Palace Proper: After 30 years, Wesche Jewelers finally moves into its owner’s dream location.
Location: Viera, FL
Owners: Holly Wesche Conn
Year founded: 1977
Opened featured location: 2006
Store area: 15,000 square feet
Architect/design firm: DNA Architects
Value of land and building: $5.5 million
Slogan: “Celebrate Life’s Special Moments”
With Kennedy Space Center in the distance, staff and customers can watch space-shuttle launches from the store’s balcony. 6A jungle-themed playroom features painted paw prints from a real leopard from the neighboring zoo.
HOW THEY GOT THERE
Hurricane Holly’s Tale
Think all it takes to build one of America’s coolest stores is money? Don’t tell Wesche Jewelers.
In its 30-year history, Wesche Jewelers has worn all the suits of a jewelry retailer — strip-center unit, suburban mall venue, free-standing store, twin-branch operation and most recently in its current incarnation as our fourth-place prize winner: 15,000-square-foot destination store.
The new Wesche Jewelers, which opened last September in Viera on Florida’s Space Coast, fulfills a dream of owner Holly Wesche Conn to provide a resort-like jewelry-buying experience. The Mediterranean-inspired building is set in landscaped gardens and features rounded walls and arches built of Peruvian stone. Inside, a yellow color scheme, mahogany cases, sofas and a fireplace invite customers to come in relax, and have fun shopping.
The finished building is an undeniable aesthetic success, never more so than when its rotunda glows on a Florida summer night and a space launch lights up the sky behind it. On the business front, the store has done well too: Sales are on track to increase 25 percent in its first year.
But as smoothly as things are going now, Wesche Jewelers almost didn’t make it. “I was a little naive about the scope of the undertaking,” says Wesche Conn, recalling the trouble-plagued three years of construction. “We were lucky to have lots of good people working for us, great vendors and our bank contacts, or we wouldn’t have survived.”
The problems began not long after the initial design was put to paper. “The 2004 hurricane season was awful,” Wesche Conn says. “Three hurricanes hit our area. So when we broke ground in February of 2005, the prices of construction materials had escalated due to the high demand for items like drywall, concrete and even dirt.”
The following year Katrina struck. The hurricane didn’t hit Florida but the state still felt the impact as the reconstruction effort in Louisiana forced up building costs. Drywall, for example, tripled in price. Construction workers became almost impossible to find. The hurricane also forced a boat carrying the exterior stone from Peru to seek safe harbor in Panama. It dumped its cargo in the canal state, and it was two months before Wesche Conn’s builders could get their hands on the stone.
With construction well be-hind schedule, the lease expired on the existing store and Wesche’s was forced to vacate the premises. It meant that for a month, Wesche Jewelers was closed for business.
With no jewelry to sell, Wesche’s staff members rolled up their sleeves and joined the building operation as an ad-hoc cleaning crew. “The staff had a great attitude about it. They did everything from painting walls to assembling furniture,” says Wesche Conn, adding that the construction setback turned out to be good for staff morale.
“You can’t help but bond. You look icky, you’re dirty and sweaty, working side by side. It was hard manual labor.”
The prolonged drama, Wesche Conn says, “aged her 30 years” and damped her enthusiasm for new building projects.
Ironically, it was exactly these kinds of strains that had made her father ambivalent about having any of his three children enter the trade. “I think it was because of the stresses involved in running an independent jewelry store that my parents never pushed us to join the family business,” she says. “They would have been happy if we had gone to work for a big corporation.”
Wesche says the fun she had selling jewelry to earn pocket money while at college led her back to the family store, and eventually to where she is now, as owner of one of Florida’s biggest jewelry stores.
The new store, despite its size, sophisticated technology and overall grandeur, still has things — including the “core values and business structure” — in common with the original Wesche Jewelers, a 15-foot-wide strip-mall store, opened by Jim and June Wesche in 1977, Wesche Conn says.
“Size allows you to do more but you can still be big and boring. The key is to be unique. You have to stand out from the crowd in today’s market.” — Chris Burslem
FIVE COOL THINGS ABOUT WESCHE JEWELERS
1 Hurricane tough
Hurricane-related woes were a recurring theme during the building’s construction. They are unlikely to be again. The store is built to Miami-Dade hurricane standards, can withstand winds of up to 150 mph and is equipped with a generator that can power the entire facility.
2 The Experience
“It’s all about the experience,” says Wesche Conn. In the main lobby, customers can rest and sip wine or watch the three goldsmiths in action through a large viewing window — and browse the jewelry, of course. Guests are offered fresh ground coffee, a choice of five different soft drinks as well as wine or beer.
3 Gracious Host
The store’s 1,200-square-foot meeting room has hosted more than 50 events. The second-floor room, which features a retractable screen, overhead projector and other A/V equipment, can seat up to 200 people and has been used for a range of business and community-related functions.
4 Secure Relationship
Wesche Conn’s husband, Mike Conn, is an alarm contractor and security systems integrator. Little wonder the store features a state-of-the-art system that helps managers control the large crowds with its fingerprint-access-controlled doors and video camera system.
5 In the Mood
Speakers embedded in the landscaped gardens support the store’s resort ethos. Customers start getting in the mood for some shopping fun the moment they step out of their cars in the parking lot.
Bad, Bad Girls
At a Wesche customer-appreciation party during the last holiday season, a very determined woman was admiring a $20,000 Kwiat diamond bracelet. She told store manager Carrie Bell she just had to have it for Christmas. Carrie thought about it for a moment and then offered her these words of advice: “You know, good girls get diamonds ... but bad girls get LOTS of diamonds!” On Christmas Eve, the woman’s husband came into the store to buy the bracelet. He was sure he’d been set up, he just wasn’t sure how, says Wesche Jewelers director of marketing, Debbie Helton.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
The atrium is incredible! The overall look says strength and selection. It is establishing the store brand without saying a word. A real destination shopping experience.
Through modern technology combined with unique marketing outreach, Wesche’s firmly establishes the concepts of value and service in both a virtual and in-store environment.
An observatory window at the vault gives customers that behind-the-scenes experience.
Wesche Jewelers with their tasteful coffee bar and comfortable seating areas invite the customer to enjoy a visit at a leisurely pace. The abundant use of natural lighting and open spaces creates an elegant and tranquil environment, demonstrating how less is more. This feeling of comfort and hospitality is the perfect setting for clients of Wesche Jewelers to find the ideal item of jewelry to match an important occasion. It is evident that putting the customer at ease is important. Even one comfortable chair and an end table in even a small jewelry store can offer a customer an appreciated retreat to contemplate an important decision.
2006 Cool Store Winner
This is an amazing store that has a very large presence yet still maintains a welcoming feel. I love the combination of exterior colors; the roof and the front make for a grand entrance. The interior is beautifully styled and all the right touches have been added: the coffee bar, the kids’ play area, the goldsmith viewing window, the state-of-the-art fingerprint access doors, the plasma screen TVs, the backup generator and of course the two-story rotunda.
I absolutely love the cupola. On the inside of the presentation of the cupola is exceptional — simple yet elegant with the small windows and the small wrought iron panes. From the outside, without the cupola, the store would not have the castle-like look that it does. And, the plus side is allowing more natural light to enter the store, which adds warmth to the base bisque color choice — a very Florida choice of colors. Even though the cases have contemporary angular features, they still help with the flow of the store much as cases with rounded features do. And the bathroom vanity featuring the elephant demonstrates that the store owners paid attention to even the smallest details in every room. That means a lot to customers who are buying high-end jewelry in this store.
Deborah E. Hecht
Wholesale Jewelry Rep
Wesche has built a beautiful complex that incorporates all of the latest technologies necessary to make the customer comfortable while purchasing and the merchandise safe. Their curb appeal is delicious (especially at night), which for many stores is key.
Rhonda Faber Green
The architecture and second-story rotunda enhances the beauty of an otherwise ordinary interior design. The experience, however, is interactive, fun and built with the customer in mind. There is a room expressly for children; a beverage center that serves a wide variety of drinks including beer and wine; and for those who are fascinated by the craft, a customer can get a look at the goldsmiths in action.
This store is glamorous, very Florida. The design feels rich, but at the same time is not intimidating. The store’s lighting, combined with the natural light, shows the jewelry extremely well. With 15,000 square feet, Holly can get as many customers in there as she wants, and everyone has plenty of space. Not only is the store inviting, but it’s a billboard unto itself — it’s one of my favorites for outside architecture.
This story is from the August 2007 edition of INSTORE