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A Hands-On Approach

At The Smithery, jewelry artists excel at experiential retail.

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SMALL COOL 3rd PLACE: The Smithery, Columbus, OH
The Smithery, Columbus, OH

OWNERS: Anne Holman and Jen Townsend; URL: shopthesmithery.com; FOUNDED: 2014; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2014; RENOVATED: 2019; EMPLOYEES: 2; AREA: 1,200 square foot showroom; 2,500 square feet total; ONLINE PRESENCE: 4,340 Instagram followers; 2,365 Facebook followers; 35 4.9-Star Google reviews


ANNE HOLMAN AND Jen Townsend, owners of The Smithery, have watched 80 couples make wedding or commitment bands from scratch in their Columbus, OH, studio, during Wedding Band Workshops. Each experience is as individual as the couple.

Sometimes, Holman and Townsend have been around for the proposal. On one occasion, the groom officially proposed immediately after the couple made what were supposed to be commitment rings.

Another couple got married immediately after they made their rings. “They changed into their wedding clothes and went home for the ceremony,” Holman says. Sometimes, it’s a surprise. A Canadian groom asked his girlfriend to marry him just the day before they came to the workshop. Some come to upgrade their original wedding bands for a special anniversary.

The Smithery Studio

The Smithery Studio

“It’s fun to see how, these days, everyone can take their own path,” says Townsend.

As far as the technical part of the experience, one of the keys to success is walking couples through a practice session to gauge their natural ability, including “hand-eye coordination,” they say. Whether for practice or the real deal, each couple takes baby steps through the process. “There are only a few instances where something went off the rails a little bit,” Townsend says, “but we can always get it back.”

Their clients are amazed and take great pride in the fact they made their rings with their own hands. They solder them, inscribe them and do the finishing work. Then they receive a digital photo album of the process. “It’s their day,”

Townsend says. “It’s all about them.” Participants learn it’s OK to break the rules and create wedding bands that are a personal expression. Another benefit: They realize how reasonably priced jewelry really is, based on all of the time and effort that go into making it.

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Such personalized experiential retail makes a lasting impression. The Wedding Band Workshop is, in many ways, what this business is all about: a convergence of gallery and studio space.

Holman and Townsend, jewelry artists and graduates of the Columbus College of Art and Design, founded their retail jewelry store and studio in 2014. Holman had been teaching and selling her jewelry at art festivals for years, while

Townsend dreamed about giving up her day job in retail management to work full time in jewelry. When they began sharing a studio, they also began talking about a concept that appealed to them both: teaching workshops and selling and making jewelry all under one roof.

The Smithery's marketing

The Smithery’s marketing focuses on the wide range of artist-made jewelry available.

After creating a business plan and securing a modest loan, they opened The Smithery in 2014, becoming the only jewelry store in the area that contained workshop space for the public, exhibition space and studios for themselves.

While Columbus has a vibrant art community, metalsmithing and art jewelry venues were sparse. “We were anxious to bring the field we love to a greater presence in our city,” Townsend says. They wanted the workshop to be visible from the shopping area, to emphasize the connection. “Being both store owners and artists gives us a unique perspective and allows us to interact in a different way, to share artists’ stories and inspirations.”

They reached a turning point in 2019 and needed to separate the studio and store. The update doubled the store’s footprint and kept the studio in the same block. Now there’s enough room to allow for another of their goals: hosting curated exhibitions featuring work by emerging and established artists making innovative art jewelry. The exhibitions allow them to showcase more exploratory work and wearable sculptures. This has opened a curatorial and creative outlet for them, too, as they come up with ideas and seek artists for these shows.

Beyond the Wedding Band Workshop option, The Smithery caters to couples who are looking for artist-made wedding jewelry that is different from what they can find elsewhere. “People like it that we are open to the idea that there’s not one style for everyone,” Townsend says. “A lot of traditional jewelry stores tend to focus more on a particular aesthetic that is more what’s expected. When it comes to commitment jewelry, a lot of customers have told us that if they go to a more traditional jewelry store, they are being placed in a box of ‘this is what most people want or expect’ in band width or stone size. Being open to the customer’s perspective first and foremost is what we try to do.”

“We’re not hung up on any expectations,” Holman says. “You do you. If they want a teeny tiny diamond instead of something big, we don’t try to upsell them. We will source non-traditional gemstones.”

Both Townsend and Holman worked in visual merchandising at times, and the outfitting of their store was largely a DIY effort. They built many of the cases and fixtures to meet display needs. They had a local craftsman (hairpinlegs.com) make raw steel hairpin legs at varying heights that they added to tables they built and to some IKEA furniture that they hacked.

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They also worked with what they had. The previous tenant had installed and left behind a barnwood cash wrap, an accent wall and baseboards. Without a huge budget, the partners found ways to make this shabby chic motif mesh with their minimalist concept. They painted the entire space in shades of white and gray, including the barn wood, to keep a monochromatic palette while focusing on interesting and varied textures around the store. Artwork and potted plants add dashes of color, as do small artworks hung in antique picture frames permanently mounted to the walls.

The store features a variety of vintage, modern and industrial light fixtures. They designed a sleek acrylic logo sign that is float-mounted behind their front desk.

The Smithery owners

Jewelry artists Anne Holman, left, and Jen Townsend own The Smithery.

The shop represents work from over 70 independent artists from across the country. In addition to handcrafted jewelry, The Smithery sells a variety of ceramics, prints, artwork and accessories. Holman and Townsend each have their own line of jewelry and collaborate on a shared signature collection as well. They offer custom jewelry services including heirloom, engagement and commitment rings. They do all the design, fabrication, casting, and stone setting in their studio using recycled precious metals.

When considering what to sell in the store beyond their own work, they look at quality, wearability and price point. “We want a distinctive look so everyone can stand out and appeal to different aesthetics,” Townsend says. What most have in common is they are making small batch, limited edition jewelry.

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Shoppers can find pieces with familiar aesthetics, but also pieces that challenge expectations of what jewelry can be. “Some customers wear only small stud earrings and then over time, we’ll say, ‘Just for fun, try these on,’” Holman says. “In the case of one customer, eventually we had her try on some bigger statement earrings, and she loved them so much, they became her go-to. We can help people discover their own style. We approach them as a friend, not a customer; that goes a long way and really builds relationships with a lot of our customers.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • JACQUELINE CASSAWAY: The Smithery presents an upscale design both in their jewelry as well as their store design.
  • KATHERINE COTTERILL: This place is seriously cool. From the owners Jen and Anne to the 70-plus designers that are represented in their awesome space. The classes and wedding-band workshops are a great way to keep people engaged with the business.
  • MEGAN CRABTREE: The Smithery has brought a unique concept to the industry, making a jewelry store become a storytelling experience. Within the online presence, you can feel that these store owners are passionate die-hard artists.
  • LARRY JOHNSON: The jewelry-making classes make the store an automatic hands-on experience. The array of custom pieces is well presented.
  • PAM LEVINE: One of the greatest challenges for today’s brick-and-mortar brands is to provide unique engaging shopping experiences, compelling reasons to shop outside of one’s home or online. Beyond experience, shoppers, especially millennials, crave participation, and The Smithery delivers! Part gallery-store, workspace and school, The Smithery breaks down traditional barriers by showcasing diverse artistry, sharing craft, training and offering everyday customers the opportunity to design and make their own engagement rings or jewelry. These clever points of engagement foster brand loyalty. The space is modern and well designed with obvious delineations between the selling and workshop zones, encouraging journey and exploration in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
  • ALP SAGNAK: This is a great concept overall.
PHOTO GALLERY (22 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About The Smithery

1 Versatile decor. The interior design is not static. The Smithery team designs and creates rotating seasonal window displays that include paper sculptures and handpainted window lettering and decorative motifs. The dedicated exhibition wall has a wood plank backdrop that serves as a frame and allows them to easily change the background color as they curate new shows.

2 Marketing the experience. The Smithery engages in social media, offers an e-commerce website and enjoys pedestrian traffic. Most important, perhaps, they encourage an interactive experience with their clients, including beginner friendly, project-based workshops that provide all of the tools and materials needed. They share photos from their Wedding Band Workshops on social media. Children’s workshops have included a make-and-take metal-stamping class for all ages. “A 5-year-old made a bunch of pieces for the whole family,” Townsend says. “You never know when you’re going to make a big impact on someone, a young budding artist who has a first experience working with metal at The Smithery.”

3 Wide-ranging appeal. The Smithery’s Wedding Band Workshop isn’t limited to locals. “A surprising number of people come from out of state,” Townsend says. “Sometimes people have a local connection and that’s how they come across us, but a lot of time, too, it’s just people doing a Google search and realizing we are not that far away.” They’ve welcomed couples from all over the Midwest as well as Pennsylvania and Canada, and urban centers including Washington D.C., New York and Chicago.

4 The logo. The design came from lots of trial and error. They wanted something related to what they were doing that was not too masculine or generic, with a little flair and elegance balanced with some structure.

5 Active online presence. E-commerce photos are all taken and edited in house. Customers have the option to shop online and pick up in store, and The Smithery also offers direct purchase options from Facebook and Instagram. As they are working on creating jewelry, they share process photos on social media to show what happens behind the scenes.

Try This: Cross-Promoting An Event

For their annual earring exhibition, Flaunt, The Smithery did a cross-promotion with Virtue, a local independent salon. Salon clients were photographed wearing exhibition earrings after they were finished getting their new look at the salon. Featured models represented a diversity of ages, lifestyles and genders to emphasize that anyone can accessorize with jewelry to complement their style. The Smithery created a hashtag, #flauntyourearrings2019, for everyone involved — jewelry artists, the salon, The Smithery and customers who had purchased earrings to share their photos on Instagram.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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