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Ventura High

California store's perfect design, size and location earns it the title of 'America's Coolest (Big) Store'

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Fox Fine Jewelry, Ventura, CA

URL: foxfinejewelry.com; OWNER: George & Debbie Fox; FOUNDED: 1998; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2014; ARCHITECT/DESIGNER: Jesse Balaity of Balaity Property Enhancement, Sarasota, FL; AREA: 3,146 square feet; COST OF BUILDOUT: $1.1 million; SHOWCASES: JMJ; EMPLOYEES: 8; TOP BRANDS: Beverley K, Denny Wong, Pandora, Parade Designs, Parle Jewelry Designs, POM, Simon Golub, Zealandia; TAGLINE: Ventura’s Brilliant Jeweler


GEORGE FOX SAYS if he were to dream up the ideal store — from size and location, to form and function — he could not imagine anything more perfect than what he and his wife, Debbie, have realized with their Fox Fine Jewelry store, which opened in downtown Ventura in the spring of 2014.

He’s not bragging; more like amazed.

“In Ventura, if someone had said, what would you like your store to look like, and where would you want it, and how big? This would be it. It’s perfect. I can’t think of anything else that would be better,” George says. “Business-wise, it has really blossomed.”

In a way, it’s more than he wanted, responsibility-wise, since he is happiest at work in his shop in the back. “Both of us work crazy hours right now,” he says, as they continue to add staff to keep up with growth.

George, a graduate gemologist, says his domain is the shop, while Debbie’s is the sales floor. They meet in the middle to make important decisions.

While known for custom, Fox’s new space is also abuzz these days with hard-core Pandora collectors, bridal-case browsers and all manner of walk-ins and passersby, thanks to their stellar location between downtown’s only public parking garage and movie theater.

When planning the layout, the Foxes decided to throw open their back door and encourage pedestrians to use their store as a corridor between the garage and the shops on Main. After all, something — a $7,000 Parade Designs bridal setting or a $30 Pandora bead — might catch someone’s eye as they meander through, they surmised. They were right. In fact, they stay open seven days a week, till 10 p.m. on weekends and 7 p.m. on weekdays to accommodate all of that prized pedestrian traffic.

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George is so busy, he’s in the market to hire two new jewelers, which will bring the total to four, including him. His goal is to free up enough time to begin designing his own bridal and fashion lines and set up an estate department, which currently sits in boxes awaiting his attention and refurbishment.

George explains their business philosophy: “As a jewelry store we make money as an incident of making people happy, which is really not a business philosophy. But if I focus on that aspect of the jewelry industry, I’m happier.”

Debbie shares that philosophy. In early 2009, she was touched by all the people coming to her to sell their treasured gold jewelry to pay their rent or mortgage during the recession. When she pledged to give away 100 sterling necklaces to the unemployed for Valentine’s Day, publicity created such a stir that the idea spread. Ultimately 150 jewelers throughout the U.S. participated, and gave away 900 necklaces.

Last Christmas, in honor of the spirit of forgiveness, Fox offered a $125 lab-created aquamarine pendant and earring set for just $25, but only if given to mend a relationship. The program was publicized by two local newspapers and Debbie also placed print ads and promoted it online. The message was reconciliation, but the strong headline grabbed attention: “Give Jewelry to your Enemy.”

The Transformation

Persistence led the Foxes to acquire their building, which had been a head shop — an institution, almost — on Main Street for years. In addition to pipes, it was crammed full of products like fishnets, fluorescent 6-inch platform shoes and pierced body jewelry. It was also sorely in need of complete renovation, a total gut job.

Before the Foxes found it, they’d searched for four years for something suitable, and deals on other properties had fallen through.

While they waited, their old store on the periphery of downtown began to seem smaller and smaller, as their ambitions and inventory grew. And clearly, it was off the beaten path, even though it was only about two blocks away from the main pedestrian area downtown. “If you’re not right in the center of downtown, you may as well be anywhere,” Debbie says.

So when this centrally located property came along, they moved quickly and were in escrow within a week.

The 1920s brick building was originally a meat market, which the Foxes find kind of ironic since George’s father was a butcher, and working for his dad was George’s first job; as it turned out, though, it wasn’t his calling.

The store backs up to an alley, where a long, narrow icehouse on the property has become George’s workshop retreat, conveniently connected by a hallway to the store itself. At 600 square feet, the shop is about the size of the Foxes’ very first Ventura store, which had a 100-square-foot sales floor with barely room for three people.

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The alley had been considered disreputable, but rather than ignoring it, the Foxes decided to renovate their section of it — stringing holiday lights, planting a garden and creating a window with a view of the shop. They’ve made the back entrance just as charming and appealing as the front façade, which was also rebuilt.

One reason George may be amazed at the perfection of the completed store is that he was largely hands-off during the planning stage. He ran the existing business while Debbie immersed herself in the building project with Jesse Balaity of Sarasota, FL, architect and store designer.

Debbie says Balaity was ideal for the project because he is both highly creative and demonstrates a painstaking attention to detail, as well, a dichotomy she seems to share and relate to, with her background in accounting and the arts.

Balaity’s goal was to update the Fox Fine Jewelry brand and introduce modern elements and materials while retaining its “Ventura feel.” In other words, he wanted to make the space appropriately luxurious for the bridal and custom business while still fitting in with the casual streetscape of Ventura.

The most challenging aspect involved putting each inch of the 2,000 square foot showroom space to its best use while balancing many priorities, including an art gallery, which is part of the business. “Fox is very much a full-service jeweler so we had to figure out how to appeal to the bridal market, the custom market, the Pandora customer, and how to accommodate an art gallery in a way that didn’t seem too busy,” Balaity says.

The design they chose creates an intriguing collection of angles and sight lines that make corners appear almost to vanish. A strong linear ceiling element visually connects the two entrances, while display areas are arranged to encourage a meandering path through the store. A variety of case types, heights and materials define different spaces. A combination of old materials, including exposed brick and cypress planks, contrasts with modern glass, wood veneers and LED lighting. Warm wood textures and textured laminates are inviting. Upscale, but not intimidating.

The ceiling and floor design also contributes to carving out defined spaces. The bridal area’s lower ceiling creates an intimate feel. Most of the floor is a 24-inch tile but carpet toward the middle of the store helps muffle sound and further define areas.

“The store looks inviting and welcoming,” Debbie says. “It’s classy and comfortable and people want to buy. We’re selling a lot of impulse purchases in the $100 to $300 range. We’re also finding that people are more comfortable spending money here, making big purchases. It’s a very interesting and wonderful phenomenon.”

PHOTO GALLERY (9 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Fox Fine Jewelry

1. LATEST EVENT: LET THE LAWN GO GOLD.  Teaming up with a local radio station, Fox has created a “Golden Lawn” contest to spread the word about water conservation. People bringing in a picture of their “golden,” rather than green lawn, are entered into a drawing for a $1,000 shopping spree at Fox, to be given away during an event featuring conservation vendors on Aug. 29. Concurrently, Cumulus Radio’s “The Vibe” is running a “Gold is the New Green” contest in which people who post signs in their yards and post photos on Facebook qualify for prizes.

2. DAD-APPROVED CONSTRUCTION.  Debbie’s 81-year-old dad, Al Geller, is a structural engineer. When the Foxes were in escrow, Debbie and Al donned Tyvek suits and headlamps and crawled through broken glass and rusty nails to survey the 2-foot high crawl space under the building. Geller’s input led to the building being reinforced to the hilt — it’s earthquake-safe and as strong as a fortress.

3. SIGNATURE DESSERTS.  Fox’s signature dessert is chocolate-dipped strawberries, which they serve at store events. From about the age of 8, their three daughters began dipping strawberries and arranging food platters. Eventually all of them worked at Fox and have a possible future there.

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4. CONSTRUCT AN AD CAMPAIGN.  The Foxes used the construction barricade of the new store as a billboard. A mobile-friendly URL directed people to follow the construction progress. Later the message was changed to a contest for diamond earrings, also advertised across other media. The final change announced the grand opening.

5. DISPLAY INNOVATIONS.  Diamonds are displayed in a “diamond wall” for clear visibility. Surrounding the wall are counter-height prototype rings on pulleys.

Try This: Practice Detachment

It’s hard to listen to an angry customer, says Debbie Fox. “So I imagine I’m an outside consultant and this isn’t happening to me. Then I can better sympathize with the client and defuse the situation. As painful as the process might be, and as right as I believe I am, many important business changes at Fox originated from disgruntled customers.”

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Paco Underhill:  Nice use of inside and outside space (it is California). Advertising has personality and does not just focus on brands. Making, repairing helps create the perception of unique, which is essential for a small merchant.
  • Pamela Froman:  The wood color with the brick wall and the abstract art on the walls made it a cool store for me. I like how they have art shows at the store, it is a refreshing way to bring people in. I also like how engaging they are on Facebook with questions and information.
  • Jonathan Sanders: Taking the rusticity of the exterior into a modern and beautifully presented interior is very well done.
  • Kevin Reilly:  The back entrance is one of the coolest features. You really get the feeling that you’re entering the “stage door” when using the back entrance to Fox’s.
  • Monica Stephenson:  The store’s owners choose to “lean in” to listen to customers — even unhappy ones. Important business and design ideas have been based on this feedback. Their thoughtful consideration really shows in this design.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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