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ACS 2007: Seventh Place (Tie), David Gardner’s Jewelers

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College Try: David Gardner’s jewelers thrives in a Texas university town.

David Gardner’s Jewelers

Location: College Station, TX
Owner:
Julia and David Gardner
Year founded:
1983
Opened featured location:
2005
Store area:
7,500 square feet
Employees:
30
Architect/design firm:
Britt Rice, contractor, David Shellenberger, Julia & David Gardner, designers
Interior build-out cost:
$1 million

STORE FACTS

• Sixty percent of those who attend in-store events and parties at David Gardner’s are first-time visitors to the store.

• The Gardners host bridal fairs twice a year during which the newly engaged can view hundreds of ring styles.

• David Gardner’s has grown an average of 20 percent per year for the past 15 years.

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HOW THEY GOT THERE.

Survivor: Texas-Style

Years after lean times, David Gardner’s Jewelers still knows to be thankful for every customer.Years after lean times, David Gardner’s Jewelers still knows to be thankful for every customer.

David and julia gardner of David Gardner’s Jewelers are grateful for every customer who walks through their door. It’s a gratitude reinforced by surviving some rocky years early on in their business’s history.

“Our timing was great in that we opened in ’83, during an economic upturn,” David says, “but within three years we had the Texas bank and real estate collapse. So we went through a very short, terrific period and then went through some serious struggles.”

They endured four landlords, multiple supplier bankruptcies, two bank failures and would-be customers with financial problems of their own. But the Gardners became more determined and more focused than ever in the wake of these challenges.

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“We came through that period with a lifetime commitment to be thankful for every customer that came through the door,” David says. “Now we’re doing in a week the business we might have done in a year back when we had three or four people working — including us. No matter what happens, we want every customer to know that we feel truly thankful that they came in.”

A personable, educated staff extends an appropriate welcome. Dean Wile, jeweler and salesman extraordinaire, for example, has been with them for more than 20 years. “If you came in this afternoon and needed something made for a big anniversary tomorrow, he’d be in here till 2 in the morning if that’s what it took,” David says. “I’m wired, Julia is very busy but Dean is an absolute steady guy. His nickname is ‘The Rock.’”

After the lean years in Texas gave way to ’90s prosperity, the Gardners continued to face the kinds of everyday challenges that come with doing business in a college town. They’ve been open-minded about courting Texas A&M University students, with surprisingly positive results. Now, half of their customers are students, many of whom visit David Gardner’s to make the biggest purchase of their young lives — engagement rings.

The new store, their third location, was designed with two distinct sides, each of which seems to exude a specific gravitational pull.

College students are drawn to the contemporary side, and more traditional customers to the more conservative, plush areas.

“It was a hard thing to pull off,” Julia says. “You don’t want to look cheap or not serious — because this is one of the biggest purchases they’ve ever made.”

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The contemporary enclave is a laid-back place to hang out, with a coffee bar, unique lights and black lacquer trim. It’s modern, but not overdone.

College turnover means the Gardners must woo new customers every year while reaching out to what has become a completely different generation.

The Gardners work hard to stay current with the ever-changing tastes and idiosyncrasies of a college market. They came to realize, for example, they shouldn’t schedule events for college students on Thursday evenings because they couldn’t hope to compete with the hit TV show Grey’s Anatomy.

Twice a year they schedule a popular bridal event.

“They can look at a tremendous selection, hundreds and hundreds of rings and try on what they like,” Julia says.

The 1,800-square-foot heart of the store is the interactive studio where their DG Collection designs are created.

“The heartbeat of the business has always been the simple fact that we’re jewelers and we make things,” David says.

The sales areas flow around the open shop at the store’s center, encouraging interaction.

The Gardners are also deeply involved in philanthropy. The sales floor is often used for charity events and promotional parties — a good way to roll out the red carpet for future customers.

“It is a great way for people to be in the store in a non-threatening atmosphere,” Julia says.

“Jewelry stores unfortunately have the reputation for being a little bit frightening. There’s a threshold resistance you have to overcome. But if they get to know you, they are likely to come back.”  — Eileen McClelland

FIVE COOL THINGS ABOUT DAVID GARDNER’S JEWELERS

1 Themed Parties

The Gardners hosted their first themed party while the new location was still under construction. The “Hard Hat Party” encouraged guests to dress “Tool Time Chic,” enjoy refreshments and music and take guided tours.

2 Shop/Studio

The 1,800-square-foot studio in the center of the store is equipped with cameras attached to the jewelers’ microscopes that allow customers to observe craftsmen on flat-screen televisions while they set stones or create a new design using the CAD/CAM system.

3 Community Action

Not only has the store made donations to more than 100 different community and Texas A&M University campus charities and organizations in the past year, the larger space has allowed the store to be used for charitable fund-raisers.

4 Atmosphere

One area — the “lounge” — encourages customers to have a seat in comfortable leather chairs, enjoy a beverage and watch the flat-screen television. In another, fabulous red chairs are nestled around a conversation table tucked away in the David Yurman boutique creating a cozy place to enjoy a glass of wine.

5 DG Designs

In addition to DG Collections, one-of-a-kind commissioned pieces are a frequent request. At the request of the Junior League, David Gardner designed and presented a pin to former first lady Barbara Bush as a thank-you from the community.

          TRUE TALES

People-Pleasers

“Donna started working with us seven or eight years ago,” Julia Gardner says. “She knew absolutely nothing about jewelry but she was a people person. She had worked with us less than a month and one day she greeted a couple with so much enthusiasm and spent an hour with them, laughing and talking. It was as if she were welcoming them into her home. When they left, we asked her if they were relatives. We thought they had to be cousins, at least. She said, ‘No, I never met them before.’ That to me describes her best.” David adds: “We have a whole group of absolute people pleasers.”

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

Deborah E. Hecht
Wholesale Jewelry Rep

David Gardner makes up reasons for parties and isn’t afraid to do so. I know it’s a lot of work, but customers like to go to special events. It keeps your store in their minds.

Nick Failla
Sales Consultant

The architecture, light and space are suggestive of exploring a museum. The tasteful and confident environment keeps the focus on the jewelry, client and jewelry professional.

Craig Underwood
2006 Cool Store Winner

I love the modern interior of this store. It’s fresh, clean and inviting. Upon entering the store, customers must feel as if they are stepping into a world-class museum. The design studio and bench-jeweler viewing area are some of the best I have ever seen.

Leatrice Eiseman
Color Specialist

The portico out front is very welcoming and allows the store to have some contemporary angular features to the roof while donning its modern-looking logo. The interior ceiling is very contemporary, but rounded features take off some of that modern edge. Plus the ceiling features allow it to be at different heights, which adds drama to the interior.

Shane Decker
Sales Trainer

Some stores allow customers to watch the jeweler at work, but putting the studio and design center in the middle of the sales floor brings the concept to an all-new level. The Gardners have brought new ideas and ways of using technology to the industry, and my hat’s off to them. I think a lot of stores will be copying this idea in the future.

Berj Alexanian
Jewelry Display Designer

It looks like a comfortable store to shop.

David Peters
Jewelry Educator

The store incorporates the idea of fun and excitement through its many events. Involvement with their customers doesn’t stop at their front door.

Rhonda Faber Green
Jewelry Designer

Sleek, modern and hip this store was built with community in mind.

Larry Johnson
Merchandising Expert

A totally different way to approach the customer. I like the mixture of traditional and modern influences. They have really made the combination work.

STORE IMAGES

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This story is from the August 2007 edition of INSTORE

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