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Cool Store: Charlotte Santa Fe

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It’s santa fe … just don’t come looking for turquoise

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.

Quick Facts

Charlotte Santa Fe

Santa Fe, NM

WEBSITE: www.charlotteshop.com
OWNER: Gunther and Dorothee Maier
FOUNDED: 2000 
OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2002 
AREA: 400 square feet
EMPLOYEES:
JEWELRY BRANDS: Charlotte by designer Wolf-Peter Schwarz

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5 COOL THINGS

1 origins

The Maiers hail from Ulm, Germany, where fourthgeneration
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

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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.

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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.”

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.

 

HEARSAY

“When people
come in for the first
time, their eyes
grow bigger and
bigger and they
say, ‘Oh my God,
this is amazing.’ We
always get positive
reactions from the
customers. One
out of 1,000 people
might say, this is
not for me.”
— Dorothee Maier

TRY THIS

REAL LIVE VOICES
E-commerce at Charlotte is just in development,
but what they do sell is backed up with phone support.
“We get a lot of phone calls because sometimes our
customers want to talk to you one on one. They want to
have a little bit of reassurance.”

Play List

Satellite radio
— light jazz.

This story is from the December 2011 edition of INSTORE

 

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