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Second-Generation Owners Devise Creative Corporate Culture That Propels Business Success

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Von Bargen’s Jewelry, Stowe, VT

OWNERS: Jason Thom and Julie Von Bargen-Thom; URL:vermontjewel.com ; FOUNDED: 1978; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2014; EMPLOYEES: 4 at Stowe; 26 total; AREA: 1,800 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Alex Sepkus, Todd Reed, Paul Morelli and Mark Patterson; ONLINE PRESENCE:: 3,122 Facebook Likes; 4.5 Stars on Yelp.; BUILDOUT COST: $200 per
square foot; STORE DESIGN: Gensler; ARCHITECT AND BUILDER:: Cushman Design Group, Sisler Builders


Do Good, and You’ll Do Well

IT’S A SIMPLE philosophy, but one that Jason Thom and Julie Von Bargen-Thom have embraced. As the second-generation owners of Von Bargen’s Jewelry, the couple is building on the tradition started by Julie’s late parents three decades ago, even as they find fresh ways to stay on trend and in touch with the changing needs of their clients. The company has five locations in Vermont, including the newest location in Stowe.

Forging strong relationships with their customers — and employees — is all part of the Thoms’ strategy.

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“Our vision is very simple,” Jason says. “To leave the world a better place.”

Joining the Family

It wasn’t love at first sight for Jason and Julie. But it was close.

In 2002, Jason attended a Von Bargen family reunion. Jason was a longtime friend of the family, but had never met Julie or her parents, John and Leslie Von Bargen, who founded the first Von Bargen’s Jewelry in 1978. Within three months of meeting, Jason and Julie were engaged.

At the time, Jason was in retail consulting for big-box stores. Julie was finishing up a degree at Dartmouth College. She’d been raised in the family business, and even learned how to make jewelry from her father.

By the end of 2003, Julie and Jason assumed their roles as the new heads of Von Bargen’s Jewelry with the opening of a new store in Hanover, NH.

Transitions

The Thoms set out to establish their own corporate culture, shaped by — of all things — a book on food: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan probes the problems with the American diet. After reading it, the Thoms found themselves taking a hard look at how they were living overall. They challenged themselves to improve, Jason explains, but realized that as business owners, they couldn’t simply leave that challenge at home.

“When you own a business, it is your life,” Jason says. “We wanted it to have a positive meaning.”

The Thoms decided that part of that positive meaning included cultivating a workplace where team members could shine. One of their newest initiatives is Von Bargen’s University, a professional self-training module focusing on essential aspects of their business. The concept is the brainchild of Jill Zborovancik, the Stowe manager.

Jason points to a time in American commerce when every shop was a mom-and-pop, and the employees were strongly invested in the success of the business. Now, he believes too many retail companies are sta ed by people who have not been encouraged by management to take risks, innovate and maybe even make a mistake that could teach them something valuable.

Jason calls that mentality “clerking, not working,” and it’s what Von Bargen’s is out to avoid, preferring to attract employees who want to develop personally and professionally. Jason says the Thoms encourage their employees to leave their community a better place, even as they strive to achieve their own dreams and goals.

That has meant giving their team members a chance to explore new ways to invest in the community they serve.

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Sabrina Leonard, a team member in the Von Bargen’s Hanover store, was volunteering with a charity of personal importance when she learned there were women who wanted to donate estate jewelry to local causes, but lacked the know-how and resources to do so. She stepped up to help, and the result is Jewels for Joy, a program where Von Bargen’s appraises and facilitates the sale or auction of unwanted jewelry so it can be donated to worthy organizations. “We let someone take something and run with it, and it turned out to be a great thing,” he says. “We have a mechanism or another way to sell jewelry for people in a positive way that helps the community.”

The company also grants an allowance to team members looking to grow outside the store in ways that might ultimately bene t the shop. One team member pitched the Thoms on paying for her Zumba instructor training, and they agreed. Now, Jason notes that employee is not just healthy and fit; when she’s teaching, she’s also a Von Bargen’s ambassador in the bargain. “The proudest thing Julie and I have accomplished is this culture that we’ve empowered our team to think like entrepreneurs,” he says.

Julie agrees. She adds that strong client relationships are essential. After all, jewelry easily can be bought online, but in a business that’s built around milestones such as weddings, birthdays and anniversaries, people often long for a human connection. Listening is key to forming that connection, and that’s a talent Julie says she inherited from her mother, Leslie, who died in 2012 (followed by John earlier this year). “She authentically
enjoyed learning about them,” Julie says.

And So, to Stowe

With the hanover store established and their new corporate philosophy squarely in place, it was time for the Thoms to kick back, relax and coast for a bit.

Well, not exactly.

Soon, the couple was eyeing a spot in Stowe. They found a building that seemed ideal: an old house they planned to renovate. But once begun, the plan had to be scrapped and the house demolished. Undefeated, the Thoms began again, with the mission of creating a Von Bargen’s that blended seamlessly into Stowe’s postcard-perfect New England cityscape. The couple worked with Stowe-based Cushman Design Group on the project.

“I think we hit a home run,” Jason says. “People come in and feel like this store has been in Stowe since the beginning of Stowe.”

The store had its first sale shortly before Christmas 2014, and its o cial grand opening in February 2015.

While the exterior fits with Stowe’s style, the contemporary interior is equally in sync with what Jason describes as the understated tastes of their Vermont customers. Von Bargen’s clients appreciate high quality — the Thoms reject about 38 percent of the ideal-cut diamonds sent to them — but they are not dazzled by big bling, Jason says. While the other Von Bargen’s stores feature glitzy, crystal chandeliers to light clients on their way to the jewelry showcases, the Stowe store welcomes them with custom-made drum-shaped light fixtures from Vermont lighting company Hubbardton Forge.

Finding that happy medium for the community and the client is merely another way of bringing their life philosophy into their business.

“Everything we do, we ask, how far away is it from our mission and vision, how far away is it from the customer, how far away is it from ourselves,” he said.

ONLINE EXTRA: 5 Questions with Jason and Julie Thom

1. What’s one jewelry trend that excites you?
Clients’ interest in unique and one-of-a-kind artisan jewelry. Our best clients aren’t looking to have what everyone else has. They want to see and select something unexpected and uncommon, rather than mass market. — Julie

2. What’s something you’ve learned recently?
We had a customer commission a 7-inch-tall, 3-D leapin’ 18K gold frog. This project challenged our studio to think differently about how to manufacturer large-scale fine jewelry. Managing the client’s timeframe expectations went a long way to keep the process fun and not too demanding on the studio. Don’t let one big project shipwreck your weekly bread-and-butter operations. — Jason”

3. What’s the best compliment a client has ever given you?
“I shop with you because of how you curate your jewelry collection. And because of you.” — Julie

4. Who is your hero and why?
Everyone is fighting some kind of battle, and it’s important to recognize individuals that can get up every day with that fight and still find a way to have a good day. These people are my heroes. — Jason

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5. What’s your perfect day look like?
Early morning time with my daughter. Yoga practice or a run. A full day of work, including interacting with best clients, spending time thoughtfully on our business and engaging with my team on the little fires and on the bigger picture. Then heading north to my favorite place, Lake Willoughby, for a family evening. — Julie

Five Cool Things About Von Bargen’s Jewelry

1. BE OUR GUEST. When the Thoms built the Stowe store, they had the foresight to finish the building’s upstairs as a cozy apartment. They’ve already donated the residence to several local charity events, pairing the stay with a Von Bargen’s gift certificate and
a welcome present of the beloved Vermont beer, Heady Topper. The couple also plans to lend it to visiting vendors and high-level clients.

2. A CLASSIC CASE. How jewelry is displayed is almost as important as the jewels themselves. That’s why in Von Bargen’s, cherry wood showcases were handcrafted in Underhill, VT. The custom cases have an operational component, too, with retractable legs and removable trays designed to fit neatly into the vault.

3. BACK IN THE BEGINNING. We love origin stories, and this one’s pretty darn cool. In 1975, John Von Bargen popped the question to his love, Leslie. Then he made another announcement: He was going to take $400 in tools and materials and become a jeweler. Not only that, he promised to have a paycheck by the weekend. (Which he did: $200.) The rest,
as they say, is cool store history.

4. TAKE THE V-LINE. In keeping with the Thoms’ philosophy of encouraging entrepreneurship in employees, the company recently introduced the V-Line. The jewelry is the brainchild of
Ali Dumont, a manager in the Von Bargen’s Burlington store, who brought her designs to the Thoms before handing them off to an inhouse jeweler to bring them to life.

5. WHO’S THAT DOG?. About five years ago, Jason and Julie Thom turned to local photographer Chris Mazzarella for
help in their print advertising. The Thoms decided to use Von Bargen team members rather than professional models. Ultimately, even Mazzarella’s pregnant wife and family dog took their turn in front of the camera, too.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Brandee Dallow: The crisp, clean, classy and rich interior of Von Bargen’s is what makes it cool — and all of this perfectly complements the cool and snowy environment that is Vermont.
  • Debbie Fox:  Their website has powerful videos that speak to people’s emotions and life’s realities; Von Bargen’s personality is about being real and caring as opposed to being perfect and polished.
  • Becky Stone:  Von Bargen’s exudes a warm, genuine feeling — everything from the classic design of the storefront to the thoughtfully designed display cases and the fact that the store’s advertisements feature only staff members, not models, reveals an authenticity that makes Von Bargen’s feel trustworthy. The overall branding creates an impression of friendliness without sacrificing dignity or elegance. I love the idea of “buying fewer, better things.”
  • Todd Reed:  This story is a truly great one: a life of love and passion from John and Leslie down to Jason and Julie. They care so much about their community and their staff and family of designers.
PHOTO GALLERY (8 Images)

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America's Coolest Stores

New York’s Yaf Sparkle Excels at Hospitality

Creating an experience comes naturally.

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Yaf Sparkle, New York

OWNERS: Yaf Boye-Flaegel and Torsten Flaegel; URL:yafsparkle.com ; FOUNDED: 2012; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; EMPLOYEES: 4 ; AREA: 1,400 square feet total; 720 square foot showroom TOP BRANDS: Vieri, Elements Studio NYC, Lyon Fine Jewelry, John Varvatos, Sarah Michiko; ONLINE PRESENCE: 8,600 Facebook likes, 4,515 Instagram followers, 161 Trip Advisor Reviews with a 5.0 rating. Yaf Sparkle is No. 6 of 1,001 shopping experiences in New York City on Trip Advisor; BUILDOUT COST: $85,000


ON A SULTRY JULY afternoon, an out-of-town customer, who had reluctantly left Yaf Sparkle without buying anything, returned soon after. She couldn’t shake the feeling she had to buy that pair of earrings that caught her eye.

Even after sealing the deal, she was reluctant to leave. Her husband, resigned, was ready to sink into a chair in an air-conditioned reprieve from the muggy air outside. As his wife succumbed to a number of add-on purchases, he told store owner Yaf Boye-Flaegel that she had mastered the art of the ABCs.

ABC? Yaf inquired.

“Always be closing,” he said.

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But Yaf said she had never heard that expression. For her, closing is about a lighthearted musical laugh and a playful “Hey, where are you going?” That’s what she might say if customers don’t seem certain whether they’re ready to leave or buy a second or a third piece of jewelry. Temptation is everywhere within reach, like low-hanging fruit. Add-ons abound in the form of stackable rings and layered pendants. She floats from one customer to another, jangling a pile of Julie Voss-designed bangles on her wrist with enthusiasm. She sells those gold-plated brass items as quickly as if they really are pieces of fruit.

Yaf says it’s the hospitality she learned from her parents in her native Senegal that helps her so effortlessly create such a welcoming atmosphere. Working in other people’s jewelry stores before she had her own, she observed that her friends weren’t comfortable stopping by even to say hello, let alone to hang out. Now that she’s created her own environment with a Caribbean-music soundtrack that makes swaying to the beat impossible to avoid and a playful approach to mixing and matching layers and stacks of jewelry, everyone who happens by wants to stay a while.

Sometimes a regular will dash in just to pull out one of Yaf’s “Goddess” cards from a stack to read an inspirational message guaranteed to improve their day. Or they might stop by for a hand-painted card, handmade candle or a New York postcard. There’s something for everyone. More than anything, though, they have become hooked on the positive, pervasive energy Yaf exudes.

Yaf and her husband, Torsten Flaegel, a native of Hamburg, Germany, are adept at inventing ways to enchant everyone in their orbit.

Torsten, long fascinated by the quality of light on the street, worked with Yaf on an event for the Manhattanhenge, also known as Manhattan Solstice, a time during which the setting or rising sun is aligned with the east-west streets of the main street grid in New York City. The sunsets and sunrises each align twice a year, on dates evenly spaced around the summer and winter solstices. For Yaf Sparkle’s Manhattanhenge event, there was music, a tarot card reader and a feeling that magic was in the air.

The ranking fluctuates, but customers have voted Yaf Sparkle as the third-best shopping experience in all of New York City on tripadvisor.com. At most, though, only a third of Yaf Sparkle shoppers are tourists. The majority are New Yorkers. “Online sales are growing and online is what brings people into the store,” Yaf says. “We’re not on a main street, but we have lots of content online.”

Affordable pieces displayed casually in the center of the store encourage shoppers to try something on.

They see their store as a walk-in jewelry closet and encourage customers to bring in a special-occasion outfit to be accessorized. Yaf constantly develops her own collections, presents the work of new local and international designers and changes the displays every other week to stay fresh.

“We have this internal competition of who can surprise our customer with the coolest new jewelry outfit that they didn’t consider wearing a day ago,” Torsten says. “There’s no being shy in our store; adorning oneself is fun and that’s what we are experts in. All in all, it is about being happy. Sharing a laugh is what keeps us in mind, and there’s nothing easier than that once you understand that every customer is first and foremost a potential friend.”

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The space itself, they say, was a raw diamond when they found it, veritably buried in layers of concrete. The little laundry that had occupied the space before them had cemented its machines into the ground, and the new landlord had no idea what lay behind the cement smeared on walls and floors. Months after they started digging, they realized that the old brick walls were in good condition. Even the ceiling was made of bricks with original ironwork between the arches. Once they got down to the bones, they pulled wires through the walls for showcases and laid out a beautiful wood floor. All of the wooden furniture is made from reclaimed wood.

The store is on Prince Street on the Lower East Side, which has a lively street life as well as a cinematic quality. It’s just around the corner from the Tenement Museum, which brings tourists by the busload. Martin Scorsese recently transformed the block into a 1972 backdrop for the 2019 Netflix film “The Irishman”. The street also starred in the 2014-2015 Cinemax TV series “The Knick,” set in 1901.

Adding to the charm, they scatter glitter across the sidewalk outside, a tactic that draws attention to the store even after it’s closed. They’ve also collaborated with other neighborhood businesses to host block-party sales events.
Social media just adds to the energy. When Yaf announced her birthday on Instagram, she ended up with an impromptu in-store surprise party, where the director of “Dirty Dancing” danced with a former MTV VJ, a Broadway ballerina and a Wall Street broker.

“Yaf Sparkle,” says Torsten, “was created out of the desire to provide an environment where fun, fashion and pleasure are combined as one. We know the day we forget that, we will be forgotten.”

Yaf Sparkle’s previous location, also on New York’s Lower East Side, was featured as the No. 3 Small Cool Store in the August 2016 issue of INSTORE.

VIDEO: YAF SPARKLE STORE TOUR VIDEO


PHOTO GALLERY (33 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Yaf Sparkle

1. Start ‘em young. The Yaf Sparkle team invites pre-K kids into the store for gem-education classes and birthstone giveaways.

2. Content-rich marketing. They’ve begun implementing automated email marketing, in which a customer will receive information about the pieces and the designer behind it. Their online database is segmented down to collection, metals and gemstones, so they can fine-tune their offerings. The idea is to provide continuous education.

3. In-house marketing. They use an in-house photo studio every day for model and product shots. In fact, 99 percent of marketing is created in-house. Social media is important, but they also rely on phone calls and postcards to share news of an event, a promotion or a specific gemstone that could be of interest. “Our newsletter marketing resembles our in-store experience,” Torsten says. “We don’t take ourselves or our product too seriously. Our love for local is what ties us all together. This is where we met our customer, and this is where we will see her again.” They improved their website to be increasingly ADA-compliant, which means it can be read by machines.

4. Block parties. Together with two other local shop owners they befriended, they gathered contact information for local merchants, set up a Facebook group and host regular events to brainstorm on marketing and event ideas. As a result, the group threw a neighborhood-wide event with 21 local merchants, each offering unique specials.

5. Good causes. Ten percent of net proceeds go to non-profits, most notably the ASB Foundation that Yaf founded in 2007. The ASB Foundation is an international humanitarian organization that supports the growth and development of the children in Koutal, Senegal, a small village created in 1968 to house people with leprosy and their families. The goal is to enrich the lives of the children who have been affected by their parents’ disease.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Julie Gotz: As a former New Yorker, I know how hard it is to stand apart from the thousands of other stores in the city. This is an amazing location with lots of cool and funky shopping options. The store has a great social-media presence and brings in a sense of community with their posts.
  • Julie Ettinger: I so appreciate the energy and passion in this store. It’s so New York; the interior, the exterior, the video marketing all connect. I also love their passion for shopping local and pulling surrounding stores and community together.
  • Barbara Ross-Innamorati: : Yaf’s enthusiasm and joie de vivre are what make this store so special. You can feel her love of what she does loud and clear through all of her online marketing, including her videos. I also love the custom-design page that seeks to educate her customer on the design process. Finally, her philanthropy and the foundation she started is important and brilliant.
  • Hedda Schupak: This business clearly “gets” both millennials and female self-purchasers, two sectors that are critical for our industry to do a better job in attracting. I love the fact that customers can walk in and try on fashion jewelry, but then there’s fine jewelry that costs five digits yet doesn’t look too precious. I love how they restored the original building under layers of soulless concrete.
  • Eric Zimmerman: Today’s retail environment is all about creating an experience and connection for the customer, and Yaf Sparkle is succeeding at just that. I also love the job they have done in making their store part of the culture and energy within NYC’s Lower East Side community.
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Portland, OR, Couple Fine-Tunes the No-Pressure Engagement Ring Sale

Website and window displays create perfect curb appeal.

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Malka Diamonds & Jewelry, Portland, OR

OWNERS: David and Ronnie Malka; URL: malkadiamonds.com ; FOUNDED: 2010; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN: One Hundred Agency and Bedford Brown Store; EMPLOYEES: 3 ; AREA: 1,000 square feet total; 700 square foot showroom; TOP BRANDS: Custom, vintage, Point No Point Studios, Vatche, Jolie Design; ONLINE PRESENCE: 1,645 Instagram followers, 957 Facebook followers, 4.9 Stars with 62 Google reviews; RENOVATED: 2018; BUILDOUT COST: $75,000; SHOWCASES:KDM


Ronnie and David Malka

VINTAGE RINGS DISPLAYED in authentic, retro jewelry boxes share space with newly minted engagement rings in the front window of Malka Diamonds & Jewelry, a boutique shop in the historic Hamilton building in the heart of downtown Portland.

Passersby enchanted by that tempting array are welcomed inside by owners David and Ronnie Malka, who offer guests a warm greeting and refreshments from the coffee shop across the hall.

Adding to the relaxed environment, they rarely ask for the prospective customer’s information right away. “Our customer is our friend. Just like you don’t ask someone you just met for all of their information, you really should try to take the same approach with your customers,” David says.

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Once guests have a chance to settle in and look around, graduate gemologist David loves to share what he knows by comparing loose diamonds at his desk. What makes the Malka experience distinctive is that David includes tricks of the trade in his consumer education, such as explaining what kind of diamonds people in the jewelry business might select for themselves.

“A lot of people who are thinking about buying diamonds online have done some research, and I like to educate them on the stuff you can see in a diamond that you should pay for,” David says. “The stuff you can’t see, why pay for it? Common sense goes a long way when you’re spending thousands of dollars. Great, if you want to buy a VVS stone, we have it, but most of the people who see the difference, or don’t see the difference, between D and F color are making a much more informed purchase, and they feel good about it.”

Large windows allow passersby to glimpse a mix of vintage and new rings on display while flooding the space with natural light.

They’re also adept at explaining the difference between the diamonds and their paperwork. “The cert says XYZ, but if you lined it up with five others, you might see why that stone was priced so low in its bracket,” Ronnie says.

They think it’s just fine if their customers walk out without buying anything on their first or second visit — even if they’re headed to the competition.

“We keep it really simple in here,” says Ronnie. “A lot of the guys who come in are buying something they don’t know anything about. We don’t bombard them with phone calls or emails; we just offer education. They continue to explore and research, and most of those people we see back here.”

The Malkas are taking the long view. “We want to be like their grandparents’ jewelers with a state-of-the-art shop so we can create things that are going to last,” Ronnie says. “Like the 1920s-era jewelers you trusted but still current and evolving with time.” Although engagement and wedding rings dominate their business now, with as much as 85 percent of sales, they believe that as their original customers continue to mature, they’ll eventually diversify into jewelry for other occasions.

By the time the customer does make a purchase or put a deposit down on a custom ring, David and Ronnie have developed a relationship with them. They give their customers a Malka hat, pin or T-shirt. They also give them a pamphlet detailing the history of their three-generation tradition of diamond dealers, and paperwork that includes an appraisal. There’s no paperwork involved with the guarantee; that is automatic for the life of the ring.

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As for that history, David’s father, Yossi Malka, who still has an office across the street from his son’s store, began his career as an apprentice under his great uncle in Israel, studied diamond cutting and later became a wholesale dealer in Portland.

David studied at the GIA, earned a graduate gemologist degree, and worked in a retail store for several years. David also ran his own jewelry appraisal lab, Independent Gemological Services, for the trade and private clients. “That’s a tough gig to be looking through the scope all day,” he says. “I was getting a little bit bored.”

Still, everyone thought he was crazy, he says, when he decided to open his own store. “It was the recession. It was a tough time.” Three major Portland jewelry stores had closed. “I figured if we took this plunge and we could stay afloat for two years, we should be able to weather anything,” he says. They’d been considering a variety of different names for the business when a friend offered this advice: “When you put your name on the door, you’re putting your name behind the business.”

Perfect. They had a name.

Ronnie Malka collects retro jewelry boxes to display vintage engagement rings.

They leased a prime 1,000-square-foot spot within a vacant 10,000 square-foot space. It was bare bones, with not much beyond walls and floors.

“Welcome to the world of retail,” David says he remembered thinking. Traffic was thin at first, and David continued to operate the appraisal lab, taking it month by month. Although changing shopping habits of American consumers had seemed to be a bad omen, it turned out that Portland shoppers who did spend money on jewelry wanted to make sure they were investing in local, independent businesses. Within a couple of years, they’d won Oregon Bride Magazine’s “Best Rings of 2012” award.

In 2013 Malka became the official fine jewelers of the University of Oregon and their shop got very busy. Ronnie left her teaching job to join Malka full time after it became clear David needed help with marketing and events.

In 2018, they expanded the shop and fine-tuned their interior design, adding metallic cork wallpaper, a custom woven rug, a gathering area with a modern, round table and gray leather chairs, and custom-built display cases. The counter now boasts a marble top and black paint. Other additions include a gold light fixture and a trio of geometric mirrors. The look is upscale without feeling stuffy. The decor is also a personal reflection of what makes David and Ronnie comfortable, complete with a prominently displayed black and white wedding photo of the couple.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, you meet a Malka,” Ronnie says. “We want them to know us as we want to know them.”

VIDEO: MALKA STORE TOUR

VIDEO: MALKA “ABOUT US”

VIDEO: MALKA CUSTOM DIAMONDS


PHOTO GALLERY (30 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Malka Diamonds & Jewelry

1. Salt-and-pepper diamonds. A year ago, Malka started showcasing the work of a Seattle designer, Point No Point Studios, which has a strong Instagram presence and specializes in salt-and-pepper diamond rings. “We knew that going out-of-the-box and trying something new would potentially bring new traffic,” says Ronnie, who gets several inquiries about them every week. David, as the son of a diamond dealer, admits he was reluctant at first to move in that direction. “My dad says, ‘How much is that per carat?!’ Ten years ago, it would have been used for drill bits, but now there’s an actual marketplace for it. I don’t think it’s a fad, either,” David says.

2. Collaborative environment. “We all know the projects, what’s going on, and what’s coming up,” Ronnie says. “It doesn’t feel compartmentalized.” That approach also creates opportunity for growth. Chloe, who works in the showroom, says Malka has the friendliest atmosphere of anywhere she has worked, as well as enormous growth potential and pride in values. “It gives me satisfaction learning-wise and experience-wise, knowing what the jewelers have to do to have a certain outcome for whatever kind of piece we’re making,” she says.

3. Custom connection. A 2018 expansion made room for two full-time master jewelers and more equipment in the shop. “We wanted everything done under our roof,” David says, from design to manufacture. Sometimes they are simply consultants: “An architect is doing his own CAD design for us to look at and make sure it’s going to translate into a ring and not a building,” Ronnie says.

4. Website curb appeal. Ronnie considers Malka’s digital presence, including its website, to be online curb appeal. “People want to engage online first,” Ronnie says. “Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, your website was a placeholder for your contact info, but now it tells your story.” People know what to expect.

5. Digital marketing ROI. Digital marketing has for the most part replaced traditional radio and TV, because as Ronnie says, “Our customer is online and if they’re seriously looking for a ring, they are seriously looking — not seeing it on TV. Many jewelers will say this is a waste of time, but in the last six months when our followers have doubled, we have noticed customers referring to an image they saw on Instagram or Facebook. It is a real relief to see the return on investment on the time spent taking photos and creating tag lines.” Even shop dog Toby has his own Instagram handle!

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Julie Ettinger: This store is a real gem! I love the shop-local feel and that it can all be done in house. I also appreciate the mix of vintage and new.
  • Julie Gotz: I love that the owners are so invested in the customer and their life cycle. Many stores are too focused on the sale and not enough on the relationship. It is great to hear that a store is using social media in such a successful way.
  • Joel Hassler: I like the approach to gathering customer information. Building a relationship is more important than data-mining.
  • Barbara Ross-Innamorati: : The store interior is exquisite and feels upscale but also warm and inviting. The website is quite informative and I love their blog, “Stories,” as it features a lot of interesting topics with gorgeous photography.
  • Hedda Schupak: I like the laser focus on diamond rings, and I love the impressive depth of selection they have, especially nontraditional styles. The store itself is very hip and welcoming. Their online presence is very strong; they’re using all social media quite well.
  • Eric Zimmerman: Malka Diamonds has done a wonderful job of creating a modern elegant boutique while still highlighting the building’s historic features. Their store’s design tells a story that complements the products they showcase: modern and antique.
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America's Coolest Stores

Regional Family-Owned Jewelry Company Expands Presence in New Hampshire

Bold, new store in Nashua embraces the future.

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Day’s Jewelers, Nashua, NH

OWNERS: Jeff & Kathy Corey; URL:daysjewelers.com; FOUNDED: 1914; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Ron Gay, YCC Jewelry Store Designs; Fulcrum, Ouellet Construction and Guy Labrecque Jr., architect from CWS; EMPLOYEES: 130 total; 13 in this location ; AREA: 6,000 square feet total; 5,000-square-foot showroom; TOP BRANDS: Forevermark, Martin Flyer, Gabriel & Co., Frieda Rothman; TOTAL NUMBER OF LOCATIONS: 8; BUILDOUT COST: $1.4 million


ON JEFF COREY’S FIRST date with future wife Kathy, the couple not only talked about getting married and having kids, they also dreamed of opening a jewelry store together. “Why not multiple jewelry stores?” they mused. The possibilities opened up before them.

“It’s always been our vision to provide opportunities to others,” Kathy says. “Having multiple locations has always been our vision, right from the start.”

Years later, they were operating one store — Jeffrey’s Fine Jewelers in Waterfield, ME — when they received a serendipitous phone call.

At one time, Day’s was the largest jewelry retailer in New England with 22 stores, but by the time the owners, brothers David and Sidney Davidson, were in their 80s and ready to retire, they could not find a buyer to sell the company intact. They were forced to sell their legacy piecemeal for the value of the real estate.

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When they had just one remaining store, the brothers called the Coreys. The Davidsons had known Jeff’s dad, who got his start with Day’s. “He said my brother and I want to retire, but don’t want to see the name Day’s die,” Jeff recalls.

“We’d like you to buy the company from us and revive Day’s.”

What could have been the end for Day’s turned into a new beginning. The Coreys did buy the last Day’s. Soon there were two Day’s locations when they changed the name of Jeffrey’s Fine Jewelers to Day’s and began rebuilding the brand. Now there are eight.

The grand opening of Day’s Jewelers in Nashua, NH, celebrated the beginning of a new era for the Coreys. It is the first store they built from the ground up.

The Nashua Chapter

The Coreys built their first New Hampshire store in Manchester in 2003, but knew that in order to have a strong presence in that state, they’d need another location. So when the Nashua location became available in a desirable, high-traffic area, they were beyond ready. This buildout would be their first from the ground up, giving them a chance to modernize their look and branding.

“We were looking for a store that was more engaging, that allowed the comfort and freedom to walk around without shoppers feeling they were being observed or pressured to buy,” Kathy says.

A circular design sets the stage for a natural traffic flow that draws shoppers throughout the space while maximizing linear display space. The two-story entryway has a glass wall along its curved exterior, creating space for advertising display opportunities both inside and out, and establishing an interior theme that carries through to casework and ceiling. The circular design creates an open lounge area in the center for customers to settle in, enjoy a beverage and watch TV, creating the feeling they had walked into a home.

Black brick around the building’s perimeter establishes a solid base for the lighter exterior finish system above. The finishes selected for the window systems, canopy and awnings are a play on metal work and fabrication. The exterior is a modern interpretation of traditional detailing and material use while maintaining strict regulations for energy conservation and sustainable design practices. As with the exterior, materials selected for the interior represent the display of fine jewelry in a modern, sleek, but accessible fashion.

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Kathy considers the Forevermark bridal enclave to be the crown jewel of the store with its custom-built benches and furniture, as well as the story of Forevermark playing on a continuous loop.

The Virtual Diamond Boutique allows shoppers to view and virtually try on exceptional loose diamonds, most of which can be ordered for viewing in store the next day.

Standing the Test of Time

From the beginning, Kathy and Jeff were determined to have a long-range vision. “We’ve resisted the temptation to hold sales, for one example,” Kathy says. “ It’s a matter of integrity — and of doing things for the long term.”

Day’s point of differentiation in its markets is partly a result of the size of its stores, which are all between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet. “The selection we offer our customers is hugely more vast than other stores,” Kathy says. “We also pride ourselves on services, engraving, goldsmith, pearl stringing, appraisals, gemologists, and ear piercing. We do hundreds of ear piercings a year. We do all of this with that hometown comfortable feel without being perceived as a big box.”

Day’s is one of five independent retail jewelers to be certified by the Responsible Jewelry Council as the result of a third-party audit. “RJC has given us an opportunity to evaluate long-term structural, strategic initiatives that help businesses survive the times.”

In maintaining the company’s family jeweler tradition, Jeff and Kathy’s son Joe, along with two nephews, have begun to assume leadership roles in the company.

Their long-term view also means they take time to hire and then invest in employee growth. Their 25-page hiring handbook is informed by experts in the field, including Kate Peterson and Peter Smith. “We clearly define skills, experiences and talents that are necessary to succeed at a particular job. We use screening tools to determine if a candidate fits the profile.”

They ensure that every new hire feels a sense of empowerment and has the knowledge and education to make independent decisions in the best interest of the company and customers. “We want our employees to feel that this is a career, not just a job,” Jeff says. “They have to feel like they’re learning and growing all the time. So we invest in training and career advancement, including college courses.”

Everyone learns that the customer is the boss. “If you ask any one of our 130 employees, they will tell you that,” Jeff says. “Google reviews and Facebook reviews tell that story quite clearly.”

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They also work hard to find good leaders and facilitate strong communication. It’s working: a statewide survey has deemed Day’s one of the best places to work in Maine based on employee responses to questions about company culture, leadership, their level of satisfaction and a variety of HR-related criteria.

Ensuring employee satisfaction ultimately leads to customer satisfaction.

At the Nashua store, buying jewelry is absolutely fun, the Coreys say, thanks to their enthusiastic team. “They bring an energy to buying jewelry that is like none other,” they say. “Bring your dog to Day’s, bring your baby, have a beer, kick your feet up, relax. You’ll become part of our family the minute you walk into our store.”

PHOTO GALLERY (8 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Day’s Jewelers

1. The Bridal Box. Whenever Day’s sells a diamond engagement ring, the engaged couple receives a large gift-wrapped box that includes a bottle of champagne, a jewelry gift, promotions for wedding rings and bridal attendant gifts, toasting flutes and a certificate for a free engraved cake knife. Day’s has partnered with a local photographer, formalwear provider, and other bridal-related businesses; each includes a gift or coupon in the box.

2. Core values. Stationed high above the entrance on the copper trim at the building’s pinnacle is the company’s signature emblem, each point of which represents one of Day’s Jewelers four core differentiating values that have guided the company for more than 100 years. “Value: We promise to always provide the best value to our customersin our goods and services. Opportunity: We promise to provide everyone with the opportunity to own and enjoy fine jewelry. Trust: We promise to always do business in an environment of trust and transparency. Sentiment: We believe the true value of a piece of jewelry is not in how much it costs, but what it means to the person who wears it.”

3. Enchanting the children. A graphics product called Visual Magnetics adds interactive scenery to the children’s play area. Magnetic paint is applied under the store’s color paint, turning its walls into magnets. Then thin, high-resolution images can be rolled directly onto the wall. The first layer is a colorful, under-the-sea background. The second layer is cut-outs of sea life that children can move around to create their own customized seascape.

4. The media mix. “I find marketing to be very exciting today,” Jeff says. “It’s so much easier to hypter-target the market with the proper message.” While social media has become a very important part of the ad mix, Day’s has found value in everything from TV and radio to cinema ads and airport billboards. Even newspaper advertising has its place as a way to reach the over 50, more affluent demographic. Having a team of eight people on staff in the marketing department, including graphic designers, a videographer/photographer and a copywriter allows most of the work to be done in house.

5. Philanthropy. In 2014, to celebrate 100 years in business, Day’s set a goal of raising $100,000 for Jewelers for Children. Day’s 138 employees were invited to participate voluntarily, primarily through weekly payroll deduction. With generous contributions and hard work from employees, customers and suppliers, the firm contributed $102,000 to JFC in January 2015.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Benjamin Guttery: This jeweler exemplifies that the entire family is welcome at their store, from kiddos to Corgis. The second floor window really shines to passersby and is a recognizable feature of the community as well as an advertising display opportunity.
  • Elle Hill: The store is fresh, clean and bright, allowing the customer to bathe in warm natural sunlight. Engaging with the community and touches such as the Bridal Box are important ways of fitting in and standing out.
  • Bob Phibbs: The kids’ section is inspired. I’ve never encountered anything like that to keep kids occupied.
  • Michael Roman: Exquisite showroom! Unique space for small children. Strong core values are evident in the stores’ success. Well-done YouTube video. It gives the shopper a feeling about what their experience will be like if they visit Day’s.
  • Mark Tapper: The interior of the Nashua store is cool, modern and beautiful. I love the sleek lines and rounded cases. The showroom appears to be flowing with natural light. The Forevermark boutique has a great presence.
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