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If I Owned A Jewelry Store: Andrew McQuilkin

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Renowned architect and store designer explains how to connect your store with your passion.

BY THE INDESIGN TEAM | Published in the March/April 2014 issue

What a wondrous thing to imagine: To create my own jewelry store. But where to begin? I’ve been designing retail stores for over 30 years, so I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t follow my own methodology that I preach to my clients.

So imagine I’m taking on this project, and running a kick-off visioning session. In this case, I’m sitting down with myself trying to figure out what my store should be.

So Mr. McQuilkin, there are three questions you will need clarity on in order to start designing your store.

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FIRST QUESTION: Who are you and what do you stand for?

“Do you mean me personally, or ‘who’ is this brand I’m looking to start?”

As most small businesses start, they are usually the same. So, let me ask a different way … what’s your passion?

“Beyond my family and sketching, my passion is woodworking. It’s in my blood. My father taught me woodworking; his father taught him. So when I build a piece of furniture or lathe a bowl, there is something primordial and ancestral about the process, the smells, the touch and feel of the manipulated wood.”

Is there anything you stand for when you do your woodworking, any belief system you have as one of your filters for selecting all the types of things you could make?

“Why yes, everything I make comes from reclaimed, found or recycled wood. Whether it’s old pallet crates, a fallen tree, or scrap wood, I believe it’s important to create new life from the discarded. So, if I applied my passion, I would sell reclaimed wooden jewelry!”

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SECOND QUESTION: Who is your customer going to be?

“I guess people with an appreciation for nature, the woods, woodworking, and who share the same passion around sustainability. I don’t think that’s a certain demographic or age, though I know there’s a wellness factor that baby boomers are in love with and young people always wanting to save the world.”

You can’t choose both, though — they’re very different — so which one will it be?

“I’m into mentoring and education, so I’d like to teach this next generation about appreciating the environment and woodworking.”

THIRD QUESTION: There are competitors that may do some wooden jewelry and maybe even cater to a younger crowd, so what’s going to make you different from all the other jewelers?

Why would this younger customer come to your store or website to purchase and no one else’s?

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“Well, I guess maybe my customer service?” These days, customer service is a given; it’s an expectation. So you need to think beyond service. Think of one of your successful clients that is different from all the competitors. What are they doing that keeps them differentiated in their customers’ minds, something that’s true to what they stand for?

“Oh I get it. I have a client, Aveda. They were started before anyone knew what sustainability was by a hair dresser worried about the impact his profession was having on the environment. I truly admire how that positioning traverses every aspect of what they do. In fact, they source a lot of their natural materials from indigenous people. Their commitment resonates deeply with me and would most likely do the same with my customers.”

Now you have found what I call the “emotional quotient,” that one thing your competitors cannot own that will resonate with the heart strings of your customers.

I have been crafting a mission statement while we have been visioning:

“Imagine a jewelry store committed to sustainable practices and supporting indigenous peoples from around the world. One where your guest finds unique, hand-made wooden and plant-based designs that speak to her own commitment to have a positive impact on the earth. Jewelry that provides warmth, renewal, stewardship, and wellness, not only for her, but to the families her decision to purchase supports.”

“I’ve got it! I will name my business … ‘Xylem,’ which is derived from the Greek word for ‘wood.’”


In his role as Retail Market Leader at BHDP Architecture, Andrew McQuilkin is responsible for leading the retail design and architecture expertise in branding, store planning, interior design, merchandising, building architecture and rollout for retail clients. McQuilkin, his project teams and retail partners have been awarded over 50 retail design awards. DDI Magazine readership has also named McQuilkin one of the industry’s Top 20 Influencers three out of the last five years. McQuilkin is now serving his second term as the International President of the Retail Design Institute, and in 2010 he was appointed to “Fellow” status. McQuilkin will be a featured speaker at the 2014 SMART Jewelry Show.

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