Finding lost jewelry and saving marriages

Ever have that sinking feeling after losing a piece of jewelry or a ring, or keys, or a cellphone? We’ve probably all experienced that moment of panic that sets us on a frantic search to retrace our steps. Think. Think! Where was I? When did I last see it?

Relax. Dan Roekle may be able to help.

Roekle, who works in IT for the University of Wisconsin Foundation and the UW–Madison Alumni Association, recently launched LostandFoundRing.com. It was an idea that originated on a family vacation in Florida after striking up a conversation with some older beachcombers who were scanning the beach with metal detectors. They did this every day, they told Roekle, and hanging from one gentleman’s neck was a chain strung with 10 to 12 different rings he’d recovered over the years. The man said he hoped he could one day return them to their rightful owners.

“I got excited, as did my kids,” Roekle says, so after returning to Madison they purchased their first metal detector, a low-end version that sold for about $100, and for a while they were perfectly happy finding quarters and incidental metal items in neighborhood parks and playgrounds.

Soon, they discovered that it was much more enjoyable finding jewelry.

One day while trolling Craigslist, Roekle spotted a posting about a lost ring. He contacted the poster and offered to help with the search. The man knew he had dropped the ring alongside a road while getting out of his car, but despite a significant effort he couldn’t locate it. It took Roekle less than an hour to find the ring, which had disappeared just under the ground’s surface.

“We returned the ring to him and didn’t expect a reward but he sent us an awesome thank you and a $200 check.” Seeing an opportunity, Roekle used the money to upgrade to a higher-end metal detector and started LostandFoundRing.com to cover any related travel, gas, and equipment costs on future searches.

The business is gaining steam. “We’re busy all year round,” he says, “because people lose things all the time.” Winter, when people’s fingers shrink from the cold, can be a busy time, he notes, and fall tends to result in more yard searches because people are raking, weeding, or playing football. He’s even been called out after domestic disputes, where rings were regrettably tossed in a fit of temporary rage. “We’ve heard it all,” Roekle laughs. “Just be honest and give us the facts.”

Because of his limited availability — he does not plan to give up his day job — Roekle says his biggest challenge is handling calls from outside the area. He works the Madison and Wisconsin Dells areas mostly, but has also searched in Illinois.

Often, people see their rings fly off but lose track of exactly where they were standing when the ring disappeared. Still, if they can provide Roekle with a general area, he can set up a search perimeter. Devil’s Lake, Castle Rock Lake, and Lake Petenwell have been recent search sites. “Silt and sand can suck items in,” Roekle says, “but our detectors have no problem finding them.” The company’s state-of-the-art equipment can detect metal objects as far as 10-feet under water or eight-inches under the ground.

Searching for metal objects is not an exact science, he explains, adding that LostandFoundRing.com has a 50% success rate. It is also associated with a nationwide ring finder directory.

Depending on travel distance, Roekle charges between $25 and $100 on average for an on-site search. If he is successful, he asks customers for a discretionary reward amount using their insurance deductible, if they have one, as a guide. “While I am not running the business for pure profit motives, I do still need to get respectable reward amounts in order to keep the business viable,” he says.

Roekle’s 10-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son often help on the searches. “The experiences we have of turning a person’s worst day into a best day reinforces the fact that there are good people in the world,” he says. “If your ring was lost, chances are it’s still there, so let’s find it! I want my kids to see that. We love returning things to people.”

Roekle donates 25% of all reward money to their school, Westside Christian School in Middleton, which has resulted in the donation of a 3-D printer as well as science lab kits and physical education equipment.

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Emotional value

Sometimes it’s not so much about the value of the piece, but the emotional attachment that makes a search so important. Such was the case for a customer in northern Wisconsin who rewarded Roekle with $1,000 for his time and travel, plus an extra bonus when a lost ring was found.

He’s also found several class rings, including one buried about six-inches underground that had been lost for a dozen years or so. Jewelry items, cellphones, sunglasses, keys, and key fobs have also been recovered. Dogs and cats have also been scanned to check that lost items weren’t swallowed.

Two-thirds of the searches Roekle has performed involve land searches, with about a third involving water, and he says it’s always best when the customer can accompany him on the search.

While the business started out as a hobby, an uptick in business has put hobby searching on the backburner. “I’d search every day if I could,” Roekle notes.

Unclaimed items remain with the company. “We’ve never sold anything we’ve found,” Roekle insists. “Each item represents a story about the time we spent together on a hunt,” he says. “For us, it’s the thrill of the hunt. I hope my son will own my first franchise someday, and maybe even use it to help pay for college.”

On two occasions, Roekle partnered with insurance companies to help locate lost jewelry. “That’s where I’d like to see the business grow,” he says. “I can offer [insurance companies] a reduced payout because my finder’s fee is usually between 10% and 15%, while they might typically pay out 20% of a ring’s value, so it can be a win-win-win.”

Since venturing into metal detecting, Roekle has recovered 41 rings, with another potential retrieval just around the corner. “I got a call last night from someone who lost their ring the day after they got married!” he reports. “We are scheduled [to go out] this weekend; hopefully we can make it No. 42!”

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