Richter & Phillips Jewelers: a family company that helps nonprofits shine

For nonprofits, funding can seem as precious as diamonds. Bringing in more of it certainly helps the organization shine.

Richter & Phillips Jewelers helps local nonprofits meet that challenge through donations and by inviting its customers to “Purchase with a Purpose” during event fundraisers.

“As the longest running, and best jeweler in town, we feel an obligation to give back and help where we can,” said Eric Fehr, vice president. 

An early photo of Richter & Phillips on East Sixth Street

The jeweler’s longevity is noteworthy. C. Edward Richter and three Phillips brothers opened the original Downtown Cincinnati store in 1896. The original Richter & Phillips Company sold jewelry and lots other merchandise – luggage, appliances, toys and sporting goods are a few examples – in store and through its mail-order catalogs, which were distributed across the country. When the company filed bankruptcy in Great Depression-era 1930, Frederick W. Fehr, a traveling diamond salesman from another company, bought it.  

Also remarkable: Eric Fehr is his great-grandson, the fourth generation working the family business. According to the Columbus-based Conway Center for Family Business, only 3% of family businesses survive into the fourth generation. 

Fehr knows this legacy is special: That’s why, after six years of practicing law, he joined the family business in 2016. But he also knows history isn’t everything. 

“It’s a great story to have, but you can’t rely on it and get complacent,” he said. “All the history and the story goes out the window if you can’t deliver on your customer service, your quality and your pricing.”

Considering the store’s evolution to focus solely on jewelry, those deliverables have become even more important. Today, Richter & Phillips focuses primarily on diamonds (bridal sales alone make up some 60 percent of the business) and high-end watch brands such as Rolex. 

Richter & Phillips today at Sixth and Main streets

“It comes back to that first experience,” Fehr said. “If you give them awesome quality and good service, hopefully you can convert them to lifelong customers.” 

The Fehrs have had to adapt to other changes, including online shopping and, most recently, a global pandemic.

The latter forced them to close for seven weeks during their busy spring season. Fortunately, it’s now mostly business as usual (with masks and additional cleaning protocols). 

“People don’t stop falling in love; people don’t stop having anniversaries,” Fehr points out. “Life goes on, and people still want to celebrate and commemorate things.” 

As for online shopping, that’s led to a customer base with access to more information – and misinformation – than ever before.

“It’s important, when someone comes in, that we really educate them about the products,” he said. “Part of the reason we’ve been able to separate ourselves is that we are definitely experts in our field.” 

In recent years, Richter & Phillips has cultivated interaction, hosting everything from educational seminars about engagement rings to charity fundraisers. 

“I don’t think anyone wants a place that you can just go buy something anymore,” he said.

The events really took off when Richter & Phillips moved across the street to a location with significantly more space in 2016. Fehr estimates the store hosted nearly a dozen big events in-store during the last couple of years, and he looks forward to getting back to that schedule in a post-COVID world.

Charity events vary by the nonprofit’s size and goals, but they often include a theme as well as auctions, games or raffles.

“The main staple is to make (the event) fun, and then try to incentivize that fun for something good,” Fehr said. 

The Dragonfly Foundation’s 2019 “Whiskey & Watches” event at Richter & Phillips

One event, “Whiskey & Watches,” grew from a handful of bottles of whiskey, a couple of watch reps and 20-some customers its first year. Last year’s bash attracted more than 200 attendees and featured watches from around the world, plus the opportunity to meet then-Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman. As the event beneficiary during the last three years, The Dragonfly Foundation received a portion of sales plus all proceeds from raffles held during the event.

Christine Neitzke, Dragonfly’s executive director, said the event has brought in a total of approximately $9,000 during its three years, and also provides much-welcome exposure.

Christine Neitzke, Dragonfly executive director

“It’s not only Dragonfly supporters, but people from the ‘outside world’ who love watches,” she said. “We’ve been able to meet a lot of influencers in the area because of that event.” 

She notes that Richter & Phillips has also donated generously to the organization’s other events throughout its 10-year history. For its Sept. 28 golf outing, the jeweler is offering a Rolex for a hole in one.

“We think of them as a great corporate partner,” Neitzke said. “Our mission is bringing strength, courage and joy to patients and families facing pediatric cancer. Their fundraising efforts and general publicity of supporting us … (have) helped us provide comfort and joy to our families.”

Natalie Wandelt, program director for the Boomer Esiason Foundation, also thinks of Richter & Phillips as a “solid partner.” In August 2019, the store hosted “Boomer & Breitling,” an event where 20 percent of the evening’s Breitling watch sales were donated to the foundation. Esiason and his former teammates Cris Collinsworth and Anthony Muñoz were on hand, and the event included silent and live auctions. All told, more than $70,000 was raised toward the foundation’s mission of supporting the cystic fibrosis community, Wandelt said.

At “Boomer & Breitling,” benefiting the Boomer Esiason Foundation: (back) Boomer Esiason, Cris Collinsworth, Anthony Muñoz, Breitling President Thierry Prissert; (front) Eric, Fehr, Rick Fehr, Fred Fehr

The event’s low overhead fit well with the way the foundation operates: Wandelt noted that 90 cents from every dollar goes to the cause. Dealing with a family company was another nice synergy, she said.

“They were just so giving and helpful,” she said. “They were great to work with.”

Those are just two of the nonprofits Richter & Phillips has helped recently; the jeweler’s website lists more than 70. Fehr estimates that between donating auction items and hosting events and promotions, the company has contributed at least $500,000 to local nonprofits over the last decade.

He said the company often supports organizations the family or their customers feel passionate about.

“When you’re talking about helping charity and foundations, you’re really talking about helping your friends and neighbors,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do … (because) it helps make the Cincinnati community better.”

Thanks to Richter & Phillips for their contributions in making this article possible.

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