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Cool Store Secrets: Max’s

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Ellen Hertz, owner of Max’s in St. Louis Park, MN, says one of the secrets to her 6-year-old business’s success is that she strives to make her whole environment comfortable.

She sells jewelry, glass art and high-end chocolates in her boutique.

Max’s is the winner of the small-cool category of the 2011 America’s Coolest Stores contest. The space is loft-like with high ceilings and a cement floor, but she’s softened it with brick in the walls, carpeting in half of the space, organic design elements and welcoming lighting.

She also puts people at ease by making sure her staff is dressed like most of her customers – comfortably.

“They are wearing jeans and T-shirts and we’re wearing jeans,” she says.

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The ambience has made her designer jewelry popular even among millennial brides looking for an alternative bridal look.

“We have customers who say they’ve looked all over town and this just feels right,” she says. “I think to a large extent it’s because we are not distinguishing ourselves from them.”

Having her staff dressed formally or in uniforms wouldn’t fit her philosophy of jewelry or her store environment.

“I think jewelry is about your personal style, like clothing. I’m not saying that anything goes, but I don’t think a uniform would match what the store looks like or match what the jewelry looks like that we’re selling.”

Her staff fits perfectly as well. All of them are passionate about design, whether they come from a jewelry background or a general retail environment. One even has a degree in architecture and designs fabric. “We like to talk about the design aspect so I hire people who feel comfortable telling stories about design.”

She describes her designer inventory as style-forward, fine jewelry but doesn’t like the word trendy, which implies it’s just a fad. Designers represented in her store are exclusive to Max’s in her market. Not only that, but Hertz buys only one of each piece and doesn’t usually replenish it, ensuring her customer’s piece will be unique as well. For that reason, she doesn’t sell off the website.

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Still, she has a range of merchandise – some of her customers are attracted to $28 initial pendants; other female self-purchasers spend $20,000 to $40,000 on themselves in a typical year. And although she never dreamed she’d become a bridal store, it’s definitely a huge part of her business now. What are her non-traditional brides looking for?

  • Some of her customers don’t want diamonds or center stones at all.
  • She’s noticed a trend toward brides wanting a single ring, rather than a separate wedding and engagement ring.
  • On the other hand, occasionally, brides want a stack of three or more rings they can wear together.

The comment she most wants to hear from a customer about Max’s is “that’s a fun place to be.”


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