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Before You Start

The very first step is to make sure that you're eligible.

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HERE’S SOMETHING IMPORTANT: Before you start your America’s Coolest Stores contest entry, let’s make sure you’re eligible. This is especially important because the rules have changed slightly this year.

Eligibility Criteria

Here are the eligibility criteria (posted on the contest rules page):

  1. Your store must be in North America or the Caribbean. (Once again, we extend our apologies to Steve’s Diamond Gallery of Outer Mongolia.)
  2. Your store must not have previously placed in the top five in the America’s Coolest Stores contest, or ever have been featured in INSTORE’S monthly “Cool Stores” section. The only exceptions are if you’re entering a different location of your business, or if your store has undergone significant renovation since winning/being featured.
  3. Your business must have been open at least one year before the date you enter the contest. As long as your business has been open a year, it’s OK if the location you enter is newer.

Now: Are all three of the above things true of your store? If so, you’re good to go!

Logging In

Between now and March 15, you will always log in to edit your contest entry at the following URL:

instoremag.com/acs

Bookmark it. You’ll also want to make a note of the email address you use to sign up for the contest — I have received more than a few calls from jewelers who couldn’t remember which email address they’d used. For sake of convenience, you might make a note of your password, too. As long as it’s unique (i.e., it isn’t the same password you use for other sites, like your email), there’s not a real serious security risk if someone happens to find the Post-It note on which you scribbled it.

One thing you might want to do is establish a specific person to be your point person for the contest. This could be an owner or an employee, but it should be someone who is relatively computer-literate and who has a little extra time each week to devote to compiling information and photos, and preparing the entry.

And the final note for this week: Historically, a lot of ACS entrants tend to leave their entry to be completed at the last minute. Some of them still do fine, but many discover too late that they don’t have exactly what our judges are looking for easily at hand — that is to say, they could get it, but not in time for the deadline.

Certainly, preparing your ACS entry isn’t the most time-consuming thing you’ll do all year. But it does take time — so if you’re going to do it, it makes sense to do it right. You’ll be well served if you or your point person set aside a specific chunk of time each week, perhaps during a time when the floor is normally slow, to work on it — hopefully using this blog series as a guide.

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America's Coolest 2019 Entries

America’s Coolest Stores: Get Your Contest Entry in Great Shape

You won’t get a slimmer waistline. But you may win one of the industry’s biggest honors.

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So you think you’re pretty cool.

That is to say: You’re considering entering this year’s America’s Coolest Stores contest. That’s great news. The contest offers the jewelry industry’s preeminent opportunity to show off all the neat stuff you’ve done with your business. Winners are not only lauded as visionaries by their peers, but many also report benefits including a slimmer waistline, thicker and more luxurious hair and increased vigor and stamina. We also send you a free set of knives.*

And here’s the really great news: This year, we’re going to make it easier than ever to get your contest entry ready. This very blog post, which you are reading right now, kicks off a series of “training posts” you can follow along with to get your entry in tip-top shape.

Here are some things we’ll be covering:

  • How to write a great description of your store
  • Submitting photos that make your store shine
  • Deciding what’s “cool”

How not to lose all the information you’ve entered, so that you get frustrated and lose your temper and kick the wall and frighten your employees and have to re-enter everything.

We’ll also be here — or more specifically, I’ll be here, with help from my INSTORE overlords — to answer questions and help solve problems as you prep your entry. You should feel free to ask questions in the comments, or to email them directly to coolstores@instoremag.com.

Two things to remember this week:

  • Enter at instoremag.com/acs
  • “Early Bird” entry deadline: March 1*
  • Final entry deadline: March 15, 2019

* Note: Entering before the “Early Bird” deadline allows you the option of having our editors review your entry prior to final judging, so we can provide guidance on where you can improve it. This could be a major advantage for you. See more details here.

All right! This is very exciting. Check back soon for the next post.

Next time: Eligibility, logging in, and not doing everything at the last minute

*OK, no knives, and we can’t guarantee the slimmer waist, fuller head of hair or increased vigor. But the top five winners in each of our two categories — Big Cool Stores and Small Cool Stores — do get a trophy and will be featured in the August issue of INSTORE.
 
 
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America's Coolest 2019 Entries

America’s Coolest Stores: Basic Info and Stats

Simple guidance for entering the basics.

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YOU’VE DETERMINED that you’re eligible, made note of your login email address and password (and put them in a place they won’t get lost), appointed someone to take the lead on your contest entry, and scheduled a few minutes each week to work on it. At this point, it’s time to start your entry.

Those New Checkboxes Up Top

This year, we have two new checkbox options at the top of the etnry page that we need you to check before continuing with your entry.

The first checkbox is to confirm that you understand that all winners of the contest — from first place through honorable mention — are required to give an interview to INSTORE editors for a feature story in the magazine.

Quick background: In the past, in our three publications, we’ve had several instances where, after judging was completed, business owners decided that they weren’t happy with where their store finished (“We only want to be featured if we come in first place!”) and refused to be interviewed.

This is unfair to all the other participants, as well as to the judges who spent their time judging the contest. If you can’t handle not finishing first, then please don’t enter the contest. America’s Coolest Stores is an extremely competitive contest, the toughest and most comprehensive in the industry, and to be voted anywhere in our top 16 businesses should be a point of pride and a testament to the extremely cool business you have built.

But if you can’t handle second place, then please don’t waste your time … or ours.

The second checkbox asks if you’d like to have editors review your entry before judging begins and provide hints on ways in which you can improve it.

This is a new service we’ve started offering this year, in an effort to increase the overall quality of entries and to help stores differentiate themselves from competitors. To benefit from this service, you must submit your entry before our early bird March 1 deadline.

Finish your entry, click “Submit”, and our editors will get back in touch with you with a review of your entry and some basic ideas on where you might improve it. For some businesses, this might be better or different photography, or more examples of marketing, or a different approach to your text entry. For some businesses, we might not have any advice at all.

For entries where we recommend additional changes, we will then provide you with a link that lets you revise your submitted entry.

Please remember that, if you submit your entry after March 1, you won’t be able to benefit from this service.

General Info and Business Stats

The general information required is pretty straightforward. One potentially tricky bit: It’s possible that your contact email (see below) will be different from your login email.

For example, maybe you, the owner, signed in initially using your email address as the login. But now you’ve handed the job off to an employee who has their own email.

The contact email is exactly what it sounds like: the email address we’ll use to get in touch with you about your entry. So the contact email should be that of whoever is handling the contest entry. If it’s the same as the login email, that’s fine. If it’s different, just remember that, so that you’re not confused later about which address to use to log in. (That would be the login email.)

You can skip the “Online Presence” section for the moment; we’ll cover it later. For now, go to “Business Stats.”

Again, pretty straightforward. If your location hasn’t been renovated since it opened, enter the same year for “Year Opened Featured Location” and “Year Last Renovated.” (It seems redundant, but that way we know you didn’t just accidentally miss filling that line out.)

Other questions include your number of full and part-time employees, your showroom and total square footage, your top brands and your buildout cost (if you don’t have the exact number, just give us the closest estimate you can provide.)

Finally, we ask for to the people who helped you build your store — the architect and design firms, as well as showcase manufacturers.

If you have any questions about preparing your entry for the America’s Coolest Stores contest, email them to us at coolstores@instoremag.com.

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America's Coolest 2019 Entries

America’s Coolest Stores: You Gotta Stand Out from the Crowd

Remember, cool = different.

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REMEMBER: Cool = different.

“Our fancies are always tickled by the unexpected or serendipitous — in-store photo booths, really unique ad campaigns, $200 interior build-outs (that look amazing) — things that make a store stand out from all the others.”

One of my editors wrote that during an email conversation about the America’s Coolest Stores contest. It got me thinking about the many conversations I’ve had with store owners about what exactly our judges are looking for.

Which in turn got me thinking about some of the standout features of our past winners. Here’s a list of 5 Cool Things about some of the stores that won or placed in recent years:

  1. A novel aesthetic. Green Lake Jewelry Works’ entire store is a good example: murals on the floor, a motorized bike rack on the ceiling for employees’ rides, designers and goldsmiths working out in the open.
  2. One striking element. R. Grey Gallery’s lit-from-within staircase beckons passersby to glance inside in the evenings, serving as an advertisement even when the store is closed.
  3. New twists on how to sell jewelry. Like the open ring displays at TWO by London — customers can pick up and try on replications of rings for as long as they want without having to involve a sales associate.
  4. Consistently stepped-up customer service. Not to minimize them, but we’ve heard a lot of stories about driving through a blizzard to deliver a ring on time at this point. They’re great, but what’s really cool is when a store builds a better approach to service right into their system, every day. The Diamond Vault has a concierge, an employee with a GG degree who greets customers when they walk in, offers them a drink, and directs them to the right sales associate.
  5. Interesting event ideas. We love both slightly out-of-the ordinary in-store events and other marketing efforts that draw attention. The Mom’s Night Out at Moondance Jewelry Gallery, which takes place right after the school year starts again, gives a target demographic the perfect excuse to celebrate.

Now, by no means were these the sole defining factors in these stores’ success in the contest. Nor does this mean your store needs to have features like these to win — indeed, by definition, we’d like to see something different. But these unusual and engaging ideas should give you an idea of what really turns our cranks.

 
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