On the Move
As iconic Chicago jeweler moves toward its second century, the family boldly explores a flexible approach to retail.
STORY BY EILEEN MCCLELLAND
In a retail environment where business owners must differentiate themselves just to stay in the game, Lester Lampert has pulled out all the stops on the way to distinction, from an elegant new store to a new philosophy of retail designed to carry their family’s story into a second century.
OWNERS: Lester Lampert and David Lampert
OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2016
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Tracy Beallis, TTS Granite and Maureen Lampert
AREA: 5,320 square feet
ARCHITECT: Brian Schutz, STR Partners LLC
CONSTRUCTION: Joe Nicolazzi, TTS Granite
BUILDOUT COST: Over $1.5 million
SHOWCASES: Alex Portal, Artco Group Inc.
WATCH BRANDS: Carl F. Bucherer, Corum, Frederique Constant
ONLINE PRESENCE: 5 stars on Google, Facebook, Yelp; 1,791 likes on Facebook
Lester Lampert Inc., a fourth-generation, full service jeweler, boasts signature jewelry lines that can’t be seen anywhere else, a 97-year reputation for trust and quality, out-of-the-box events, an in-house shop, and increasingly, a philosophy of bringing its impeccably created jewelry to the people most likely to buy it. The company is vertically integrated, combining in-house manufacturing, the corporate division and the retail business. Most important, perhaps, the business was based on the family’s own artistic flair and foundation of bench-jewelry skills.
The company had been at home in a four-story building on Chicago’s fashionable Oak Street since 1993. Last year, CEO Lester Lampert and company decided to leave the crowded luxury retail market that Oak Street represented in order to differentiate the business in a place with more of a neighborhood feel. When they spotted a brownstone last year in a desirable part of Chicago’s River North, they went for it — very quickly. “It was an empty box,” Lester Lampert says. “We had to build in six weeks.”
The deadline was June 30; they moved in on the 29th. Their architect, Brian Schutz, says he still doesn’t know how they pulled it off. It took 35 people working on its construction seven days a week.
The move has opened up a demographic of young urban dwellers in the area who hadn’t necessarily been familiar with the brand, while retaining their steadfast loyalists, too. They hosted a series of parties for their neighbors when they moved in.
The soaring space, with its two-story sales floor and monumental arch in the entryway, feels grand and spacious.
One of the biggest design challenges was that it is, despite appearances, a smaller footprint than the previous location. Curvy showcases, designed by Artco and laid out strategically, allowed the Lamperts to keep the same amount of linear showcase space. Carefully placed LED lights in the ceiling mirror the showcase floor plan, rendering in-case lighting superfluous.
Every square foot of space is efficiently maximized over four floors, including a mezzanine, where the watch boutique has found an elegant enclave overlooking the sales floor. The shop is on the fourth floor, necessitating the delivery of three separate vaults via crane through the windows. The third floor is devoted to office space with a conference room built around an existing fireplace. Mechanicals and even trash are concealed in a room underneath the stairs, near the front entrance but completely camouflaged by bronze-tinted glass doors.
The Lamperts eschewed their traditional gray tones this time for a warmer, woodsy finish. Lester’s son, David Lampert, president, finds the new space inviting and bright, with gleaming porcelain flooring that looks like marble, and a blue soapstone exterior finish that was carried indoors in furniture accents.
They also incorporated their signature leopard carpeting on the stairs. “Lampert” means leopard in Hebrew, a fact the Lamperts have incorporated into their branding.
Prior to their move, they held the first sale in the company’s history, orchestrated by the Gordon Co. The accompanying ad campaign: “The leopard has a new spot.”
A NEW RETAIL PHILOSOPHY
To gain market share, the Lamperts are increasingly taking their jewelry to the customer, whether physically or digitally. Basing the entire business on waiting for someone to walk into the store is no longer an effective strategy, they say.
Last year, in order to connect with a new and upscale client base, a Florida community accepted the Lamperts’ proposal to participate in its annual fundraising efforts, which support multiple charities. They created and donated a $42,500 Lester Lampert necklace with a 20-carat Kunzite center surrounded by ideal cut diamonds for the live auction. They also donated a $2,500 gift card to each of the 100 special donors of the event. The cards, fashioned from metal and engraved with the recipients’ names, were packaged in custom boxes. They hired security, rented showcases and flew to the location with their staff. They donated 20 percent of all sales made during multiple charity events and through the end of the month of the fundraising weekend back to the foundation.
“We’re looking to do more events like this,” David Lampert says. “What we offer can be good beyond our walls. We want to bring our jewelry to the people, in addition to having them come to us. The idea of doing things outside the box is our way of doing business without relying on the e-commerce model.”
Still, the Lamperts have found technology does make both sense and sales. David Lampert often will FaceTime with clients throughout the design process, whether or not the clients are local. It’s timesaving and convenient for all involved. “I’m doing FaceTime with clients while I’m designing on CAD,” David Lampert says. “I’ll set the phone up on a little tripod and go back and forth with the customer.”
No matter how they are communicating, Lester Lampert says, the idea is to build relationships and trust. “We’re enthusiastic, and our philosophy is to do everything like I’d want it done for me. And I’m a spoiled guy. If there’s any question of a doubt, the customer wins.”
David Lampert says building a relationship means making clients feel that they are family. “There’s tremendous value beyond just selling them a great product at a great price.”
A CONNECTION TO THE PAST
The family business began in 1920 when Russian immigrant and bench jeweler David Lampert opened D. Lampert, a jewelry manufacturing business in Chicago. By 1955, Seymour Lampert, David’s son, who owned Styline Jewelers in the Chicago Jewelry District, opened the shop to the public. Lester, Seymour’s son, joined the business in 1958, and 20 years later changed from wholesale to retail and moved the business to Michigan Avenue under the name Lester Lampert Inc.
Lester’s son, David, fourth-generation jeweler and a graduate gemologist, joined the team in 1986. “It’s built into the family bloodline that we are jewelers,” David says. Fradine Lampert Kipnis, David’s sister, is vice president of the corporate division. Lester’s wife, Maureen Lampert, who was given the title of AEO (almighty executive officer) by Lester, is a consultant in all aspects of the business. She was integral in the new store’s interior-design work.
“We’re all artists,” Lester Lampert says. “We take our talents and express them through jewelry design, sculpture and several other art mediums.”
The Lamperts know well that jewelry can transcend generations.
Both David and Lester treasure pieces of jewelry made by their relatives.
Lester cherishes a handmade one-of-a-kind locket made by his grandfather in the 1920s that he didn’t know existed until 1994. When a customer brought the piece into the store and Lester held it for the first time, he was moved to tears knowing he was holding that original, signed masterpiece. After having his senior craftsman duplicate the piece, Lester asked the owner if he’d be willing to exchange the new one (made with modern-cut diamonds) for the original. The customer agreed, and the original locket remains in Lester’s proud possession.
For David, the piece that connects him to the past on a daily basis is his great-grandfather and namesake David’s ring with the initials DL spelled out in diamonds.
“Because I have had these experiences, I know what jewelry can mean to someone,” David says. “We have that emotional connection to jewelry. We understand what it means to somebody to create something that is going to be part of who they are forever.”
PHOTO GALLERY (13 IMAGES)
Five Cool Things About Lester Lampert
1. Forget silver spoons. Custom baby shoe charms from the Lester Lampert Absolelutely Precious Collection have the child’s name sculpted on the sole. Names with an “i” are dotted with a diamond.
2. Extreme makeovers. Lester Lampert takes customers’ old favorites and transforms them into modern pieces. They like to create versatile pieces: a bird pin that can be worn inside or outside of the cage, a watch with a removable section over the face, a ring with interchangeable side stones, or a stone that can be worn in a ring and necklace. They also customize designs by adding something unique to the customer: quail cufflinks for Vice President Dan Quayle, a money clip for Walter Payton with WP/34, cufflinks designed for Michael Jordan in the shape of MJ, which can also be viewed as a 23.
3. Claims to fame. In 1979, the city commissioned Lester Lampert to design an 18K yellow gold commemorative paperweight as the official gift to Pope John Paul II during his visit to Chicago. The original is now in the Vatican Museum. Chicago’s Loyola University Museum of Art commissioned Lester in 2008 to design a stained-glass window for its permanent exhibit, Windows of Faith. And the Field Museum of Chicago selected Lester as the featured designer for the 2009 Grainger Hall of Gems renovation.
4. Corporate sales. The Lester Lampert Corporate Division, begun in 1985 and now run by Lester’s daughter, Fradine, provides employers with well-designed jewelry and lifestyle items for service awards, commemorative gifts or sales incentives. They’ve also redesigned company logos, pins and rings.
5. Enviable events. Her parents “know how to throw a party,” says Fradine. To commemorate 75 years, the Field Museum of Chicago hosted a nine-day exhibition of their top 100 designs, which culminated in a soiree for 2,000-plus people. Cirque du SoLeopard featured jewelry from around the world and five Las Vegas Cirque Du Soleil acts entertaining 1,500 guests.
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 edition of INSTORE.