Creating a New
Louisiana Tradition

Custom jeweler relies on brand pillars
to drive every aspect of her business

 STORY BY EILEEN MCCLELLAND

When Dianna Rae High imagined her dream store, she envisioned a place she could feel cozy and at home in, where she could relax with a cup of coffee. Because she loves to design jewelry, it would be easy to feel as if working at such a place weren’t really “a job.”

Her dreams came true, with a twist. She probably never imagined that her store would have subtly alligator-patterned wallpaper. But a 2011 move from Iowa to Louisiana sparked a desire to reflect the local flavor.

Dianna Rae Jewelry
Lafayette, LA

URL: diannaraejewelry.com
OWNERS: Diana Rae High (PICTURED)
FOUNDED: 2014
INTERIOR DESIGN: Posh Exclusive Interiors, Lafayette, LA
EMPLOYEES: Seven, full and part-time
AREA: 1,472 square feet
ONLINE PRESENCE: 5 Stars on Google; 5 Stars on Facebook; 4,380 Facebook followers

The bright and airy store opened in 2015 with the help of Monique Breaux, lead designer at Posh Exclusive Interiors in Lafayette, which specializes in luxury residential interiors. “Since I’m not from the area, I wanted to work with a local designer who would help me to create the local feel,” High says.

In preparing for the project, Breaux looked beyond Louisiana aesthetics to study Manhattan jewelry store trends, too. But most important, she took High’s ideas to heart in pursuit of an inviting, interesting and interactive space. High wanted it to be very cutting edge but still welcoming, a balancing act that can be tricky to achieve without leaving the space too stark.

“She was clear that she wanted her space to be light and bright,” Breaux says. “She wanted people to have a sense of clarity.” The low-slung furniture was carefully designed so as not to interfere with the view of the jewelry, which is the focal point. Texture, including an alligator pattern etched into custom chairs, adds interest to the subtle color palette of neutrals with a suggestion of blue.

Every bit of the store’s interior is custom made to reflect a focus on custom jewelry because as much as High wanted to fit in with her new locale, she also wanted to set herself apart from the competition. “If I had opened up with everything that could be found at my competitors’ stores, no one would have come here,” she says.

Before creating the Dianna Rae Jewelry store, she worked for months defining the Dianna Rae Jewelry brand. She created brand pillars representing her mission, style, and goals, coming up with: relational, original, masterful, innovative and giving. “These were all natural extensions of who we already are and reflect the standard we already strive to achieve,” she says. “This makes it easy to organically live these pillars every day in the store when we interact with our guests.”

Establishing brand pillars made solving problems simpler when decisions fell outside the parameter of simply serving the customer. For example, it was easy to choose having a local craftsman make showcase tables rather than sourcing them online because custom tables would reflect her brand’s goal of being original and masterful.

For High, custom was the clear path to what she wanted her store to be. Her tools of the custom trade include an in-house shop, a 3D printer, and Matrix and Counter Sketch design software.

Offering CAD for wedding rings was a cool feature that had become so commonplace for High that she decided to allow customers to be involved in every aspect of creating their bands. Hands-on participation represents added value to millennials, who put a premium on experiences and handcrafted items.

“More and more millennials are becoming used to computer-aided design,” High says. “If you don’t do it, you’re almost behind the times. Inviting our customers to make their own wedding bands was a natural thing for us to add.”

Several clients had asked to watch in-house goldsmiths make their bands. Now they are invited to imagine, create and refine their wedding bands in any way that they’d like, including coming to the design studio after hours to work with a goldsmith. With guidance, couples use tools to melt, roll and form the metal they choose into a ring. The process begins with raw material and ends with a handcrafted ring three or four hours later, as well as a champagne toast and a mini-celebration.

Of course, it’s all documented on film and still photography.

“It’s all about the process and the fact they get to do it together as a couple,” High says. 

Because she doesn’t carry much inventory, High can make changes in her business very quickly, especially related to design trends. “Six months ago, we were selling all cushions; now we can’t sell a cushion,” she says. “It’s ovals now. So we don’t have to worry about trends; they can see whatever they want when they come in and there is no outdated merchandise.”

Of the select inventory displayed in the showroom, most are one-of-of-a-kind, original pieces designed at the store and crafted in the workshop. Comprehensive jewelry repair and restoration services are also offered. Customers can select some add-on gifts ready to go, too, such as stud earrings and diamond hoops. “We have some of the basics, but we don’t carry deep inventory in it,” she explains. “People don’t come here for that.”


PHOTO GALLERY (16 IMAGES)


Five Cool Things About Dianna Rae Jewelry

1. Having fun. Every afternoon at about 3:30 p.m., the staff at Dianna Rae takes a “pickle break.” Sometimes the snack is accompanied by dancing.

2. Chandelier in the bathroom. “We have a single small bathroom,” High says. “It’s rare a guest even goes in there, but why not make it a memorable experience? So inside you will find a gallery of framed images of our jewelry designs and a beautiful chandelier sparkling above you.”

3. Involvement in giving. High donates to a wide range of fundraisers, but she doesn’t just donate a piece of jewelry; she wants to participate. “We did a fundraiser and gave away a pair of diamond earrings for the local hospital,” she says. “They had a ‘20s theme, so we dressed up as flappers. My goal is to meet people and do things in person.” 

4. Personal watchmaker. There’s a watchmaker on staff who does repairs for the store as well as other jewelers in the area, and he is on hand to meet with clients face to face about their repair issues.

5. The walls sparkle! “The painter and design team made me an offer we could not refuse — adding tiny bits of reflective glass to the final paint treatment,” she says. They catch the light and give the walls a sparkly shimmer. “It’s a delightful moment when our store guests notice it and it’s always fun to tell them ‘Yes, even the walls sparkle at Dianna Rae Jewelry.’”


Dianna Rae High of Dianna Rae Jewelry

WEB-ONLY 

Five Questions With Dianna Rae High

How has your 3D printer helped your business?

“It can inspire confidence, because once they try it on they really have a feel for it, for what it will look like and feel like when they wear the finished ring.”

How did you get into the business?

In 1985, my husband, Jeff High, and I started a traditional high-inventory mall store in Iowa, and then as (Jeff's company), Gem Vision grew, I moved to more of a custom design boutique. Also, as the family grew mall hours were not conducive to raising a family.”

What advice do you have for jewelry store owners?

"I recommend every store define what it's brand is, or even what it isn’t. Being consistent in following your brand pillars sometimes means you have to work harder, invest more, and intentionally not do something everyone else is doing. You have to believe in being true to who you are as a store."

 What has your experience been with online reviews?

“Our reviews are all really good. That’s because they are unsolicited. We had a really fabulous review on Yelp, which was unsolicited and Yelp took it down because they said it must be fake; it was too good to be real.”

What is your store's secret weapon?

"The grapefruit scent. We just happened upon this, it’s pleasant and welcoming and often noticed by customers. We focus on the whole experience. Make sure the music is good, the scent is good, they have something to eat or drink and that they are comfortable.”


This article originally appeared in the April 2017 edition of INSTORE.



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