They say when Joyce Crawford entered a room it was like a bright light came with her. Known by all as someone who genuinely cared about others; Joyce and her husband Neb Crawford made a life around their retail jewelry store in Waycross, GA that, today, sustains their four grown children and their grandchildren. For 54 years Crawford Jewelers has been a mainstay in Waycross, Georgia and for 44 of those years Joyce was the face behind the counter. She passed away in May of this year.
“Dad was an excellent watch repairman, but if it hadn’t been for mom’s personality I don’t think the business would be what it is today,” recalls Tim Crawford, third child of Joyce and Neb, and owner/operator of the Fernandina Beach, FL store.
What started as a very small shop in 1957 with a mere $500 and a memo note from Sommers and Sommers, is today a three store chain across two states. Known for their excellent diamond selection and custom design and repair services, Crawford Jewelers employs a team of five jewelers whom, together, have more than 120 years of combined jewelry experience to offer their customers.
Custom work is a hallmark of the business, as is good, honest pricing. Neb believed in doing the best job you can for the customer. He also held true to the belief that manufacturers and wholesalers were just as important as your customers, telling his son Gary, “I don’t care what you have left, at the end of the day you pay your bills.”
All four of the Crawford children have made their way into the business, which is very unusual. Just because mom or dad owns a business doesn’t guarantee their children will follow suit. In fact, a common problem is figuring out what to do with the business when no one wants to continue in it.
Not a problem for the Crawford family. The first and oldest of the four to join was Bruce Crawford in the early ‘70s in the Waycross store. Next was Gary, the second child, who came on board in 1975 despite a little doubt on his part that this was what he wanted as a career: “I told dad I’d try it and see if I liked it. I wasn’t sure.” He stayed on to open the Douglas, GA store in 1985 and has been there ever since.
Then Tim, the third and youngest of the boys, went to the Gemological Institute of America in California before beginning his career in the family business. “I know if it weren’t for my parents I wouldn’t be in the businesses right now,” states Tim. “I’m not sure where I’d be.”
Kim, the fourth and only girl, has worked in the Waycross store across the street from where she grew up since she was 13.
If quality workmanship and integrity were Neb’s calling card then establishing customer relationships was Joyce’s. Characterized as “never meeting a stranger,” recollections of Joyce Crawford always begin with, “she was a people person.” Indeed, it seems the woman behind the man and the counter seemed to thrive on being with people.
“Mom was business smart and she knew exactly what our customers wanted. Many times she would get a call in the afternoon to pick out a piece for someone’s wife and, every time, she would nail it,” says Gary.
“Everyone has a great mother, but we grew up in church with a loving family and my mom always treated people with respect and courtesy. She never thought she was above anyone else. She just really stood out,” remarks Tim.
“My mom always worked and always had a smile on her face,” remembers Kim. “It didn’t matter what the person looked like or what they had on, she was her same loving self to everyone. Mom was also the glue that brought my family together.”
She continued to be a source of wisdom for her children as they maneuvered the many obstacles of running their own business. To this day Gary cites Joyce as the reason the business went from a single store in a strip mall, to a freestanding store, to owning a shopping center, which offered financial stability during the recent economic recession.
But there are many other layers to this successful business wrapped up neatly with family ties. Somehow Joyce and Neb Crawford seamlessly wove tradition, heritage, character and genuine love throughout the lives of their children and the lives of the customers, all at the same time. With Joyce and Neb gone, the glue now becomes the family business. This ‘business’ now becomes the foundation upon which four siblings will carry on their parents’ commitment to their communities and families, as well as life-long, significant customer relationships.
“It is humbling to know just what mom and dad did for us,” states Gary in a low voice. “Very few children have the opportunity to go into a business they own. Mom and dad paid a price for this and they did all the hard work. They gave us more than just a business; they gave us something that will hold us together.”