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America's Coolest Stores

2016 Big Cool 1: De Boulle Diamond & Jewelry

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QUICK FACTS



LOCATION:
Houston, TX

URL: deboulle.com


OWNERS:
Denis and Karen Boulle

FOUNDED: 1983

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OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2015

STORE DESIGN: Gensler

AREA: 1,800 square feet


COST OF BUILDOUT:
$2 million


EMPLOYEES:
Six


BRANDS:
De Boulle Collection, Patek Philippe, David Webb

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ONLINE PRESENCE: 12,971 Likes on Facebook; 4.5 Stars on Yelp

DE BOULLE DIAMOND
& JEWELRY

A SECOND LOCATION MAKES A SPLASH IN THE FOURTH LARGEST CITY

STORY BY Eileen McClelland

OWNERS

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DENIS AND
KAREN BOULLE

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 edition of INSTORE.

DENIS AND KAREN BOULLE’S first priority has always been to make clients feel comfortably at home.
At the same time they want to make sure everything they do is associated with exquisite quality, from the fine jewelry and watches they sell to the quality of materials used in the design of their stores.
In creating a second home for de Boulle, their Dallas-based business, which was named a Cool Store in 2007, the Boulles had the opportunity to roll out the welcome mat for Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S.

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Work with a Store Planner from the Beginning

➜ Are you preparing to work with an architect or store designer on your own cool store to be? Always get design professionals onboard as soon as possible, even before selecting your space. “People who have been doing it a long time understand the pros and cons and opportunities of certain spaces vs. other spaces,” says Lisa Pope-Westerman. “They will consider ceiling heights and other existing conditions. Assessing and analyzing those kinds of things gives store owners more information about which space is the better longer term investment.”


Brand Power

➜ De Boulle relies on brands to differentiate itself in a crowded luxury market.


★★★★★
5-STAR FACEBOOK REVIEW

MAY 21: “They had a water bowl outside and gave me a treat while I was walking by their Houston shop! I hope someday they sell doggie collars.”
— Molly McKinney


5-STAR GOOGLE REVIEW

MAY 2016: “Best of the best in Dallas and Houston! Owners and staff treat you like one of their own.”
— Bo Zhou

While the de Boulle Diamond & Jewelry Patek Philippe Showroom introduces Houston to the de Boulle Collection of jewelry, designed or selected by Karen, the location also houses the first official Patek Philippe showroom in the world. That calling card has gained them immediate entrée into Houston’s elite shopping and social scene.

“Patek Philippe is our biggest drawing card,” Denis says. “Our brand is not big enough to open into Houston by itself and succeed. We found very select brands that can’t be found elsewhere that we can use to differentiate ourselves. That is the key — offering pieces that they can’t get anywhere else.” The boutique is also the only David Webb dealer in Houston.

They chose as their location the new River Oaks District, where their heavy-hitting neighbors include Cartier, Chopard, Harry Winston, John Hardy and Van Cleef & Arpels.

They wanted the store to be welcoming but also elegant and bespoke enough to outshine competitors on the global luxury-brand level. “We were coming up against all the big boys in the industry,who had an unlimited pocketbook,” Karen says. “We had to create something that had to be special and not cookie cutter. We had to compete as the little bitty independent, and we were going to do the best that we could. And so we spent money more freely than was probably wise.”

And they also wanted to be able to use the Houston store as a prototype for future ventures.
“We wanted the store to be open and welcoming, but elegant. Not intimidating,” Karen says. “Not too cutting edge or too old fashioned. Classical and timeless.”

They turned to the Houston office of Gensler, a global architecture, design and planning firm. Gensler architect and designer Lisa Pope-Westerman pulled together elements of residential and retail design to achieve an engaging balance.

Denis says the Gensler team poured their heart and soul into the project, which, at less than 2,000 square feet, was relatively small in the grand scheme of architecture and design.

Pope-Westerman says she was immediately impressed with how lovely and hospitable the Boulles are. “The biggest thing I noticed visiting them in the original store in Dallas was that they treated you as if they were welcoming you into their own home,” she says. “They wanted to carry that through to the prototype Houston store, that very personal feeling.”

A homey lounge between the jewelry showroom and the Patek Philippe shop in shop serves as a visual icebreaker with its comfortable furniture, coffee bar and relaxed vibe. Bright yellow chairs provide energetic splashes of color while echoing the trademark tone of de Boulle gift bags. The curtains are a replica of those used in their Dallas store, providing a unifying feature and an extra residential flair.
The lounge serves as a transitional portal between the two sides of the store — the subtly masculine Patek Philippe enclave and the slightly more feminine front of the store, where Karen’s jewels take center stage.

The light fixtures in the front window are an ode to the residential side of the store’s personality. They act like flickering sconces that might be found on the front wall of a stately home, flanking the front doors.

“The lanterns in the windows are welcoming and warm, and they invite you to take a closer look,” Pope-Westerman says. “When you do, you notice there are beautiful jewels perched on top of those fixtures. So you are engaged at different levels; you see something to attract you and lure you in, and as you get closer you see more of the beauty inside.”

One of the first objects of beauty shoppers will notice inside is the Italian crystal chandelier that looks like it would be at home in the grand foyer of an opulent residence.

Brightly polished brass reflects the high-karat gold in Karen Boulle’s jewelry. While the brass on the façade is polished, brass finishes inside the store are matte, to take a back seat to the brilliant jewelry.

Immediately to the left and right of the entry are lifestyle cases, designed to accommodate jewelry that is curated to reflect the changing seasons.

The herringbone wood floors and plaster walls also provide a matte background. Choosing plaster walls over painted gypsum elevates the quality of the entire interior in a subtle way that quickly wins over guests, who can’t quite put their finger on why exactly the space is so warm. “It’s been really amazing to watch people come in and hear them say, ‘It just feels so wonderful in here. Something is so special,’” Pope-Westerman says.

The wall color is a carefully crafted blend of warm and cool gray tones, combining residential warmth and modern crispness. While the palette is simple and neutral, the variety of texture and patina adds interest.

A rich marble half wall separates the lounge area from the Patek boutique in the back of the store.

A big budget-busting splurge for the Boulles is a two-panel logo divider wall designed by a local artisan. Each of the plates within the screen is hand-cast and set within a framework that divides the front retail portion from that of the lounge space. Because it’s intricately fashioned out of solid brass, the initial price estimate was $100,000 per panel. But by making the framework a little more airy, that expenditure was toned down to a more manageable $100,000 for both panels.

The DEB logo on the screen also makes an appearance on the base of store fixtures.

“It’s very subtle,” Pope-Westerman says. “It’s not in-your-face. It’s almost like when you’re looking for a brand name on a piece of jewelry. It subtly signifies that it’s quality.”

STARTING FRESH WITH DISTINCTIVE INVENTORY


OPENING A SECOND STORE
has been not only a creative outlet, but also an opportunity to start fresh, to get back onto the sales floor and talk to people. Denis enjoys personally greeting everyone who walks in the door.

Although custom design is an option, the Boulles say that the pieces on display are so distinctive and unique that most shoppers find something they can’t resist waiting for them in the boutique’s custom cases.

They also carry estate watches, and take jewelry and watches in trade.

“We can value a piece of jewelry that someone isn’t wearing, and they can trade it for a Patek or for a new piece of jewelry,” Denis says. “It’s amazing how much trading we do. We looked at a beautiful 55-carat aquamarine this morning.”

Although the Boulles recognize the rivalry between Houston and Dallas and don’t want to take sides, they have been pleasantly surprised at how quickly Houston has embraced them, at how receptive and welcoming and diverse its residents are.

“The barrier to entry here is a lot lower,” Denis says. “Dallas will watch you more before they accept you. If you come to Houston, and you are hard working with good ethics and the store creates something of a swagger, then Houston people will give you a try. It’s very open, surprisingly so.”

They are also enjoying the international nature of the city.

They commute regularly between the two locations.

“In Dallas we see locals and regular customers and there’s a loyal following,” Denis says. “Here, it’s the United Nations. Every day. We love that aspect of it.”


PHOTO GALLERY

{igallery id=3504|cid=1553|pid=20|type=category|children=0|addlinks=0|tags=|limit=0}

5 QUESTIONS WITH

DENIS DE BOULLE

1. Is it tough to sell fine watches
to millennials?

“Many Patek Philippe customers are 25
to 35 years old, earn good incomes and have developed a passion for timepieces. My son is 27 years old and his
friends all love watches. The perception that the next generation rely on iPhones and gadgets at the expense of watches is totally wrong. They have a bigger passion for watches, almost, than older people. Watches are a point of differentiation for young professionals.”

2. Did you have any setbacks during construction?
“The floor is the obvious one. There
had been a lot of rain and there was water leakage before we even started. The concrete was soaked and we had to get a special machine to dry
it out.”

3. Have you faced other challenges?
“If it were easy to open a second location, everyone would do it. We opened in Dallas right before 9/11. And in Houston we moved
in in November while the price of oil crashed. But oil is coming back. People are very positive. Houston is going to be a bigger market than Dallas for Patek. And we created a template we can reproduce.”

4. Where did
the store’s name come from?

“The Boulle name stems from Parisian
André Charles Boulle. (1642 to 1732) who became known for his skillful work in the field of marquetry. His style of work was eventually dubbed ‘Boulle.’ In French, ‘de’ means ‘of’ or ‘from’ — ‘of Boulle’ or ‘from Boulle.’ Having ‘de’ in front of your last name in France also carries stature in the French language and in Europe.”

5. What sort of advertising have you done?

“Patek has been instrumental in
every way, using their PR machine to get stories for us, for example. There’s been a tremendous amount of media exposure, every major magazine in the city.”

5 COOL THINGS

1. DISTINCTIVE DESIGNS

de Boulle Diamond & Jewelry has distinguished itself through Karen Boulle’s eye for luxury and talent for design. The de Boulle Collection is inspired by Karen Boulle’s childhood spent traveling the world — England, Singapore and elsewhere in the Far East — when her father was in the diplomatic service.

2. AWARD-WINNING
ENVIRONS

The location isn’t just cool in the jewelry world. It has won two awards for excellence in design: First Place in Retail Design Institute Hard Line Specialty Store Category from the Retail Design Institute and a Silver Finalist at the 2016 Association of Retail Environments Design Awards in the Hardline Specialty Store up to 3,000 square feet category.

3. EXPERTS
IN THE HOUSE

de Boulle’s versatile staff are experts on both fine jewelry and Patek Philippe watches, and have been trained in Switzerland. The Houston staff also spent four months training in Dallas before the new store debuted.

4. SUCCESS IS IN THE AIR

The store has a subtle, custom-designed scent that is light and clean and spa-like and contributes to the overall comfortable, special feeling.

5. DRIVING AMBITION

de Boulle has a racing team that participates in amateur and professional races. Denis’ son, Nick Boulle, was sponsored by de Boulle Motorsports and Vista del Mar of Perdido Key, FL, in the 2016 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona where his team finished second. Through events, press and social media, this kind
of national publicity and marketing exercise has created local buzz for de Boulle, and its partners in their motorsports endeavors.

what the judges say

Debbie Fox:
Their minimalist look with clean lines, light wood casework and open floor plan gives an upscale, but comfortable, feeling. Keeping
the color palette to three neutral colors allows them to add interesting patterns and pops of color to draw the eye where they see
fit. Blending their passion for race cars brings that demographic into their business and garners additional publicity.

Becky Stone:
De Boulle has a particularly good Instagram presence — the photos are all appealingly composed, in-focus and on brand. They clearly have a better understanding of Instagram than many others in the industry.

Todd Reed:
De Boulle has a aesthetic that is elegant and refined at every turn, and they do the things from basic to complex that make one want to trust them and get into their world.

Brandee Dallow:
The coolest thing about de Boulle is its amazing and elegant Patek Philippe showroom and the fact that it was the first official Patek Philippe Showroom in the world!

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America's Coolest Stores

How These Georgia Jewelers Reinvented Marketing

Focus on charity touches community.

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Wear Your GRACE, Santa Fe, NM

OWNER: Hillary Fitzpatrick Randolph; FOUNDED: 2015; URL: wearyourgrace.com; BUILDOUT COST: $39,650; EMPLOYEES: 5, full and part-time; AREA: 650 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Owner’s GRACE pieces and Etkie (contemporary hand-loomed bracelets crafted by Native American artisans)


ONE DEFINITION OF “GRACE” is simple elegance. Another is refined movement. The word is also associated with the bestowal of blessings.

Artist and designer Hillary Randolph takes a creative approach to exploring the nuanced meanings of “grace” as the theme for her brand and her Santa Fe store, wear your GRACE. She also established “Share Your Grace,” a multifaceted program that benefits Santa Fe’s community, including its nonprofit organizations.

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Choosing grace as her theme triggers interesting conversations and builds meaningful rapport with clients, she says, who share what grace means in their own lives.

Randolph designed her Santa Fe store based on her aesthetic sense of what grace looks and feels like — warm and inviting with a dash of elegant simplicity. She opened her gallery in 2015 in a 250-year-old adobe building on

Palace Avenue in the heart of Santa Fe, just off the historic plaza. Her jewelry emphasizes graceful flowing movement. Much of the work is developed upstairs in the design studio.

Her approach to interior design is hands on.

A unique orb light fixture is an eye-catching element near the entrance. Randolph created it from a grapevine she found in Round Top, TX, that had been steamed, coiled, shaped into an openwork globe and re-dried. She took it home, painted the bottom of it with gold leaf and hung from it 100-year-old faceted crystal drops from France. The table below is also painted with gold leaf so it appears as if the crystals are dripping gold. It complements the interior design, with its gold-on-white palette and a trompe l’oeil tangerine curtain painted by a local artist across the back wall. The curtain painting creates a sense of flowing movement and acts as a backdrop for casually luxurious décor.

“The best decisions I have ever made came from feelings, instincts and hunches, rather than spreadsheets, schematics and trend forecasts. I’ve learned to make business decisions according to how I want my life to feel. The unique look of the gallery came from the feeling I get from certain colors, combinations and materials. I want my guests to feel as inspired by the store’s ambience as I do.”

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“I hear people talk about the experience they have when they walk in,” she says. “The product is an offshoot of the experience.”

Randolph’s approach to sales is to honor each customer’s personal sense of style, wardrobe and lifestyle in general. “It’s our passion to truly connect with women from all walks of life, listening to their stories and encouraging self-expression through their jewelry,” she says. “So we connect, we listen and we always have fun.”

Although shopping in Santa Fe is a favorite pastime of tourists, more and more of Randolph’s regular clients live in town. So marketing is increasingly local as well, with in-store events and email campaigns. This year she plans to feature the “faces of Grace” in her marketing and discover what “grace” means to her clients to make her social-media marketing more interactive.

Another goal is to spend less time on paperwork upstairs in her office and more time downstairs in the gallery, being the ambassador of her brand.

Randolph’s career started in Palm Beach in luxury goods followed by a move to New York, where she worked with Ralph Lauren in his flagship Madison Avenue store. Other luxury brand retailers recruited her to develop their wholesale brands and open brick-and-mortar stores across the United States.

In 1999, she visited her mother in Santa Fe and never left.

“I never thought I would stay, and then I saw the moon rise over the ski basin and it was the biggest moon I’d ever seen in my life,” she recalls. “There was a certain connection with people from all over the country that I found here. I had conversations with them here that I would never have if I were sitting next to them at a dinner table in New York. There is a certain veil that is removed here, an authentic connection that feeds me.”

She launched her jewelry-design career in 1999 with Somers, a line based on the sculptures of her creative partner that was sold in galleries and jewelry stores around the country. Later, the idea for Grace took shape.

“Even today,” she says, “there are things I’m still discovering. A new hike, people, artists. It’s not boring here. There’s always something to feed you.”

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She has found the business climate friendly, as well. Santa Fe, she discovered is the No. 1 spot in the U.S. per capita for women-owned businesses.

She finds inspiration for design in Santa Fe, as well. “I design in my head so when I’m on that hike the best design pops into my head,” she says, “If I’m just sitting there with the stones it doesn’t work as well.”

Randolph believes in being an active part of her community by creating a business model that gives back. She is a founding member of Santa Fe’s 100 Women Who Care, a group that meets quarterly to learn about and donate to a charity that the group selects.

Share your GRACE also holds invitation-only sales events throughout the year, during which a portion of net proceeds benefit non-profit organizations while boosting Randolph’s philanthropic profile in the community.

Randolph is certain she’s where she’s supposed to be — both literally and figuratively.

“I am living proof that if you choose to make decisions from your heart and persevere, you will never look back,” she says. “Creating GRACE has given me more connection, has inspired other women to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit and has led to deeper relationships with my clients all due to my own personal decision to choose GRACE as this next chapter of my life.”

PHOTO GALLERY (21 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Wear Your GRACE

1. Practical magic. Randolph is focusing on gemstones and custom-creating talismans using labradorite and rose quartz. They’re marketed as being an essential element of everyday protection. “Being in Santa Fe with all of our ‘woo woo,’ people love it,” Randolph says. The jewelry line that I am creating is the core things we need as women to feel safe, protected, guided, grounded, but it’s also an individual connection.”

2. The canine experience. Just outside the store’s entrance is the most popular “Dog Bar” in town, complete with treats tucked inside a mailbox over a trompe l’oeil of splashing water from a faux-spigot. Four-legged friends may quench their thirst in cool H2O. Pet owners peek in with an amused smile as they view candy colored leather dog leashes and collars engraved with “Walk with GRACE. Sales help support animal rescue groups.

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3. Versatility behind the scenes. The second floor is the atelier, where the jewelry is designed and made from cast components. “I have used the space for open houses, gallery night on Fridays, and featured a painter here with her larger work upstairs,” Randolph says. “So it is a working studio, but also a social space. Or I’ll have a client come up and we’ll collaborate to remake something. Just minutes after a design is completed upstairs, it can be displayed on the floor.”

4. Guest stars. Randolph loves collaborating with artists she’s met on her travels, so she regularly features jewelry by guest designers and hosts events promoting other artwork she loves.

5. Coco’s Bangles. The wear your GRACE collection includes best-selling Coco’s Bangles, designed by Hillary’s teenage daughter, Coco. Coco donates a portion of the proceeds of sales to the Heart & Soul Animal Sanctuary outside Santa Fe.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Sofia Kaman: I love seeing a business that embraces fun, whimsy and a sense of happiness in all that they do. The dog bar is a brilliant touch!
  • Jimmy DeGroot: I love the concept and the business model.
  • Lyn Falk: Great website. Clever and sophisticated. Unique name and use of the name in marketing. Interior and exterior are well done — distinct, savvy, artsy with touches of whimsy. Unique displays pushed the envelope in terms of a typical retail experience. More like a gallery. Hillary appears to exude charm!
  • Tiffany Stevens: This is a beautiful store! The exterior encapsulates the rich history of Santa Fe while the interior is modern and unique.
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America's Coolest Stores

Cool Store Design for Albany Store Based on Consumer Research

Vice-president Gregg Kelly considered aspects from the scent of flowers used outside to handicapped signage.

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Northeastern Fine Jewelry, Albany, NY

OWNER: Raymond Bleser; FOUNDED: 1980; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1998; ARCHITECT: C2 Design Group; LAST RENOVATED: 2017;BUILDOUT COST: $1.3 million; NO. of LOCATIONS: 3; EMPLOYEES: 14;AREA: 5,000 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Cartier, Tacori, Simon G, IWC, Forevermark


WHEN GREGG KELLY told customers he was planning to redo the Albany, NY, location of Northeastern Fine Jewelry, they inevitably asked him, “Why are you spending money on a store that still looks beautiful?”

But Kelly, vice president and son-in-law of owner Raymond Bleser, understands the importance of updating a store’s look and making it as functionally modern and approachable as possible. He invested untold hours studying store design, traffic flow and consumer behavior before embarking on the major remodel he undertook in 2017, which went far beyond a touch up or a new coat of paint.

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In fact, the store was gutted, all while it remained open, with the support of its two sister stores in Schenectady and Glens Falls, NY.

What’s new? A 1,000-square foot addition, the floor plan, the cases, a glass façade, a patio and landscaping. Even the parking lot is new.

“We try to redo the stores every 10 years, and some stuff was falling apart,” Kelly says. “When a customer visits a few times a year, we want to re-engage them and give them a new environment, a new experience.”

The company realized a 15 percent increase in business the first full year following the renovation.

In preparation, Kelly painstakingly considered every detail and collected sources of inspiration from around the world, making it a priority to visit stores when he travels.

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He also reads the Robb Report and other national luxury magazines to stay on top of retail trends. He took a class with neuroscientist Robert Cooper, a New York Times bestselling author and business strategist specializing in consumer behavior. Kelly was particularly interested in what gives people the ability to make good, conscious decisions based on the retail environment itself. “Once you have their attention, it comes down to the associate who guides the decision to purchase.”

To get their attention, Kelly wanted the store to have an open floor plan and optimal traffic flow while balancing the individual requirements of a variety of international shop-in-shop brands with less of a choppy look.

Michael Roman of the C2 Design Group says the overall challenge was to take Kelly’s concept and bring it to life within an existing building.

The sense of openness was achieved by repositioning the entry and shifting it over, which also affected the exterior of the building. The goal inside was to improve traffic flow, so shoppers could feel comfortable, meandering freely without encountering any obstacles. “It’s the experience that’s going to bring you back,” Roman says. The shop-in-shops are tied together with materials and lighting, while accommodating each vendor’s own design criteria.

The glass facade offers a transparency that puts shoppers at ease as they approach. Especially at night, the window reveals the character of the store within, Roman says. And the casual patio setting in front offers a decompression zone between parking lot and shopping experience, easing threshold resistance.

Finishes are sleekly upscale and timeless, rather than trendy.

Kelly also told Roman he wanted a store that looked like it had leaped off the pages of a luxury magazine. Accordingly, finishes are sleekly upscale, but timeless rather than trendy. Decor includes shades of gray and imported European leathers. LED lighting is new, green and efficient. Roman describes the materials used in the interior as the bow on the design package — timeless, clean and relatively simple, designed to complement the design without overshadowing it or being too understated.

Kelly put himself in the shoppers’ shoes when it came to details.

“We changed a lot of different things as we went and I always kept the consumer in mind. Even things like how they experience walking through the parking lot, the pitch of the sidewalk, and the feel they get when they step out of their car,” says Kelly.

“We researched for hours how to get the right thing — from handicapped signs that weren’t run of the mill, to the garbage can, to the outside rugs, to the extension of the awning over the front door to give them enough space for their umbrella, so they’re not getting wet when they get into the store. I studied the music, the rocks we used outside and the flowers we put into the planters to make sure the scent is appealing.”

While all of this was going on, by far the ultimate challenge was that the full-service jewelry store remained open, to the extent that it could, one section at a time, while chaos was kept at bay.

“The biggest challenge was to make our employees comfortable, as well as our customers,” Kelly says. “We sectioned off parts of the building so we didn’t lose too much consistency. Every part was gutted. We did all right, too, and our customers were great to us. They still shopped and stayed loyal. We were able to move things from store to store and still fulfill their needs.”

Ray Bleser, who founded the company, was happy to leave the renovation project to Kelly.

Originally, Bleser had studied to be a pharmacist, planning to follow in his father’s footsteps, but after just one day in that professional role, he knew it wasn’t for him. Instead, he decided to pursue his hobby of collecting and selling rare coins and gold.

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Northeastern Coin Gallery opened in 1980 and quickly expanded in scope, becoming Northeastern Fine Jewelry by 1985. In a twist of fate, the company’s flagship location in Schenectady, NY, occupies the building that once housed the drugstore where Bleser’s father worked.

Bleser has given his son-in-law his seal of approval. “He’s stationed in Schenectady, and every time he comes in, he says this is the nicest store from here to New York City,” Kelly says. “It’s a real modern look that’s attractive to all age groups. You get a New York City feel combined with a hometown experience, and I think that’s hard to accomplish.”

PHOTO GALLERY (12 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Northeastern Fine Jewelry

1. The Diamond District edge. Northeastern Fine Jewelry has an office in the Diamond District of New York. “We’ve never been one to just order stuff and ship it in. We like to look at things ourselves and have the first pick of diamonds. We’re picky when it comes to buying. And it gives us a nice edge to pick out what we want and pass those savings on to the consumer based on our buying ability,” says Kelly.

2. Training is top of mind. The company sends staff for training provided by its top brands and invests thousands of dollars a year into additional education. The expectation of expertise extends beyond sales to custom design and the repair shop. There’s also a watchmaker on staff.

3. A respect for jewelry history. They plan for an estate sale every year. “We try to keep our roots and the things that made us who we are today. They’re fun, too, because you get to look at things that are older and helped develop the jewelry industry for what it is today,” says Kelly. “And it’s fun to sell one-of-a-kind, rare things and tell the story of how it became what it is.”

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4. Making marketing a priority. “Traditionally, the jewelry industry markets for six weeks leading up to the holidays; we work hard to have a consistent approach to educating the consumer,” Kelly says. “We’re marketing 12 months out of the year.” Marketing is about 30 to 35 percent digital, and the website recently became set up for e-commerce.

5. Promotional savvy. In 2017, Northeastern sponsored a contest to win the opportunity to propose in a live commercial aired during halftime of the Super Bowl on FOX. The winner was featured in People Magazine, the Daily Mail in the UK and the New York Times. They also sponsored a half court shot during a Siena College basketball game; the contestant made the shot and walked away with $25,000, leading to intensive coverage from ESPN.

TRY THIS

When updating your store’s appearance, consider function as well as form and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Imagine you are the consumer approaching the building. What is the experience like? Is there shelter from rain? Are curbs accessible? Is there space for seating? Can they tell what kind of a store they will be entering? Have you provided a decompression zone between street and store?

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Geoffrey Brown: “Very strong positive word-of-mouth going on here. The more personable and authentic you are, the more you stay top-of-mind.”
    Laura Davis: “The exterior is beautiful and the interior is very nice.”
  • David Lampert: “Nice looking store. Clever promotion with the Super Bowl.”
  • Katherine Bodoh: “I like the modern exterior with the large windows and natural light. The interior layout looks beautiful and very upscale.”
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America's Coolest Stores

Chicago Retailer Harks Back to History While Pushing Boundaries in Design, Art and Events

Designer pushes boundaries of fine jewelry, art and events to create an exceptional shopping experience.

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Adornment + Theory, Chicago, IL

OWNER: Viviana Langhoff; FOUNDED: 2017; URL: www.adornmentandtheory.com; EMPLOYEES: 4; AREA: 750 square feet


WHEN VIVIANA LANGHOFF PLANNED a pop-up tattoo event to celebrate her first year as an entrepreneur, it seemed like the kind of thing her artistic, creative core customer would enjoy.

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It usually takes a year to get an appointment with Kelsey Moore, the tattoo artist Langhoff recruited. The two even collaborated on designing gem and art deco-inspired tattoos to personalize the experience. So while Moore was virtually guaranteed to draw a crowd to the Logan Square gallery, Langhoff was still amazed when the line stretched for two blocks and some people camped out the night before, as if Apple had launched a new iPhone or Black Friday deals were about to be unveiled.

Langhoff is adept at putting jewelry in context, so she also seized the opportunity to explore the history of body adornment, which can be traced back to the invention of tattoos. A fun event combined with storytelling was destined for success.

See video below.

Langhoff’s interest in the historical roots of adornment also inspired the name of her business.

“I wanted to select a name that sheds light on the history of jewelry, which is ‘adornment,’ as well as the ‘theory’ portion that is the practice that artists have in studios. From the beginning of civilization, we find that cultures made currency and jewelry and adornment. I want to highlight the history and continuation of that into contemporary studios all around the world. We draw on aesthetics from many different artists: feminine, edgy, approachable and most important, wearable.”

Langhoff’s retail experience appeals to the independent, confident woman who loves beautiful design, knows what she likes and delights in artist-made pieces. Langhoff encourages her customers to let creativity dress them. “People are limited sometimes by what they think they can and can’t wear and what magazines tell you you should wear. Really, ultimately, If you love it, wear it.”

A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, she studied fine art and design and then worked for a variety of jewelers, some specializing in fine jewelry and others specializing in art jewelry, before creating a niche for herself that pulls inspiration from both. Her studio showcases one-of-a-kind work that pushes accessory design into wearable art. “We are passionate about representing emerging artists and brands who are crafting the future of functional art and design,” she says. She also custom designs and makes by hand wedding and engagement rings in precious materials.

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Her gallery is in the Logan Square neighborhood in northwest Chicago, about six miles from downtown. The neighborhood’s diverse, artistic population of young professionals and families is attracted to bike-friendly park-like boulevards and an ethos that includes green construction and preservation of historic buildings. Other draws are Michelin-starred restaurants, music venues, breweries, craft cocktail bars, a farmer’s market and art galleries.

The business is very experiential. She’s hosted “make your own silver ring” workshops and invited gemstone miners into her store. She mixes it up with lectures.

“I select and curate events that highlight the theory portion of jewelry,” she says. “And I love history. Once a week on Instagram I use points of jewelry history from ancient Egypt to the crown jewels.”

For Valentine’s Day, she recruited neighboring businesses to join her in a collaborative approach with the theme of “bazaar love.” She organized the bazaar and featured a pop-up shop of luxury lingerie and chocolates. She suggested to neighboring card-shop owners that they host an event for kids to make their own cards. She connected the eye-care professionals next door with a photographer and encouraged them to host a kissing booth.

“Each store offered a fun and enticing event,” she says. “It wasn’t just jewelry focused; all of the businesses pulled together and people came out. I was shocked because the weather was terrible.”

For the holidays, she hosted a Great Gatsby-themed Christmas party.

During the sustainable fair-trade conference in Chicago, she invited a group of international miners to bring rough-cut gemstones to the gallery so her clients could make their own selections. Then she sent the gems out to lapidary artists to cut them.

A summer workshop called Diamonds 101 introduced customers to diamond basics — color, cut, how to use a loupe and what to look for when shopping. Other workshops included metal etching (creating a pair of etched earrings in copper) and jewelry illustration.

Langhoff has no formal training in event planning or marketing, but it seems to come naturally to her; both she and her staff of four find events fun and energizing.

She even created her own interior design. “I drew inspiration from contemporary art galleries, Hollywood Regency as well as Moorish design with our floors,” she says. “I wanted to create a jewel box that was contemporary and glamorous while simultaneously being warm and inviting. I think we achieved that.”

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About half of Langhoff’s business is bridal-related, and much of that is custom, but most of her clients prefer alternative stones to traditional diamond jewelry. Most of the bridal work is custom, but she also showcases rings made by several other fine jewelry artists. “So if someone wants gray diamonds and an earthy look, I have several artists who have styles that have that, who are distinctly different from other artists and from myself. I’m not very big on mimicking another artist’s aesthetic.”

E-commerce to this point has been limited, but Langhoff credits her website and social media for driving business into the store. “I still count those visits and sales as website sales. I think our website is really important even as a landing pad for people to get a taste and flavor of what our brand is about.”

Everything she sells is handmade and everything has a story. “People are looking for a personal touch,” she says. “They want to know if it’s handmade, they want to know about the designer, the story, the fair-trade component, where the stones are coming from. They like knowing the details.”

PHOTO GALLERY (16 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Adornment + Theory

1. DESIGN OVER DRINKS. “Our Jewelry Bar is a space where individuals or couples can pull up a bar stool as I serve them drinks and discuss creating the piece of their dreams,” Langhoff says. “Once drinks are served, we review A+T’s full service menu and walk them through the highly personalized design process. The goal is for them to walk away with an heirloom piece that they will wear for a lifetime. I take the client/designer relationship very seriously and want each one to feel welcomed and delighted in.”
2. ART EVENTS. Beyond jewelry events, Langhoff hosts bi-monthly fine art openings in the store. “We’ve showcased everything from conceptually driven contemporary art jewelry (in conjunction with SOFA Expo), as well as fine art photography and paintings,” she says.
3. SOFT SCENT. Customers always comment about how lovely “our little jewel box smells,” she says. The in-store scent is created from candles and the notes are typically flowery, clean and beachy. It’s all intended, she says, to evoke a romantic, relaxed, beautiful and approachable space.
4. A SWEET IDEA. “We teamed up with a chocolatier to create a custom-branded ‘chocolate jewel box’ for our Valentine’s season,” Langhoff says.
5. MONTHLY WORKSHOPS. “Our monthly workshops are fun-filled afternoons where attendees learn hands-on techniques that help them create and appreciate the art of metalsmithing and other accessory-based techniques. We’ve hosted workshops on ‘How to Make a Silver Ring’, ‘Shibori Dying: Make Your Own Scarf’, as well as ‘How to Read Diamonds’. These workshops have helped cultivate community and further the customer experience. Not to mention, everyone has a great time. I love hearing the store filled with laughter,” Langhoff says.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Jimmy Degroot: If we’re looking at location as the primary form of marketing, then Viviana is spot on. It’s so refreshing to see a space as well-appointed and thought-out as this. Beautiful.
  • Sofia Kaman: Love the interior design and concept. Very polished!
  • Tiffany Stevens: I’m obsessed! Smart and beautiful choices on every level.

 

Try This: Offer a Workshop

Offer your customers an unexpected hands-on experience. Why not try a “make your own silver ring” workshop, if you have the facilities for it?

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