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Retail shares space with wholesale as second generation takes leadership roles.

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Shaftel Diamonds, Houston, TX

OWNERS: Keith and Danny Shaftel; URL: alexanderdaas.com; STORE DESIGN: Balaity Property Enhancement (primary); TGS Design studio; ONLINE PRESENCE: 4.9 Stars/336 Google reviews; 33,000 Facebook followers; FOUNDED: 1978; Opened featured location: 2020; AREA: 3,500 square feet; EMPLOYEES:11


Keith, Gaby and Danny lead the Shaftel team.

Keith, Gaby and Danny lead the Shaftel team.

GEM DEALER KEITH SHAFTEL, who has considerable experience in the wholesale jewelry business and on the retail side, is uniquely qualified to describe them both.

In wholesale, he says, there’s likely to be “some shouting” from time to time. In retail, you’ll find yourself walking on eggshells. “You have to be nice to everybody in retail,” he says. “It’s quite different.”

Shaftel has been in the loose gem wholesale business all of his career, which spans four and a half decades.

More recently, as his son, Danny, and daughter, Gaby, began transitioning toward next-generation ownership, the Shaftel family has added a retail component. With the opening of their new store in 2020, retail took center stage, attracting an influential clientele in an affluent, luxury-oriented section of Houston.

“We have been focusing more and more on retail while I am phasing out,” Keith says. “I am 74 and my son is the CEO now. I’m traveling more and happy to spend extended periods of time with people I like, whether or not they are buying.”

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Danny describes the wholesale side as grittier than retail. But he deals with it all; in a typical day, he’s exposed to every type of transaction and emotional situation.

“My days consist of a little bit of wholesale, buying or selling to a dealer,” he says. “There are all different kinds of personalities there. Then I turn around and sit with an engagement ring client going through the happiest time, then somebody who needs to sell jewelry because they’re getting divorced or someone has died.

“You don’t block the emotion out, but you put yourself in their shoes.”

Danny sees the range of experience as a competitive advantage.

“I see so many store owners who can run a business and don’t have that knowledge of colored stones or manufacturing,” he says. “If you don’t know the goods, you’re going to be limited.” This store is staffed by a team of GIA graduate gemologists. Houston is home to engineers of all types and they especially appreciate the opportunity to work with knowledgeable professionals, the Shaftels say. Every engagement ring purchase begins with a crash course in the 4 Cs of diamond quality.

 

Houston Gem Dealers Make Commitment to Retail

Personal referrals bring many clients in for custom-made engagement rings and jewelry. “More often than not, a new client will share stories of how they admired a friend’s ring, which led them to see us,” Keith says. “We keep our clients engaged throughout the design process. They can view renders and waxes as the design progresses so that we can ensure that we create the fine jewelry they envision.”

The new store has given the team the space and separation they need to deal with all of those situations. “That’s the primary reason it was important to have private sales space, so we could separate the buying from the selling,” Keith says.

To design the store, the Shaftel family turned to Jesse Balaity of Balaity Property Enhancement, a store designer and architect, who worked seamlessly with the building contractors. Balaity says he carefully examined Houston’s luxury retail market before designing the store.

“The city readily consumes high-end luxury goods, and of course, there is the ever-present ‘bigger in Texas’ effect. But Houston also prioritizes fun and engaging over formal and controlled, a big city that does not take itself too seriously,” says Balaity, who noticed pop-up markets, creative adaptive reuse projects, and stylistic mashups everywhere.

Balaity also describes Keith and Danny as fun and engaging, a father-son team who play off of each other in remarkable ways.

“I observed Keith’s connection with his customers, a wise jeweler and father figure with an infectious smile and sage stories for every occasion. And Danny, the polished son with abundant passion for his community. The store design had to capture all of this: big personalities, luxurious but never stodgy, quirky moments, and above all, a community destination.”

Says Keith, “When Jesse asked me what stores I really like, I said, ‘Harry Winston,’ and he said, ‘Me, too, but you aren’t Harry Winston,’” Keith recounts. “I’m glad I took his advice; it came out quite nicely.”

Balaity’s goal was to balance the expectations of upscale retail destinations with a fun and almost whimsical experience evocative of the owners’ personalities. He also wanted to engage the community by creating a patio, mobile showcases for events, a lounge with high-top tables and a selfie wall, all in a compact footprint.

Keith wanted something modern and liked the idea of curves. He wanted to be able to give the illusion of private spaces without chopping up the showroom, something he believes Balaity achieved with a partial wall and ceilings all connected in a curve.

The landlord allowed them to use the 10 feet of space at the end of the strip shopping center between the store and the property line for a patio courtyard secured with a fence. The pleasant environment allows staff to show diamonds and fine colored gemstones in natural light.

When they moved from a wholesale jewelry building, their customers reacted positively to the change. “The building we were in was a nice little space, but we had no windows to speak of, the building itself is going downhill, and the bathrooms are awful, and you get hustled in the elevators by other dealers, more so even than in LA or New York,” Keith says. “So, the atmosphere is better.”

Because they lack the automatic traffic of a wholesale building, though, it’s more important than ever to make every visit count. “It’s comfortable and inviting,” Danny says. “People tend to gravitate to the seating area and the coffee. It’s not a stuffy jewelry store, it’s not intimidating.”

The Shaftel Diamonds goal on the retail side is to establish their own brand, so while they carry estate and signed jewelry, there are no new designer lines. “We all have a hand in designing new pieces featuring the extraordinary diamonds and colored gemstones that pass through our hands,” Keith says. “Opinions are sought out and valued from the front of house to the back.”

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The retail business is a work in progress.

“You like to think you pick the right neighborhood and don’t let the cash knock you over when it comes rushing in,” Keith says. “But it takes time.

We’re getting the kind of customer we would not have gotten in the old place. It’s coming.”

Keith was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He met his wife, Adriana, after college while visiting his sister in Mexico City. He spent three years teaching English as a second language there while becoming fluent in Spanish.

“In 1976, I yanked my young bride from the eternally spring-like climate of Mexico City and brought her to the coldest winter in the New York area’s recent memory,” he says. While selling encyclopedias in rural New Jersey, Keith accepted a job offer with a jewelry manufacturer in Austin, where he was soon promoted to production manager.

Two years later they moved to Houston where, with the help of a couple of diamond cutters in New York and Antwerp, Belgium, Keith started his own business supplying local jewelers and other wholesalers with loose diamonds. In 2001, he added a showroom to his office space and opened it to the public. He wanted to take advantage of his gem dealing expertise to offer the best possible retail buying experience.

Decades of experience have made Keith recognize that every problem is an opportunity to shine.

“Whether or not you feel a client’s complaint or demand is reasonable, once you have decided to comply with their wishes, do so happily and enthusiastically,” he says. “As long as you’re giving in, you might as well make believe it’s your most enjoyable task of the day. Your customer will not only be pleased, they might even be amazed at how well you passed their test. A few of my most pleasant clients are converted grumps!”

Houston Gem Dealers Make Commitment to Retail

Five Cool Things About Shaftel Diamond

1. SELFIE WALL. An Instagram wall has a backdrop of tiny boxwoods and a big neon Yes! sign. There’s been at least one proposal and many happy newly engaged couples photographed under the Yes! sign and shared on social media.

2. ART THEME. A mini-art gallery, which changes throughout the year, spotlights local artists. In addition, local muralist Anat Ronen transformed a patio wall into a vibrant, gem-filled field of color.

3. DIVERSE STAFF. Shaftel Diamonds’ staff reflects Houston’s celebrated diversity. “We are an eclectic bunch of jewelry professionals who speak Spanish, French, Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Texan,” Keith says. Miss Texas USA 2020 is running social media this year. “She brings a fresh outsider’s perspective and an extra dose of style to our accounts,” Keith says.

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4. PARTNER POP-UPS. The Shaftels partner with other local businesses to organically promote the store. They’ve hosted in-store pop-ups with local hat makers, dressmakers, macaroon makers, and barbecue and Tex-Mex restaurants.

5. TREASURED GIFTS. Shaftel Diamonds sells a line of treasure candles in three custom scents. Each candle holds a gemstone that’s revealed when the candle burns away. Clients have come in to have their treasures mounted as rings and pendants. Shaftel Diamonds gives 40% of proceeds to their charity of choice, Sky High for Kids, for which Danny Shaftel serves as vice-president of the board. The nonprofit organization focuses on raising funds to fight pediatric cancer and supports families caring for children undergoing cancer treatment.

PHOTO GALLERY (10 IMAGES)

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Gabrielle Grazi:The diverse, multilingual team of GIA Graduate Gemologists, paired with the interesting artwork and murals throughout, creates a unique and cosmopolitan environment.
  • Larry Johnson:The way Jesse Balaity connected the architectural elements of the interior wall and ceiling design into the showcases is terrific. He has captured the non-stuffy, on-the-go character of Houston. The outdoor space looks like lots of fun.
  • Rebecca Rau: I appreciate that the Shaftel team is comprised entirely of graduate gemologists who enjoy teaching their clientele about the technicalities of gemstones.
  • Meg Terry: This store is nicely executed and has a good personality.

 

Try This: Earned Media

Shaftel Diamonds works with a publicist, who has a knack for coming up with stories that are picked up by local media. They’ve landed three five-minute spots on live local TV that would’ve cost $10,000 or more if they were paid commercials. They work on photo shoots with magazines including Weddings in Houston, Stroll Tanglewood and Modern Luxury. Every year, a group of “Dynamic Women” are featured in Modern Luxury wearing Shaftel Diamonds jewelry.

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