Every day, the staff at Bigham Jewelers eats in for a healthy lunch. Organic vegetables with brown rice. Flatbreads with toppings. Smoothies.
Offering free lunch is a perk that owner Kathy Bigham says can pay off for a company, and it’s one of the ways she extends the personal relationship factor, which she thinks is so important in business, to her 14 employees.
Her staff doesn’t have to worry about preparing their own lunch or spending money to dine out. As people trickle into the break room for a bite of lunch, they can talk about their lives over the meal. Consider it bonding with benefits.
“I feel food is medicine. If I’m feeding them the best possible food, they’re going to be able to perform better, stay healthier and get sick less,” Bigham says.
Although the cost of buying meals for workers can get high, if employees don’t take care of themselves, health care and absenteeism costs are high as well, Bigham says. “It is costly and they know that it is a benefit that we’re providing subject to us continuing to be successful. If we weren’t successful, we wouldn’t be able to provide that,” she says.
Bigham and her then-husband, Gary, opened the jewelry store in 1995 to build a business that her family could grow together. (Though she and Gary have since divorced, he still works at Bigham’s.) Ten years after opening, the business expanded into a 28,000-square-foot building, named Bigham Galleria, on U.S. 41 in Naples.
“We had committed to a 10-year lease [in the former location]. We saw really within the first five years that we were going to out- grow our space. We had to figure out a way to build the new building, move across the street and be able to expand. It was a big risk, because we were tripling the size of the store,” she says.
In order to get a loan, bankers told her she needed to lease out at least 51 percent of the space prior to breaking ground. She called commercial brokers and asked how long it would take to lease 14,000 square feet of Class A office space. They said expect to lease 3,500 square foot in a year. She remembers thinking, “Well, that’s not going to work.”
Instead, she and her team leased it themselves. In a testament to networking, she called business owners, including those she met through charitable functions hosted at her store and at other locations. Bigham Jewelers attracted a high-end clientele that would drive traffic to their firms, she told them. She leased space to estate planners, accountants, insurance companies, doctors and a gallery.
Bigham credits her team for helping the business survive the recession, especially as other family-owned fine jewelry stores closed or were purchased. She, her family and her staff brainstormed ideas to keep costs down and avoid layoffs.
From assuming cleaning responsibilities to taking unpaid time off, her workers helped during the period of sluggish sales, she says.
“Being a small business, we were very blessed that we could quickly respond to what was happening,” she says. “Everybody wanted to keep their job, and we wanted to make sure everybody kept their job. I think that we’re one big family when you’re in a small family business.”