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Downtown Canton, Cubed

Julz takes transparency literally with glass-walled sales space.

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Julz by Alan Rodriguez, Canton, OH

OWNER: Alan Rodriguez; URL: julzbyalan.com; FOUNDED: 1987; Opened featured location: 2019;ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Norman Eckinger, design/build; architect of record Robert A. Wilson and design consulting from Jack L. Hawk, AIA; EMPLOYEES: 10 in two locations; AREA: 2,100 square-foot showroom; 4,000 square feet total; TOP BRANDS: Gabriel & Co., Breuning, Artistry, Tissot, Imperial Pearl; ONLINE PRESENCE: 217 5-star Google reviews; 2,259 Facebook followers; BUILDOUT COST: $1.2 million


IT’S ALL ABOUT context.

Alan Rodriguez says if he had built the newest version of his jewelry store, Julz by Alan Rodriguez, in a suburb or a strip mall, it might not be remarkable. But because he placed the bright glass-cubed structure among 150-year-old brick buildings in downtown Canton, it looks like a spaceship has landed in the middle of nowhere. “It has such a shock value because it contrasts with everything else,” he says.

That was the point though.

The glass cube is the focal point, and that feature was inspired by Rodriguez’s affinity for Apple stores. The cube is flooded with natural light by day and glows from within at night, serving as a beacon. “We’re on a one-way street and the cube is visible a block and a half away. We feel like we’re in an aquarium sometimes, but it’s really pretty cool,” he says.

Glass Cube Elevates Architecture of Ohio Jewelry Store

Alan Rodriguez grew up near Canton’s downtown, and the location of his new store has been an integral part of the district’s revitalization.

The cube, simply outfitted with a single jewelry case, allows the Julz team to show diamonds in natural daylight in a unique setting. The space creates a sense of intimacy between staff and customers, too, with the city view as the backdrop and a level of separation from interactions in the rest of the store. The exterior view invites customers to linger longer, and staff members say they feel revitalized by the natural light.

In the dead of an Ohio winter, a 65-inch flat screen TV in the center of the store becomes a virtual fireplace. “With 4K resolution, you can walk by and feel like it’s warming you up,” Rodriguez says. They’ve also experimented with fall foliage scenes and an aquarium image in the summer. The showcase closest to the cube also has neon lighting that stays on all night and acts as a mood setter.

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Various spaces in the store are separated by barn-style glass dividers that slide open and closed, a feature that Rodriguez describes as his single biggest investment. It’s a cool, contemporary touch, but it also reinforces the idea of transparency in his business.

Rodriguez says every aspect of the store, including its signature scent, quartz counter for the POS, and carpeting designed to look like marble tile combines for the result he had wanted to achieve: to make people want to spend money. “One recent new customer, who had visited us for a jewelry repair, remarked, ‘This place smells like the Bellagio!’ He ended up purchasing a $34,000 ring.

“It’s like a symphony orchestra,” Rodriguez says. “You hear the different instruments, and by themselves they sound cool, but collectively they are transformational.”

Glass Cube Elevates Architecture of Ohio Jewelry Store

Julz by Alan Rodriguez sells only natural diamonds.

Julz’s debut was accompanied by another eye-opening futuristic feature for Canton: an electric car charger. “People would stop and take pictures from their car, because it was such a novel thing,” Rodriguez says. “It creates and reinforces the appearance that we’re progressive and forward thinking.”

The new location of Julz also makes Rodriguez feel right at home. He grew up about 20 blocks from the location, when downtown Canton was a vibrant locale with stores and theaters. His grade school, St. John the Baptist, is just one block away from Julz.

After college, Rodriguez returned, working in downtown Canton and living in an apartment nearby. At 30, married with two young children, he had the opportunity to purchase a business in downtown New Philadelphia, OH, about half an hour south.

He made the move, but by 2007, he realized that much of his business was coming from his hometown market, so he opened a second location in downtown Canton, becoming the first retailer in 30 years to open a downtown store after everyone had moved to the malls. “For me, it was a feeling I was back home,” he says. “I had reconnected with old relationships.”

When his lease ran out, he knew he wanted Julz to stay downtown, and he decided to buy a bank building with its own parking lot, which he completely renovated in a manner guaranteed to deliver that “shock value” he talks about, and perhaps even the feeling it had been delivered by alien life forms.

Glass Cube Elevates Architecture of Ohio Jewelry Store

The cube structure is a quiet (and interesting) spot to discuss a jewelry purchase. It also allows diamonds to be shown in natural light.

Julz has been a catalyst for a part of downtown that had not yet experienced a significant rebirth. The renovation of a nearby park will be funded by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is located in Canton. “With the support of the city, we started seeing buildings around us cleaned up, artists painting murals, a brewery moved in,” says Rodriguez. “You create enthusiasm and people want in and everyone wins.

“In smaller, rural communities like this one, relationships with clients go through generations. Right now, I’m serving fourth-generation families. To have someone come in the store, a young girl looking at an engagement ring, and I can tell her stories about her great-great grandfather whom she never knew, it’s like comfort food in many ways. There’s a feeling of professional and personal fulfillment.”

In just one week in the spring, Rodriguez says, he shipped rings to Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta to men who grew up in Canton and came to know Julz through their families. “When it came time to get engaged, thankfully, they still think of us in the town they grew up in.”

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When it comes to what he’s selling them, Rodriguez has held the line against lab-created diamonds, preferring to sell natural diamonds and color, particularly sapphires, as center stones. “I’m pretty old school when it comes to that,” he says. “When I think of a natural diamond, there is something that suggests forever. There’s something very romantic, something very committing, for me. We share why we don’t have them (if we get a request) and the vast majority of those customers end up buying a natural diamond.”

Julz has merged traditional jewelry values, a longstanding connection to the community and a plunge into modern retail design for results guaranteed to engender enthusiasm in everyone, particularly its owner. “I’m as passionate and enthusiastic as when I started 45 years ago,” he says.

Glass Cube Elevates Architecture of Ohio Jewelry Store

The lower level service center is a high priority.

Glass Cube Elevates Architecture of Ohio Jewelry Store

Customer service meets marketing with complimentary logo umbrellas for inclement days in Canton, OH.

Five Cool Things About Julz by Alan Rodriguez

1. FULL SERVICE. When Rodriguez first worked in a jewelry store, the focus on professional service and staffing with watchmakers, jewelers and engravers made a strong impression on him. When he renovated the bank building for Julz, the lower level became his service center; jewelers are visible through the former bank’s bullet proof porthole windows. Between Julz and Rodriguez’s House of Stones in New Philadelphia, the repair department averages 200 jobs per week. “We’ve invested in our service department to be able to generate the traffic,” he says. “Invariably, they’re going to see something in the cases on their way in and on their way out.”

2. E-COMMERCE EFFORTS. Selling online is a work in progress, but Rodriguez is close to introducing an e-commerce platform. The store is primarily known for custom, and they’ve worked with out-of-town clients using a combination of chat, video and Zoom meetings.

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3. BILLBOARD BLITZ. Julz has five billboards that rotate through the Canton metro market every three months. “Customers say they see our billboards everywhere,” Rodriguez says.

4. FOCUS ON REVIEWS. The Julz team makes a conscious effort to build up verified, authentic reviews, which become an important component of social media marketing. Not only are the reviews very positive, but customers have taken the time to comment on aspects of their experience and to single out certain staff members for praise.

5. RAINY DAYS. “We have an umbrella stand near our entrance with large umbrellas with our Julz logo and encourage our customers to take one when it’s raining outside,” says Rodriguez. “We’ve seen our umbrellas all over town! Our ultimate goal is to create exceptional experiences that will become lifelong memories.”

PHOTO GALLERY (22 IMAGES)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Jennifer Acevedo: I love the focus on the customer and customer experience across all touchpoints (even scent, wow) and throughout the customer journey. The repurposed elements of the bank are a nice, authentic touch.
  • Andrea Hill: The business clearly delivers excellent service to their customers because they only have 5-star Google reviews.
  • Larry Johnson: The cube is a most creative idea that is sure to make the customer feel special.
  • Emma Boulle: I adore the neon sign from the 1940s with “Jewelry and Watch Repair” found in the House of Stones building. The two-story glass cube is a striking addition, and I can just imagine it playing with the natural light during the day and showing the changing weather background.
  • Gabrielle Grazi: The scent machine and the complimentary umbrellas are small but memorable details for the consumer. The glass cube provides a unique and brightly lit setting perfect for viewing diamond jewelry. It’s a great way to bring the outdoors inside and have the weather, regardless of rain or shine, add to the overall experience.

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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