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ACS 2007: Third Place, DeBoulle

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Heart of Texas: Denis Boulle’s store is as friendly on the inside as it is impressive on the outside.

DeBoulle

Location: Dallas, TX
URL: www.deboulle.com
Owner: Denis Boulle
Year founded: 1983
Opened featured location: 2001
Store area: 9,000 square feet
Employees: 24
Architect/design firm: Hub City Productions
Value of land and building: $5 million
Slogan: “The deBoulle Experience”

STORE FACTS

• Denis Boulle is a descendent of Andre Charles Boulle, cabinetmaker to King Louis XIV of France.

• DeBoulle has given away 23,000 cappuccinos in the past three years.

• The store’s 24 employees hail from nine different countries. 6A high-end carwash next door provides much business. One man stopped in while his car was being washed and bought a $400,000 diamond.

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HOW THEY GOT THERE

It’s All in the Right People

DeBoulle’s owner attributes his store’s success to hiring the best staff and finding the right advisers.

A store with a facade as imposing as deBoulle’s speaks of no worries within. It is a grand ocher stucco building — 9,000 square feet topped by an antique green slate roof — a French chateau in Dallas’s prestigious Park Cities area. When owners Denis and Karen Boulle moved to this dream store from a 1,500-square-foot mall location, however, he could not have predicted that 9/11 would occur six months later and the economic fallout that came with it.

“Without outside help, we might not have survived,” Denis Boulle says. That help came not in the form of money but rather a mentor, a well-heeled customer-friend with loads of business experience. Throughout his 25 years in business, Boulle has come to recognize the importance of finding the right people as staff members and advisers.

He admits that he’s a hands-on, on-the-floor type of owner — “to the detriment” of the back-room, and the sometimes mundane practicalities of running a business. “When you start a business, you are very trusting,” Boulle says, and in the early days, “we did have a lot of problems.”

The answer, Boulle found, “is people. And we’ve done it one employee at a time.” The result is a majority of staff members who have been there longer than five years and who have reason to want to stay. “Obviously we’ve gotten it running very well.”

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Part of running the store well comes in deBoulle’s treatment of people when they walk through the door. “We look very imposing as a store. It can be intimidating,” Boulle says. “It’s kind of ironic, because everybody’s inside having a good time. We treat them as equals.”

Even with such simple tricks as treating customers as they would guests in their home, the choice of products has made one of the largest impacts on deBoulle’s success. A former diamond salesman, Boulle went from selling to the industry to selling to individuals and then to opening his own store in 1983.

It wasn’t diamonds that brought him the most success, however. It was fine timepieces that really fuelled the growth. Today the store is an authorized dealer of 22 brands and a service center for such brands as Rolex and Patek Philippe. (It also carries 17 luxury jewelry lines, as well as its own exclusive deBoulle Collection of original designs.) Watch sales account for half of store sales, and pre-owned watch sales account for between 10 and 15 percent of that. Boulle says the key is repairs. “Most people see watch repairs as a pain in the rear. We see it as a sales opportunity.”

Often salespeople will recommend a trade-in on fine watches instead of a repair, and almost as often the salespeople will have a client in mind who is looking for the watch that’s being traded in, so turn-around can be as little as a day.

In displaying watches, deBoulle maintains its own elegant look in the cases and displays, which makes it unique in appearance and ambiance. Casework in the style of Louis XV and oriental rugs on the wood floors belie the jewelry-store locale.

“The most important thing to us was to get our own look,” Boulle says. “If you have 20 brands and use all their displays, you would wind up looking like a duty-free shop.”

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And if it were a duty-free shop, the store likely wouldn’t have such grandiose parties. It has become known for its Guys Nights, Ferrari shows, as well as an annual event called deBoulle Goes to the Dogs that benefits a local no-kill shelter. Boulle and his wife, who have a miniature Italian greyhound and a Labrador mix, open the doors of the store to customers and their dogs — 50 of them at the last event. A paw reader is there to tell fortunes, and dogs from the shelter that need homes mingle with the guests. To any event, Boulle says, “we tie the things we feel strongly about.” — Ralf Kircher

FIVE COOL THINGS ABOUT DeBOULLE

1 House Guests

There is no such thing as a customer; there are only guests in the house of deBoulle. Greeted at the front door — as you’d greet a guest in your house, Boulle says — customers are offered a drink, and when they leave, they’re escorted out, just as at home. As for cash registers or POS stations: “Would you see one in a house?” Boulle asks.

2 Treasure Trove

DeBoulle’s freestanding store is a gem in itself. Formerly a toy store, the two-story building was transformed in 2001 into a showplace for grown-up treasures. The architecture makes it appear more like a grand house than a retail store, and it lends itself to lavish parties.

3 The Art of Time

DeBoulle is an authorized dealer for 22 luxury timepiece collections. A full 50 percent of the store’s sales come from watch sales. The store boasts an onsite authorized Rolex and Patek Philippe repair center. More than 10 percent of deBoulle’s watch sales come from pre-owned timepieces.

4 Reputation

From Louis XV displays in the salon to the detail of behind-the-scenes artisans, deBoulle owes its reputation to professionals who provide everything from astute appraisals to breathtaking jewelry designs.

5Pro-Community

Whether it’s a pampered pooch party, the season’s must-attend art gala fund-raiser, or the place to spy the latest model of Ferrari, deBoulle is known for the panache its name bestows on the occasion. Denis Boulle says his events are more special because they are tied to his personal interests.

         TRUE TALES

Ruby Slipper

A customer spied a 12-carat ruby while his wife was elsewhere in the store. At the time, Denis Boulle had just bought a Ferrari 360, a car that was extremely hard to find. “Basically, the customer said, ‘I’ll buy the ruby if you throw in the Ferrari,” Boulle says. “Now, this Ferrari was my baby.” But after some deliberation, Boulle decided to do it. He was preparing both the car and the ruby, when the man’s wife walked in. “Darling,” the man said, “what do you think of this?” “I don’t like rubies,” she said. “I kept my Ferrari,” Boulle says.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

Shane Decker
Sales Trainer

Man, you talk about Old World and charming. This store also does an incredible volume for the number of employees, which means they do a great job at selling high-ticket items. The building draws you in, and the fabulous merchandise will do the rest. I wish everybody had the attitude that “there are no customers, only guests,” as deBoulle does.

Berj Alexanian
Jewelry Display Designer

It’s a cute and eclectic store overall. The entrance is original, and it has a home-like atmosphere with real carpets and furniture.

David Peters
Jewelry Educator

Old World charm surrounds the brilliant sparkle of fine jewels at deBoulle. Offering the feel of an inviting home, deBoulle sets its customers at ease with soft furnishings and flowing spaces.

Rhonda Faber Green
Jewelry Designer

This store drips old-fashioned elegance.

Leatrice Eiseman
Color Specialist

There’s a real feeling of opulence with this store. Similar to Traditional Jewelers, the exterior lights really make the store a thing to behold from the outside, making people want to go inside and see what’s going on. Once you walk in to the store, it’s like walking in to a luxurious mansion with the dramatic staircase and wrought iron rails (a good regional choice for Texas), the coffee table as well as the recessed cases along the staircase. My favorite room is the showroom with the green walls. The color is a dark green that works well with the wood floors. And the dark quality of the color is offset with a bright blue color in the dome, which gives the appearance of a skylight. Combine these elements and you have an elegant showroom that has sumptuous features that give it a mystique of its own.

Deborah E. Hecht
Wholesale Jewelry Rep

DeBoulle has a style that many retailers wish they could have. And there is no reason they can’t, even if it’s on a smaller scale. They have designed their store using a theme that means something to them. They think of their customers as guests. They interact heavily within their community on a business and nonprofit level. All of these concepts add up to deBoulle having a higher profile in their community and therefore greater success.

Nick Failla
Sales Consultant

The incredible mix of textures and architectural detail has you sold on buying your fine jewelry from deBoulle before you ever even examine your first piece. Vintage architecture coupling arches and columns of the Old World style offers a successful experience. Subtle and understated are not adjectives to describe either the architecture or the shopping experience with deBoulle. The strategy of using multiple textures and warm colors to grab your potential customer’s attention can be employed in the design of any size or style of store.

Larry Johnson
Merchandising Expert

I like the European feel of this store — like shopping in Nice or Florence.

Craig Underwood
2006 Cool Store Winner

A magnificent exterior that blends beautifully with the elegant interior. The exterior has a charm and appeal that is so difficult to create with new construction. Upon entering the store the same classic charm warmly greets you. DeBoulle has done a wonderful job of blending textures and elements yet remaining true to the style and elegance of the store.

STORE IMAGES

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This story is from the August 2007 edition of INSTORE

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