty hyped” all the time, so she doesn’t think the added workload of leading a statewide organization will hurt her own business, which she has owned and operated since 1991.

Suzi Bevacqua, executive director of the association, a nonprofit trade organization, said Wright is well-suited to the job.

“We are honored to have named Lora Wright as our President,” Bevacqua said in a press release. “She believes the sharing of ideas with fellow independent [store owners], the talking and networking with other owners and the support system the North Carolina Jewelers Association has created is a vital ... in the success of our business and industry.”

Wright said that her first order of business, before any official business begins, will be simply to let it sink that a person who started out in the lowest possible position, working in the smallest county in North Carolina, has a statewide leadership role.

“It was real,” she said, speaking of that moment when she heard her name announced as president the first time. “It was really real. Little Lora Smith Wright from Sanford became a president.”