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Family-owned store is reimagined for the future.

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Carter’s Jewel Chest, Mountain Home, AR

WEBSITE:cartersjewelchest.com; FOUNDED: 1976; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1986; RENOVATED: 2018; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Balaity Property Enhancement and Larry Johnson, showcase display consultant; EMPLOYEES: 11; AREA: 4,000 square foot showroom; 6,200 square foot total; TOP BRANDS: Hearts on Fire, John Hardy, Gabriel & Co., Le Vian, Forevermark


Beth Carter and son Chris

Beth Carter stepped back from the redesign of the store, leaving details to son Chris.

THE DECISION TO renovate Carter’s Jewel Chest in 2018 didn’t come easily or quickly to Chris Carter and his mom, Beth Carter.

The store already stood out in Mountain Home, AR, (pop. 12,475) and still got its share of compliments. But the Carters are part of a Plexus peer group of jewelers, which encouraged them to both expand and update it. Their peers believed the market had potential, despite perceived drawbacks in demographics and town size. (“We’re about 60 percent senior citizens and continually struggling to pull in younger people,” Beth says.)

Convinced, Chris set a six-month goal to visit other stores for inspiration.

Beth said that once they had decided to do something, the decision to renovate or relocate still loomed. They owned the shopping center where the store has been since 1985, and they had the opportunity to buy out a partner, so they decided to stay put and expand. It made sense, too, based on a traffic-count study and real estate costs. “It’s still a vibrant part of town,” Beth says. “We didn’t want to upset the applecart. We spent a lot of time building name and location recognition.”

Still, it was tough for Beth to think of the store as dated. So, she vowed to stay out of the renovation. “I knew we needed something to carry us forward 15 or 20 years, and while I think my taste is good, there isn’t anything young about it,” she says. Years ago, Beth mused, her dream store likely would have gleamed with crystal chandeliers and marble floors. But now, in an extremely casual locale, popular for outdoor sports and fishing, the priority was simply to make the store warm and inviting with a modern-industrial vibe.

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Through jewelry-display expert Larry Johnson, Chris met store designer Jesse Balaity of Balaity Property Enhancement, who was able to expand on Chris’s rough ideas. “Jesse’s stuff wasn’t too fancy, that’s what sold me on it,” Chris says. “Chandeliers and marble floors are gorgeous, but they don’t fit our clientele or our demographic.”

Balaity suggested removing the suspended acoustic ceiling tiles to expose the structure, then lowering sections of the ceiling with a suspended “cloud” design in areas where most customer interaction takes place. Compressing the space feels more intimate and comforting, he explains.

The store was designed to be as versatile as possible, particularly in branded areas. While there is one dedicated shop-in-shop for Hearts on Fire, the remaining branded areas are designed to be distinctive while also blending more seamlessly with the store’s overall look. That includes a large John Hardy zone as well as two fashion brand zones for Kendra Scott and Ronaldo designed with unlocked glass front drawers that encourage customers to try on the jewelry.

The John Hardy zone adds a dash of dramatic flair with porcelain tile and textured metal panels that blend well with the wood tones and concrete laminate used throughout the store. The result is a bespoke environment that can adapt over time to other uses.

Carters-Jewel-Chest interior

Functional interior design prioritizes comfortable seating areas.

The diamond island includes two privacy booths for guests. To balance privacy and transparency, the booths are enclosed with low walls and buffered with glass panels. Soft seating in the booths helps absorb sound.

One design challenge was the long and narrow proportions of the sales area. “To encourage exploration,” Balaity says, “we created a variety of selling environments layered through the space. A rhythm of light and dark materials, high and low showcases and different focal points all draw customers deeper into the space.”

A fireplace, also on the Carters’ wish list, was designed to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing, facing both the bar and the entrance vestibule. On the vestibule side, there’s a built-in bench in front of the fireplace and a pass-through to the retail area. When it’s cold out and the store isn’t yet open, waiting customers can warm up on the bench in the vestibule without compromising security.

The family business was founded by T.C. and Beth Carter, who met at Gem City College in Quincy, IL, where T.C. studied watchmaking and jewelry repair. Beth completed her jewelry and hand-engraving studies and added GIA diamond training to her resume. In 1976, with a $20,000 loan from parents and $20,000 of inventory from a jeweler friend, the couple opened Carter’s Jewel Chest. In 1985, they joined other retail partners to build the strip center that still houses the store.

Chris was drawn into the family business in 2003 by an interest in technology. First attracted by a new computer engraver his parents bought, he revolutionized the store with CAD-CAM, their first website and upgraded POS software. He also integrated flat-screen displays and exterior LED signage.

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In 2007, Chris and his wife, Nicole, honeymooned at GIA Carlsbad, and became graduate gemologists. Since T.C. retired, Beth handles marketing and financing while Chris manages merchandise, the sales floor, the shop and IT.

Building on his technological repertoire, Chris integrated an electric car charger into the redesigned store, which he offers as a free service. “It’s been a fun, different way to position ourselves,” says Chris, who thought of the idea when he had been considering buying an electric car and realized how large a geographic gap existed between charging stations. Theirs is the only one within 300 miles.

“Considering what we spend on advertising or what it takes to acquire a customer, the electric car charger has been inexpensive,” Chris says. “We’ve had several calls where people say we want to make sure that your charger is working (before taking a trip.)”

Carters-Jewel-Chest exterior

The Carters expanded into a center they already owned.

When the redesign was complete, it was time to invite the town in. The first event was a barbecue for the construction crew and their families. The second, for small business owners, and the third for VIP clients. Finally, they opened it up to everyone. The reaction was universally positive and centered on the theme: “We don’t feel like we’re in Mountain Home. We feel like we’re in a city.”

“People thanked me for the positive impact it had on the community,” says Chris.

Balaity says the dedication shown by everyone involved was gratifying. “When I design jewelry stores in a small town like Mountain Home, I often have the privilege of designing the nicest retail environment in the community. The store can be a point of pride for customers, like having a fine hotel or 5-star restaurant.”

For Carter’s Jewel Chest, the scale of the project heightened this sense. “Everyone I encountered seemed to understand we were creating something special for Mountain Home, and they dedicated themselves to making the project perfect,” he says.

“Considering the challenges with renovations, this commitment was a surprise and delight.”

Beth says the true secret to their success is providing the excellent customer service they’ve always been known for, along with their motto, Treasure the Moment. “When our customers leave here, we want them to think, ‘Wow, we haven’t had an experience like that in a long time.’ Word spreads quickly that way.”

PHOTO GALLERY (11 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Carter’s Jewel Chest

1. PLAY SPACE. The playroom, designed for 2- to 7-year-olds, features a climbing wall, loft, toy kitchen, and TV, and has become such a hit that children beg their parents to stop at Carter’s when they see the sign from the highway. “The part I didn’t anticipate was how much more at ease the parents are when the kids are happy and not running around and fingerprinting everything,” Beth says. A baby monitor close to the diamond island provides further reassurance.

2. BRAND AMBASSADORS. “The challenge we face in a small market is that a lot of brands aren’t interested in us,” Beth says. The Carters worked hard to court John Hardy, but kept getting the answer that the area wasn’t large enough and the demographics didn’t suit their model. Finally, in 2017, when they did write an order, the national sales manager came to the store to introduce the line. “They told us later, ‘When we drove into town and saw the population sign, we wondered what we were doing.’ But we were so busy, we never had an opening day that was any better.’ They said, ‘You’ve got the coolest customers and you’re a big fish in a small town.’ It’s been a great line for us and we have a good relationship.”

3. HOSPITALITY BAR. Serving alcohol was a little out of the Carters’ comfort zone, and they didn’t want to offend anyone in their conservative town. They decided to stock the bar but refrain from displaying bottles. The only thing visible is a beer tap coming out of the top of the counter. But now people come in seeking out pineapple mimosas, and response has been extremely positive, especially from young men who are nervous about engagement-ring shopping. “They’re surprised they can have a beer in a jewelry store,” Beth says.

4. MARKETING. “We are utilizing video content in many new ways, from social media to retargeting customers who visit our website with a video message,” Chris says. “We were even able to reduce our TV budget by utilizing pre-roll video, which delivers to qualified customers and enhances our other web marketing efforts. We’ve gotten more comments on that than anything we’ve done in a long time. I always have people mention they’ve seen pre-roll video on YouTube popping up.”

5. PURCHASE WITH POWER. Choosing six causes per year, the business raises money using various methods, including percentage of sales, donating jewelry for drawings or selling “Secret Santa Gifts,” which raised $5,000 for Into the Light, a group Chris and Nicole support to help fight human trafficking. One of their most popular “Purchase with Purpose” events benefited the local Humane Society with 53 dogs walking the Carter’s Jewel Chest runway during the Saturday morning event.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Ken Nisch: The very warm interior is inviting and cozy and plays up their community focus.
  • Pratima Sethi: I love the kids’ area in the store. I love the modern interior, too. It’s very on trend, but the neutral colors have a timeless appeal. The website is easy to navigate.
  • Jen Cullen Williams: I love how experiential the business is and the unique touches they provide for their customers, such as the playroom for kids, the EV charger and the local brewery refreshments they serve. It’s clear they put a lot of thought behind making their store a comfortable place to visit.
  • Rod Worley: The architecture pulls you in and begs you to explore. The openness and soft earth tones provide a welcome retreat. The “purchase with purpose” event, benefiting the local Humane Society, conveys the community heart of the brand.
  • Alp Sagnak: This store is 100 percent unique.

 

Try This: Provide Lunch and Christmas Gifts to Staff and Their Families 


In appreciation of the staff’s dedication, especially during the holidays, the Carters provide lunch every day from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Beth, Nicole and T.C. plan and prepare the home cooked meals. They also have fun with 12 days of Christmas or Secret Santa gift events, with all gifts provided by the store to not only the staff, but to their families as well in recognition of the sacrifices everyone makes during the holidays.

 

ONLINE EXTRAS

Here are more tips and ideas from the Carter’s Jewel Chest operation.

  • COUPLE OF THE YEAR. Local couples share their photo and love stories for a chance to win prizes and be featured in Carter’s ads.
  • CARAT CAKE. “Carat Cake for Christmas Wish,” which happens the weekend before Thanksgiving, has been a tradition for more than 20 years. During the two-day event, 1,000 “Carat Cake” cupcakes are sold. Inside every cupcake there is either a coupon for a discount, a gemstone or a diamond.
  • FRESHLY BAKED COOKIES. A signature of the store is freshly baked cookies that are passed out daily. No matter the weather, the welcoming warmth of the fireplace followed by the unique experience of the hospitality bar creates a warm, inviting, hospitable atmosphere.
  • PEER GROUP. Chris and Beth have been members of a Plexus peer group for the past 10 years. These owners are dedicated to sharing ideas and financials and are always looking for ways to improve each other’s businesses. The Plexus peer group meets twice a year in rotating stores. On the last day of the three-day meeting, each store owner sets three tangible goals to be accomplished by the next meeting.
  • CONSULTANTS TO THE RESCUE. When it came to questions about new displays for the store, Larry Johnson had all the answers. “That’s my motto,” says Beth. “If I don’t know what I’m doing I need to hire someone who does,” Beth says. Johnson worked with the Carters throughout the project to help analyze traffic flow and lay out the brand locations most effectively. “In ten minutes of working with Larry he paid for his consulting fee.” The Carters have also consulted with Shane Decker for years, not only about sales strategies, but also about how to transition ownership from one generation to the next. “My husband and I worked together almost 40 years before he retired,” Beth says. “We enjoyed working together. Family dynamics can be tough, but it worked for us and I was thankful. Not many moms get to work with their sons, and that’s been a blessing to do that, too.”

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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