Forecasting the future, jeweler envisioned a destination store down to its details.
STORY BY EILEEN MCCLELLAND
Julie Ettinger could envision what her freestanding destination store would look like, years before it became a reality.It would be white and gold with a hint of blue and a French flair.
Most important: the showcases would be arranged as if to reach out and embrace her customers.
“I had been dreaming about this for years. I kept a notebook at home and I drew and cut out pictures and saved clippings,” she says. “I made a Pinterest board of it, almost.”
Still, when it all happened, she felt like she was jumping off a cliff.
Ettinger, who worked for decades with her mom, Lois, had anticipated moving out of the luxury Plaza Frontenac mall that had been the original location of YLANG YLANG (pronounced elong, elong), but her parents and business partners, Lois and Ray Morganstern, were reluctant to move. “I said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to trust me on this.’”
When the lease was up, Ettinger asked the landlord to fund a renovation, and when mall management didn’t sign on for that, everyone realized it was time to go.
She found the perfect, high-profile location in the upscale suburb of LaDue and worked with an architect to bring her vision to life.
Lois passed the company torch to Julie in 2013 and Ray passed away in 2015, but not before he had seen Julie’s vision become reality. “It was so meant to be,” she says. “When I took my dad to see the space, he said he loved it.”
While in search of an innovative jewelry concept, Ray and Lois Morganstern had discovered YLANG YLANG, which was a quaint boutique in the Bal-Harbour shops in Miami. They purchased a franchise from Jacque and Brigette, a French couple, and brought the concept to St. Louis in 1985, although at the time, Lois recalls, “Everyone thought it was too trendy for St. Louis.” Originally the boutique specialized in ‘80s European fashion jewelry, and it has since evolved into a curated selection of fine designer jewelry.
So, in 2014, when Julie opened the new store, it was just as she had envisioned — white and gold with a hint of blue and a dash of France. In fact, Ettinger has been told the clean-lined space feels like being in the South of France. The architect designed the layout of the main 800-square-foot sales floor in the shape of a diamond. It’s outfitted with custom curved showcases, family heirloom chandeliers and curved crystal-embedded walls with touches of sparkling gold.
Adding a rustic touch, the flooring resembles barn wood.
“The store very much reflects my personality,” Ettinger says. “I like to combine high and low. Maybe that’s the Gemini in me. I can dress up, but my favorite outfit is jeans and a T-shirt.”
Now Ettinger, living her dream, has the enthusiasm of a kid in a candy store.
One of her favorite rooms is the blue room separated from the sales floor with French doors, she says. Guests appreciate the luxurious private experience, and the room has also been the site of a few surprise engagements and celebrations commemorated with champagne toasts.
Ettinger graduated college with the goal of a career in nutrition or pharmaceutical sales. “But I came home to work in the summer, I fell in love and I literally never left,” she says. Working with her mother just clicked. “We were cute together. We were each other’s sidekicks.”
Lois was thrilled when her daughter joined her in the business. Her daughter quickly proved herself and became the lead salesperson. She’s a natural, approaching sales like she’s shopping with a friend, or a friend in the making. Often, that turns out to be the case. “From the beginning, people would say to me, ‘you could sell anything,’ and I wasn’t really trying,” she says. “A client spent two and a half hours with me yesterday and she said she had the best time spending $10,000. She never felt pressured one minute.”
Ettinger is honest and if she doesn’t like a piece of jewelry on a customer, she’ll let them know.
She estimates that $2,500 is the most popular price point now. “We’ve always been a store for self-purchasing women, but in the new location, I think we’re seeing more men,” she says. “Men don’t like malls. We’re not known for bridal, but now in the new location we’ve done two bridal lines, Single Stone and Erica Courtney.”
Her approach is distinctly personal.
“When our clients enter YLANG YLANG, we focus on them,” she says. “I think eye contact and listening is key. It’s amazing how much you learn in the silence and how naturally you close more sales in that moment. People can tell when you are not being real. I truly think this is what keeps our faithful clients coming back again and again.”
The mother-daughter partnership has long been at the core of the business. Even in retirement, Lois is no stranger to the store. She has an eye for detail and is ready to offer her input.
“I butt heads a little with Mom, but we aren’t competitive,” Ettinger says. When they went on buying trips together, “Mom would kick me under the table and say ‘I am going to the ladies’ room.’ That was my cue that I was overspending!”
Ettinger’s strengths lie in forecasting and trend prediction, she says. “I can see and intuitively feel what I want to buy and what I see in the future.” That, she says, is why she knew it was time to take the family business to the next level and bring her dream to life.
(PHOTO GALLERY (27 IMAGES)
Five Cool Things About YLANG YLANG
1. HEALING BRAND: Julie Ettinger launched her own jewelry collection, Faith Jems, born from her passion for natural gems and their healing power. Each handpicked, gem-studded crystal has been handmade and blessed in Bali with holy water. “I either wear my personal crystal every day or it’s always in my handbag. I’m really connected to it.” Customers are drawn to it, as well, when she’s wearing it.
2. THE YY BRAND EXPRESSION: YLANG YLANG is a tropical tree, which originates from the Philippines. Its fragrant yellow flowers take on the shape of an inverted crown. Ettinger and her team designed the YY (beyoutiful) recycled tote bag that they use as their gift bags instead of paper. “We wanted something more environmentally friendly and reusable,” she says. Other in-store branding includes YY branded cocktail napkins and custom aqua and gold packaging from London. Ettinger recently hosted a photo shoot of her clients wearing YY jewelry, to be included in the Scout shopping guide, which is new to St. Louis.
3. PHILANTHROPIC EFFORTS: Ettinger’s sister, Denise Holly, has autism, and YLANG YLANG has traditionally focused charitable giving on quality of life for special kids and their families. In particular, they’ve supported EasterSeals and Autism Speaks. They regularly donate Temple St. Clair angel pendants, and a diamond puzzle necklace that Ettinger designed to live auctions for the organizations. She also supports animal rescue groups, including Stray Rescue St. Louis.
4. YY WILL TRAVEL. : YLANG YLANG introduced a one-of-a-kind shopping experience for a special client. Ettinger and store manager Stephanie Marchetto flew to Los Angeles where they met up with jewelry designer Erica Courtney and visited the client in her home for a private shopping experience.
5. LOCAL PARTNERSHIP EVENTS: For Mother’s Day, they invited a flower truck to park outside of the store. Customers could assemble a bouquet at the “stem bar” while also shopping for jewelry gifts.
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 edition of INSTORE.
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