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Long-Running San Diego Jewelry Store Consolidates to Focus on Design

A San Diego store consolidates to focus on design.

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Charles Koll, San Diego, CA

OWNER: Malcolm Koll and David Armstrong ; FOUNDED: 1961; URL: charleskoll.com; EMPLOYEES: 14; AREA: 3,200 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Hearts On Fire, Steven Kretchmer, George Sawyer; OPENED FEATURE LOCATION:2011


IN 2009, MALCOLM KOLL considered his two locations and his business model and decided to change almost everything.

He wanted more space in one place, he wanted to phase out most of his brands, and he wanted to make his business transparent, both figuratively and literally. That is, he wanted customers to trust the process of buying jewelry, to immerse themselves in it completely, and to be able to see their jewelry being made, as well.

In 2011, he opened the new 3,200-square-foot store in the upscale Fashion Valley Mall and, today, in 2013, he’s living the dream.

One reason to consolidate the business was that he wanted centralized control over the process of custom design.

The sleek, minimalist store was designed with that custom emphasis in mind.

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A workshop, diamond-grading laboratory and casting plant extend the entire length of one side of the store. On the other, there’s a CAD design station set up around a bar counter with bar stools. Three 55-inch monitors continuously scroll through rendered concept pieces, setting the mood.

The principle of total transparency was taken to new levels. Computer monitors on the sales floor allow clients to follow the process of creating and quoting a piece down to the smallest detail. When working with a sales person or designer, the client can use a mouse that acts as a pointer to ensure full immersion in the process. A lounge in the back of the store has a diamond desk equipped with diamond lighting. Higher-level sales are done in a back room, where it is quieter and more comfortable.

The CAD station sports a huge flat panel monitor so that clients can see their designs taking shape and offer their input in real time.

Every piece of jewelry on display has the price discreetly shown to encourage browsing and enable clients to move through the store at their own pace.
Such transparency creates trust, Koll says.

“Even on quotes and casting and computer work, my customer sees everything,” Koll says. “No one ever runs into the back office to get a quote on anything. The reaction from clients has been almost relief that we are demystifying the process.”

Because the sales process is about consultation and collaboration, training must be technical and intensive. “We have a sales manager whose total focus is training in jewelry arts and manufacturing techniques,” Koll says. “The custom model works only when sales people understand what can be done.”

Once the rendering has been approved by the client, the piece is finished within two weeks. Communication is vital since if clients are not “ecstatic” with their finished custom pieces, they are under no obligation to take them.

“This policy places a lot of responsibility on the salesperson. Our staff is trained to steer clients through the process while always making sure the client is driving,” Koll says.

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Koll says the store has the look of a museum with its pedestal cases and LED lighting. Although much of their merchandise is custom-made, cases display bridal samples and semi-mounts, diamond-slice pieces, mathematical pieces and steam punk jewelry.

Since the move, 70 percent of the jewelry is made in-house; the other 30 percent includes odds and ends and specialty elements they stock for convenience.

“We carry a fairly large inventory, which is transitioning to product produced in-house,” Koll says. “I don’t need to spend years of my life building someone else’s brand.”

The larger store has also made it easy to throw a party, especially because it has a fully equipped kitchen and a full bar. The sheer size of the store — 3,200 square feet — has expanded the entertainment options significantly. “It’s the difference between being able to have a party for 30 people versus 150 people,” Koll says.

Charles Koll, Malcolm’s father, founded the business in 1961 in South Africa. When conflict over apartheid intensified, Charles and Malcolm relocated to San Diego in 1991. “In the 22 years we’ve been here, the population has doubled,” Koll says. “It’s a nice demographic to be growing a business in. I’m really pleased to be here.”

PHOTO GALLERY (8 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Charles Koll

1. CUSTOM CONSULTATIONS These days, customers are coming in with a dozen or more photos of pieces that they like. Initially, the customer interacts with a salesperson who takes detailed notes on the concept and comes up with a list of pieces and parts needed to constitute the look. The next step is to print out a quote sheet and do a rendering of what the designer and the sales person imagine the piece to be. The customer returns to the store a second time and goes through the details, deciding what needs to be changed.

2. STEAM PUNK Charles Koll specializes in steampunk jewelry designs. Steampunk is a mixture of fantasy, science fiction and futuristic technology. In terms of jewelry, steampunk is usually handmade and translates into styles that are functional, but have an antiquated look. Among materials used are antique keys and old bits of machinery — often watch complications, hands and gears, sometimes crafted with moving pieces.

3. CONSULTATION STATIONS Co-owner David Armstrong and Khai Le are on the Charles Koll team as bench jewelers. Le has been honored six times by the American Gem Trade Association Awards, and Armstrong honored with a technical merit for the Matrix Design Contest.

4. READY FOR A PARTY Malcolm Koll can create a festive mood in the new store by using four 55-inch flat panel screens. If they partner with a charity or another business for an event, they can synchronize all of the screens to a central channel that can present a message about the purpose of the event.

5. MEDIA Having a PR firm on retainer has helped the store get attention from local TV stations when they need a jeweler to discuss trends or other jewelry-related topics. Word of mouth is currently the main form of advertising, although Malcolm’s son, Richard Koll, who joined the business a year ago, will be spearheading the company’s drive into e-commerce — including custom ecommerce — and new forms of advertising.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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