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America's Coolest Stores

ACS 2006: Sixth Place, Gunderson’s Jewelers

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Gunderson’s Jewelers

Address: 4830 Sergeant Road, Sioux City, IA 51106
Owners: Brian and Blaine Gunderson
Phone: (712) 255-7229
URL: www.gundersons.com
Year founded: 1945
Opened featured location: 2005
Architect/Design Firm: Mollet Architecture, Inc.
Total Store Area: 12,500 sq. ft.
Employees: 46
2005 Revenues: N/A
Land cost: $850,000
Building cost: $2 million
Interior build-out cost: (included in building cost)
Design/architectural firms cost: $100,000
Current estimated property value: $3 million

Five Cool Things About Gunderson’s Jewelers

1THE GOAL

Alternate Universe

Brian Gunderson grew up in jewelry stores, starting with the small, second-generation watchmaking business his father inherited. And while he got to know well the arcane arts of the trade, he was never comfortable with traditional store designs. “Jewelry retail stores fell into one of two categories — ‘the bank’ and ‘the car lot’,” he says. The first was stuffy and intimidating while the second, with its balloons, signs, flyers, and “one-time-only” discounts was a similarly discomforting shopping experience. Brian and his brother, Blaine, were determined not to fall into either category when they moved their family business from its original downtown location to a new commercial lot outside Sioux City, IA, in 2005. Inspired by non-jewelry retailers such as The Gap, the Gunderson brothers followed through on their mission by building a boldly designed stand-alone store that features high ceilings, a huge fireplace, vibrant color combinations, and different interior textures. It’s an “alternate universe”, says Gunderson.

2THE EXTERIOR

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A Little Mystery

From outside, there is nothing to indicate that Gunderson’s is a jewelry business. No glow-in-the-dark spinning diamond on top of the store, no mention of jewelry in the store name, no backlit images of starry-eyed couples gazing at a ring. “I wanted the store to be a piece of art from the outside and didn’t feel that would help,” says Gunderson, adding he believed the lack of signposting would add mystique to the store. So far it seems to have worked.

3COOL FEATURE

Heart of Fire

If there is a dominant feature in the store, it is the 28-foot-tall, gas-fueled fireplace. It was chosen to provide social warmth as much as real heat, says Gunderson, noting that he’s been in other stores that have used fireplaces for a similar reason, even in towns “where it doesn’t drop below 75 degrees in winter”. “Last winter, you’d be surprised how many people would come in, take a seat by the fireplace, read some of the trade-related books we have here, the magazine we publish, have a cup of tea. Some of the older customers come in just for that, and we’re happy to have them.

4TECHNOLOGY

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Killer App

All sales associates at Gunderson’s carry wireless notebooks. The small interconnected devices are not only entertaining sales props, and time- savers (sure beats going back to the store room to get a vendor’s catalog every time) but they also enable Gunderson’s to compete on the same field as Internet retailers.

5THE ATTITUDE

It Isn’t All Luck

Ask Brian Gunderson the secret of his success and he’ll modestly, if perhaps inaccurately, attribute his store’s growth to good old-fashioned luck. “We’ve had good fortune. In business, it’s not how much you know, it’s who you know. Coincidental types of things led to our location, helped us build our customer base,” he says, noting that the property developer who owned the land their store now sits on was an old school friend of his father’s and that the award-winning architect they chose was the husband of a former sales associate. Such humility, no doubt, adds to the store’s appeal. — Chris Burslem

FIVE QUESTIONS

Brian Gunderson, Co-Owner Gunderson’s Jewelers

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1 What were you trying to achieve with the store design?

In our part of the world, we need to make people feel comfortable coming in dressed in a suit, in shorts and a t-shirt or in overalls. Some of our largest sales have been to farmers who, when they walked in, you thought they were living from the money some one gave them on the street corner … But there are farmers from around here with a net worth of $5 million, $10 million, $20 million. Anybody can feel comfortable coming in here, everything was designed with that in mind.

2 What were your influences?

A combination of the GAP, Planet Hollywood and Nature Company. Mix it up in a blender and spit it out and sell jewelry.

3 Did you run into much resistance to your plans?

Actually my parents had reservations. They were somewhat skeptical about moving from downtown but as time passed their enthusiasm built, and now they’re completely convinced it was the right move and design.

4 How’s it make you feel now?

If I was going to take pride in something it’s that we don’t try to be the norm. I’m (usually) more inclined to do the opposite. Not because the norm is wrong. But going against the grain is something I take pride in.

5 So what’s up next for one of America’s coolest stores?

We can’t wait to duplicate the model in our Sioux Falls, South Dakota location. It will be the largest store in South Dakota. Our Sioux City store is the second largest in Iowa.

WATCH IT

Another thing that’s very cool about Gunderson’s — its watch department. Here’s why:

Harry Graznow Sixty years ago, there were hundreds of watchmakers working in Sioux City. Now there are only 10. And four of them have worked, or are working, with Graznow, Gunderson’s master watchmaker, who says: “I repair watches for about 10% of the population of Sioux City.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Kate Peterson
Performance Concepts

It’s definitely bold and dramatic! I love a risk-taker — and these guys definitely qualify! Lots of appeal here for the Gen X and Gen Y customer.

I might tone It down just a bit, reduce the number of “active” materials making a statement in the store — wood, brick, metal, stone, etc.

Rick Segel
Author/Consultant

It’s cool because of the spaciousness and height of the main showroom. And the outside, its size, just has an awesome feeling to it.

The single coolest feature is tile tower because it’s just a focal point of the whole store.

They’re attempting to create retail therapy and this store is truly miles apart from its competition. When you realize that it is not a major metropolitan area, it makes it even more impressive.

The only negative is the lack of signage that could enhance the shopping experience.

Lori Wegman
Wegman Design Group

It’s got a lot going on. It’s a little bit of show business.

A little too busy for me. Not sure where to look first.

Terry Sisco
Exsellerate

With a Viking prominently displayed in their logo, there should be no doubt that Gunderson’s is ready to have fun exploring uncharted territory.

The exterior of the store looks the furthest thing from a jewelry store possible. Inside, there are shapes and design elements shooting all over the place. There is a definite Scandinavian influence in the spacious interior with glass, white metals and blonde and burl woods.

The exterior and interior lines, curves and geometric shapes create an almost whimsical venue in which to make a very serious purchase. It makes the store look fun.

Gary and Kathy Bigham
Bigham Jewelers

If the attempt was to revolutionize jewelry presentation, they succeeded. Whether the presentation is successful is another question. There is simply too much going on. The individual design elements are interesting, but when all put together there are many textures and patterns that bombard the senses. Where the focus should be on the jewelry, the case elements are as busy as the rest of the store. They also missed a lot of linear case space sectioning the island with wood inserts.

Celeste Sotola
Interior Designer

This store certainly “stands out in a crowd,” I respect the owners desire to present a new way of selling jewelry.

I can’t find any soft spots in the room. Even the air feels like diamonds.

It reminds me of a mausoleum with jewelry caskets waiting to be interned. There are too many shiny surfaces.

Using solid color somewhere would give the eye direction and remove the air pinchiness.

Bruce Bigham
Retail Clarity

There are many interesting ideas in the fixturing designs. Too many ideas. But I am excited by the creativity of this store, and this could be the start of a continuing improvement to the design.

Ellen Fruchtman
Fruchtman Marketing

Clearly, Gunderson’s gets it! It’s creative and fun, bold yet inviting. They stepped out of the box in Sioux City, Iowa!

You would think that the size of the store would be intimidating, but the Gunderson’s didn’t take their store (or themselves) too seriously — in a good way!

The exterior does not project the cozy atmosphere as much as the interior — it’s a little cold and stark.

STORE IMAGES

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This story is from the August 2006 edition of INSTORE

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