Rapaport Magazine
Retail

Heart of gold


Creative and caring, the owners of Fox Fine Jewelry in Ventura, California, have gone above and beyond to help their community in times of crisis.

By Joyce Kauf


Giving back to the community is something most jewelers do. But Debbie and George Fox, owners of Fox Fine Jewelry in Ventura, California, have taken community support to a new level. The couple has given away hundreds of free necklaces to people in need of emotional support — from those whose lives have been upended by economic crisis to victims of natural disasters. And while their actions have had a positive impact on their business, that’s not their main motivation. “It’s who we are,” says Debbie Fox.

From downturn to pick-me-up

The recession that hit in October 2008 provided the catalyst. Store traffic went from “normal to nothing,” recalls Fox, with people mostly coming in to sell their jewelry — often pieces with financial and/or sentimental value. “It broke my heart,” she says, after Christmas came and went and Valentine’s Day approached. “I realized that no one would be getting gifts.” As a deeply spiritual person, she wanted to make a difference.

In those pre-social-media days, she placed a notice in the local newspaper pledging to give 100 free sterling silver necklaces to the unemployed. The next day, there was a line down the block. TV crews stood out front, and the Associated Press (AP) had picked up the story.

The phenomenal response prompted Fox to contact the Independent Jewelers Organization (IJO) and other trade groups to get the word out. Based on those combined efforts, an estimated 150 jewelers in the US and Canada followed the store’s lead. Ultimately, Fox Fine Jewelry gave away over 900 necklaces.

“It gave hope and comfort to people who desperately needed it,” she says, “and we got business from people who still had their jobs.”

Shining through the flames

Fox was spurred into action again in December 2017, when the Thomas Fire engulfed the area. The Foxes created four different necklaces that they offered to people who had lost their homes in the wildfire or the subsequent floods: Ventura Wave, Ojai Mountains, Montecito Islands and Thrive 805 — each of which included an 8-point diamond.

“Having a diamond in the design was essential, because it signified value to people who had lost so much; it became more than a necklace — it was a necklace with a diamond,” emphasizes Fox. Her favorite is the “rather cool” Ventura necklace, which features the city logo and reads the same upside down as right-side up.

The response was “tremendous,” according to Fox, with people also wanting to purchase necklaces. “In the spirit of what was going on, we would donate half [the proceeds],” she says. To date, the store has given away over 600 necklaces and raised over $65,000 in support of The United Way’s Thomas Fire and Flood Fund.

Tech-savvy tactics

While Fox has been the driving force behind many of the couple’s community efforts, this former CPA also takes a proactive approach to increasing business.

In an attempt to establish a healthier sales-to-stock ratio, she focused on improving sales of Parade Jewelry Designs, one of the brands they carry. She designed a separate web page for the jewelry, using banner ads and targeted key words to enhance its Google ranking.

Fox is adamant about keeping pace with technology. “I see so many jewelers hoping to do better. But hoping and doing are not the same in a world that has changed dramatically. There is a world of opportunity if you keep learning.”

Her input has also been integral to the store’s design. In 2013, while trying to find an architect who could interpret her vision for their larger shop, she would take colored pieces of felt, cut them into various sizes, and move them around on a felt board to mimic the placement of cases. Even a neglected back alley entrance got her attention. Transformed into a garden patio, it became the first step in creating an inviting pedestrian area for community residents.

“Community involvement is inherent in everything we do,” she says. “It can be a bit chaotic, as with the necklaces, but it is always the most heartwarming experience for us."

foxfinejewelry.com

To stop a thief “We were blindsided,” Debbie Fox admits, after discovering that her top sales associate had stolen a “significant” amount of jewelry earlier this year. “We had tight security to protect ourselves from outside theft. But inside theft? This employee was overly helpful and kind — it seemed unthinkable.”

Through the limited internal controls already in place, Fox caught on, installed a hidden camera and had her arrested. “This employee was the most expensive loss-prevention consultant I could have hired,” she points out. Based on what she’s learned from this devastating experience, Fox offers some tips for other jewelers:

Don’t dismiss odd occurrences

Much as when uncovering a cheating spouse, the Foxes noticed odd things that they simply explained away, rather than asking uncomfortable questions. It wasn’t until later that they connected the separate events. “Dig deeper,” she advises. “If there’s a problem, it’s probably just the tip of an iceberg.”

Look for areas with weak controls

Fox had tight controls on cash and diamond inventory (including weighing the diamonds to avoid a cubic zirconia switch). But during physical inventory, the employee had a list of stolen items she entered as “here.” Luckily, she forgot a few, tipping Fox off.

Ways an employee could exploit vulnerabilities:
  • Stealing “trade-ins.” Whether upgrades or scrap gold, Fox’s employee took it home. Fox now runs weekly reports.
     
  • Stealing “gold buys” and “jewelry not yet in inventory.” Both were stored in the shop’s vault, with no checks against paperwork. Fox has since installed a cabinet with separate locking cupboards, limiting access among the employees.
  •  
  • Manipulating the point-of-sale software. The employee made fake “trade-ins” and reduced prices on repairs and custom orders for her supposed “friends.” She stole items on layaway and special-ordered items for “clients.” Fox is working with her point-of-sale system provider to address security weaknesses by adding permissions, and she’s checking against reports.
  • “It can happen to anyone,” she says. “The security controls are only as good as the people you have trusted. Even if these new protective measures had been in place, I would have given this employee permission, she was so believable. So I’ve learned that separation of duties, and sadly, review by the owner, is the only way to stop a thief sooner.”

    Image: Fox Fine Jewelry Store; foxfinejewelry.com

    Article from the Rapaport Magazine - November 2018. To subscribe click here.

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