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ACS 2010: Third Place Small Cool, Churchill

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This is a shopping nirvana. I’m going to make pilgrimages here!” These words of Ashley Wallace, a Churchill customer who lives in Chicago, speak volumes. The eclectic store not only sells a noteworthy array of artisanal contemporary fine jewelry but also fashion and vintage jewelry, antiques, home furnishings, gifts, clothing and accessories. Ever-cognizant that the Churchill customer seeks “different,” founder/owner Sally Hilkene shops the world for interesting, high-quality products. And anything her customers see there, they can purchase, she says. “Everything in our store is for sale: all the in-case displays, antique urns, gilded mirrors — even our hand-painted silk curtains, if they want them!”

Quick Facts

Chuchill, Fairway, KS

Owner: Sally Hilkene  |  URL: www.shopatchurchill.com  |  Founded: 2003  |  Opened Featured Location: 2006  |  Area: 12,000 square feet; 2,500 square feet for jewelry  |  Employees: 5  |  Top Brands: Paul Crevoshay, Sevan Bicakci, Annie Fensterstock, Loree Rodkin, Raffaella Mannelli, Armenta, Erica Courtney, Yossi Harari, Sydney Evan, Coomi, Vicente Agor, ARA 24K, Yves Kamioner, Monique Pean

Five Cool Things About This Store

QR and “The Blackberry Girl”

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1Ralph Lauren was the first U.S. luxury retailer to use QR codes, and Churchill was the first Kansas City retailer to use them. The QR (quick response) code is basically a bar code for mobile commerce. Using a smartphone, the consumer snaps a picture of the code and is instantly linked to the company’s website. Churchill puts its QR code on everything — ads, business cards and stationery. Hilkene says, “I love this because it’s like a thumbprint for our company. No two are alike.” Says Churchill’s director of in-store sales, Chris Garrett: “Sally is a real BlackBerry girl, and fascinated by technology. So this really appeals to her.”

Daily Give-Back

2At Churchill, giving back is a 365-day activity. Each month, Churchill picks three different charities. When customers pay for their merchandise, they’re asked to choose which of the three they’d like a portion of the proceeds of their purchase to go to. “It makes the customer feel good. And even if sometimes the dollars we raise aren’t much, doing this raises awareness, and that in itself is a good thing,” Hilkene says.

An Unusual Job Application

3Take this job application and fill it out … and take this mannequin and accessorize it. That’s how it works for anyone who wants to work at Churchill. “It’s a requirement,” Hilkene says. “I need to know they have the artistic eye.” Consequently, all employees have some sort of design background, whether it’s in fashion, graphics, or interiors. There’s one other unique “test” on the Churchill job application: a handwriting sample. Hilkene explains, “Our employees write thank-you notes to customers, so I need to know they have nice handwriting — and can spell.”

Art Forms Aren’t Afraid to Mingle

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4Fine contemporary jewelry, fashion jewelry and vintage jewelry. Antiques, art, fashion and accessories, home furnishings and gifts. It’s all here — and all displayed together. “I know the fashion and accessories bring in some jewelry customers,” Hilkene says. In addition to the big names in contemporary fine jewelry, Churchill carries estate jewelry. “I find that showing the contemporary and estate next to each other makes it more fascinating for our customers. People love stories. For example, if a piece has an old mine cut diamond, they like to hear the story. So I’ll typically display a jewelry piece with an old-mine cut next to a piece with an ideal cut and show them the difference.”

Way Cool: A Retro Refrigerator

5Churchill’s building in suburban Kansas City has a sentimental attachment for the locals, who remember it as the one they used to visit to buy some of the best baked goods in the area. So when Hilkene renovated the former brick bakery, she kept the huge vintage locker. “It’s beautiful, with six doors, and looks like a big walk-in refrigerator. We make sure it’s always well-stocked with goodies for our customers — champagne, wine, cheese, fruit, petits fours — and, at the holidays, the best sugar cookies.”

Exterior

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Interior

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Marketing

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       Shop Talk

chaka khan, chaka khanCHA-ka-khan imperative noun

“Suddenly chanting this and dancing is our way of alerting each other that someone in the store is suspected of shoplifting, so keep your eyes open,” Hilkene says. “It’s actually perfectly natural for us to do this because music is always playing in our store, especially Chaka Khan songs, which we all love.”

       True Tales

“we take care of our christmas eve husbands — the last-minute guys,” Garrett says. “Although we close early on Christmas Eve because Sally likes being with her family and wants us all to do the same, last Christmas Eve we put a sign on the door that read: ‘For jewelry and fashion emergencies, call Chris,’ and it gave my home phone number. Frantic husbands were calling and asking, ‘Where are you?’ So I went down to the store and we did three sales, which made our month. While the husbands were shopping, I also treated them to my famous holiday eggnog, to help ease their stress!”

       Try This

The 24-hour loan

Allowing customers to take jewelry home for 24 hours (without buying it) works well for Churchill. “We take a credit card, a driver’s license, and a written agreement that says we’ll charge their credit card if they don’t have the jewelry back to us in 24 hours. That makes them responsible for the piece. It’s been great for us, it’s helped avoid returns, and often it ends up in a sale. But we only do this Monday through Thursday so they don’t have it over the weekend. Also, it has to be a customer we’ve done business with before.”

What the Judges Said

George Whalin: With its classic architecture and distinct selection of merchandise, shopping here is like a treasure hunt for customers, always promoted and marketed with descriptive advertising and unique special events. Owner Sally Hilkene actively participates in local events and charity organizations earning great esteem in the community for herself and her wonderful store.

Patti David: Wow! When you go into Sally’s store, you’ve got to feel like you just walked into a jewelry treasure trove. Her eclectic assortment and beautiful ornate surroundings would make you feel like you can’t leave until you’ve seen everything.

Wolfgang Möckel: Everything about this store, the exterior, interior, décor, way of showcasing the jewelry, etc. creates a warm and welcoming feel. I love how they mix objets d’art with jewelry, and I am sure one always finds something to buy. I also congratulate Churchill’s Sally Hilkene on their noble “giving back” initiatives.

Kate Peterson: The choice of product certainly fits well with the truly unique display materials. It really IS like a walk-in treasure chest. It was hard NOT to buy something (several somethings!) from the website — and I haven’t even found the QR codes yet!

Ken Nisch: Bringing together a very cross-cultural mix of vintage movie palace antiques and fabrics, with a mix of Buddha and driftwood, makes the Churchill experience just that, an experience. With the sense of discovery and treasure hunt, the store is one part museum, one part flea market and one part gallery. With a touch of organized clutter and planned confusion, the overall experience is a great execution of “enough is never enough” for this full-bodied and full-personality store.

Sarah Graham: Churchill successfully bucks tradition with a varied (and plentiful!) product mix uniquely displayed. Sally wasn’t afraid to be different, and her confidence has paid off — a visit to her store will always be memorable and stand out among all other jewelry stores.

This story is from the August 2010 edition of INSTORE

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