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Hamilton Hill International Designer Jewelry



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MICHAEL HAMILTON AND Sarah Hill knew their location wasn’t perfect when they opened for business in October 2001. The space, in a renovated laundry building, was tiny – only 850 square feet – and set back 15 feet in an alcove on a one-way street.  

Still, it was where they wanted to be, in the historic downtown of Durham, NC, which was poised to undergo a major revitalization. At $950 a month, it was also very affordable, a big factor for the pair, who as first-time business owners had limited access to bank financing.  

Initially, sales of their international designs were encouraging. The business did a credible $500,000 in its first year, and even better the next two years (up 21 percent in 2003 and almost 35 percent 2004) as the pair came to grips with cash-flow and inventory management and their market’s tastes. But then, with things looking so promising, the business started to stutter. Sales flat-lined in 2005. Even more alarming was the drop-off in the key final quarter. Oct-to-Dec turnover was down 31 percent over the same period in 2004.  


That year, 2005, was a slow one for jewelers everywhere but Hamilton and Hill suspected other factors were at play. “The tip-off came when we met regular diners at the restaurants across from the store and they said they had no idea we were here,” recalls Hamilton.  

Like gravity, the pair realized, the seemingly inviolable retailing law of “location, location, location” had caught up with them.  

Hamilton and Hill knew their spot had downsides: The nearby traffic and noise made browsing unpleasant. The angle the sunlight hit the glass meant passersby often couldn’t see the displays. The store was also a hard place to relax in. “You couldn’t say ‘boo’ without being overheard. Everyone in the store would know your business,” Hamilton says.  

Having resolved to move, Hamilton and Hill didn’t go far – just across the road to a 2,300-square-foot space in Brightleaf Square, a renovated tobacco warehouse. They completed the move by Sept 2006 and noticed immediate gains; Hamilton estimates walk-by traffic and the number of people who stop to look at the window displays tripled.  

The increased visibility and bigger location had other benefits:  

They have been able to cut marketing expenses by a quarter.  
They can carry a much wider array of inventory, including designers with a lower price point.  
The more comfortable setting encourages customers to linger. By the end of 2006, sales topped $1 million for the first time. And that crucial fourth quarter? Sales were up 63 percent on year.


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