Greener On the Other Side
With a distinctive business model and a culture of excellence, Green Lake wows a new market
STORY BY TRACE SHELTON
How can one improve on the coolest store in the country? That was the question facing Jim Tuttle and the Green Lake Jewelry Works staff as they began work on the business’s second location. The new store would be in Bellevue, a satellite city of Seattle, which is home to the company’s flagship store that won INSTORE’s America’s Coolest Store in the Big Cool division in 2012.
Green Lake Jewelry
Works, Bellevue, WA
OWNER: Jim Tuttle
OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2016
AREA: 5,400 square feet
BUILDOUT COST: $800,000 (including equipment and fixtures)
EMPLOYEES: 15 full-time, 3 part-time in this location
ONLINE PRESENCE: 8,835 Facebook likes; 21,800 Instagram followers; 5 stars on Yelp; custom design capability on website
But it wasn’t primarily a question of aesthetics. It was a question of function.
The Seattle location represented a revolutionary idea in jewelry retailing: let the customer work directly with the jewelry designer with no salesperson in the middle. And because the store’s “product” is custom design — with very little actual jewelry in showcases — the store itself became the thing that convinced clients that Green Lake understood art and design. Floor murals, unusual showcases, video monitors and 8-foot glass windows that showed jewelers at work made clients feel that these people “get it” when it comes to custom design.
But like all new things, there was room for improvement.
For instance, says Tuttle, they loved the 8-foot glass wall in Seattle — so in Bellevue, they made the entire wall glass, from floor to ceiling. “Clients can see even more of the shop in this location,” he says.
The shop itself was improved as well, with larger benches and work areas, as well as a specially created ceiling made to simulate natural sunlight on a cloudy day (translucent panels throughout with lights set above them). “It’s perfect for viewing and setting gemstones, and we thought that was important,” Tuttle says. The production area and gem lab have also been integrated, as the team found it difficult to communicate easily in the Seattle location due to the areas being located in separate rooms. The shop takes up just about half of the store’s 5,700 square feet.
Out in the showroom, function was top-of-mind for Tuttle as well, and one of the new store’s major innovations is a new version of the display-and-design case that allows designers to design and draw without blocking access to the jewelry in their showcases. This is critical on busy days, when other designers may need to pull a piece to show their client. “We made a longer, thinner case that’s backlit where the monitors are. You can use it as a light table, or you can sit and draw close to your computer, leaving the case area easy to access for our other designers,” Tuttle says. “It looks cutting-edge, but it was also built for function.”
Similarly, the wood used throughout the new location looks modern but was also chosen with another purpose: to be sustainable. “We wanted to move away from mahogany, and we didn’t want to use any wood that would impact tropical rainforests,” says Tuttle, of the team’s decision to go with fir and walnut.
Because the showcase concept was so unusual — and perhaps because Tuttle has a passion for woodworking — he designed and constructed the showcases himself, which actually wound up being a huge undertaking and delayed the store’s opening by a month. “We built a finished one and then tweaked it a bit, which makes fitting the glass complicated. And they required some retrofitting with different tracks and locks. But it was the only way I knew how to get what I wanted,” Tuttle says. “If I did it again, I would outsource production.”
The new store was also designed to be friendlier to customers walking in. “In the Seattle location, there was a subset of people who would walk into the store 20 feet, watch the jewelers working, but never know how to be helped,” Tuttle says. “Here, you walk in straight to the greeter and coffee bar and you immediately see jewelers working in the shop.” He says the new layout has worked so well that they are considering doing a light remodel in Seattle to create a similar effect.
One of the company’s signatures is its many video screens throughout the showroom — which have naturally been made larger in the Bellevue location. The monitors scroll through a series of 69 finished pieces intended to give prospective clients a comprehensive look at the operation’s design capabilities. A large projection screen at the back runs a video loop of jewelry work being done, including hand-engraving, filigree, torch work, a lapidary spinning wheel and even some Montana sapphire mining. The video, produced in-house by creative director Eric Robertson, allows designers to show clients the work that can be done on their pieces. Both locations also employ full-time photographers to shoot finished goods, loose gems, wax models, sketches and stages of work, which are shown to both local and online clients.
As with the Seattle location, Tuttle not only designed the store but was actively involved in its construction. “My girlfriend and I hung all the lights in the shop and hung the wood decorations. I like being on site and figuring it out as I go a little bit,” says Tuttle. “Putting up the wood decorations was an artistic thing. I did it all in CAD 27 times, but in the real world, there were a number of us there to say ‘a little higher, a little lower’ to perfect the sightlines.”
Finally, one of Green Lake’s most distinctive hallmarks has always been its floor murals, which go all the way back to the store’s original 500-square-foot location. The Bellevue version, though, is different: it had a guiding concept and a lead designer. “We had a lead designer (Eric, who is an accomplished artist), and our other designers, artists and jewelers did the work.” In all, 25 artists collaborated to tell the story of love in specialized tinted cement. The mural has a Northwest feel, with koi fish in a yin-yang pattern, a tile with Mount Rainier reflecting in a lake, hummingbirds and other motifs that Green Lake uses in its jewelry.
All in all, it’s a fabulous place to hang out — which is good, because at Green Lake, most clients visit five times before leaving with a finished piece. “Our business has solidified even more as custom, custom and more custom,” says Tuttle. “There are plenty of places you can buy a nice, well-done piece, but we want to be the place that’s top of mind for custom. We’re more likely to make you one than sell you one out of the showcase, even if you love it.”
PHOTO GALLERY (9 IMAGES)
Five Cool Things About Green Lake Jewelry Works
1. Chinese symbols. The coffee bar in the Bellevue location has the Chinese symbols for “double happiness” etched into the wood. “It’s the symbol for weddings and joyful couples,” Tuttle says. “We have a huge Asian population here in Bellevue, and they see the symbols and know that they are welcome here.”
2. “Mitch Masks.” When popular designer Mitch Kelley moved from the Seattle location to the new Bellevue studio, his Seattle co-workers made “Mitch masks” with wooden dowels and walked around the shop as though they were at a Venetian masquerade ball. The idea gained popularity in Bellevue, too, where the workshop is now filled with images of Mitch’s face super-imposed onto cowboys, rappers and a baby.
3. Truckload of river rocks. Tuttle found inspiration for his reception desk and coffee bar in a picture of cattle fencing enclosing a pile of boulders used as a table. “My girlfriend and I bought them ourselves, stained them, shellacked them, and then stacked them in the pattern we wanted,” he says. But it wasn’t easy: each boulder had to be slid inside the mesh by hand, carried to the end and then put in place to make a pattern.
4. Mine-to-market program. Five years ago, Green Lake didn’t do much with gemstones — but then they hired some employees who “really knew gemstones” and developed a mine-to-market program with Montana sapphires. Members of the buying team travel to Montana to purchase the gemstones, all chronicled in photography. “That step up in how we purchase diamonds and gemstones has given us a leg of a stool that was missing for the first 15 years we were open,” Tuttle says.
5. “You can’t beat us” attitude. The culture at Green Lake Jewelry Works is not just one of camaraderie; it’s also one of excellence and friendly competition. “There’s a lot of pride here,” Tuttle says. “We almost love it when a client says, ‘I’m going to see if I can get a better price.’ We would take our hats off to anyone who can do it prettier and better.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 edition of INSTORE.