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ACS 2006: Third Place, Christopher’s Fine Jewelery

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Christopher’s Fine Jewelry

Address: 11412 Ocean Highway, Pawleys Island, SC 29585
Owners: Louis and Christopher Cervini
Phone: (843) 237-3773
URL: www.christophersfinejewelry.com
Year founded: 1993
Opened featured location: 2005
Architect/Design Firm: Tych and Walker Architects of Murrells Inlet, SC; interior design and casework by Artco Group
Total Store Area: 4,500 sq ft
Employees: 10
2005 Revenues: $1 million-plus
Land cost: $300,000
Building cost: $1.7 million
interior build-out cost: (Included in building cost)
Design/architectural firms cost: N/A
Current estimated property value: N/A
Store slogan: “Come as friends, leave as family”

Five Cool Things About Christopher’s Fine Jewelry

1THE DESIGN

Chic on the Beach

Pawleys Island, one of the oldest resort areas in the country, is home to a style of architecture the locals refer to as “arrogantly shabby”. Christopher’s owner Chris Cervini was keen to build a store that fitted in with the laidback ethos of South Carolina’s tidelands, although he decided to push a contrary line on the shabby and avoid arrogant altogether. The result is a beautifully designed store that emphasizes the colors and textures found in the local coastal nature as well as the relaxed ambience of the South. The outside of the store features a large patio and cream brick exterior while the interior is sophisticated yet friendly. Says Cervini: “We wanted something that reflected the Pawleys ethos but which was a little more cosmopolitan and unique.”

2THE FLOORS

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The Boards From Brazil

One of the most difficult decisions Cervini faced was the choice of flooring material. In keeping with local theme of the store, he had initially wanted to use heartwood pine. But the wood, which is indigenous to the area, is expensive, quite soft and prone to swelling when the humidity climbs. In its place, Cervini made a bold choice — Brazilian pine. The knotty, light-colored wood is rarely used for store flooring but it turned out to be perfect choice, contrasting nicely with the Biltmore cherrywood cabinets and dark interior walls. The beachy-looking wood supported “the warm and open feeling” Cervini was trying to achieve in the store. Importantly, it was also only one-third the cost of the heartwood pine. “It’s probably the most commented element in the store,” says Cervini. “Everyone loves it.”

3THE PLAN

Lured to the Rocks

Some call it inspired, others may see it as a little insidious (especially if they’re picking up the check), but for all its beauty the design of Christopher’s has an overriding commercial functionality — to lure customers into the store and bring them face to face with the pieces they are most likely to buy. The process starts curbside, at the front of the store with its large and inviting open patio, infinity fountain and a two-storey glass atrium entryway, beckoning passers by to come in. Inside the store, the aim is supported by the Biltmore cherry cabinetry, cherry walls and in particularly the continuous curved, tunnel glass jewelry cases. “There are no visual breaks in the cases,” explains Cervini, who studied architecture for three years in college. “We wanted a free-flowing circulation. The curved tunnel glass invites you in — it’s like you don’t even know you are being pulled through the store.” The result is a store where people love to spend money.  Cervini recounts the  story of a recent customer looking for gift for his girlfriend: “He came in, just wrote out a check for $30,000 and said: ‘Find something for me will you, Chris.’”

4THE TECHNOLOGY

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Computers Ready

One of the biggest challenges facing any store owner is keeping staff on the sales floor, given the amount of paperwork and other back-office duties that are involved in running a jewelry business. Cervini gets around the problem by using floating island kiosks equipped with computers that allow staff to do administrative work. “It means there’s always someone there for every customer. The customers don’t feel they’re putting anyone out by getting them out of their office. It’s one of the best things we did,” he says.

5THE BENCH

Shop Show

Christopher’s shop takes up rear of the store behind a glass wall to allow customers to watch the craftsmen at work, doing repairs and custom jobs. The focus of the shop’s design was on cleanliness and bright lights. “Most shops are dirty and dark,” Cervini says. “But we wanted it to be clean and white. It’s like being in an upscale restaurant where you can look in the kitchen and see the chef at work.” — Chris Burslem

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FIVE QUESTIONS

Chris Cervini, Co-Owner Christopher’s Fine Jewelry

1 You’d had a small store for 13 years in nearby Georgetown. How did your old customers react to the new location?

They were in shock, they didn’t know how to take it. For the first couple of months they kept telling us, ‘“this store should be in Manhattan, Rodeo Drive, in the Caribbean somewhere.”

1There’s no doubt the design works aesthetically. But how about commercially — what’s been the effect on sales?

We ended up 50% over budget but it was worth it. Several months after the new store opened, in preparation for the Christmas season, we decided to host a “ladies night” to encourage our top customers to come and see our new location. We ended up with over 400 women in our store that evening. It was the most enjoyable and successful marketing event in the history of our business.

3 Why do you think the new store’s been such a success?

It’s the ethos it presents for the customer. It invites the customer in. It encourages buying. One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m rarely asked for a discount anymore.

4 What about staff, what’s been the effect on them?

I’d say now, more than ever before, the staff “gets it”. They’re not worried about the price tag. They can focus on presenting the jewelry and the emotion of the occasion. In the old store we sometimes had a hard time finding staff, but that’s no longer the case.

5 Were there ever times during the construction phase when you thought maybe you’d got it wrong?

Many, many times. Pawley’s is affluent but very low-key. All the other stores here have a more traditional low-country theme with gables and low, pitched metal roofs. We went for something more cosmopolitan. The glass tower is a totally different look. I was really worried it was going to be too much for the area, would intimidate people. But it all worked out.

GOOD ADVICE

Three things that Christopher Cervini did right in the process of building Christopher’s new location:
1. Spread out the risk. “I leased off part of the stand-alone building to a bridal shop and upmarket hair salon, to lower the financial burden and spread the risk.”
2. Did the research. “I went out and talked to independent jewelry store owners in non-competing markets.”
3. Didn’t cut corners inside. “I didn’t scrimp on the interior. That’s where the action is.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Bruce Brigham
Retail Clarity

I think the single coolest feature here is the main central island display, and its reflected ceiling element. This forms a powerful central axis to the design… and you can feel the rest of the space unfolding all around it.

I like the execution of the logo on the top of the tower. I like the feeling that the store is “signing its name” to this building! Very cool.

Les Hiscoe
Shawmut Design

I love the wood floor. The oval center fixture with racetrack lighting and lineal wood fixture is striking.

Ruth Batson
American Gem Society

Christopher’s has been able to bring the outdoors into the store with the large patio with fountain, glass atrium entryway, and the landscaping. Most retailers consider walls for merchandising or security. Christopher’s has built a tribute to nature into their store and made it a way of selling themselves and establishing a part of their brand.

Gary and Kathy Bigham
Bigham Jewelers

This store exudes cool in its flow and the white elements inside the cases, enhancing the jewelry as the focal point. The curved tunnel glass cases provide sleek, uninterrupted display. Unfortunately, the cool factor ends with the floor where the casual nature of the knotty pine conflicts with the richness of the cherry cases.

Ellen Fruchtman
Fruchtman Marketing

If it’s trying to be the “Little Tiffany of the Tidelands”, this certainly has that feel.

As beautiful as the interior is — it’s not as distinctive as the other entries.

Kate Peterson
Performance Concepts

I love the atrium — both from outside and in!

I like that it’s a blend of the owner’s vision and the local environment. It looks like it fits in the landscape.

Rick Segel
Author/Consultant

Coming up with one single cool feature is difficult. I’m torn between the glass atrium and the magnificent oval in the store’s center.

Terry Sisco
Exsellerate

The décor is a perfect match for an island known for its shoeless, carefree, laid-back life style.

Absolutely, the floor is what sets the mood for cool at Christopher’s. The Brazilian-pine hardwood flooring with natural wood knot elements gives the entire store its breezy casual feeling. It almost makes the rich cherry wood showcases look as if they are floating above the light background of the blonde wood floors.

Celeste Sotola
Interior Designer

The inside looks like the interior of a fine sailing ship, and the lighter wood flooring feels like the water. Perfect for their location! The ceiling echoing the middle island is a great perspective tool.

I would inject some softness to ease the library feel. Perhaps a massive plant in the atrium, one that feels like a welcome caress. The atrium stops being interesting half-way up. A romantic painting could bring drama to the lost energy in the upper half of the space and tell a story of who the owners are.

Lori Wegman
Wegman Design Group

Really looks pulled together and well integrated, giving the impression of a thoughtful organization with integrity.

I’d add a dash of complementary color in an unexpected area to give a little more drama.

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This story is from the August 2006 edition of INSTORE

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