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Cool Store: Art + Soul

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Mountain high

THE FIRST TIME DEBBIE KLEIN VISITED BOULDER 17 YEARS AGO, HER FATE WAS SEALED. The New York City resident fell in love with the picturesque Rocky Mountain town and decided to move there. With experience in customer service at Christy’s Auction House and an art-handling company, she easily landed a job in a Boulder gallery. By 2000 it was time to open one of her own, dedicated to fine, handmade jewelry and contemporary art that doesn’t fit the region’s prevailing Southwestern themes. “I’ve tried to create an atmosphere where we are showcasing things that are unique, whether it’s a wedding ring or a piece of art,” Klein says.— By Eileen McClelland

Quick Facts

]Art + Soul

Boulder, CO

URL: www.artandsoulboulder.com
OWNER: Debbie Klein 
EMPLOYEES: 5 part-time 
FOUNDED: 2000
TOTAL AREA: 3,000 square feet 
TOP JEWELRY BRANDS: Alex Sepkus, Anne Sportun, Avant Garde, Dana*David, Me & Ro, Lisa Jenks, Shaesby, Jeanine Payer, Somers, Susan Fleming.

COOL REASON

1 personalized shopping

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Klein is systematic about using her POS system to track clients and their designer preferences. All new Art + Soul clients are asked if they want to be called about special events, and 85 percent of them say yes. “If we’re having an event, or introducing a new line, we’ll call people — hundreds of people sometimes,” Klein says. “If we have an Alex Sepkus or Anne Sportun trunk show, we have 500 or 600 people to call. We found that to be the most effective way to make contact. A personal phone call makes a big difference.”

Klein and company also take copious notes and continually update wish lists in the computer. “I think other than bridal, my most consistent group of purchasers are the husbands I see three times a year. (In November) I call some of my clients and say, ‘The holidays are coming. Is there anything you want me to get in for you?’ What guy wants to schlep around town looking for a gift? Wouldn’t he rather have something ordered for him, and have it wrapped and ready?”

Every relationship with a customer is viewed as longterm. “I deal with a lot of first-time art collectors, and I know the relationship will grow,” she says. “I don’t want to try to up-sell them too much, I want to be respectful of what they want to spend so that they don’t have any remorse. They’ll come back when they are ready to spend more.”

2 an evolving space

Art + Soul is on the edge of a popular pedestrian mall, offering high visibility as well as convenient parking. The building was formerly an audio store, which looked like the antithesis of light and airy gallery space — lots of little rooms with low ceilings, bars on the windows and a metal security floor.

When Klein moved in 11 years ago, she worked with an architect to open it up, in the process discovering characterinfused beams, poles and ductwork that became integral to the new design. Klein wound up with a space that boasts a great traffic flow and an industrial feel.

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The space and its needs continue to evolve. In a recent renovation, Klein added pendant lighting over the cases. Galleries are always equipped with spot and flood lights but her diamonds weren’t showing to their full potential. “I never intended to be selling diamonds,” Klein says. “The store wasn’t necessarily built for that. So I think that upgrading our systems for selling higher-end jewelry is important.”

3 an invitation to play

Walking into any gallery can be intimidating, Klein says. With high ceilings and lots of white walls and open space, there’s nowhere to hide. So Klein puts clients at ease by saying, “Let me know if you want to play with anything.”

Yorkshire terrier Harry Winston, often hanging out near the door, is a huge ice breaker in a small package. “Having this cute little dog has been a tremendous help,” Klein says. “People come visit him.”

Klein also plays down the formality of the space by dressing casually. “It’s a casual town,” she says. “We wear jeans mostly at work, nice jeans and heels. We try to be stylishly casual. We get dressed up for trunk shows and openings, but jeans help lend a more casual atmosphere to a somewhat formal space.”

4 product knowledge

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Because Klein believes product knowledge is key to confidence and sales, she puts most of her training effort into teaching staff about specific artists so they can talk confidently about jewelers’ techniques and materials. “I have leaned toward hiring people who have more of a knowledge of jewelry because I feel it is easier to teach people about art than jewelry,” she says. Like more traditional jewelry stores, Art + Soul has a graduate gemologist on staff and Klein has accreditation
from the GIA. “People who shop here can feel confident that we’re bringing them high quality items and we can find what they’re looking for.”

What does set Art + Soul apart from traditional jewelers and local competitors, Klein says, is the gallery’s relationship with designers and her mission to bring something different to town. “I’m very particular,” she says. “I don’t have things that are machine-made. Everything is handmade and you can see the hand of the designer in the lines.”

5 10 for 10

To celebrate the gallery’s 10th anniversary, and to thank patrons and the community, Klein offered one item from 10 top artists to be raffled off one at a time for 10 consecutive months starting in March 2010. “At each of our First Friday openings, we unveiled the featured item of the month. Registration for the drawing continued through the month. At our next month’s First Friday event, the winner was drawn for the previous month and the featured item for the current month unveiled. There was no purchase necessary to enter, but we accepted donations in exchange for the drawing tickets to benefit a different local nonprofit organization each month.”

Store Interior

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Store Exterior

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Five Questions with Debbie Klein

WHAT PERCENTAGE OF YOUR SALES IS JEWELRY?
It’s close to 75 to 80 percent jewelry. We have a big bridal market, and work with designers like Alex Sepkus, Anne Sportun and Dana and David. That’s been the crux of our business the past couple years.

IS IT EASIER TO SELL ART OR JEWELRY?
“Selling jewelry is way easier than selling art. If someone has a good day, they buy jewelry. If somebody has a bad day, they buy jewelry. They buy art if they need it — if they are collectors, or on vacation, or if they are moving to Boulder and need to decorate. Then there is a little bit of a need. Jewelry you don’t ever really need.

HOW DID YOU COPE WITH THE RECESSION?
I tried to be a lot more conscious of price points. Mid-range pricing was where we felt it; the $300 to $500 range was where I was seeing things drop off. Higher end lines have been consistent, so I added a wider variety of lower end lines for the holidays.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THE TOUGH TIMES?
When things started to get rough, it was interesting to see who was willing to work with me, to do more consignment, to have a more personal relationship to meet my needs. That was definitely true more of the smaller designers. This reinforced my feeling that I want to work with the artist, not the reps — I don’t want to talk about quotas. The relationship I have with the designers is very important, and they were the ones who were able to help out to get us through the tough times.

WHAT KIND OF ADVERTISING DO YOU DO REGULARLY?
I do a three-quarter page ad every month in a Boulder lifestyle magazine called 5280. Other than that I do a direct mail every month. There are 5,000 people on the list; I also advertise with a couple of visitor magazines or art guides here and there and do co-op ads with my vendors.

Fun Fact

Gallery” in local reader’s polls (Daily Camera, Colorado Daily, Boulder Weekly, Yellow Scene) since opening in August 2000. Boulder lifestyle magazine 5280 awarded the gallery its Editor’s Choice for “Top of the Town” Best Jewelry in 2008.

Try These

CHOCOLATE TASTING

A chocolate tasting is the kind of holiday party theme shoppers can’t resist. Klein collaborates with stores selling cupcakes and Belgian chocolates.

Play List

JOHN MAYER
DAVID GRAY
IRON & WINE
(“I like to play music that is contemporary but that wouldn’t offend anyone’s grandma,” Klein says. “We listen to Pandora (Internet radio), sometimes jazz. Nothing really hardcore.”)

This story is from the July 2011 edition of INSTORE

 

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