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America's Coolest Stores

Cool Store: Krombholz Jewelers

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Published in the February 2014 issue

URL: krombholzjewelers.com | FOUNDED: 1940 | OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1977 | LAST RENOVATED: 2012 | AREA: 3,500 square feet | EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time; 3 part-time

Lee Krombholz isn’t likely to jump on any bandwagons when it comes to store design fads. His store is cool in its own way.

“I’m all about being yourself and being independent,” Krombholz says. “I’m not one of those people who will go look at a lot of jewelry stores and try to copy what other people are doing.

A third-generation retail jeweler, Krombholz describes his store as a seamless blend of homey atmosphere and friendly service. The key for him is ensuring comfort for everyone involved.

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“The most important thing is that our customers feel welcome in our space, like they are coming into our house,” Kromholz says. “The design of the cases and layout and the way it’s lit — everything has more of a residential feeling than a typical store,” he says.

He also wants his employees to feel comfortable. “I hope that they look forward to coming to work in an atmosphere of pretty things, nice people and worthwhile relationships with clients.”

In fact, he spends a lot of time there himself and he expects to be relaxed, too.

“It’s important to be yourself in your business,” he says. “You spend a lot of hours of a day there; it’s more of your life often than your home life. I’m a firm believer in making sure as much as possible that everybody is comfortable there. And so, I want the music playing that I would normally listen to.”

Krombholz Jewelers has been in the same location since 1977, and it’s been gradually expanded and updated as the company grew and evolved, and as finances permitted. Lee Krombholz credits his staff’s positive attitudes as well as the way the store looks and feels for creating the down to earth ambience.

“I do think our store is different than most,” he says. “It’s a little bit more low-key.”

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TRUE TALE

ROBBERS DENIED
In the 1960s, Herb Krombholz Jewelers was tested twice by thieves. Both times the thieves left empty-handed. The first robbery attempt was foiled when Herb Jr. entered the store, noticed a hole in the plastered wall and ran one block to the police station for help. The thieves left in such a hurry that they left their tools and a bag of jewelry behind. In the second attempt, the Krombholz father and son team confronted two thieves. When Herb Jr. picked up a shotgun kept in the store and pointed it at the men, his father, 67, grabbed the gun hand of one of them.

STRONG PROMO

FREE PUBLICITY
Krombholz spends less than 2 percent of gross sales on advertising, preferring to seek other ways to get publicity such as in magazine gift guides.

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“If you take the same jewelry and you switch it around, it’s amazing how people recognize things differently. It’s like new inventory all the time.”

PLAYLIST

Modern, alternative rock, world music, jazz. “We make a radio station through Pandora of interesting music.”

THE EARLY DAYS

The underlying element through the Krombholz generations, Krombholz says, predates the retail side of the business. It’s a consistency that includes a focus on customers and rock solid ethics.

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In 1940, after 20 years of working for jewelry manufacturing companies, Herbert Florian Krombholz, a third-generation metalsmith, purchased the contents of an existing jewelry store. One year later the first Herb Krombholz Jewelry store opened in Silverton, a suburb about 10 minutes north of downtown Cincinnati. Herb’s wife, Mallie, operated the store while Herb kept his day job for a time, as a foreman for the Croninger Jewelry Manufacturing Co. He spent evenings designing jewelry for customers.

Lee Krombholz grew up in the store, working parttime there during high school and college. In 1986, Lee and his wife, Heather, took over the business from his dad, the second Herb Krombholz.

In the early days of the current building, they rented part of it. When they bought the building, they expanded to occupy half of it and rented out the other half. In 1998, they grew into the whole building, and, in 1999 implemented a design based on plans drawn by Ruth Mellergaard of Grid | 3 International.

Since then, they take on remodeling projects from time to time, including the 2012 upgrade that included wood floors.

“If you took the last five years and averaged it, we would have spent about $25,000 a year. We do it ourselves; a friend is in construction so he takes care of that.”

THE RISE OF ESTATE

Krombholz grew up loving and even lecturing about antique and estate jewelry.

It was always a niche in the family’s fine jewelry business, and Krombholz had a keen interest in it.

“My father would buy it and re-sell it to a dealer. And when we started having it in the store, we had just one case of it.”

But recently and somewhat unexpectedly, estate and antique jewelry became a much bigger deal. Midway through the Great Recession Krombholz realized it had grown to the No. 1 category in his store.

“There are people who say there’s always business in both good and bad times, and for us the estate business was growing organically in the recessionary days and so it kind of almost invented itself.

“While we do have period jewelry and we occasionally sell it, the more active area is more current, second-hand jewelry, often branded jewelry. For us it’s all about quality. In the estate jewelry and modern jewelry that we consign, we’re looking for the finest quality.”

Based on an analysis of the trend, he decided last year to turn half of his case space over to antique and vintage.

With less than $200,000 of owned inventory, he achieved $2.1 million in sales in 2012, with 50 percent of sales from the custom category. Now, the mix is 50 percent antique and vintage, 15 percent Krombholz-designed jewelry, 30 percent non-branded diamond jewelry and 5 percent price-pointed jewelry.

“My greatest successes have come from the greatest risks,” he says. “After implementing the dramatic change in the inventory mix, 2012 was one of our best years ever.”

But Krombholz does continue to buy new inventory, too, particularly in lower price points.

“We want jewelry that makes an impact, right when you walk in,” he says. “We buy what we call ‘eye candy.’ It tends to be new, exciting designs from smaller designers that keep our store image trendy and exciting.”

STYLE DISCOVERY

Krombholz has implemented a process for custom design customers that he calls Style Discovery.

When clients first come in, he asks that they do homework, which involves finding pictures of designs they like online or in magazines, to pin down their style. This can also pay dividends later. “If we know a person’s style, then if a piece comes in that matches their style we can call them if it’s something we think they would like,” he says.

“If they don’t do the style discovery process, though, we will walk around the store with them and ask them to point out things they like and don’t like.”

After that, he’ll set up an appointment time to sit down at a desk and peruse a catalog, which includes everything they’ve made in the past five or six years.

“From there, typically we come to some sort of an idea of what would work and what they would want,” Krombholz says. “I give them a ballpark price at that point. I do the CAD design and if it’s something that can be expressed well in a CAD rendering we can send them an email, or, if not, sometimes we skip that and go to a wax model.

“Then we call them back in and require that they look at the model and from there we cast and finish the piece of jewelry.”

FIVE COOL THINGS ABOUT
KROMBHOLZ JEWELERS

1 FLEXIBLE SPACE: “Probably three times a year we completely reconfigure our space,” Krombholz says, which is possible due to standalone cases and electric outlets in the floors that facilitate flexibility. “We can move them around, and we do.”

2AD PLAN: “I spend less than 2 percent of gross sales on advertising, particularly since late 2008. Instead of running an ad, I look at what a newspaper ad, or a city magazine ad costs, and I just choose to spend that in other ways that are more event or promotionally related,” Krombholz says. “We have a series of parties every first Friday with live music.” Other promotions: private jet trips to New York’s Diamond District and participation in two episodes of “Extreme Makeover, Home Edition,” for which Krombholz designed a gift of jewelry.

3OFF-SITE SALES: Krombholz has sold jewelry offsite at antique shows, fundraisers, private parties at clients’ homes, vintage car shows, online and in jewelry stores in other parts of the country.

4PHILANTHROPY: “I do feel strongly in making contributions but instead of just writing a check, I want to have some kind of connection to it. St. Vincent de Paul does a fashion show called retro fittings. Design students go to St. Vincent de Paul, tear an outfit apart and remake it. We sponsor that and we accept the same challenge: we rebuild a piece of jewelry and they auction that during the show.”

5SAMPLE SALE: “We have one major sale a year. It used to be our jewelry — three days, very quick. But our inventory got cleaner and cleaner so we invented our sample sale; inviting our vendors to participate with us. We send them a letter, asking for closeout inventory, mark it up between 10 to 15 percent and it’s three days, three very active days of business.”

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Q & A WITH LEE KROMBHOLZ

One websiteadorn-london.com
One plane ticket– Bali
Favorite business book– Good to Great, Jim Collins
Favorite book– Fountainhead- Ayn Rand
Pitfalls to watch out for– Changing because someone tells you to
Favorite architect/designer/artist– Edgar Degas
I drive a Fiat Convertible; If I could choose any car, it would be a two passenger Bentley Convertible
What superpower would you like to have? Not have to sleep
What question do you wish customers would not ask you? Can you have that ready tomorrow?
What’s your sign? Cancer
Tell me about your perfect day. Spending it with my family
What have the last few years taught you? Always question what you believe as fact.
How do you stay current? Reading lots of news sources and spending time in big cities.
What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do professionally? Fire an employee.
If your store were on fire, what’s the one thing you’d save? Our file server
When I meet people, the first thing I notice about them is their smile.
If I were a precious stone, I would be an opal because I’m complex and colorful.
Favorite lunch- Beer with anything
Favorite job at work that doesn’t involve customers– making jewelry
If I weren’t a jeweler, I’d be a graphic designer
Current career goal– Retire while I can still enjoy it.
Current life goal– Enjoy my family
Favorite store that’s not my own– Green Lakes Jewelry Works
I am most frustrated when I make a mistake.
Weekend activity– work
Favorite art period– Art Nouveau
Favorite all-time jewelry designer– Buccellati
Thing I worry about that I know I shouldn’t– Money

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America's Coolest Stores

Grace-Themed Jewelry Gallery Reaches Out To Santa Fe

Creative decor stops shoppers in their tracks.

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Wear Your GRACE, Santa Fe, NM

OWNER: Hillary Fitzpatrick Randolph; FOUNDED: 2015; URL: wearyourgrace.com; BUILDOUT COST: $39,650; EMPLOYEES: 5, full and part-time; AREA: 650 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Owner’s GRACE pieces and Etkie (contemporary hand-loomed bracelets crafted by Native American artisans)


ONE DEFINITION OF “GRACE” is simple elegance. Another is refined movement. The word is also associated with the bestowal of blessings.

Artist and designer Hillary Randolph takes a creative approach to exploring the nuanced meanings of “grace” as the theme for her brand and her Santa Fe store, wear your GRACE. She also established “Share Your Grace,” a multifaceted program that benefits Santa Fe’s community, including its nonprofit organizations.

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Choosing grace as her theme triggers interesting conversations and builds meaningful rapport with clients, she says, who share what grace means in their own lives.

Randolph designed her Santa Fe store based on her aesthetic sense of what grace looks and feels like — warm and inviting with a dash of elegant simplicity. She opened her gallery in 2015 in a 250-year-old adobe building on Palace Avenue in the heart of Santa Fe, just off the historic plaza. Her jewelry emphasizes graceful flowing movement. Much of the work is developed upstairs in the design studio.

Her approach to interior design is hands on.

A unique orb light fixture is an eye-catching element near the entrance. Randolph created it from a grapevine she found in Round Top, TX, that had been steamed, coiled, shaped into an openwork globe and re-dried. She took it home, painted the bottom of it with gold leaf and hung from it 100-year-old faceted crystal drops from France. The table below is also painted with gold leaf so it appears as if the crystals are dripping gold. It complements the interior design, with its gold-on-white palette and a trompe l’oeil tangerine curtain painted by a local artist across the back wall. The curtain painting creates a sense of flowing movement and acts as a backdrop for casually luxurious décor.

“The best decisions I have ever made came from feelings, instincts and hunches, rather than spreadsheets, schematics and trend forecasts. I’ve learned to make business decisions according to how I want my life to feel. The unique look of the gallery came from the feeling I get from certain colors, combinations and materials. I want my guests to feel as inspired by the store’s ambience as I do.”

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“I hear people talk about the experience they have when they walk in,” she says. “The product is an offshoot of the experience.”

Randolph’s approach to sales is to honor each customer’s personal sense of style, wardrobe and lifestyle in general. “It’s our passion to truly connect with women from all walks of life, listening to their stories and encouraging self-expression through their jewelry,” she says. “So we connect, we listen and we always have fun.”

Although shopping in Santa Fe is a favorite pastime of tourists, more and more of Randolph’s regular clients live in town. So marketing is increasingly local as well, with in-store events and email campaigns. This year she plans to feature the “faces of Grace” in her marketing and discover what “grace” means to her clients to make her social-media marketing more interactive.

Another goal is to spend less time on paperwork upstairs in her office and more time downstairs in the gallery, being the ambassador of her brand.

Randolph’s career started in Palm Beach in luxury goods followed by a move to New York, where she worked with Ralph Lauren in his flagship Madison Avenue store. Other luxury brand retailers recruited her to develop their wholesale brands and open brick-and-mortar stores across the United States.

In 1999, she visited her mother in Santa Fe and never left.

“I never thought I would stay, and then I saw the moon rise over the ski basin and it was the biggest moon I’d ever seen in my life,” she recalls. “There was a certain connection with people from all over the country that I found here. I had conversations with them here that I would never have if I were sitting next to them at a dinner table in New York. There is a certain veil that is removed here, an authentic connection that feeds me.”

She launched her jewelry-design career in 1999 with Somers, a line based on the sculptures of her creative partner that was sold in galleries and jewelry stores around the country. Later, the idea for Grace took shape.

“Even today,” she says, “there are things I’m still discovering. A new hike, people, artists. It’s not boring here. There’s always something to feed you.”

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She has found the business climate friendly, as well. Santa Fe, she discovered is the No. 1 spot in the U.S. per capita for women-owned businesses.

She finds inspiration for design in Santa Fe, as well. “I design in my head so when I’m on that hike the best design pops into my head,” she says, “If I’m just sitting there with the stones it doesn’t work as well.”

Randolph believes in being an active part of her community by creating a business model that gives back. She is a founding member of Santa Fe’s 100 Women Who Care, a group that meets quarterly to learn about and donate to a charity that the group selects.

Share your GRACE also holds invitation-only sales events throughout the year, during which a portion of net proceeds benefit non-profit organizations while boosting Randolph’s philanthropic profile in the community.

Randolph is certain she’s where she’s supposed to be — both literally and figuratively.

“I am living proof that if you choose to make decisions from your heart and persevere, you will never look back,” she says. “Creating GRACE has given me more connection, has inspired other women to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit and has led to deeper relationships with my clients all due to my own personal decision to choose GRACE as this next chapter of my life.”

PHOTO GALLERY (21 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Wear Your GRACE

1. Practical magic. Randolph is focusing on gemstones and custom-creating talismans using labradorite and rose quartz. They’re marketed as being an essential element of everyday protection. “Being in Santa Fe with all of our ‘woo woo,’ people love it,” Randolph says. The jewelry line that I am creating is the core things we need as women to feel safe, protected, guided, grounded, but it’s also an individual connection.”

2. The canine experience. Just outside the store’s entrance is the most popular “Dog Bar” in town, complete with treats tucked inside a mailbox over a trompe l’oeil of splashing water from a faux-spigot. Four-legged friends may quench their thirst in cool H2O. Pet owners peek in with an amused smile as they view candy colored leather dog leashes and collars engraved with “Walk with GRACE. Sales help support animal rescue groups.

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3. Versatility behind the scenes. The second floor is the atelier, where the jewelry is designed and made from cast components. “I have used the space for open houses, gallery night on Fridays, and featured a painter here with her larger work upstairs,” Randolph says. “So it is a working studio, but also a social space. Or I’ll have a client come up and we’ll collaborate to remake something. Just minutes after a design is completed upstairs, it can be displayed on the floor.”

4. Guest stars. Randolph loves collaborating with artists she’s met on her travels, so she regularly features jewelry by guest designers and hosts events promoting other artwork she loves.

5. Coco’s Bangles. The wear your GRACE collection includes best-selling Coco’s Bangles, designed by Hillary’s teenage daughter, Coco. Coco donates a portion of the proceeds of sales to the Heart & Soul Animal Sanctuary outside Santa Fe.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Sofia Kaman: I love seeing a business that embraces fun, whimsy and a sense of happiness in all that they do. The dog bar is a brilliant touch!
  • Jimmy DeGroot: I love the concept and the business model.
  • Lyn Falk: Great website. Clever and sophisticated. Unique name and use of the name in marketing. Interior and exterior are well done — distinct, savvy, artsy with touches of whimsy. Unique displays pushed the envelope in terms of a typical retail experience. More like a gallery. Hillary appears to exude charm!
  • Tiffany Stevens: This is a beautiful store! The exterior encapsulates the rich history of Santa Fe while the interior is modern and unique.
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America's Coolest Stores

Cool Store Design for Albany Store Based on Consumer Research

Vice-president Gregg Kelly considered aspects from the scent of flowers used outside to handicapped signage.

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Northeastern Fine Jewelry, Albany, NY

OWNER: Raymond Bleser; FOUNDED: 1980; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1998; ARCHITECT: C2 Design Group; LAST RENOVATED: 2017;BUILDOUT COST: $1.3 million; NO. of LOCATIONS: 3; EMPLOYEES: 14;AREA: 5,000 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Cartier, Tacori, Simon G, IWC, Forevermark


WHEN GREGG KELLY told customers he was planning to redo the Albany, NY, location of Northeastern Fine Jewelry, they inevitably asked him, “Why are you spending money on a store that still looks beautiful?”

But Kelly, vice president and son-in-law of owner Raymond Bleser, understands the importance of updating a store’s look and making it as functionally modern and approachable as possible. He invested untold hours studying store design, traffic flow and consumer behavior before embarking on the major remodel he undertook in 2017, which went far beyond a touch up or a new coat of paint.

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In fact, the store was gutted, all while it remained open, with the support of its two sister stores in Schenectady and Glens Falls, NY.

What’s new? A 1,000-square foot addition, the floor plan, the cases, a glass façade, a patio and landscaping. Even the parking lot is new.

“We try to redo the stores every 10 years, and some stuff was falling apart,” Kelly says. “When a customer visits a few times a year, we want to re-engage them and give them a new environment, a new experience.”

The company realized a 15 percent increase in business the first full year following the renovation.

In preparation, Kelly painstakingly considered every detail and collected sources of inspiration from around the world, making it a priority to visit stores when he travels.

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He also reads the Robb Report and other national luxury magazines to stay on top of retail trends. He took a class with neuroscientist Robert Cooper, a New York Times bestselling author and business strategist specializing in consumer behavior. Kelly was particularly interested in what gives people the ability to make good, conscious decisions based on the retail environment itself. “Once you have their attention, it comes down to the associate who guides the decision to purchase.”

To get their attention, Kelly wanted the store to have an open floor plan and optimal traffic flow while balancing the individual requirements of a variety of international shop-in-shop brands with less of a choppy look.

Michael Roman of the C2 Design Group says the overall challenge was to take Kelly’s concept and bring it to life within an existing building.

The sense of openness was achieved by repositioning the entry and shifting it over, which also affected the exterior of the building. The goal inside was to improve traffic flow, so shoppers could feel comfortable, meandering freely without encountering any obstacles. “It’s the experience that’s going to bring you back,” Roman says. The shop-in-shops are tied together with materials and lighting, while accommodating each vendor’s own design criteria.

The glass facade offers a transparency that puts shoppers at ease as they approach. Especially at night, the window reveals the character of the store within, Roman says. And the casual patio setting in front offers a decompression zone between parking lot and shopping experience, easing threshold resistance.

Finishes are sleekly upscale and timeless, rather than trendy.

Kelly also told Roman he wanted a store that looked like it had leaped off the pages of a luxury magazine. Accordingly, finishes are sleekly upscale, but timeless rather than trendy. Decor includes shades of gray and imported European leathers. LED lighting is new, green and efficient. Roman describes the materials used in the interior as the bow on the design package — timeless, clean and relatively simple, designed to complement the design without overshadowing it or being too understated.

Kelly put himself in the shoppers’ shoes when it came to details.

“We changed a lot of different things as we went and I always kept the consumer in mind. Even things like how they experience walking through the parking lot, the pitch of the sidewalk, and the feel they get when they step out of their car,” says Kelly.

“We researched for hours how to get the right thing — from handicapped signs that weren’t run of the mill, to the garbage can, to the outside rugs, to the extension of the awning over the front door to give them enough space for their umbrella, so they’re not getting wet when they get into the store. I studied the music, the rocks we used outside and the flowers we put into the planters to make sure the scent is appealing.”

While all of this was going on, by far the ultimate challenge was that the full-service jewelry store remained open, to the extent that it could, one section at a time, while chaos was kept at bay.

“The biggest challenge was to make our employees comfortable, as well as our customers,” Kelly says. “We sectioned off parts of the building so we didn’t lose too much consistency. Every part was gutted. We did all right, too, and our customers were great to us. They still shopped and stayed loyal. We were able to move things from store to store and still fulfill their needs.”

Ray Bleser, who founded the company, was happy to leave the renovation project to Kelly.

Originally, Bleser had studied to be a pharmacist, planning to follow in his father’s footsteps, but after just one day in that professional role, he knew it wasn’t for him. Instead, he decided to pursue his hobby of collecting and selling rare coins and gold.

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Northeastern Coin Gallery opened in 1980 and quickly expanded in scope, becoming Northeastern Fine Jewelry by 1985. In a twist of fate, the company’s flagship location in Schenectady, NY, occupies the building that once housed the drugstore where Bleser’s father worked.

Bleser has given his son-in-law his seal of approval. “He’s stationed in Schenectady, and every time he comes in, he says this is the nicest store from here to New York City,” Kelly says. “It’s a real modern look that’s attractive to all age groups. You get a New York City feel combined with a hometown experience, and I think that’s hard to accomplish.”

PHOTO GALLERY (12 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Northeastern Fine Jewelry

1. The Diamond District edge. Northeastern Fine Jewelry has an office in the Diamond District of New York. “We’ve never been one to just order stuff and ship it in. We like to look at things ourselves and have the first pick of diamonds. We’re picky when it comes to buying. And it gives us a nice edge to pick out what we want and pass those savings on to the consumer based on our buying ability,” says Kelly.

2. Training is top of mind. The company sends staff for training provided by its top brands and invests thousands of dollars a year into additional education. The expectation of expertise extends beyond sales to custom design and the repair shop. There’s also a watchmaker on staff.

3. A respect for jewelry history. They plan for an estate sale every year. “We try to keep our roots and the things that made us who we are today. They’re fun, too, because you get to look at things that are older and helped develop the jewelry industry for what it is today,” says Kelly. “And it’s fun to sell one-of-a-kind, rare things and tell the story of how it became what it is.”

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4. Making marketing a priority. “Traditionally, the jewelry industry markets for six weeks leading up to the holidays; we work hard to have a consistent approach to educating the consumer,” Kelly says. “We’re marketing 12 months out of the year.” Marketing is about 30 to 35 percent digital, and the website recently became set up for e-commerce.

5. Promotional savvy. In 2017, Northeastern sponsored a contest to win the opportunity to propose in a live commercial aired during halftime of the Super Bowl on FOX. The winner was featured in People Magazine, the Daily Mail in the UK and the New York Times. They also sponsored a half court shot during a Siena College basketball game; the contestant made the shot and walked away with $25,000, leading to intensive coverage from ESPN.

TRY THIS

When updating your store’s appearance, consider function as well as form and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Imagine you are the consumer approaching the building. What is the experience like? Is there shelter from rain? Are curbs accessible? Is there space for seating? Can they tell what kind of a store they will be entering? Have you provided a decompression zone between street and store?

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Geoffrey Brown: “Very strong positive word-of-mouth going on here. The more personable and authentic you are, the more you stay top-of-mind.”
    Laura Davis: “The exterior is beautiful and the interior is very nice.”
  • David Lampert: “Nice looking store. Clever promotion with the Super Bowl.”
  • Katherine Bodoh: “I like the modern exterior with the large windows and natural light. The interior layout looks beautiful and very upscale.”
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America's Coolest Stores

Chicago Retailer Harks Back to History While Pushing Boundaries in Design, Art and Events

Designer pushes boundaries of fine jewelry, art and events to create an exceptional shopping experience.

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Adornment + Theory, Chicago, IL

OWNER: Viviana Langhoff; FOUNDED: 2017; URL: www.adornmentandtheory.com; EMPLOYEES: 4; AREA: 750 square feet


WHEN VIVIANA LANGHOFF PLANNED a pop-up tattoo event to celebrate her first year as an entrepreneur, it seemed like the kind of thing her artistic, creative core customer would enjoy.

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It usually takes a year to get an appointment with Kelsey Moore, the tattoo artist Langhoff recruited. The two even collaborated on designing gem and art deco-inspired tattoos to personalize the experience. So while Moore was virtually guaranteed to draw a crowd to the Logan Square gallery, Langhoff was still amazed when the line stretched for two blocks and some people camped out the night before, as if Apple had launched a new iPhone or Black Friday deals were about to be unveiled.

Langhoff is adept at putting jewelry in context, so she also seized the opportunity to explore the history of body adornment, which can be traced back to the invention of tattoos. A fun event combined with storytelling was destined for success.

See video below.

Langhoff’s interest in the historical roots of adornment also inspired the name of her business.

“I wanted to select a name that sheds light on the history of jewelry, which is ‘adornment,’ as well as the ‘theory’ portion that is the practice that artists have in studios. From the beginning of civilization, we find that cultures made currency and jewelry and adornment. I want to highlight the history and continuation of that into contemporary studios all around the world. We draw on aesthetics from many different artists: feminine, edgy, approachable and most important, wearable.”

Langhoff’s retail experience appeals to the independent, confident woman who loves beautiful design, knows what she likes and delights in artist-made pieces. Langhoff encourages her customers to let creativity dress them. “People are limited sometimes by what they think they can and can’t wear and what magazines tell you you should wear. Really, ultimately, If you love it, wear it.”

A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, she studied fine art and design and then worked for a variety of jewelers, some specializing in fine jewelry and others specializing in art jewelry, before creating a niche for herself that pulls inspiration from both. Her studio showcases one-of-a-kind work that pushes accessory design into wearable art. “We are passionate about representing emerging artists and brands who are crafting the future of functional art and design,” she says. She also custom designs and makes by hand wedding and engagement rings in precious materials.

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Her gallery is in the Logan Square neighborhood in northwest Chicago, about six miles from downtown. The neighborhood’s diverse, artistic population of young professionals and families is attracted to bike-friendly park-like boulevards and an ethos that includes green construction and preservation of historic buildings. Other draws are Michelin-starred restaurants, music venues, breweries, craft cocktail bars, a farmer’s market and art galleries.

The business is very experiential. She’s hosted “make your own silver ring” workshops and invited gemstone miners into her store. She mixes it up with lectures.

“I select and curate events that highlight the theory portion of jewelry,” she says. “And I love history. Once a week on Instagram I use points of jewelry history from ancient Egypt to the crown jewels.”

For Valentine’s Day, she recruited neighboring businesses to join her in a collaborative approach with the theme of “bazaar love.” She organized the bazaar and featured a pop-up shop of luxury lingerie and chocolates. She suggested to neighboring card-shop owners that they host an event for kids to make their own cards. She connected the eye-care professionals next door with a photographer and encouraged them to host a kissing booth.

“Each store offered a fun and enticing event,” she says. “It wasn’t just jewelry focused; all of the businesses pulled together and people came out. I was shocked because the weather was terrible.”

For the holidays, she hosted a Great Gatsby-themed Christmas party.

During the sustainable fair-trade conference in Chicago, she invited a group of international miners to bring rough-cut gemstones to the gallery so her clients could make their own selections. Then she sent the gems out to lapidary artists to cut them.

A summer workshop called Diamonds 101 introduced customers to diamond basics — color, cut, how to use a loupe and what to look for when shopping. Other workshops included metal etching (creating a pair of etched earrings in copper) and jewelry illustration.

Langhoff has no formal training in event planning or marketing, but it seems to come naturally to her; both she and her staff of four find events fun and energizing.

She even created her own interior design. “I drew inspiration from contemporary art galleries, Hollywood Regency as well as Moorish design with our floors,” she says. “I wanted to create a jewel box that was contemporary and glamorous while simultaneously being warm and inviting. I think we achieved that.”

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About half of Langhoff’s business is bridal-related, and much of that is custom, but most of her clients prefer alternative stones to traditional diamond jewelry. Most of the bridal work is custom, but she also showcases rings made by several other fine jewelry artists. “So if someone wants gray diamonds and an earthy look, I have several artists who have styles that have that, who are distinctly different from other artists and from myself. I’m not very big on mimicking another artist’s aesthetic.”

E-commerce to this point has been limited, but Langhoff credits her website and social media for driving business into the store. “I still count those visits and sales as website sales. I think our website is really important even as a landing pad for people to get a taste and flavor of what our brand is about.”

Everything she sells is handmade and everything has a story. “People are looking for a personal touch,” she says. “They want to know if it’s handmade, they want to know about the designer, the story, the fair-trade component, where the stones are coming from. They like knowing the details.”

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Five Cool Things About Adornment + Theory

1. DESIGN OVER DRINKS. “Our Jewelry Bar is a space where individuals or couples can pull up a bar stool as I serve them drinks and discuss creating the piece of their dreams,” Langhoff says. “Once drinks are served, we review A+T’s full service menu and walk them through the highly personalized design process. The goal is for them to walk away with an heirloom piece that they will wear for a lifetime. I take the client/designer relationship very seriously and want each one to feel welcomed and delighted in.”
2. ART EVENTS. Beyond jewelry events, Langhoff hosts bi-monthly fine art openings in the store. “We’ve showcased everything from conceptually driven contemporary art jewelry (in conjunction with SOFA Expo), as well as fine art photography and paintings,” she says.
3. SOFT SCENT. Customers always comment about how lovely “our little jewel box smells,” she says. The in-store scent is created from candles and the notes are typically flowery, clean and beachy. It’s all intended, she says, to evoke a romantic, relaxed, beautiful and approachable space.
4. A SWEET IDEA. “We teamed up with a chocolatier to create a custom-branded ‘chocolate jewel box’ for our Valentine’s season,” Langhoff says.
5. MONTHLY WORKSHOPS. “Our monthly workshops are fun-filled afternoons where attendees learn hands-on techniques that help them create and appreciate the art of metalsmithing and other accessory-based techniques. We’ve hosted workshops on ‘How to Make a Silver Ring’, ‘Shibori Dying: Make Your Own Scarf’, as well as ‘How to Read Diamonds’. These workshops have helped cultivate community and further the customer experience. Not to mention, everyone has a great time. I love hearing the store filled with laughter,” Langhoff says.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Jimmy Degroot: If we’re looking at location as the primary form of marketing, then Viviana is spot on. It’s so refreshing to see a space as well-appointed and thought-out as this. Beautiful.
  • Sofia Kaman: Love the interior design and concept. Very polished!
  • Tiffany Stevens: I’m obsessed! Smart and beautiful choices on every level.

 

Try This: Offer a Workshop

Offer your customers an unexpected hands-on experience. Why not try a “make your own silver ring” workshop, if you have the facilities for it?

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