This Small Shop
is Thinking Big

Tiny but innovative Connecticut store has some major plans for the future

 STORY BY JULIE FANSELOW

By the time you read this, Watertown, CT, will be abuzz over the latest window fantasy displayed at Onyx II Fine Jewelers.

This year, the store marked 20 years in its Main Street location and a decade under the ownership of Daniel Sanchez, who was raised in the store his grandparents founded in 1970.

QUICK FACTS

Onyx II Fine Jewelers
URL: onyx-jewelers.com
OWNER: Daniel Sanchez
FOUNDED: 1970
LAST RENOVATED: 2015
AREA: 800 square feet
BUILD-OUT COST: $75,000
ONLINE PRESENCE: 5 stars and 742 likes on Facebook, 321 followers on Instagram

Since 2013, brand manager James Michael Murphy has been bringing the design and merchandising skills he picked up at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology and applying them to elaborate window displays.

“Moroccan Around the Christmas Tree” is the grand finale to a year of windows on the theme “A Trip Around the World.” Other showcased locales included China for the Lunar New Year, the Amalfi Coast of Italy, birdwatching in Bolivia, the Olympics in Brazil and an African safari.

All featured traffic-stopping looks. Murphy explains that while jewelry is beautiful, it’s too small and detailed to attract people passing by in their cars. That’s why Onyx II’s elaborate window displays look like something you might see on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

December also brings Onyx II’s largest trunk show of the year, an event that sees 300 people throng the little shop over three hours. Freida Rothman dropped by in 2015, and she’ll be a special guest again for 2016.

“We carry her collection here and it’s one of our strongest,” Sanchez says. “She made a personal appearance, which our clients loved, and styled the customers with the jewelry, so of course they purchased a lot of it.”

As the calendar flips toward Dec. 24 (which marks both Christmas Eve and the start of Hanukkah this year), Onyx II will be filled with shoppers anxious to find the perfect gift for their sweethearts or other loved ones. But Onyx will have them covered, courtesy of the wish-list letters its customers filled out several months ago.

“We normally will invite our ladies to come in starting in September as the holiday collections start to trickle in, and they fill out their wish lists,” Sanchez says. So when the holidays heat up, “we have a list and it’s addressed as if they’re writing to Santa.” Over the course of a year, these lists help ensure that Onyx II customers get most of what their hearts desire — until the holidays roll around again with a brand-new wish list.

Who are those Onyx II customers? A key part of the core clientele are female self-shoppers; they might make out those wish lists, but they don’t necessarily wait for someone else to buy them what they want. Five fabulous customers over age 50 are fea-tured in Onyx II’s latest marketing campaign.

Yet the business wants to court an all-ages clientele, and it’s doing that with inventory ranging from a $54 sterling silver bracelet to a $54,000 diamond ring. A newly robust Instagram account is helping engage more millennial shoppers, and Onyx II is seeing even younger people in the shop, including a high school girl who fell in love with a ring she saw. “She came back about a month later after she’d saved up some money and said, ‘This is the first piece of fine jewelry I want to buy for myself. I just love this store and I want it to come from here,’” Sanchez recalls.

“That’s how the Onyx cycle starts,” Murphy adds. “We have people to this day who shopped with Daniel’s grandmother and made their first purchase with her when they were 15 years old” and whose children and grandchildren continue to patronize Onyx II.

The emphasis on self-confident women is also a nod to Sanchez’s grandmother, Zenaida Perez, who got into the business when she’d travel into New York City from Connecticut to spend some of her factory-job pay on jewelry to bring home and sell door to door. Eventually, she approached her boss at the sewing factory and said she wanted to open a jewelry store — but she wanted to be sure she’d still have a job if she couldn’t make a go of it in retail.

Assured that she could always come back, Perez opened her first store in 1970 with one showcase. Her husband named the shop for his favorite gemstone — and less than a decade after they’d fled communist Cuba as refugees in 1962, Higinio and Zenaida Perez had become American entrepreneurs. (A photo of the couple on their wedding day is prominently displayed in the Onyx II show-room.) The “II” came into the store’s name when the family opened a second location, which went on to outperform the first store, and for the past 20 years, only Onyx II has remained.

PHOTO GALLERY 1: ONYX II

 
PHOTO GALLERY 2: ONYX II WINDOW DISPLAYS

 
PHOTO GALLERY 3: ONYX II MARKETING

 

FIVE COOL THINGS ABOUT ONYX II FINE JEWELERS

1. Be the brand. The Onyx duo — James Michael Murphy and owner Daniel Sanchez — are very much themselves as the faces of this two-man shop: energetic, fabulous and in tune with their stylish clientele.

2. Personal touch. “There are lots of social occasions within our community and it is not uncommon to have a store full of women the night before an event, with their dresses in hand, waiting to be styled in a new set of jewelry that will complete the look,” Murphy says.

3. Have a consistent look. A color scheme of black and white with lavender accents in-spires everything from the store’s décor and flowers to gift wrap, complete with logoed stickers and ribbon printed with the store’s name. “They see that little black bag coming toward them and they just know that something good awaits them inside,” says brand manager James Michael Murphy.

4. Give back. Onyx II is a supporter of charities throughout its region. The shop donates a portion of trunk show proceeds to arts orga-nizations, and it’s the “diamond sponsor” for the St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation, donating a $25,000 diamond for its annual gala.

 

5. Big and bold. Murphy says he used the store’s color palette in the past three holiday window displays, but for this year’s look, “I wanted to come out of nowhere with bold color and a window so mind-blowing that it is almost like my ‘mic drop’ at the end of what has been a truly awesome year!”

TRY THIS

When your business gets good news, it’s smart to share it as widely as possible — but maybe tease people a bit first to build excitement and suspense. That’s what Onyx II did when it received word it had been chosen as one of INSTORE’s Coolest Stores for 2016: Brand manager James Michael Murphy posted hints on social media that the shop had big news, then shared a video a few days later to officially make the announcement. In August, Onyx II was also an early adopter of Instagram’s new, Snapchat-inspired “stories” feature to document a store photo shoot. “Our customer base is curious and they want to know, so I was just pumping out behind-the-scenes footage all day long,” Murphy says. “It was a great way to interact with our customers on a day when we’re usually closed.”


This article originally appeared in the December 2016 edition of INSTORE.



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