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Make a Big Move

Visibility works both ways for the Yekos, who broke out of the mall after 30 years.

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The Diamond Center, Janesville, WI

URL: thediamondcenter.com; OWNERS: Steve Yeko, Heidi Yeko, Steve Yeko Jr., Holly Yeko (Steve Sr. and Steve Jr. pictured above); FOUNDED: 1982; LOCATIONS: 2; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2015; STORE DESIGNER: Leslie McGwire; AREA: 10,500-square-foot showroom; BUILDOUT COST: $5 million, including land; EMPLOYEES: 21; TOP BRANDS: Tag Heuer, Hearts on Fire, Pandora, Simon G, Scott Kay, Ritani; ONLINE PRESENCE: 5 Stars on theknot.com; 4.6 Stars on Yelp; 4.6 Stars on weddingwire.com


AFTER 30 YEARS in a huge but windowless mall space, the Yeko family, ready to see the light, built a freestanding store with 270 degree views.

“Being in a mall for 30 years, we wanted a lot of windows because we hadn’t seen daylight in forever,” Steve Yeko Jr. says. “Now that we’re here, I can’t believe I did that as long as I did.” Even the weather was a revelation. During the mall days, he’d head to work when it was sunny and leave when it was dark. He was surprised to discover after escaping the mall just how rainy Janesville, WI, really is in the afternoon. When it snows, he feels like he’s inside a snow globe.

Back in the mall, the Yekos had worked in an attic office with 7-foot ceilings, cut off from customers as well as sunlight. “No one even knew we were up there,” Steve Jr. says. The Yeko family had added on to the mall space three times since 1992, leaving them with a sprawling 12,000 square feet, but no windows.

Since they could touch the ceilings in the old place, the Yekos decided to make such a thing completely impossible in the new place.

The new store has more than 2,000 square feet of glass curtain walls, with more than half of that glass tilted out to span a height of 24 feet, floor to ceiling. “When customers come in the first thing they do is look up at the ceiling,” Yeko notes. “There are lots of ‘WOWS’.”

The open-floor concept, inspired by Apple stores, provides unobstructed views of the sales floor, while also allowing a lot of open space to put customers at ease.

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“We had a vision for the store’s interior, but our interior designer, Leslie McGwire, really helped us pull everything together,” Yeko says. “For example, her idea to use faceted beaded walls to cover the areas that we didn’t want customers to see, while also adding texture and being functional, was very creative.”

The design presented some technical challenges, including 262 spotlights, which had to be painstakingly positioned individually using a laser to ensure that each beam of light would hit the ideal spot in each case. “It was very important, when marking each light, to be perfect the first time because our ceiling is made of drywall, not your typical drop ceiling where lights could just be moved later,” Yeko says.

Cove lighting softly reflects the architectural design as it curves from one end of the store to the other. The curved glass showcase tunnels give customers a seamless flow that never gives them a reason to stop looking. A second-floor mezzanine, built with several feet of continuous curved glass, allows offices and a conference room plenty of daylight and a full view of the sales floor. The exterior monument sign was built with a large sparkling diamond on top and features two 45-square-foot digital boards to display product.

Steve Yeko Sr. launched his business in a freestanding store in 1982 in Antioch, IL, before moving with his wife, Heidi, into 1,300 square feet in the Janesville Mall in 1986. “At this time, malls were the place to be,” Yeko says. In 1992, Steve Jr. began working in the family business as a salesperson, and then his wife, Holly, joined the company to work in the office. In 2002, the family opened a 6,000-square-foot store in Madison, WI.

The Yekos might’ve made the break with the Janesville mall earlier, but in 2008, General Motors suddenly announced a plant closing for 4,000 employees in the town with a population of just 60,000. Over the next two years, business dropped 35 percent and they had to concentrate on rebuilding the business itself. By 2012, there had been enough improvement that they decided to build a freestanding location on a plot of land they’d had their eye on for years. Their timing was excellent. The new place opened in April 2015 and since then three restaurants have sprung up as neighbors.

Visibility works both ways. The Yekos can see out into the community and now the community can see them, too, in a better light.

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“We wanted to expand our market share into the Illinois area, but you couldn’t see the mall from the interstate,” Yeko says. “Now, being right off the interstate, we’re more visible. We have customers who drive by and stop in. We also have a billboard with the image of the store.” Increased visibility has led to a focus on bigger-ticket items. “Before the move, no one knew about the capabilities we had,” Yeko says.

The average center stone is creeping toward 1 carat, which is significant in a store that sells engagement rings with diamonds as small as 10 or 15 points. “We cater to everyone,” he says. “We sell everything, so people aren’t intimidated.”

The store also helped deliver a better customer experience. In the mall store, staff had to cover five different entrances, making it tough to determine who had just crossed what threshold. A central entrance helps sales staff to greet each customer properly.

“In a mall they just happened to pop into your store,” Yeko says. “You have no idea where they came from or why. There’s a little less traffic now, but the people who come through the door are real and they came here for a reason. So we better take good care of them.

“It’s actually easier to sell bigger diamonds because the store sells itself,” he says. “Our new store represents our mission; it matches who we are. When we were in the mall and people would look around and see dated showcases with carpet on them and we would say, ‘We’re the best!’ they would think ‘Really? I’m looking around and I don’t think so.’”

“Now it all comes together. There’s an immediate wow factor.”

PHOTO GALLERY (14 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About The Diamond Center

1. Energy conservation. Trying to conserve energy in the old mall location was impossible. “It would be much like leaving all of your windows open at home during the summer, while having your AC running constantly to try to keep it cool,” Yeko says. When they moved, they researched the most efficient HVAC units, installed radiant in-floor heating, and used the latest in LED lighting inside and out, cutting energy use in half. It’s helped in other ways, too. “The mall had three different colors of light, if not four,” Yeko says. “Here, it’s very consistent. A diamond will look exactly the same anywhere in the building.”

2. A built-in brand billboard. With 70,000 passing vehicles per day, the Yekos wanted to make sure the store  stood out, so they built a signature logo wall to serve as a billboard..

3. Providing privacy. When the Yekos were leasing 12,000 square feet in the Janesville mall, some customers were reluctant to shop right in front of so many passersby. Some would sneak in early in the morning. Now, with a destination store and diamond consulting rooms, it’s a lot more private.

4.  Software pioneers. Their  business began like many others — with no computers. So in 2002, the Yekos built a jewelry-certification card online application for jewelry items sold and appraised called “aGQa” (Accurate Grading Quality Assurance). Patented in 2008, the application can be used by other retailers and manufacturers. In 2003, they built a customer online vault for storing jewelry purchases called “AllinOneVault”. In 2010, they added a mobile phone application “ePS” for scanning products viewed by customers. This provides prices, a traffic counter, a salesman monitor, a CRM and a POS and gateway connection.

5. The HOF bridal bar. Theirs was one of two stores chosen to test a Hearts On Fire Bridal Bar in late 2015, which allowed customers to try on the real thing. The Bridal Bar is now being fine-tuned, based on the trial. When a customer picks up any ring, a built-in sensor tracks all data, including date, time and location. Customers can engage with a connected iPad to get details including price, carat weight and metal type. The technology led to better conversations with customers and also provided the chance for customers to shop for a while on their own if that’s what they prefer.

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ONLINE EXTRA: 5 Questions with Steve Yeko Jr.

How did the recession affect your business?
It hit us a little harder than most; we lost General Motors, housing values plummeted. But after that we began to increase sales a bit each and every year. In the last two years, we had back to back record years, going all the way back to the good old days.

What was the story behind your land purchase for your destination store in Janesville, WI?
The property that we built on had been for sale for a long time. No one would build on it and it sat there for five or six years. I drove by it every day and thought `That’s where I want my new store in the future.’ We scooped it up at the last minute and once we built, two restaurants went in and another one is going up right now. Now, it’s fully developed. The timing was perfect.

To what lengths did you go for your energy-efficient lighting?
The entire store is LED, the office lighting, downstairs, it’s all the exact same Kelvin, to look like natural daylight. So day light is not competing with a different color of light. Where we would have once had 75 or 100 watt lights, they are now 17 watts a piece. The lighting we have in the office was brand new when we were looking Standard Kelvin was 3500 or 4000 and we wanted 5000 minimum. Phillips came out with new lighting for overhead fixtures and we had to special order them. It took several months to get here. We installed them at the last minute, which made everyone very nervous. It’s very consistent, now. It will look exactly like it does upstairs (in the office) and downstairs (on the sales floor.)

Do you have a specialty?
We’re very focused on bridal, but we do carry everything from pearls and colored stones of all sorts. You name it, we have it. We try to come across as a jewelry super store with a focus on bridal.

What inspired the design of the store?
I’m a big Apple fan. I also liked the more modern look of a W hotel, especially the W Hotel downtown in Manhattan, and that’s what we wanted. That’s what we were striving for.

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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New York’s Yaf Sparkle Excels at Hospitality

Creating an experience comes naturally.

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Yaf Sparkle, New York

OWNERS: Yaf Boye-Flaegel and Torsten Flaegel; URL:yafsparkle.com ; FOUNDED: 2012; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; EMPLOYEES: 4 ; AREA: 1,400 square feet total; 720 square foot showroom TOP BRANDS: Vieri, Elements Studio NYC, Lyon Fine Jewelry, John Varvatos, Sarah Michiko; ONLINE PRESENCE: 8,600 Facebook likes, 4,515 Instagram followers, 161 Trip Advisor Reviews with a 5.0 rating. Yaf Sparkle is No. 6 of 1,001 shopping experiences in New York City on Trip Advisor; BUILDOUT COST: $85,000


ON A SULTRY JULY afternoon, an out-of-town customer, who had reluctantly left Yaf Sparkle without buying anything, returned soon after. She couldn’t shake the feeling she had to buy that pair of earrings that caught her eye.

Even after sealing the deal, she was reluctant to leave. Her husband, resigned, was ready to sink into a chair in an air-conditioned reprieve from the muggy air outside. As his wife succumbed to a number of add-on purchases, he told store owner Yaf Boye-Flaegel that she had mastered the art of the ABCs.

ABC? Yaf inquired.

“Always be closing,” he said.

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But Yaf said she had never heard that expression. For her, closing is about a lighthearted musical laugh and a playful “Hey, where are you going?” That’s what she might say if customers don’t seem certain whether they’re ready to leave or buy a second or a third piece of jewelry. Temptation is everywhere within reach, like low-hanging fruit. Add-ons abound in the form of stackable rings and layered pendants. She floats from one customer to another, jangling a pile of Julie Voss-designed bangles on her wrist with enthusiasm. She sells those gold-plated brass items as quickly as if they really are pieces of fruit.

Yaf says it’s the hospitality she learned from her parents in her native Senegal that helps her so effortlessly create such a welcoming atmosphere. Working in other people’s jewelry stores before she had her own, she observed that her friends weren’t comfortable stopping by even to say hello, let alone to hang out. Now that she’s created her own environment with a Caribbean-music soundtrack that makes swaying to the beat impossible to avoid and a playful approach to mixing and matching layers and stacks of jewelry, everyone who happens by wants to stay a while.

Sometimes a regular will dash in just to pull out one of Yaf’s “Goddess” cards from a stack to read an inspirational message guaranteed to improve their day. Or they might stop by for a hand-painted card, handmade candle or a New York postcard. There’s something for everyone. More than anything, though, they have become hooked on the positive, pervasive energy Yaf exudes.

Yaf and her husband, Torsten Flaegel, a native of Hamburg, Germany, are adept at inventing ways to enchant everyone in their orbit.

Torsten, long fascinated by the quality of light on the street, worked with Yaf on an event for the Manhattanhenge, also known as Manhattan Solstice, a time during which the setting or rising sun is aligned with the east-west streets of the main street grid in New York City. The sunsets and sunrises each align twice a year, on dates evenly spaced around the summer and winter solstices. For Yaf Sparkle’s Manhattanhenge event, there was music, a tarot card reader and a feeling that magic was in the air.

The ranking fluctuates, but customers have voted Yaf Sparkle as the third-best shopping experience in all of New York City on tripadvisor.com. At most, though, only a third of Yaf Sparkle shoppers are tourists. The majority are New Yorkers. “Online sales are growing and online is what brings people into the store,” Yaf says. “We’re not on a main street, but we have lots of content online.”

Affordable pieces displayed casually in the center of the store encourage shoppers to try something on.

They see their store as a walk-in jewelry closet and encourage customers to bring in a special-occasion outfit to be accessorized. Yaf constantly develops her own collections, presents the work of new local and international designers and changes the displays every other week to stay fresh.

“We have this internal competition of who can surprise our customer with the coolest new jewelry outfit that they didn’t consider wearing a day ago,” Torsten says. “There’s no being shy in our store; adorning oneself is fun and that’s what we are experts in. All in all, it is about being happy. Sharing a laugh is what keeps us in mind, and there’s nothing easier than that once you understand that every customer is first and foremost a potential friend.”

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The space itself, they say, was a raw diamond when they found it, veritably buried in layers of concrete. The little laundry that had occupied the space before them had cemented its machines into the ground, and the new landlord had no idea what lay behind the cement smeared on walls and floors. Months after they started digging, they realized that the old brick walls were in good condition. Even the ceiling was made of bricks with original ironwork between the arches. Once they got down to the bones, they pulled wires through the walls for showcases and laid out a beautiful wood floor. All of the wooden furniture is made from reclaimed wood.

The store is on Broome Street on the Lower East Side, which has a lively street life as well as a cinematic quality. It’s just around the corner from the Tenement Museum, which brings tourists by the busload. Martin Scorsese recently transformed the block into a 1972 backdrop for the 2019 Netflix film “The Irishman”. The street also starred in the 2014-2015 Cinemax TV series “The Knick,” set in 1901.

Adding to the charm, they scatter glitter across the sidewalk outside, a tactic that draws attention to the store even after it’s closed. They’ve also collaborated with other neighborhood businesses to host block-party sales events.
Social media just adds to the energy. When Yaf announced her birthday on Instagram, she ended up with an impromptu in-store surprise party, where the director of “Dirty Dancing” danced with a former MTV VJ, a Broadway ballerina and a Wall Street broker.

“Yaf Sparkle,” says Torsten, “was created out of the desire to provide an environment where fun, fashion and pleasure are combined as one. We know the day we forget that, we will be forgotten.”

Yaf Sparkle’s previous location, also on New York’s Lower East Side, was featured as the No. 3 Small Cool Store in the August 2016 issue of INSTORE.

VIDEO: YAF SPARKLE STORE TOUR VIDEO


PHOTO GALLERY (33 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Yaf Sparkle

1. Start ‘em young. The Yaf Sparkle team invites pre-K kids into the store for gem-education classes and birthstone giveaways.

2. Content-rich marketing. They’ve begun implementing automated email marketing, in which a customer will receive information about the pieces and the designer behind it. Their online database is segmented down to collection, metals and gemstones, so they can fine-tune their offerings. The idea is to provide continuous education.

3. In-house marketing. They use an in-house photo studio every day for model and product shots. In fact, 99 percent of marketing is created in-house. Social media is important, but they also rely on phone calls and postcards to share news of an event, a promotion or a specific gemstone that could be of interest. “Our newsletter marketing resembles our in-store experience,” Torsten says. “We don’t take ourselves or our product too seriously. Our love for local is what ties us all together. This is where we met our customer, and this is where we will see her again.” They improved their website to be increasingly ADA-compliant, which means it can be read by machines.

4. Block parties. Together with two other local shop owners they befriended, they gathered contact information for local merchants, set up a Facebook group and host regular events to brainstorm on marketing and event ideas. As a result, the group threw a neighborhood-wide event with 21 local merchants, each offering unique specials.

5. Good causes. Ten percent of net proceeds go to non-profits, most notably the ASB Foundation that Yaf founded in 2007. The ASB Foundation is an international humanitarian organization that supports the growth and development of the children in Koutal, Senegal, a small village created in 1968 to house people with leprosy and their families. The goal is to enrich the lives of the children who have been affected by their parents’ disease.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Julie Gotz: As a former New Yorker, I know how hard it is to stand apart from the thousands of other stores in the city. This is an amazing location with lots of cool and funky shopping options. The store has a great social-media presence and brings in a sense of community with their posts.
  • Julie Ettinger: I so appreciate the energy and passion in this store. It’s so New York; the interior, the exterior, the video marketing all connect. I also love their passion for shopping local and pulling surrounding stores and community together.
  • Barbara Ross-Innamorati: : Yaf’s enthusiasm and joie de vivre are what make this store so special. You can feel her love of what she does loud and clear through all of her online marketing, including her videos. I also love the custom-design page that seeks to educate her customer on the design process. Finally, her philanthropy and the foundation she started is important and brilliant.
  • Hedda Schupak: This business clearly “gets” both millennials and female self-purchasers, two sectors that are critical for our industry to do a better job in attracting. I love the fact that customers can walk in and try on fashion jewelry, but then there’s fine jewelry that costs five digits yet doesn’t look too precious. I love how they restored the original building under layers of soulless concrete.
  • Eric Zimmerman: Today’s retail environment is all about creating an experience and connection for the customer, and Yaf Sparkle is succeeding at just that. I also love the job they have done in making their store part of the culture and energy within NYC’s Lower East Side community.
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Portland, OR, Couple Fine-Tunes the No-Pressure Engagement Ring Sale

Website and window displays create perfect curb appeal.

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Malka Diamonds & Jewelry, Portland, OR

OWNERS: David and Ronnie Malka; URL: malkadiamonds.com ; FOUNDED: 2010; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN: One Hundred Agency and Bedford Brown Store; EMPLOYEES: 3 ; AREA: 1,000 square feet total; 700 square foot showroom; TOP BRANDS: Custom, vintage, Point No Point Studios, Vatche, Jolie Design; ONLINE PRESENCE: 1,645 Instagram followers, 957 Facebook followers, 4.9 Stars with 62 Google reviews; RENOVATED: 2018; BUILDOUT COST: $75,000; SHOWCASES:KDM


Ronnie and David Malka

VINTAGE RINGS DISPLAYED in authentic, retro jewelry boxes share space with newly minted engagement rings in the front window of Malka Diamonds & Jewelry, a boutique shop in the historic Hamilton building in the heart of downtown Portland.

Passersby enchanted by that tempting array are welcomed inside by owners David and Ronnie Malka, who offer guests a warm greeting and refreshments from the coffee shop across the hall.

Adding to the relaxed environment, they rarely ask for the prospective customer’s information right away. “Our customer is our friend. Just like you don’t ask someone you just met for all of their information, you really should try to take the same approach with your customers,” David says.

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Once guests have a chance to settle in and look around, graduate gemologist David loves to share what he knows by comparing loose diamonds at his desk. What makes the Malka experience distinctive is that David includes tricks of the trade in his consumer education, such as explaining what kind of diamonds people in the jewelry business might select for themselves.

“A lot of people who are thinking about buying diamonds online have done some research, and I like to educate them on the stuff you can see in a diamond that you should pay for,” David says. “The stuff you can’t see, why pay for it? Common sense goes a long way when you’re spending thousands of dollars. Great, if you want to buy a VVS stone, we have it, but most of the people who see the difference, or don’t see the difference, between D and F color are making a much more informed purchase, and they feel good about it.”

Large windows allow passersby to glimpse a mix of vintage and new rings on display while flooding the space with natural light.

They’re also adept at explaining the difference between the diamonds and their paperwork. “The cert says XYZ, but if you lined it up with five others, you might see why that stone was priced so low in its bracket,” Ronnie says.

They think it’s just fine if their customers walk out without buying anything on their first or second visit — even if they’re headed to the competition.

“We keep it really simple in here,” says Ronnie. “A lot of the guys who come in are buying something they don’t know anything about. We don’t bombard them with phone calls or emails; we just offer education. They continue to explore and research, and most of those people we see back here.”

The Malkas are taking the long view. “We want to be like their grandparents’ jewelers with a state-of-the-art shop so we can create things that are going to last,” Ronnie says. “Like the 1920s-era jewelers you trusted but still current and evolving with time.” Although engagement and wedding rings dominate their business now, with as much as 85 percent of sales, they believe that as their original customers continue to mature, they’ll eventually diversify into jewelry for other occasions.

By the time the customer does make a purchase or put a deposit down on a custom ring, David and Ronnie have developed a relationship with them. They give their customers a Malka hat, pin or T-shirt. They also give them a pamphlet detailing the history of their three-generation tradition of diamond dealers, and paperwork that includes an appraisal. There’s no paperwork involved with the guarantee; that is automatic for the life of the ring.

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As for that history, David’s father, Yossi Malka, who still has an office across the street from his son’s store, began his career as an apprentice under his great uncle in Israel, studied diamond cutting and later became a wholesale dealer in Portland.

David studied at the GIA, earned a graduate gemologist degree, and worked in a retail store for several years. David also ran his own jewelry appraisal lab, Independent Gemological Services, for the trade and private clients. “That’s a tough gig to be looking through the scope all day,” he says. “I was getting a little bit bored.”

Still, everyone thought he was crazy, he says, when he decided to open his own store. “It was the recession. It was a tough time.” Three major Portland jewelry stores had closed. “I figured if we took this plunge and we could stay afloat for two years, we should be able to weather anything,” he says. They’d been considering a variety of different names for the business when a friend offered this advice: “When you put your name on the door, you’re putting your name behind the business.”

Perfect. They had a name.

Ronnie Malka collects retro jewelry boxes to display vintage engagement rings.

They leased a prime 1,000-square-foot spot within a vacant 10,000 square-foot space. It was bare bones, with not much beyond walls and floors.

“Welcome to the world of retail,” David says he remembered thinking. Traffic was thin at first, and David continued to operate the appraisal lab, taking it month by month. Although changing shopping habits of American consumers had seemed to be a bad omen, it turned out that Portland shoppers who did spend money on jewelry wanted to make sure they were investing in local, independent businesses. Within a couple of years, they’d won Oregon Bride Magazine’s “Best Rings of 2012” award.

In 2013 Malka became the official fine jewelers of the University of Oregon and their shop got very busy. Ronnie left her teaching job to join Malka full time after it became clear David needed help with marketing and events.

In 2018, they expanded the shop and fine-tuned their interior design, adding metallic cork wallpaper, a custom woven rug, a gathering area with a modern, round table and gray leather chairs, and custom-built display cases. The counter now boasts a marble top and black paint. Other additions include a gold light fixture and a trio of geometric mirrors. The look is upscale without feeling stuffy. The decor is also a personal reflection of what makes David and Ronnie comfortable, complete with a prominently displayed black and white wedding photo of the couple.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, you meet a Malka,” Ronnie says. “We want them to know us as we want to know them.”

VIDEO: MALKA STORE TOUR

VIDEO: MALKA “ABOUT US”

VIDEO: MALKA CUSTOM DIAMONDS


PHOTO GALLERY (30 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Malka Diamonds & Jewelry

1. Salt-and-pepper diamonds. A year ago, Malka started showcasing the work of a Seattle designer, Point No Point Studios, which has a strong Instagram presence and specializes in salt-and-pepper diamond rings. “We knew that going out-of-the-box and trying something new would potentially bring new traffic,” says Ronnie, who gets several inquiries about them every week. David, as the son of a diamond dealer, admits he was reluctant at first to move in that direction. “My dad says, ‘How much is that per carat?!’ Ten years ago, it would have been used for drill bits, but now there’s an actual marketplace for it. I don’t think it’s a fad, either,” David says.

2. Collaborative environment. “We all know the projects, what’s going on, and what’s coming up,” Ronnie says. “It doesn’t feel compartmentalized.” That approach also creates opportunity for growth. Chloe, who works in the showroom, says Malka has the friendliest atmosphere of anywhere she has worked, as well as enormous growth potential and pride in values. “It gives me satisfaction learning-wise and experience-wise, knowing what the jewelers have to do to have a certain outcome for whatever kind of piece we’re making,” she says.

3. Custom connection. A 2018 expansion made room for two full-time master jewelers and more equipment in the shop. “We wanted everything done under our roof,” David says, from design to manufacture. Sometimes they are simply consultants: “An architect is doing his own CAD design for us to look at and make sure it’s going to translate into a ring and not a building,” Ronnie says.

4. Website curb appeal. Ronnie considers Malka’s digital presence, including its website, to be online curb appeal. “People want to engage online first,” Ronnie says. “Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, your website was a placeholder for your contact info, but now it tells your story.” People know what to expect.

5. Digital marketing ROI. Digital marketing has for the most part replaced traditional radio and TV, because as Ronnie says, “Our customer is online and if they’re seriously looking for a ring, they are seriously looking — not seeing it on TV. Many jewelers will say this is a waste of time, but in the last six months when our followers have doubled, we have noticed customers referring to an image they saw on Instagram or Facebook. It is a real relief to see the return on investment on the time spent taking photos and creating tag lines.” Even shop dog Toby has his own Instagram handle!

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Julie Ettinger: This store is a real gem! I love the shop-local feel and that it can all be done in house. I also appreciate the mix of vintage and new.
  • Julie Gotz: I love that the owners are so invested in the customer and their life cycle. Many stores are too focused on the sale and not enough on the relationship. It is great to hear that a store is using social media in such a successful way.
  • Joel Hassler: I like the approach to gathering customer information. Building a relationship is more important than data-mining.
  • Barbara Ross-Innamorati: : The store interior is exquisite and feels upscale but also warm and inviting. The website is quite informative and I love their blog, “Stories,” as it features a lot of interesting topics with gorgeous photography.
  • Hedda Schupak: I like the laser focus on diamond rings, and I love the impressive depth of selection they have, especially nontraditional styles. The store itself is very hip and welcoming. Their online presence is very strong; they’re using all social media quite well.
  • Eric Zimmerman: Malka Diamonds has done a wonderful job of creating a modern elegant boutique while still highlighting the building’s historic features. Their store’s design tells a story that complements the products they showcase: modern and antique.
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Regional Family-Owned Jewelry Company Expands Presence in New Hampshire

Bold, new store in Nashua embraces the future.

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Day’s Jewelers, Nashua, NH

OWNERS: Jeff & Kathy Corey; URL:daysjewelers.com; FOUNDED: 1914; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Ron Gay, YCC Jewelry Store Designs; Fulcrum, Ouellet Construction and Guy Labrecque Jr., architect from CWS; EMPLOYEES: 130 total; 13 in this location ; AREA: 6,000 square feet total; 5,000-square-foot showroom; TOP BRANDS: Forevermark, Martin Flyer, Gabriel & Co., Frieda Rothman; TOTAL NUMBER OF LOCATIONS: 8; BUILDOUT COST: $1.4 million


ON JEFF COREY’S FIRST date with future wife Kathy, the couple not only talked about getting married and having kids, they also dreamed of opening a jewelry store together. “Why not multiple jewelry stores?” they mused. The possibilities opened up before them.

“It’s always been our vision to provide opportunities to others,” Kathy says. “Having multiple locations has always been our vision, right from the start.”

Years later, they were operating one store — Jeffrey’s Fine Jewelers in Waterfield, ME — when they received a serendipitous phone call.

At one time, Day’s was the largest jewelry retailer in New England with 22 stores, but by the time the owners, brothers David and Sidney Davidson, were in their 80s and ready to retire, they could not find a buyer to sell the company intact. They were forced to sell their legacy piecemeal for the value of the real estate.

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When they had just one remaining store, the brothers called the Coreys. The Davidsons had known Jeff’s dad, who got his start with Day’s. “He said my brother and I want to retire, but don’t want to see the name Day’s die,” Jeff recalls.

“We’d like you to buy the company from us and revive Day’s.”

What could have been the end for Day’s turned into a new beginning. The Coreys did buy the last Day’s. Soon there were two Day’s locations when they changed the name of Jeffrey’s Fine Jewelers to Day’s and began rebuilding the brand. Now there are eight.

The grand opening of Day’s Jewelers in Nashua, NH, celebrated the beginning of a new era for the Coreys. It is the first store they built from the ground up.

The Nashua Chapter

The Coreys built their first New Hampshire store in Manchester in 2003, but knew that in order to have a strong presence in that state, they’d need another location. So when the Nashua location became available in a desirable, high-traffic area, they were beyond ready. This buildout would be their first from the ground up, giving them a chance to modernize their look and branding.

“We were looking for a store that was more engaging, that allowed the comfort and freedom to walk around without shoppers feeling they were being observed or pressured to buy,” Kathy says.

A circular design sets the stage for a natural traffic flow that draws shoppers throughout the space while maximizing linear display space. The two-story entryway has a glass wall along its curved exterior, creating space for advertising display opportunities both inside and out, and establishing an interior theme that carries through to casework and ceiling. The circular design creates an open lounge area in the center for customers to settle in, enjoy a beverage and watch TV, creating the feeling they had walked into a home.

Black brick around the building’s perimeter establishes a solid base for the lighter exterior finish system above. The finishes selected for the window systems, canopy and awnings are a play on metal work and fabrication. The exterior is a modern interpretation of traditional detailing and material use while maintaining strict regulations for energy conservation and sustainable design practices. As with the exterior, materials selected for the interior represent the display of fine jewelry in a modern, sleek, but accessible fashion.

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Kathy considers the Forevermark bridal enclave to be the crown jewel of the store with its custom-built benches and furniture, as well as the story of Forevermark playing on a continuous loop.

The Virtual Diamond Boutique allows shoppers to view and virtually try on exceptional loose diamonds, most of which can be ordered for viewing in store the next day.

Standing the Test of Time

From the beginning, Kathy and Jeff were determined to have a long-range vision. “We’ve resisted the temptation to hold sales, for one example,” Kathy says. “ It’s a matter of integrity — and of doing things for the long term.”

Day’s point of differentiation in its markets is partly a result of the size of its stores, which are all between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet. “The selection we offer our customers is hugely more vast than other stores,” Kathy says. “We also pride ourselves on services, engraving, goldsmith, pearl stringing, appraisals, gemologists, and ear piercing. We do hundreds of ear piercings a year. We do all of this with that hometown comfortable feel without being perceived as a big box.”

Day’s is one of five independent retail jewelers to be certified by the Responsible Jewelry Council as the result of a third-party audit. “RJC has given us an opportunity to evaluate long-term structural, strategic initiatives that help businesses survive the times.”

In maintaining the company’s family jeweler tradition, Jeff and Kathy’s son Joe, along with two nephews, have begun to assume leadership roles in the company.

Their long-term view also means they take time to hire and then invest in employee growth. Their 25-page hiring handbook is informed by experts in the field, including Kate Peterson and Peter Smith. “We clearly define skills, experiences and talents that are necessary to succeed at a particular job. We use screening tools to determine if a candidate fits the profile.”

They ensure that every new hire feels a sense of empowerment and has the knowledge and education to make independent decisions in the best interest of the company and customers. “We want our employees to feel that this is a career, not just a job,” Jeff says. “They have to feel like they’re learning and growing all the time. So we invest in training and career advancement, including college courses.”

Everyone learns that the customer is the boss. “If you ask any one of our 130 employees, they will tell you that,” Jeff says. “Google reviews and Facebook reviews tell that story quite clearly.”

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They also work hard to find good leaders and facilitate strong communication. It’s working: a statewide survey has deemed Day’s one of the best places to work in Maine based on employee responses to questions about company culture, leadership, their level of satisfaction and a variety of HR-related criteria.

Ensuring employee satisfaction ultimately leads to customer satisfaction.

At the Nashua store, buying jewelry is absolutely fun, the Coreys say, thanks to their enthusiastic team. “They bring an energy to buying jewelry that is like none other,” they say. “Bring your dog to Day’s, bring your baby, have a beer, kick your feet up, relax. You’ll become part of our family the minute you walk into our store.”

PHOTO GALLERY (8 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Day’s Jewelers

1. The Bridal Box. Whenever Day’s sells a diamond engagement ring, the engaged couple receives a large gift-wrapped box that includes a bottle of champagne, a jewelry gift, promotions for wedding rings and bridal attendant gifts, toasting flutes and a certificate for a free engraved cake knife. Day’s has partnered with a local photographer, formalwear provider, and other bridal-related businesses; each includes a gift or coupon in the box.

2. Core values. Stationed high above the entrance on the copper trim at the building’s pinnacle is the company’s signature emblem, each point of which represents one of Day’s Jewelers four core differentiating values that have guided the company for more than 100 years. “Value: We promise to always provide the best value to our customersin our goods and services. Opportunity: We promise to provide everyone with the opportunity to own and enjoy fine jewelry. Trust: We promise to always do business in an environment of trust and transparency. Sentiment: We believe the true value of a piece of jewelry is not in how much it costs, but what it means to the person who wears it.”

3. Enchanting the children. A graphics product called Visual Magnetics adds interactive scenery to the children’s play area. Magnetic paint is applied under the store’s color paint, turning its walls into magnets. Then thin, high-resolution images can be rolled directly onto the wall. The first layer is a colorful, under-the-sea background. The second layer is cut-outs of sea life that children can move around to create their own customized seascape.

4. The media mix. “I find marketing to be very exciting today,” Jeff says. “It’s so much easier to hypter-target the market with the proper message.” While social media has become a very important part of the ad mix, Day’s has found value in everything from TV and radio to cinema ads and airport billboards. Even newspaper advertising has its place as a way to reach the over 50, more affluent demographic. Having a team of eight people on staff in the marketing department, including graphic designers, a videographer/photographer and a copywriter allows most of the work to be done in house.

5. Philanthropy. In 2014, to celebrate 100 years in business, Day’s set a goal of raising $100,000 for Jewelers for Children. Day’s 138 employees were invited to participate voluntarily, primarily through weekly payroll deduction. With generous contributions and hard work from employees, customers and suppliers, the firm contributed $102,000 to JFC in January 2015.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Benjamin Guttery: This jeweler exemplifies that the entire family is welcome at their store, from kiddos to Corgis. The second floor window really shines to passersby and is a recognizable feature of the community as well as an advertising display opportunity.
  • Elle Hill: The store is fresh, clean and bright, allowing the customer to bathe in warm natural sunlight. Engaging with the community and touches such as the Bridal Box are important ways of fitting in and standing out.
  • Bob Phibbs: The kids’ section is inspired. I’ve never encountered anything like that to keep kids occupied.
  • Michael Roman: Exquisite showroom! Unique space for small children. Strong core values are evident in the stores’ success. Well-done YouTube video. It gives the shopper a feeling about what their experience will be like if they visit Day’s.
  • Mark Tapper: The interior of the Nashua store is cool, modern and beautiful. I love the sleek lines and rounded cases. The showroom appears to be flowing with natural light. The Forevermark boutique has a great presence.
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