When Jan Fergerson was 17, then–Ford, Gittings & Kane Jewelers co-owner Joseph Gittings asked her to work as seasonal help at his jewelry store during the anticipated busy Christmas season of 1973. That was 38 years ago. Literally growing up in the Rome, Ga.–based store, today Fergerson is one of five equal partners in the family business—along with Gittings’ four daughters.
Succession planning that includes a non–family member is never a simple task for a multigenerational business. But FGK isn’t like most jewelry stores, and Gittings isn’t like most jewelry store owners. With a caring paternal quality to his management style, Gittings recognized early on that the daughter of a friend he met doing charity work in the community would become the jewelry store owner’s “fifth daughter.”
Fergerson has always been considered “like family” with her unwavering support of Gittings’ vision for the store, and the goal she shares with his four daughters to take the jewelry store to higher heights.
Early on Fergerson bought in to Gittings’ core business philosophy that a jewelry store owner can always grow the business from the jeweler’s bench with quality repair service and craftsmanship with custom work. In addition to these two core competencies, Gittings also believes in selling only the finest diamonds, high-end colored stones, and exclusive jewelry collections to their market.
Jan Fergerson, Joseph Gittings, and Alice Herring
“He always held the inventory we sell and the jewelry we make to the highest possible standard,” says Fergerson, secretary and treasurer of FGK.
In 1958, Gittings was an equal partner with William Ford and William Kane. Given his skills as a bench jeweler (watchmaking, repair, and engraving), Gittings performed a majority of daily work in the store, including roughly 90 percent of the sales, and jewelry and watch repairs. Fergerson saw how busy her boss was and wanted to do something—even if it was one task—that would lessen Gittings’ demanding daily workload. So Gittings taught Fergerson to replace Speidel watch bands.
From that single lesson Gittings knew investing in Fergerson’s industry knowledge would be money well spent. From 1975 to 1984, Fergerson earned her accreditations from the American Gem Society in diamonds and colored stones, and became a certified gemologist and certified gemologist appraiser. During that nine-year stretch of AGS correspondence courses for Fergerson, Gittings bought out his partners in 1980.
Of Gittings’ four daughters, the youngest, Alice Herring, works side-by-side with Fergerson, while the other three daughters have equal shares of the family business but have careers outside the store. “My sisters worked in the store at young ages, but didn’t have the opportunity to make a career choice of working in the family business like I did after my father bought out his partners in 1980,” says Herring, president of FGK.
In 1996, Gittings asked Fergerson and his four daughters to meet him at his lawyer’s office. On that day, Gittings shared another vision for the store: making the five women equal partners in the store, each with 20 percent shares. Fergerson, Herring, and Gittings’ other three daughters took on legal titles in accordance with Gittings’ estate document signed that day, and the eventual buyout of his business from the five women, was completed in 2006.
“My lawyer and my accountant thought I was nuts, thinking that putting five women together in a business would get along,” says Gittings. “But they didn’t know these five women like I do.”
Fergerson is not only like a daughter to Gittings; she’s also like a sister to Herring and her three older siblings. Herring, who’s 12 years Fergerson’s junior, can’t recall a day when she hasn’t seen her working in the family store.
Herring, like her father, is the thinker and visionary of the family business, with her main tasks working with vendors on buying inventory. Fergerson enjoys selling on the floor, and excels in sales and her marketing and public relations roles with the store’s community outreach commitments.
Fergerson and Herring make a majority of the business decisions with Herring’s three older sisters investing complete faith in their shared business competencies. “They’re our three cheerleaders,” says Herring.
At 84, Gittings still plays an advisory role in FGK. And he even chips in at the jeweler’s bench. As he looks ahead in his “trying-to-retire years,” Gittings is confident that the future is in good hands, and that his long-term business plan and the vision behind it will remain intact.
“Jan is like a daughter to me,” says Gittings. “I have great confidence in Jan, Alice, and my girls to take this business in to the future. Jan’s daughter Michele, although a newcomer, has a keen interest in the business at a young age—just like her mother.”