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America's Coolest Stores

America’s Coolest Stores Winners 2016: Stamp of Approval

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CONTEST METHODOLOGY:
Our 15th annual contest featured twodivisions: Big Cool for stores with six or more full-time employees; and Small Cool for stores with five or fewer. From 85 entries, 10 finalists per division were selected by INSTORE’s editors. Separate panels of industry-expert judges chose the top three stores in each division. Five Honorable Mention stores were chosen from each of the division’s finalists and will be featured in upcoming issues. Judges viewed the entries on a specially created website and rated stores in six categories: story, exterior appearance, interior appearance, advertising and marketing, online presence and overall individuality. Total scores were calculated weighting the categories according to importance: story 50 percent, exterior 75 percent, interior 100 percent, advertising 50 percent, online 25 percent and individuality 100 percent. Judges with personal or professional ties to a store were asked to recuse themselves from voting on those stores.
Many thanks to our terrific judges and to all those who entered!

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Gene the Jeweler

When Gene the Jeweler Speaks, His Employees Listen

In this episode of Jimmy DeGroot’s Gene the Jeweler series, Gene has a simple request for his employees. The good news is that they follow his instructions. The bad news is that they follow a bit too literally.

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America's Coolest Stores

This Cool Store’s Design Was Influenced by Aviation History

Contemporary design lends their building a new purpose.

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Beré Jewelers, Pensacola, FL

OWNERS: Barry and Laura Cole; URL:berejewelers.com ; FOUNDED: 1985; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Jesse Balaity, project designer; Patrick M. Pillot, architect; Morette Construction, contractor; JMJ Inc. showcase manufacturer; EMPLOYEES: 9 ; AREA: 7,350 square feet; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; BUILDOUT COST: $2.1 million


A ROUTINE DRIVE HOME from the airport changed everything for Barry and Laura Cole. After a buying trip to Las Vegas in June 2016, the couple passed a furniture store they had long imagined would be the ideal spot for a jewelry store. In fact, for years, they had peeked in the windows and dreamed about its potential transformation. This time, they did a double take when they noticed a for-sale sign. “Our wheels started spinning,” Barry says. Despite years of daydreaming, they never really believed they’d be starting over after 31 years in business, but they wanted to set up the business for its best possible future for their second generation, sons Conner and Harrison. Conner won the Atlanta 24 Karat Club’s Robert Foreman Memorial Scholarship in August 2018 and has earned a graduate gemologist degree.

Bankers were called, and construction began about four months later under the guidance of store designer Jesse Balaity. It was to be a remarkably quick turnaround with the opening in April 2017.

“Jesse is a little more contemporary and I am a little more traditional,” Barry Cole says. “But I’m a pretty laid back guy, and we wanted it to have a less traditional feel to it than most stores. I didn’t want dark cherry wood or drop cloud lighting systems. I just wanted it to be different.”

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Balaity was happy to deliver that distinctive look.

The building was in great shape, he says — a well-designed furniture store with a wide-open canvas inside and an exposed ceiling.

“It lent itself to having a more contemporary feeling,” Balaity says. “I often advise clients working with a big open ceiling not to pursue a traditional approach. Dark woods and lower ceilings don’t work with a big volume of space. If they do want to finish out everything with wood veneers and moldings, it gets uncontrollably expensive to deal with all those finishings.”

So, finding themselves in agreement, the Coles and Balaity kept the industrial-style open ceilings and added old reclaimed Chicago brick from local sites to build columns and walls.

Another important consideration was to determine which generation (or generations) the Coles were trying to woo as clients. “Pensacola has a good mix because of the Air Force base,” Balaity says. “And we want to be able to broadly attract younger bridal customers and older customers alike into this space. Having a contemporary approach was more approachable for everyone.”

To balance the jewelry and watch brand identities with the Beré identity, each was given its own distinct zone, created by a mix of wood plank and porcelain. The Breitling enclave is defined by wood plank and the Forevermark zone is highlighted with a similar material in a lighter color. “We had to pick and choose how each would have its presence and how they would play together, and we found ways to overlap Forevermark and the bridal zone,” Balaity says.

The store is across the street from the airport, says Cole, who can sit in his conference room and look at the runway. The city is known for being the home of naval aviation and the Blue Angels, local themes Cole wanted to tie into the store.

An entire wall anchors a bar, lounge and Breitling watch zone, where panel walls with rivets mimicking old airplane and antique propellers pay homage to the local military and aviation history.

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The bar boasts local craft beers on tap, wine champagne and bourbon. Entertainment includes eight large-screen LED TVs playing sports, fashion videos and brand stories. The children’s play area is equipped with LED TV, toys, books, puzzles and original paintings of sea creatures.

An 18-foot granite community table is the center for meetings and events and invites customers to relax with a hot cup of coffee or cold beer. The Coles offer their space to local charities for events and board meetings, too. Original artwork by Laura Cole hangs throughout the store.

Barry believes the design achieved all of his goals, even goals he didn’t realize he had and wouldn’t have been able to articulate without Balaity’s input. “On front-facing showcases, the drawer pulls are made out of leather,” he says. “Just little details like that that I never in a million years would have thought of. Showcases all of a sudden looked like an old trunk. I’m good at what I do, but I never would have thought of those things.”

Balaity says the store is an extension of its owners’ personalities. “Barry and Laura are community-engaged and affable, and they grasped the idea of the store being a community hub,” he says. “They took a big leap to create a full bar area, an outside seating area and a lounge area. When you walk in and see Barry in this environment, it looks like you’re seeing him in this large living room. It really is the owner’s personality that melds with the design and makes it a retail experience.”

Cole agrees it can feel like his living room and that the hospitable atmosphere is good for business. “We will sit here at night and open a beer and really enjoy being here,” he says. “It’s pretty cool when you feel you don’t have to be away from this place. Every single day someone comes in and is wowed.” In fact, during the first six months the store was open, the Coles welcomed 3,000 new customers. In the first fiscal year, revenues were 50 percent over the previous year, even though the previous year had included a Wilkerson sale event.

Origin Story

Barry Cole’s origins in jewelry can be traced to a high school job at Zales. “I loved working with people and selling diamonds and watches,” he says. During his senior year in college, Ray Jones, his former boss at Zales, suggested they open their own store. “I was 21 years old, I was living at home, going to school. We spent the better part of that year, late 1984, saving up money. We each saved $10,000, and we found a bank to loan us $25,000.” They rented a 700 square-foot store, had some cases made, secured some inventory on memo and chose a name, a simple combination of their names. “Goofy, but it worked!” Cole says. “We opened on Oct. 15, and on Dec. 31, we had an armed robbery and we lost everything.” Although they were insured, much of the inventory was on memo and it took nine months to start over. In June 2005, after Jones died suddenly, Cole relocated the Pensacola store closer to the heartbeat of the Pensacola shopping area.

The Coles have come a long way and aren’t afraid to evolve.

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“Don’t be afraid of change,” Cole says. “I’m a big college football fan and I follow the University of Alabama. (Coach) Nick Saban is willing to change, to hire the right people who know the things to do to change with the times. That’s what I aspire to.”

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Five Cool Things About Beré Jewelers

1. The Golden Ticket. The Coles created a VIP event with a “golden ticket” inspired by Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. VIP customers are offered a Golden Ticket invitation with a discount good for one night only. The evening features a full bar, catering from Pensacola’s best restaurants and live music.

2. The Blue Angels. Beré teams up with Breitling to sponsor the Blue Angels air show in Pensacola. “There will be about a quarter million people attending, and they blast our name over the intercom system,” Cole says. “We’ll end up selling between 10 and 25 watches as a result of that show.”

3. Embracing watches. The Coles are building a new watch shop on site. “I have a big passion for watches,” Cole says. “As much as a lot of jewelers are getting out of watches, I’ve kind of embraced watches because it gets people in our store. Guys come in and look at Omega, Breitling, Tag Heuer, Shinola, Oris, and that gets them exposed to our brand and our store.”

4. Marketing strategy. The Coles built a strong Facebook presence with 125,000 followers. After contracting with an agency, they began using geo-fencing and got into Instagram. They’re on network TV every day and advertise on seven or eight billboards. They’ve also got an ad on the back cover of several local magazines. “We’re the most aggressive advertiser in our market. It’s a transient community and I’ve got to let people know we are here.”

5. Community presence. “We’re big into charities and events around town,” Cole says. “We do a lot of sponsoring of ball teams and schools. When you support these things, the parents will support you.” During construction, they also made a concerted effort to use the community as a resource, going to local furniture and lighting stores and working with people they knew, even though at times they paid a premium to do so, Balaity says.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Geoffrey Brown: This overall brand and the online presence of the business is great. It appeals to every age. They are engaging on social media and review sites, and they are experts with a blog. They hit three major millennial and small business market must-haves.
  • Laura Davis: Very nice store, super-enlightened and experience-based approach. It’s a great brand and business.
  • Larry Johnson: The interior is the best I’ve seen in years. Definitely cool. Laura’s art gracing the store is a classic touch. The long table in the watch area creates a central gathering point that works extremely well.
  • David Lampert: I like that they have an active blog.
  • Jill Maurer: The Golden Ticket event is a great way to celebrate VIP customers and sounds like a lot of fun!
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America's Coolest Stores

How These Cool Georgia Jewelers Reinvented Marketing

Focus on charity touches community.

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Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry, Peachtree City, GA

URL:mucklowsfinejewelry.com ; OWNERS: Robert and Priscilla Mucklow; FOUNDED: 1996; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2003; LAST RENOVATED:2010; ARCHITECT AND DESIGNERS: Foley Design Associate Architects; Chris Kacena, lead architect; Dave Stone, interior design; Rock Eagle Store Fixtures; Grice Showcase & Display Manufacturing; BUILDOUT COST:$790,000 ;EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time; AREA: 5,000 square feet; TOP BRANDS: JB Star, Henri Daussi, Gregg Ruth, Dabakarov, Nina Nguyen


JEWELER ROBERT MUCKLOW, owner of Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry, is uniquely qualified to understand the value of relationships.

At the heart of his life story is the 50-year bond he’s enjoyed with his wife, Priscilla, whom he met when he was 16 and married when he was 20.

“We deal with love in our business, so we all know that there’s not an awful lot of people who meet the love of their life as a kid,” Mucklow says.

Cultivating relationships extends to his dealings with clients and employees alike.

And when he decided to take a step back from his beloved retail business in 2010, he forged a relationship with manager Rod Worley that helped him achieve his latest dreams to spend more time with his family.

The two met when Worley worked as a regional manager for Bailey Banks and Biddle, which closed in 2010. At that time, Mucklow asked him to come aboard as manager. Says Worley: “I told him I was going to start my Four Grainer consulting business, and he said, ‘Why don’t you use Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry as your base store?’ So I became an embedded consultant.”

They also agreed that Worley would use the store as a testing ground for innovations in marketing, merchandising and management. “It’s totally different how we run this store versus how every other independent runs,” says Worley, who wrote the book, A Reason To Chant, based on his experiences at Mucklow’s.

PROMOTION: Mucklow’s takes every opportunity to be visible in the community..

Mucklow had been spending heavily on print, radio and TV advertising, but he wasn’t able to gauge the response. “So we said let’s change things up,” Worley recalls. “Let’s not go after ‘likes’ on social media, let’s get people to come through the door, actual bodies.”

They developed a community outreach program based on charitable giving, through which all marketing funds are channeled. “Every day across the country, jewelers are approached to give to local charity, to take an ad in a yearbook, to sponsor this or sponsor that. It’s not effective. It’s not sending the right message or portraying the store correctly in the community.”

Worley wanted to approach charity differently. “We say we will give you as much money as you want if you’re representing the local chapter of the Cancer Society. All we ask is that you have people come into the store and sign the book.” The “book” is a list of names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers. “We donate based on how many people the charity sends in and we get everything we need to contact them in the future.”

They’ve been able to reduce advertising costs while building their mailing list and goodwill throughout the community. They give away tens of thousands of dollars to 30 to 40 charities each year, boosting their community profile in the process and guaranteeing foot traffic.

“When we hire people, we ask them to tell us about their community involvement. Everyone is involved in the community, and if they need to work on that during store hours, we make that possible,” Worley says.

Another big change they implemented was a 30 percent reduction in inventory. “We reduced all the inventory to what’s in the case and we buy continually,” Worley explains. “We’re placing orders just about every day. That’s what really turned us around financially. He carries no debt.”

Rod Worley, manager, and Jessica Rossomme, director of operations.

How It All Started

Mucklow, who grew up in Chicago, took a circuitous route to retail.

The most likely career for him would have been a third-generation electrician, he says. “I always liked to work with my hands, but Grandpa and Dad always said you’ve got to go to school and work with your head, not your hands.” A film major, he took two elective metalsmithing classes at Southern Illinois University and began crafting art jewelry in his mother’s basement, an effort that led to acceptance in a juried Chicago art fair. “I don’t know what inspired me. I was very primitive in materials, wood and ivory and amber, organic materials, silver, rattlesnake rattles.” With plans to start a family, he landed a job polishing wedding rings, and then worked in a variety of roles in wholesale and retail companies before he returned to the bench to learn to repair fine jewelry.

Robert and Priscilla moved to Peachtree City, GA, in 1986, after his sister relocated there. “It’s an idyllic town,” Robert says. “It looked like heaven on earth.” Mucklow initially worked as a lead goldsmith for Maier & Berkele Jewelers in Atlanta.

A decade later, he stepped out from behind the bench, setting up a 130-square-foot shop with two showcases called Canterbury’s Gift Shop and Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry.

“I fell in love with retail because back in the day, when I was doing those art fairs, I got to meet you — the person who was going to wear the earrings,” Mucklow says. “That’s what I had missed all those years.”

In 1999, he graduated to his own 800 square-foot strip center rental space, which was half shop, half showroom. But Mucklow couldn’t create the overall impression he craved without his own building. So he bought a lot across the street and planned every detail of his building, inspired by the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright and assisted by like-minded architects.

“The décor of my store was very important to me,” he says. “We’re big fans of the Arts and Crafts period, and that’s reflected in furniture design, showcases, everything.”

Even the drainage eave spouts on the roof are historically correct. “He didn’t just put up rain gutters,” says Worley. “He researched and had another company bring in the right rain gutters for the period. It’s part of the whole philosophy; it’s all about the details that when you put it all together make a huge difference.”

Mucklow wanted his store to showcase handcrafted jewelry along with the pottery and glasswork of the artists he knew from his days on the art-show circuit. “I have absolutely zero threshold resistance,” Mucklow says. He’s got proof of that:

“One Saturday morning, a guy walks in at 10 a.m. and sits down in an overstuffed leather chair. The staff tries to approach him. Finally he says, ‘I’m getting new tires at the tire center and if you don’t mind, can I wait over here?’”

Mucklow says much of the magic lies in authenticity. “Everything you saw and heard in the store was me. I was the DJ, I picked all the music we would play. I want people when they drive down the street to have an experience when they pass by my building. I want the experience to envelope you as you approach, with the atrium and the cathedral ceiling, the mica light fixture.”

Now Mucklow, although still overseeing the business, spends most of his time with Priscilla, their three children and seven grandchildren, planning getaways in a newly purchased RV. And his dream store is just a 20-minute stroll through the woods in the idyllic village he still adores.

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Five Cool Things About Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry

1. Personal connections. A Brand Ambassador program directly rewards clients for sharing their excitement for the brand.

2. Team building. Mucklow’s empowers staff to make decisions, pursue continuing education, chair local charities and go on buying trips. Employees benefit from generous paid time off, educational support and flexible schedules. After their first 90 days, everyone gets four weeks of vacation and five paid holidays.

3. Reasonable workload. Limited store hours allow full-time team members to work just 36 hours per week. The store is open five days per week and closes at 5:30 p.m. It works. “We had done the research and we knew what the traffic patterns were,” Worley says.

4. Every visit is unique. “We are an escape from the mundane,” Worley says. “Every touch point reaffirms and strengthens the other. Our captivating décor creates a visual experience and is enhanced by our jewelry offerings. We don’t carry under stock; jewelry sold is replaced with a different offering. We’re continually sourcing new designers and reworking our displays so every trip to Mucklow’s is unique.”

5. Accessible authority. The online Mucklow’s Magazine has become the destination for women in search of a one-stop site for their fashion, health, beauty and fitness needs. Constantly updated with engaging articles, the site is also an invaluable source for wedding planning and features local vendors for a range of bridal needs.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Lyn Falk: Informative website with good info on founder. The great online magazine supports the business. Amazing attention to detail with the Arts and Crafts decor throughout. Exterior design is strong and memorable. The butterfly bench has probably become an iconic piece!
  • Sofia Kaman: What an inspiring business! I love the magazine and Brand Ambassador programs. Here’s a model of how to stay connected and relevant to customers for life!
  • Tiffany Stevens: Gorgeous exterior, colorful and fun overall.
  • Mia Katrin: Beautiful, warm and elegant interior and exceptional Arts and Crafts inspired exterior. Mucklow’s Magazine is a cut above!
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America's Coolest Stores

Grace-Themed Jewelry Gallery Reaches Out To Santa Fe

Creative decor stops shoppers in their tracks.

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Wear Your GRACE, Santa Fe, NM

OWNER: Hillary Fitzpatrick Randolph; FOUNDED: 2015; URL: wearyourgrace.com; BUILDOUT COST: $39,650; EMPLOYEES: 5, full and part-time; AREA: 650 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Owner’s GRACE pieces and Etkie (contemporary hand-loomed bracelets crafted by Native American artisans)


ONE DEFINITION OF “GRACE” is simple elegance. Another is refined movement. The word is also associated with the bestowal of blessings.

Artist and designer Hillary Randolph takes a creative approach to exploring the nuanced meanings of “grace” as the theme for her brand and her Santa Fe store, wear your GRACE. She also established “Share Your Grace,” a multifaceted program that benefits Santa Fe’s community, including its nonprofit organizations.

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Choosing grace as her theme triggers interesting conversations and builds meaningful rapport with clients, she says, who share what grace means in their own lives.

Randolph designed her Santa Fe store based on her aesthetic sense of what grace looks and feels like — warm and inviting with a dash of elegant simplicity. She opened her gallery in 2015 in a 250-year-old adobe building on Palace Avenue in the heart of Santa Fe, just off the historic plaza. Her jewelry emphasizes graceful flowing movement. Much of the work is developed upstairs in the design studio.

Her approach to interior design is hands on.

A unique orb light fixture is an eye-catching element near the entrance. Randolph created it from a grapevine she found in Round Top, TX, that had been steamed, coiled, shaped into an openwork globe and re-dried. She took it home, painted the bottom of it with gold leaf and hung from it 100-year-old faceted crystal drops from France. The table below is also painted with gold leaf so it appears as if the crystals are dripping gold. It complements the interior design, with its gold-on-white palette and a trompe l’oeil tangerine curtain painted by a local artist across the back wall. The curtain painting creates a sense of flowing movement and acts as a backdrop for casually luxurious décor.

“The best decisions I have ever made came from feelings, instincts and hunches, rather than spreadsheets, schematics and trend forecasts. I’ve learned to make business decisions according to how I want my life to feel. The unique look of the gallery came from the feeling I get from certain colors, combinations and materials. I want my guests to feel as inspired by the store’s ambience as I do.”

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“I hear people talk about the experience they have when they walk in,” she says. “The product is an offshoot of the experience.”

Randolph’s approach to sales is to honor each customer’s personal sense of style, wardrobe and lifestyle in general. “It’s our passion to truly connect with women from all walks of life, listening to their stories and encouraging self-expression through their jewelry,” she says. “So we connect, we listen and we always have fun.”

Although shopping in Santa Fe is a favorite pastime of tourists, more and more of Randolph’s regular clients live in town. So marketing is increasingly local as well, with in-store events and email campaigns. This year she plans to feature the “faces of Grace” in her marketing and discover what “grace” means to her clients to make her social-media marketing more interactive.

Another goal is to spend less time on paperwork upstairs in her office and more time downstairs in the gallery, being the ambassador of her brand.

Randolph’s career started in Palm Beach in luxury goods followed by a move to New York, where she worked with Ralph Lauren in his flagship Madison Avenue store. Other luxury brand retailers recruited her to develop their wholesale brands and open brick-and-mortar stores across the United States.

In 1999, she visited her mother in Santa Fe and never left.

“I never thought I would stay, and then I saw the moon rise over the ski basin and it was the biggest moon I’d ever seen in my life,” she recalls. “There was a certain connection with people from all over the country that I found here. I had conversations with them here that I would never have if I were sitting next to them at a dinner table in New York. There is a certain veil that is removed here, an authentic connection that feeds me.”

She launched her jewelry-design career in 1999 with Somers, a line based on the sculptures of her creative partner that was sold in galleries and jewelry stores around the country. Later, the idea for Grace took shape.

“Even today,” she says, “there are things I’m still discovering. A new hike, people, artists. It’s not boring here. There’s always something to feed you.”

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She has found the business climate friendly, as well. Santa Fe, she discovered is the No. 1 spot in the U.S. per capita for women-owned businesses.

She finds inspiration for design in Santa Fe, as well. “I design in my head so when I’m on that hike the best design pops into my head,” she says, “If I’m just sitting there with the stones it doesn’t work as well.”

Randolph believes in being an active part of her community by creating a business model that gives back. She is a founding member of Santa Fe’s 100 Women Who Care, a group that meets quarterly to learn about and donate to a charity that the group selects.

Share your GRACE also holds invitation-only sales events throughout the year, during which a portion of net proceeds benefit non-profit organizations while boosting Randolph’s philanthropic profile in the community.

Randolph is certain she’s where she’s supposed to be — both literally and figuratively.

“I am living proof that if you choose to make decisions from your heart and persevere, you will never look back,” she says. “Creating GRACE has given me more connection, has inspired other women to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit and has led to deeper relationships with my clients all due to my own personal decision to choose GRACE as this next chapter of my life.”

PHOTO GALLERY (21 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Wear Your GRACE

1. Practical magic. Randolph is focusing on gemstones and custom-creating talismans using labradorite and rose quartz. They’re marketed as being an essential element of everyday protection. “Being in Santa Fe with all of our ‘woo woo,’ people love it,” Randolph says. The jewelry line that I am creating is the core things we need as women to feel safe, protected, guided, grounded, but it’s also an individual connection.”

2. The canine experience. Just outside the store’s entrance is the most popular “Dog Bar” in town, complete with treats tucked inside a mailbox over a trompe l’oeil of splashing water from a faux-spigot. Four-legged friends may quench their thirst in cool H2O. Pet owners peek in with an amused smile as they view candy colored leather dog leashes and collars engraved with “Walk with GRACE. Sales help support animal rescue groups.

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3. Versatility behind the scenes. The second floor is the atelier, where the jewelry is designed and made from cast components. “I have used the space for open houses, gallery night on Fridays, and featured a painter here with her larger work upstairs,” Randolph says. “So it is a working studio, but also a social space. Or I’ll have a client come up and we’ll collaborate to remake something. Just minutes after a design is completed upstairs, it can be displayed on the floor.”

4. Guest stars. Randolph loves collaborating with artists she’s met on her travels, so she regularly features jewelry by guest designers and hosts events promoting other artwork she loves.

5. Coco’s Bangles. The wear your GRACE collection includes best-selling Coco’s Bangles, designed by Hillary’s teenage daughter, Coco. Coco donates a portion of the proceeds of sales to the Heart & Soul Animal Sanctuary outside Santa Fe.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Sofia Kaman: I love seeing a business that embraces fun, whimsy and a sense of happiness in all that they do. The dog bar is a brilliant touch!
  • Jimmy DeGroot: I love the concept and the business model.
  • Lyn Falk: Great website. Clever and sophisticated. Unique name and use of the name in marketing. Interior and exterior are well done — distinct, savvy, artsy with touches of whimsy. Unique displays pushed the envelope in terms of a typical retail experience. More like a gallery. Hillary appears to exude charm!
  • Tiffany Stevens: This is a beautiful store! The exterior encapsulates the rich history of Santa Fe while the interior is modern and unique.
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