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America's Coolest Stores

Big Cool 1: Fox Fine Jewelry

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FOX FINE JEWELRY
1ST PLACE BIG COOL DIVISION

George Fox says if he were to dream up the
ideal store — from size and location, to form
and function — he could not imagine anything
more perfect than what he and his wife,
Debbie, have realized with their Fox Fine
Jewelry store, which opened in downtown
Ventura in the spring of 2014.


 

QUICK FACTS

TAGLINE: Ventura’s Brilliant
Jeweler

ARCHITECT/DESIGNER:
Jesse Balaity of Balaity
Property Enhancement,
Sarasota, FL

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SHOWCASES: JMJ

LOCATION: Ventura, CA

URL: foxfinejewelry.com

FOUNDED: 1998

OPENED FEATURED
LOCATION:
2014

FULL-TIME
EMPLOYEES:
8

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AREA: 3,146 square feet

BUILD-OUT COST:
$1.1 million

TOP BRANDS: Beverley K,
Denny Wong, Pandora,
Parade Designs, Parle Jewelry
Designs, POM, Simon
Golub, Zealandia

He’s not bragging; more like amazed.
“In Ventura, if someone had said, what would you
like your store to look like, and where would you want
it, and how big? This would be it. It’s perfect. I can’t
think of anything else that would be better,” George says.
“Business-wise, it has really blossomed.”

In a way, it’s more than he wanted, responsibilitywise,
since he is happiest at work in his shop in the back.
“Both of us work crazy hours right now,” he says, as they
continue to add staff to keep up with growth.

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George, a graduate gemologist,
says his domain is the shop, while
Debbie’s is the sales floor. They meet
in the middle to make important
decisions.

While known for custom, Fox’s
new space is also abuzz these days
with hard-core Pandora collectors,
bridal-case browsers and all manner
of walk-ins and passersby, thanks to their stellar location
between downtown’s only public parking garage
and movie theater.

When planning the layout, the Foxes decided to throw
open their back door and encourage pedestrians to use
their store as a corridor between the garage and the
shops on Main. After all, something — a $7,000 Parade
Designs bridal setting or a $30 Pandora bead — might
catch someone’s eye as they meander through, they surmised.
They were right. In fact, they stay open seven days a week, till 10 p.m. on weekends and 7 p.m. on weekdays
to accommodate all of that prized pedestrian traffic.

George is so busy, he’s in the market to hire two new
jewelers, which will bring the total to four, including
him. His goal is to free up enough time to begin designing
his own bridal and fashion lines and set up an estate
department, which currently sits in boxes awaiting his
attention and refurbishment.

George explains their business philosophy: “As a
jewelry store we make money as an incident of making
people happy, which is really not a business philosophy.
But if I focus on that aspect of the jewelry industry, I’m
happier.”

Debbie shares that philosophy. In early 2009, she
was touched by all the people coming to her to sell their
treasured gold jewelry to pay their rent or mortgage
during the recession. When she pledged to give away
100 sterling necklaces to the unemployed for Valentine’s
Day, publicity created such a stir that
the idea spread. Ultimately 150 jewelers
throughout the U.S. participated, and gave
away 900 necklaces.

Last Christmas, in honor of the spirit of
forgiveness, Fox offered a $125 lab-created
aquamarine pendant and earring set for just
$25, but only if given to mend a relationship.
The program was publicized by two local
newspapers and Debbie also placed print
ads and promoted it online. The message
was reconciliation, but the strong headline
grabbed attention: “Give Jewelry to your
Enemy.”

THE TRANSFORMATION

YELP REVIEW
Kimberly C., Ventura,
CA:
My hubby and I know
where we will be shopping
for Valentine’s and
wedding anniversaries for
life! We are so happy to
have found a family owned
business with values
that reflect their style of
business. And … we look
forward to visiting for
our one-year anniversary
upgrades!



STRONG PROMO


Gemstone
Roundtable
Hosting gemstone
roundtables gets
customers excited about
the possibilities of custom.


PLAYLIST

Adult contemporary


TRY THIS

Practice
Detachment

It’s hard to listen to an
angry customer, says
Debbie Fox. “So I imagine
I’m an outside consultant
and this isn’t happening
to me. Then I can better
sympathize with the client
and defuse the situation.
As painful as the process
might be, and as right as I
believe I am, many important
business changes at
Fox originated from disgruntled
customers.”

Persistence led the Foxes to acquire their building,
which had been a head shop — an institution, almost
— on Main Street for years. In addition to pipes, it was
crammed full of products like fishnets, fluorescent 6-inch
platform shoes and pierced body jewelry. It was also
sorely in need of complete renovation, a total gut job.
Before the Foxes found it, they’d searched for four
years for something suitable, and deals on other properties
had fallen through.

While they waited, their old store on the periphery
of downtown began to seem smaller and smaller, as
their ambitions and inventory grew. And clearly, it was
off the beaten path, even though it was only about two
blocks away from the main pedestrian area downtown.
“If you’re not right in the center of downtown, you may
as well be anywhere,” Debbie says.

So when this centrally located property
came along, they moved quickly and were
in escrow within a week.

The 1920s brick building was originally
a meat market, which the Foxes find kind of
ironic since George’s father was a butcher,
and working for his dad was George’s first job;
as it turned out, though, it wasn’t his calling.

The store backs up to an alley, where
a long, narrow icehouse on the property
has become George’s workshop retreat,
conveniently connected by a hallway to the
store itself. At 600 square feet, the shop is
about the size of the Foxes’ very first Ventura store, which had a 100-square-foot sales
floor with barely room for three people.
The alley had been considered disreputable,
but rather than ignoring it, the
Foxes decided to renovate their section
of it — stringing holiday lights, planting
a garden and creating a window with a
view of the shop. They’ve made the back
entrance just as charming and appealing
as the front façade, which was also rebuilt.

One reason George may be amazed
at the perfection of the completed store
is that he was largely hands-off during
the planning stage. He ran the existing
business while Debbie immersed herself
in the building project with Jesse Balaity
of Sarasota, FL, architect and store designer.

Debbie says Balaity was ideal for the project because
he is both highly creative and demonstrates a painstaking
attention to detail, as well, a dichotomy she seems to
share and relate to, with her background in accounting
and the arts.

Balaity’s goal was to update the Fox Fine Jewelry
brand and introduce modern elements and materials
while retaining its “Ventura feel.” In other words, he
wanted to make the space appropriately luxurious for
the bridal and custom business while still fitting in with
the casual streetscape of Ventura.

The most challenging aspect involved putting each
inch of the 2,000 square foot showroom space to its best
use while balancing many priorities, including an art
gallery, which is part of the business. “Fox is very much a
full-service jeweler so we had to figure out how to appeal
to the bridal market, the custom market, the Pandora
customer, and how to accommodate an art gallery in a
way that didn’t seem too busy,” Balaity says.

The design they chose creates an intriguing collection
of angles and sight lines that make corners appear
almost to vanish. A strong linear ceiling element visually
connects the two entrances, while display areas are
arranged to encourage a meandering path through the
store. A variety of case types, heights and materials
define different spaces. A combination of old materials,
including exposed brick and cypress planks, contrasts
with modern glass, wood veneers and LED lighting.
Warm wood textures and textured laminates are inviting.Upscale, but not intimidating.

The ceiling and floor design also contributes to carving
out defined spaces. The bridal area’s lower ceiling creates
an intimate feel. Most of the floor is a 24-inch tile
but carpet toward the middle of the store helps muffle
sound and further define areas.

“The store looks inviting and welcoming,” Debbie
says. “It’s classy and comfortable and people want to
buy. We’re selling a lot of impulse purchases in the $100
to $300 range. We’re also finding that people are more
comfortable spending money here, making big purchases.
It’s a very interesting and wonderful phenomenon.”

 

PHOTO GALLERY

{igallery id=2617|cid=1507|pid=18|type=category|children=0|addlinks=0|tags=|limit=0}

 

VIDEO INTERVIEW: DEBBIE FOX

 

SCORE CARD
Story 78%


Interior 82%


Exterior 80%


Individuality 79%


Marketing 77%


Online 72%
OVERALL SCORE

79.1%

WHAT THE JUDGES SAY

Paco Underhill:
Nice
use of inside and outside
space (it is California).
Advertising has personality
and does not just
focus on brands. Making,
repairing helps create
the perception of unique,
which is essential for a
small merchant.

Pamela Froman:
The
wood color with the brick
wall and the abstract art
on the walls made it a cool
store for me. I like how
they have art shows at the
store, it is a refreshing way
to bring people in. I also
like how engaging they are
on Facebook with questions
and information.

Jonathan Sanders:

Taking the rusticity of
the exterior into a modern
and beautifully presented
interior is very well done.

Kevin Reilly:
The
back entrance is one of
the coolest features. You
really get the feeling that
you’re entering the “stage
door” when using the back
entrance to Fox’s.

Monica Stephenson:
The store’s owners choose
to “lean in” to listen
to customers — even
unhappy ones. Important
business and design ideas
have been based on this
feedback. Their thoughtful
consideration really shows
in this design.

 

5 COOL THINGS

1. LATEST EVENT:
LET THE LAWN GO GOLD

Teaming up with a local radio station,
Fox has created a “Golden
Lawn” contest to spread the
word about water conservation.
People bringing in a picture of their
“golden,” rather than green
lawn, are entered into a
drawing for a $1,000
shopping spree at
Fox, to be given
away during an
event featuring
conservation
vendors on Aug.
29. Concurrently,
Cumulus Radio’s
“The Vibe” is running
a “Gold is the
New Green” contest in
which people who post signs
in their yards and post photos on
Facebook qualify for prizes.

2. DAD-APPROVED
CONSTRUCTION

Debbie’s 81-year-old dad, Al Geller,
is a structural engineer. When the
Foxes were in escrow, Debbie and
Al donned Tyvek suits and headlamps and crawled through broken
glass and rusty nails to survey the
2-foot high crawl space under the
building. Geller’s input led to the
building being reinforced to the
hilt — it’s earthquake-safe and as
strong as a fortress.

3. SIGNATURE
DESSERTS

Fox’s signature
dessert is
chocolate-dipped
strawberries,
which they serve
at store events.
From about the
age of 8, their three
daughters began dipping
strawberries and arranging
food platters. Eventually
all of them worked at Fox and have
a possible future there.

4. CONSTRUCT
AN AD CAMPAIGN

The Foxes used the construction
barricade of the new store
as a billboard. A mobile-friendly URL directed people to follow
the construction progress. Later
the message was changed to a
contest for diamond earrings, also
advertised across other media. The
final change announced the grand
opening.

5. DISPLAY INNOVATIONS

Diamonds are displayed in a
“diamond wall” for clear visibility.
Surrounding the wall are counterheight
prototype rings on pulleys.

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VIDEO HIGHLIGHT

Wilkerson Testimonials

Texas Jeweler Knew He'd Get Only One Shot at a GOB Sale, So He Wanted to Make It Count

Most retailers only have one GOB sale in their lifetimes. This was the case for Gary Zoet, owner of Shannon Fine Jewelry in Houston, Texas. “Wilkerson has done thousands of these sales,” says Zoet. “I’ve never done one, so it’s logical to have somebody with experience do it.” The result exceeded Zoet’s expectations. Wilkerson took care of everything from marketing to paperwork. When it’s time for you to consider the same, shouldn’t you trust the experts in liquidation?

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America's Coolest Stores

Grace-Themed Jewelry Gallery Reaches Out To Santa Fe

Creative decor stops shoppers in their tracks.

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Wear Your GRACE, Santa Fe, NM

OWNER: Hillary Fitzpatrick Randolph; FOUNDED: 2015; URL: wearyourgrace.com; BUILDOUT COST: $39,650; EMPLOYEES: 5, full and part-time; AREA: 650 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Owner’s GRACE pieces and Etkie (contemporary hand-loomed bracelets crafted by Native American artisans)


ONE DEFINITION OF “GRACE” is simple elegance. Another is refined movement. The word is also associated with the bestowal of blessings.

Artist and designer Hillary Randolph takes a creative approach to exploring the nuanced meanings of “grace” as the theme for her brand and her Santa Fe store, wear your GRACE. She also established “Share Your Grace,” a multifaceted program that benefits Santa Fe’s community, including its nonprofit organizations.

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Choosing grace as her theme triggers interesting conversations and builds meaningful rapport with clients, she says, who share what grace means in their own lives.

Randolph designed her Santa Fe store based on her aesthetic sense of what grace looks and feels like — warm and inviting with a dash of elegant simplicity. She opened her gallery in 2015 in a 250-year-old adobe building on Palace Avenue in the heart of Santa Fe, just off the historic plaza. Her jewelry emphasizes graceful flowing movement. Much of the work is developed upstairs in the design studio.

Her approach to interior design is hands on.

A unique orb light fixture is an eye-catching element near the entrance. Randolph created it from a grapevine she found in Round Top, TX, that had been steamed, coiled, shaped into an openwork globe and re-dried. She took it home, painted the bottom of it with gold leaf and hung from it 100-year-old faceted crystal drops from France. The table below is also painted with gold leaf so it appears as if the crystals are dripping gold. It complements the interior design, with its gold-on-white palette and a trompe l’oeil tangerine curtain painted by a local artist across the back wall. The curtain painting creates a sense of flowing movement and acts as a backdrop for casually luxurious décor.

“The best decisions I have ever made came from feelings, instincts and hunches, rather than spreadsheets, schematics and trend forecasts. I’ve learned to make business decisions according to how I want my life to feel. The unique look of the gallery came from the feeling I get from certain colors, combinations and materials. I want my guests to feel as inspired by the store’s ambience as I do.”

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“I hear people talk about the experience they have when they walk in,” she says. “The product is an offshoot of the experience.”

Randolph’s approach to sales is to honor each customer’s personal sense of style, wardrobe and lifestyle in general. “It’s our passion to truly connect with women from all walks of life, listening to their stories and encouraging self-expression through their jewelry,” she says. “So we connect, we listen and we always have fun.”

Although shopping in Santa Fe is a favorite pastime of tourists, more and more of Randolph’s regular clients live in town. So marketing is increasingly local as well, with in-store events and email campaigns. This year she plans to feature the “faces of Grace” in her marketing and discover what “grace” means to her clients to make her social-media marketing more interactive.

Another goal is to spend less time on paperwork upstairs in her office and more time downstairs in the gallery, being the ambassador of her brand.

Randolph’s career started in Palm Beach in luxury goods followed by a move to New York, where she worked with Ralph Lauren in his flagship Madison Avenue store. Other luxury brand retailers recruited her to develop their wholesale brands and open brick-and-mortar stores across the United States.

In 1999, she visited her mother in Santa Fe and never left.

“I never thought I would stay, and then I saw the moon rise over the ski basin and it was the biggest moon I’d ever seen in my life,” she recalls. “There was a certain connection with people from all over the country that I found here. I had conversations with them here that I would never have if I were sitting next to them at a dinner table in New York. There is a certain veil that is removed here, an authentic connection that feeds me.”

She launched her jewelry-design career in 1999 with Somers, a line based on the sculptures of her creative partner that was sold in galleries and jewelry stores around the country. Later, the idea for Grace took shape.

“Even today,” she says, “there are things I’m still discovering. A new hike, people, artists. It’s not boring here. There’s always something to feed you.”

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She has found the business climate friendly, as well. Santa Fe, she discovered is the No. 1 spot in the U.S. per capita for women-owned businesses.

She finds inspiration for design in Santa Fe, as well. “I design in my head so when I’m on that hike the best design pops into my head,” she says, “If I’m just sitting there with the stones it doesn’t work as well.”

Randolph believes in being an active part of her community by creating a business model that gives back. She is a founding member of Santa Fe’s 100 Women Who Care, a group that meets quarterly to learn about and donate to a charity that the group selects.

Share your GRACE also holds invitation-only sales events throughout the year, during which a portion of net proceeds benefit non-profit organizations while boosting Randolph’s philanthropic profile in the community.

Randolph is certain she’s where she’s supposed to be — both literally and figuratively.

“I am living proof that if you choose to make decisions from your heart and persevere, you will never look back,” she says. “Creating GRACE has given me more connection, has inspired other women to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit and has led to deeper relationships with my clients all due to my own personal decision to choose GRACE as this next chapter of my life.”

PHOTO GALLERY (21 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Wear Your GRACE

1. Practical magic. Randolph is focusing on gemstones and custom-creating talismans using labradorite and rose quartz. They’re marketed as being an essential element of everyday protection. “Being in Santa Fe with all of our ‘woo woo,’ people love it,” Randolph says. The jewelry line that I am creating is the core things we need as women to feel safe, protected, guided, grounded, but it’s also an individual connection.”

2. The canine experience. Just outside the store’s entrance is the most popular “Dog Bar” in town, complete with treats tucked inside a mailbox over a trompe l’oeil of splashing water from a faux-spigot. Four-legged friends may quench their thirst in cool H2O. Pet owners peek in with an amused smile as they view candy colored leather dog leashes and collars engraved with “Walk with GRACE. Sales help support animal rescue groups.

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3. Versatility behind the scenes. The second floor is the atelier, where the jewelry is designed and made from cast components. “I have used the space for open houses, gallery night on Fridays, and featured a painter here with her larger work upstairs,” Randolph says. “So it is a working studio, but also a social space. Or I’ll have a client come up and we’ll collaborate to remake something. Just minutes after a design is completed upstairs, it can be displayed on the floor.”

4. Guest stars. Randolph loves collaborating with artists she’s met on her travels, so she regularly features jewelry by guest designers and hosts events promoting other artwork she loves.

5. Coco’s Bangles. The wear your GRACE collection includes best-selling Coco’s Bangles, designed by Hillary’s teenage daughter, Coco. Coco donates a portion of the proceeds of sales to the Heart & Soul Animal Sanctuary outside Santa Fe.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Sofia Kaman: I love seeing a business that embraces fun, whimsy and a sense of happiness in all that they do. The dog bar is a brilliant touch!
  • Jimmy DeGroot: I love the concept and the business model.
  • Lyn Falk: Great website. Clever and sophisticated. Unique name and use of the name in marketing. Interior and exterior are well done — distinct, savvy, artsy with touches of whimsy. Unique displays pushed the envelope in terms of a typical retail experience. More like a gallery. Hillary appears to exude charm!
  • Tiffany Stevens: This is a beautiful store! The exterior encapsulates the rich history of Santa Fe while the interior is modern and unique.
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America's Coolest Stores

Cool Store Design for Albany Store Based on Consumer Research

Vice-president Gregg Kelly considered aspects from the scent of flowers used outside to handicapped signage.

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Northeastern Fine Jewelry, Albany, NY

OWNER: Raymond Bleser; FOUNDED: 1980; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1998; ARCHITECT: C2 Design Group; LAST RENOVATED: 2017;BUILDOUT COST: $1.3 million; NO. of LOCATIONS: 3; EMPLOYEES: 14;AREA: 5,000 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Cartier, Tacori, Simon G, IWC, Forevermark


WHEN GREGG KELLY told customers he was planning to redo the Albany, NY, location of Northeastern Fine Jewelry, they inevitably asked him, “Why are you spending money on a store that still looks beautiful?”

But Kelly, vice president and son-in-law of owner Raymond Bleser, understands the importance of updating a store’s look and making it as functionally modern and approachable as possible. He invested untold hours studying store design, traffic flow and consumer behavior before embarking on the major remodel he undertook in 2017, which went far beyond a touch up or a new coat of paint.

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In fact, the store was gutted, all while it remained open, with the support of its two sister stores in Schenectady and Glens Falls, NY.

What’s new? A 1,000-square foot addition, the floor plan, the cases, a glass façade, a patio and landscaping. Even the parking lot is new.

“We try to redo the stores every 10 years, and some stuff was falling apart,” Kelly says. “When a customer visits a few times a year, we want to re-engage them and give them a new environment, a new experience.”

The company realized a 15 percent increase in business the first full year following the renovation.

In preparation, Kelly painstakingly considered every detail and collected sources of inspiration from around the world, making it a priority to visit stores when he travels.

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He also reads the Robb Report and other national luxury magazines to stay on top of retail trends. He took a class with neuroscientist Robert Cooper, a New York Times bestselling author and business strategist specializing in consumer behavior. Kelly was particularly interested in what gives people the ability to make good, conscious decisions based on the retail environment itself. “Once you have their attention, it comes down to the associate who guides the decision to purchase.”

To get their attention, Kelly wanted the store to have an open floor plan and optimal traffic flow while balancing the individual requirements of a variety of international shop-in-shop brands with less of a choppy look.

Michael Roman of the C2 Design Group says the overall challenge was to take Kelly’s concept and bring it to life within an existing building.

The sense of openness was achieved by repositioning the entry and shifting it over, which also affected the exterior of the building. The goal inside was to improve traffic flow, so shoppers could feel comfortable, meandering freely without encountering any obstacles. “It’s the experience that’s going to bring you back,” Roman says. The shop-in-shops are tied together with materials and lighting, while accommodating each vendor’s own design criteria.

The glass facade offers a transparency that puts shoppers at ease as they approach. Especially at night, the window reveals the character of the store within, Roman says. And the casual patio setting in front offers a decompression zone between parking lot and shopping experience, easing threshold resistance.

Finishes are sleekly upscale and timeless, rather than trendy.

Kelly also told Roman he wanted a store that looked like it had leaped off the pages of a luxury magazine. Accordingly, finishes are sleekly upscale, but timeless rather than trendy. Decor includes shades of gray and imported European leathers. LED lighting is new, green and efficient. Roman describes the materials used in the interior as the bow on the design package — timeless, clean and relatively simple, designed to complement the design without overshadowing it or being too understated.

Kelly put himself in the shoppers’ shoes when it came to details.

“We changed a lot of different things as we went and I always kept the consumer in mind. 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,” says Kelly.

“We researched for hours 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, so they’re not getting wet when they get into the store. I studied the music, the rocks we used outside and the flowers we put into the planters to make sure the scent is appealing.”

While all of this was going on, by far the ultimate challenge was that the full-service jewelry store remained open, to the extent that it could, one section at a time, while chaos was kept at bay.

“The biggest challenge was to make our employees comfortable, as well as our customers,” Kelly says. “We sectioned off parts of the building so we didn’t lose too much consistency. Every part was gutted. We did all right, too, and our customers were great to us. They still shopped and stayed loyal. We were able to move things from store to store and still fulfill their needs.”

Ray Bleser, who founded the company, was happy to leave the renovation project to Kelly.

Originally, Bleser had studied to be a pharmacist, planning to follow in his father’s footsteps, but after just one day in that professional role, he knew it wasn’t for him. Instead, he decided to pursue his hobby of collecting and selling rare coins and gold.

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Northeastern Coin Gallery opened in 1980 and quickly expanded in scope, becoming Northeastern Fine Jewelry by 1985. In a twist of fate, the company’s flagship location in Schenectady, NY, occupies the building that once housed the drugstore where Bleser’s father worked.

Bleser has given his son-in-law his seal of approval. “He’s stationed in Schenectady, and every time he comes in, he says this is the nicest store from here to New York City,” Kelly says. “It’s a real modern look that’s attractive to all age groups. You get a New York City feel combined with a hometown experience, and I think that’s hard to accomplish.”

PHOTO GALLERY (12 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Northeastern Fine Jewelry

1. The Diamond District edge. Northeastern Fine Jewelry has an office in the Diamond District of New York. “We’ve never been one to just order stuff and ship it in. We like to look at things ourselves and have the first pick of diamonds. We’re picky when it comes to buying. And it gives us a nice edge to pick out what we want and pass those savings on to the consumer based on our buying ability,” says Kelly.

2. Training is top of mind. The company sends staff for training provided by its top brands and invests thousands of dollars a year into additional education. The expectation of expertise extends beyond sales to custom design and the repair shop. There’s also a watchmaker on staff.

3. A respect for jewelry history. They plan for an estate sale every year. “We try to keep our roots and the things that made us who we are today. They’re fun, too, because you get to look at things that are older and helped develop the jewelry industry for what it is today,” says Kelly. “And it’s fun to sell one-of-a-kind, rare things and tell the story of how it became what it is.”

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4. Making marketing a priority. “Traditionally, the jewelry industry markets for six weeks leading up to the holidays; we work hard to have a consistent approach to educating the consumer,” Kelly says. “We’re marketing 12 months out of the year.” Marketing is about 30 to 35 percent digital, and the website recently became set up for e-commerce.

5. Promotional savvy. In 2017, Northeastern sponsored a contest to win the opportunity to propose in a live commercial aired during halftime of the Super Bowl on FOX. The winner was featured in People Magazine, the Daily Mail in the UK and the New York Times. They also sponsored a half court shot during a Siena College basketball game; the contestant made the shot and walked away with $25,000, leading to intensive coverage from ESPN.

TRY THIS

When updating your store’s appearance, consider function as well as form and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Imagine you are the consumer approaching the building. What is the experience like? Is there shelter from rain? Are curbs accessible? Is there space for seating? Can they tell what kind of a store they will be entering? Have you provided a decompression zone between street and store?

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Geoffrey Brown: “Very strong positive word-of-mouth going on here. The more personable and authentic you are, the more you stay top-of-mind.”
    Laura Davis: “The exterior is beautiful and the interior is very nice.”
  • David Lampert: “Nice looking store. Clever promotion with the Super Bowl.”
  • Katherine Bodoh: “I like the modern exterior with the large windows and natural light. The interior layout looks beautiful and very upscale.”
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America's Coolest Stores

Chicago Retailer Harks Back to History While Pushing Boundaries in Design, Art and Events

Designer pushes boundaries of fine jewelry, art and events to create an exceptional shopping experience.

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Adornment + Theory, Chicago, IL

OWNER: Viviana Langhoff; FOUNDED: 2017; URL: www.adornmentandtheory.com; EMPLOYEES: 4; AREA: 750 square feet


WHEN VIVIANA LANGHOFF PLANNED a pop-up tattoo event to celebrate her first year as an entrepreneur, it seemed like the kind of thing her artistic, creative core customer would enjoy.

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It usually takes a year to get an appointment with Kelsey Moore, the tattoo artist Langhoff recruited. The two even collaborated on designing gem and art deco-inspired tattoos to personalize the experience. So while Moore was virtually guaranteed to draw a crowd to the Logan Square gallery, Langhoff was still amazed when the line stretched for two blocks and some people camped out the night before, as if Apple had launched a new iPhone or Black Friday deals were about to be unveiled.

Langhoff is adept at putting jewelry in context, so she also seized the opportunity to explore the history of body adornment, which can be traced back to the invention of tattoos. A fun event combined with storytelling was destined for success.

See video below.

Langhoff’s interest in the historical roots of adornment also inspired the name of her business.

“I wanted to select a name that sheds light on the history of jewelry, which is ‘adornment,’ as well as the ‘theory’ portion that is the practice that artists have in studios. From the beginning of civilization, we find that cultures made currency and jewelry and adornment. I want to highlight the history and continuation of that into contemporary studios all around the world. We draw on aesthetics from many different artists: feminine, edgy, approachable and most important, wearable.”

Langhoff’s retail experience appeals to the independent, confident woman who loves beautiful design, knows what she likes and delights in artist-made pieces. Langhoff encourages her customers to let creativity dress them. “People are limited sometimes by what they think they can and can’t wear and what magazines tell you you should wear. Really, ultimately, If you love it, wear it.”

A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, she studied fine art and design and then worked for a variety of jewelers, some specializing in fine jewelry and others specializing in art jewelry, before creating a niche for herself that pulls inspiration from both. Her studio showcases one-of-a-kind work that pushes accessory design into wearable art. “We are passionate about representing emerging artists and brands who are crafting the future of functional art and design,” she says. She also custom designs and makes by hand wedding and engagement rings in precious materials.

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Her gallery is in the Logan Square neighborhood in northwest Chicago, about six miles from downtown. The neighborhood’s diverse, artistic population of young professionals and families is attracted to bike-friendly park-like boulevards and an ethos that includes green construction and preservation of historic buildings. Other draws are Michelin-starred restaurants, music venues, breweries, craft cocktail bars, a farmer’s market and art galleries.

The business is very experiential. She’s hosted “make your own silver ring” workshops and invited gemstone miners into her store. She mixes it up with lectures.

“I select and curate events that highlight the theory portion of jewelry,” she says. “And I love history. Once a week on Instagram I use points of jewelry history from ancient Egypt to the crown jewels.”

For Valentine’s Day, she recruited neighboring businesses to join her in a collaborative approach with the theme of “bazaar love.” She organized the bazaar and featured a pop-up shop of luxury lingerie and chocolates. She suggested to neighboring card-shop owners that they host an event for kids to make their own cards. She connected the eye-care professionals next door with a photographer and encouraged them to host a kissing booth.

“Each store offered a fun and enticing event,” she says. “It wasn’t just jewelry focused; all of the businesses pulled together and people came out. I was shocked because the weather was terrible.”

For the holidays, she hosted a Great Gatsby-themed Christmas party.

During the sustainable fair-trade conference in Chicago, she invited a group of international miners to bring rough-cut gemstones to the gallery so her clients could make their own selections. Then she sent the gems out to lapidary artists to cut them.

A summer workshop called Diamonds 101 introduced customers to diamond basics — color, cut, how to use a loupe and what to look for when shopping. Other workshops included metal etching (creating a pair of etched earrings in copper) and jewelry illustration.

Langhoff has no formal training in event planning or marketing, but it seems to come naturally to her; both she and her staff of four find events fun and energizing.

She even created her own interior design. “I drew inspiration from contemporary art galleries, Hollywood Regency as well as Moorish design with our floors,” she says. “I wanted to create a jewel box that was contemporary and glamorous while simultaneously being warm and inviting. I think we achieved that.”

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About half of Langhoff’s business is bridal-related, and much of that is custom, but most of her clients prefer alternative stones to traditional diamond jewelry. Most of the bridal work is custom, but she also showcases rings made by several other fine jewelry artists. “So if someone wants gray diamonds and an earthy look, I have several artists who have styles that have that, who are distinctly different from other artists and from myself. I’m not very big on mimicking another artist’s aesthetic.”

E-commerce to this point has been limited, but Langhoff credits her website and social media for driving business into the store. “I still count those visits and sales as website sales. I think our website is really important even as a landing pad for people to get a taste and flavor of what our brand is about.”

Everything she sells is handmade and everything has a story. “People are looking for a personal touch,” she says. “They want to know if it’s handmade, they want to know about the designer, the story, the fair-trade component, where the stones are coming from. They like knowing the details.”

PHOTO GALLERY (16 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Adornment + Theory

1. DESIGN OVER DRINKS. “Our Jewelry Bar is a space where individuals or couples can pull up a bar stool as I serve them drinks and discuss creating the piece of their dreams,” Langhoff says. “Once drinks are served, we review A+T’s full service menu and walk them through the highly personalized design process. The goal is for them to walk away with an heirloom piece that they will wear for a lifetime. I take the client/designer relationship very seriously and want each one to feel welcomed and delighted in.”
2. ART EVENTS. Beyond jewelry events, Langhoff hosts bi-monthly fine art openings in the store. “We’ve showcased everything from conceptually driven contemporary art jewelry (in conjunction with SOFA Expo), as well as fine art photography and paintings,” she says.
3. SOFT SCENT. Customers always comment about how lovely “our little jewel box smells,” she says. The in-store scent is created from candles and the notes are typically flowery, clean and beachy. It’s all intended, she says, to evoke a romantic, relaxed, beautiful and approachable space.
4. A SWEET IDEA. “We teamed up with a chocolatier to create a custom-branded ‘chocolate jewel box’ for our Valentine’s season,” Langhoff says.
5. MONTHLY WORKSHOPS. “Our monthly workshops are fun-filled afternoons where attendees learn hands-on techniques that help them create and appreciate the art of metalsmithing and other accessory-based techniques. We’ve hosted workshops on ‘How to Make a Silver Ring’, ‘Shibori Dying: Make Your Own Scarf’, as well as ‘How to Read Diamonds’. These workshops have helped cultivate community and further the customer experience. Not to mention, everyone has a great time. I love hearing the store filled with laughter,” Langhoff says.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Jimmy Degroot: If we’re looking at location as the primary form of marketing, then Viviana is spot on. It’s so refreshing to see a space as well-appointed and thought-out as this. Beautiful.
  • Sofia Kaman: Love the interior design and concept. Very polished!
  • Tiffany Stevens: I’m obsessed! Smart and beautiful choices on every level.

 

Try This: Offer a Workshop

Offer your customers an unexpected hands-on experience. Why not try a “make your own silver ring” workshop, if you have the facilities for it?

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