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Best of The Best

Best of The Best: From Storefront to Online Only

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Best of The Best: From Storefront to Online Only

BY EILEEN MCCLELLAND

Published in the June 2012 issue

After 36 years of running a traditional brick-and-mortar retail venue for custom jewelry design, Gary Dawson decided to take the whole operation online. He sold his business and struck out into uncharted territory. “I had an exit strategy — a great employee purchased the retail venue from me, but I was nowhere near ready to retire,” Dawson says. “I love what I do and I can’t visualize not doing it. But I wanted to be able to structure my time in a way that suited me better.”

 

Best of The Best: From Storefront to Online Only

BY EILEEN MCCLELLAND

Published in the June 2012 issue

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After 36 years of running a traditional brick-and-mortar retail venue for custom jewelry design, Gary Dawson decided to take the whole operation online. He sold his business and struck out into uncharted territory. “I had an exit strategy — a great employee purchased the retail venue from me, but I was nowhere near ready to retire,” Dawson says. “I love what I do and I can’t visualize not doing it. But I wanted to be able to structure my time in a way that suited me better.”

THE IDEA

CUSTOM STRENGTH • “The thing we do that makes us stand out from any other business I’ve discovered online is that the primary thing we offer and sell is the service and design work. Tons of people in the industry have sites, but most of them offer primarily product. They might offer some custom but it’s usually about modifying product rather than starting from scratch.” In addition to custom design, the website also has a small selection of “available now” items and a small collection of unusual consignment items for sale.

THE EXECUTION

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FIRST, CLIENTS HAD TO FIND HIM • One key to executing the idea was to hire a Web developer who understood what Dawson wanted to do and who was versed in search engine optimization. Advertising consists largely of Google Ad Words. “I don’t spend a ton of money on Ad Words. I keep it relatively low key because I’m afraid to bump up my advertising much. We have as much work as we can handle at the moment. A huge operation would lose some of that personal aspect. As the site has evolved we’re getting a lot more people through the organic search process.”

Dawson has some help with logistics and in the shop, but he is intimately involved with every aspect of the business. A designer and goldsmith, he has presented at the Santa Fe Symposium of Jewelry Manufacturing Technology and has lectured for Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America on a variety of topics.

Dawson loves working with people, a trait even more important since he needs to establish rapport over the phone or by e-mail. “One example is I had something like 35 e-mail exchanges with one of my clients before she committed to the job. She said, ‘It’s going to be a big deal to me. I’m not intimidated by the process or not meeting you in person. But I still need to get to know you.’”

Dawson had assumed video conferencing would be a common mode of communicating with clients, but it’s turned out to be very rare.

Once he establishes trust, the design process is very similar. He offers to let clients examine a wax model, but so far they’ve been satisfied with photos. “It’s not hugely different but one thing is different that may have contributed to it being such a viable niche for me. People may be willing to share more intimate details with a faceless entity than they would to walk into a store and talk about it face to face. There’s been a subtle shift to the off-beat.”

For example?

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“A woman called me up and we talked on the phone only five minutes and she said ‘You’re the one for the job.’ It was a tearful sort of a thing. She had picked up a sand dollar on the beach with her sister who was in the terminal stages of cancer and she wanted to make it into jewelry. I’m not 100 percent sure that that same person would’ve walked into my store or any other store with that request.” Dawson created a shadowbox for the fragile keepsake, and it became a pendant.

THE RESULTS

FAN BASE • Since the orders started coming in, Dawson describes the business as incredible. “It compares very favorably in terms of the income I can produce,” he says. “And the overhead is low.” Dawson has drawn clients from nearly every state and many parts of the world. “It took a leap of faith,” he says, “but there seems to be a niche of demand that was not being satisfied. “I think I couldn’t have done this 10 years ago,” Dawson says. “We are just at this point reaching a critical mass of techno-savvy consumers who trust that when they push the buy button they are going to get the product in the mail. So, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to trust me with their grandmother’s 2-carat diamond in the mail.”

DO IT YOURSELF

It’s important to not only like making jewelry, but also enjoy working with people.

Working at home demands a strong work ethic. “I have to be responsible to my clients. It’s not like I can walk away for days at a time. I have inquiries coming in daily, sometimes hourly.”

Unless you really understand Web development and SEO , hire someone who knows what they’re doing and don’t be afraid to spend some money on it. “And make sure your web developer understands your vibe. My guy, Mike Dickman, got what I do in the course of getting to know me and somehow he was able to build that into the website. So people who are coming to me are somehow prequalified.”

Expect some lag time. “I’d been getting inquiries for a few months before I got the first job. It was kind of stressful but I had faith and confidence in my ability to do the work.”

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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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Best of The Best

This Store’s Murder Mystery Killed at the Party

Events coordinator enlists customers to stage murder mystery she wrote herself.

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LYNNETTE SOLOMON HAD never thought of herself as a playwright, but as special events coordinator at MJ Miller & Co. in Barrington, IL, she isn’t afraid to try new things.

“When we do an event, we always try to do something the customer can participate in — toga parties, pirate parties; those tend to work out the best for us. It’s a great way to get people engaged and wearing the jewelry.”

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But when it came to trunk shows, she realized they needed something to spice them up for her clients who craved the kind of interactive, in-store experience that really could be described as an experience.

So Solomon spent a whole year writing a murder mystery and pitched it to owner Michael J. Miller as a way to create drama around designer Victor Velyan’s two-day visit. Velyan’s dramatic jewelry designs seemed perfect for such an

event, especially because they’re less traditional and very different in style from anything else in the store, Solomon says. She debuted both the concept and the play itself over two days in October.

A dozen customers were invited to be characters. Another small group came just to watch.

Of course, each character was wearing jewels from Velyan’s collection, and each was teamed up with a staff member so they received personal attention.

“A lot of the characters had a back story with Victor, so they had to pay a lot of attention to Victor,” Solomon says.

Velyan, known for his global exploration, was one of the central characters. “

The scenario? Velyan, returning from his latest adventure in Africa, brought his whole new couture line to the store and thieves lay in wait to steal his new collection.

Sales associates invited clients based on whether they thought they’d enjoy it; many also had a history of purchasing Velyan’s pieces.

Sandy and Greg Kern of Arlington Heights were invited — and thrilled — to participate. “People were given a dossier on their character and told to dress in costume. My character was a teacher, and so I was supposed to dress in a pretty plain way — in a tweed skirt,” says Sandy. Greg’s character was a chemist.

“Everybody had a fabulous character, and some people did an amazing job of dressing like their characters,” Sandy says. “It was a lot of fun.”

Characters were invited, of course, to try to figure out who the murderer was.

“In our group, no one got who the murderer was,” Sandy says. “It was so clever, it was wonderful. It involved people in the store and with the fabulous jewelry, we had a great time.”
Diversions were built into the plot.

“The twist was that I had a police officer (an actor) come in and tell Mr. Miller there had been an incident at his home and he had to leave,” Solomon says. “Then someone ran out from the back and announced that a character was killed in the back of the store.”

Solomon was the narrator as well as the playwright and experienced opening-night jitters.

“I was very nervous, but everybody really had a great time,” she says.

Even the store’s signature drink, the Gold Rush, played a pivotal part in the action.

There were appetizers, sweets and bourbon-spiked punch. The soundtrack featured Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” and Hall and Oates’ “Man Eater.”

Props in the showcases doubled as clues.

At the end of the day, the drama had the best possible ending: there were a number of pending sales.

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Best of The Best

Cleveland Jewelry Store Wins Makeover from Jewelers for Children

Charitable giving yields rewards on many levels.

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ON A BUSY DAY THE week before Christmas, Howard’s Jewelry Center in an eastern suburb of Cleveland, is abuzz with activity. Customers come in waves all day, tracking down giant hoop earrings, a charm for a young granddaughter, or a seasonal splurge for themselves.

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Owner Howard Hurwitz hurries in for an appointment, stopping to exchange pleasantries with a customer he’s known for years, who congratulates him on the success of his business.

It’s a typical pre-Christmas week in many ways. Something’s different this year, though. Howard and Leslie Hurwitz have seen their store in a new light this season. So have their customers.

The couple won a $100,000 store makeover in a Jewelers for Children charitable giving contest, for which they raised $50,000. The renovation — the first significant change to the store in 30 years — was complete in December. “Customers are all pleasantly surprised,” Howard says. “We are very pleased and happy for everything that everyone did for us.”

One of the biggest changes is how drastically brighter everything is with fresh paint, new in-case displays and LED lighting.

Howard and Leslie own four stores in the Cleveland metropolitan area, and had been passionate supporters of Jewelers for Children ever since their first Facets of Hope dinner in Las Vegas touched their hearts 20 years ago.

There, they heard children talk about their struggles with catastrophic diseases and how they were helped by St. Jude’s Research Hospital, one of the charities JFC supports. “I’d like to get more people involved in it,” says

Howard, now a board member. “And I think if they could get to one of these dinners and hear the kids’ stories, they’d be a donor for life.”

JFC is woven into the fabric of their business. In all, they’ve raised $200,000 for the organization with collection canisters on their counters. The couple promotes JFC in their advertising and suggests their customers make a donation for watch batteries and other small repairs they offer for free.

For the redo, the Hurwitzes chose their Maple Heights flagship location, a busy place in a high-traffic area that sells jewelry and also makes loans on jewelry. Although they’ve occupied the space for 30 years, there have been few changes in that time.

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The design team carefully considered which updates would bring the biggest bang for the buck.

Eric Zuckerman of sponsor Pac Team America says the goal was to make the buying experience comfortable, special and intimate. “You can take an old store that hasn’t been touched for 30 years and do some things to make it very fresh and inviting. Environment creates confidence. If the environment is not at the same level of the product and the training of the salesperson, that inconsistency will be felt. Simple and clean and presentable doesn’t have to be a major renovation.”

Zuckerman and Ruth Mellergaard of GRID/3 International agree that the improvements with the biggest impact were replacing the ceiling tiles and upgrading the overhead track lighting to LED bulbs.

“The ceiling tiles were in pretty bad shape and set the tone for the entire environment,” Zuckerman says. “Something as simple as their replacement alone made a big improvement. Same thing with adding case lighting and replacing their bridal in-case presentation. What was there was very dark and worn, which contributed to the entire store appearing worn out. New case pads and displays gave a fresh look that was visually impactful.”

A metal security gate near the threshold was an inhospitable eyesore by day, but a necessity by night. Now, thanks to a design by GRID/3 International, the gate is enclosed in new drywall partitions with flush detailed doors that completely conceal it when the store is open for business.

“When you walk into a retail environment, being greeted by what is essentially a metal fence is not ideal for establishing a warm shopping experience,” Zuckerman says. “Having them hidden while the store is open allowed them to serve their purpose without detracting from the store’s presentation.”

Ruth Mellergaard of GRID/3, who donated her time to the project, says the question she asked before beginning to outline an overall plan was, “How does the business work and how can we make it easier for them to deal with their customers, to make their customers feel wonderful?”

Heavy wooden chairs were replaced by modern chairs with a lighter profile to bring the diamond engagement area into the 21st century, and designated spots for a children’s corner and a custom refreshment station for coffee are designed to put customers at ease.

The interior and exterior have been freshly painted.

Many of the showcases were in good shape, but some didn’t match, so their fronts as well as the front of the service counter were updated with panels covered with 3M Di-Noc film, which changed their appearance completely.

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