Charlotte Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM
OWNERS: Gunther and Dorothee Maier; FOUNDED: 2000; URL: charlotteshop.com; CASES: Display Works of Phoenix, AZ; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2002; AREA: 400 square feet; EMPLOYEES 3; JEWELRY BRAND: Charlotte by designer Wolf-Peter Schwarz
GUNTHER AND DOROTHEE MAIER had had enough of their corporate careers in New York City and the accompanying long commutes and hectic schedules, when they traded it all in for a new start in retail jewelry and a move to Santa Fe, NM. “We were always playing with the idea that we’d retire there.” Not exactly retired, they are successful retailers with a 400-square-foot showroom in prime real estate — right on the picturesque, tourist-centric square in Santa Fe.
PHOTO GALLERY (9 IMAGES)
Five Cool Things About Charlotte Santa Fe
1. ORIGINS. The Maiers hail from Ulm, Germany, where fourth-generation goldsmith Wolf-Peter Schwarz is based. Schwarz, scion of the Ehinger-Schwarz Company, developed a system of interchangeable fine jewelry in the early ’90s. Because he believed it would appeal to a different demographic than that which typically patronized his traditional jewelry store, he opened a new concept store named for his wife, Charlotte, to brand the line. It turned out to be a hit, and Charlotte stores have proliferated all over Germany.
The Maiers bought their wedding bands from Schwarz 30 years ago. Later — in 1997 — Dorothee Maier received a gift of Charlotte jewelry and quickly became “addicted.”
A few years later, as the Maiers considered a move to Santa Fe they also explored a franchise/licensing agreement with Schwarz. It all fell into place. “Americans are very open to new things,” says Dorothee, who, with Gunther, opened the first U.S. Charlotte in 2000.
2. THE ADDICTION. Gemstones, pearls and metal discs are layered into base pieces, creating endless combinations. They are locked in with spring-loaded pins. Schwarz uses platinum, 18K gold, stainless steel, silver and, most recently, black and white ceramic. The average sale is $500 to $600. A collection can be built from a $110 stainless steel ring and grow to include a $10,000 diamond center stone. “What really has kept us in business is we get a lot of return buyers because people want to add on to their collection,” Dorothee says. “A gemstone in a ring can go into a necklace, or a leather cuff around your wrist, or you can put it into earrings, so everything is interchangeable.” In addition, the jewelry comes with a lifetime warranty.
3. THE TRIBE. “A lot of tourists discover us anew every day, and then we have our regulars — and we have customers who come to us from Denver or from Texas and tell us, ‘You are our destination. I have to get my Charlotte fix.’ That’s what’s so rewarding on a daily basis,” Dorothee says. “Very often, our customers show us new combinations we haven’t even tried and we think, ‘Wow, we’ve got to put that in the window. It looks really terrific.” To reward Charlotte’s best customers, Schwarz designed a New Mexico Zia symbol sterling silver disc with gold leaf, and for the store’s 10th anniversary, the Maiers sent it to more than 250 of their best customers, along with handmade chocolates.
4. THE LAYOUT. The store has no counters; instead, the sales team pulls merchandise out of a black wall, a dramatic concept designed by Charlotte Schwarz, a collage artist with a background in theater. “She felt that the jewelry should always be on a stage,” Dorothee says. “People walk in and see it beautifully laid out. We work with the customer one on one. There are no barriers created by the counters.
Every eight weeks they change the decoration on the backdrop black wall.
Whenever the theme changes, it seems to refresh the jewelry. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, you have new pieces here but it might be something that has been here two years already. They just don’t realize it because they see it in a different light.”
5. THE MARKETING. The Maiers’ secret-weapon sales tool is a small, unassuming looking catalog published twice a year and sent out to customers.
Once in her customers’ hands, Dorothee says, it works its magic on its own.
“People tell me, ‘This catalog is my bible. I carry it with me all the time and have it next to my nightstand.’ That is our biggest sales tool. It’s not very big but it has lots of pages. A woman can carry it easily in her purse. It’s more important than any advertising we have.”
Dorothee also hands out catalogs to window shoppers who seem confused or unconvinced. Often, they’ll peruse the catalog over lunch or overnight, and, realizing how it works, hurry back in to make a purchase.
“Husbands and boyfriends buy for anniversaries, birthdays and holidays because the woman marks all the things that she likes in the catalog.”
Five Questions with Dorothee Maier
1. WHAT IS YOUR AVERAGE SALE? The average sale is $500-$600. We’re attracting customers who can spend a lot of money and attracting customers who may spend a couple of hundred dollars. But they are very important customers because they come back again and again.
2. WHAT IS THE CUSTOMER REACTION TO THE STORE? We have customers come in every week and say, “Oh, finally a jewelry store that doesn’t have turquoise.” And when they hear it’s all designed by one gentleman, they really can’t believe it because there is so much variety.
3. WHAT IS YOUR SALES APPROACH? I never jump on my customers. I greet them, I let them browse and ask them to let me know if there’s anything they’d like to see. Sometimes people say “We can’t afford anything in here.” And I’ll say, “I just want to let you know most of these pieces are interchangeable. I’m more than happy to show you how it works.” There’s no pressure.
4. DID YOU MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION, TRANSITIONING TO JEWELRY RETAIL? I found my passion. I always felt in my previous life, I wasn’t a creative person. I finally found my way of being creative. After 11 years, I am so excited about this jewelry. It really, really is amazing.
5. WHAT HAS BEEN MOST SURPRISING TO YOU? In 10 years, we have collected contact information from 9,500 customers. There is hardly a customer who won’t fill a card out, which is a big surprise to me. So we know every item they bought. So, If they ask, “Can this piece fit into what I have?” I can tell them over the phone.