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Cool Store: llyn strong

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A non-traditional spelling is this store’s first step to cool

When llyn strong purchased the 1901 building that would become home to llyn strong fine jewelry in downtown Greenville, SC, she found — taped to a wall — a receipt so old that the company’s phone number was only four digits long. Peeling back the tape, strong revealed the letters “ng’s”; further peeling uncovered the former owner’s business and address: “Strong’s Studio, 119½ North Main Street.” She had known the building had belonged to a photographer; she had not known until then that the photographer in question was her ex-husband’s father. The coincidence began strong’s love affair with the building in which she would house her unique combo platter of distinctive jewelry and art glass representing almost 100 artists. Her store is an inspired fusion of strong’s previous training as a graphic designer and her flair for creating pieces as specific to her as the double-L, all-lower-case spelling of her name. — JUDY TRUESDELL

llyn strong fine jewelry

Greenville, SC

Store Details

OWNER: llyn strong
URL: www.llynstrong.com
YEAR FOUNDED: 1989
OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1992
TOTAL STORE AREA: 2,500 square feet
SLOGAN: “Gifted” (“Great gifts made by gifted people”)
NO. EMPLOYEES: 5
COST OF RENOVATION: Purchased and renovated current building for $550,000
ANNUAL REVENUE: About $1.3 million
TOP JEWELRY DESIGNERS: llyn strong, Michael Michaud, Sarah Graham, Alex Sepkus

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Five Cool Things About This Store

cool reason # 1:  Creativity is at the heart of the business

The purchase of one of strong’s Angel pieces (pendants and brooches with druzy wings that detach and can be worn as earrings) garners the customer not only the piece, but also an original painting of the same angel. Once, she crushed 15 carats of black diamonds and added the diamond dust to the paint. “It was hard for me to crush the diamonds and get the dust fine enough,” she says. She’s since found a source for diamond dust in black, yellow and white. She also sprinkles in sapphire, ruby and granite dust. Adding the dust to the painting creates “an even better connection between the piece and the art.” Strong has patented her Modullyn earring system of interchangeable jackets, hoops and studs. Strong’s baby jewelry, called “Isa’s Inspirations,” was inspired by employee Paola Atehortua’s little girl, Isabela Olivia Baez.

cool reason # 2: The space is a reflection of the art

The store’s interior is an eclectic riot of color. Cobalt blue, orange and red are used throughout, and the walls are a warm terra cotta. The lighting is as bright as the pallet and bounces off a black ceiling overlaid with artist Cory Hubbell’s wavy glass. Although some of the exterior features of the building were retained, strong gutted the interior and started from scratch. Especially important to her is the roomy, open gallery area, something she accomplished by knocking down interior walls. “The renovation included pulling up old carpet, uncovering beautiful black and white terrazzo in the entrance and basically gutting the floor, removing several walls and reconfiguring the space with an office, large jewelry studio, breakroom and bathroom,” strong recalls. “All of the cases in the store are custom made by a local woodworker using pecan, gray laminate and glass. Lighting is very important to jewelry and glass, therefore all the lighting in the space had to be redone. We have halogen overhead track lighting and halogen in every case.”

cool reason # 3: Special events banish threshold resistance

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Although white Christmases in South Carolina are few and far between, strong’s store offers shoppers a Currier and Ives experience. Beginning on Black Friday and continuing through Christmas Day, faux snow blows from the upstairs loft down to the street and the shoppers below. Families have begun to incorporate the tradition into their own Yuletide celebrations; children congregate to frolic, and their parents are welcomed into the store and served spiced cider, coffee or champagne. The store is an extension of strong’s home. She displays art glass in an upstairs loft, part of her living space, to show potential buyers how the pieces will look in a home environment. The store hosts an annual show featuring glass artists. Favored customers receive invitations and are welcomed to the show with music, food and face time with the artist.

cool reason # 4: ThIS IS A store THAT celebrates its history

In the years between the photography studio’s closing and the opening of strong’s store, the location was home to Virginia Dare, purveyors of signature vanilla flavorings promoted by the slogan “For those who care — Virginia Dare.” Strong has held onto the terrazzo outside the front door, in which the slogan is imbedded. “I’ve tried to save as much of the old building as possible,” she said; that includes the original walls upstairs and the display windows on either side of the door. “I even have a bottle that says ‘rum sauce’ on it.”

cool reason #5: A PLACE WHERE Customers are cherished

One year, when Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, strong closed the store so employees could spend time with their “other” families. As she and her family began celebrations of their own, strong heard what she described as a frantic knock on the store’s door. “A customer had driven hours in need of the perfect Christmas gift for her mother — earrings she had fallen in love with on a previous visit.” Strong opened the store, allowing the customer to purchase the earrings.

Store Interior

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Store Exterior

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Store Marketing

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Five Questions with Lynn Strong

How important is giving back to the community to you, and how do you give back?
I sit on several boards and committees, including the Greenville Children’s Museum and Aid Upstate. For the last five years, I’ve donated a piece valued between $8,000 and $10,000 to the Red Cross Wine Auction and I host a dinner at home the night before the auction. I think it’s very important to be an active part of the community.

Living upstairs of your store — good idea or bad?
I love it. When I started, my studio was in my home. I have learned that it’s healthy to separate work and home, which I can do by going upstairs and closing the doors. I do a lot of my bench work and painting on days off; working with customers takes up so much of my time, it’s difficult to have uninterrupted time in the store. I have a great team that respects my privacy when I’m upstairs; they know they can contact me, but they know they have authority to make decisions.

One of your employees is an actor, one is an amateur woodworker; what do these people and their varied talents bring to your store?
They’re all very creative people; they all think outside the box. That’s what we’re known for. We’re always sitting down, discussing how we can market; they think very creatively.

Other than the scents shoppers enjoy during the holidays, how do you create mood and ambience in your store?
We have “singing bowls” cast in quartz and fused with minerals. When you lightly strike the bowl with a padded rod and rub the rim, there’s a fascinating blend of harmonic resonances produced. The tones help with meditation and emit positive energy; we use them in the store to harmonize the atmosphere.

How do you foster feelings of loyalty and commitment in your staff members?

Employees are considered part of the family. Birthdays are always considered days off, and, on the first birthday celebrated while they work here, they’re given a present of a watch made by one of the artists.

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Pick Up the Pieces

STRONG AND HER EMPLOYEES feel terrible when they break any of the art glass, but, she said, they have all done so at one time. So strong fashions awards out of the broken pieces. She made one glass trophy out of lots of broken glass and gave it to a volunteer who had worked especially hard raising money for muscular dystrophy research.

This story is from the March 2010 edition of INSTORE

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