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A Store Grows in Brooklyn

New York retailers have been a community fixture for almost 50 years.

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The Clay Pot, Brooklyn, NY

URL: www.clay-pot.com; OWNER: Tara Silberberg; FOUNDED: 1969; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1980; LAST RENOVATED: 2012; AREA: 1,200 square feet; OPENED BUILD-OUT COST: $150,000; EMPLOYEES: 12 full-times, 4 part-times ; TOP BRANDS: Alexis Bittar, Dogeared, Jamie Joseph, Melissa Joy Manning, Megan Thorne, Todd Reed, Carla Caruso, Ananda Khalsa, Marian Mauer, Lisa Jenks; ONLINE PRESENCE: Yelp Rating: 3.5 Stars; Facebook: 1,118 Likes; ALEXA TRAFFIC RANK:1,402,379


COOL THINGS come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, those shapes are ceramic.

When Robert and Sally Silberberg opened Brooklyn-based The Clay Pot in 1969, there wasn’t a piece of jewelry in sight. In fact, the store carried nothing but high-end pottery produced by Sally herself — and she was no slouch, selling to Neiman Marcus, the original iteration of Pottery Barn, and Crate and Barrel, among others. A few years later, the couple left New York to start a farm in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts and continued to make pottery from there, while keeping The Clay Pot running under a manager.

But in 1980, their Massachusetts studio burned to the ground. With no way to make money, the Silberbergs sunk their savings into the store and began showcasing artists other than themselves. In 1989, after the stock market crash, the business was in trouble again, so Robert came up with the idea of selling wedding bands in a gallery show.

“He put an ad in The Village Voice with a picture of some rings and the headline, ‘Wedding Bands,’” says Tara Silberberg, the founders’ daughter and current owner of the store. “It was a huge success and they sold 20 wedding bands. He started putting a little section together and it kind of grew. Now we sell 35 to 40 rings per week, and jewelry is 90 percent of our business.”

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The Clay Pot is now recognized as one of the top designer-oriented retailers in the country and carries over 200 designers and artists. “The one thing I’ve learned in all the years I’ve been doing this is that gaining customer trust and respect and being able to sell them something that costs $5,000-$10,000 is not something you can just earn in no time. There are amazing stores in New York City, so I’m very grateful that we’ve managed to find our foothold in that world,” says Silberberg.

The store’s biggest challenge currently is figuring out the new rules of marketing. “When your target is bridal, it’s always a moving target of young people,” says Silberberg. “We used to advertise in The Village Voice and every 20-year-old in New York saw our ad. Now, it’s a lot more difficult to nail down.”

Of course, word of mouth is the store’s biggest traffic driver. The Clay Pot has been able to build that kind of momentum because it’s been a mainstay in Brooklyn’s affluent Park Slope for nearly half a century. “Park Slope is one of those places in New York that if you live here, you get it,” says Silberberg. “There are two or three stores that have been here as long as The Clay Pot at this point.” The store sponsors community events throughout the year, including a music festival called Celebrate Brooklyn, of which Silberberg is a board member. She has also served as PTA president for several local schools. “I just happen to love civil service,” Silberberg says. “It does help my business in one way or another, but that’s not why I do it. Luckily, I’m my own boss, so I can make time to do it.”

The Clay Pot is also known for its staff wearing crazy Halloween outfits and giving out treats. “Our neighborhood is sort of The Halloween neighborhood in Brooklyn for kids. We buy a minimum of 10,000 pieces of candy to hand out,” says Silberberg. “Our staff gets very into it, and we have an internal contest as to who has the best costume.” Even former employees come back to the store to help for this event.

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It’s not surprising, then, that so many area jewelry buyers choose to return to The Clay Pot again and again. “Customers get very excited about the store because they think it’s their secret. It’s nice to be so loved,” says Silberberg. And sometimes, love is just the beginning: Some customers are even competitive about just how loyal they are. “I have a very funny customer who came in once while I just happened to be looking at our POS system. I told her she was customer No. 432 out of like 50,000 in our database. She was like, ‘Really?’ She reappears a couple hours later with her friend who wants to know what number she is because she just knows she’s been shopping with us for longer! I told her she was number 4,080, and she was not happy. I told them, “Let’s just say you’ve both been fans for a long time!”

PHOTO GALLERY (5 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About The Clay Pot

1. BUBBLE POD WALL: The store showcases a Canadian artist who works in handmade glass. During the 2012 renovation, he did an interior wall of bubble pods, which gives the feature a 1960s-esque look. “It’s definitely modern, but it has a retro reference,” says Silberberg. “The customers seem to like it, and we gained a lot of room.”

2. AMAZON PARTNERSHIP: The Clay Pot represents designer Alexis Bittar on Amazon.com. Silberberg says that when she realized that Bittar was not represented on Amazon, she contacted the online giant. Now, the store ships the product to Amazon, which then distributes it, allowing Prime customers to get free shipping. “Customers are very trusting of Amazon’s fulfillment capabilities, more than brick-and-mortar stores sometimes,” says Silberberg. “It’s been very profitable.”

3. DESIGNER SELECTION: More than 200 artists and designers are represented at The Clay Pot, and they run the gamut in both style and price point. “I always bring in younger, non-established designers because I think that’s who customers are looking for,” says Silberberg. “We have a great gift market and a lot of self-purchasing, too.”

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4. PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO: Every piece of jewelry in The Clay Pot’s formidable inventory is shot personally by Silberberg, who uses a lightbox with halogen bulbs that were first used by her mother, Sally, approximately 30 years ago. “We keep using things until they blow up,” jokes Silberberg.

5. LIVE WEBSITE: Silberberg launched The Clay Pot’s first website way back in 1996. “We had static block pages with pictures of different jewelers and an informational page, and you could download a PDF price list,” says Silberberg. Today, all product pricing on the website is live, inventory is updated every half-hour, and the website is mobile-responsive.

Try This: Two Blogs

Create not one but two regularly-updated blogs: Bridal and Jewelry. The Clay Pot’s new manager runs the bridal blog, so it’s a team effort within the store, and customers are able to read the latest no matter what their jewelry interests.

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Ellen Fruchtman: TTheir story; humble beginnings and commitment to their community make The Clay Pot a very special place in Brooklyn. I love that they kept some of the originality from their first store. Their marketing is attractive (nice logo and packaging) and a big congratulations for continuing to update and realize how important your online presence really is. Now we know more than a tree grows in Brooklyn…a very cool store exists there as well!

David Hollingshead: Stunningly simple yet impactful décor in the jewelry area. Great mash-up of Asian-meets-Mad-Men-meets-2013 feel to it. It proves simple can be more sophisticated and elegant than ornate and over-decorated.

Angelique Knafo: This store exemplifies the pleasures of shopping locally! The Clay Pot represents the neighborhood jeweler and the attention and relationship that goes along with it. Hand-selected designers fill the showcases with care and attention and the assortment of jewelry will appeal to those seeking something special and unique.

Jim Tuttle: The Clay Pot has a very warm feel for an urban store and seems like a fun group of people.

Trace Shelton is the editor-in-chief of INSTORE magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

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