By Steve Sears
Consider that for the last 5 ½ years, Fox had visited Sunrise of Morris Plains, a New Jersey Assisted Living Center, to visit an older family friend. “I would go visit her every day before I came here,” she says of 92-year-old Marie. “There were two sisters; Doris passed away in December of 2013, and Marie died in April. I visited Marie almost every morning. My son would get on the bus at 7:00 a.m. and I would leave my house at 7:30 a.m., and I would sit and chat with her while she had her breakfast.” She pauses before continuing. “It’s emotional for me,” she says, tearing up, “because they were such a huge part of my life. They raised me, but they were two women who had two careers that were impossible to have in the era that they were going through it. A huge part of me is gone now. They taught me a lot, especially about women in the workforce and workforce ethic. Both worked really, really hard, and were huge, huge role models.”
To fill the emptiness, she now instead takes 4-mile morning walks, emptying her mind and being at peace. It is her therapeutic outlet. “I really do enjoy the walking and it gives me a clearer mind for work.”
Fox, therefore, also knows how to bounce back, something she learned with Hurricane Irene, which in 2011 devastated many, the Township of Denville downtown area included. “We didn’t start out carrying the olive oil and balsamic,” she says regarding the Dash of Thyme infancy days. “We opened up primarily to be a prepackaged gourmet food and gift store, where we would concentrate on making baskets, which I’ve done from the start. I was open just seven weeks before Irene hit, so I lost the entire store.” But she recovered, relying on the community, friends, and family mostly to lend, borrow, give money to keep the store and reopen it again. Those first seven weeks were a challenge, facing the perils while also enjoying small successes that any new business owns. “I think people supported the new business; the community definitely did – more so when the flood hit, because there was 3 ½ feet (of water) in my store. So that’s just about everything, and when you’re dealing with food, it all goes.”
It’s still a vivid memory, obviously, but so is the fact that she and Dash of Thyme got back in the game, saw light in the darkness.
Hurricane Irene didn’t stop her. Speaking to her now, you know nothing will.
Dash of Thyme celebrates their eighth anniversary this month. It is open seven days a week April through December but closes Mondays during the months of January through March. Fox opts to be open seven days a week because, “you want that reputation that we’re open anytime.”
“Its very hard being a small business nowadays,” she exclaims. “It’s definitely a challenge with Amazon. Not so much in competition with other stores,” she says, peering down towards the Route 53 end of Broadway, “because everyone respectfully has their own unique stuff. Denville is awesome. I think that’s important.”
Fox has lived in Denville for 28 years, and she and the town have mutual admiration for each other. “This is a great place to raise children, it’s a safe community.” She and her husband, Peter, have two children: Amy, 24, and P.J. (Peter Joseph), who is 14. She speaks of them as a “very supportive family.” She also adds, “If it wasn’t for my husband and his continuous support, I would not be able to continue with the store. It’s really not easy running your own business and being home for your family. My family is extremely supportive and helpful!”
Fox graduated from college with a degree in Fine Arts and Interior Design, and those skills are effectively combined with eye-catching Dash of Thyme displays. She has always enjoyed creating, so she initially was a stay-at-home mom who ran her design business out of her home for a few years. Then after P.J. was born, she worked as a server and bartender at local eateries, so she met and was familiar with a lot of people in town. So, in 2011, when she was approached by locals suggesting she open a business, she took the plunge. “The timing was great for me. My son was getting set to go into the first grade and it was an all-day school, so I was like, ‘I can get here at 7 in the morning and work until 3 and get him when he got off at the bus.’ Either I got someone to finish the last three hours of the day, or you have a manager manage the store for the rest of the day, so I felt like I could do it.”
Summer is a very busy time for Dash of Thyme, as is October through December. When you initially enter the shop, the scent of a candle, olive oil, or another fragrance invigorates the air, and the store which is filled with a variety of household items, gift ideas, is extremely inviting.
Fox knows that there’s a lot to look at in a small space. “There’s not too much wall space on my walls. People will say, ‘Wow, you really utilize your space,’ and I say, ‘Well, when you go to art school, you kind of figure that out, especially with interior design.” The aesthetics are enrapturing. “You’re renting for every square foot that you’re using, so you better utilize it. The store is small, so you make do with what you have. I sometimes think that bigger isn’t always better.” Customer service is huge as well for Fox, who hires a lot of young people. “I tell the kids all the time, ‘Tell them (customers) you’re there. Most customers that come in are looking for help, need ideas, and something jumps out at them. Just tell them if they have any questions you’re here.’ That’s what I like them to feel, not rushed but relaxed. I even tell the staff that you can ask me anything. Every question that you ask shows me that you want to learn and that you’re curious. If you don’t ask, how are you going to learn anything? So, the overall shopping experience is inviting to them (customers). I make sure the kids are knowledgeable in what we’re selling, and I’m always in the back making a basket or right in the middle, so I hear the interactions. If my staff can’t answer the questions, I can come out. I’m educating the customers and my staff.”
“Customer service is huge. That’s what I don’t think you can get that online.”
Dash of Thyme is not just for women. There is no one ideal customer. In fact, there are a few ideal customers. “Gosh,” says Fox with a smile, “everybody thinks it’s female, but we get a lot of females who bring their husbands in here, and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is great for barbeque.’ Men love to cook, so this is where they come, and they get started with the olive oils and balsamic. Especially now: it’s grilling season, it’s Father’s Day. It’s outside, and they love to experiment. We do have the tasting bar for that reason,” Fox says, where customers can taste test the olive oils and balsamic vinegars together or separately, prior to purchase. “We do have a lot of grill rubs, we have a lot of marinades, or they make their own with the balsamic and oil. We have recipes that are online, and if customers are giving oil and vinegar as a gift, though, we have printed out recipe cards that they give with the gift. If you give them a recipe, they can experiment.” Also, many Dash of Thyme customers enter while in town with their children. “They’ll go to Denville Dairy and come in, and we want to engage in that family atmosphere, we want to be inviting.” Age and genre brackets are nil. “We get men, females, kids, teenagers, people looking for a gift for their mom or their dad for whatever it may be. We also do a lot with realtors for closing gifts, and we also do custom engraving. I do wedding favors, party favors, and I’m even doing a couple of weddings now.”
She also mentions the custom gift baskets that she creates, most which she delivers personally to satisfied customers. Consider a recent delivery trip – to Toms River! That’s superb service. “I don’t have premade gift baskets here. You just can’t walk in and buy a gift basket. I love it (the creating). We customize each basket for you. We try to make it unique; we try to make it personalized.” Only gift baskets can be ordered online, and there’s a reason for this. Fox wants folks to visit and see what Dash of Thyme offers. “Anybody can go only and sell stuff online. But I really think people have to go to the brick and mortar and supporting of locals and local businesses, shopping small. We’ve hit a rough patch with online marketing and purchasing, and you have to show people that your social skills are meant to get out into the world and you really need to interact.” She then pauses and says, “You really want people to have the experience of coming down to a small town and shopping the shops whether it’s mine or not. We need to get people back in the stores.”
She continues. “Shop local is huge. You have to support small businesses. Especially this town, because you develop a relationship with all the other stores owners and it’s a good mix, it’s a family, people support each other. You also have mentors you can go to.” She then points across Broadway. “If I have questions, I go to Faith & Begorra (a Fine Irish and Catholic gifts shop). She’s been around forever. I talk to people who have been here forever, and I ask advice from them.” It’s an open door, and it’s reciprocal. “Everyone’s really helpful.”
Fox is in her second year on the Board for the Downtown Denville Business Improvement District. “I’m enjoying it very much so. It’s a lot of interaction with the downtown business owners, landlords, volunteerism is Important, events – anything that’s going to be happening and helping out the town. We need the support of the young community to come out, even the young kids who need to know what volunteerism is. That’s why you have to get involved in your town, you have to start to give back. It’s based on people giving back to the community, and you’re able to run those events with the help of the community.”
In addition to being in the Downtown Denville Board, Fox and Dash of Thyme also give back to the local community. “Crackers, popcorn – I always think of the Saint Peters Orphanage (in Denville). Rather than throw it out, if I can’t keep it, the boys can enjoy it for two weeks. I am always thinking of them if there’s leftover food at an event, you know what I mean? ‘Give it to the boys. They’ll appreciate it.’ You have to give back to the community.”
And the name? “There’s a huge story to that,” says Fox, grinning. “I thought of the name because I always try to make it more than what it sounds like. Thyme is a spice, T-H-Y-M-E, but it’s also ‘time’ of the day. Dash of Thyme. So, if you have a split second or a small amount of time, I’m pretty sure that coming to downtown Denville and shopping you’ll find that last minute gift that you really need rather than trucking up to (Route) 80 and the mall. We do gift wrapping, too, and small gift cards that are personalized. It’s a one-stop shop. ‘Dash’ in, when you’re out of ‘thyme (time)’ or in ‘thyme (time),’ and you’ll find the perfect gift.”
Jenn Fox sums up the business owning aspect. It can be a number of fine things, but for her it is summed up in two words. “I love making baskets, I love the people who come into my store, I love teaching and being a mentor to the kids to learn.” Fox is remined that she used the words “love” – the first word – numerous times. “Of course, because I love it. You have to have a passion (the second word) when you open a business. If you don’t have a passion or the drive, or if you think you’re opening up a business to make a million dollars, well someone has to bring you back down to reality and say, ‘If you do it, you have to do it for the right reasons.’ You want to give back to the community, you want to love what you’re doing. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you better pack it up. That feeling, that love, is filtered to your customers, and your employees. They feel that.”
“You need a happy environment to achieve your goals,” she says, “and I want to try making what I do every day better.”
Dash of Thyme is located at 49 Broadway in Denville. For more information, visit www.dashofthyme.com or call (973) 453-6200.