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Inspired by Warmth

Former jewelry sales rep values inclusiveness in her retail ventures.

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Water Street Jewelers, Guilford, CT

OWNER: Daniela Balzano; URL: waterstreetjewelry.com; ONLINE PRESENCE: 37 five-star Google reviews; 1,100 Facebook followers;
FOUNDED: 2019; Opened featured location: 2020; AREA: 1,800 square feet; Buildout cost: $15,000; CONTRACTOR: Water Street Construction; TOP BRANDS: Sylvie, Shy Creation, Bassali, Colby Davis, Kabana, Anna Beck, Lashbrook; EMPLOYEES: 8


DANIELA BALZANO, A former sales rep for Kabana and Sylvie Collection, spent a lot of time in jewelry stores before she opened her own.

What inspired her most was a sense of inclusiveness she found in some stores. “Customers were greeted by first names and staff remembered little details about them,” she says. “They’d take steps to build trust and a longer relationship.

“I also love inclusiveness when it comes to demographics, a customer coming in and finding that our jewelry is accessible or that they can take time paying for it. I want everyone to feel very included in everything we’re doing. That’s powerful and magical.”

Balzano founded Water Street Jewelers in 2019 in Guilford, CT, on Water Street, relocating the following year to a larger space with more traffic a block away. Although she moved in the middle of COVID shutdowns and everyone “thought she was crazy,” she felt confident about it.

“For some reason, I didn’t have any fear,” Balzano says. “I knew it was the right thing, to change to that busier location. Everyone was still ordering engagement rings. And people here support local businesses.”

Daniela Balzano

Daniela Balzano

She got more innovative with social media, parking lot pickups and deliveries. “One time a customer called me, and he was in his car nearby; I FaceTimed him, showed him the jewelry and he pulled up outside and popped his trunk and I put it in there. He never even saw the thing!”

Just moving a block made a huge difference. “There’s so much more foot traffic here,” she says. “Customers visit the area from other towns or states and can walk in casually and look around. The aesthetic of our beautiful Connecticut green lends to a quaint feel, which is very welcoming for tourists and local shoppers.”

And although she moved off Water Street, she kept the name because it immediately resonated with her and felt like part of her brand. It also seemed to have universal appeal. “So many towns have a Water Street,” she says. Since then, she’s carried the name to Madison, a town about 10 minutes away, where she opened a second store in 2021. Both towns are on the shore, but Madison is more of a destination for travelers. During the summer in Madison, shoppers are often looking for jewelry with a nautical theme, including dune jewelry made from local beach sand encased in sterling silver.
Guilford is a popular place for young families and has year-round appeal.

When designing her stores, Balzano made a conscious decision to avoid heavily branded signage, primary colors and traditional displays in favor of a handcrafted look and feel, which contributes to a more relatable experience for customers. They often comment on the atmosphere and energy when they walk through the door.

Balzano cultivates that positive energy with a color scheme she finds welcoming: tones of light turquoise and gold complemented by natural woods. The design scheme eschews a more traditional and darker environment that seems dated to her. Live plants, including cacti, and hand-built artisanal cases add to the appeal. The entire right wall is exposed brick, lightly pickled in a white paint. New windows allow for more natural light. Unique Moroccan chandeliers add a global feel.

Many of the fixtures and design elements and much of the furniture is reclaimed or recycled in an effort to create a retail space without a huge carbon footprint, which is one priority of Balzano’s business model. She also focuses on obtaining ethically sourced diamonds, showcasing the work of independent jewelers, and using environmentally friendlier packaging materials.

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“It’s refreshing. It’s warm,” she says. “It seems to be an aesthetic that makes people comfortable and makes it seem that the pieces are attainable.”
In fact, many of them are very attainable, since price points for small jewelry gifts begin at $28. “Our town depends on us for 16-year-old birthday gifts, and parties for young children, all the way up to engagement or big anniversary pieces.” They also offer permanent jewelry and ear piercings.

Luxury brands include Sylvie and Shy Creation, while bridal represents only about 20% of her business overall.

Balzano encourages a harmonious and loving work environment and hires caring and compassionate staff. “They are loving and kind, and they care about our customers, which becomes a positive palpable energy when walking into the store.”

A back counter with bar stools near the register encourages customers to mingle and congregate the way they would in a kitchen during a party.

“Sometimes we have customers who want to come in and talk, and I tell the staff that’s what pays our bills,” Balzano says. “The customers’ emotional state matters. Sometimes it’s not about the jewelry for them; it’s about being heard. They turn to jewelry stores when they are in an emotional place. My staff are genuinely engaged and genuinely care.”

Customers are encouraged to sit, talk, and share stories about love and loss. They often bring in their heirloom jewelry, which Balzano and her team transform into wearable art.

“Water Street Jewelers isn’t defined by our jewelry, it’s defined by our customers. Our hope is that they leave feeling empowered, cared for, and that they were a part of a process.”

Connecticut Jeweler, a One-Time Jewelry Sales Rep, Values Inclusiveness

Reclaimed materials and recycled furniture contribute to the store’s casual and eclectic vibe. An exposed brick wall, exotic chandeliers and pops of turquoise add visual interest.

She has been very hands on in building her business. “I eat, breathe and sleep Water Street Jewelers.” Balzano manages both stores herself but plans to add management staff this year and possibly a third location.

“Our marketing is very diverse. We have everything from jewelry with Buddhas to Star of David and crosses; we’re all encompassing when it comes to religion. I think my staff creates that culture by their loving personality traits. We always sell gay pride jewelry here and we’re a big draw for same-sex couples. I don’t even know that we try, it just comes naturally to us to create that environment.”

A new website, which replaced a site Balzano describes as antiquated, has served primarily to draw local customers, who often show up with a photo they found on the website. “We knew it was time to up our online presence and create an easy-to-navigate shopping site complete with a blog and interactive features,” she says. “The site reflects the energy of our store and branding.”

She especially loves the “our story” page because it shares pictures of staff members and allows the viewer to get to know them. “It was important that we maintain the same level of connection that we have in-store on our new site,” Balzano says.
Feedback is effusive.

“We are often told ‘we are so happy that you are here’ by customers, and that warms our hearts. It feels really nice to be a part of something larger.”

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Five Cool Things About Water Street Jewelers

1. ROCK STAR OF MARKETING. Brett’s Bougie Buys videos, created by staff member Brett Camillo, have attracted an avid following. “He came from an acting background, so it’s his way to use some of his awesome skills,” Balzano says. “He was shy, now he’s a next-level big personality.”

2. CURB APPEAL. Balzano purchased a 1969 Ranger pickup truck in turquoise, the same color she uses for her branding. She parks the truck in front of the store, where customers like to use it as a prop for proposal or engagement announcement photographs. It’s even decorated for the season. In the fall, for example, she fills it with mums and pumpkins.

3. SETTING THE TONE. Balzano and her team design store windows with bright pops of color to celebrate each season in her pedestrian-friendly locations. They’ve used old ladders as shelving units, dressed mannequins, displayed live plants and hung paper cranes for curb appeal.

4. CREATIVE LICENSE. A Metal Pressions kiosk is an invitation for customers to design their own silver piece of jewelry, complete with gemstones and engraving. The design is submitted to the Savannah, GA.-based company, which makes and ships it within a couple of weeks. “It’s very intuitive, but a staff member does work with them,” Balzano says.

5. REPAIR CENTER. Water Street has become especially known for jewelry repair, taking in over 3,000 jobs a year.

PHOTO GALLERY (17 IMAGES)

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Elizabeth Ross Brewer: The store’s design elements are made from reclaimed objects. Earth-friendly packaging materials are used for each purchase. Water Street Jewelers considers its team members and clients family. Daniela is also very involved in her community and is committed to supporting the people who have made her business so successful..
  • Kathleen Cutler: Water Street Jewelers seems like a haven where customers gather to connect, share stories, and witness their meaningful jewelry being transformed into wearable art. It seems like what makes their staff truly exceptional is that none of them had prior experience in the jewelry industry. Instead, they were chosen for their honesty and kindness, with the belief that they could learn the intricacies of jewelry craftsmanship. The team’s camaraderie is fostered through staff meetings held in a personable setting, resembling Sunday brunch at the owner’s home, where delicious frittatas and French toast are shared. Love this!
  • Marie Mccarthy: Love the interior, exterior, and relationship with the clients. Super cute!
  • Leslie Mcgwire: The space is warm, inviting, and has a residential feel. The area rugs tie in the color and the feel they are trying to achieve. The light wood floors go beautifully with the rest of the store design.

 

Try This: Record Shopping Lists

Purchasing jewelry and introducing new lines is based on customer requests. Staff members keep track of what customers are asking for and record it in a book. That system improves communication between Balzano and her staff members in two stores.

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