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[Press Release] Rio Grande Grows Into the Future

Press Release – Rio Grande Grows Into the Future
December, 2012

Now a Berkshire Hathaway Company, Rio Grande Jewelers’ Supply
Embraces the Next Chapter in its History

With its president, Hugh Bell, retiring at the end of this year, Rio
Grande, formerly a member of The Bell Group, has acted on the
opportunity to strengthen and expand its reach into the future as a
member of the Richline Group, a Berkshire Hathaway Company.

Effective January 1, 2013, Rio Grande will become one of the many
successful businesses under the umbrella of Warren Buffett’s
flagship, Berkshire Hathaway. The company’s remaining directors,
including Alan Bell, Molly Bell and Eddie Bell, plan to continue in
their current roles and to support the unique culture that they have
developed at Rio Grande. Says Alan Bell, “The values of Warren
Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway are very much in line with those on
which Rio Grande is founded, and we couldn’t be more enthusiastic
and optimistic about the future as a member of the Richline Group.”

The new corporate structure, in fact, will allow each of the Bells
to concentrate in areas where their passions lie. Molly Bell, long a
champion of Rio Grande’s special brand of customer service, notes “I
am extremely excited that Rio Grande will be moving forward with
Berkshire Hathaway, working with the folks at the Richline Group,
with our own amazing associates here, and with our customers to
build even stronger, more successful relationships.” Eddie Bell,
too, who oversees the Santa Fe Symposium and Neutec/Rio Grande?,
looks forward with anticipation to the new year: “It’s going to be a
lot of fun to have the collaboration of the manufacturers and
factory professionals on the Richline side, joining forces to meet
the technical challenges jewelry-makers face every day.” Houlihan
Lokey served as the financial advisor in the transaction on behalf
of the Bell family and Rio Grande. Lewis and Roca LLP served as
legal advisor to Rio Grande.

Contact Molly Bell at 800.545.6566; (

I know Rio Grande for very many years and have more than appreciated
the extraordinary attitude they have always exhibited towards their
customers. Saul Bell, the father of all, brought a distinct level of
ethics to this company, and that has been carried forward by his
daughter and sons.

I truly have Rio Grande to thank for the many far and wide friends I
was able to meet face to face during the wonderful, sadly missed
Catalog in Motion held annually in Tucson during the Gem Shows.
Speaking with jewelry artists from around the world, was so easy to
say, “meet me at Rio’s.”

The wonderful free demonstrations held every day, from opening to
closing were wonderful. The equivalent of costly workshops, offered
free of charge courtesy of the instructor and Rio. The ease at
wandering among the many product displays and having a hands on
opportunity to try before you buy. The wonderful opportunity tom
list your interest in buying at a reduced price, that which was used
in the demonstrations. I have many of those “used” items in my home.

Books, what an incredible display and often with the authors there
to sign your copy, yes I have many of those as well. The opportunity
to take workshops offered by some of the best known instructors were
another opportunity not to be missed. I have so many fond memories
of those as well.

Orchid and Hanuman, Charles Lewton Brain, and Ton. Oh my the
opportunity to meet the originators of Orchid live and in person,
and then to attend the Orchid Dinners, nothing can match those

I feel deeply the appreciation I personally have of Rio Grande, the
Bells, and the wonderful employees who so graciously left home and
families for Tucson every February to make my experience there the
best possible. I maintain a friendship with several of them and
cherish that.

I know Warren Buffet and Berkshire Hathaway choose affiliations very
carefully. I had to Google Richline to see who and what they are. I
feel this is a win/win situation and wish everyone well.


A big pay day for the owners of Rio. congratulations to them. Not
sure how being a Berkshire Hathaway Company will benefit the
employees or the customers, it may be a sad day for them. It’s
important for those who made the decision to sell the company to put
a good face on the sale and have their people talk it up as a great
thing for everyone involved. Time will tell the truth of that.

Hello Orchidians,

Welcome to fall of Rio Grande!

As of 01.01.2013 they are no longer a family owned business. Rio
Grande had “partnered” with The Richline Group, a Berkshire Hathaway

If you thought the Chinese and Pakistani tools were bad before, wait
until the new management company takes over and performs "magical"
corporate structuring. In the past few years (I am being generous
here), Rio Grande has become similar to the jewelry supply version of
Harbor Freight.

A while back Rio Grande started featuring American made products,
but this is hard to do in a country that has “smartsized"
production!!! Perhaps this is the reason Rio Grande has had to
"partner up”, they have diluted themselves into thinking that they
could pull the same profit from lesser quality imported products.

Now backfiring, they need an exist strategy…

I once worked for a little book store that pulled this same "tactic"
and in half the time it took them to build up their “empire” they
were shutting down stores, leaving themselves with less then half the
stores they had fifteen years prior. …

Now under the new management, I fear the past Rio Grande trend
toward lowered quality in the name of heightened sales figures will
only get worse.

Lets face it, the point of business is to make money, but you also
need to provide a quality product.

Which we all know is on the forefront of corporate America today,
wink wink!!!

In regard to the once great return policy. …

Oh, they had a great return policy…

I wonder how long this will take to be “rationalized.” Even though
Borsheims (A Berkshire Hathaway owned jewelry company), has a 90 day
return policy with no paid return shipping offered and the item must
be in original condition (which I am taking to mean re-saleable).
Imagine the freight costs incurred when returning items damaged in
transit!!! That’s if they’ll take it back, because it isn’t in
"original" condition.

Remember Rio Grande’s customer service?

They were great huh?

Nice, courteous, and helpful. . They were a joy to talk to. . Another
thing we can all look forward to being “streamlined.”

Oh, before I leave you to tell me how I am wrong, I will leave you
these words.

The Bell family has been assured that they will continue in
leadership roles.

This reminds me a recent tragedy involving Alan Revere… He too was
told to not worry, that his place in his building would be safe. …
But we all know, this is a different story and the Bell’s will be
just fine!

Please keep this in mind, Warren Buffet is the chairmen and CEO of
Berkshire Hathaway and we all know how he is the master of low-cost

This is our future…

I have had the pleasure of knowing the members of the Bell family
who run Rio Grande for quite a few years now. I have always been in
awe of the integrity, thoughtfulness and care that they exhibit in
dealing with their business, their employees and above all their
customers. If every company in the US were half as good in these
areas we would be a much better off as a nation. I have absolutely
no doubt that they have put a tremendous amount of thought and care
into this decision and focused on not only what is good for the
Bell’s but what will allow the customers and employees to continue
to enjoy the same level of satisfaction and service despite the
change in ownership.

While I have no crystal ball from what I have seen Berkshire
Hathaway has a record of buying highly valued exceptional companies
and allowing them to keep doing what made them great in the first
place. So I am very optimistic that this will be a win for all those
involved including us the Rio customer.

I am not a big fan of the way many large corporations are run but I
would suggest you should do some reading about Berkshire Hathaway
and in particular its Richline Group because from your post I don’t
get the impression you know much about them.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

Thanks for sharing your concerns as well as your support. Some of the
things expressed as a concern were on our list of concerns as well
when we beganour succession discussions over a year ago. Our family
has given so much time and thought to our business succession. In the
months since we began serious deliberation many options were
considered. We turned down non-industry suitors and other
possibilities because we treasure our customers, suppliers and
associates and the friendly, collaborative culture that is integralto
how we run Rio Grande. We have to say, we feel that Richline Group
passed the ‘test’ and the principles of Richline appreciate and value
our culture.

None of the third generation Bells are involved due to their own
joyful paths taking them elsewhere, and we wanted the capable
associates who have helped us build Rio Grande to have a secure
future. Knowing that our brother Hugh wanted to retire in 2012 at age
70, Eddie in two years, and Alan and I (the youngest in our second
generation working the business) will be in the same boat in another
seven to ten years, we needed to take steps while wehave the luxury
of time on our side. We want to assure a smooth transitionrather than
ignoring the ‘circle of life’ that faces everyone, knowing that if we
procrastinated we’d face an asset "fire sale’ which would collapse
the business we and our treasured associates have nurtured and
invested ourlives in.

Richline is committed to Rio Grande being run as an autonomous and
stand-alone member of their group. Our culture of service is firmly
embedded and will continue to be the bedrock of the company long
after we Bells have movedon (everyone will have to put up with us for
several more years though :)). Our customers will enjoy the same
levels of caring service from the familiar team of Rio associates.
Our product managers continue to influence the direction of what we
manufacture here in our Albuquerque facility and for items we are not
manufacturing ourselves, we seek the best product offeringswith the
best value, to meet the needs and desires of a varied and
diversecustomer base. Please let us know if you perceive anything
amiss that we should be aware of! I would love to hear from you!

If any Orchidians find yourself in Albuquerque and would like a
tour, please let us know, we’d love to meet you and show you around!
Warmest regards and best wishes to you and yours in 2013!

Molly Bell


I sadly started New Years Day with a death in my family. I did not
appreciate it ending with your hatchet job on the Bell Family and
Rio Grande.

Warren Buffet does not have a reputation for investing in losers,
nor is he a corporate raider. I don’t know you, nor am I now
inclined to want to. You have pitched your negative tent on the
wrong camp site.

I wish I could have gotten to bed without reading your negative

Teresa Masters

I’m not sure what prompted your premptive attack on the new owners of
Rio Grande, but I’m waiting to see how they PERFORM before I make
judgement. Interestingly, Berkshire Hathaway has very successfully
acquired and run manyfamily owned businesses including Benjamin
Moore, See’s Candy, The Pampered Chef, and others.

What BH brings brings to the table that many family businesses want
is access to capital in order to implement growth strategies. Many of
us sell ourbusinesses to well healed investors in order to allow our
businesses and our employees to grow beyond their current capital

Jamie King,

I have been a customer of Rio Grande for many years. I go away from
each transaction wishing that I could have found another place to
spend my money. This is based on a long time feeling of
disappointment with what I receive in the box each time I buy from
Rio Grande. They have a very comprehensive catalog and I have learned
a lot from reading it and talking to their customer support people.
But in the end, I am usually left wishing for more. I wish them well
as they go on this new journey, but the comments by Molly Bell about
succession are telling. Rob

Rob Meixner

Re the comment on Rio Grande press release from Kenneth

I could not resist to respond on so much * is it jealousy ? I have
been purchasing from Rio Grande along many other companies for the
last few years and don’t recognise any of the problems you seems to
have. If you don’t like acompany don’t work with them.

Re your comments about bad products from China and Pakistan? I have
a weakness for tools and also had a period to compensate my lake of
skills in buyingmore tools, I have tools made in Vietnam (Fretz) to
made in Timboektoe! (Not sure about the last one)

I have great tools from Made in Pakistan china Italian UK Taiwan
Japan etc no country has a patent on superiority, the tools are as
good as the businessit produce it.

I don’t care were my tools or any product is made, as long it is
quality for the money I pay. One of my favourite tool is the Foredom
LX made in the US, the other one is a ring bender made in Pakistan.
(Both I bought from Rio Grande)

One of the world great leaders Deng Xiaoping said (25 years ago?) it
makes no difference if the cat is black or white as long it catch
the mouse

Not sure if the quote is 100% correct but this was the gist of it.

I am born in Holland, worked in Germany, UK and the USA and are
currently living in Spain, the bottom line is buy from the company
you like and try to get value for money from we’re ever in the
world, after all I would not buy your jewellery just because it is
US made, I maybe buy it if I like the product and like the price you
offer me.

Re Warren Buffet, you maybe should read up on him, in my view he is
one of the few unique people in the world, extremely success full
and some one with his hart in the right place.

Best regards
Peter from Spain

This is based on a long time feeling of disappointment with what I
receive in the box each time I buy from Rio Grande. They have a
very comprehensive catalog and I have learned a lot from reading it
and talking to their customer support people. But in the end, I am
usually left wishing for more. 

I am perplexed: wishing for more what? Items? Assistance?

I wish them well as they go on this new journey, but the comments
by Molly Bell about succession are telling. Rob 

Telling what? I think it is wonderful they are planning for Rio
Grande to continue after them. Would you have preferred them to do
nothing and close in ten years when no one in the family was able or
willing to run the business? At some point most people want to
either retire or cut back their hours, and sadly no one lives
forever. . but someone needs to continue to run the business and
have the vision for the future. I applaud the Bells for looking to
the future to have the business continue.

Jim and I have only lived in Bellingham for 11 years. Over the last
few years a number of wonderful shops and businesses have closed
that had been in Bellingham for many, many years prior to our move
here. the reason for the closures: retirement. People who have loved
and run their business for 25 and 35 years, but now want to enjoy
time not working. I, as many others in this area, are saddened by
the ending of these businesses and their products/services, but it
is so understandable. I am relieved to know Rio Grande will
continue. I can only imagine the hours of discussion and research
that went into this decision. As with anything we won’t know how
Richline will handle Rio, especially after all the Bells retire. but
hopefully they will continue the tradition of customer service the
product availability they currently do. If they do not, we can voice
our disapproval either verbally, in writing and/or taking our
business elsewhere. But until you have bad experiences why speculate
as to what might happen?

Terry Binnion

Rob, I suspect that you will be taken to task for your comments. You
must be better reading between the lines than I. Molly Bell’s
comments reflect a common event in the world, the young may not want
what their parents have created. Instead of the company dying, they
found a principled company to take them into the future while
rewarding them for their hard work over the years.

I don’t know what you are missing in the box, but all of my contracts
with Rio Grande over the years have been very satisfactory. I am only
a hobbyist, so I would expect to be treated less well than someone
like yourself that probably purchases fairly large amounts. I don’t
feel this to be the case. No matter how small or large the order, I
have always been treated well and the communications have always been

It’s interesting, in reading your history, you have some of the same
issues of succession in your business. You might want to follow the
example of the Bell Group.

Dale Hanson

I really appreciate Molly Bell’s post. It did change my opinion. I
did not understand that the third generation of Bells was not
involved in running the business. Succession planning is critically
important for any business with employees. Not doing it when you
have one the size of Rio’s would be just plain irresponsible. Trying
to find a trustworthy partner to act as the future caretaker of such
a beautiful business must have been difficult, they couldn’t have
found one more famously successful than BH. It’s a much safer bet to
partner with them than to hire a CEO to run it, the CEO can leave,
the partner won’t.

Business is all about change. No matter who runs Rio in the future,
the business will have to evolve and adapt. Hard decisions will
always have to be made and not everyone will like the results. What
makes them easier to swallow is understanding why they were made and
what the choices were. Thanks again for the post Molly.


Dear Molly,

Well said. And congratulations on making what I’m sure was a
difficult decision for everyone.

Best Regards
Michael Knight

I didn’t understand the negative comments about Rio’s next step. Did
anyone think that the present business model was set in concrete? or
any business model or anything else? hell, even concrete crumbles.
Good luck to Rio, I hope they do well and continue the parts about
them that I have always enjoyed(I can’t think of any I didn’t enjoy)
Be profitable and provide good customer just like the rest of us and
we will all be happy. What more can you ask?

Sam Patania, Tucson

I am sad to see another small company get sucked up into the
corporate void. The metamorphosis remains to be seen and hopefully,
will not drive me to take my business elsewhere.

Andrea Krause


I am comparatively new to jewelry making as compared to many of the
posters here, and not only has Rio Grande provided me with great
tools and supplies, but your technicians have helped me endlessly -
and tirelessly - with advice. Heck, Thomas pretty much taught me how
to solder over the phone! I have some insanely-ambitious ideas for my
experience level, and I’ve been able to call your techs and ask them,
“if I want to do this, how do I do it, and how can I do it without
going broke?” And they are always help me realize my ideas without
them just trying to sell me the most expensive things they can. So if
I can continue to pick the brains of your ever-patient and
knowledgeable techs, I will gladly continue to be a satisfied
customer of Rio Grande!

Thank you for your years of great service,
Eleanor Phillips

Dear Molly, Well said. And congratulations on making what I’m sure
was a difficult decision for everyone. Way back in the dark ages- the
early 70’s - I got my first, paying jewelry job. It was on Central
Ave. in Albuquerque, right on the corner of Edith Blvd. It wasa
startup company called “The Squash Blossom”. Nobody knew at the time
that it was the beginning of the boom years for turquoise, native
American jewelry and other products. Out the front door, to the
corner of Edith and down half a block was a tiny little shop called
"Rio Grande Jewelry Supply". I apologize to Molly if I have the names
wrong, but as I recall it was run by a man named Saul Bell and two of
his sons. It was maybe 500 square feet in the showroom, and packed
full of stuff. No catalog that I ever saw. Our company boomed, and at
least once a week we were over there buying silver and whatever else.
I usedto make the run with one of the partners, buying 1000 ounces
every week (@ $2.20, in those days). I remember buying some gold from
Saul for a job, never having worked gold in my life, and he gave me a
bit of a hard time because I didn’'t know WTF I was talking about.
The younger Bells I was aquainted with but not really friends and I’m
sorry I forget their names now. We all flew like rockets in those
days - Squash Blossom bought an old convent with 25,000 square feet
or something, put in a machine shop, heavy duty casting and a fine
lapidary shop, which I ran. Rio Grande, after a time, moved to a huge
building on Washington St. and expanded greatly and went into mail
order, too. You could go there at the time, and then they had some
trouble and went mail order only. Today I don’t know about that, as I
haven’t physically been there in years. The point being that, like
many things, there was a time when Rio Grande was a mom-and-pop
vendor for the local trade and it was just a little shop you went to.
Today it is the major corporation that most readers here know about,
which to my mind means that it’s just not any fun anymore. Instead of
standing at the counter chatting with Charles Loloma, the owners are
dealing with accountants and proofs of the next catalogs and who
knows what all else. Time to retire, time to do what floats your own
boat, and if you get a fine offer from a fine outfit like Berkshire
or affiliates, jump on it.

I wish them well and look forward to seeing them at shows. as what
the future will bring. It is going to be fun.

I am sad to see another small company get sucked up into the
corporate void. 

That was my first thought also. But ironically, the busy bodies who
are constantly inventing new responsibilities and cheering for
expanding legal requirements for businesses probably feel this way
most strongly. Many of us on this forum are in small businesses and
can well understand how difficult it is to run a business
successfully. The bigger a business gets, the more complicated it
becomes, but it also accumulates the knowledge and resources to deal
with a lot of the hassles and legal mandates that cripple smaller
businesses. So many of the employer mandates, environmental and
safety requirements and tax compliance issues that are an enormous
burden to us small guys can have specialized staff in a bigger
company. It is really a wonder there even are ANY small companies

I am glad for the Bells that they seem to have come up with a good
end-game for their family ownership of Rio Grande. We can gossip and
complain and pass judgements on the situation all we want, but
ultimately dealing with them is a business decision. If they have
something I need at a good price I will buy from them. Where the
profits go from my purchases is really none of my business.

Steve Walker