From 100-square-foot showroom to America’s Coolest in 18 years

I was never a fancy girl. I was known as a free spirit, which is a nice way of saying that I did as I pleased regardless of convention. You could find me jumping out the window because it was faster than the door, or doing aerial cartwheels across the street. I loved art, music and dance, and wanted to be a ballerina. Instead I became a CPA. (Go figure. Even I can’t put that together.) I’m insanely competitive, but became very involved in yoga and meditation. Not your typical jeweler personality

My husband, George, and I moved to Ventura 18 years ago and started Fox Fine Jewelry on a shoestring. George made all of our inventory and crammed it into our 100-square-foot showroom. We moved from one end of our short Main Street to the other, both poor locations. During that time I’d listen to other jewelers’ success stories and feel frustrated. I doubted we’d ever rise to that level.

Two years ago we purchased a building in the best possible location on Main Street and virtually gutted it. When the buildout was complete, I decided to enter the America’s Coolest Store contest. I figured we had a pretty cool store. But I was not prepared for the grand palaces of the other contestants! I’m glad I hadn’t paid much attention to past winners or I might not have entered. I thought you were judged only on your interior, and we certainly didn’t build a big, traditional store


Winning is similar to the increase in value given to a ‘best of show’ artwork. it’s the same piece, but now there is public agreement.


Turns out, being the “Coolest” is based on much more. There are six areas of evaluation — story, exterior, interior, advertising, online presence and individuality— each with different weighting.

While we did well in all categories, it was our score in individuality that nailed it. Funny, being our unique selves is actually what helped us win. (Our individuality: During the recession we began giving necklaces to the unemployed, which spread across the industry. During the holidays, we sold $150 jewelry sets for $25 if gifted to reconcile a broken relationship. We’re an art gallery and have events with games like ‘Pin the Diamond on the Ring.’)

When the Coolest Store issue came out it was wonderful! Winning is similar to the sudden increase in value a given to a “Best of Show” artwork. It’s the same piece, but now there is public agreement and a title. We received No. 1, and our world changed. Vendors offered product and we became more respected in the industry. Job candidates were attracted to us. Local media and social media exposure strengthened our client base. Through it all I thought, “There is no tangible difference between yesterday and today.” Yet there was, and it was a very big and permanent change.

Sometimes I was uncomfortable. I was no longer anonymous, in the industry or our town. Normally I enjoy a stage, but sometimes I don’t want to dress the part. It also took me a while to fully accept the award internally. I kept looking over my shoulder, “You mean me? You picked me?” I grew more confident in my choices and abilities, but it took several months (my husband never doubted us for a moment.).

You don’t have to have a $5 million buildout to be successful or win America’s Coolest Stores. Your store does need to be excellent and a reflection of you. Oh, and it needs to be very, very cool.


Debbie Fox owns Fox Fine Jewelry, 2015 America’s Coolest Store (Big Cool division), in Ventura, CA, with her husband, George.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 edition of INSTORE.



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