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Making a Mark

Store of the future uses innovative interior design to set customers at ease.

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Marks Jewelers
MONTGOMERYVILLE, PA

OWNER: Jim and Dareen Brusilovsky / LOCATION: Montgomeryville, PA / URL: marks-jewelers.com / OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2016 / FOUNDED: 1995 / AREA: 24,500 square-feet / EMPLOYEES: 30 / BUILDOUT COST: Over $2 million / TOP BRANDS: Marks Signature Collection, Forevermark, John Hardy / ONLINE PRESENCE: E-commerce enabled website; 4.9 stars for 435 Google reviews


 

The longer you spend in the jewelry business, the more you know what you want—and when it came time to build a new Marks Jewelers store, co-owners Jim and Dareen Brusilovsky had a 29-page wish list of exactly what they hoped to do.

They craved lots of space to accommodate their robust in-house design department, along with flexibility galore to change up exhibits, hold staff trainings and events, and showcase merchandise in its best light. And they wanted an “inclusive, not exclusive” environment where anyone would feel comfortable shopping for jewelry or just hanging out.

They got what they’d hoped for in the 15,000-square-foot space they opened in September 2016 in Montgomeryville, PA. It’s definitely a long way from the 100-square-foot mall kiosk where Jim launched his jewelry career in 1995 after graduating from Penn State. (Dareen joined Jim in the business in 2005 in what her husband calls “the single best decision for Marks Jewelers.”)

The Fashion Lounge sets the tone for customers’ experiences, inviting people to linger a while as soon as they enter the store. With a variety of seating options, a full wet bar, and a big screen TV, Brusilovsky calls the lounge “a cozy place for clients to relax while having a service performed,” as well as a meeting and event space.

The showcases are another element setting the store apart. In four previous locations and countless store visits, Brusilovsky was all too familiar with the usual U-shaped store, “whether it’s a wide U or deep U maybe with some islands in the middle,” he says. “We wanted to stand out, more like a museum, with cases at eye level.” The showcases are designed to feel more like an exhibit and less like a showcase, oversized with four-sided glass and the flexibility to do inside-the-showcase imagery.

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Did he mention they’re totally mobile? “A lot of industry experts didn’t want to touch the showcase aspect of it because they didn’t have a solution for moving them without destroying the legs,” says Brusilovsky. At first, design partner Ron Gay of YCC didn’t know how to build them either, but over time, he and Brusilovsky figured it out—and the result is that Marks Jewelers was able to have more than two dozen floor changes in the new store’s first 18 months.

The showcases really shine for trunk shows. Too often, when a designer brings in her latest and greatest wares, “a lot of times it’s displayed in an incorrect manner, almost flea-market-esque,” Brusilovsky says. “To add that (extra) linear feet allows us to display the merchandise with respect,” rather than in densely packed vendor trays. The showcases run 250-300 pounds apiece, but they’re wired in such a way that electricity can run to 80 linear feet of showcases.

 

Brusilovsky also envisioned something he called The Diamond Diner as another key innovation for the new Marks Jewelers location. As Jim explains it in a store video, when he and Dareen go to a favorite local bar or restaurant, they always ask for a booth. The Diamond Diner concept affords couples a comfortable, intimate way of choosing a ring at the same time it creates a more effective selling environment.

“We felt that the diamond engagement ring buying process was broken,” says Brusilovsky. “On a busy Saturday, we were running out of diamonds to show even though we had like 600 diamonds” since every time a diamond was shown, it had to go into a check-in box for the gemologist to check before it could be shown again.

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The Diamond Diner places the gemological laboratory and the diamond safe on a “stage” that is three steps taller than the booths, “so the diamond manager can always keep tabs on what’s happening in the booths,” says Brusilovsky. “The manager can gauge that the sale is being conducted well and can assist in the sale as needed. The result of the Diamond Diner is we have fewer diamonds we are stocking and having a higher closing ratio because people aren’t being interrupted and because they feel comfortable.”

Another hallmark of Marks Jewelers is JewlVision, the shop’s lab that allows clients to watch designers at work crafting their custom jewelry, everything from computer-aided design to creating a prototype via a 3D printer.

“We call that ‘edutainment,’ kind of like Walt Disney called it edutainment in 1948,” says Brusilovsky. “We’re not that little store that makes a sketch on the back of a napkin and we make you a ring and that’s the end of it. We engage the customer and include them in the process. We find that they come back, and they refer much more frequently.”

The ingredients in the Marks Jewelers recipe aren’t exactly off the shelf, so in the end, it’s the people who make it all work. “All of the ideas that were new and different like the Diamond Diner and the full wet bar and the movable showcases were really executed well,” says Brusilovsky. One thing he didn’t anticipate was “the increase in staff necessary to maintain a store like this” and the need to balance adequate floor coverage with capable customer service by knowledgeable pros.

Brusilovsky is finding that, in many cases, it’s best to hire bright, warm, and friendly people—”you can’t teach people how to smile”—and teach them the product knowledge that’s necessary to succeed in the jewelry industry. “It feels as if we’re doing a much better job of grooming our hires,” he adds, than working with industry vets “who are seasoned with the wrong seasoning.” Sweet, sharp, non-college-grad millennials who can dedicate 12 to 18 months to learning the ropes are ideal staff, he adds. “As long as they’re nice and as long as they can smile and treat the customer the way they’d want to be treated, we teach you the rest.”


PHOTO GALLERY (18 IMAGES) 

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Five Cool Things About Marks Jewelers

1. PARKING PRIVILEGES: “Our key holders and vendors are encouraged to park in an indoor parking garage, which can be entered from the rear for their security,” says Brusilovsky.

2. EXTRA SPARKLE: Along with top brands including Forevermark and Hearts on Fire, the store offers its own Marks89 diamond with a proprietary faceting arrangement designed to outshine 57-faceted gems.

3. BUILDING TRUST: When Diamond Diner salespeople leave to get more gems for a couple to view, “we leave the diamonds in front of them. We give the customer the trust they deserve while we’re away,” says Brusilovsky. (Of course, everything is under camera, so there’s no reason not to trust the customer.)

4. TAG, WE’RE IT: Marks Jewelers has a robust social media presence with plenty of variety, from event promotions to photos of custom-designed rings, all tagged with the store’s motto, #lovegrowshere.

5. SIGNATURE DRINKS:Each of the store’s many special events has a signature drink. For example, a trunk show featuring Le Vian’s denim collection had a martini made from blueberry juice and vodka, while “Scotches and Watches” was a theme for a men’s accessories showcase the week before Father’s Day.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Jill Maurer: I just love that the cases are moveable and that they often reconfigure the store for a special event or just to change things up!

LARRY JOHNSON: This store takes the role of product support and lifestyle graphics to an all-new level!

David Lampert: Love the booths and thought the video explaining the business was terrific.

Laura Davis: So unique! The store theme is fantastic … really sets itself apart from the crowd. Operationally, just wow. Love the use of materials and lighting and the theme is so cool. Love their events, love their digital presence, love their experience-based approach, love their out-of-the-box aesthetic. 

TRY THIS: HOST A CHARITY EVENT

As a board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bucks County, Brusilovsky wanted the charity to do well—and he also liked the idea of having 250 of the area’s most generous people see his new store. So he offered Marks Jewelers’ new location as the site for a gala event that featured local food and wine, an auction with guitars signed by Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, and a champagne tower that included one real Forevermark gem amid a sea of CZs. The event raised $90,000—and lots of awareness and goodwill for Marks Jewelers.

Julie Fanselow is a writer, editor, coach, and dot-connector. She was the founding editor of SmartWork Media's magazine for eyecare professionals, INVISION.

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America's Coolest Stores

Meet the Judges of The 2019 America’s Coolest Stores Contest

The panel includes experts in store design, merchandising and retail, as well as jewelry designers and retailers.

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Small Cool Judges


Julie Ettinger owns YLANG YLANG in St. Louis, MO, first-place winner of America’s Coolest Stores in 2018. Julie opened her freestanding, destination store in 2014, after leaving the mall location that her parents had founded. The store’s style and decor evoke the South of France. julie@ylangylang.com

Julie Gotz, chief marketing officer for Freshly Digital, spends her days “listening to” market trends and directing market research efforts on behalf of her clients. Prior to joining Freshley Media, she worked in strategic business development and marketing at companies including CBS Television, Esquire Magazine (Hearst Publishing) and Glamour Magazine (Condé Nast Publishing). Gotz has worked with some of the most prestigious luxury brands in the world including Cartier, David Yurman, Patek Philippe, Tiffany & Co., LVMH, Saks Fifth Avenue and Mercedes Benz, to name a few. julie@freshleymedia.com

Barbara Ross-Innamorati, a devotee of jewelry history, architecture and fine art, began Evocateur as a hobby after years in corporate finance. The inspiration came when she was a student in London and saw an exhibition of the glistening, golden paintings of expressionist artist, Gustav Klimt. “Since that time I have been fascinated with gold leaf and the way it can transform even the most ordinary object into something extraordinary, even magical.” It was only natural for her to go on a mission to adapt 22k gold leaf and her love of art into jewelry design, perfecting a proprietary process unique to Evocateur. In the company’s Connecticut studio, Evocateur’s proprietary artwork and designs are gilded and burnished by hand and flecks of gold or silver leaf are added. barbara@evocateurstyle.com

Joel Hassler has been in the jewelry industry almost 20 years, spending most of it on the retail side. In 2016 he sold his interest in the store and started Von Hasle Jewelry Advisers, with a focus on appraisals and store training. Drawing on past experiences in the automotive, restaurant and hospitality industry; along with training from the Ritz Carlton Leadership Center and as an alumnus of the Disney Institute, his focus is on operational efficiency and creating a remarkable guest experience. joel@vonhasle.com

Hedda T. Schupak has been an editor, analyst and business leader in the fine jewelry industry for 33 years. Since 2010, she has been editor-in-chief of The Centurion, a weekly e-newsletter and webzine serving the industry’s luxury sector, bringing relevant business information to prestige-level jewelers and manufacturers. Prior to joining Centurion, Hedda was editor-in-chief of JCK magazine, and before that served as JCK’s fashion and luxury editor. Schupak sits on the board of the Diamond Empowerment Fund and is a member of the 24 Karat Club of the City of New York. For 20 years, she served on the national board of the Women’s Jewelry Association, and also sat on the executive committee of the New Leadership Division of the former jewelry industry chapter of NCCJ. Schupak has won more than two dozen awards for outstanding journalism, was named one of Pennsylvania’s Best 50 Women in Business in 2003, and was inducted into the Women’s Jewelry Association Hall of Fame in 2006. Hedda studied fashion design at Drexel University in Philadelphia and graduated in 1984 from Albright College, Reading, PA, with a BA in English and Communication Arts. heddaschupak@gmail.com

Eric Zuckerman grew up around the timepiece industry. After graduating from Alfred University in New York, Eric’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to launch a niche marketing agency before returning to his roots within the watch world in 2005 by partnering with Alain Borle, owner of Pac Team, USA. Over the next decade, the partners grew the group to the global organization it is today, with offices and manufacturing facilities across the globe. This year marks 70 years for Pac Team Group, which has established itself as an international leader in the design and manufacturing of displays, packaging, fixtures and retail environments. In 2017, Zuckerman launched PT NEXT, a division focused on the integration of custom-designed retail technology solutions for the luxury and accessories industries. ez@pacteamamerica.com


Big Cool Judges

Benjamin G. Guttery, SSEF, GIA GG, A.J.P., is an advocate for jewelry designers, a storyteller, and a self-proclaimed “gem nerd” from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He spent 13 years selling fine jewelry behind the counter of major and independently-owned jewelry stores in Texas before debuting his @ThirdCoastGems account on Instagram. To date, the account has amassed 111,000 followers—including some celebrities like Debra Messing and Kelis. In addition to sharing gorgeous snaps of jewels on the medium, he also teaches retailers how to master it for maximum sales. Reach him at thirdcoastgems@gmail.com

Elle Hill has amassed a golden rolodex and a stable of A-list clients served by her and her team of fine jewelry industry experts in the US, UK and Hong Kong during her 24 years in fine jewelry. In December 2015, she spearheaded the successful IPO on the Australian stock exchange of Plukka, an award-winning, designer jewelry, omni-channel retailer that she launched in 2011 in Hong Kong. In 2010, Hill helped overhaul the business model of the jewelry division of Dalumi Diamonds, the largest diamond cutter in Israel, which she helmed for four years, opening the US and Chinese markets and making them profitable for the first time since the jewelry division’s launch 10 years earlier. Hill is now based in the UK, the time zone perfectly suited to manage her team of fine jewelry consultants located in the USA, Europe and Asia. elle@hillandco.co

Surbhi PandyA is the cofounder and designer behind VIVAAN diamond jewelry. Having been born into the diamond business, she believes passionately in the healing power of diamonds. The spiritual aspect of life has always attracted Pandya, whose guiding principle is: “Every moment is beautiful.”  surbhi@vivaan.us

Bob Phibbs has over 30 years of experience in retail, and he has worked as a consultant, speaker and entrepreneur, helping businesses revolutionize their brand and grow their success. He is the author of The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business: A Step-by-Step Approach to Quickly Diagnose, Treat, and Cure. Clients of his consultancy, The Retail Doctor, have included Yamaha, Omega, and Vera Bradley. He also has experience working with startups, such as It’s a Grind Coffee, which he helped grow to over 125 franchised locations around the country. Over many years, Bob has helped thousands of businesses in every major industry to strengthen their business structure, close more sales, and stay ahead of the competition. bob@retaildoc.com

Michael Roman, AIA, founded C2 Design Group in 2009, combining functionality and award-winning design. Roman has over 20 years’ experience in the management, design and construction of a wide range of projects including planning, programming, adaptive reuse, renovation and new buildings. He has designed multi-family houses, mixed-use buildings, corporate and municipal offices, retail stores, medical facilities and worked with SUNY Schenectady. Michael serves on the Board of Directors for the Eastern Contractors Association. roman@c2-designgroup.com

Mark Tapper is president of Tapper’s Fine Jewelry, based in Southeastern Michigan where the family has three stores. His father, Howard, founded the family business in 1977 and Mark began working in the store around the age of 12. He took over leading the business in 2010 and is passionate about creating unique experiences in his own family stores. Tapper’s Jewelry is proud to have been named among America’s Coolest Stores in 1995 and 2018. matapper@tappers.com

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America's Coolest Stores

These Were Our Editors’ Favorite Cool Store Characteristics

INSTORE editors picked these stores as their top choices for interior, exterior, marketing and online presence.

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WE’RE NOT QUITE ready to announce who won the 2019 America’s Coolest Stores contest. But to pique your interest before the big reveal, we’re sharing INSTORE editors’ top picks in four of the judging categories: Exterior, Interior, Marketing and Online Presence. Entries always contain a wealth of good ideas, and we want to start sharing those as soon as possible. Stay tuned for the announcement of winners, chosen by our panel of industry-expert judges, on instoremag.com in late July, and in our annual America’s Coolest Stores issue in August. As always, the competition was tough. Thank you for entering!

BIG COOL INTERIOR DESIGN

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: When shoppers step into the new Park Place Jewelers in West Ocean City, they say they feel transported to a land of luxury. The 4,100-square-foot store has vaulted 30-foot-high ceilings, curved glass showcases and walls accented in shimmering Anatolia Baroque glass tiles. Even the restrooms attract attention with gold-tone hand dryers and fixtures. Owners Todd and Jill Ferrante welcome customers with a 50-inch flat screen TV, coffee bar, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, and comfortable chairs for resting tired feet.

1. Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, MO
2. Classic Creations, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
3. Day’s Jewelers, Nashua, NH
4. Provident Jewelry, Jupiter, FL
5. Park Place Jewelers, Ocean City, MD (Pictured)

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Big CoolEXTERIOR

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: Owners Sanjay and Sapna Singhania have pulled architectural inspiration from the White House, Las Vegas casino hotels and the temple of Vedic planetarium, under construction in India, to create Tanmai Jewelers, a palatial, 3,500 square-foot showplace in Irving, TX. The grand exterior is incredibly detailed; features include an eye-catching water fountain and the company’s logo inset into the corners of the building.

1. Day’s Jewelers, Nashua, NH
2. John Atencio, Lone Tree, CO
3. Tanmai, Irving, TX (Pictured)
4. H1912, Princeton, NJ
5. Provident Jewelry, Jupiter, FL

Big CoolMARKETING

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: In Bloomington, IN, John Carter, owner of Jack Lewis Jewelers, treats Facebook as if it were his own TV network, with regularly scheduled programming throughout the week that promotes elements of the business. “The other thing we do is highlight our staff in these features,” Carter says. “We are unique in the fact that we are not all about the owner. Our people are the key to what we do.” Video is an integral part of what drives business. Carter and his staff sing and lip-sync invented lyrics set to popular tunes with hilarious results. “If you’ve heard me sing, you know there’s no talent involved whatsoever,” Carter says. “When I started doing it, it was just me, but I’m blessed to have people who work for me who want to be part of the gag,” he says. “It’s nice to show we don’t take ourselves so seriously. It’s another way of bonding with our customer.”

1. Jack Lewis Jewelers, Bloomington, IN (Pictured)
2. Croghan’s Jewel Box, Charleston, SC
3. Day’s Jewelers, Nashua, NH
4. State St. Jewelers, Greensboro, NC
5. H1912, Princeton, NJ

Big CoolONLINE PRESENCE

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: Sisters Mariana Ramsay Hay and Rhett Ramsay Outten, owners of Croghan’s Jewel Box in Charleston, SC, have reason to celebrate their attractive new website, croghansjewelbox.com, which boasts 9,000 to 15,000 visits per month. Visitors are drawn to the site’s layered storytelling, including a blog with a behind-the-scenes vibe and an e-commerce section overflowing with treasures. The century-old family business also uses Facebook and Instagram to develop their online personality and engage customers directly. They’ve experimented with geofencing. During the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, which attracts more than 40,000 visitors, they drew a virtual fence around four luxury hotels and served ads to their visitors on sites including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Harper Bazaar and Vogue.com, which proved to be an inexpensive way to reach nearby visitors looking for something to do.

1. Croghan’s Jewel Box, Charleston, SC (Pictured)
2. Jack Lewis Jewelers, Bloomington, IN
3. Day’s Jewelers, Nashua, NH
4. Classic Creations, Toronto, Ontario
5. H1912, Princeton, NJ

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Small CoolINTERIOR DESIGN

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: The lobby of the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort is home to a luxurious surprise: Chronus Gallery, owned by David Veitsman and Fred Sirota. Encased in glass, it looks like a giant greenhouse showcasing ever-changing conditions in the Sunshine State; rain creates a pattern on the glass, while sunset illuminates the space with a red glow. To maintain some control over the changing light, a sculptural light fixture provides consistency, and a film shields the glass ceiling panels. Gold leaf back-painted glass panels reinforce the luxurious look. Art Nouveau-style showcases and furniture feature chrome metal legs, a high gloss finish and smooth embossed leather that dress up the space.

1. Welling & Co. Jewelers, West Chester, OH
2. The Loupe by JB Hudson Jewelers, Minneapolis, MN
3. Chronus Gallery, Bal Harbour, FL (Pictured)
4. EAT Gallery, Maysville, KY
5. Balefire Goods, Arvada, CA

Small CoolMARKETING

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: Rather than spending money on traditional marketing, owner Jamie Hollier of Balefire Goods focuses on building relationships. Fostering relationships with magazines, local news outlets, and other publications has led to editorial use of Balefire jewelry as fashion features and gift guides. Being seen in the content of local media means more to her customers than seeing an ad, Hollier says. Donations of jewelry, space and time to non-profits, private groups and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce have helped to build the brand, too. In the look book for Balefire’s commitment line, called Kindle, models are real couples that represent a diversity of ages, sizes, and sexual orientation.

1. Yaf Sparkle, New York, NY
2. Brax Jewelers, Newport Beach, CA
3. EAT Gallery, Maysville, KY
4. Wanna Buy a Watch, West Hollywood, CA
5. Balefire Goods, Arveda, CO (Pictured)

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Small CoolONLINE PRESENCE

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: At EAT Gallery in Maysville, KY, owned by Simon and Laurie Watt, the focus is on colored gemstones, which means jewelry tends to be bright and ideal for great photography. This helps the gallery stand out on Instagram and Google. Manager Katherine Cotterill has launched a video blog series, “Welccome to the Gallery,” which is featured both on the website and on YouTube. In each episode, Cotterill models jewelry so viewers can see how it looks on a person. It’s a great way to showcase their jewelry in a casual, conversational way online. They’re also using social media contests with great success.

1. Yaf Sparkle, New York, NY
2. EAT Gallery, Maysville, KY (Pictured)
3. Wanna Buy a Watch, West Hollywood, CA
4. Balefire Goods, Arvada, CO
5. Malka Diamonds & Jewelry, Portland, OR

Small CoolEXTERIOR

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: Yaf Sparkle, owned by Yaf Boye-Flaegel and Torsten Flaegel, sparkles and shines on an iconic street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. If Broome Street looks familiar, you may have seen it in the movies; it went back in time for “The Knick” set in 1901 and again for “The Irishman” by Martin Scorsese, set in 1972. Owners Yaf Boye-Flaegel and Torsten Flaegel spread glitter across the sidewalk outside, making it impossible for party folks to overlook the store on a lively Saturday night.

1. Welling & Co. Jewelers, West Chester, OH
2. JC Jewelers, Jackson, WY
3. Balefire Goods, Arveda, CO
4. Yaf Sparkle, New York, NY (Pictured)
5. Amor Fine Jewelry, Brooklyn, NY

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America's Coolest Stores

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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