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Beginnings

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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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Century-Old Store Embraces Change With Futuristic Features

Lighting and high-level interior design enhance a dramatic renovation.

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Reis-Nichols Jewelers, Indianapolis, IN

OWNER: William P. “BJ” Nichols; URL:reisnichols.com ; FOUNDED: 1919; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION:1998; LAST RENOVATED: 2017; STORE DESIGNER: Jill Duzan LLC; EMPLOYEES: 76 in two locations; AREA: 2,100 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Rolex, Patek Philippe, David Yurman, Roberto Coin, JB Star, Forevermark


B.J. and Lori Nichols with daughter Hannah Nichols

A HUNDRED YEARS AFTER its founding, Reis-Nichols Jewelers is teeming with energy and optimism — from its mood lighting and comfortably elegant interior to the debut of Hannah Nichols, who represents the family’s next generation.

Highlights of the 12,000 square-foot space, expanded and reinvented in 2017, include sophisticated brand boutiques, cases designed for side-by-side selling, futuristic lighting and a glass-walled custom shop.

“The feeling when you walk in is a lot of energy,” says president William (B.J.) Nichols. “Our vendor reps say it’s the busiest store that they are in.”

Nichols sought to set a friendly tone for all of those visitors and welcome them in a natural manner, with a hospitality bar at the front of the store staffed with greeters. Refreshments are served there, and a video explains the history of the business.

History is reflected in the interior design itself. “We’ve used lots of the hip, dark-colored woods with white brick and some wrought iron and steel around the windows, so it feels a little bit more like a manufacturer, which is basically the origins of our company,” Nichols says.

Reis Jewelers was founded in 1919 as a manufacturing company that produced handmade, emblematic jewelry for Masonic organizations. In 1957, William Nichols began working for his uncle, the owner, and became an expert on jewelry manufacturing and wholesale distribution. When he bought the company, he renamed it Reis-Nichols. William later opened a public showroom and began selling to consumers. In the late ‘80s, William sold ownership of the company to his five children, including B.J.

Reis-Nichols’ latest retail incarnation does more than pay symbolic homage to its manufacturing past. In addition to a sprawling showroom and administrative offices, it also houses an authentic shop integrated into the space with steel and glass factory-style windows that reveal behind-the-scenes craftsmanship. If customers take a peek, they will notice a busy operation, with 10 jewelers and three watchmakers on staff. The watchmakers hold several Swiss-brand certifications. The versatile jewelry team has created everything from a 19 total carat weight yellow diamond ring to the official dog collar for Blue III, Butler University’s mascot.

Growing a strong in-house shop has helped Reis-Nichols thrive in a hot custom market, where smart jewelers are finding favorable margins and where consumers aren’t able to easily compare prices among competitors. It’s also very personal. “You can really make a connection with your client, and they’ll tell 100 people about what you did with a diamond they may have brought in,” Nichols says.

“It’s important for customers to know you have top brands. But brands are less important to engagement-ring buyers, and so we are designing most of the engagement rings we are selling.”

Jill Duzan Willey of Jill Duzan LLC, who is both an interior designer and a jewelry designer, was tasked with creating the overall customer experience, working with architects, lighting experts, engineers and builders to achieve that goal. “B.J. wanted it not to look like any other jewelry store,” she says.

By moving the main entrance to the south side of the building from the original north side location, the design team was able to create a modern new identity while adding space. All sides of the exterior were reimagined using up-to-date forms and materials.

A stately chest, left, deployed to display estate jewelry, is juxtaposed elsewhere with modern seating and cases.

Willey also fashioned a floor plan based on a multi-path pattern that allows shoppers to meander at will.

“It is not a typical one-path jewelry store. It is more of a boutique layout — each designer is identified, but all fit under the Reis-Nichols brand umbrella,” Nichols says.

The design team created a graceful traffic flow around the casework and used cases of different styles and sizes to add visual interest. Five curved showcases, usually set up in a semi-circle at the front, can be easily converted into a serpentine showcase for special events. “We tend to put what’s new and coolest up front, what we’re trying to show off,” Nichols says. The new space also includes several seating areas: from a comfortable waiting space and a semi-private diamond showroom to a luxurious watch lounge.

One challenge was to smoothly balance high-end branded boutiques with an overall casual ambience and make it cohesive, a feat accomplished with the informed choice of materials, lighting and layout. Nichols believes that a sense of brand identity offers clients something unique — the feeling of an escape to another place. Customers can be transported by that experience, as if they were visiting Rolex or Cartier in New York. On the other hand, if the design of branded boutiques is not integrated well into the overall design, the effect could be that of a duty-free shop at the airport.

PROMOTION: Advertising emphasizes the tradition of enduring craftsmanship.

“We tried to overcome threshold resistance while still presenting a luxurious experience,” Nichols says. “Our concept is to not be too intimidating for the younger clients, and not too casual for the higher-end luxury client.”

Layout, décor and technology are ambitious and look to the future. A steel structure, which was hoisted into the space with a forklift, creates a semi-private circular diamond showroom in the middle of the sales floor. A lucite table glows with light to enhance bridal sales or the delivery of an important watch.

A Ketra lighting-control system is connected by wi-fi to each light on the sales floor, shops and offices. The lighting in different areas can be customized to be cool or warm, based on whether it’s being used to illuminate watches, diamonds or colored stones. But the most exciting use for this system, Nichols believes, is to change the mood, scenery and feel of the store, especially during parties and trunk shows. During a Rolex event, the lights were a perfect shade of “Rolex Green,” while red lighting has been used for Valentine’s Day. In December, exterior accent lights glow green. Settings are programmed for morning set-up, daytime selling and overnight security, all activated with the click of a button on keypads placed around the store.

The company’s delicate balance between branded and unbranded, casual and elegant, past and future, modern and traditional, appears to have been achieved, with a big dash of wow factor.

PHOTO GALLERY (15 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Reis-Nichols

1. A weighty wall. The stainless-steel wall behind the guest-services area was handmade by a local artisan, weighs 700 pounds and took half a dozen construction workers to install. The current installment contains permanent initials for father/founder William P. Nichols, who died in 2011, the names of B.J. Nichols and VP Cindy Nichols, and the initials of Megan, the graphic designer who designed the concept. Additionally, magnetic plaques recognize employee anniversaries of more than 10 years.

2. A brilliant idea. Reis-Nichols developed Brilliant, its own custom point-of-sale, inventory and client-management system. It was conceived by Nichols, brought to life by the company’s long-time CEO, and has been modified to fit ever-changing business needs, including real-time website inventory interface. “We can do entire store audits in less than two hours, and we’re able to make changes quickly and inexpensively to be more customer-centric,” Nichols says.

3. Finders keepers. For a Valentine’s Day promotion, Reis-Nichols staff hid clues throughout the city leading to treasure. “When they find it (the clue), they bring it in and we present them with a piece of jewelry and donate $100 to their favorite charity,” Nichols says.

4. E-commerce evolves. “We decided to get serious about e-commerce over five years ago,” Nichols says. “We tend to do very well with showing merchandise on the website and having customers come in and ask for it. For actually transacting e-commerce on the website and someone hitting the purchase button, that’s still a work in progress, but it’s growing.”

5. Hope for the future. B.J.’s daughter Hannah Nichols, graduated with a marketing degree from Indiana University five years ago, and is working as an assistant diamond buyer and bridal-jewelry consultant. “Customers like to see a family member,” says her dad. “And she’s developed a following from her days at Indiana University.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Jill Maurer: Reis-Nichols Jewelers is a beautiful blend of heritage and modern. Rather than resting on their impressive laurels they pushed boundaries with their redesign. I especially love the programmable lighting system!
  • David Lampert: Nice store. Seems like they do a good amount of digital marketing.
  • Laura Davis: What a cool experience. And their Instagram should be a best-in-class shout-out. I can see why they get national attention. Just a fantastic story. I want to know these people! 🙂
  • Larry Johnson: Beautiful choices of colors and textures make the interior combination of iconic brands seamless.
  • Katherine Bodoh: I love the interior and exterior. The lighting, whitewashed brick and modern cases add a cool vibe to a more “traditional” store layout. The Est. 1919 sign is a great way to inform customers of their heritage without being “stuffy”.

 

ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with BJ Nichols

What kind of philanthropy do you participate in?

We love to give back and probably the biggest one is our watch battery donation. We ask our clients to donate to a charity. A big one we’ve sponsored is Second Helpings, which is the repurposing of food from restaurants and is a very large organization in Indianapolis. We do the yearly event, Corks and Forks, where restaurants donate their food. With the watch-battery program we’ve bought now two $20,000 delivery vehicles, with our name on the side of it in small print. When you have a purpose, each month we’ll do a charity and customers will get excited and sometimes write a check for a thousand dollars. We tend to donate to our better customers’ charities and juvenile diabetes and Indiana university cancer research

Are your customers expressing concern about responsible sourcing, or other ethical issues?

The majority rely on our reputation to be ethical but certain customers, younger, more informed customer today is more curious about that. We’re very good at explaining our processes, the Kimberley process and we carry Forevermark diamonds, which is a very important part of their positioning and marketing.

What has been your approach to lab-grown diamonds?

We do not market synthetic diamonds to the public. We will sell them by special request if it’s important to them to have that. But the main issue with lab grown diamonds is it’s a race to the bottom as far as pricing. We’re not comfortable selling someone a diamond that will continue to drop significantly in price. People buy jewelry from us to maintain its value over time. When I talk to my better clients, they’re all like `I want the real thing.’ If I’m promoting synthetic diamonds, it’s like speaking two different languages. It’s difficult to do both. And I want customers to have the confidence to know it’s all natural – rubies and sapphires and diamonds.

What have you learned about the latest generation of engagement-ring shoppers?

It’s very easy to be stereotypical and I don’t think you can generalize, but the bridal portion of our business has a more transactional approach than other parts of the business. But the majority want to buy in store and appreciate the experience and are buying based on their relationship with the sales person. So I see both sides of it. The average amount spent is down but we are selling higher end diamonds to younger and younger engagement ring buyers. There’s more variation between how people shop for engagement ring, and there is a trend that the latest generation is spending more on the experience and the wedding than they are on the diamond ring.

Have you noticed any engagement-ring trends?

Shoppers are looking for more curved shapes, ovals and cushions are strong. Less important are princess and Asscher cuts.

What’s the Most Important Lesson You’ve Learned as a Retailer?

After nearly 100 years in business, we’ve learned not to wait for customers to give you enough feedback to do something cool. Customers always want more. Lead, don’t follow. Be an innovator, don’t be ordinary. Start selling new and creative lines before anyone else. Make changes to the look of your store and develop out of the box ideas first. Be the jeweler (and sales professionals) that people want to spend time with, for fun! A word of caution: make sure to poll a couple of your good customers before implementing those changes. Just because it’s a great, out of the box idea doesn’t mean that your best customers will actually love it!

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Brand Portfolio

Store Brands Its Nautical-Themed Identity

A quest for a canoe started it all.

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WHEN ERIK AND LESLIE Runyan were planning interior design for their new store in Vancouver, WA, they were browsing in a store in Portland, OR, and happened to see a light fixture they loved: a hollowed-out canoe hanging upside down from the ceiling, with lights mounted inside. That led to a quest for a canoe chandelier of their own. After searching for weeks, they found a handmade wooden canoe for sale atop a houseboat on the Willamette River near Portland. “I drove my boat to it, Leslie and I hoisted it up, and so began its journey to Vancouver,” Runyan recalls. “The seller had no reason to suspect that I was going to put three holes in it and hang it upside down!” The resulting work of functional art, crafted by Steve Strong of Strong Construction, set the tone for the nautical-inspired store on the Columbia River as well as a branding campaign. The canoe is a powerful symbol for Runyan, for several reasons. The river, Runyan says, and access to the ocean, created Vancouver and define both city and store. When not running the store, Runyan can be found crewing aboard motor yachts from Mexico to Canada as a licensed Merchant Marine 100-ton captain. “These moments are my inspiration,” he says.

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Themed Parties

Events “Under the Canoe” have included Chamber of Commerce “After Hours” parties and receptions for artists during Art Walk Downtown Vancouver events.

The Gift of Gab

Erik Runyan says even his talented staff fits in with the nautical theme, since they are all great storytellers, an important attribute to have when engaged in high-seas adventures or a canoe ride down the Willamette River.

Under The Canoe

The novel canoe chandelier became the center of a marketing campaign. “Promoting all of the good things that can happen ‘Under the Canoe’ is fun and will continue to grow,” Runyan says.

Under the Influence

A branded wine label is part of the ERJ branding plan. “It gives me great pleasure to open and share a bottle with a customer or send them home with some to enjoy later,” Runyan says. They also introduced Wine Wednesdays, when light appetizers and local seasonal wines are served.

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All In, Online

Most of ERJ’s advertising dollars go to the Internet. “SEO, SEM and social are how you can find me now. I am ‘all in’ looking for a connection with future customers of ERJ. My web traffic has quadrupled for the efforts put toward Google, Yelp and Facebook. Our blogs discuss both diamond education and proposal tips.”

A Catchy New Moniker

In addition to the Under the Canoe branding campaign, the use of EJR, rather than Erik Runyan Jewelers, helped modernize and transform branding for the century-old business.

Almost Seaworthy

The nautical branding theme is smoothly integrated with the store’s interior. Other nautical notes found throughout the store include an operational ship’s wheel, plank wood flooring, welcome aboard sign, custom compass rose wood floor medallion and visibly marked latitude and longitude coordinates. The 18-foot ceilings add to the feeling of openness and room for adventure.

Making an Impression

ERJ’s ad images include the canoe symbol as well as the compass symbol, which is integrated into the ERJ logo.

Canoe Talisman

Erik Runyan is in the process of developing canoe-themed jewelry.

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Best of The Best

Florida-Based Mayors Jewelers Seeks Connection With Young Luxury Shoppers

The Watches of Switzerland invests in well-respected brand.

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WHEN WATCHES OF Switzerland Group bought Mayors Jewelers group in 2017, it was already well-run and well-established, but out of date, thought Brian Duffy, CEO of Watches of Switzerland, the biggest retailer of luxury watches in the UK.

“Mayors has been around since 1907 in Florida and it’s very well-regarded in the local community. Everybody loved it, but we got some comments like, ‘It’s where my parents bought their engagement rings.’ It had aged as a brand. The whole plan has been to update the brand to appeal to younger customers. We updated the logo, changed the façade and introduced a new store format.”

One of the most important decisions they made, according to group executive VP David Hurley, was to keep the Mayors name. The brand was good, but could get much better with investment in digital, brick-and-mortar, and especially, support for the strong teams of employees already in place, who received in-depth brand education under new management.

June debut: The first new Mayors flagship store is scheduled to open in June at the Merrick Park Mall in Coral Gables, FL. The 5,657 square foot open-concept space, designed by MNA, will feature luxury watches.

Mayors operates in Florida and Georgia with a portfolio of 17 stores. A retailer of luxury products and service, the group features brands such as Rolex, Cartier, Omega, TAG Heuer, Mikimoto, Bulgari, Messika and Roberto Coin, as well as its own collections of bridal, diamond and gold jewelry. In addition to the Mayors acquisition, Watches of Switzerland also launched flagship branded stores in New York City and Las Vegas as part of their entry into the U.S. market.

Their market research indicated that millennials are as interested as any other generation in luxury watches and jewelry if conditions are right. But outdated store decor and inadequate digital presentation were holding Mayors back from its potential to offer the kind of experience that would hook younger shoppers. The reinvented Mayors is particularly interested in consumers in their mid-30s. “The important age is 35; it’s always been that way and still is,” Duffy says.

To update the buying experience, WOS launched an interactive website, as well as two magazines with free digital circulation, one of which focuses on watches.

Redesigned websites and marketing reflect sleek store design.

Online concierges are available to help shoppers through text chat or video chat on the redesigned website. “But obviously, we’re trying to make the whole website as self-navigational as possible,” Duffy says. “We’re having the easiest form of dropdowns and product selections and using the most advanced systems, so as you navigate around the website, the information it gives back is interactive and intelligent.”

The in-store experience also needed a modern edge, a project expected to be completed by the fall across all storefronts. “Having stores that are appealing and non-intimidating, that welcome people in with a big emphasis on hospitality, is the goal,” Duffy says. “Staff members don’t have to stand behind counters. The emphasis is on self-help and engagement with salespeople when they’re ready. “

The redesigned store facades have a distinctive monochromatic look with white banding and a black background. The store design meshes with both the style of the advertising and the brand’s sleek new packaging, rendered in black and silver. “We haven’t held back at all on the quality of the materials or the lighting,” Duffy says.

The look, feel and function of the store must be evaluated every few years. Says Hurley: “We believe in constantly investing in our stores. As soon as you stop doing that, the stores start to look tired, sales go down and you get into a vicious cycle.”

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