How Jewelers Support Their Communities

Generosity extends beyond the Christmas season for jewelers who give back to the areas that support their stores

Generosity and charity are alive and well in the jewelry industry.

Virtually all members of the JCK Retail Jewelers Panel said in a recent poll that they actively support charities. Their generosity is not a choice, they feel, but a moral obligation and good business. And as Susan Johnson of Harrison Enterprises in Virginia Beach, Va., says, “I feel it is important to give back to the community the support they have given my store over the years.”

“The golden rule is always a good one to follow,” adds Jennie Lee Ellis of Ellis Jewelry in Gunnison, Colo., referring to the Biblical admonition to treat others as we would like them to treat us.

David Flory of David Flory Jewelers in Woodland, Cal., elaborates: “We live in Woodland and are raising our children here. We feel it is our responsibility as good citizens to help whenever and wherever we can. Community support of non-profit organizations makes for a strong community for all of us.”

Who benefits? The charities that win these jewelers’ support comprise a nearly endless list, but hospitals, schools, churches and synagogues are common themes. The United Way, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Red Cross, March of Dimes, City of Hope and other charities also find a great deal of support within the jewelry community. Other recipients include organizations that support sick and homeless children, cultural groups (arts, ballet, opera, symphony, theater and museums) and youth activities (Boy/Girl Scouts, Big Brothers/Sisters and local youth athletic teams).

Jewelers show their support for these organizations in many ways. Most contribute financially or donate merchandise to be used to raise money. Some volunteer time &endash; their own and sometimes their employees’. The most dedicated sponsor or participate in fund-raising events. Of the panelists who responded, 47% had sponsored or cosponsored a charity event and 74% had participated in a fund-raising event.

By most accounts, these fund-raisers have been enormously successful. Twenty-three percent of the events raised $10,000-$25,000 each and 27% raised more than $25,000. The cost to the business? Most jewelers found that costs were predictable and generally totaled less than $5,000, including merchandise donations, financial contributions and staff time. Most jewelers seemed pleased with their accomplishments and said they’re eager to participate again.

Here’s how some jewelers gave back.

RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE

Ken Flaks, owner of Yakima Diamond Center in Yakima, Wash., is active in the Yakima Sunrise Rotary Club. Each year, the Rotary and the Yakima County Greenway Foundation raise money through the Great Yakima Duck Race.

Local companies participate in the fund-raiser by donating merchandise for prizes. Unlike the “Shop ‘Til You Drop” contribution arrange-ment (see next item), the Duck Race involves a straight contribution, says Flaks. (This year, Yakima Diamond Center donated a $1,000 diamond. As a member of the Rotary, Flaks also donated time.)

Here’s how the race works: People pay $5 for a ticket that “purchases” a rubber duckie. Each duck has a bar code corresponding to a ticket number. (The ducks, which are used for other fund-raisers, must be cleaned and individually labeled with bar codes for each race.) On the day of the race, the ducks (16,000 of them this year!) are packed into an enormous tube that’s hoisted high above the Yakima River by crane. Then the ducks are released and float (ahem, race) 400 yards to the finish line. A search-and-rescue team retrieves the “flock” after the race.

This year’s grand prize was a new pick-up truck. Some other prizes included a color TV and a vacation for two, as well as Yakima Diamond Center’s diamond.

Flaks and a new member he was sponsoring together sold more tickets than any other Rotary member, earning them the traditional honor of chairing next year’s race. All told, more than 15,000 tickets were sold for a net profit of more than $47,000, split evenly between the Rotary and Greenway. (The Rotary helps to fund various youth organizations, including Scouts, Red Cross and youth camps. The Greenway Foundation reclaims areas around the Yakima River and turns them into parks and walkways.)

Perhaps those who participate do so partly because of the fun. But Flaks speculates they’re also happy to support the development of their town and their children.

SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP!

Retailers give consumers a chance to “Shop ‘Til You Drop” in an annual fund-raiser that benefits a shelter for battered women at the YWCA of Yakima, Wash. Among the participating retailers are Dunbar Jewelers and Yakima Diamond Center.

Here’s how the fund-raiser works. Retailers contribute an amount that winners can spend in their stores. Then the retailers and YWCA members sell chances to win a “Shop ‘Til You Drop” shopping spree. Winners visit the stores and select the merchandise they want &endash; up to the limit of their winnings. The YWCA then writes a check to each store for up to half of what the winner “spent.” Retailers decide their own level of participation from 50% (they get back 50% of the retail value of their merchandise) to 100% (they donate the full retail amount and get no money back).

Ken Flaks of Yakima Diamond Center, says this arrangement works out particularly well for jewelry stores if they choose to participate at the 50% level. When the store is reimbursed for half of the merchandise, it basically breaks even. “What we’re really donating is our profit,” he says.

This year, organizers sold 4,700 tickets at $5 apiece and raised $23,500. After prize payouts, advertising costs and miscellaneous expenses, the fund-raiser netted $14,000 for the shelter. First prize was a $10,000 (retail value) shopping spree divided among several participating stores: $5,000 at Yakima Diamond Center, $2,500 at J.C. Penney, $1,000 at Nordstrom, $1,000 at Costco and $500 at Luv’s Hallmark. Dunbar Jewelers offered a $2,500 shopping spree to the second-place winner.

The special event is publicized through print, television and radio ads. Much of the advertising is provided for free or at reduced rates, and it features all sponsoring merchants. Pat Gilmore, president of Dunbar Jewelers, says the publicity received would cost much more than the amount of the donation. “It’s a good way to keep our name out there,” says Gilmore, and an even better way to help the shelter.

WINTER IN JULY

Five years ago, Tapper’s Fine Jewelry and Gifts, then in Southfield, Mich., came up with a unique way to give back to the community: a winter coat drive in the middle of summer.

While most people had their minds on summer fun, shorts and T-shirts, Tapper’s thought about chills, snow and those who couldn’t afford to keep warm in winter. Howard Tapper tied the seasons together with coat-drive slogans such as: “Give the warmth of summer to someone who will really need it this winter.”

For each clean, wearable adult or child’s winter coat donated, Tapper’s awarded a $10 gift certificate toward a jewelry purchase of at least $50. The drive was advertised in newspapers and in the store. All coats collected in the drive were given to the Pontiac Lighthouse, the oldest human emergency services agency in Oakland County, Mich. The agency provides food, clothing, housing, transportation, prescription drugs and other services to those in need.

The first summer winter coat drive was so successful that it has

become an annual event. Last year, the store moved from Southfield to neighboring West Bloomfield, but the coat drive continued and the community continued to give. Now in its fifth year, the store has collected more than 2,000 coats.

“In the cold of winter, a coat is worth its weight in gold,” says Steven Tapper.

BIRMINGHAM SUPPORTS CHILDREN WITH CANCER

The Downtown Birmingham Fall Spectacular has been pulling the city of Birmingham, Mich., together for seven years to support a worthwhile cause: helping children with cancer.

The event, organized this year by Richard and Debbie Astrein of Astrein’s Creative Jewelry, raised money for the Pediatric Cancer Survivors Scholarship Fund of William Beaumont Hospital. Dr. Charles Main, chief of pediatric hematology/oncology at the hospital, designed the scholarship fund in 1992 to help his young cancer patients achieve their goal of a college education. He came up with the idea after noticing that some patients had trouble maintaining their grade point average in high school because of frequent hospitalizations.

In addition to giving a positive message to children with cancer, the event also generates pride and lets the city show off what it has to offer. Set up under huge tents in a downtown parking lot, this year’s gala on Wednesday, Sept. 20, included hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar, antique and gallery displays and a silent auction. The auction included more than 200 items that ranged from jewelry and clothing to furs and salon pampering certificates. (Astrein’s donated 11 pieces with retail values from $300 to $1,300. David Wachler & Sons Jewelers, Duke Gallery, Elements, Greenstone’s, House of Watch Bands, Mount & Repair and Two Sisters Jewelry each donated a jewelry item.) Twenty local restaurants provided delectables. The festivities continued with WNIC radio personality Jim Harper as emcee and a much-publicized fashion show highlighting downtown stores and boutiques. Tickets cost $25 in advance, $35 at the door and $100 for patron admission (reserved seating, complimentary bar and valet).

Nearly 11,000 attended the event, raising $70,000 for the scholarship fund. Main awarded three scholarships that evening.

Richard Astrein admits that planning such an event takes a lot of work. Organizing the publicity (the event was featured in news reports and detailed in direct mailers sent to 100,000 homes), auction, fashion show and food kept him away from his business quite a bit. But he was able to commit the time because his brother Gary, co-owner of the store, was so supportive. “We’re a family business…that’s the only way I can do it.”

WHAT ARE YOUR PRIME METHODS OF CHARITY SUPPORT?

Merchandise donation 87%
Financial donation 81%
Volunteer time/service 42%
Volunteer use of business name 17%
Volunteer use of business for fund-raiser 15%
Volunteer use of business staff 13%
Source: JCKRetail Jewelers Panel