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ACS 2008: Fourth Place Big Cool, JB Hudson Jewelers

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JB Hudson Jewelers

LOCATION: Minneapolis, MN
URL: www.jbhudson.com
OWNERS: The Pohlad family & Jeannie Joas
FOUNDED: 1885
OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2008
EMPLOYEES: 38
AREA: 8,410 square-feet
ARCHITECT/DESIGN FIRM: David Shea of Shea Inc.
BRANDS: Cartier, Breitling, Omega, Tag Heuer, Mikimoto, John Hardy, Mattioli, H. Stern, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Valentine

JB Hudson, the oldest purveyor of jewels in Minneapolis, now has one of its own. In February, the 123-year-old business opened its latest incarnation in a venerable Italianate building downtown that was called “a perfect gem” by the owner who had it erected in 1926. Jeannie Joas, president and CEO, seconds that assessment. With three entrances, a double vestibule, castle-class brass doors and inlaid marble, the new JB Hudson Jewelers flagship location echoes the elegant statement made by its inventory of fine brands. It revels in a new 8,410-square-foot space, nearly 1,300 square feet more than its previous quarters since 1929. “I kind of took it for granted JB Hudson was known as the finest jeweler in Minnesota, but you have to get out where people can see you to appreciate that,” Joas reflects. “Now that we’re so visible, we’re a cornerstone of Minneapolis.”

FIVE COOL THINGS ABOUT JB HUDSON

Exclusive Brands

1“Anything you can see in a department store we don’t have in our store,” Joas says. Since 1992, J. B. Hudson’s policy under Joas and her partners has been to concentrate on the exclusive. Accordingly, in the new quarters, the brands have uniquely designed floor segments. The John Hardy boutique is done in bamboo, a complement to his fall 2008 collection of the same name. The H. Stern boutique reflects its attachment to Sex and the City characters: curved and sexy, says Joas. The main-floor room that shows what Joas calls the “fashion-forward but affordable” jewelry is flanked by a stop-right-here turquoise wall, while an airy, windowed giftware gallery upstairs displays lines such as Mottahedeh, Jay Strongwater, Baccarat and Herend. “We have these incredible arched windows that were hidden before by showcases from the tenant before us. We knocked the cases out and it was suddenly a whole new room,” Joas recalls.

Wardrobe Staples

2“Watches 50 years ago were for telling time. Now they’re a status symbol,” Joas observes. “We encourage men to have a watch wardrobe, for obvious reasons.” During the remodeling of its current building, Joas says she paid close attention to the watch area. It literally races, with a curving ribbon of cabinetry. In the floor is a terrazzo depiction of a clock with a face of Roman numerals, a symbol Joas admits “I just had to have.” A lounge off the watch area ensures potential customers won’t suffer impatience from their companions. Comfortable club chairs with coffee and wine service, a large flat-screen TV and plenty of glossy reading material mesh to guarantee satisfaction on all sides. JB Hudson has a second store in Ridgedale Shopping Center in Minnetonka, and it’s currently being remodeled, Joas says, to focus on watches. It will pare down its giftware selection to concentrate on its Breitling, Omega, Cartier and Baume & Mercier watch lines. Watches have evolved into jewelry, she says: “Five years ago, watches were small. Now — the bigger, the better.”

Grand Image

3The grand opening in May reinforced JB Hudson’s image with red-carpet entry, flowers, food and a spotlighted jewelry fashion show paraded down the imperial travertine staircase. Gift bags held Champagne glasses engraved with the grand-opening date. “We had all the windows flanked with models in these really retro white bathing suits. They were standing in the windows decked out in these incredible jewels. And every now and then they might wink or wave at someone who was looking in,” she remembers. “So even people outside loved it.” Invitations were limited to 400 customers — “loyal customers, and a few good prospects.” Joas says that event didn’t focus on sales. But it led to business the next week: “We had some calls saying, ‘My wife saw this piece that night,’ and that sort of thing,” Joas says. The event included valet parking, but that is an everyday accommodation at JB Hudson. “When you’re downtown, it’s all about the parking,” Joas explains.

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“You have to make it easy.”

Trend Watcher

4“It’s gold, gold, gold. It used to be white metals, but now it’s gold,” says Joas, who accordingly has beefed up a section in the new store for younger buyers with gold pieces that are more affordable. The store underscores the value of recession-proof gems in its first floor diamond room, with an entry created like a proscenium stage, with dark lime velvet curtains drawn to each side. The fanfare has apparently worked. “Since we have moved here, we’ve seen a surge in diamond-engagement business, which is the foundation for a lot of other business,” she says. More classics: pearls from Mikimoto and the new Camelia collection from Chanel, which is centered on yellow gold.

Provenance

5When Joas teamed with her current majority partners, the Pohlad family, a longtime Minneapolis name came into the business. When the partners decided to move into their own building, they chose one with a city history. And when Joas began to plan its interior, she brought the chandelier and a favored table from her own first store. She also brought the well-known walnut cases from JB Hudson’s old location, to be refigured into the estate jewelry room. “The estate room is just fantastic. That is a really fast-growing portion of our business,” she says. “People embrace heritage and provenance. They find it fascinating.” It’s not enough to appreciate it on your own, she warns. “You have to tell the story. You have to romance it. You have to educate your clients on it.” Similarly, taking the time to educate the media about its new quarters brought a Minneapolis Tribune story and photo spread about the vintage Young-Quinlan building it was taking over. “I had such a vision for this building,” says Joas, who personally oversaw every facet of the redesign. “It’s my baby.”

         TRUE TALE

What’s the most important sale you ever made in your life? Jeannie Joas remembers it as one to a favorite customer, a man who had come in often to buy gifts for his wife — and not spur-of-the-moment things, but very beautiful, very thoughtful gifts. She learned the man had been diagnosed with cancer, and the next time he came in would be his last. But first he had called to ask her to find for his wife “the most beautiful piece she’s ever had, so that every time she wears it she’ll remember how much I loved her.” Joas found a line bracelet of yellow diamonds: “It was absolutely fantastic. Everything else paled beside it,” she remembers. It was, Joas told her customer, a sunshine bracelet. “Then I have to buy it,” he told her, “because she is the sunshine of my life.” “That was so beautiful,” Joas recalls. “This sale wasn’t about the price tag. It was all about the sentiment.”

COOL FACTS

• JB Hudson, founded by Josiah Bell Hudson in 1885, may be the most resilient, as well as the oldest, jewelry business in Minneapolis. It was burned out of its second building in 1911 and opened doors in its third location in 1929 — within weeks of the stock market crash that ushered in the Depression. But Hudson died in 1928, and in 1929, the company was purchased by the Dayton Co. It grew during the baby boomer years to seven stores, then slimmed down to its current two.

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Jeannie Joas, president and CEO, doesn’t wait for a good idea to walk in the door. Offering customer education is critical, she says: “We’ve had seminars at the art institute. We’ve had cocktail parties here where we educate people about the value and the beauty of estate jewelry.”

WHAT THE JUDGES SAY

Angus Goble
Architect

This was my favorite! A stylish and classy interior with great attention to detail, materials and the integration of design elements. The store also has a beautiful exterior. It soars effortlessly!

Caroline Stanley
Marketing Consultant

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Their emphasis on a deep selection of merchandise is a big part of what makes it cool. They have taken an amazing selection of jewelry and paired it with a new location with plenty of style.

James West
Jewelers Guild Developer

A careful blending of antique furniture and fixtures with modern color and design makes this a glorious showplace. The antique spaces and modern spaces seem separate though. I would like to have seen the brighter colors and bold textures commingled with the antiques throughout the store.

James E. Dion
Retail Consultant

The store is stunning with the dramatic staircase and display windows that let wonderful light into the space. The tie to the past and yet the look to the future is what makes this store work. The store within a store concept for iconic brands like Cartier is a wonderful touch.

Jon Parker
Head Hunter

I’m very impressed with the way the new store respects the integrity of the original downtown store by incorporating touches from the softer elements that the old store had. There are not many stores doing tabletop anymore and even fewer doing it well. The bottom line is: this store exemplifies what it really takes to be a true full service guild store.

Susan Eisen
Retailer

I adored the quaint private room off to the side for private conferences. It looks like a romantic getaway with great emotional appeal.

Kris Kargel
Branding Expert

This is a beautiful example of elegance and coordination. The showcases are simply extraordinary and the wood platforms bring the exquisite jewelry right up to the client while tying in the floor and wall’s woodwork. The incorporation of the seating and effective use of color bring an element of warmth and help counteract the heavy feel of dark wood.

STORE IMAGES

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This story is from the August 2008 edition of INSTORE

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