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Into the Woods

You won’t see any chandeliers or imported marble at JDC. This is frontier territory.

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Jewelry Design Center, Spokane, WA

OWNERS: Doug and Brian Toone; YEAR FOUNDED: 1979; LOCATION OPENED: 2005; STORE AREA: 12,500 sq. ft; ADDRESS: 821 N. Division St.; Spokane, WA 99202; PHONE: (509) 487-5905; URL: jewelrydesigncenter.com


WHEN DOUG TOONE and his son Brian decided to build a new jewelry store in Spokane, WA., they knew they had to keep in mind the sensitivities of their regular customers — often guys in work boots who tramped dirt through the shop as they looked for a diamond engagement ring or new watch. Says Brian: “Our best days in our old store finished with mud on the floor.”

The result was the Jewelry Design Center, a huge 12,500-square-foot store that fully embraces the frontier spirit of the Northwest, not only in its “log cabin” design but in the folksy way the staff deal with customers.

The store, located just across the river from downtown Spokane, features massive cedar support beams that seem to grow out of the floor, washroom basins carved from boulders and a 25-foot tall fireplace made of river rock. It’s the kind of place Henry Thoreau probably would have approved of … had he been in the market for a brand-name watch, bridal or anniversary jewelry, repairs or custom design.
The 10-month-old store is essential woodsman chic. It’s also a hugely successful jewelry operation — the biggest in Spokane — and is on target to post high double-digit sales growth in its first year in the new location.

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THE HISTORY
Bigger than Ever

The story of the Jewelry Design Center has its origins in 1968, when Doug Toone, fresh out of high school, took a job sweeping floors at a local jewelry shop. His obvious talent with his hands soon gained him entry into goldsmithing, and over the next eight years he built a reputation as one of the best jewelers in Spokane.

In 1977, he set out on his own, opening Doug Toone Jewelry Manufacturing, which concentrated on wholesale work. His 360-square-foot office consisted of one bench and one display case filled with wax designs. Within two years, though, Doug had phased out his wholesale accounts in favor of the word-of-mouth business he was attracting. And in 1979, Doug Toone Jewelry Manufacturing got a new name — the Jewelry Design Center, or JDC as it also known.

Over the next 10 years, the business grew steadily. The store swelled to more than 2,000 square feet in size as Doug’s reputation for craftsmanship, custom designs and customer service spread. In 1992, Doug added a second location and in 1995 a third. Annual sales were climbing quickly and the staff now numbered 12 employees.

The rapid expansion brought problems, however, and from 1990 to 1998 sales leveled out. Operating expenses where weighing on the company, as were difficulties with merchandising and quality control.

In 1995, Brian returned from the University of Montana with a bachelor’s degree in business and joined the family operation. Three years later, he was appointed general manager and given free rein to impose the business strategies he had picked up in college.

Brian quickly set about trying to repay the faith his father had shown in him. In 1998 and 1999, Jewelry Design Center went through a major restructuring. The two branch locations were closed down while the main store was expanded to 4,800 square feet. A more competitive pricing structure was implemented and all store policies, warranties, and employee incentives were overhauled. Production and performance-tracking systems were introduced and the staff underwent retraining. A budget structure was also put in place to better manage advertising costs, inventory, bonuses, and equipment.

The overhaul paid almost immediate dividends. Between 1999 and 2004, Jewelry Design Center enjoyed an average annual growth rate of 20%.

The return to the good times prompted reconsideration about the future of the business. By 2003, JDC had been leasing space for 25 years. Doug and Brian decided it was time they had their own property.

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“For two years we looked for existing buildings to renovate. Nothing seemed to work out,” recalls Brian. “One fall morning we were driving through town looking for buildings when we saw an empty parking lot close to the downtown area, and it was ‘Wait a minute! Maybe we should think about building our own from scratch.’”
The plot was two miles closer to the city center and seemed perfect for their dream store. The financial outlay was daunting though. The 1.26-acre plot was priced at $1.18 million and the basic construction cost would mean a further $1.2 million on top of that.

Both Doug and Brian mortgaged their homes, and obtained an SBA loan through their bank. To ease the costs, they built on two neighboring leased spaces and sold a portion of the original land lot.

THE CONCEPT
High-End Log Cabin

With the land now purchased, the research of free-standing stores began. “We pored through three years’ worth of Instore Cool Store articles. As members of the IJO (Independent Jewelers Organization), we talked with every member we could who had a free-standing location,” says Brian.

“The key was to find a concept that would match the family’s personality and that of our area, our customer base.”

Spokane is a city of approximately 180,000 with surrounding communities bringing the population up to almost 400,000. Mostly blue collar to upper middle class, it is conservative and proud of its frontier heritage.

“Brian came up with the idea of a high-end Northwestern log theme,” says Doug. “Imported marble and chandeliers are not us. In fact, doing that would have risked alienating a large portion of our clients. In the old store, we had guys coming in from work, not afraid to be in a jewelry store. They felt comfortable. Natural materials and an open-floor plan appeal to almost everyone in our area. We wanted it to be classy, upscale and completely unique. Jewelry is intimidating enough on its own without us or our building being that way.”

With the initial concept worked out, the next thing to do was to come up with a design. The father-and-son team decided they could do that as well as anyone.
“We figured, hey, we are in the design business. We know what looks good,” says Doug. “So we decided to design it ourselves and work closely with our builder, Baker Construction.”

THE STORE
In Timber Country

After a year of planning and five months of actual construction, the store was finished. The result is an entity that is very much part of its community. As soon as you enter JDC, there’s little chance of forgetting you’re in timber country.
Six rough-hewn wooden columns help support a 30-foot-high ceiling. The beams are made from local cedar trees that flare at the base, as if they are growing out of the floor. Natural lighting is provided by two large skylights and heat by a river-rock fire place that dominates one wall. River-rock masonry, much of it worked by Doug, is one of the recurring themes throughout the store.

The guest bathroom is tiled with natural slate. The washbasin is carved from a boulder and the sink counter from basalt rock. Even the children’s play area is decorated with an enchanted forest themed mural.

More river-rock masonry accents the 15×10 foot walk-in bank vault.
A spiraling log staircase leads up to a 1,200 square-foot private showroom, conference foyer and offices on the second floor. This VIP showroom contains two oversized museum type showcases, a bar, another fireplace, sitting areas, and limousine tinted floor-to-ceiling glass which over looks the main showroom. Along the walls are 15 12-inch-square picture frames. At the flick of a switch, the pictures disappear into the wall to reveal individual inset display cases. The James Bond-like cases were the brainchild of Doug’s son-in-law, Chad Bailey.

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The second floor also opens up to a decked patio overlooking the city center.
While many other jewelry stores hide their workshops in the back of the store, a 25-foot-long stretch of glass at the Jewelry Design Centre allows customers a clear view into the shop and is one of the main attractions in the store. Above the glass panel are eight flat-screen monitors that are wired to different cameras at the jewelers’ benches. Customers can watch the jewelers as they carve waxes, set stones or do simple repairs. Through the glass they can also watch the laser welder, microscopic setting and hand-engraving monitors.

“We tried to think of everything to make shopping at JDC an amazing experience. They love to watch the jewelers at work. Our jewelers are used to it now. In fact, I think they enjoy it,” says Brian.

THE PEOPLE
‘Cool People’

While the father-and-son team created the store, the two credit their staff of 35 and family for making their vision a success.

“We couldn’t have done any of it without our people. For the one year and five months it took to design and build the store, we had to rely heavily on our staff. From jewelers to office staff to sales, everyone came through big. In an article in Instore, Shane Decker said a store is not cool without cool people. We believe that 100%. We have cool people,” says Brian.

Relatives also helped out in a big way. In addition to the showcases, Bailey designed the counters, cabinets and bar in the VIP room. Brian’s brother and sister-in-law set up and networked the entire system of 20 computers and printers. A six-foot replica diamond that sits in front of the store was manufactured by Doug’s brother, Dan.
JDC finally moved into the new store on August 8, 2005, closing the 28-year chapter at the old location.

“Overwhelmingly, we get the response we were looking for from our clients and vendors. Comfortable, open, unique and wow! People love the openness, the lighting, the shop,” says Brian.

Sales in 2005 ended up 36% over 2004. In the first quarter of this year, they were up 66%. Volume is five times what is was in 1995, with inventory turning over slightly more than one time per year. Brian attributes their success to “passion, love, sweat, personality and family.”

“In one of our commercials we say, whether it’s a $20 charm or a five-carat diamond, we will take care of you. Our business is built on that and that is what built this store.”

PHOTO GALLERY (12 IMAGES)

Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at [email protected].

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