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Cool Store: Kevin Main Jewelry

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A California store’s re-do strengthens more than its foundation.

Most jewelry-store owners have enough to worry about without having to be concerned about the roof collapsing in the event of an earthquake. When Kevin and Kathi Main renovated their store in San Luis Obispo, CA, in 2008, they did so to meet new seismic building codes. But in the process, they gave themselves some elbow room and achieved the comfortable, modern look they had envisioned. “Our team is flourishing in the new environment and our guests are amazed at the makeover,” Kathi says.

Store Details

Kevin Main Jewelry

San Luis Obispo, CA

OWNERS: Kevin and Kathi Main
URL: www.kevinmain.com
AREA: 2,500 square feet
EMPLOYEES: 5
ARCHITECT: SDG Studio Design Group.
DESIGNERS: Kevin Main and graphic artist Pierre Rademaker
COST OF BUILDOUT: $1.2 million
TOP BRANDS: Hearts On Fire, Marco Bicego, Alex Sepkus, Precision Set, Alishan, Benchmark, ArtCarved, Masriera, Victorinox Swiss Army

cool reason # 1: History

Kevin Main Jewelry opened in 1973 as a one-man shop in the sleepy California Central Coast community of Morro Bay, where Kevin honed his skills as a designer, craftsman and businessman. In November 1998, the Mains moved into the hub of the county – San Luis Obispo, where they have been voted “Best Jewelry Store” for five years in a row. “We have a philosophy that everyone who comes to visit has the KMJ Experience and leaves with a smile on their face,” Kathi says.

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cool reason # 2: Safety first

The Mains moved out of the building they own in February 2008 to a location just down the street, not returning until mid-November. In the interim, their store became a shell: “We took it down to three brick walls and rafters. The roof was gone, the ceilings were gone, but we kept and refurbished the floor.” They also removed a non load-bearing wall, put a new façade on the building and rebuilt all internal walls. The primary goal was to reinforce the corners of the building with four large, steel I-beams set into concrete and bolted. “It is supposed to keep your roof up 40 more seconds and give you time to leave,” Kathi says.

cool reason # 3: Warm — and green

Although they worked with an architect, the renovation plan was based on Kevin’s goal to infuse the store with warmth. Brick walls and wood floors were a great starting point. They also contracted with a local cabinetmaker to design and build display cases of solid walnut. “We found we could get what we wanted for less money and have more control that way,” Kathi says. The product is also kind to the environment, with no formaldehyde in the glue and cabinet tops made from fused sheets of recycled paper. Numerous other attempts were made to go green. The Douglas fir floors they preserved dated to the original building, which had been erected in 1894 as a bar and shower room for railroad workers. Wood from an interior wall was re-milled to provide replacement flooring and baseboards, and the redwood roof sheeting was recycled into fencing for the back deck. They also recycled — into window frames — the redwood trough in the basement that carried water through the backyard and dumped it into a creek.

cool reason # 4: The result

The finished product offers spaciousness, warmth and elegance in a gallery-like setting. The aisles are wide, the displays welcoming and the brick walls, nostalgic and comforting. “It’s like coming home,” Kathi says. The renovation brought the store from 650 square feet of retail space and 300 square feet of studio area to 1,450 square feet of retail space and 600 square feet of studio space. Now it includes a staff area, a polishing room, an operations area and a bar, where guests can indulge in wine, KMJ personalized bottle water or an espresso.

cool reason # 5: Brand identity

A former owner of the building, jeweler Rudy Silva, showed the Mains a photo of himself leaning against the rear exterior door. Kevin, inspired, posed in the same position in the same door and a graphic artist friend of his — Pierre Rademaker — took that pose and ran with it. Now a brand image, it’s featured on nearly every piece of advertising. Kevin can be seen leaning on billboards all over town. About six months after that ad campaign began, Kevin walked into a restaurant and one of his competitors mimicked the pose when he saw him. Kevin was thrilled. Imitation, as we all know, is the sincerest form of flattery.

Store Photo Gallery

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Five Questions with Kevin and Kathi Main

How did you get into the jewelry business?
KEVIN: I was a horticulture major who fell into jewelry as a part-time job 35 years ago and never looked back.

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How do you use horticulture in your store?
KEVIN: I can change the whole look seasonally by changing the front windows. For Christmas we had aspen trees in the window with little red cardinals.

How have you dealt with the recession?
KEVIN:  It’s more challenging now than it’s ever been. It’s about service, quality, reputation. I’m also a bench jeweler so I’m on the bench a little more. A lot of people have been asking me to teach jewelry, so I’ll be doing that. What I’m creating is a store that is at the center of the jewelry experience in San Luis Obispo. Giving people an experience is what we’re known for.

What is one example of such an experience?
KEVIN: We made a couple’s custom rings and I volunteered to marry them in the backyard of the store, which is beautiful.
KATHI: You can be licensed to perform marriage ceremonies here, you get a one-day license, so he’s done it a couple of times.

Has your merchandise changed?
KATHI: There are nine jewelry stores downtown, and we’re one of three that have custom in the cases. So we try to put things in the cases that we create and that are one of a kind. Recently, we have put more focus on bridal and we’ve brought in silver.

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Fresh Flowers Every Day

KEVIN MAIN was trained as a florist, and his skill in that regard ensures that the store always features creative floral displays in the interior and in the windows, too. But you don’t have to be an expert to brighten up your store with fresh flowers. Experiment. Let your creativity shine.

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Valentine’s Portraits

FOR VALENTINE’S DAY SEASON, with the purchase of any Valentine’s gift, customers were treated to a free sitting and 5-by-7 photo with a well-known, local portrait photographer. The photos took place in the backyard of the store, which has a picturesque, bubbling creek running through it. “Many people thanked us for providing them the opportunity of a lasting gift in a unique and cherished setting,” Kathi says.

This story is from the May 2010 edition of INSTORE

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