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Fast Riser: Amaryllis Handcrafted Jewelry

Store succeeded by making a shift to more of a “fast fashion” business model.

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ALLIE WOLF recalls that at one point she become so frustrated with customers comparing her prices against those of online sites that she told her staff to stop disclosing the names of the designers she was carrying in her Baltimore boutique, Amaryllis.

“It felt terrible because that’s who we were — a boutique featuring artists’ jewelry. Most of the artists sell online at keystone and given that we are an only-brick-and-mortar store, we have to mark up accordingly,” she says. “But we had people ask us the name and then right in front of us, look up the artist online!”

The Internet competition combined with the lingering recession resulted in some tough times for the boutique, among the first in Baltimore to specialize in brand-name fashion jewelry such as Pandora and Alex & Ani.

In the face of such a challenging environment, Wolf and her partner, Anna Marie Fiume, accepted they had no choice but to evolve. That meant being more proactive in reaching out to customers and shifting to more of a “fast fashion” business model.

The store now typically orders no more than one of most items to ensure inventory is always fresh, and to introduce a sense of urgency on the sales floor.

“We’re not pushy, but we tell customers that when a piece sells, that’s it, it might not be here tomorrow,” Wolf explains, adding that the number of brands stocked has been edited down dramatically to around 50.

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The store’s merchandise turn has been ratcheted up to six times, a level more in common with a fashion retailer than a jeweler. Some lines are ordered monthly and each quarter slow-sellers are put in seasonal sales cases with aggressive markdowns of up to 50 percent.

The store has also tried to work more closely with the artists it stocks to resolve online price disparities. Wolf says that in one case she called up an artist in California to point out how challenging it was to sell his pieces at a higher price than those listed on his website. He agreed to synchronize prices.

In some respects, the store has come full circle. It is once again actively promoting its artists with prominently displayed biographical and background information. But in other ways, it has changed dramatically.

Amaryllis’ location on Baltimore’s downtown Harbor East retail district means it can draw on a consistent flow of passing tourist traffic, and the store has done a nice job of positioning itself as a must-see stop for any in-town visitor, in travel guides such as Fodor’s and National Geographic.

But even with a good location and good press, the pressure is still on to find new customers.

“We can’t rely on the walk-in traffic anymore, so we’re constantly trying to think how can we get outside our store,” Wolf says. This includes taking merchandise to sell at women’s conferences and to school fairs and increasing Facebook and e-mail marketing, as well as doing more promotions like birthday discounts. “These are mostly targeted at local customers,” says Wolf. “It’s our thank-you to them for their loyalty.”

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In November the store launched its first pop-up store in conjunction with the interior designer who helped them open their current location. Wolf and Fiume are also experimenting with “personalized consignment boxes” for small outlets like school stores, hospital shops, and other smaller locales that may not usually carry jewelry.

“We’re also scheduling a few trunk shows with artists as well as ‘personal shopping nights,’ where you invite your friends and get a discount.”

The many changes and a move to a larger space in 2011 helped boost Amaryllis’ sales by more than 42 percent from 2010 to 2013. The outlook for 2014 suggests another challenging year.

Wolf says she and Fiume love the in-store experience of shopping. She is also confident that brick-and-mortar stores have a strong future, just not one that resembles their past.
“Anna Marie and I are old school — from the world of needing to touch and feel. I couldn’t buy jewelry online, but most people have no problem with that. We must put ourselves in 2014.”
That means adding their own online channel, possibly as early as this year.

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Chris Burslem is Group Managing Editor at SmartWork Media.

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