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Beginning

In the beginning … there was an eager but slightly green jeweler. Five store-owners tell what they learned from the start-up process.

BY EILEEN MCCLELLAND

Published in the January 2014 issue

Lessons from the inception of 5 stores (and what long-established stores can learn from them)

THINK BACK to how it all began. ¶ You made your girlfriend a bracelet out of beads; you began selling turquoise out of the trunk of your car; you set up a booth at a local craft fair. Your first sale was a toe ring, a watch battery, or maybe even a diamond engagement ring.

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However it began — and there are as many stories as there are retailers — you had an idea and you turned it into a business.

David Brown, president of the Edge Retail Academy, says it’s always exciting — at the beginning — to open a retail jewelry store.

“Everyone starts out with this great vision and energy and passion and drive, and they can’t wait to get the keys and open the door because they have this dream lifestyle they’ve envisioned for themselves. And sadly, for many retailers, this dream turns into a nightmare.”

One problem can be that without a clear objective — and this is just as true for long-existing stores — owning your business can begin to feel more like you bought yourself a somewhat thankless job.

To avoid burnout, fatigue and resentment, Brown says, identify not only your objectives but also the strategy and resources you’ll use to get there. Consider where you want to end up and work backward from there.

“I can’t be a $3 million store if I’ve got the resources of a $1 million dollar store or the same level of thinking,” he says.

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Joanna Bradshaw, author of Be a Millionaire Shopkeeper: How Your Independent Shop Can Compete with the Big Guys, says every business needs a mission statement. It describes your purpose, your niche in the marketplace, the focus of your business and its aims. A good business plan, aligned with your mission statement, can keep you on track to reach your objectives, Bradshaw says. View your business plan as a blueprint and a living document, reviewing it often and updating it every year.

Brown warns that flexibility and adaptability need to be built into your business plan for best results these days.

Modern jewelers also will struggle if they are generalists. Instead, Brown says, “decide what to specialize in and be the best at that chosen path that you can be.” Your unique selling proposition is your competitive edge, whether it’s location, specialization, customization or outstanding customer service.

Michael Lebowitz, director of jewelry for White Pine Trading, which offers consultant services, spent 40 years behind the counter in a family retail business. On a day-to-day basis, it can be tough to keep up the excitement. “But an owner or manager is much like a professional coach, both a life coach and a sports coach. It’s up to him or her to train and nurture the staff, to help them understand that what they are putting in their customer’s hand is going to light up someone’s eyes and put a smile on someone’s face.”

Leibowitz says when it comes to the grand opening, retailers must make a great first impression in three key areas — product, presentation and promotion. “It is important to show the world who you are, to show the right merchandise and plan a promotion around that merchandise. In 2014, from a product standpoint, you are what you sell and you have only one chance to make a good first impression.”

Presentation, too, is more important than ever. Pay attention to traffic flow, lighting, color and displays, Leibowitz says. “Lighting has gone so high-tech, and it is now so wonderful to show off diamonds and colored stones. There’s no reason a customer should look into the showcase and not be overwhelmed by glitter.”

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As you read the “beginnings” stories that follow, take a few minutes to look back on your own beginning and ask yourself what you’ve learned from the progression of your business and what you can do today to make sure your business plan is a living document.

And understand, Brown says, that you can have the successful jewelry store of your dreams and a wonderful quality of life at the same time.

TRUE TALES

HARRIS JEWELERS: “We purchased a 300-square foot store in 1998 for $25,000,” says Karen Fitzpatrick of Harris Jewelers in Rio Rancho, NM. “We had a man on our first day come in for a battery and he said that we were robbing the community charging $6 for a battery and he would tell all of his friends never to shop our store. Fifteen years later we own a 9,000-square-foot building, have 11 employees and have won countless community service awards.”

VALENTINE’S JEWELRY: “For a year and a half I sold jewelry out of a blue plastic toolbox,” says Elva Valentine of Valentine’s Jewelry in Dallas, PA. “Then I moved into one room in an antique shop, and I gradually grew and grew, until now I have the whole building. ”

TROY SHOPPE JEWELLERS: “My first store was scary,” says David Blitt of Troy Shoppe Jewellers in Calgary. “Two walls in a small upstairs vintage building. The front door did not even have a lock. Every night we would put the merchandise in a bag and carry it to our car that was a two-block walk through downtown. It scares me to think of the chances we took.”

CONTEMPORARY CONCEPTS: “When I opened my store, it was a few days before I had a sale,” says Janne Etz of Contemporary Concepts in Cocoa, FL, “and that first sale was a $6 toe ring. The lady pulled out her checkbook and started writing the check. When she asked how to make it out, I told her my name rather than my business so I could go cash it. I wanted to put the first dollar in a frame on the wall. She insisted on giving me an extra dollar in cash. That dollar is still in a frame 21 years later!”

WHAT TO CONSIDER FROM THE BEGINNING
(AND REMINDERS TO THOSE ALREADY IN BUSINESS)

 

1Consider what you want your end business to look like and work back from that.

2Take advantage of industry education and learning from others. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.

3Be ambitious. A lot of people go into it very cautiously. They buy themselves a job instead of creating a business with a vision. At the end of the day, ask yourself why are you doing this?

4Find a great financial planner and CPA.

5Before you look at vendors, define what you want your business to look like. Do you want a bridal store? A bead store? Then partner with vendors that can really help you with your business success.

6Launch your inventory effectively. Most people go to shows, buy product, bring it back to the store and put it on a shelf. Train your staff about it. You can’t sell a secret. Let people know you have it.

7Know what you are good at and recognize your own shortcomings. Then create a team of people who are good at what you are lacking. It’s only a weakness if you don’t recognize it.

8Create a culture that people want to work in. This will help ensure that your customers have the best experience in the world.

9Understand the science of retail: Know your stock turn and key performance indicators to understand the health of your business. It’s like knowing your blood pressure when it comes to knowing your own health.

10Lead the business, set the vision and the direction, keep it on track.

11Join a group of peers in the jewelry industry as well as a local group representing a variety of local businesses.

12Know where you are financially. Don’t wait for your accountant. You need to know by the first week in January whether you’re on track or off track.

By David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy

Revolution Jewelry Works
Location: Colorado Springs, CO / Owner: Jennifer Farnes / Founded: 2013 Employees: 1 / Unique Selling Proposition: Custom cut gemstones

Jennifer Farnes, a rock hound since she was a kid, took a first anniversary trip to Montana with her husband, Jeremy, in 2003, and came home lugging 10 pounds of quartz crystal. Although Jeremy had talked about buying Jennifer a diamond pendant, she suggested they have one of the rocks cut instead.

That’s how she met a stonecutter who offered her an apprenticeship, Eventually, she decided to pursue stone-cutting full time. Fast forward to May 2013 — 10 years into her profession as a master faceter — and Farnes was in the process of purchasing an established jewelry store. Two weeks before the closing was scheduled, the owners backed out of the deal.

“I was sitting on our bed, just bawling my eyes out and my husband thinks somebody has died. He said it just wasn’t meant to be, that something will come along. We went to sleep and the next morning, he said, ‘This was meant to happen because you need to open your own place.’ It had never dawned on me that that was an option. As it turned out, the type of setup I wanted would be half the cost, and it meant that instead of buying someone else’s vision I could create my own.”

Working with the bank, the Small Business Administration and local contractors she knew through a networking group, she was able to build out the space and open in November.

She made the build-out a social media event, letting customers vote online about the color-scheme and layout, and updating followers daily on how the construction progressed with photos.

“It has made our existing customers feel even closer to us, and we have attracted many new out-of-state people via their friends sharing our posts,” she says.

She is focusing on custom design, repairs and ordering basics from the Stuller catalog as needed, as well as inviting American jewelry artists to showcase their work on memo. So far, 10 designers have signed on, based on her references in the industry as a stonecutter.

“The first day was amazing,” she says. “A couple of repairs turned into a $1,300 sale.” Traffic and sales continued to pick up throughout November and a grand opening party drew more than 100 people.

The 1,274 square foot store — with an additional 400 square foot loft — was designed with an industrial look and an open floor plan. Farnes envisioned a fusion of wood and metal, for a look both luxurious and industrial. A wrap-around half wall with a window allows views of stones being cut.

“It’s really modern, with kind of a different twist,” she says. “It’s what I had in my head all along. If I had bought the other store, I would have been buying someone else’s dream. This is an opportunity to make my dream come to life.”

Although she started with one employee, metalsmith Pedro Llanas, she was immediately so busy she’s thinking of adding staff already.

She continues to take on work for jewelers, including custom cuts.

“Jewelers all over the country send me stones for repair. I wouldn’t be at the place I am now if it weren’t for the support of all those jewelers. I can’t give that up.”

WHAT I’VE LEARNED
JENNIFER FARNES

If your first attempt fails, don’t give up on your dream.

If you hit a roadblock, try sleeping on it. Inspiration might come in the morning.

Dare to think big.

Generate excitement for a new store — or a remodel — through social media by inviting input into the store’s color scheme and layout.

NINE-EIGHTEEN
Location: Dallas, TX / Owners: Kim Burgan and Darin Kunz/ Founded: 2011 / Employees: 3 full-time; 2 interns Unique Selling Proposition: Exclusivity

Siblings through marriage, Darin Kunz and Kim Burgan began working together in a jewelry store when they were just kids. Their parents met and fell in love while working in a Dallas jewelry store, and wed on Sept. 18, 1976.

In 2011, Kunz and Burgan opened Nine-Eighteen, a fast-rising Dallas jewelry boutique named for that important day in their shared history. It seems inevitable, looking back.

“It’s in our bones,” Burgan says. “This is the industry we grew up in. We were 10 or 11 and in the store, doing the grunt work, wrapping gifts, cleaning cases, serving drinks. And we did that all through college.”

After that, they both detoured into the corporate world. But when Burgan and her husband adopted three children a few years ago, she wanted to travel less. “If I was going to work that hard I wanted to work for me, not someone else. Darin said, ‘Have you thought about the jewelry business?’”

Kunz had been working with his dad in a wholesale jewelry business, while continuing to meet with private retail clients. “We wanted to go back to the basics,” Burgan says. “We wanted more of a retail experience, but not traditional retail.”

Nine-Eighteen operates primarily by appointment and offers a number of designer lines as well as traditional best-selling basics, such as diamond studs and hoops.

“Clients like exclusivity, so while we wanted to lean more retail we didn’t want to lose the private shopping experience,” Burgan says. “We brought a lot of what our mom and dad taught us back into the business. Their business was very social, they did a lot of events and partner tie-ins.”

So they host happy hours for small groups, trunk shows and even art shows in their 1,000-square-foot space.

They self-funded their business and had a head start as new store owners since the family already had strong vendor relationships.

“What my dad didn’t have and what we cultivated was the fashion designer set of relationships,” Burgan says. “We have chosen to do business only with people that we truly like, that we have a connection with, at least on the supplier side of the business.” The business has taken off, doubling its growth each year and going head to head with Dallas’ eight-figure independents in consumer media popularity contests.

“Trust is crucial,” Burgan says. “Our business has been predominantly word-of-mouth referrals. We are starting to do paid advertising and print marketing. But our engagement rates on social media and email marketing are through the roof.” They’ve come full circle and the jewelry bug is likely to infect the next generation.

Burgan’s oldest daughter, Cassie, is 12 and she’s already doing her share of case cleaning and gift-wrapping, i.e. grunt work. “She asks me all the time, ‘Can I come down and work?’” Kim says. “She’s cheap labor.”

WHAT I’VE LEARNED
KIM BURGAN

Be patient. “It’s a slow road. You have got to understand that. It’s not going to happen overnight and I need to keep reminding myself of that.”

Offer stellar service. “A lot of it we learned from our parents. Things they taught us when we were 12 years old, the way you treat customers, the way you treat vendors.”

Word of mouth and engaging social media can create trust and propel a business to succeed.

J LANDA (FORMERLY J SILVER)
Location: Houston, TX / Owner:Jay Landa/ Founded: 1999 Renovated and reimagined: 2013 / Employees: 3 full-time; 3 part-time Unique Selling Proposition: Designer Collections

 

Jay Landa studied government and English in college. But it was an internship at the Gap, of all places, that led to his unexpected career twist. After he graduated, Landa was recruited by Donna Karan, and almost against his will, he says, he shifted his focus to fashion.

In 2011, Kunz and Burgan opened Nine-Eighteen, a fast-rising Dallas jewelry boutique named for that important day in their shared history. It seems inevitable, looking back.

Later, he moved to Houston and began buying and selling silver jewelry and then designing his own. Something clicked. “It began a crazy journey,” Landa recalls. “I would show at festivals, private homes, out of the trunk of my car. I traveled all over, and my vision was to open a storefront.”

His search led him to Houston’s Rice Village, a heavily trafficked and casually upscale conglomeration of strip malls, apartments and restaurants that lends itself to window shopping. “The gift has always been the location for me,” he says. “I didn’t have to advertise so much, because people are always walking by.”

But his first encounter with a landlord there was more than a little intimidating to a fledgling, 20-something entrepreneur without a business plan. The property company insisted he needed extensive financial proof that he could make a go of it — proof he didn’t have and felt sure he didn’t need at the time.

He looked into another, older shopping center a couple blocks away, whose landlord turned out to have an old-school approach. “The owner said, ‘If you want this space, it’s yours.’ All I needed was the first month’s rent.”

He wanted it; the store became J Silver.

As he grew into his business, he began understanding his market by listening to clients, vendors and designers. “I had been catering to all kinds of people at festivals, but I found an interesting demographic here. I thought, ‘This is the market I want to cater to,’ and I need good pieces, classic looks and a variety of price points to do that.”

His mom, who is a retail entrepreneur as well, has been an important mentor.

“My mom’s advice has always been to stay grounded and make good sound decisions and enjoy the moment. I tend to be very intense and overly ambitious sometimes.”

As his business became more successful, designer Chan Luu, who sells some of her pieces exclusively at his store, became a mentor, too.

“She pushed me to see outside my realm of consciousness, to consider global markets,” Landa says. “I began to see how attainable the world is, how exciting other cultures are. Travel has definitely helped, and social media.”

One outgrowth of that change in perspective was Landa’s pursuit of e-commerce, which accounts for perhaps 10 percent of his business now, but which he would like to see grow to at least 50 percent.

“I have to treat e-commerce as I would a storefront to take it seriously. Being in an international city, people from all over the world come to the store so it’s important to keep the website current, relevant and structured.”

In addition to his own and Chan Luu’s jewelry, Landa carries extensive lines from Alexis Bittar, Uno de 50 and Dian Malouf. “I don’t do anything halfway,” he says.

At age 40, Landa seeks more financial advice than he did in the beginning, looking to the future and an exit strategy. “The idea is that in 10 years, I may sell my brand — or not — but I want to know what my options are.”

WHAT I’VE LEARNED
JAY LANDA

Surround yourself with young minds; those are the innovators. Landa recently hired two recent college graduates who live and breathe social media.

Reach out to the local media to garner as much free publicity as possible. Landa recently hosted a bloggers’ night out at the store, for example.

Believe in the product. When selecting a new line for his store, Landa takes a personal approach. “I have to like their designs, it has to flow in the store, price point is important and I have to like how they conduct business. Integrity is very important to me. The designers I work with are friends of mine, people who have a personal relationship with me.”

When you find the right product, go all the way. Landa carries full lines from designers he represents.

Find a work-life balance. “That’s the most difficult part for me,” Landa admits. “I definitely take some vacation. I try to make myself completely disconnect. I’m closed on Sundays; I made a very conscious decision to do that.”

AMES SILVERSMITHING
Location: Ames, IA / Owner: Gary Youngberg/ Founded: 1976 Employees: 9 / Unique Selling Proposition: Custom Design

When Gary Youngberg was in college, he didn’t have the money to buy his girlfriend, Karen, a piece of jewelry. So he improvised, stringing together some cord and beads to make a necklace. (“Hey, it was the ’70s,” he says, in defense of his materials.) His girlfriend was thrilled — as were her friends, who all wanted one, too.

“I bought more cord and beads, produced more pieces and ended up selling them to girls in the surrounding dorms.” He also received requests for rings, pendants and earrings, so he checked a few books out of the library, bought some raw materials and transformed his dorm room desk into a rudimentary jeweler’s bench. “And yes, I did have a torch in my dorm room!” he says.

As he taught himself how to fabricate silver jewelry set with turquoise, jasper and agate, he began to lose interest in his classes. He started showing his wares at area art fairs and soon realized his hobby had some financial potential. “So, on a whim and with a strong desire to do something I liked, my girlfriend — who became my wife about a year later — and I decided to open Ames Silversmithing in downtown Ames.” He used $1,500 he had saved from selling his jewelry.

He was 19 years old.

“By the time that we opened on Aug. 1, 1976, I didn’t even have enough money to buy stamps. Fortunately, I was a waiter at a sorority so I had food on the table, but it was slow going at first. I’d hand out fliers in my bell-bottom jeans and tell people I was the new store in town. I’d work in my little 12-by-12-foot shop from 6 in the morning until 9 at night, my workbench and one display case sharing the same area. Eventually, a few people started showing up.”

As the business grew, both Gary and Karen received diamond training through the GIA, and Gary began working in gold, platinum and gemstones.

They were able to rent more space a year later, but Youngberg says it took about 10 years and subsequent expansions to feel that they had “made it.”

“Today, with nine employees, including my wife, two sons and two daughters-in-law, I can say not a day goes by that I don’t think about how I started and what a lucky man I am. Now if I can just get those five grandkids to follow.”

Having sons Kyle and Kirk join them in the business has been a graceful melding of the young and old, he says. “They value our business sense and we value what they brought to the store, and continue to bring to the store as far as technology goes. We’re still behind, but we are way more forward than if the boys weren’t in the business.

“I love what I do so much and I probably never will retire. In another 40 years the boys will come in the morning and Dad will be lying dead in the front of the store at age 92. That would be a hell of a way to go out.”

WHAT I’VE LEARNED

GARY YOUNGBERG

Admit your mistakes. “If you try to cover it up, it gets worse and worse. I’ve made my mistakes and I regret every one, but I have addressed them head on. That’s the way we want to treat our customers.”

Do what you love.

Don’t overextend yourself. “The creation of our store has been an ongoing process and we’ve done what we’ve been able to do because we were conservative, and we made capital investments when necessary when we got to a growth phase. Some people want to keep expanding. No doubt I could have made more money, but I’m not greedy. You shouldn’t let the store run you. You should run the store.”

Be committed. “Those of us who have been successful understand you are working your ass off and not just 9 to 5. Hard work can reap great dividends.”

J Roberts Fine Jewelry
Location: Jacksonville, FL / Owner: Bobby Wallo/ Founded: 2008 / Employees: 5 Unique Selling Proposition: Stuller’s CounterSketch Studio

Bobby Wallo worked in construction for 20 years before a glimpse into jewelry led to a radical career shift.

“I was working on a project with someone in the jewelry business, and I found myself becoming more interested in the industry and then eventually became enamored with it — all the gems and jewelry — and then I became infatuated with it.

“Also, as I got older I decided that I didn’t want to climb ladders the rest of my life. I found this was something I could do forever, so I decided to open my own store.”

Wallo opened his first store in 2008, the worst possible timing, he admits, in light of the Great Recession. He survived by being competitive and providing exceptional service, he says.

When his lease ran out five years later, he was forced to move, rebrand himself and start all over again in September 2013. In moving closer to downtown Jacksonville, Wallo says, “There’s a lot more happening near the inner city, more restaurants and a more energetic nightlife, and you can tell from those who visit the store that the people who live and work in the downtown area are more fashion-driven than the more family-oriented atmosphere in the suburbs.”

The new store is named for Wallo (Robert) and the J is for Joe Espinosa, the designer and bench jeweler who owns a portion of the business. Rich Gammiere, Wallo’s business partner for more than 30 years, continues to run the construction business and is also an investor in the jewelry store.

Wallo’s main focus is bridal. He and Espinosa recently became certified in Stuller’s CounterSketch Studio software, which Wallo believes will help his new business take off by offering customers easy input into designing their own rings. It will set him apart in his market with a unique selling proposition.

Besides, he says, being able to build something in front of someone’s eyes is kind of cool.

After five years, the glamour hasn’t worn off.

“It’s a fun experience to be a part of,” he says.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED
BOBBY WALLO

Stand behind everything you do and say. We guarantee the ring for life.

If a customer ever loses a stone we take care of it. We don’t charge for a service plan. Everything is inclusive.

It’s not for the fainthearted. You really have to be dedicated to work a lot of hours. You’D better like dealing with people.

You’ve got to want to do it — to have it in your blood — to do it with sincerity and a smile. If your heart’s not in it, your gut’s not in it, then don’t get into it.

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America's Coolest Stores

Missouri Jewelry Store Expansion Creates Wow Experience

Mitchum Jewelers takes interior design to the next level.

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Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, MO

OWNER: Randy Mitchum; URL:mitchumjewelers.com; FOUNDED: 1965; RENOVATED and EXPANDED: 2018;ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Jesse Balaity, Balaity Property Enhancement; Torgerson Partners Architect; Rex Winslow, general contractor; Larry Johnson Consulting; JMJ Showcases; EMPLOYEES: 12; AREA: 2,775 square foot showroom; 5,600 total; TOP BRANDS: Tacori, Shinola, Pandora, Armenta, Beny Sofer, Henri Daussi; ONLINE PRESENCE: 159 5-Star Google reviews; 9,501 Facebook likes; 1,322 Instagram followers; BUILDOUT COST: $1 million


Kristie and Randy Mitchum feel at home in their new modern store with its neutral palette.

BY ALL APPEARANCES, Mitchum Jewelers was functioning like a well-oiled machine when owner Randy Mitchum approached store designer Jesse Balaity about a major renovation and expansion. So Balaity says he was initially perplexed.

“Randy already had a well-designed freestanding building, a successful business model and impressive staff retention. He also had two young children and a third on the way. Why would he want to take on a full renovation and expansion?” Balaity wondered.

Once he arrived onsite, he says, he understood. “Mid-morning on a Tuesday, I walked into organized chaos. Randy had created such an engaging atmosphere filled with an exceedingly gracious staff that his 2,800 square-foot store was bursting with customers at a time of the week that many retailers spend dusting and watching the door. He simply needed more space to provide the level of service his loyal customers deserve.”

Mitchum says he gave Balaity a wish list. “We had a restricted area, so we had to maximize the space. Our store is very linear, but it has high ceilings and we capitalized on that.” Mitchum wanted more room on the sales floor, more storage, a vault, a private meeting room and more working areas for the staff.

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A request for more space turned into a doubling of the building footprint, split about equally between support areas and the showroom.
While the previous look had been traditional with laminated burl wood showcases, that particular showcase model had been discontinued, and opting to keep the existing showcases on only one side of the store would have been discordant.

“The existing showroom was attractive — filled with natural light, uncluttered, and tastefully finished — but it was not a ‘wow’ space,” Balaity says. “If we created a spectacular retail space in the addition, the existing showroom would feel unfinished. That meant convincing Randy to sell an entire store’s worth of showcases that were in perfect condition, modify the ceiling framing, and start over with a new lighting plan.”

Mitchum was on board once he saw the conceptual drawings. In addition to the overall “wow” look, choosing all recessed LED lighting was a game changer, Mitchum says. “When we turned on the lights and everything was LED, that rocked my world. If you worked in a store with fluorescent and halogen lights and all of a sudden it’s so much brighter, you can go into shock. The lighting in the ceiling matches all the lighting in the cases. People notice that.

Recessed LED lighting was a game changer for Randy Mitchum, who says the upgrade rocked his world.

They talk about how amazing the lighting is.”

Randy and his wife, Kristie, both favor a farmhouse-modern style of interior design that Randy would describe as bright, simple and neutral. “We wanted an accent color, so we used blue. We sell Tacori, so that was helpful.” There are also stainless steel accents and white brick material.

They wow customers right from the parking lot.

“The first thing customers notice is the huge illuminating diamond we have displayed on the building,” Randy says. “We chose to use Macheche, a Brazilian hardwood that is very rare and beautiful, which accents the brick colors to give a rich appeal.”

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Working with Balaity on the store design was easy, Mitchum says. “I’m probably the most organized person you’d ever meet and Jesse is, too. There wasn’t a lot of downtime. He visited three different times and scheduled the last trip on the day the showcases were being set up. He’s very confident in what he does and he’s pretty much always right. It was honestly pretty effortless.”

Randy’s father, John, retired in 2011 but still helps out as a watchmaker. “When we decided to expand again it was pretty cool that he decided to participate again,” Randy says. “He’s been excited to be a part of all that.”

John Mitchum graduated from Bradley University School of Watchmaking in 1961, and in 1965, he purchased Trantham Jewelry from Lloyd Trantham. A double-sided clock with the name Trantham Jewelry hung prominently on the Ozark Square near the store, which had first opened in 1947.

A little more than a year after he purchased the store, John changed the name to Mitchum Jewelry and asked Ron Bilyeu, a local sign painter, to change the name on the clock to Mitchum Jewelry, too. Over time, Mitchum’s grew and relocated within the Ozark area. When it came time to expand their freestanding location in 2018, Randy decided the original clock should be displayed. John Mitchum was able to restore the clock and the Mitchums tracked down Bilyeu, who repainted the words “Mitchum Jewelry” on the sign.

Watchmaker John Mitchum restored a clock that hung outside his first jewelry store to hang in the new one.

The original watchmaker’s bench that John Mitchum still uses has been circulated throughout the Ozark community since the beginning of the 20th century and was signed by previous watchmakers who used it to service and repair watches. Just like the clock, the bench remains at Mitchum Jewelers and will be a part of the community for years to come.

A turning point for the store’s business came in 2007, when John and Randy not only built their freestanding store, but also hired a marketing agency to help spread the good news about their moving sale and new building. One of their competitors had been advertising heavily on the radio, so Randy chose TV as the medium to dominate. “I wanted to step up the marketing game and start pushing bridal rings, and that was something my dad hadn’t done a lot of. But he gave me free rein, and it worked.”

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There was a learning curve, however. “I was so nervous for the first TV commercial, I had to bring an extra change of clothes,” Randy says. “I sweated through two shirts.”

Mitchum’s has tallied record sales since the renovation, from three-quarters of a million dollars in 2006 to $5 million in 2019.

Balaity says the expansion also accommodates all the positive energy he found at Mitchum’s the first time he visited.

“I recall thinking that this perfectly nice space failed to capture the exuberance of its owner and staff,” he says. “Now there is a parallel between the brand and its namesake. Both are bright and welcoming, grounded with a bit of sparkle, and an honor to the family legacy.”

PHOTO GALLERY (18 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Mitchum Jewelers

1. Familiar Faces. Mitchum has set itself apart with a hugely successful TV commercial campaign that features customer testimonials. “There are about a quarter million people in the area,” Mitchum says. “Familiar faces talking about their experience here has been a really big deal for us.” They’re also starting to produce informal Youtube ads. “In the community, a lot of people know and recognize others, so it’s been extremely beneficial to put our happy customers on camera telling their favorite Mitchum story.”

2. Pandora Partnership. Mitchum’s has forged a positive relationship with Pandora, and the collectible charms are still a big deal in their market. He has sales staff onboard who love Pandora, which keeps the excitement around new collections going.

3. Group Commission. “We do a group team commission, so if you are a shopper, you wouldn’t notice any pushy competitive atmosphere,” Mitchum says. “I reward all of our full-time people evenly on a monthly commission because without every single person working in the store, we wouldn’t be successful. You can’t sell a diamond ring without having a jeweler there to size it.”

4. The Jingle. Using the “Your Jeweler For Life” tagline in all advertising has created consistency in branding, as has a related jingle that customers love to sing whenever they happen to run into Randy. “I have people stop me all the time and sing our jingle, and it’s pretty neat to see how memorable the message and branding of our store has been. What’s really funny is I had had that jingle playing for five years or so before I met my wife, and when we were dating, she said I want to introduce you to my friend Julie. Julie said, ‘I’m the girl who sings your jingle.’ I had no connection to her originally, but I met her and she’s now a family friend.”

5. Fashion Show. Mitchum Jewelers partnered with 417 Magazine, the area’s largest publishing company, in a high-end fashion show. “We had models sporting Mitchum and Tacori jewelry in front of a captive audience of over 1,000 people. Our models dressed in all white accented with masquerade masks. We were able to put some items in the gift bags of all attendees and we inserted our store’s signature color green masks in the swag bags, so when our models hit the runway, all the audience was in support with their green masks on. Our social media blew up and we got tons of publicity.”

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Benjamin Guttery: The store has a larger-than-life presence to it from the street that is magnified once you enter the space. Each brand’s area is framed beautifully with different color materials and textures specific to its target audience. I love the touches of history placed throughout this modern store for a nod to the past. The vintage branded clock really pops!
  • Elle Hill: They combine history with the historic clock that has been in the community for half a century and modern flair with the Angie Crabtree diamond paintings that decorate their diamond consult room. This speaks to both new and loyal customers, excellent touches! Their use of video is smart and current. Add to that in-person events that can be leveraged as engaging social media content, and you have a winning combination.
  • Bob Phibbs: : That moving image of your diamond ring at the top of your website is perfect! Your masquerade masks were very creative and the exterior of your store leaves no doubt what you do and who you are.
  • Michael Roman:  Striking interior showroom and exterior facade. Clean modern interior space including casework!
  • Mark Tapper: I really like the new store design, it’s really well laid out and looks clean and beautiful. I also really like the company’s TV commercials, especially the Christmas ad featuring Santa Claus.

 

ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with Jesse Balaity

What did Randy Mitchum’s wish list for his store look like?

Randy approached the store design project like the rest of his business, with great contemplation and organization. He prepared a detailed wish list prior to our first conversation, and it largely focused on ideas that I typically preach to clients: focus on the experience; create new opportunities for customer engagement and pampering; optimize operational efficiency; focus on the Mitchum brand more than the individual brands within. We shared a perspective on modern jewelry retailing and formed a great team from the start.

Were there any challenges?

Every store has that one awkward space, an odd angle or a dead end that might not be the best for selling. For Mitchum’s this was a zone between the existing and new buildings where the rooflines necessitated a lower ceiling and the footprint left an odd gap. We turned the gap into a concierge station/extra POS and then enlarged an archive photo of Randy’s father in front of his first jewelry store as a full wall graphic behind the station. For the balance of this zone we partnered with Shinola to create a unique brand experience combining our custom showcases with their brand collateral. Now that potentially awkward space feels perfectly intentional and subtly showcases Shinola without taking away from the Mitchum brand.

What about Mitchum Jewelers is particularly distinctive from your perspective?

In my earliest renderings I proposed graphic wall treatments in some areas without any ideas on the actual source. Kristie Mitchum and I searched independently for materials and somehow, out of the limitless options, we both picked the same geometric blue wall covering from a small English company. We built the palette of materials and colors from that cool material, mixing in complimentary patterns like the bold “bee hive’ carpet.

I try to avoid seated bridal showcases when space allows. Seated customers block access for others, it is hard to focus on a presentation with many other options just beneath the glass, and the glass itself takes a beating. For Mitchum’s we provided a seated desk at the end of the bridal run along with a private consult office around the corner. This makes for a neater visual presentation and a more tailored jewelry presentation to customers.

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Benchmarks

Jewelry Stores Make First Impressions Memorable

Retailers employ doors, signs, seating and clocks to make entryways unforgettable.

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ENTRYWAYS, FACADES, SIGNS, seating and architectural touches go a long way to extending an invitation to the shopper. What do your potential customers see when they approach your business?

Window on the World

Jewelry designer John Atencio’s latest location, the Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree, CO, breaks out of the mall mold with an all-glass facade. Oversize panes of tempered glass wrap from floor to ceiling across the entire storefront. Because the mall itself is flooded with natural light, the Colorado sun illuminates the store as well. Inside, at the front glass, six tall light boxes have rotating dividers that create 12 jewelry showcases, half facing inside and half facing outside, which can be rotated throughout the day. Outside, they also installed two large liquid billboards using high definition TVs that rotate, allowing them to feature new designs or promotional events. The exterior backlit John Atencio sign centers and frames the glass facade. Using LED technology, they were able to intensify the brightness of the sign, making it 10 times brighter than previous signs they’ve had.

Montana Modern

At Stephen Isley Jewelry in Whitefish, MT, owners Stephen Isley and Cindy Just say that if they had a dollar for every time someone walked into the shop and said, “I love your door!” they wouldn’t have to sell jewelry anymore. The Montana-made custom piece — an arched, wooden door with a curved window and stone entryway — attracts a stream of people asking, “Can I take a photo of your door?” It meshes with the interior ambience, too. Moody gray walls and a treasure trove of jewelry, local art and antiquities, offer a relaxed Montana feel with a modern edge.

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It’s All in the Details

At Northeastern Fine Jewelry in Albany, NY, a glass facade offers a transparency that puts shoppers at ease. The window reveals the character of the store within, says architect Michael Roman of C2 Design Group. Roman and Gregg Kelly, vice president of Northeastern, created a casual patio setting in front that offers a decompression zone between parking lot and shopping experience. “I always kept the consumer in mind,” Kelly says. “Even things like how they experience walking through the parking lot, the pitch of the sidewalk, and the feel they get when they step out of their car. We researched how to get the right thing — from handicapped signs that weren’t run of the mill, to the garbage can, to the outside rugs, to the extension of the awning over the front door to give them enough space for their umbrella.”

A Neighborhood Landmark

At Wanna Buy A Watch in West Hollywood, CA, owner Kenneth Jacobs revels in the quirky, which begins out front with three memorable features. No. 1, there’s the name on the sign. No. 2, they adopted the RCA dog Nipper as their mascot when Jacobs purchased a 36-inch tall version. Placed outside to announce the store was open, Nipper became both watch dog and logo. Nipper was promoted to spokesmodel and featured in a series of amusing vinyl banners they rotate seasonally in front of their store. No. 3, a vintage, double-faced Gruen neon clock has graced Jacobs’ storefronts for more than 25 years, announcing the time to westbound and eastbound pedestrian and vehicular traffic. “No one has to remember our address; they just look for our clock,” Jacobs says.

ONLINE EXTRA

Heralding a Hangout

When Gary Spivak and his son, Josh Spivak, became partners and conceived their store At Spivak Jewelers in Cherry Hill, NJ, their goal was to make everyone comfortable. Why not start outside, they thought, and outfitted their front patio area with comfortable furniture. “We built our whole store to be like a lounge, like you’re walking into someone’s home, a place where people can hang out,” says Josh. “People love it. Our clients often bring their friends to experience Spivak jewelers.”

Florida Finesse

At the Village Jeweler of Gainesville, owned by Cynthia and Mike Thibault, multiple natural elements are incorporated into the bright and inviting entry way and exterior. Stacked stone with travertine tile accents, a 24K gold leaf sign and a brass inlay in the vestibule combine for a high-end custom look while evoking the feeling of a courtyard or piazza.

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Pedestrian Pull

Large prominent windows filled with tempting displays, sandwich board signage, and a popular coffee shop conveniently next door all combine to draw constant attention from passersby to this jewelry boutique in the historic Hamilton Building in downtown Portland, OR, owned by David and Ronnie Malka. “We are next door to the best coffee shop in town, Barista coffee, which we love to treat our customers to some fine coffee while pursuing fine jewelry,” Ronnie says.

Coastal Casual

If you’re on a dreamy island like Sanibel Island, FL, it’s natural to have a tropical-paradise ambience, right from the beginning. Owners Dan Schuyler and Karen Bell have outfitted their entryway with pastel-hued Adirondack chairs and plenty of tropical foliage. Of course, there is also a palm tree. There’s definitely a “welcome to our tropical home” vibe at the store, which also boasts a Sea Life Collection of jewelry.

Adopting a Sign

Longtime Maysville, KY, residents know that EAT Gallery (Exquisite Art Treasures) was long the home of the town’s Morgan’s Diner. EAT Gallery owners Simon and Laurie Watt kept the memorable neon EAT sign that has hung on the building for 60 years. It was refurbished to help preserve the history of downtown and was the inspiration for the gallery’s name. And yes, every once in a while a newcomer WILL stop by looking for lunch.

Attention to Detail

Park City Jewelers owners Ken Whipple, his son Cole Whipple and Cole’s wife, Shauna Whipple, own their own building on Main Street in Park City, UT. The entire exterior has a timeless, custom, hand-crafted look to it along with a sense of permanence. Once over the threshold, visitors are greeted by a 10-foot arch formed by a pair of amethyst geodes. The exterior speaks to the quality of the jewelry itself and the lifetime guarantee behind it.

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Best Stores

All In The Family

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At INSTORE, we often refer to family-owned jewelry stores as being the heart of the independent retail jewelry business. So, for our December issue, we’ve collected photos of some of the faces behind those family businesses. Whether they represent second- or fifth-generation jewelry families, they’ve learned something about how to navigate these close relationships and achieve a balance between their personal and work lives that transcend time and generational differences.

Brothers Gale and Flint Carpenter, from left, and Gale’s son, Chance.

An Unexpected Succession
Big Island Jewelers, Hawaii | Founded: 1983

When Chance Carpenter, already an entrepreneur in his own right, told his dad, Gale Carpenter, that he wanted to join the family jewelry business, Gale said it blew his mind. “He had never spoken to me about any interest in the business whatsoever,” Gale says. “I would have started grooming him much earlier.” Gale founded the business with his brother Flint, a goldsmith. When Chance joined the business in his mid-20s, he apprenticed with Flint, and when Flint wanted to retire at age 70, Gale bought him out through a stock-reduction plan. “Chance learned from a master working a foot away,” Gale says. “It was invaluable. Because you can’t learn 35 years of technique in a classroom. It just doesn’t work.” In another four to five years, Gale says, Chance will take over and begin buying his father out of the business.

1. Heather Wahl with her parents Bob and Barba Wahl. 2. Four generations, circa 1945. From left: F.X Wahl, F.C. (Frederick Charles) Wahl with baby R.C. (Robert Charles) Wahl, and F.F. Wahl. 3. A 1989 photo in front of the store’s original location 4. Barba in a 1970s era newspaper ad for the store.

125 years, five generations
R.C. Wahl Jewelers, Des Plaines, IL | Founded: 1894

“I am so proud of my family’s longevity in the jewelry industry!” says fifth-generation family member Heather Wahl, who is the first woman to own the business. “This year we are celebrating one family, five generations, 125 years!” Her parents, Bob and Barba Wahl, met at an Illinois Jewelers Association event in Springfield, IL, in the late ‘60s. “Mom worked at another jewelry store in Illinois and they were seated at the dinner together and the rest is history,” Heather says. Heather’s parents are retired from day-to-day operations but make special guest appearances and step in to help as needed. “They are fabulous sounding boards and have a wealth of background and knowledge to share,” she says.

Harold, Cathy & Hunter

A QUALITY TRADITION
Tivol, Kansas City | Founded: 1910

Charlie & Mollie Tivol

Immigrant Charles Tivol opened a jewelry shop in downtown Kansas City in 1910, meticulously crafting each piece of jewelry by hand and launching a family tradition that would continue through generations. His son Harold began working in the store as a boy, studied at the GIA and joined Tivol in 1946. In 2003, Tivol was recognized by the American Gem Society as top retail jeweler of the year. Harold’s daughter Cathy, representing the third generation, has worked in the family business for three decades. In 2010, Tivol celebrated a century in business, and a year later, Cathy’s son, Hunter Tivol McGrath, joined the company as a salesperson at the Hawthorne Plaza location, making him the fourth generation of the Tivol family to work for the company. Harold Tivol remained chairman until his death at the age of 92 on July 6, 2016.

A STRONG WORK ETHIC
Josephs Jewelers, Des Moines, IA | Founded: 1871

Toby Joseph, Trisha Joseph, Jake Joseph and Deb Joseph.

Jake and Trisha Joseph represent the fifth generation of the company founded by watchmaker Solomon Joseph in 1871 as a repair shop that also was officially in charge of timing the trains for the railroad. By the turn of the century, Josephs had expanded into fine jewelry and giftware. In 1934, Josephs was a founding member and investor in the American Gem Society. They attribute their success to respect, teamwork and a strong work ethic. “The Joseph family has always lived a modest life,” Deb Joseph says. “No one has ever had a second home or taken any more vacation than what their employees have. Toby is almost always the first one here in the morning and Jake, Trisha and I are usually in the group that is the last to leave the store.”

FAMILY COMES FIRST
Tapper’s, Troy, MI / Founded: 1977

Founder Howard Tapper is the company’s CEO, brother Steven is vice-president, son Mark is president, daughter Marla Tapper Young is a director and Mark’s wife Leora is heavily involved in the store’s merchandising and runs its estate department. Mark ascribes the company’s success in part to the tight family bond they all share. “We hired a family business consultant who asked each of us individually, ‘There’s no wrong answer, but is it family first or business first?’ And each of us answered ‘family first.’ We don’t always agree, but once a final decision is made, we all get on the bus and start driving in one direction.”

Founder William Croghan’s granddaughters and great-granddaughters form the current management team.

LAUGHTER IS A CURE-ALL
Croghan’s Jewel Box, Charleston, SC | Founded: 1907

Mini and Kathleen Hay; Rhett Ramsay Outten, Mariana Ramsay Hay and their mother Mary Croghan Ramsay.

Founder William Croghan’s granddaughters and great-granddaughters watch over the store that William opened around 1930 at 308 King Street. By 2000, granddaughters Mariana Ramsay Hay and Rhett Ramsay Outten, the third generation, began to knock out walls and expand the jewelry business in that original building. They’ve since been joined by fourth-generation Mini Hay and Kathleen Hay. Says Rhett: “Too many retail jewelers hang onto the image or idea of who they’ve been in the past. Our survival has been based on ‘Let’s try it; let’s see what happens.’ We also believe that laughter is a cure for just about anything, so we laugh a lot. And probably most importantly, we are always counting our blessings and looking for ways to give back in a meaningful way to this community that has given us so much.”

Robert and Jonathan McCoy

Old Place, New Course
Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, MO | Founded: 1965

Jonathan and Jennifer McCoy, left, with Robert McCoy and Samantha Smith, head of operations.

“When I was growing up, it was more like a routine,” says Randy Mitchum of the family store. “My dad, a watchmaker, went to work during the day, then he came home and we ate dinner and watched Wheel of Fortune.” Although he’d been assigned chores in the store, he never really thought of it as his life’s work. Randy graduated high school in 2000, but after a year in technical college, he lacked direction. “I asked my Dad, ‘Why don’t you let me work in the store part time?’ At first he told me, ‘No, I don’t think we’d get along very well.’ Then he needed someone after my first year in college and I started working in the store. The next semester came along and I wanted to work full time in the business.” Although he was trained on the bench, his dad told him, “You’re a hell of a better salesperson than you are a bench person. Why don’t you stay on the sales floor and make some money?” Randy never did go back to college. “Once I got into the store and started working, I saw some potential and started taking some ownership,” he says.

John Mitchum (right), shown with his son, Randy, purchased Trantham Jewelry in 1965. It came with a prominent, double-sided clock on the town square that now has a new name and a place of honor in their current location.

JEWELERS IN RESIDENCE
McCoy Jewelers, Dubuque, IA | Founded: 1973

The McCoys not only work together but also live above their business. Founder Robert McCoy, a master gemologist, jeweler and designer, lives on the third floor, and his son Jonathan and daughter-in-law Jennifer live on the second floor. Although semi-retired, Robert still works a couple of days a week on design and repairs. Jonathan is the head of bench operations, custom design, CAD/CAM and repairs; Jennifer oversees bridal and sales. “It’s hard to play hooky,” Jonathan admits. “My wife and I converse about the shop almost daily. Once you get in that mindset, it’s difficult to get out of it.”

Julia, Jeff and Daniel White

REBEL, REBEL
Jeff White Custom Jewelry, Las Vegas | Founded: 1995

When Jeff White opened Jeff White Custom Jewelry with 300 square feet in an office building, he received a stipulation from his wife, Michelle White. “My mom’s one condition was that he not be allowed to hire any of the kids,” says their son, Daniel White. Michelle came from a family business and knew the stresses associated with that kind of operation. Despite that warning, Daniel and his sister Julia both landed in the business (“I guess there are worse ways to rebel,” Daniel says). “My dad has cut back from his 60-80 hour work weeks — he has given me the ability to run and manage operations in the event he does decide to take off for a while. My sister, Julia, keeps our books clean and our staff happy. She is pregnant with her fourth child right now, but insists on coming in one day a week to manage the books and schedule, and when the holidays come around, she is our top salesperson. My brother, Joseph, got out of the business and became a hospital administrator; he still has an opinion on the direction of the business, but none of us listen. I have an older sister and a younger sister who are also not in the business, but they love jewelry and my dad loves giving it to them, so no one is complaining.” In total there are 11 grandchildren in the third generation.

Michael Kanoff and his father, Lenny Kanoff, became partners in 1996.

LIVING THE DREAM
Michael’s Jewelers, Yardley and Fairless Hills, PA | Founded: 1976

Michael’s Jewelers was founded by Lenny and Karen Kanoff in 1976, but the family’s jewelry roots run deeper than that. In 1918, Daniel Kanoff, a watchmaker and silversmith, emigrated from Russia to the U.S. and got a job working for a watch repair house in Philadelphia. A decade later, he opened his own business, Philadelphia Case & Repair. Daniel’s son Irving became a watchmaker, and his grandson Lenny became a retailer. Their son, Michael, fell in love with the business. “I knew I wanted to be in the jewelry business since I was 2 years old,” Michael says. After he earned his GG from the GIA, he worked at a variety of jobs in the industry. “In 1996, I was working as a jewelry rep in Atlanta, and I got a call from my father,” Michael recalls. “He said they were building a shopping center in Yardley and asked if I would like to partner with him and open a store in my hometown. So in 1997, we closed our Richboro store and we opened Michael’s Jewelers Yardley.” Michael says he is living his dream by owning a jewelry store and raising his three children, ages 9 to 13, in his hometown. “At this point, my children don’t have any interest in the jewelry business, but that might change,” Michael says.

Fourth-generation jeweler Sarah Hurwitz Robey, her parents, Jeff and Patty Hurwitz, and her sons, Tucker and Lincoln.

ALL AGES WELCOME
Colonial Jewelers, Frederick, MD | Founded: 1920

Fourth-generation jeweler Sarah Hurwitz Robey has brought her sons Tucker and Lincoln with her to work since they were 6 weeks old, with the help of her mom, Patty Hurwitz, and a babysitter. “We have an awesome staff who are like family to us and are very understanding of all of the nuances of working for a family business, whether it is Lincoln learning to crawl on the sales floor or Tucker running in from preschool excited to show everyone what he made that day. I feel like I have a dream situation. I get to work at the store, which I have always been very passionate about, as well as have my babies close to me.” The business was founded in 1920 by Sarah’s great-grandfather, Benjamin Hurwitz. Sarah’s father Jeff Hurwitz, president of Colonial, learned the business from his own parents, Will and Marilyn. They’ve had a recent surprise addition to the family lineup at work: “My 94-year-old great-uncle, who worked in the business with my grandfather, recently came out of retirement and is our official Saturday greeter. He’s a huge hit with our customers, may of whom remember him from years ago,” Sarah says. “I don’t ever want to put any pressure on my boys (the way I was never pressured) but I am hoping that having them here so young may instill in them the same love of the business that I have,” she says.

A JACK OF ALL TRADES
Spath Jewelers, Bartow, FL | Founded: 1986

Tina and Gene Spath, from left, work with their daughter Emily and son-in-law Matthew Clark.

Spath Jewelers founders and owners Tina and Gene Spath work with their daughter, Emily Clark, and her husband, Matthew Clark, who both have the title VP of operations. Tina handles community relations and marketing. Gene works as a liaison between their two locations and oversees jewelry and watch repair. Emily is custom design manager and oversees diamond sales, HR, scheduling and marketing. Matthew handles inventory, staff training and development, marketing and sales. “In a small business, there is a lot of overlap in job responsibilities, and you eventually become a jack-of-all-trades,” Matthew says. “The way to succeed in a family business is to help and advise other family members in their areas of focus when they request the advice, and stay in your lane when advice is not needed or requested. A wise man one said, ‘You never want too many cooks in the kitchen or the food will come out tasting like you know what … ‘”

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