Cool Store: Jewelsmith

IN 1975, Linda McGill, armed with an art degree, a little bit of equipment and a passion for jewelry design, joined a couple of friends in a small jewelry repair business in her hometown of Durham, NC. Linda’s partners moved on to other endeavors, but she was hooked. As the demand for her jewelry grew, she hired goldsmiths and appraisers, installed a gem lab and became accredited with AGS. Ten years ago, Jewelsmith expanded into a 4,000-square-foot space that’s nearly as innovative as her jewelry designs. “We wanted the store to look a lot like our jewelry,” McGill says. “It’s very modern and contemporary but still warm and inviting and comfortable.” Most design details — such as the plush purple carpeting — also have a practical purpose. “If you drop a piece of jewelry on it, you don’t want it to shatter,” McGill says. — EILEEN MCCLELLAND

Jewelsmith

DURHAM, NC
URL: www.jewelsmithonline.com
OWNERS: Linda McGill
FOUNDED: 1975
OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1999
CONTRACTOR: Ted Patterson
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 12
COST OF THE BUILD-OUT: $400,000
SLOGAN: Originality becomes you

Store Photo Gallery

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Five Cool Things About This Store

Sales Experience

A Team Effort

1 The sales experience is a completely customized group effort. “The client might be talking to a salesperson, a gemologist and a goldsmith, all at the same time,” McGill says. “We have a lot of jewelry that we made that is in stock, so if someone comes in who hasn’t been in before, often their horizons have expanded greatly after seeing all the unusual things we have. We draw things up and make them a 3D-wax model. It’s very hands on.” McGill and members of her goldsmith team, most of whom have metal-arts degrees, have won more than 10 AGTA Spectrum Awards and have been honored as well by the Platinum Guild International, De Beers Diamonds Today, International Pearl Competition, JCK Design Awards and MJSA Design Awards.

Motivation

Above and Beyond

2 The staff puts the customer at ease throughout the process. “The store is beautiful and a dynamic physical structure, it’s sparkly and high-end,” says administrative office manager Mary Katherine Moore. “But most of us wear jeans and we pride ourselves on making people feel comfortable whether they’re buying something for $200 or $200,000. We don’t want anyone to feel alienated.” McGill insists on going the extra mile for her customer, a philosophy that the staff has adopted as well. “Linda is an owner who goes above and beyond in ways that we sometimes even disagree about,” Moore says. “We wonder, ‘Do we really need to go that far?’ and it always comes back not to haunt us but to benefit us.” McGill says she motivates her staff by offering good pay and benefits, including health insurance. They repay her by sticking around.

The Space

Room to Stretch

3 Jewelsmith has been in the same complex for 20 years. Ten years ago, McGill moved the business from one side of it to the other, expanding significantly in the process. “We were in each other’s laps at the old store,” McGill says. “There were six goldsmiths in a space of about 300 square feet.” The showroom occupies just 1,500 square feet of the current 4,000-square-foot space. “The rest is for us,” McGill says. That behind-the-scenes space includes two goldsmith rooms, storage space, and room for equipment, including the laser welder and the CAD/CAM system.

The Materials

Piecing the Store Together

4 To some extent, the new store was designed around materials that contractor Ted Patterson, known to be a creative scrounger of materials, had found in places as unexpected as surplus stores and marinas. Various gauges of stainless-steel tubing he salvaged support part of the ceiling and are incorporated in the cases, too. “If we had ordered it, it would have cost a zillion dollars,” McGill says. Textured stainless steel brings to mind the gold and platinum of the jewelry. The cases are made of wood, concrete and stainless steel; displays are stainless steel and Plexiglas. McGill says the pieced-together inventiveness is appropriate because the jewelry is often designed that way, too. “We might saw something out of a piece of 18K yellow gold, and then there is the negative part of it that might inspire going off in another design direction,” she explains. “Jewelry doesn’t go bad. You can change it, you can melt it down and make something else. There are a myriad of ways to take advantage of what we work with.”

Events

Party-Throwing

5 Jewelsmith has thrown holiday parties with food and high-quality wine and champagne for as many as 500 people. “Being next door to a really good restaurant helps,” Moore says. “We’ve gotten so used to how easy it is that it might be four or five days before the party that we realize, ‘Oh, no, we forgot to talk to the restaurant,’ but luckily they’re fine with it.” There’s a courtyard behind the store, ideal for a band — jazz, swing or salsa — and an overflow crowd. The trick is to keep the traffic moving between the outdoor and indoor spaces and to avoid a bottleneck around the jewelry. The holiday party is so popular that Jewelsmith customers are proactive about landing invitations, McGill says. “We get calls the first of November, saying ‘When is your party?’ Or ‘I didn’t get an invitation yet.’”

Five Questions With ...

Linda McGill

WHY JEWELRY?
“I learned how to weld in my grandfather’s shop, but nobody wanted the large metal things that I made. So jewelry was a natural progression. It’s easy to ship, it’s easy to get anything you want the next day. And it’s easy to sell. People want jewelry, even this year.”

WHAT IS THE SECRET TO YOUR SUCCESS THIS YEAR?
“Jewelry represents love and family; we’re finding that our business is stable and people are still coming in. I think the fact that we’re able to make anything anybody wants, helps. There’s no limit to what somebody can ask for.” 

WHAT DO PEOPLE SAY ABOUT YOUR STORE?
“I rarely don’t get a gasp from people who walk in
for the first time. It is very pretty and it is very comfortable. I was worried when we first opened
that the store might intimidate people,
and it doesn’t — we’re very warm people.”

HOW HAS THE WAY YOU DO BUSINESS CHANGED WITH IMPROVED TECHNOLOGY?
“I used to be digging around in my attic for things, envelopes that I need to find information about for a customer, now it’s just push a button and there it is. We have a huge database that we can access, we keep a photograph of every piece we make and by plugging in key words we can pull up everything that’s pertinent to what the customer is looking for.”

YOU HAVE CARPETING IN THE STORE AND YOU WELCOME DOGS. HOW DOES THAT WORK?
“We love dogs, and we vacuum every day.”

Marketing Samples

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Try This!

• DECLARE AND PROMOTE YOUR INDEPENDENCE, says administrative manager Mary Katherine Moore. “Just like people like to shop for organic food from small farms, they also want to frequent small businesses if you give them a chance, and promoting that about your store is a good idea. It’s something that people admire and respect but you have to toot your own horn or they will succumb to national chain advertising and jingles. Jingles can be your worst enemy. Here, there’s quite a push to shop locally. We’ve been able to squeeze out a lot of chains. The independent retailer reigns supreme in our area, which is very unusual.”

• JEWELSMITH POSTS before and after photos on its website of customers’ jewelry that has been beautifully reinvented

HEARSAY

Our jewelry is so distinctive that often people say ‘I was on an airplane and I saw somebody and they said those earrings you’re wearing are from Jewelsmith.’” — Linda McGil l

This story is from the October 2009 edition of INSTORE