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2016 Big Cool 1: De Boulle Diamond & Jewelry

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De Boulle Diamond & Jewelry, Houston, TX

OWNERS: Denis and Karen Boulle; URL:deboulle.com; FOUNDED:1983; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2015; EMPLOYEES: 6; AREA: 1,800 square feet; STORE DESIGN: Gensler; COST OF BUILDOUT: $2 million; BRANDS:: De Boulle Collection, Patek Philippe, David Webb; ONLINE PRESENCE: 12,971 Likes on Facebook; 4.5 Stars on Yelp


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.

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.

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“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.”

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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.

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“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.”

ONLINE EXTRA: 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.”

Five Cool Things About De Boulle Diamond & Jewelry

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.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

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!

PHOTO GALLERY (7 Images)

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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America's Coolest Stores

Transparency and Green Initiatives Make This California Jewelry Store Cool

An open, airy store design eases threshold resistance.

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Talisman Collection Fine Jewelers , El Dorado Hills, CA

OWNER: Andrea Riso; URL:talismancollection.com; FOUNDED: 2008; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2013; EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time; 2 part-time; AREA: 3,700 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Asher, Yael Designs, Lisa Nik, Doves, Chris Ploof; ONLINE PRESENCE: 40,500 Instagram followers; 43,797 Facebook likes; 13 Google reviews with 4.4 Star rating; BUILDOUT COST: $551,000


ANDREA RISO REACHED for the stars, the sun and the sky when she designed Talisman Collection. The store was the culmination of a lifelong dream, and that dream did not include a humdrum ceiling, but rather a lofty art installation.

Fifty-two contractors passed up the chance to hang the artist-created 2-ton “Sky,”— a 200-square-foot, blown-glass platter tray — before she found one willing to take it on. It was a practical as well as pretty addition to her environment. ”It was important to replicate a blue sky over the diamond counter because taking a break every hour or so from studying diamonds to gaze at blue sky or green grass rests the eyes and the central nervous system and allows the viewer to see the details in diamonds,” she says.

Then there’s “The Sun,” a 1,500-pound, 8-by-8 foot blownglass fixture. At the center of the sun is a custom cast bronze metal orb with 122 numbered pieces. Each ray of glass is hollow and at least 4 feet long.

Museum-replica airplanes and hot-air balloons soar over the library lounge. The kids’ tech oasis is topped by a small-scale planetarium.

Vintage airplanes and hot hair balloons, left, and a blown-glass work of art, above, create aerial interest.

Nine to 10 months of the year, the massive glass doors in front and back are thrown open to create a cross breeze. A “river” path snakes through the center of the store from front to back, highlighting zones or interactive experiential areas that engage people of all ages, from the library lounge and tech oasis to the bar. “It’s a spacious and unusual environment for a fine jewelry store,” says Riso.

There’s even an indoor-outdoor floor. Riso tells the story of Rachel, a client, who rode her motorcycle from San Francisco in order to meet jewelry designer Alp Sagnak at a trunk show. “There were no parking spaces left outside, so I told Rachel to bring it in. The ‘river’ floor is made of garage flooring, printed underneath. So people ride their bikes and skateboards and scooters through the store every now and then, which I love.”

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Seventy percent of Talisman’s customers are men, often initially driven by curiosity and an open door. The layout was designed to have a ton of open space, lots of seating and no boundaries between personnel and customers. ”I think it’s appealing to men because they don’t feel caged in,” she says. “It’s a big space, bright and not all filled with showcases. One of our customers said, ‘This is the only jewelry store that I go into where I don’t feel like I’m walking in wearing my underwear.’”

Life Story Is As Layered As The Store Itself

As a child, Riso was obsessed with jewelry and gemstones. She had worked for jewelry stores and studied with the GIA. But after college, she pursued an unrelated corporate career, which eventually led to her working as a communications consultant for NASA’s Sustainability Base in Moffett Field, CA, which became the greenest building in the federal government after it debuted in 2011.

But Riso, determined to pursue her dream, quit her job with NASA, pulled together her life savings, an inheritance, and a seven-figure bank loan to fund the launch of the Talisman Collection, a jewelry store named for a street on which she once lived as a child.

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She had thought about opening a jewelry store all of her life, and when the time came, she had strong feelings about how it would work, as well as how it would look. Most important to her was transparency. She wanted her customers to understand the markup on jewelry she sold. “We are up front about the margin we are making on almost all of the finished jewelry and especially the loose diamonds and gems,” she says. ”Everything I do in this business model is anti-greed, anti-over-consumption and anti-triple keystone margins.”

Mine-to-market events, such as Opalpalooza, have been far more successful than trunk shows.

A full-service fine jeweler, Riso sells the jewelry of 70 different designers and designs her own custom jewelry. “I sell way more custom than I do finished goods,” she says. “Seventy percent of the custom we sell is by us and 30 percent by other brands and designers. I am in an upper-middle class residential suburban area, and I never thought people would want my designs. But most of these people have their family diamonds and they want to repurpose them.

“At first, we would do great in November through January, and then business would die,” she says. “And now we’re busy all year long, partly because we’re more established. We don’t have people coming in anymore and saying

‘What is this place?’ But that took eight years.”

The average visitor spends 39 minutes in the store. If they stay more than five minutes, they are more than likely to buy something. ”There are things that are $35 and $35,000,” Riso says. “We also have a fun and sparkly discount table.”

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Making Talisman a green business was a priority. The LEED-certified store (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) boasts LED lighting, recycled outdoor air and a low ecological footprint. Riso uses recycled metals and forms relationships with suppliers to determine their sourcing to the best of her ability. ”California is very strict with laws about building,” she says, “and even about light pollution,” the amount of artificial light that can be seen leaking outside. While Riso uses the lowest LED lights available, the store is bright with natural light. “To me, it wasn’t an option not to do the buildout this way. It would have been irresponsible, and it didn’t cost more.” The benefits are being a good corporate citizen, having good karma, protecting the earth and leaving a smaller footprint.”

She’s also deeply committed to her staff, whose compensation is not commission-based.

“There is no power struggle, no pushiness, and reward is based on overall performance of the entire store,” Riso says.

She also sponsors and pays for college and GIA classes for her staff and gives equity to staffers after two years.

“My staff knows they will inherit the store at the time of my death or retirement.”

PHOTO GALLERY (17 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Talisman Collection

1. NAME RECOGNITION. “Talisman is the name of a street that my family lived on for a bit when I was little,” Riso says. “It’s a word I sort of tucked away for later review. I always loved that word and I always was a jewelry fanatic.”

2. IN-HOUSE PRODIGY. “Our bench jeweler, Victoria Kozycz McIntosh, has been a bench jeweler for 25 years. She’s 30 years old. She’s been working a flex shaft and torch in her parents’ and brothers’ stores since she was 5.”

3. JUST SAY YES. “We don’t say ‘no.’ Ever,” Riso says. “We support every single school, charity and request for involvement, donation, and/or to use our space for events. We are known as a major supporter of every charitable endeavor presented to us.” Riso hosts town-hall events, charitable fundraisers, salon gatherings, cultural season kickoffs, etc. “Our extended community comes to us when they need a large space or major outreach, and we host groups and people of all ages and backgrounds.”

4. THE CUSTOM APPROACH. “We design and render original custom jewelry pieces for clientele in 48 hours. If clientele don’t like our designs, we offer the design services of 78 independent designer brands we sell.”

5. OPALPALOOZA. Major mine-to-market events, like Opalpalooza, celebrate colored gems. “We bring in both loose goods and wholesale vendors selling finished goods in the respective jewelry or stone category,” she says. “This has been way more successful than trunk shows.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Julie Ettinger: The interior space is not like any I have ever seen. I love that they offer services in every area of a traditional jewelry store, but yet the space is so non-traditional and open.
  • Joel Hassler: The “river” and “sky” are simply gorgeous. The open floor plan allowing for side-by-side selling creates a more welcoming feel.
  • Barbara Ross-Innamorati: : I love the open floor plan with so many different options for viewing the products. It looks like a treasure hunt to me! I also commend the community involvement and the total focus on the customer.
  • Hedda Schupak: This store has an impressively robust website and digital presence; they clearly “get” the online shopper. Objectively speaking, this is a super-creative, distinctive, and unusual space, and it definitely looks like it’s fun to shop, which can’t be said of a lot of jewelry stores.
  • Eric Zuckerman: Between the large glass doors opened the majority of the year, massive blown glass fixtures, the children’s planetarium and plenty of open space, they have made this store into more than just a place to purchase jewelry.
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America's Coolest Stores

Missouri Jewelry Store Expansion Creates Wow Experience

Mitchum Jewelers takes interior design to the next level.

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Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, MO

OWNER: Randy Mitchum; URL:mitchumjewelers.com; FOUNDED: 1965; RENOVATED and EXPANDED: 2018;ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Jesse Balaity, Balaity Property Enhancement; Torgerson Partners Architect; Rex Winslow, general contractor; Larry Johnson Consulting; JMJ Showcases; EMPLOYEES: 12; AREA: 2,775 square foot showroom; 5,600 total; TOP BRANDS: Tacori, Shinola, Pandora, Armenta, Beny Sofer, Henri Daussi; ONLINE PRESENCE: 159 5-Star Google reviews; 9,501 Facebook likes; 1,322 Instagram followers; BUILDOUT COST: $1 million


Kristie and Randy Mitchum feel at home in their new modern store with its neutral palette.

BY ALL APPEARANCES, Mitchum Jewelers was functioning like a well-oiled machine when owner Randy Mitchum approached store designer Jesse Balaity about a major renovation and expansion. So Balaity says he was initially perplexed.

“Randy already had a well-designed freestanding building, a successful business model and impressive staff retention. He also had two young children and a third on the way. Why would he want to take on a full renovation and expansion?” Balaity wondered.

Once he arrived onsite, he says, he understood. “Mid-morning on a Tuesday, I walked into organized chaos. Randy had created such an engaging atmosphere filled with an exceedingly gracious staff that his 2,800 square-foot store was bursting with customers at a time of the week that many retailers spend dusting and watching the door. He simply needed more space to provide the level of service his loyal customers deserve.”

Mitchum says he gave Balaity a wish list. “We had a restricted area, so we had to maximize the space. Our store is very linear, but it has high ceilings and we capitalized on that.” Mitchum wanted more room on the sales floor, more storage, a vault, a private meeting room and more working areas for the staff.

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A request for more space turned into a doubling of the building footprint, split about equally between support areas and the showroom.
While the previous look had been traditional with laminated burl wood showcases, that particular showcase model had been discontinued, and opting to keep the existing showcases on only one side of the store would have been discordant.

“The existing showroom was attractive — filled with natural light, uncluttered, and tastefully finished — but it was not a ‘wow’ space,” Balaity says. “If we created a spectacular retail space in the addition, the existing showroom would feel unfinished. That meant convincing Randy to sell an entire store’s worth of showcases that were in perfect condition, modify the ceiling framing, and start over with a new lighting plan.”

Mitchum was on board once he saw the conceptual drawings. In addition to the overall “wow” look, choosing all recessed LED lighting was a game changer, Mitchum says. “When we turned on the lights and everything was LED, that rocked my world. If you worked in a store with fluorescent and halogen lights and all of a sudden it’s so much brighter, you can go into shock. The lighting in the ceiling matches all the lighting in the cases. People notice that.

Recessed LED lighting was a game changer for Randy Mitchum, who says the upgrade rocked his world.

They talk about how amazing the lighting is.”

Randy and his wife, Kristie, both favor a farmhouse-modern style of interior design that Randy would describe as bright, simple and neutral. “We wanted an accent color, so we used blue. We sell Tacori, so that was helpful.” There are also stainless steel accents and white brick material.

They wow customers right from the parking lot.

“The first thing customers notice is the huge illuminating diamond we have displayed on the building,” Randy says. “We chose to use Macheche, a Brazilian hardwood that is very rare and beautiful, which accents the brick colors to give a rich appeal.”

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Working with Balaity on the store design was easy, Mitchum says. “I’m probably the most organized person you’d ever meet and Jesse is, too. There wasn’t a lot of downtime. He visited three different times and scheduled the last trip on the day the showcases were being set up. He’s very confident in what he does and he’s pretty much always right. It was honestly pretty effortless.”

Randy’s father, John, retired in 2011 but still helps out as a watchmaker. “When we decided to expand again it was pretty cool that he decided to participate again,” Randy says. “He’s been excited to be a part of all that.”

John Mitchum graduated from Bradley University School of Watchmaking in 1961, and in 1965, he purchased Trantham Jewelry from Lloyd Trantham. A double-sided clock with the name Trantham Jewelry hung prominently on the Ozark Square near the store, which had first opened in 1947.

A little more than a year after he purchased the store, John changed the name to Mitchum Jewelry and asked Ron Bilyeu, a local sign painter, to change the name on the clock to Mitchum Jewelry, too. Over time, Mitchum’s grew and relocated within the Ozark area. When it came time to expand their freestanding location in 2018, Randy decided the original clock should be displayed. John Mitchum was able to restore the clock and the Mitchums tracked down Bilyeu, who repainted the words “Mitchum Jewelry” on the sign.

Watchmaker John Mitchum restored a clock that hung outside his first jewelry store to hang in the new one.

The original watchmaker’s bench that John Mitchum still uses has been circulated throughout the Ozark community since the beginning of the 20th century and was signed by previous watchmakers who used it to service and repair watches. Just like the clock, the bench remains at Mitchum Jewelers and will be a part of the community for years to come.

A turning point for the store’s business came in 2007, when John and Randy not only built their freestanding store, but also hired a marketing agency to help spread the good news about their moving sale and new building. One of their competitors had been advertising heavily on the radio, so Randy chose TV as the medium to dominate. “I wanted to step up the marketing game and start pushing bridal rings, and that was something my dad hadn’t done a lot of. But he gave me free rein, and it worked.”

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There was a learning curve, however. “I was so nervous for the first TV commercial, I had to bring an extra change of clothes,” Randy says. “I sweated through two shirts.”

Mitchum’s has tallied record sales since the renovation, from three-quarters of a million dollars in 2006 to $5 million in 2019.

Balaity says the expansion also accommodates all the positive energy he found at Mitchum’s the first time he visited.

“I recall thinking that this perfectly nice space failed to capture the exuberance of its owner and staff,” he says. “Now there is a parallel between the brand and its namesake. Both are bright and welcoming, grounded with a bit of sparkle, and an honor to the family legacy.”

PHOTO GALLERY (18 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Mitchum Jewelers

1. Familiar Faces. Mitchum has set itself apart with a hugely successful TV commercial campaign that features customer testimonials. “There are about a quarter million people in the area,” Mitchum says. “Familiar faces talking about their experience here has been a really big deal for us.” They’re also starting to produce informal Youtube ads. “In the community, a lot of people know and recognize others, so it’s been extremely beneficial to put our happy customers on camera telling their favorite Mitchum story.”

2. Pandora Partnership. Mitchum’s has forged a positive relationship with Pandora, and the collectible charms are still a big deal in their market. He has sales staff onboard who love Pandora, which keeps the excitement around new collections going.

3. Group Commission. “We do a group team commission, so if you are a shopper, you wouldn’t notice any pushy competitive atmosphere,” Mitchum says. “I reward all of our full-time people evenly on a monthly commission because without every single person working in the store, we wouldn’t be successful. You can’t sell a diamond ring without having a jeweler there to size it.”

4. The Jingle. Using the “Your Jeweler For Life” tagline in all advertising has created consistency in branding, as has a related jingle that customers love to sing whenever they happen to run into Randy. “I have people stop me all the time and sing our jingle, and it’s pretty neat to see how memorable the message and branding of our store has been. What’s really funny is I had had that jingle playing for five years or so before I met my wife, and when we were dating, she said I want to introduce you to my friend Julie. Julie said, ‘I’m the girl who sings your jingle.’ I had no connection to her originally, but I met her and she’s now a family friend.”

5. Fashion Show. Mitchum Jewelers partnered with 417 Magazine, the area’s largest publishing company, in a high-end fashion show. “We had models sporting Mitchum and Tacori jewelry in front of a captive audience of over 1,000 people. Our models dressed in all white accented with masquerade masks. We were able to put some items in the gift bags of all attendees and we inserted our store’s signature color green masks in the swag bags, so when our models hit the runway, all the audience was in support with their green masks on. Our social media blew up and we got tons of publicity.”

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Benjamin Guttery: The store has a larger-than-life presence to it from the street that is magnified once you enter the space. Each brand’s area is framed beautifully with different color materials and textures specific to its target audience. I love the touches of history placed throughout this modern store for a nod to the past. The vintage branded clock really pops!
  • Elle Hill: They combine history with the historic clock that has been in the community for half a century and modern flair with the Angie Crabtree diamond paintings that decorate their diamond consult room. This speaks to both new and loyal customers, excellent touches! Their use of video is smart and current. Add to that in-person events that can be leveraged as engaging social media content, and you have a winning combination.
  • Bob Phibbs: : That moving image of your diamond ring at the top of your website is perfect! Your masquerade masks were very creative and the exterior of your store leaves no doubt what you do and who you are.
  • Michael Roman:  Striking interior showroom and exterior facade. Clean modern interior space including casework!
  • Mark Tapper: I really like the new store design, it’s really well laid out and looks clean and beautiful. I also really like the company’s TV commercials, especially the Christmas ad featuring Santa Claus.

 

ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with Jesse Balaity

What did Randy Mitchum’s wish list for his store look like?

Randy approached the store design project like the rest of his business, with great contemplation and organization. He prepared a detailed wish list prior to our first conversation, and it largely focused on ideas that I typically preach to clients: focus on the experience; create new opportunities for customer engagement and pampering; optimize operational efficiency; focus on the Mitchum brand more than the individual brands within. We shared a perspective on modern jewelry retailing and formed a great team from the start.

Were there any challenges?

Every store has that one awkward space, an odd angle or a dead end that might not be the best for selling. For Mitchum’s this was a zone between the existing and new buildings where the rooflines necessitated a lower ceiling and the footprint left an odd gap. We turned the gap into a concierge station/extra POS and then enlarged an archive photo of Randy’s father in front of his first jewelry store as a full wall graphic behind the station. For the balance of this zone we partnered with Shinola to create a unique brand experience combining our custom showcases with their brand collateral. Now that potentially awkward space feels perfectly intentional and subtly showcases Shinola without taking away from the Mitchum brand.

What about Mitchum Jewelers is particularly distinctive from your perspective?

In my earliest renderings I proposed graphic wall treatments in some areas without any ideas on the actual source. Kristie Mitchum and I searched independently for materials and somehow, out of the limitless options, we both picked the same geometric blue wall covering from a small English company. We built the palette of materials and colors from that cool material, mixing in complimentary patterns like the bold “bee hive’ carpet.

I try to avoid seated bridal showcases when space allows. Seated customers block access for others, it is hard to focus on a presentation with many other options just beneath the glass, and the glass itself takes a beating. For Mitchum’s we provided a seated desk at the end of the bridal run along with a private consult office around the corner. This makes for a neater visual presentation and a more tailored jewelry presentation to customers.

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America's Coolest Stores

Urban Planning Background Helps 4th-Gen Jeweler Find Perfect Location

Ohio store was once an airplane hangar.

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Welling & Co., West Chester, OH

OWNERS: Bill Welling, Daniel Welling; URL:wellingsjewelers.com ; FOUNDED: 1920; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2015; SHOWCASES: KDM Pop;DESIGN: Leslie McGwire & Associates Interior Design Co.; MTL Construction; EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time; 3 part-time ; AREA: 2,000 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Breuning, Christopher Designs, Frederic Duclos, Vahan; ONLINE PRESENCE: 53 Google reviews with a 4.9 rating; 1,706 likes on Facebook; 669 Instagram followers; BUILDOUT COST: $225,000


Daniel and Bill Welling play to their strengths at Welling & Co Jewelers.

IF YOU’RE VISITING Welling & Co. Jewelers in West Chester, OH, and happen to hear music from ‘70s progressive-rock band Ambrosia playing, it’s a good bet that Daniel Welling is out of town.

Daniel and his father, Bill Welling, clash a bit over what kind of music to play in the store, with Daniel leaning toward something more modern than Bill, the Ambrosia fan, would choose. No doubt hashing out a playlist is a typical source of exasperated eye-rolling in many a multi-generational family business.

There are other challenges in an overall deeply rewarding experience.

“It’s a learning experience working with Dad,” Daniel says. “I have to juggle being professional, but also having a personal relationship. It’s awkward for me sometimes, to say, ‘Hey, Dad,’ in front of a customer. We have a different relationship here than we do outside the store. For the most part, I’m being educated by him on how to run the business.”

The most important thing he’s learned from his father is how to be flexible by adapting to changes in shopping habits and inventory. When Daniel expresses his concerns about how to handle laboratory-grown diamonds or online shopping, his dad is able to put it in perspective, since he’s been through many changes himself over a 47-year career.

One of the most important changes they’re navigating lately, Bill believes, is that the current generation doesn’t see jewelry in the same light that his generation or his dad’s generation did. It just doesn’t carry the same significance. Second, the customer walking in the door is much more knowledgeable than in years past.

That means everyone in the store needs to be well-educated. “You have to be able to answer the questions,” Daniel says. “I want them to have an experience and not just come in and drop their watch off for a battery. They have to be engaged, even when they are waiting for a battery.”

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Daniel hadn’t planned to go into the business, but when he graduated in 2007 with a degree in urban planning, prospects in his field were few. He worked at Welling & Co. as a stopgap, but his level of commitment reflected the fact that he considered it temporary.

“My dad started getting annoyed, because I was just kind of hanging around,” Daniel says.

But Bill had an idea about where Daniel might shine. Although they had invested in Matrix, their bench jeweler didn’t have time to learn it. “Dad said, ‘Why don’t you try this out?’” Daniel recalls. Daniel agreed, and when he trained with Gemvision, something about it just clicked for him. Now he spearheads the custom design side of the business. ”Probably the thing I like the most about it is helping engagement ring customers make rings. That’s something that’s so exciting to them. That’s kept me going as far as being productive here, and it’s a full-time job for me.”

Both Wellings are pleased with their new store in Butler County, which is one of the fastest growing counties in Ohio and a bedroom community for both Cincinnati and Dayton professionals. The renovation of an old building — once an airplane hangar — on the road between Cincinnati and Dayton drew a lot of attention in the town of West Chester. Exposed brick interiors, an assortment of modern pendant lighting, high, open ceilings and modular cases all combined to add a fresh possibility to regional retail design. Impressed neighbors even stopped by to take a look at the floor, which is a vinyl material made to look like wood. And to marvel at the walls of windows that were once garage-style doors.

A converted airplane hangar provides a wide open space for a casual concept store.

After they made the decision to move out of a shopping center, Daniel and Bill met with interior designer Leslie McGwire during the JCK Las Vegas show to plan the place. ”She guided us through the process and pulled out information about what we wanted the same way we do with custom-design jewelry customers,” Daniel says. “She asked about the ambience and how we wanted our customers to feel when they came in.”

The inspiration for the store is a Starbucks coffee shop. It’s designed to create a relaxed setting, with organic elements throughout, including an open slate-gray painted ceiling and a textured wood plank floor, and textured stone on the wall behind the logo wall and the diamond bar. The focal point is the live-edge recycled walnut wood tables that display much of the jewelry. The neutral colors of the chandelier’s glass globes over the wood jewelry cases blend smoothly with the finishes.

“The amazing thing was that Leslie never stepped foot in this store,” Bill says. “But she did a terrific job coordinating. When customers first experience our store, they don’t know what to expect, because it’s not a traditional jewelry store. I think for that reason, they are more receptive to how you approach them and what you show them.”

Daniel agrees it’s made a big difference in how the business is perceived. ”People think it’s warm and inviting,” Daniel says. “Customers really appreciate us being on the same side of the case with them. I didn’t want people to come in here and feel like they were in a bank. I don’t wear a suit. I want to be comfortable and feel comfortable when I interact.”

Welling & Co. was founded a century ago in Loveland, OH, where it has returned to open a second store recently.

After the building was complete, a customer dropped by with a surprise: a Welling & Co. clock dating from the family’s first store, which opened in 1920 in Lockland, OH. The customer had inherited it from a relative who had found it in a building she owned. Now it occupies a place of honor on the new store’s wall.

In 1920, Richard E. Welling purchased a jewelry store in downtown Lockland, OH, on a recommendation from a friend in the wholesale business. After serving his country during World War II, William F. Welling, son of Richard, took over the store and was later joined in business by his younger brother, Thomas. They continued to thrive in downtown Lockland and decided to open a second location in 1979 in nearby Mason, OH. William F. Welling, Jr. had a large role in the success of the second location and eventually purchased the store from his father and uncle.

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Nearly 100 years since the store’s founding, four Welling family members are on staff: Bill and Daniel, as well as Josh in jewelry and watch repair, and Taylor in sales.
Good-natured disagreements about the musical playlist aside, Bill says his son’s interest in the business has inspired him.

“A jewelry store today is very much generational, and when he came onboard, it solidified to me that I did the right thing from the very beginning,” Bill says. “When you’re the employer and the father, you have to learn which boundaries you can step over and which boundaries you can’t, because no one will do the job exactly the way you want it to be done. I let him make mistakes. I just don’t let him make big mistakes.”

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Five Cool Things About Welling & Co.

1. Back to the future. In August, Welling & Co. opened a second store in downtown Loveland, OH, where the business was born a century ago. The 700-square-foot space has a mid-century modern theme and polished concrete floors. Because the town has boutiques already, Welling & Co. in Loveland will steer away from fashion jewelry and concentrate on traditional and fine jewelry.

2. Summer soiree. An end of summer bash in September is a time to have fun with customers, Daniel says. “We rented a beer truck with three different local craft beer choices. We also had a food truck and DJ for the event. Our idea was to just have a fun night with customers and not necessary to have a big sale. We ended up having a large sales day early on and clearing up some space for new merchandise before the holidays. Later, our staff was able to enjoy the beautiful evening with our customers who hung out and enjoyed the beer, music and free food.”

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3. Something for everyone. It’s tough to pinpoint a typical Welling & Co. customer for marketing purposes because Welling & Co. really does offer a wide range of inventory, from Kendra Scott fashion jewelry to custom bridal.

4. Great Google reviews. This feedback forum has been the best form of marketing for Welling & Co., although the team also employs a wide range of social media, local publications, billboards, mail, e-blasts and, on occasion, movie-theater ads or TV commercials.

5. Floor plan. Clients can sit and enjoy a beverage at the L-shaped bar while shopping for diamonds. Instead of talking to customers over a counter, staffers are able to walk around with them from case to case, with many of them pulling out to allow customers to take a closer look.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Julie Gotz: The interior and exterior of the store is beautiful! I love the history of the building and the fact that the store has been in the family for over four generations. The L-shaped bar and End Of Summer Bash are great ideas and smart marketing tactics.
  • Julie Ettinger: I love the generations that continue to flourish in this business. The story behind the building is fabulous, and it must be the coolest exterior of any store that I have seen.
  • Barbara Ross-Innamorati: : I especially love the warmth of the hardwood floors. I am impressed that this business is 99 years old and still in the same family. Excellent online reviews tell me that this store has been a beloved retailer in the community for a long time. Kudos to them!
  • Hedda Schupak: It’s a lovely store, a lovely story, and a great third-generation business. I like how the design pays homage to the vastness of the space.
  • Eric Zimmerman: The Welling family’s store is a pleasing combination of materials such as walnut wood furniture, textured stone walls and glass chandeliers. They have done an excellent job of creating a warm and comfortable environment for their customers.
  • Joel Hassler: They did a great job of keeping the character of the building but still creating a unique shopping feel. I like that it has an open industrial feel without looking cluttered and mismatched.

 

Try This: Gem Lightbox

The purchase of a new piece of tech equipment will allow Welling & Co. to more easily photograph its jewelry (the images can be rotated 360 degrees) and prepare for e-commerce on their Gemfind-designed website, launched last year.

 

ONLINE EXTRA: Q & A with Daniel

Will you carry lab-grown diamonds?

We live in Cincinnati and it’s a pretty conservative area. We haven’t really gotten a lot of requests for it yet. I wouldn’t say I’m against it. The hardest thing is to see in the future. At our store and at a lot of stores, if you buy a center stone and you upgrade it later, you get that price back. But are lab-growns going to drop in price and how will that affect the trade-in policy. That’s our biggest hesitation. That and just being transparent. I want to be as transparent as possible.

Why did you decide to open a second store?

We felt like it was a great opportunity to get a footprint somewhere there wasn’t much competition. It’s going to be more work but we signed a five-year lease. After five years, I’d rather say I failed than be kicking myself for not trying. Dad is the type of person who loves having sales and events where people are lined up out the door. Opening a new store is giving him energy and excitement in the industry.

How did you choose your current location in West Chester?

My major was in urban and regional planning. I was able to look at this location from that perspective and say I think this is a positive and evaluate the whole area. Butler has been one of the fastest growing counties in the country. So it wasn’t too difficult to choose something here. Cincinnati/Dayton will eventually be one large metro area. West Chester is ranked the No. 1 county in the area, it’s an affluent area and an easy commute to Cincinnati or Dayton. There are lots of parks around here and shopping. The mall is two exits up.

How did you get into the family business?

I did not know I’d go into the business. It was a fallback plan. My sister works here and I have two other siblings, but when I graduated the job market wasn’t great. I started working here and my dad started getting annoyed because I was just kind of hanging around. Our jeweler had done the Matrix course and he just wasn’t grasping it and didn’t have time to learn it. Dad said, why don’t you try this out? So I went out to Gemvision and got trained on it and I’ve been doing it over 10 years. Probably the thing I like the most about it is helping engagement ring customers make rings. That’s something that’s so exciting to them. And that’s kept me going as far as being productive here, that’s a full-time job for me here.

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