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No Fine Print,
Just Diamonds

Innovations keep formula fresh while brand stays on message.

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Kesslers Diamond Center, Grand Rapids, MI

FOUNDED: 1980; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2015; AREA: 6,800; BUILDOUT COST: $1.32 million; Employees at featured location: 12; TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 127; No. of locations: 7; TOP BRANDS: Kesslers, Gabriel & Co., Lashbrook; ONLINE PRESENCE: 7,152 likes on Facebook; 4.7-star rating on weddingwire.com (206 reviews); 5-star rating on theknot.com (172 reviews)


RICHARD KESSLER HAS SEVEN locations now, and every time he builds a new store, it evolves a bit, like a new iPhone iteration. But the focus and underlying philosophy are unwavering. “We do diamonds better because diamonds are all we do,” he says.
Of his diamond business, 70 percent of total sales is wedding and engagement; the rest is fashion: diamond earrings, necklaces and bracelets.

One notable innovation in the Grand Rapids store is that it’s outfitted with restaurant-style booths that span one whole wall of windows, offering bright, private spots to chat with sales staff without requiring multiple meeting rooms off the sales floor. Engagement ring shoppers appreciate the private, relaxed setting and it also helps the associate to easily get to know the client. “After you’ve picked out a few different styles that appeal to you, you can talk to an associate in a booth, which is really private,” Kessler says. “We can find out how the two of you met, what she does for a living, spend time building a relationship, and offer a refreshment, just like I would do if you were in my home.”

Another singular feature is a huge aluminum sculpture in the shape of a diamond that hangs from the ceiling on cables, offering a focal point and reinforcing the store’s branding as a diamond authority. Kessler commissioned artist Michael Murphy to create the 3D sculpture for the store, which is nearly 20 feet wide and 8 feet high. But its most striking feature is that it changes appearance as the viewer walks around it, from a diamond shape to a ring shape and then, voila, back to a diamond shape.

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Also commanding attention is the goldsmith shop, which has a large glass wall for transparency.

All new Kessler stores, including Grand Rapids, have a men’s lounge with a big TV and refreshment stations.

There’s also a significant shift that’s taken place in the past two years in the type of diamonds sold. Kessler jumped into lab-grown diamonds two years ago with both feet, he says, after investigating the option for about a year.

“We brought in a nice selection, trained our people how to explain the process and why they are the same and why they are different,” he says. “Within 30 days, our Newborn Created Diamonds outsold our Kessler 81, our signature diamond that goes back to 2005. Now we cut our Newborn Created Diamonds into our Kessler 81 faceting pattern. Three out of four customers choose a Newborn Created Diamond. It’s amazing, absolutely amazing.

“We’re selling the living daylights out of these things and our competitors are telling everyone, `You don’t want these fake diamonds.’ But more and more jewelers are getting their heads out of the sand.”

New Territory

Prior to opening the Grand Rapids store, Kesslers was firmly planted in Wisconsin.

When Richard Kessler’s son first suggested he open a store in Michigan, he admits he was skeptical.

But his son, who worked for Moody Analytics, didn’t make the suggestion on a whim. His professional assignment was to study the business climate in Michigan.

Kessler told him he was looking for a city with a population of 500,000 or larger.

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“He said, ‘Have you considered Grand Rapids?’ and I laughed. I’m originally from Detroit, and Grand Rapids at the time did not have a good reputation.”

But Grand Rapids had become the fastest growing city in the Midwest, with the most disposable income, too. Forbes Magazine named it the best city in America to raise a family.

So Kessler decided to see for himself. He drove to Grand Rapids and met with the general manager of a radio station, who showed him around and introduced him to a real estate broker. “About a week later, we were signing a lease,” he says. “It’s such an amazing city and it was very under-served. I saw it as a huge opportunity.”

It seems Kessler and son were right.

“Our store took off and was successful almost immediately. It’s growing at 50 percent in its second year. My son is a genius.”

Kessler, who has an enviable radio voice, has been investing heavily in radio advertising for 25 years. He is the voice of nearly 2,500 radio ads that run weekly in four different markets.

Kessler has worked for years with Roy Williams, author of The Wizard Of Ads.

“His philosophy is to pick one medium and own it, dominate it,” Kessler says. “We dominate the radio 52 weeks a year and never change the schedule. We’re very, very consistent. You cannot go anywhere in eastern Wisconsin and mention my name and have somebody say, ‘I don’t know who you’re talking about.’”

Kessler also believes strongly in word of mouth, which has been updated for social media.

“We’re running at 5.0 in reviews and we have hundreds of reviews,” Kessler says.

He doesn’t leave it to chance; it’s policy to ask everyone for a review.

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Employee Owned

Kesslers has been partially employee-owned since 2011.

Because Kessler has four children and only his daughter Monica is in the business, he wanted to find a way to transition the business fairly to all four children. His financial adviser said it would be simplest to turn the business into cash and make a cash transfer. “I decided to sell the company to the employees who helped build it,” he says. “It costs them nothing. They receive shares and it grows very, very fast.” He predicts that employees who are in their 30s now will be millionaires by the time they reach retirement age.

“The benefits of employee ownership are obvious,” he says. “When you’re talking to someone who actually owns the business, they have a certain level of pride.”

Employees also have the authority to make decisions, which frees Kessler to do other things.

“I go to jewelry shows and guys I know there, their phone rings 15 times a day, with someone asking, ‘Hey boss, what do you want me to do about this?’ People are afraid of making a decision because they get chewed out.

“Our people are empowered. I hire smart people and I let them use their brains. And nine out of 10 business decisions will be good. One out of 10 will be a bad decision. I’m willing to pay that price, so I forgive you in advance.”

Kessler has won the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel Top Work Place Award six years running.

“I hate bureaucracy. We have only two rules in our company: do the right thing and have fun every day. If you can’t follow those rules, you can’t work here.”

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5 Cool Things About Kesslers Diamond Center

1. Safe design. Another evolution in store design is that nearly every single showcase in the store is also a safe. So, at the end of the day the display drops down into the base of the case at a push of the button. Once the key is turned, everything is stored safely overnight. “It saves us hundreds of hours of manual labor,” says Kessler.

2. Kessler University. Every employee gets four weeks of classroom training, even if they are in operations or accounting, before they move on with their career. From there, they spend time with a mentor so they can get the Kesslers culture. “We spend a lot of time talking about Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits Of Highly Successful People. Those are our rules: how to treat each other with respect, solve problems, be a better person.”

3. Open early.  Store hours are from 10 to 7, but stores open 10 minutes before 10. “I want that store unlocked, because I want to serve the customer better than anybody,” Kessler says. I don’t want it to open a few minutes late. It’s little stuff like that that makes consumers crazy.”

4. Fresh look. The stores are professionally decorated five times a year by a company called I Love That Display. “It’s very, very expensive to do that, but we want to deliver a consistent message; we want the stores to look the same,” Kessler says.

5. Miraculous Warranty. “The lifetime diamond warranty costs us about half a million a year,” Kessler says. “A customer dropped a ring into the garbage disposal and we replaced it. It helps separate us from the competition.” There’s no fine print.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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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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America's Coolest Stores

This Cool Store’s Design Was Influenced by Aviation History

Contemporary design lends their building a new purpose.

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Beré Jewelers, Pensacola, FL

OWNERS: Barry and Laura Cole; URL:berejewelers.com ; FOUNDED: 1985; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Jesse Balaity, project designer; Patrick M. Pillot, architect; Morette Construction, contractor; JMJ Inc. showcase manufacturer; EMPLOYEES: 9 ; AREA: 7,350 square feet; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; BUILDOUT COST: $2.1 million


A ROUTINE DRIVE HOME from the airport changed everything for Barry and Laura Cole. After a buying trip to Las Vegas in June 2016, the couple passed a furniture store they had long imagined would be the ideal spot for a jewelry store. In fact, for years, they had peeked in the windows and dreamed about its potential transformation. This time, they did a double take when they noticed a for-sale sign. “Our wheels started spinning,” Barry says. Despite years of daydreaming, they never really believed they’d be starting over after 31 years in business, but they wanted to set up the business for its best possible future for their second generation, sons Conner and Harrison. Conner won the Atlanta 24 Karat Club’s Robert Foreman Memorial Scholarship in August 2018 and has earned a graduate gemologist degree.

Bankers were called, and construction began about four months later under the guidance of store designer Jesse Balaity. It was to be a remarkably quick turnaround with the opening in April 2017.

“Jesse is a little more contemporary and I am a little more traditional,” Barry Cole says. “But I’m a pretty laid back guy, and we wanted it to have a less traditional feel to it than most stores. I didn’t want dark cherry wood or drop cloud lighting systems. I just wanted it to be different.”

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Balaity was happy to deliver that distinctive look.

The building was in great shape, he says — a well-designed furniture store with a wide-open canvas inside and an exposed ceiling.

“It lent itself to having a more contemporary feeling,” Balaity says. “I often advise clients working with a big open ceiling not to pursue a traditional approach. Dark woods and lower ceilings don’t work with a big volume of space. If they do want to finish out everything with wood veneers and moldings, it gets uncontrollably expensive to deal with all those finishings.”

So, finding themselves in agreement, the Coles and Balaity kept the industrial-style open ceilings and added old reclaimed Chicago brick from local sites to build columns and walls.

Another important consideration was to determine which generation (or generations) the Coles were trying to woo as clients. “Pensacola has a good mix because of the Air Force base,” Balaity says. “And we want to be able to broadly attract younger bridal customers and older customers alike into this space. Having a contemporary approach was more approachable for everyone.”

To balance the jewelry and watch brand identities with the Beré identity, each was given its own distinct zone, created by a mix of wood plank and porcelain. The Breitling enclave is defined by wood plank and the Forevermark zone is highlighted with a similar material in a lighter color. “We had to pick and choose how each would have its presence and how they would play together, and we found ways to overlap Forevermark and the bridal zone,” Balaity says.

The store is across the street from the airport, says Cole, who can sit in his conference room and look at the runway. The city is known for being the home of naval aviation and the Blue Angels, local themes Cole wanted to tie into the store.

An entire wall anchors a bar, lounge and Breitling watch zone, where panel walls with rivets mimicking old airplane and antique propellers pay homage to the local military and aviation history.

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The bar boasts local craft beers on tap, wine champagne and bourbon. Entertainment includes eight large-screen LED TVs playing sports, fashion videos and brand stories. The children’s play area is equipped with LED TV, toys, books, puzzles and original paintings of sea creatures.

An 18-foot granite community table is the center for meetings and events and invites customers to relax with a hot cup of coffee or cold beer. The Coles offer their space to local charities for events and board meetings, too. Original artwork by Laura Cole hangs throughout the store.

Barry believes the design achieved all of his goals, even goals he didn’t realize he had and wouldn’t have been able to articulate without Balaity’s input. “On front-facing showcases, the drawer pulls are made out of leather,” he says. “Just little details like that that I never in a million years would have thought of. Showcases all of a sudden looked like an old trunk. I’m good at what I do, but I never would have thought of those things.”

Balaity says the store is an extension of its owners’ personalities. “Barry and Laura are community-engaged and affable, and they grasped the idea of the store being a community hub,” he says. “They took a big leap to create a full bar area, an outside seating area and a lounge area. When you walk in and see Barry in this environment, it looks like you’re seeing him in this large living room. It really is the owner’s personality that melds with the design and makes it a retail experience.”

Cole agrees it can feel like his living room and that the hospitable atmosphere is good for business. “We will sit here at night and open a beer and really enjoy being here,” he says. “It’s pretty cool when you feel you don’t have to be away from this place. Every single day someone comes in and is wowed.” In fact, during the first six months the store was open, the Coles welcomed 3,000 new customers. In the first fiscal year, revenues were 50 percent over the previous year, even though the previous year had included a Wilkerson sale event.

Origin Story

Barry Cole’s origins in jewelry can be traced to a high school job at Zales. “I loved working with people and selling diamonds and watches,” he says. During his senior year in college, Ray Jones, his former boss at Zales, suggested they open their own store. “I was 21 years old, I was living at home, going to school. We spent the better part of that year, late 1984, saving up money. We each saved $10,000, and we found a bank to loan us $25,000.” They rented a 700 square-foot store, had some cases made, secured some inventory on memo and chose a name, a simple combination of their names. “Goofy, but it worked!” Cole says. “We opened on Oct. 15, and on Dec. 31, we had an armed robbery and we lost everything.” Although they were insured, much of the inventory was on memo and it took nine months to start over. In June 2005, after Jones died suddenly, Cole relocated the Pensacola store closer to the heartbeat of the Pensacola shopping area.

The Coles have come a long way and aren’t afraid to evolve.

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“Don’t be afraid of change,” Cole says. “I’m a big college football fan and I follow the University of Alabama. (Coach) Nick Saban is willing to change, to hire the right people who know the things to do to change with the times. That’s what I aspire to.”

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Five Cool Things About Beré Jewelers

1. The Golden Ticket. The Coles created a VIP event with a “golden ticket” inspired by Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. VIP customers are offered a Golden Ticket invitation with a discount good for one night only. The evening features a full bar, catering from Pensacola’s best restaurants and live music.

2. The Blue Angels. Beré teams up with Breitling to sponsor the Blue Angels air show in Pensacola. “There will be about a quarter million people attending, and they blast our name over the intercom system,” Cole says. “We’ll end up selling between 10 and 25 watches as a result of that show.”

3. Embracing watches. The Coles are building a new watch shop on site. “I have a big passion for watches,” Cole says. “As much as a lot of jewelers are getting out of watches, I’ve kind of embraced watches because it gets people in our store. Guys come in and look at Omega, Breitling, Tag Heuer, Shinola, Oris, and that gets them exposed to our brand and our store.”

4. Marketing strategy. The Coles built a strong Facebook presence with 125,000 followers. After contracting with an agency, they began using geo-fencing and got into Instagram. They’re on network TV every day and advertise on seven or eight billboards. They’ve also got an ad on the back cover of several local magazines. “We’re the most aggressive advertiser in our market. It’s a transient community and I’ve got to let people know we are here.”

5. Community presence. “We’re big into charities and events around town,” Cole says. “We do a lot of sponsoring of ball teams and schools. When you support these things, the parents will support you.” During construction, they also made a concerted effort to use the community as a resource, going to local furniture and lighting stores and working with people they knew, even though at times they paid a premium to do so, Balaity says.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Geoffrey Brown: This overall brand and the online presence of the business is great. It appeals to every age. They are engaging on social media and review sites, and they are experts with a blog. They hit three major millennial and small business market must-haves.
  • Laura Davis: Very nice store, super-enlightened and experience-based approach. It’s a great brand and business.
  • Larry Johnson: The interior is the best I’ve seen in years. Definitely cool. Laura’s art gracing the store is a classic touch. The long table in the watch area creates a central gathering point that works extremely well.
  • David Lampert: I like that they have an active blog.
  • Jill Maurer: The Golden Ticket event is a great way to celebrate VIP customers and sounds like a lot of fun!
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