There are no perfect businesses; there are no perfect marriages. Yisroel and Devorah Feder talk candidly about the balance in between
Working with your spouse: the ultimate in marital bliss or a downhill path to inevitable disaster?
Yisroel and Devorah Feder of Jay Feder Jewelers have been doing it for years — and here, they’re refreshingly candid about the good, the bad, the ugly — and the strikingly beautiful — of the “co-preneur” life.
Jay Feder Jewelers was founded in 1979 in Denver, Colorado, by Jay and Celia Feder, Yisroel’s parents. Today, JFJ is an industry-leading business with locations in Denver, New York, and Boca Raton. They source, design, and sell custom and artisanal pieces, off ering a curated collection of jewelry to satisfy virtually every client’s taste and budget. Growing up, Yisroel Feder was the only one of the family’s off spring (he has two brothers and two sisters) with an affi nity for the company; he absorbed both his parents’ love for jewelry and their scrupulous approach to business. A particularly memorable second-grade show-and-tell session had little Yisroel (and his mother) displaying a massive diamond to his classmates. He also worked in the store as a teen and enrolled in a Gemological Institute of America course at 17.
After learning for several years at Ner Israel in Baltimore, and later at a yeshivah in Israel, Yisroel married Devorah Bakst in February 2000. Devorah was 18 and Yisroel was 22 — and the young couple settled in Israel for a short time. In 2001, Yisroel and Devorah moved back to Denver, intending to remain for a year or so, but that “year” wound up stretching to eight. In 2008, the elder Feders made aliyah, transferring ownership of the store to their son and daughter-in-law. “Denver is a great community, but it wasn’t working out for us there as a family,” Devorah says. She explains that it was mostly older couples living in the community, so it was hard for her to fi nd her place. With all of her family on the East Coast, she began to feel homesick. “We hadn’t planned on living there for so long. We had dreamed of expanding to New York, but we didn’t have a clear idea of what we wanted to do there. We decided to move to Passaic, which off ered a short commute to the city and close proximity to my family in Brooklyn.” “I’d always wanted to join the wholesale jewelry trade,” says Yisroel. “We opened an offi ce on 47th Street — the hub of the diamond district — and expanded to include customization.”
The Feders had an excellent management team in place in Denver, enabling the store to run smoothly after their move, but Yisroel still spent the fi rst few years traveling between his new home in Passaic and Colorado. During that time, he was only home for two weekends a month. The time apart put a strain on the family. They ended up arguing more and had to fi gure out how to rework the dynamics of their relationship. “It was extraordinarily diffi cult,” Devorah confesses. “At the time, I worked on social media, marketing, and vendor relationships in the New York store, and we were constantly clashing over the business — whether it was my ‘job’ or his. The tension spilled over to the whole operation.” Of course, there were times Devorah questioned her involvement in the company. Despite the friction, both Yisroel and Devorah fi ercely loved the business and refused to give it up. “We committed to making both our marriage and our business work,” explains Devorah. “We wanted to show our kids that we were able to work together as we resolved things.” As they were coming out of that dark period, the Feders found a bright spot in a weekend away together. In May of 2015, on a quick jaunt to Boca — inspired by a visit Yisroel had recently taken for a Shabbos — Devorah and Yisroel were drawn to the sunny, stylish city, and they found themselves considering a fresh start. Within three months, the family relocated — leaving the New York store in the capable hands of the highly trained staff — and began to build a brand-new branch of Jay Feder Jewelers as they committed to strengthening their own relationship.
THE WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Yisroel and Devorah now spend most days operating as one unit. They drive to and from work together; their offices are situated within feet of each other and they make critical business decisions — in addition to personal decisions — jointly. Their lives are inextricably intertwined, and they’ve finally figured out how to make it work. With time and maturity, the Feders discovered that the key to working harmoniously with one’s spouse is mutual respect. “Now, we’ve come to realize that, as a team, the mistakes are not mine or hers — they’re ours, and it’s okay to make mistakes.” Yisroel confesses, “We’ve learned, together, to trust each other implicitly and to respect each other’s decisions. We are honest about our own — and our spouse’s — strengths and weaknesses. It’s been a humbling experience, but also a liberating one.” “Working together is all about balance and recognizing our strong points,” Devorah explains. “We’ve reached a place where we can give each other a long enough ‘leash’ to exercise our own capabilities, but also rein each other in when necessary.” “We’re a car-and-driver relationship,” she explains.
“You can’t have one without the other. We know what we’re good at, and we have a strict rule not to encroach on each other’s territory. As business owners, we each have to know how to do everything in the business, but that doesn’t mean that we’re good at everything — so we do our best to stick with our strong points and not mix in with each others’ responsibilities.” The Feders relish their role in their clients’ most monumental moments, pouring their energy into connecting with customers on a profound level. Their client bonds are forged through happiness — engagements, anniversaries, birthdays — as well as heartbreak.
One unforgettable client was a young man with a devastating diagnosis whose only wish was to propose before he died, a wish that came true with the Feders’ help. They feel incredibly privileged to take part in their clients’ most significant life events. Another vital (and perhaps the strongest) weapon in their arsenal is humor. “We laugh about whatever we can,” says Devorah, “even in stressful situations — and there are a lot of those in our line of work. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, which is a breath of fresh air in an industry that tends to be stuffy and formal. The unexpected, hilariously memorable moments — like when I discovered a solid gold tooth in an envelope that Yisroel had purchased as part of an estate sale — carry us through the tougher times.”
KEEPING IT TOGETHER
One of the most common pieces of advice given to couples who work together (and even to those who don’t) is to separate work from family, taking the time to go out (or stay in) and talk about anything but work or the kids. “We’ve kind of given up on that,” laughs Devorah. “Our lives are so intertwined that it would be impossible not to bring work home with us or bring family matters to work. Our best CEO decisions are made first thing in the morning, after we get the kids off to school and while we’re getting ready for the day.” Their work conversations run the gamut from tough stuff like letting people go and budgeting decisions to marketing ideas and planning upcoming events.
“Pretty much anything that goes into running a business is discussed in the morning,” Devorah shares. “We also talk about family things — our children, how they’re doing in school, vacation plans, and whether or not we need a new pool pump — the most serious to the most mundane. During the day, we don’t have time to talk about big things as much, and at night, we are usually too tired.” As for date night, the couple doesn’t get out much in the evenings and never manages to sneak in lunch during their hectic workday, but they often stop off for breakfast on their shared “commute” (total time: 2.5 minutes) to work. To keep their personal relationship alive and healthy while working together professionally, Yisroel and Devorah focus on the positives and work hard to foster an optimistic, encouraging, and upbeat environment. “We try to start every day by saying or texting something nice to each other,” Yisroel says. “After all these years, I am grateful for Devorah’s instincts, her positivity, and her sense of style. She balances me out perfectly — both professionally and personally.”
Today, the Feders’ lives are brimming with activity. Devorah travels regularly to New York, a brand-new Denver showroom is slated for completion in November, and the Boca store is operating at high capacity. Their four children, aged seven to eighteen, are — as their slightly biased parents describe — outstanding kids who are true gifts from Above. However, as all parents know, even the most angelic children need time, attention, and love (in addition to clean socks, signed permission slips, and their parents’ attendance at milestone events). Admittedly, the couple’s schedule can be grueling, and that affects the entire family dynamic.
So Yisroel and Devorah carve out much-needed family time on Shabbos and Yom Tov, when they eat most meals without guests for maximum bonding time, and they take family vacations in the summer and winter. Their home runs smoothly thanks to plenty of household help and online shopping, which frees up time for the duo to take the kids to the bus stop, tuck them in at night, and simply enjoy their company without worrying about cleaning, cooking, and errands. “I’m not Superwoman, and I don’t want to be,” declares Devorah, who picked up the art of delegating when she learned to recognize her assets and limitations. “Friday and Erev Yom Tov are always the craziest times in the store, and our family was surviving on pizza, macaroni, and takeout until I hired cooking help. Now when I come home at 7:30 at night or an hour before Shabbos, I’m able to focus on my family.”
The Feders work hard to include their children in the business as well — they frequently come to the store and attend events, and they’ve even been given a hand at decorating. “Our store looks and feels like a cross between our living room and an art gallery,” Devorah explains. “While it’s sophisticated and up-to-date, our kids’ drawings are also on the walls and our son’s intricate crayon sculpture is proudly on display.” The art-gallery-slash-livingroom description is an accurate one. The Boca store is elegant and chic, glittering with crystals and exquisitely striking jewels. Every element — from the saltwater seahorse tank to the scent of lavender to the fluffy stools at the showcases to the lounge area and custom-snack bar — was painstakingly researched, designed, and positioned to exude finesse and friendliness all at once. The new Denver store’s planned décor achieves the same effect, albeit with a more rustic vibe to suit the locale. “Buying jewelry can be intimidating,” says Devorah. “We want our customers to feel right at home and to have a fun, exciting experience no matter the size of their budget. At the moment, I’m working on a lowbudget bracelet while Yisroel works on an extremely high-end necklace for a different customer, and we’re each giving our projects — and all of our other current projects — the same level of attention and care.” “In a fast-paced business world, we’ve learned to recognize what’s really important,” Yisroel adds. “People ask us why we’re not open on Shabbos — there are heterim on which we can rely — but we operate on the philosophy that success comes from always doing the right thing and treating every client as our most important client.”
There are no perfect businesses; there are no perfect marriages. But the fun-loving, cheerful, committed, and hard-working duo at Jay Feder Jewelers is admirably close to achieving co-preneur perfection.
[The Feders can be reached at email@example.com and on Instagram at @jayfederjewelers.]
(Originally featured in 2.0, Issue 6)