"It’s tough in a different way from wholesale."

Today we bring you an interview with Stephen Silver, owner of Stephen Silver Fine Jewelry & Flagship Watch Boutique in Redwood City, CA.

His store, featured as one of America’s Coolest in the January issue of INSTORE, opened in 2009 -- in space that was originally meant to be a restaurant coat closet.

What was your reaction when your friend invited you to open a retail space in the new Rosewood Sand Hotel on the campus of Stanford University?

Initially, I rejected the idea. We had a 30-plus year history of supplying retailers all over the world with our product. And I had noticed that the jewelry stores most likely to fail were stores within hotels.

And when you did agree to open a small boutique in the space, what were the results?

It started generating more dollars per square foot than any other retailer in the U.S. We have a very wealthy crowd that frequents the hotel and restaurant and bar. The community has really embraced the hotel as part of the culture. It’s become a destination store.

How important is training?

“The more expensive the product, the bigger the risk we take in putting a sales associate on the front line who is not smart, informed and educated, because that is what is walking in the front door.”

How do you minimize the risk?

Looking for GIA-trained gemologists assures that it’s easy to communicate internally and train, because everyone has a common language. I demand that of the company, that the core competency must be there in the back end and the front end.

As the CEO of a custom wholesale jewelry house, did you know what you were getting into with retail?

I had a fairly good idea what it would be like because although the company has been on the supply side for so many years, inside the wholesale business is really an estate jewelry business.

How is retail different?

It’s tough in a different way from wholesale. The client is demanding, not any more or less than my clients inside the trade, just a different type of demanding. If you aren’t paying attention to delivering service with the right attitude, you will not be competitive. There’s a value in the way we present ourselves and the look of the store and our merchandise, but if it’s not reinforced by a great atmosphere by our employees, then it’s a road to disaster. And disaster can hit very quickly in retail.

What sets your retail business apart from the competition?

Our business is driven by a very, very strong knowledge of the product. Because we make it, we cut it, we have a very different attitude about how we approach our merchandising and our business development. It makes the process of taking risks a little less daunting. Clientele receive it better when they are truly in front of the makers of what they are buying.

When you decided to add a watch store to your offerings, how did architect Joel Miroglio reflect the merchandise in the design of the space?

I wanted a case statement made that was in the spirit of the engineering and mechanics of fine timepieces. The cases are very, very heavy; they are secured on the ceiling by a steel beam and also into the floor by another steel beam.

Who is your watch customer?

Our buyers tend to be younger than the average watch consumer because of the nature of the technology business. There are many companies here that were developed by young entrepreneurs, some of which become successful. After they’ve bought their homes, planes and boats and other toys, they start looking at life a little more seriously and looking for an alternative investment strategy. As we developed the strategy, our evidence shifted us away from the major brands. We focused on small companies that make from 80 watches to a few thousand a year.

Do you have plans to expand your retail footprint?

I hate to say this, but yes. We have a few locations we’re looking at, but we have such a unique footprint that it’s going to be hard to recreate what we’ve established here. To line up the stars the way we’ve lined them up here is nearly impossible.

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This article is an online extra for INSTORE Online.

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