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Reinventing the Family Business

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Spicer Greene Jewelers, Asheville, NC

OWNERS: Elliott and Eva-Michelle Spicer; FOUNDED: 1926; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1986; RENOVATED: 2016; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN: Ron Harris; SHOWCASES: ArtCo; EMPLOYEES: 11; AREA: 4,000 square foot showroom; 8,000 square foot total; TOP BRANDS: Mikimoto, Marco Bicego, John Hardy, Kirk Kara, Henri Daussi, Breitling, Shinola


Spicer Greene Jewelers trunk show invitation

Spicer Greene partners with jewelry brands that offer elegant pieces that can be worn every day. Mikimoto’s 32-inch strand of pearls, which retails for $10,000, is a popular item, for example.

WHEN NEW OWNERS Elliott and Eva-Michelle Spicer decided to reinvent her family business in Asheville, NC, they put a lot of thought into how modern shoppers look for engagement rings. For one thing, they often search the Internet for the diamond, separately from the mounting, and such diamond information is usually presented in a grid format online.

So, when they laid out their store, they presented their loose diamond collection in a grid format in their cases, which mimics how it’s done on their website and other e-commerce-enabled websites. “People want it to be easy to browse and not have to wait for someone to go back to the safe repeatedly,” says Elliott. “All of our diamonds are loose and out in the case.”

It was just one feature in an overall business plan designed to meet their customers “where they are.” This decision alone completely transformed the trajectory of the business.

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“These diamond grids are unbelievable,” Elliott says. “When we started, we went from very little diamond sales, about $150,000, to over $1 million with good margins. It’s been working really, really well for us.” What makes them stand out in their market is that they have become known for having the largest loose diamond collection in North Carolina.

They also photograph every item available in their store and display them all on their website. During the first year of that project, they spent $100,000 on equipment and staffing, and saw little return on investment. “A year after that, we saw sales go up, but it wasn’t till COVID that it really took off,” says Eva-Michelle. “I’m happy we are proactive and not reactive,” when it comes to e-commerce.

“Every single product is our own photography, and what’s on our website is all in our cases,” Elliott says. “We won’t list it unless it is here physically in our store.”

Communication is another important element in their business plan, because meeting the customer “where they are” is also a literal goal.

So if the customer wants to chat on the website at 3:30 a.m., they make sure they are available, at least with an auto-response. “Making our customer feel heard and well taken care of, however they expect that, is crucial. It goes beyond just knowing what kind of beverage they want; you have to know they don’t want text messages or don’t like phone calls.”

Elliott says old-school retailers may be great at forming and maintaining relationships but not very adept at understanding or navigating the modern buying cycle. “Shoppers want to be able to look at it online and pick it up in the store,” he says. Ignoring the buying cycle is an existential threat. “If businesses aren’t omni-channel, they’re not going to have a business in 10 years.”

Company founder E.O. Wick was old school at its best. In 1926, he moved to Asheville from Tiffany & Co. in New York and opened a small jewelry repair shop on Wall Street in downtown Asheville. His skills as an enamellist, hand engraver and jeweler served him well and established a thriving repair business. In 1942, Wick brought on Paul Greene as an apprentice, teaching the business and the art of creating one-of-a-kind custom jewelry. In 1953, Paul became a full partner in the jewelry store and Wick and Greene was born.

In 1975, Paul’s son, Michael Greene, joined the family business. During this time, Wick and Greene moved from the small shop on Wall Street into the art deco building on Patton Avenue that once was a gas station. The bays for the cars are now large glass windows facing the street, and customers shop right where the vehicles were serviced.

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In 2014, Michael and Eva Greene retired, and their daughter, Eva-Michelle and her husband, Elliott, purchased the business and began the journey to take Wick and Greene Jewelers into the 21st century. That modernization included the gutting and renovation of the space. The goal was to make it more accessible. “It used to be old timey with huge wall cases; it looked like the walls were closing in on you,” says Eva-Michelle.

Elliott and Eva-Michelle Spicer

Elliott and Eva-Michelle Spicer modernized the appearance and function of her family’s store while recognizing the value of traditions.

The interior went from old, heavy wood cases, maroon carpet, and pervasive wallpaper to a light, bright and airy environment. The store has an open feel with the showroom divided into a few distinct sections. The center room where the customer enters has name-brand fashion, watches and men’s jewelry. The room to the left is women’s diamond fashion and gemstone fashion. On the right is bridal and wedding jewelry, along with loose diamonds.

They changed all of the store’s systems, re-evaluated every single line and re-merchandised.

They also faced a tough decision when it came to staff, ultimately deciding to start completely from scratch. “People weren’t on the same page. It was a hard transition; we were trying to move the ship in a different direction,” Elliott says. The new staff was hired based on attitude and a willingness to learn. “You can train someone at a job, but you can’t train a positive mindset,” says Elliott. They also hired the most experienced jewelers and sales professionals they could afford.

They were well prepared to face challenges when 2020 brought both COVID-19 and a mandatory closing of their store. E-commerce carried them through April’s shutdown, and business rebounded sharply in May, even before they reopened. They were so excited to be allowed to reopen at 5 p.m. on May 8 that they opened their doors for an hour that day. “We’re scrappy, and we’re working hard for every dollar,” Eva-Michelle says.

While they were closed, they commissioned an artist to paint a graffiti-style mural on the side of their building with the words, “Love is not canceled,” which was shared thousands of times on social media and news outlets. “It’s amazing to have our community appreciate something we do. It’s a positive message for the folks in Asheville, and they are responding so beautifully to that,” says Eva-Michelle.

They’re optimistic about the future of jewelry retail.

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“We’re millennials, even though I hate that word,” says Eva-Michelle, “and our generation gets so much bad press for not wanting things. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. We do want high touch, but we want it how we want it. I think we are a fiercely loyal generation. We do want to shop local, we don’t want to support the big guys, but you have to make it convenient for us. If your customers only want to text, make that accessible to them. If they refuse to respond to your emails, send them an Instagram message.”

Elliott sees parallels between the millennial and baby boomer shopper.

“They weren’t buying things in the ‘60s, but they grew up and started making real money and everything was golden in our industry. I think we’re going to see something similar. The jewelry industry has been a little harder in recent years, but I believe we’re on the precipice of a real growth cycle.”

PHOTO GALLERY (13 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Spicer Greene Jewelers

1. Casual elegance. Spicer Greene is attuned to what its shoppers want when it comes to jewelry. Modern shoppers are looking for everyday, rather than special-occasion jewels. “We sell Mikimoto pearls, and one of the best sellers is the long, 32-inch, more casual strand of pearls,” says Eva-Michelle. “Casual doesn’t mean cheap. It’s a $10,000 strand of pearls. We also sell big diamond studs and right-hand rings. It has to be comfortable enough and versatile enough for every day, not for big occasions only.”

2. Made in America. “We’ve been pushing manufacturing,” Elliott says. They’re moving toward products being made in house by converting a 1,500 square foot upstairs space into a manufacturing facility with space for seven jewelers’ benches. “We’d like to be able to say it’s made in America, right here in Asheville.”

3. Making a difference. The business has a strong history of community involvement and benevolent work. Eva-Michelle and her father, Michael, are active in Asheville’s local Rotary chapter. They frequently donate items, money or experiences to local and national charities, including causes such as March of Dimes/March for Babies, the Asheville Humane Society, Homeward Bound (local housing for the homeless), women’s organizations and local museums.

4. Message of legacy and young, hip fun. “We tried to balance our legacy – letting the community know we’ve been here for 94 years, we’re not going anywhere — but also letting people know we’re not your stuffy old jeweler,” Eva-Michelle says. “We’re young and fun and we try to relay that in our advertising, that it’s a fun experience to come to Spicer Greene. That we want a relationship with each and every one of our patrons. We’re a high-end store. I’ve heard us described as Tiffany & Co. meets Restoration Hardware. But we try to have products that are attainable for every budget.”

5. Lucky location. About 25 percent of Spicer Greene clients are visitors to Asheville, which is a prime driving destination for Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh. In fact, 70 percent of U.S. residents can reach Asheville within a day’s drive. Spicer Greene makes it easy for visitors to become regulars through social media and a constantly updated e-commerce website.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • KATHLEEN CUTLER: Three generations of fun. You can tell by the photo posted on Instagram that they are part of the community and they’ve created a shopping environment with millennials in mind.
  • KEN NISCH: A new twist on tradition; evolution without the revolution.
  • ERIK RUNYAN: Progressive and modern with old family values. Keeping the old outdoor clock is a nice touch. Transitioning the gas station to a cool jewelry store is very inviting.
  • PRATIMA SETHI: The store looks beautiful both inside and outside. Contemporary and inviting.
  • JEN CULLEN WILLIAMS:  I like the exterior clock and the way they incorporate that into their marketing. They have done a great job transitioning the business over the years, and I love how each generation has put their modern stamp on it.
  • ROD WORLEY: The art deco architecture of the Spicer Greene exterior piques your emotional palette for the journey inside. The interior is unabashed in visual cues that speak to you of understated excellence overlaying purposeful design.

 

Try This: Watch for a Men’s Jewelry Resurgence

Elliott predicts that men’s jewelry is on the verge of huge growth, based on what hip-hop artists are wearing and the advent of an increasingly avid group of young watch collectors. Elliott and Eva-Michelle say that concerns about millennials abandoning watches were overblown. “Maintain a sense of perspective,” says Eva-Michelle. “When you look at trends, you can say everyone’s going to wear an Apple watch, or you can say the Apple watch is going to get people used to wearing watches again. Many people who purchased an Apple watch realized how god-awful ugly they are, and now they want beautiful watches.”

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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