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How This California Jewelry Retailer’s Brainstorm Fostered a Sense of Unity in the Midst of Natural Disasters

After cities are devastated by fire and mud, jewelers offer emotional boost.

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A powerful message on a burned-out Ventura home.

With fire raging through Ventura, CA, on the night of Dec. 4, Debbie and George Fox left their home and took refuge in their car. When they finally could make it to their downtown store, Fox Fine Jewelry, they camped out on the floor. Within a couple of days though, before the smoke had begun to clear, the Foxes were looking for ways to help their neighbors, many of whom had lost their homes to the Thomas fire.

Fox has a tradition of giving away jewelry to people in need of an emotional boost. In 2009, Fox Fine Jewelry offered a free “Hearts of Hope” sterling silver pendant to the unemployed on Valentine’s Day, an initiative that garnered tremendous goodwill in the community and, over time, around the country. Years later, recipients return to the store, wearing their necklaces and sharing their stories of how they pulled themselves out of the recession. They still remember the retailer’s kindness that gave them hope during a bleak time, and many have become loyal customers.

This time, they decided the giveaway had to be even more significant. So they designed a Ventura Wave necklace with a 5-point diamond. “I encouraged people who lost their homes to take this as a gift that had meaning in the beginning of their healing,” Debbie says. “Because most of these people in Ventura, at least those who left on that first night, left with nothing.”

They wanted to give something to everyone who had lost their home. At first, that number seemed to be about 150. But by Dec. 14, 900 homes in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties had been destroyed. The fire had burned more than 242,500 acres and was only 30 percent contained. Within weeks, 175 people had come to the store to claim a necklace. 

In response to the expanding devastation, George designed a second pendant, too, with the message “Thrive 805,” for residents within the whole area code, recognizing that the tragedy had spread beyond their town. A pendant for the community of Ojai soon followed. Floods were followed on Jan. 9 by mudslides that devastated Montecito and killed 23 people. And as more people who did not lose their houses began buying them as a symbol of unity, they decided to donate half of the proceeds to the Thomas Fire and Flood Fund.

“We were grief counselors,” Debbie says. “People were coming in with their masks on and crying, showing us videos of their houses going up in flames.”

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Jewel-Craft helped them keep up with the demand as orders outstripped their shop’s capacity. Within a couple of months, they’d given away 500 necklaces and raised $50,000 for charity. Still, they struggled just to cover costs from overtime and credit card fees to boxes, wrapping, administrative costs and commission. It drained resources in the shop and the sales floor. 

Christmas shopping in Ventura was not what anyone expected, but Fox Fine Jewelry saw crowds every day as a result of their generosity. “The amount of good will that we have created from this simple act puts our business in a completely different light for people,” Debbie says. “This necklace is becoming a symbol of strength. It’s becoming an iconic kind of thing.”

The giveaway has been featured on local TV news and on the front page of the local paper. And it gave the Foxes something they weren’t afraid to advertise. “The necklaces made all the difference. Our Christmas was almost as good as the year before, which is really amazing, because I had written Christmas off.” People began bringing in their fire-ravaged jewelry for restoration, too. “It’s built a level of trust you can’t buy,” Debbie says. “You cannot advertise your way into this. There’s something important about being given something by a stranger. It’s just precious to people.”


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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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Gene the Jeweler Gets Kicked Out of the Studio

In the latest episode (#42) of Gene the Jeweler, Gene is going about his business, recording a new episode. But that doesn’t last long. Four-time NFL Pro Bowl leading rusher Ahman Green walks in, and Gene finds that his time in the studio is over — whether he likes it or not. (See more Gene the Jeweler episodes at instoremag.com/gene.)

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These Ocean City Jewelers Bury Treasure in the Sand

Promotional event benefits children’s charity.

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JUST IMAGINE HOW cool it would be to associate your business with the most popular activity in your community.

In Ocean City, MD, the beach, of course, is the focal point. And Park Place Jewelers’ Atlantic Avenue store commands its own share of attention in its prime spot on the boardwalk.

Along with diamonds, bridal and high-end branded jewelry, owners Todd and Jill Ferrante offer a wide variety of sea-life and nautical jewelry, particularly in their beach location — everything from sterling silver souvenirs to an exquisite, one-of-a-kind diamond mermaid piece. “We have to appeal to everyone,” Jill says, since everyone walks past on the boardwalk, even kids looking for souvenir charms.

They support myriad charities, from Coastal Hospice and the American Cancer Society to the Worchester County Society. And they have immersed themselves in the community by supporting local charities, hosting an annual Treasure Hunt at the Beach, and setting up pop-up shops during renowned fishing tournaments. The Treasure Hunt at the Beach has raised $25,000 over seven years for a children’s charity.

Here’s how it works. Participants donate $20 for the chance to dig in the sand for buried treasure, and everyone is let into the fenced-off area at the same time. Treasure ranges from loose gemstones and finished jewelry to the grand prize of diamond earrings. The treasure itself is not on the beach — little black treasure bags containing a tag describing the prize are buried about 4 to 6 inches under the sand. Odds are good; a maximum of 100 participants dig for 50 prizes, some of which are donated by their vendors or sold to them at a discount.

Treasure hunters can use only their hands to dig; no shovels or rakes. “We don’t want to make it too hard for them,” Jill says. “But they tell us in some cases it’s the hardest workout they’ve ever had, moving sand around for 15 minutes or half an hour!”

“Participants love it,” Todd says. “Once you find one prize, you take your prize up to the store, give the tag to the sales associates and they give you the prize.”

If all the prizes aren’t located within about 30 minutes, Todd launches into a trivia contest for the few remaining prizes.

This is the kind of contest that promotes itself. It’s listed as one of the weekend events on the city’s website. “A lot of people check that website when they’re coming into town,” Todd says. “We’re usually sold out before Saturday even gets here.” The hunt takes place once on Saturday and once on Sunday. Participants must register in person and make the donation in advance. It’s covered by the local newspaper and TV stations. People can watch the hunt from their balconies.

The event initially had to be approved by the mayor and city council.

After five years, though, it was considered established and only an annual permit renewal is required. Local sponsors sell refreshments along the boardwalk. “People have fun doing it and a one out of two chance of winning, all to benefit a charity that is close to everyone’s heart,” Todd says. “Being in business means giving back to the community.”

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Florida-Based Mayors Jewelers Seeks Connection With Young Luxury Shoppers

The Watches of Switzerland invests in well-respected brand.

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WHEN WATCHES OF Switzerland Group bought Mayors Jewelers group in 2017, it was already well-run and well-established, but out of date, thought Brian Duffy, CEO of Watches of Switzerland, the biggest retailer of luxury watches in the UK.

“Mayors has been around since 1907 in Florida and it’s very well-regarded in the local community. Everybody loved it, but we got some comments like, ‘It’s where my parents bought their engagement rings.’ It had aged as a brand. The whole plan has been to update the brand to appeal to younger customers. We updated the logo, changed the façade and introduced a new store format.”

One of the most important decisions they made, according to group executive VP David Hurley, was to keep the Mayors name. The brand was good, but could get much better with investment in digital, brick-and-mortar, and especially, support for the strong teams of employees already in place, who received in-depth brand education under new management.

June debut: The first new Mayors flagship store is scheduled to open in June at the Merrick Park Mall in Coral Gables, FL. The 5,657 square foot open-concept space, designed by MNA, will feature luxury watches.

Mayors operates in Florida and Georgia with a portfolio of 17 stores. A retailer of luxury products and service, the group features brands such as Rolex, Cartier, Omega, TAG Heuer, Mikimoto, Bulgari, Messika and Roberto Coin, as well as its own collections of bridal, diamond and gold jewelry. In addition to the Mayors acquisition, Watches of Switzerland also launched flagship branded stores in New York City and Las Vegas as part of their entry into the U.S. market.

Their market research indicated that millennials are as interested as any other generation in luxury watches and jewelry if conditions are right. But outdated store decor and inadequate digital presentation were holding Mayors back from its potential to offer the kind of experience that would hook younger shoppers. The reinvented Mayors is particularly interested in consumers in their mid-30s. “The important age is 35; it’s always been that way and still is,” Duffy says.

To update the buying experience, WOS launched an interactive website, as well as two magazines with free digital circulation, one of which focuses on watches.

Redesigned websites and marketing reflect sleek store design.

Online concierges are available to help shoppers through text chat or video chat on the redesigned website. “But obviously, we’re trying to make the whole website as self-navigational as possible,” Duffy says. “We’re having the easiest form of dropdowns and product selections and using the most advanced systems, so as you navigate around the website, the information it gives back is interactive and intelligent.”

The in-store experience also needed a modern edge, a project expected to be completed by the fall across all storefronts. “Having stores that are appealing and non-intimidating, that welcome people in with a big emphasis on hospitality, is the goal,” Duffy says. “Staff members don’t have to stand behind counters. The emphasis is on self-help and engagement with salespeople when they’re ready. “

The redesigned store facades have a distinctive monochromatic look with white banding and a black background. The store design meshes with both the style of the advertising and the brand’s sleek new packaging, rendered in black and silver. “We haven’t held back at all on the quality of the materials or the lighting,” Duffy says.

The look, feel and function of the store must be evaluated every few years. Says Hurley: “We believe in constantly investing in our stores. As soon as you stop doing that, the stores start to look tired, sales go down and you get into a vicious cycle.”

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This Store’s Murder Mystery Killed at the Party

Events coordinator enlists customers to stage murder mystery she wrote herself.

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LYNNETTE SOLOMON HAD never thought of herself as a playwright, but as special events coordinator at MJ Miller & Co. in Barrington, IL, she isn’t afraid to try new things.

“When we do an event, we always try to do something the customer can participate in — toga parties, pirate parties; those tend to work out the best for us. It’s a great way to get people engaged and wearing the jewelry.”

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But when it came to trunk shows, she realized they needed something to spice them up for her clients who craved the kind of interactive, in-store experience that really could be described as an experience.

So Solomon spent a whole year writing a murder mystery and pitched it to owner Michael J. Miller as a way to create drama around designer Victor Velyan’s two-day visit. Velyan’s dramatic jewelry designs seemed perfect for such an

event, especially because they’re less traditional and very different in style from anything else in the store, Solomon says. She debuted both the concept and the play itself over two days in October.

A dozen customers were invited to be characters. Another small group came just to watch.

Of course, each character was wearing jewels from Velyan’s collection, and each was teamed up with a staff member so they received personal attention.

“A lot of the characters had a back story with Victor, so they had to pay a lot of attention to Victor,” Solomon says.

Velyan, known for his global exploration, was one of the central characters. “

The scenario? Velyan, returning from his latest adventure in Africa, brought his whole new couture line to the store and thieves lay in wait to steal his new collection.

Sales associates invited clients based on whether they thought they’d enjoy it; many also had a history of purchasing Velyan’s pieces.

Sandy and Greg Kern of Arlington Heights were invited — and thrilled — to participate. “People were given a dossier on their character and told to dress in costume. My character was a teacher, and so I was supposed to dress in a pretty plain way — in a tweed skirt,” says Sandy. Greg’s character was a chemist.

“Everybody had a fabulous character, and some people did an amazing job of dressing like their characters,” Sandy says. “It was a lot of fun.”

Characters were invited, of course, to try to figure out who the murderer was.

“In our group, no one got who the murderer was,” Sandy says. “It was so clever, it was wonderful. It involved people in the store and with the fabulous jewelry, we had a great time.”
Diversions were built into the plot.

“The twist was that I had a police officer (an actor) come in and tell Mr. Miller there had been an incident at his home and he had to leave,” Solomon says. “Then someone ran out from the back and announced that a character was killed in the back of the store.”

Solomon was the narrator as well as the playwright and experienced opening-night jitters.

“I was very nervous, but everybody really had a great time,” she says.

Even the store’s signature drink, the Gold Rush, played a pivotal part in the action.

There were appetizers, sweets and bourbon-spiked punch. The soundtrack featured Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” and Hall and Oates’ “Man Eater.”

Props in the showcases doubled as clues.

At the end of the day, the drama had the best possible ending: there were a number of pending sales.

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