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Best of the Best: Fox Fine Jewelry’s Community Bailout

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Fox Fine Jewelry takes on the recession with a Valentine’s Day giveaway

 

DEBBIE FOX, co-owner with her husband, George, of Fox Fine Jewelry in Ventura, CA, realized the extent of her customers’ financial suffering in the fall of 2008, when they started bringing in sentimental, heirloom pieces for her to sell — sometimes in tears. Despite the emotional toll it was taking, they wanted the jewelry sold quickly. It was obvious they needed money to pay their rent or mortgage. “This was not the kind of jewelry people just found at the bottom of their jewelry boxes. This kind of sentimental jewelry — their mother’s or grandmother’s rings — is the last thing that people will sell. It was very upsetting to see this happening.” By January, Fox realized that a lot of people in Ventura wouldn’t be able to buy Valentine’s Day gifts. Unemployment in California had reached 10 percent.

 

 

THE IDEA: “I came up with the idea that I would give away up to 100 sterling necklaces, boxed and gift-wrapped. I thought it might take till May to give them away — we are in a relatively small community of 100,000 — so I only bought 30 of them at first.” Fox contacted a reporter at the Ventura County Star, who published only a brief item. Still, word spread quickly during the week before Valentine’s Day. “By the time I got to work all of the networks had shown up,” she says. People lined up in front of her store for the necklaces; several drove three hours to get there. Beginning to see the popularity of the idea, Fox contacted IJO and asked fellow members to join in the effort.

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THE EXECUTION: Fox bought out a couple of styles from Classic Imports and Cherie Dori. Eventually she chose three different styles of heart necklaces and two other necklace styles. She gave away close to 200 before Valentine’s Day; in total, 46 IJO members committed to giving away at least 100 necklaces each valued at up to $99 and purchased from a variety of IJO vendors, including Quality Gold. Jewelers asked only that the recipients show them a notice of job termination or home foreclosure. “People came in and would tell us their stories. It changed us,” Fox says. “It affected all of our staff. So many people just burst out crying and so many of them were men.” Fox believes the fact that necklaces are not a necessity is what made the gesture stand out. “If I had been giving out loaves of bread, it wouldn’t have been news,” she says. “It became a symbol for many people about what each of us could do.”

 


THE REWARDS: “Jewelry sales is an area in which you really need to develop trust,” Fox says. “People have said anyone who is giving away something for nothing is someone I can trust. I think it’s going to be amazing for us in the long-term. We’ve had a number of e-mails from people saying, ‘You know, when I have a job I’m coming back here.” Many regular customers have told her, “I’m proud to be your customer.” Other first-time customers showed up just to buy something — anything — to support her business. Fox says the publicity was welcome, but the rewards went far beyond any potential business gain. “What happened was that we came to value and understand giving as its own reward,” she says. “Now I feel compelled to take this forward. It’s been a wonderful thing to give and to inspire others to give.”

 

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TRY IT YOURSELF: “At the beginning, I said I’m doing this because I can,” Fox says. “That’s really been the message: What can I do? What can we all do?”

 

 

SOME OF THE E-MAILS FOX HAS RECEIVED

 

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“I lost my job of 28 years — the only job I ever had. No one is hiring now and my house is next …. My sister was watching TV and called me and told me. I went to the list of jewelers you had posted and there was one right around the corner from me! I went there and yes they did give me a necklace. All I did was cry when I was sharing my story with them. I tried not to but until you are there in that situation you can’t understand the hurt and despair. The two ladies in there were so so wonderful, friendly and compassionate,
and that is why my heart let loose with tears.”

 

“Our family lived in a four-bedroom house. We sold our rental to keep the house, but lost it and moved to a condo. Now we are living in a one-bedroom apartment. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the necklace for my wife.”


“I heard of the story on the news that Fox Jewelers was generously giving away a free necklace. I knew that I couldn’t afford anything for my wife of 28 years so I was relieved. A year ago I lost my job as an art director. In the ’90s I would spend thousands of dollars on jewelry for my wife; now I can barely afford a greeting card. Thank you for your kindness.”

 

“Thanks and God bless for the necklace; my wife now swears all our jewelry will come from you.”

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