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A New Vision for
Selling Jewelry

This tech-heavy Michigan store features hydraulic cases, floating displays and lots of interactivity.

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Veloce, Jewelry By Medawar, Kalamazoo, MI

URL: velocejewelry.com; OWNER: Christina & Pierre Medawar; FOUNDED: 2013; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2013; AREA: 1,500 square feet; COST OF BUILDOUT: $200,000; EMPLOYEES: 3 full time, 2 part time; TOP BRANDS: Pandora, Swarovski, Lauren G. Adams, Elle, Gabriel & Co., Metalsmith, Frederic Duclos; FACEBOOK: 4,647 likes; ALEXA GLOBAL RANK: 9,868,309


Update: As of June 2019, this business is no longer operational.

EAT YOUR HEART OUT, Apple Store. Sure, Apple created a benchmark for interactive retail environments in the tech field — but it did so with 100,000 employees and the financial backing of a huge corporation. Veloce did it for the jewelry industry with the vision of a young first-time store owner, the creative mind of her father, and the backing of a 37-year-old independent jewelry operation.

Granted, the Medawar family has jewelry ties going back almost 100 years to Chakib Medawar, who became a watchmaker in Lebanon in 1920. His family immigrated to the United States in the mid-1970s, and all five of his sons launched their own jewelry stores. The youngest, Pierre, opened Medawar Jewelers in Lansing, which now has four other locations in Okemos, Portage, Brighton, and Jackson. Pierre is semi-retired, and his children, son Jon-Pierre and daughter Christina, help manage the group’s stores.

Veloce is Christina’s dream store, finally made reality just a year and a half ago when it opened in November 2013.

“I wanted a fashion jewelry store with all the newest lines,” Christina says. “I wanted Pandora and all the hot brand names in our industry. And I wanted something interactive, like a closet — where you can pick something up, try it on and not be bothered.”

She shared her dream with her father, and together with Jon-Pierre, they began considering retail concepts for a fashion-oriented jewelry store. They found their answer in Chicago as they were walking together downtown and passed the Apple Store. “The kids said, ‘Wouldn’t that be cool to have a high-tech jewelry store, where everything’s on the table and people can play with the jewelry? A bright store of the future?” Pierre says. “And I said, ‘Sounds like fun!’”

Like the Apple Store, white surfaces, glass and gleaming metal dominate the design of Veloce. Customer service is a top priority. But perhaps the most brilliant aspect of both Apple and Veloce is that they are highly interactive, encouraging customers to try out products to their hearts’ content.

Apple’s products are interactive in and of themselves. The Medawars had to figure out a way to make jewelry interactive. That’s where the problems — and opportunities — began.

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Programming a New Business Model

When Christina and Pierre set out to find interactive jewelry displays, they discovered that there were none.

“We realized that if we wanted to do this, we would have to create it. My dad knew we would figure it out,” Christina says. They decided to build their own cases and displays, purchase 3-foot spring-loaded wires, add relays, and attach one end to the jewelry and another to a computer motherboard.

“The kids and I actually put it all together,” Pierre says. “3,000 relays and spring-loaded wires, in my barn.” The family then hired programmers to work out a system whereby when a piece of jewelry is pulled up from the showcase, its image, information and price pop onto a video screen in front of the customer.

The patented system went through many revisions before the Medawars were satisfied.

“For example,” Christina says, “when someone would pick up a product, after five seconds the screen would go back to the main menu. And we said, ‘No, we need it to stay there until the customer puts the piece back down.’ Then we had the problem of, ‘What if there are two people who pick up a piece at the same showcase?’ We thought of doing a split-screen, but we couldn’t make it look just right, so now it just stays on the first item that was picked up.”

The system includes a removable computer chip that can be taken out of the showcase, plugged into a computer elsewhere, and have new products and information entered into it. Pierre hopes that eventually, the system will be able to be updated wirelessly.

Floating Jewels

If the interactive showcases are the pearl of Veloce, the surrounding retail environment is its shimmering oyster. Everywhere are white surfaces, brushed steel, glass, and clean geometric shapes.

The showroom makes the “floating” interactive showcases the focal point — white laminate tabletops that hold either rings or bracelets and watches (the circular ones display the rings, while the square ones are designed specifically to hold bracelets that drape down a declined surface). The Medawars contracted with a local showcase company to build the displays, but the towering 1,200-pound sheet of glass that holds each case aloft was constructed and tested in Medawar Jewelers’ warehouse in Lansing, under Pierre’s supervision.

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“Mounting the cases to the glass was an idea that I had for a while,” Pierre says. “I wasn’t sure the glass was going to hold it. It was a straight sheet of glass with a little flex to it. We figured that wasn’t going to work by itself. If a person leaned on the case, it might break. We tried it with steel supports, but I wanted the glass to disappear, so that didn’t work. Finally, we came up with the idea of adding the triangle-shaped glass underneath. We did maybe a half-dozen experiments over six months before we got it just right. But it was enjoyable. I love putting things together.”

Fleshing Out the Concept

Futuristic video displays and floating showcases do not alone a jewelry store make: You also need jewelry. So, Christina and Pierre set out to locate the coolest fashion jewelry that they could. Says Christina: “We went to The SMART Show and found some great lines, like Gabriel & Co. and Kir. I also wanted some known names, like Pandora, ELLE and Swarovski, that more casual jewelry fans — or even those completely unfamiliar with jewelry brands — might know. And then there are some up-and-coming names like Lauren G. Adams. I think Veloce can help the brands to become better known as people get to know us, but when we started, I wanted brands that would bring people into the store.” Prices on the store’s products range from $25 to $1,200.

Veloce’s high-tech approach is especially appealing to millennials, the generation of consumers that so many jewelry store owners are wringing their hands over. “Selling to millennials is not a problem for me,” Christina says. “They come in all the time. They know exactly how to work the system; it’s intuitive for them. If they aren’t familiar with a brand, they’ll Google it on their phone, and they’ll tell me which actress is wearing the jewelry.”

The family decided to locate the store in Kalamazoo because of the vibrant Crossroads Mall there. “We thought a concept like this would be more for a woman who would shop in the mall,” Christina says.

“The longer we are here, the more it becomes a destination. I honestly don’t know if I would put it in a mall again. My goal at this point is to not have to rely on mall foot traffic, but to be a destination.”

And if the Kalamazoo location becomes a destination, what could the brand do in a place like Detroit or even New York? “I would love to expand with this model. The sky’s the limit; I’m trying to build an empire!” Christina says. “If I could afford Manhattan, I would do it. That’s where I aspire to be. The first store is always the hardest. Now that we have the kinks worked out, it would be easier to install a second one.”

PHOTO GALLERY (8 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Veloce, Jewelry By Medawar

1. HYDRAULIC CASES Because the showroom revolves around the interactive ring displays, the other jewelry displays are necessarily up against the wall — which raised the question, how will we open these displays? Answer: hydraulics. Pierre constructed hydraulic arms that raise the showcase lid when a key is turned, adding to the store’s futuristic charm.

2. CEILING SHAPES Enormous three-dimensional cubes and cylinders drop down from Veloce’s ceiling above the store’s interactive showcases. The sheets of glass that support the showcases run up into the forms, and they also house the lighting that makes the jewelry pop.

3. FLOATING DISPLAYS The clear plastic circles and squares that “float” in Veloce’s windows were designed by Pierre to match the geometric shapes of the showcases and ceilings — as were the standing bracelet and watch displays. “We figured out the diameter we needed and had a local plastic company cut these circles and cylinders to size, then my guys glued them together in our warehouse,” Pierre says. The window displays also feature a magnetically-sealed back that makes it easy to replace the displays without a key.

4. FASHION FIRST Christina Medawar considers her fashion awareness to be the most important asset that she brings to Veloce. She manifests her fashion vision through a marketing concept called “The Veloce Girl.” The company’s social media sites seek to characterize “the Veloce Girl,” showing what she wears, where she lives, and what she does.

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5. GRASSROOTS MARKETING The fledgling store didn’t have the money to advertise on TV or radio — so Christina, whose education was in public relations at Michigan State, hit the bricks to meet every business owner she could. She has also set out to host one charity event per quarter, and recently donated all proceeds from a three-hour event to The Susan G. Komen Foundation.

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Smile Contagion Smile. Christina says this is one of her non-negotiables for staff each and every day. “Don’t bring your love life problems or other issues into the store,” she says. “You always want the client to feel good about being there. Even if you have to fake it, I do not care. Come cry to me in the back later if you need to. It’s girl power from there — and ultimately, smiling is contagious.”

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Barbara Palumbo: What isn’t cool about this store? Interactive display cases? Um, hello? My head just exploded. Fantastic!
  • Bryan Eisenberg: This store has the feel of an Apple store, with loads of interactivity and its ability to impact people kinetically is sure to create remarkable experiences. They also have one of the best online presences I have seen amongst jewelers.
  • David Kepron: The entire environment has design complexity while having a simple elegant beauty. Veloce sits firmly in the contemporary design world and unabashedly makes a statement that resonates with future-forward customers.
  • David Iler: By far the most state-of-the-art jewelry retail experience I have ever seen. Veloce’s sleek lines, cool design and interactive cases are genius. Veloce’s top designer brands paired with impeccable customer service and cutting edge design are a formula for success.
  • Jesse Balaity: Veloce brings the Apple store model to the jewelry customer by breaking down security barriers and encouraging customers to play with the merchandise. The store literally echos this transparent way of merchandising by replacing typically wood and metal structural components with glass. The floating effect, where zones are defined more by light than physical borders, perfectly conveys Christina’s vision for a high-tech lifestyle.
  • Sally Furrer: I like the exterior look very much – the window cases remind me of ship portholes and really showcase the vignette of jewelry. Their transparency allows traffic to easily see into the store.

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

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