More than three decades ago, Cleta Hunt and her husband lived in St. Thomas Virgin Islands where they managed a business. After moving to Kokomo, Cleta chose to open a jewelry shop because her brother was a wholesaler and was able to access and buy large amounts of jewelry from suppliers.
“He went to Italy and bought chains, so initially we mainly bought gold,” explains Cleta, who opened Gold Fever in 1986. The jewelry store was located in a small shop on S. Main Street though they outgrew that store within a year and moved to their current location on S. Apperson Way. Serving Logansport, Peru, Marion, Tipton, Greentown, Russiaville, Sharpsville and surrounding areas, it is a family-run business that purposely was not named after the family.
“So often families retire and then you have a business with a family name tied to it even though it’s no longer owned by that family. That always seemed silly to me,” Cleta says. “Plus, at the time, we mostly sold 14k, 18k, and 24k gold so we thought Gold Fever was appropriate.” (They later got into diamonds, platinum, silver and more.)
Cleta’s entrepreneurial father helped pave the way for her vision.
“He was a builder who built 100 homes a year. He also owned a motorcycle shop and a coal mine. He even started his own bank,” says Cleta, who learned a lot about determination from her dad. “So often people are afraid to go out on their own, but you can only try. If you fail, try something else.”
Cleta primarily learned about the jewelry business through personal experience, but she also took the GIA appraisal course so she could appraise jewelry.
“That was probably the first formal schooling any of us had,” remarks Cleta, whose daughter, Lesley Cannon, started helping out in the store when she was 12 years old. She began working there full-time at age 18. Cleta’s son, Jason — also a jeweler — started his own store in Hamilton County.
“That left just the women here,” Cleta says.
One of those women is Lesley’s daughter, Aleysha, who first started running around the store at age 2 trying to sell diamonds to customers. Though Aleysha was an adorable “toddler salesman,” she initially planned to pursue a career in the dental field. The summer after graduating from high school, however, Aleysha (now 20), worked at the store part-time and found she really liked it. So, the family sent her to the GIA school in Carlsbad, California. She is both a graduate bench jeweler and also a graduate master diamond grader.
Lesley, who has 28 years of jewelry experience, primarily runs the business now as Cleta considers herself semi-retired, living six months of the year in Vero Beach, Florida.
This three-generation women-run business caters to three generations of loyal customers.
“We have long-time customers who are now grandparents and their children and grandchildren also buy from us,” Cleta says. “Our customers are our friends.”
As is the case with all friendships, they blossom as a result of trust and time.
“They know we’re going to do good work for them and always treat them fairly,” Cleta says. “One of our main focuses is not the selling but the service.”
They repair jewelry when it gets broken and clean it when it gets dull and dingy. In addition, one thing that people like about Gold Fever is that they can trade in old jewelry that they don’t wear anymore for something new. This includes rings, necklaces, even silver and gold coins — anything in the precious metals.
“We’ll take any fine jewelry on trade so they can upgrade or get something they like,” Cleta says.
Gold Fever also has an online presence on eBay where they keep more than 3,000 pieces of fine jewelry, including rings, necklaces, bracelets and Rolexes, listed at all times. It was an idea borne from Lesley because they took so much jewelry on trade and didn’t have the room to showcase the items in the store.
“You either melt them down — and they’re too pretty to melt — or you set them in a drawer and do nothing with them,” Cleta says. “This is a much better way to handle overflow.”
Their online superstore ships every week to all over the world, including Europe, Australia and Canada.
Cleta maintains that the most important part of running a successful business is hiring honest, smart, personable employees.
“Everyone who works here pitches in. Not one of us is immune to emptying the trash or cleaning the bathroom. We work together as a team,” says Cleta, noting that each of their six employees has been with them for a long time. She recognizes, of course, that business ownership is different now than it was when the store first opened.
“Mainly it’s the volume,” she says. “We went from selling $100,000 a year to $2M. We have a lot of inventory and it’s much more time-consuming.”
Years ago, however, they employed just two people. That’s back when they hand-wrote their ledgers.
“We would be closed one day a week because it would take me a whole day to do all the paperwork. I’d have to look in every book to see what the federal withholding was and then go to the state book and look on the charts,” Cleta says.
Her mom, Louise Edlin, who kept the books for her dad’s construction business, helped her set up her bookkeeping and when Cleta got behind on paperwork, she would help her catch up. Through the years, all that has changed as computer programs do much of the work.
“Now it only takes me 10 minutes to do payroll,” Cleta says.
Technology has also evolved. For instance, the owners purchased a diamond tester and a laser welder.
“In times past, jewelers could only use torches to solder with gold,” Cleta says. “That laser welder was the best investment we ever made because now we can get a clean weld.”
As they look to the future, these women are eager to continue serving their content customers.
“One of the best parts of working at a jewelry store — the customers are always so happy,” Cleta says.
Gold Fever is located at 1027 S. Apperson Way in Kokomo. For more information, call 765-459-4311 or visit them online at goldfeverinc.com.