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Real Deal

Real Deal: A Ring Reborn, Just in Time for Christmas

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BY KATE PETERSON

Editor’s Note: Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.

Carl shanks, an Andrews, TX, police officer, had been hearing great things about “that jeweler, Mike Fleck” from co-workers, friends and family in nearby Midland for years. Never much of a jewelry buyer, he hadn’t paid much attention — until the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend in 1995, when he came into Occasions Fine Jewelry to ask if Mike could repair his wife’s wedding rings.

Carl was told that Mike was busy playing “Santa,” building Christmas gifts, and wasn’t taking on basic repair jobs until after the holidays.

Cathy Fleck asked to see the job and said she would be happy to take it in and have Mike finish it right after Christmas. Carl handed Cathy the ring, wrapped in blood-stained medical gauze. It looked as if it had been through some sort of crusher. The center diamond was gone as were several of the small side stones.

“What in the world happened to it?” Mike asked. “I’d sure hate to see the finger this was on.”

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Carl explained that on Thanksgiving night, he and his wife, Tammy, were returning home after meeting at a family dinner out of town. Carl was driving his car and Tammy was following behind in hers. A drunk driver swerved into their lane, clipped his car and hit Tammy’s head on.

Being a police officer, Carl reacted quickly, immediately calling for help. Tammy was evacuated to Midland Hospital with a severed left foot, multiple fractures and internal injuries. Skilled surgeons were able to reattach her foot and repair the worst of the damage, saving Tammy’s life.

Shortly after regaining consciousness, Tammy noticed that her wedding ring was gone, and was desperate to know what happened to it.

Carl told her that her ring had flown off her hand and was found later at the crash site, destroyed. He promised her a new ring as a celebration of her recovery, but even that promise didn’t ease the sadness of knowing that she would never wear her original wedding ring again.

Carl had heard that Mike could work jewelry miracles, and brought the ring in with the hope that something could be done.

Mike was so moved by Carl and Tammy’s story that he worked on the ring for hours, night after night, during the busy Christmas season. He was on a mission — the kind of mission that fueled the passion he’d always had for his business and for his customers.

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On Christmas Day, Mike and Cathy drove to Andrews, TX, and knocked on Carl and Tammy Shanks’ door. The Flecks surprised Tammy with her wedding ring, completely restored, good as new. They surprised Carl with a “paid in full” receipt. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house!

Occasions: A Family Passion

Ours is an industry of family businesses — from the mom-and-pop shops in small towns around the country to some of the largest diamond dealers and jewelry manufacturers in the world. A rare gem among these is an operation that has been a shining star in west Texas since 1988 — a store that can best be described as a multigenerational family passion.

Mike Fleck had done all he could to save his small Oklahoma jewelry store, but in the end, his livelihood fell victim to the oil bust of the late ’80s.

A divorced dad looking for a second chance, Mike left Oklahoma (and the newfound girl of his dreams) in 1988, moving to Midland, TX to be closer to his mother, and to take advantage of an uncle’s offer of a space in his drug store to set up a shop. He used $1,700 in credit from a friend who ran a jewelry supply company to buy a bench and the tools he needed to start over.
In those early Midland days, his income came almost exclusively from basic repairs. According to Mike, “I read the paper and wrote a lot of letters and never said no to a job that came my way.”

After a year of letters and daily phone calls, Cathy Horn, the high-energy, red-headed schoolteacher Mike left in Oklahoma, joined him in Texas. They married a year later. Cathy continued to teach in Midland, providing the family’s primary source of income as Mike’s reputation — and his business continued to grow.

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Mike’s first shot at a custom job came from a man who wanted a medical alert bracelet in 14K gold.

Mike remembers that he had to borrow $285 from his mother to make that first piece — and that he was tremendously proud of the result. As his reputation among Midland’s oil society grew, so did Mike’s client list. He became the “best kept secret” in Midland.

Mike spent four years in the drug store, doing repairs and making amazing custom pieces. Although the business was registered as Occasions Fine Jewelry, it was widely known as “Mike at Service Drug.” Once, an affluent socialite, for whom Mike had crafted a 100-carat blue topaz and diamond pearl enhancer was asked by an admiring friend where she got the piece. She replied, “I buy all my jewelry at Service Drug.”

It was about that time that Mike and Cathy knew it was time to get their own place. They settled on an 800-square-foot space in a strip center. Cathy later quit teaching to work with Mike full-time.

Over the next three years, Occasions Fine Jewelry grew into an even bigger, more visible location. Mike’s son Michael took a particular interest in the business, working every summer vacation.

After graduating from college and getting married, Michael returned to Midland with his new bride and a whole new perspective, ready to take the reins at Occasions.

“I have been blessed,” Michael says. “I grew up seeing what genuine passion and vision look like. Thank God my parents couldn’t afford a babysitter! I didn’t realize that it all imprinted on me but it did.”

When recent economic issues presented challenges, the Occasions team stayed the course, continuing to grow their client base while ensuring the best in quality product at a variety of price points. That strategy and their commitment to delivering friendly, personal service has served them well through the recovery. As customers have come back to spending, Occasions’ sales growth has once again been strong.

Now, Cathy and Mike are spending more and more time away from the store, empowering Michael and his team, while pursuing new passions like enjoying their second home in Hawaii. Michael will officially become the president of the company in 2014. He is certain that even then, he will continue to rely on his parents’ wisdom, experience and passion to help shape his success and to make Occasions everything they’d always dreamed their business could be.

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