It’s difficult to start a business, but even more difficult to make it past the small business mortality period of 5 years, during which more than 50% of them go out of business. Make it to 10 years and you’re in a survival group of 34% or less, according to the Small Business Council.
That makes Foshee Jewelers very special. The Lakeland, Florida retailer with 60 years of continuous service not only beat the odds, but blows the stats out of the water. Although he never dreamed he’d be operating his store this long, Clyde is quick to tell you that his kids keep him going.
Thinking back to his beginning in jewelry takes him to 10th grade in the late 1940s. He was, in his own words, a kid who “thought I knew everything.” It took the thoughtful suggestion of a teacher to get the young ‘know-it-all’ boy focused on a future in watchmaking by introducing him to a local watchmaker. Even then, Clyde wasn’t certain horology was for him, at least not until he spent a hot summer working in the orange groves of Lakeland.
“The summer I spent working in the groves left me telling the Lord I’d do anything else if he would just get me out of there.”
Heading to horology school in Jacksonville meant leaving Lakeland. The self-professed “mama’s boy” never fell in love with Jacksonville, even after he graduated and found a job there in 1952. With his mom’s help, Clyde moved back to Lakeland and set up a bench in a local grocery/drug store next to the hardware shop.
Working not only on his jewelry business, but also taking over the fishing and tackle side of the store, meant exposure to just about everyone in the small community, benefiting his new jewelry business tremendously.
“I’d sell everything from fine watches to wire and nails, paint, fish bait and tackle,” remembers Clyde. “No one else had a store like mine and I think that helped me build business.”
For 20+ years Clyde worked in that same store off Memorial Boulevard. He advanced in his responsibilities and even took over the restaurant part of the store for a few years. But he’s quick to say, “it was too much for me. It was a nightmare because the restaurant business isn’t like jewelry. The hours are long and staffing is difficult. If my family hadn’t helped me out I wouldn’t have gotten through it.”
It wasn’t until 1975 that he moved into his own place in Ingraham Plaza. By this time he had a loyal customer base who knew his character was as good as his bench skills. Bottom line – his customers trusted him.
Over the years his children and extended family joined the business. Clyde taught each child about watches, and today two of his three children work with him.
“If it weren’t for my kids I don’t know if I’d still be doing this. I taught them about watches, but I was never interested in clocks. So when my son became interested in clocks I asked a master clock maker to allow him to apprentice for a short while and, today, my son Chris is a master mechanic himself.”
Clyde’s daughter Pam is on staff handling repair and custom work alongside of daughter-in-law Duska, who is also part of the Foshee team. Getting up every morning to go to work with his family is one of the best parts of his day. When he’s off a day or two he misses them.
Clyde has faced tough economic times during his 60 years in business. Surviving them required the willingness of people in the jewelry industry to help one another.
“Seven years ago, during the bad economy times, I had a jeweler friend who was also struggling. We started buying gold together. He and his family were from Armenia and they smelted gold. They barely spoke English and his two older boys did jewelry repair for me. I gave them trade work and helped them for a little while. They are so grateful now they won’t stop doing favors for me.”
Clyde has always helped others, but in a quiet way. Currently he’s allowing a struggling Hispanic family to set up a food wagon on his property and their success is enormous.
“It feels like the right thing to do,” says Clyde. “It’s just in my nature to help others and it generally comes back to me.”
When asked about his keys to success, the first thing Clyde points to is good, old fashioned hard work. Pointing to lots and lots of perseverance over his 60 years is what he says has kept him going.
“There’s been times when I thought, ‘ok, this is it!” recalls Clyde. “But my family has always supported me. You’ve got to get a great education and be flexible, because there’s no telling where this industry is going.”
Congratulations to Foshee Jewelers on 60 successful years.
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