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Michigan Success Story

Starting as a store janitor, this entrepreneur found his calling in the jewelry business.

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James C. Smith Fine Jewelry, Traverse City, MI

URL: jamescsmith.net; OWNER: James C. Smith; FOUNDED: 2006; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2006; LAST RENOVATED: 2011; AREA: 1,500 square feet; OPENED BUILD-OUT COST: $25,000; EMPLOYEES: 4 full time, 2 part time; BRANDS: ll inventory is made in-house.; ONLINE PRESENCE: Yelp: 5 Stars; Facebook: 1,226 Likes; ALEXA TRAFFIC RANK:6,370,716


HOPING JUST TO GRADUATE high school, James Smith ended up with a career.

“I was one of those rebellious teenage kids,” Smith says. His troubles meant he might not walk at commencement with the rest of his 1987 senior class, unless he made up some credit working a job through his school’s co-op program.

“The assistant principal literally went through a Rolodex, pulled out an index card, and said, ‘Go to this place, they need a janitor,” Smith recalls. “It was a jewelry store three generations old.”

Smith started doing custodial work there part-time. Something about him must have impressed the owner, who invited him to spend his downtime on an empty bench next to the store’s goldsmith. “He said, ‘I’m not gonna pay you to be there, but you can spend your time seeing what it’s like.’”

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Six months later, once Smith had grasped the basics of polishing, casting and other bench work, the owner did start paying him. The store’s goldsmith, Christian DeCamillis, became a lifelong mentor. And Smith began in earnest an apprenticeship that would lead to him striking out on his own in 2006.

If his story is a spin on the traditional American dream of learning to apply yourself and finding success, Smith’s namesake store is a bit more atypical — especially for a Northern Michigan town of 15,000. A sharp mix of clean, straight lines and lots of glass, adorned smartly with lively colors, it more closely resembles a metropolitan art gallery than a small-town jewelry shop.

“People see it and think it looks like something that would be in a big city. They go, ‘What’s that doing here?’” Smith says.

Inside, they find Smith’s custom designs on display in acrylic boxes suspended from industrial-looking wires.

“Traditional jewelry stores have real low cases,” he says. “People are always bending down trying to see in them. I wanted something that was closer to eye level and more light and airy.”

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The store’s design was a collaboration between Smith’s wife, Linda Hankes-Smith — a professional artist herself — designer friend Richard Taylor and Smith. “It was challenging,” Smith says, because of the strong creative opinions they all had. “But it was also very exciting. The three of us had a lot of fun with it.”

He admits to feeling trepidation when he opted to start his own business, after Taylor recommended he and Linda check out a retail space that had just opened up. “She said just do it — the worst thing that could happen is we could lose our house,” Smith says. Despite the down economy, the worst never came to pass.

The majority of Smith’s work is custom; about 30 percent of that is bridal. Many of his clients, he jokes, are people who come in and say, “‘I was standing in the grocery line and the lady in front of me had the same ring as me.’”

His work and his aesthetic have garnered a fervent following, as evinced by the store’s annual Christmas party, which is not a selling event but a thank you to his customers.

“We’ve had nights there was an absolute snowstorm, where you couldn’t see halfway down the block, and you think, ‘OK, this is going to be a bust,’” Smith says, remembering one event. Half an hour after the start time, the store was empty. And then: “The store was full. I don’t think we could have fit another person in.”

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Smith has paid tribute to his community with two particular pieces: his Peninsula Pendant and his Pure Michigan Pendant. Both are aerial maps of the region, done in 14K gold and sterling silver. The fun part is that customers get to choose their own special spot to set a small diamond. “Whether it’s Traverse City or their cottage on the lake, they walk out with a unique piece,” he says.

The store does everything in-house, including casting (except for platinum). Smith abashedly notes that although he has a strong crew of employees ranging from 25 to 62 years old, they don’t have a “selling philosophy” per se.

“The pieces really sell themselves,” he says. “We just try to inform people to make the best decision they can.”

It’s working. “I’m very blessed,” Smith says. “The people who came to work for me are people I’ve known for a long time, and they’re dedicated to the art. That’s made all the difference for me.”

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Five Cool Things About James C. Smith Fine Jewelry

1. BOXES, OUTSIDE THE BOX: Acrylic boxes, wired to the ceiling and floor, serve as showcases at James C. Smith. They instantly give the store the sophisticated-yet-boho vibe Smith hoped to convey. “It was just a leap of faith, and it worked out real well,” he says.

2. INDIVIDUAL FLAIR: shop, which changes regularly but lately has featured large, sparkling, eye-catching fiber-optic orb lights. Paintings by Smith’s wife, Linda, deck the walls, adding streaks of vivacious color. The sea-blue exterior tile calls out to passersby, too.

3. LABOR PANE: A projector displays a rotating slide show of Smith’s custom designs on one of the huge windows facing the street. The images are large enough to be seen easily by cars passing through downtown. (The big windows also let in plenty of natural light, putting a brighter and bolder spin on the gems on the jewelry in the cases.)

4. MAKE ME A MAP: Smith’s signature Peninsula and Pure Michigan pendants were an alternative to the cherry charms sold by local jewelers. (Traverse City bills itself as “the Cherry Capital of the World.”) Because many clients are seasonal dwellers, he needed something area-specific. The little maps, marked with a diamond in the spot of the customer’s choosing, fit the bill perfectly.

5. TEACHABLE MOMENTS: ecause mentors Chris DeCamillis and Jim Hawkes of Mesa, AZ, gave him so much, Smith aims to do the same for his people. He hooked up a camera to his master goldsmith’s microscope so the other bench jewelers could watch the work. “They can ask questions while it is happening, and we have an instant class.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Bruce Freshley: I liked very much the “Define Yourself” TV commercial. Rarely do I see a locally shot and produced TV ad with this level of quality. It is romantic, dreamy and sexy … not what you might expect to find in a market this size. Well done!

Danielle Pelletiere: Great street appeal! The large windows and clean storefront allow for any passerby not only to see inside but want to walk through. The layout of the shop is impeccable. The modern, clean lines are unique and really showcase the jewelry. The artwork is bold but not overwhelming. The sense of team camaraderie among the employees stands out, and the focus on giving back to the customer is huge.

Gerry Gonda: A true gallery-like appearance with great visual appeal from the street. A unique concept in merchandising, which forces customers to focus on the product. This fact may or may not intimidate potential customers who appreciate privacy.

Julie Romanenko: I liked the fusion of color and starkness in the interior of the store.

R. Grey Gallery: One of the strong points of the store is the suspended showcases. They provide a clean and tailored look, while providing the customer a clear view of the product lines.

Josh WImmer has been a contributor to INSTORE since 2006. He has coordinated the annual America's Coolest Stores contest for several years. The job mostly involves pestering jewelry store owners to start their contest entries, pestering jewelry store owners to finish their contest entries, and figuring out computer problems over the phone from hundreds of miles away.

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America's Coolest Stores

Florida Jewelry Store Specializes in VIP Experiences

Perks include luxury lounge and world travel.

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Provident Jewelry, Jupiter, FL

OWNERS: Seth Berman, Scott Diament, Nick Linca, Robert Samuels; URL:providentjewelry.com ; FOUNDED: 1993; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2007; LAST RENOVATED: 2013; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN: Dreamstar Custom Home ID & Design International; EMPLOYEES: 10 at Jupiter location; AREA: 1,300 square-foot watch lounge, 3,000 square-foot showroom; TOP BRANDS: Chanel, Breitling, Franck Muller, Louis Moines, MB&F; ONLINE PRESENCE: 12,476 Facebook followers; BUILDOUT COST: $1 million


STEP THROUGH AN interior doorway within the elegant, marble-floored Provident Jewelry in Jupiter, FL, and you may believe you have stumbled through the looking glass into a pleasant but surreal dream.

The Provident Jewelry team has created what they call the Dream Factory, a clubby lounge with a full-size bar, espresso machine, and the ambience of a VIP retreat. The Dream Factory is adjacent to a cigar lounge, too, with humidors, comfy seating and a state-of-the-art ventilation system. The bar is stocked with fine bourbons, Scotches and tequilas, the finest liquor in the world, says CEO Rob Samuels.

“You come in here and it’s such a different experience,” says managing partner Seth Berman. “It’s kind of a lounge-y, laid-back atmosphere with super friendly people, who are very well trained as well. It’s a combination of all those things that create a great experience. It’s more than a jewelry store; it’s a lifestyle.” So it’s not unusual for clients to hang out at Provident Jewelry for hours.

The management team at Provident Jewelry pushes the envelope when it comes to creating far-flung customer experiences.

“Before the Dream Factory, we used to see top clients four to six times a year,” Samuels says. “Now we see them a couple times a month or more. We’ve created an atmosphere that is fun, relaxing and luxurious.”

It’s also expanded the store’s appeal to men in an affluent area where women with their own disposable income tended to be the core clientele. Now everyone feels equally comfortable. There’s wood on the walls and the floors, and the bar, accented with stainless steel, also has a layer of transparent granite on top and in front of it. “It’s more male-focused, but when we have events, it’s a place where everyone gravitates,” Samuels says.

The showroom floors are two types of marble with a micro-mosaic border. The showroom is much lighter and brighter in design, overall, than the lounge space. But although the main showroom and the Dream Factory look and feel very different, the use of earth tones ties both spaces together aesthetically.

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Pampering extends far beyond the walls of the store as Provident hosts one-on-one global adventures for their VIP clients. Itineraries are influenced by clients’ interests in watches and jewelry, but the sky’s the limit.

The Dream Factory is a bar and luxury lounge adjacent to the showroom.

“We’re not talking dinner here,” says Berman. “We offer an opportunity to test drive rare cars, attend the Monaco boat show and a factory tour of a nautical-based watch brand, race a car at YAS Marina Circuit, golf with professional golfers, sail on America’s Cup committee boat in Bermuda, fly to Switzerland for a private helicopter tour as well as a private tour of a watch factory, travel the world and more.”

While some of these trips are (obviously) expensive, Provident offers them because the clients enjoy doing things with the Provident team, says Samuels. “The worst thing we can do in today’s market is to be the same or not stand out.”

Provident was founded in 1993 by Art Samuels and his son, Robert, in downtown West Palm Beach. In 1999, Rob Samuels and Scott Diament bought the majority interest in Provident from Art. Scott’s cousin, Seth Berman, came aboard in 2002, after earning a degree in psychology. Berman and Nick Linca are managing partners of the Jupiter location. ”It feels like one big crazy family,” Berman says. “There’s corporate power with a family feel.”

The Provident team now owns seven stores in the Sunshine State. Berman and Linca are passionate about finding the next breakout brands to bring to their clients, but they also deeply value one-of-a-kind estate jewelry. “We try to have something for everyone, but we are geared to high-end wearer pieces as well,” Berman says.

They launched a new website in November equipped with e-commerce to expand their national reach.

Hosting community events fits with the company’s work as lifestyle philosophy.

They’re also active in community philanthropy. They host charity events in the Jupiter store several times a year, covering all costs, setting up silent auctions and attracting new supporters to causes important to their clients and their staff. One annual event is a kick-off party for the Furry Friends annual gala. They also support the March of Dimes, the Jupiter Police Foundation and cancer research, sometimes with a small cocktail party for their boards and other times for a holiday party attended by 250 to 300 people. “Our team has been in the business for decades, but their knowledge isn’t the only cool thing about them. They have so much heart,” says Elizabeth Portmess, former marketing manager.

“I think most importantly, it gives us a positive brand recognition and associates us with doing good in the community,” Samuels says. “While they’re here in the store, they can see the concept of the lounge and the bar. They start to browse, and by the end of the night, everyone wants to see all the beautiful stuff and our sales staff is running around showing jewelry and watches.

“We’re big believers in doing the right thing and it will come back to you.”

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Five Cool Things About Provident Jewelry

1. Great people. Because of Provident’s reputation for positive energy, qualified job seekers look to the company for opportunities. Once onboard, staff are trained at GIA in gemology and in Switzerland for watches, in addition to receiving training closer to home. “Product knowledge is super important,” Berman says.

2. Fun vibe. The company cultivates a professional sales style, which is also casual and low pressure, Berman says. “It’s a lifestyle, not a job where you clock in and clock out. Work and pleasure overlap for us quite a bit. We’re constantly going to events, and involved in community outreach. Our staff is all in.”

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3. Wide-ranging marketing. Provident partners with brands for billboards and magazines. They also keep up with social media and paid advertising and get staff on board to develop social-media relationships. They say they’re not afraid to try big things marketing-wise because they have the power of seven stores behind them. Says Berman, “We ask, ‘How’d you hear about us?’ They’ll say, ‘I saw the billboard, the commercial, a friend told me, then I saw you in the magazine and on Instagram.’ It’s the sum of all parts.”

4. Cutting-edge website. Traffic is up since Provident launched its new e-commerce website in November. “I believe wholeheartedly that the in-store and out-of-store experiences are top notch, but we fell by the wayside as far as the online experience,” Samuels says. “Since we upgraded our website, though, you’ll find it to be both visually elegant and easy to navigate.” The website has its own social wall; clients can take a picture of their new watch or upload engagement photos. The social wall not only adds an interactive element to the website, it also makes clients feel like they’re part of the club, says Samuels, who hopes the website will intrigue online visitors enough to say, “Next time we’re in Florida, we’re going to stop by the store.”

5. Happening holidays. Provident hosts holiday parties at each of their stores and releases a highly anticipated holiday catalog in mid-November. A full-time bar tender pours bloody marys and mimosas, from open to close.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Benjamin Guttery: Having the “Dream Factory” at its flagship location is a great way to inspire customers to dream big! Inside there is a “bazaar” feel with multiple smaller rooms and lounges tailored to individual groups of clients. The exterior Floridian architecture is classic and beautiful and offers a contrast to the bold internal space.
  • Elle Hill: The interior design of the store creates a one-of-a-kind experience. Provident Jewelry focuses on offering not only jewelry but rare experiences, and this enables them to offer customized and unique customer experiences.
  • Bob Phibbs: The ability to participate in one-of-a-kind events definitely elevates the luxury lifestyle to new heights!
  • Mark Tapper: Provident Jewelry gets that retail is more than just about shopping, but about creating an experience. The idea of creating a Dream Factory where clients can mingle, relax, and enjoy a cigar or adult beverage is an awesome in-store experience.
  • Michael Roman: The Dream Factory luxury lounge is extremely luxe and lends itself to the lifestyle concept that is being sold along with jewelry. The one-of-a-kind experiences they have marketed are just that.

 

Try This: Bring your clients’ dreams to life.

You may not be able to bring them along on globe-hopping adventures, but could you plan local experiences for top clients? Start with offering an adult beverage, a comfortable chair and local concierge services related to client interests or their upcoming nuptials.

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America's Coolest Stores

Transparency and Green Initiatives Make This California Jewelry Store Cool

An open, airy store design eases threshold resistance.

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Talisman Collection Fine Jewelers , El Dorado Hills, CA

OWNER: Andrea Riso; URL:talismancollection.com; FOUNDED: 2008; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2013; EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time; 2 part-time; AREA: 3,700 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Asher, Yael Designs, Lisa Nik, Doves, Chris Ploof; ONLINE PRESENCE: 40,500 Instagram followers; 43,797 Facebook likes; 13 Google reviews with 4.4 Star rating; BUILDOUT COST: $551,000


ANDREA RISO REACHED for the stars, the sun and the sky when she designed Talisman Collection. The store was the culmination of a lifelong dream, and that dream did not include a humdrum ceiling, but rather a lofty art installation.

Fifty-two contractors passed up the chance to hang the artist-created 2-ton “Sky,”— a 200-square-foot, blown-glass platter tray — before she found one willing to take it on. It was a practical as well as pretty addition to her environment. ”It was important to replicate a blue sky over the diamond counter because taking a break every hour or so from studying diamonds to gaze at blue sky or green grass rests the eyes and the central nervous system and allows the viewer to see the details in diamonds,” she says.

Then there’s “The Sun,” a 1,500-pound, 8-by-8 foot blownglass fixture. At the center of the sun is a custom cast bronze metal orb with 122 numbered pieces. Each ray of glass is hollow and at least 4 feet long.

Museum-replica airplanes and hot-air balloons soar over the library lounge. The kids’ tech oasis is topped by a small-scale planetarium.

Vintage airplanes and hot hair balloons, left, and a blown-glass work of art, above, create aerial interest.

Nine to 10 months of the year, the massive glass doors in front and back are thrown open to create a cross breeze. A “river” path snakes through the center of the store from front to back, highlighting zones or interactive experiential areas that engage people of all ages, from the library lounge and tech oasis to the bar. “It’s a spacious and unusual environment for a fine jewelry store,” says Riso.

There’s even an indoor-outdoor floor. Riso tells the story of Rachel, a client, who rode her motorcycle from San Francisco in order to meet jewelry designer Alp Sagnak at a trunk show. “There were no parking spaces left outside, so I told Rachel to bring it in. The ‘river’ floor is made of garage flooring, printed underneath. So people ride their bikes and skateboards and scooters through the store every now and then, which I love.”

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Seventy percent of Talisman’s customers are men, often initially driven by curiosity and an open door. The layout was designed to have a ton of open space, lots of seating and no boundaries between personnel and customers. ”I think it’s appealing to men because they don’t feel caged in,” she says. “It’s a big space, bright and not all filled with showcases. One of our customers said, ‘This is the only jewelry store that I go into where I don’t feel like I’m walking in wearing my underwear.’”

Life Story Is As Layered As The Store Itself

As a child, Riso was obsessed with jewelry and gemstones. She had worked for jewelry stores and studied with the GIA. But after college, she pursued an unrelated corporate career, which eventually led to her working as a communications consultant for NASA’s Sustainability Base in Moffett Field, CA, which became the greenest building in the federal government after it debuted in 2011.

But Riso, determined to pursue her dream, quit her job with NASA, pulled together her life savings, an inheritance, and a seven-figure bank loan to fund the launch of the Talisman Collection, a jewelry store named for a street on which she once lived as a child.

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She had thought about opening a jewelry store all of her life, and when the time came, she had strong feelings about how it would work, as well as how it would look. Most important to her was transparency. She wanted her customers to understand the markup on jewelry she sold. “We are up front about the margin we are making on almost all of the finished jewelry and especially the loose diamonds and gems,” she says. ”Everything I do in this business model is anti-greed, anti-over-consumption and anti-triple keystone margins.”

Mine-to-market events, such as Opalpalooza, have been far more successful than trunk shows.

A full-service fine jeweler, Riso sells the jewelry of 70 different designers and designs her own custom jewelry. “I sell way more custom than I do finished goods,” she says. “Seventy percent of the custom we sell is by us and 30 percent by other brands and designers. I am in an upper-middle class residential suburban area, and I never thought people would want my designs. But most of these people have their family diamonds and they want to repurpose them.

“At first, we would do great in November through January, and then business would die,” she says. “And now we’re busy all year long, partly because we’re more established. We don’t have people coming in anymore and saying

‘What is this place?’ But that took eight years.”

The average visitor spends 39 minutes in the store. If they stay more than five minutes, they are more than likely to buy something. ”There are things that are $35 and $35,000,” Riso says. “We also have a fun and sparkly discount table.”

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Making Talisman a green business was a priority. The LEED-certified store (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) boasts LED lighting, recycled outdoor air and a low ecological footprint. Riso uses recycled metals and forms relationships with suppliers to determine their sourcing to the best of her ability. ”California is very strict with laws about building,” she says, “and even about light pollution,” the amount of artificial light that can be seen leaking outside. While Riso uses the lowest LED lights available, the store is bright with natural light. “To me, it wasn’t an option not to do the buildout this way. It would have been irresponsible, and it didn’t cost more.” The benefits are being a good corporate citizen, having good karma, protecting the earth and leaving a smaller footprint.”

She’s also deeply committed to her staff, whose compensation is not commission-based.

“There is no power struggle, no pushiness, and reward is based on overall performance of the entire store,” Riso says.

She also sponsors and pays for college and GIA classes for her staff and gives equity to staffers after two years.

“My staff knows they will inherit the store at the time of my death or retirement.”

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Five Cool Things About Talisman Collection

1. NAME RECOGNITION. “Talisman is the name of a street that my family lived on for a bit when I was little,” Riso says. “It’s a word I sort of tucked away for later review. I always loved that word and I always was a jewelry fanatic.”

2. IN-HOUSE PRODIGY. “Our bench jeweler, Victoria Kozycz McIntosh, has been a bench jeweler for 25 years. She’s 30 years old. She’s been working a flex shaft and torch in her parents’ and brothers’ stores since she was 5.”

3. JUST SAY YES. “We don’t say ‘no.’ Ever,” Riso says. “We support every single school, charity and request for involvement, donation, and/or to use our space for events. We are known as a major supporter of every charitable endeavor presented to us.” Riso hosts town-hall events, charitable fundraisers, salon gatherings, cultural season kickoffs, etc. “Our extended community comes to us when they need a large space or major outreach, and we host groups and people of all ages and backgrounds.”

4. THE CUSTOM APPROACH. “We design and render original custom jewelry pieces for clientele in 48 hours. If clientele don’t like our designs, we offer the design services of 78 independent designer brands we sell.”

5. OPALPALOOZA. Major mine-to-market events, like Opalpalooza, celebrate colored gems. “We bring in both loose goods and wholesale vendors selling finished goods in the respective jewelry or stone category,” she says. “This has been way more successful than trunk shows.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Julie Ettinger: The interior space is not like any I have ever seen. I love that they offer services in every area of a traditional jewelry store, but yet the space is so non-traditional and open.
  • Joel Hassler: The “river” and “sky” are simply gorgeous. The open floor plan allowing for side-by-side selling creates a more welcoming feel.
  • Barbara Ross-Innamorati: : I love the open floor plan with so many different options for viewing the products. It looks like a treasure hunt to me! I also commend the community involvement and the total focus on the customer.
  • Hedda Schupak: This store has an impressively robust website and digital presence; they clearly “get” the online shopper. Objectively speaking, this is a super-creative, distinctive, and unusual space, and it definitely looks like it’s fun to shop, which can’t be said of a lot of jewelry stores.
  • Eric Zuckerman: Between the large glass doors opened the majority of the year, massive blown glass fixtures, the children’s planetarium and plenty of open space, they have made this store into more than just a place to purchase jewelry.
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Missouri Jewelry Store Expansion Creates Wow Experience

Mitchum Jewelers takes interior design to the next level.

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Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, MO

OWNER: Randy Mitchum; URL:mitchumjewelers.com; FOUNDED: 1965; RENOVATED and EXPANDED: 2018;ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Jesse Balaity, Balaity Property Enhancement; Torgerson Partners Architect; Rex Winslow, general contractor; Larry Johnson Consulting; JMJ Showcases; EMPLOYEES: 12; AREA: 2,775 square foot showroom; 5,600 total; TOP BRANDS: Tacori, Shinola, Pandora, Armenta, Beny Sofer, Henri Daussi; ONLINE PRESENCE: 159 5-Star Google reviews; 9,501 Facebook likes; 1,322 Instagram followers; BUILDOUT COST: $1 million


Kristie and Randy Mitchum feel at home in their new modern store with its neutral palette.

BY ALL APPEARANCES, Mitchum Jewelers was functioning like a well-oiled machine when owner Randy Mitchum approached store designer Jesse Balaity about a major renovation and expansion. So Balaity says he was initially perplexed.

“Randy already had a well-designed freestanding building, a successful business model and impressive staff retention. He also had two young children and a third on the way. Why would he want to take on a full renovation and expansion?” Balaity wondered.

Once he arrived onsite, he says, he understood. “Mid-morning on a Tuesday, I walked into organized chaos. Randy had created such an engaging atmosphere filled with an exceedingly gracious staff that his 2,800 square-foot store was bursting with customers at a time of the week that many retailers spend dusting and watching the door. He simply needed more space to provide the level of service his loyal customers deserve.”

Mitchum says he gave Balaity a wish list. “We had a restricted area, so we had to maximize the space. Our store is very linear, but it has high ceilings and we capitalized on that.” Mitchum wanted more room on the sales floor, more storage, a vault, a private meeting room and more working areas for the staff.

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A request for more space turned into a doubling of the building footprint, split about equally between support areas and the showroom.
While the previous look had been traditional with laminated burl wood showcases, that particular showcase model had been discontinued, and opting to keep the existing showcases on only one side of the store would have been discordant.

“The existing showroom was attractive — filled with natural light, uncluttered, and tastefully finished — but it was not a ‘wow’ space,” Balaity says. “If we created a spectacular retail space in the addition, the existing showroom would feel unfinished. That meant convincing Randy to sell an entire store’s worth of showcases that were in perfect condition, modify the ceiling framing, and start over with a new lighting plan.”

Mitchum was on board once he saw the conceptual drawings. In addition to the overall “wow” look, choosing all recessed LED lighting was a game changer, Mitchum says. “When we turned on the lights and everything was LED, that rocked my world. If you worked in a store with fluorescent and halogen lights and all of a sudden it’s so much brighter, you can go into shock. The lighting in the ceiling matches all the lighting in the cases. People notice that.

Recessed LED lighting was a game changer for Randy Mitchum, who says the upgrade rocked his world.

They talk about how amazing the lighting is.”

Randy and his wife, Kristie, both favor a farmhouse-modern style of interior design that Randy would describe as bright, simple and neutral. “We wanted an accent color, so we used blue. We sell Tacori, so that was helpful.” There are also stainless steel accents and white brick material.

They wow customers right from the parking lot.

“The first thing customers notice is the huge illuminating diamond we have displayed on the building,” Randy says. “We chose to use Macheche, a Brazilian hardwood that is very rare and beautiful, which accents the brick colors to give a rich appeal.”

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Working with Balaity on the store design was easy, Mitchum says. “I’m probably the most organized person you’d ever meet and Jesse is, too. There wasn’t a lot of downtime. He visited three different times and scheduled the last trip on the day the showcases were being set up. He’s very confident in what he does and he’s pretty much always right. It was honestly pretty effortless.”

Randy’s father, John, retired in 2011 but still helps out as a watchmaker. “When we decided to expand again it was pretty cool that he decided to participate again,” Randy says. “He’s been excited to be a part of all that.”

John Mitchum graduated from Bradley University School of Watchmaking in 1961, and in 1965, he purchased Trantham Jewelry from Lloyd Trantham. A double-sided clock with the name Trantham Jewelry hung prominently on the Ozark Square near the store, which had first opened in 1947.

A little more than a year after he purchased the store, John changed the name to Mitchum Jewelry and asked Ron Bilyeu, a local sign painter, to change the name on the clock to Mitchum Jewelry, too. Over time, Mitchum’s grew and relocated within the Ozark area. When it came time to expand their freestanding location in 2018, Randy decided the original clock should be displayed. John Mitchum was able to restore the clock and the Mitchums tracked down Bilyeu, who repainted the words “Mitchum Jewelry” on the sign.

Watchmaker John Mitchum restored a clock that hung outside his first jewelry store to hang in the new one.

The original watchmaker’s bench that John Mitchum still uses has been circulated throughout the Ozark community since the beginning of the 20th century and was signed by previous watchmakers who used it to service and repair watches. Just like the clock, the bench remains at Mitchum Jewelers and will be a part of the community for years to come.

A turning point for the store’s business came in 2007, when John and Randy not only built their freestanding store, but also hired a marketing agency to help spread the good news about their moving sale and new building. One of their competitors had been advertising heavily on the radio, so Randy chose TV as the medium to dominate. “I wanted to step up the marketing game and start pushing bridal rings, and that was something my dad hadn’t done a lot of. But he gave me free rein, and it worked.”

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There was a learning curve, however. “I was so nervous for the first TV commercial, I had to bring an extra change of clothes,” Randy says. “I sweated through two shirts.”

Mitchum’s has tallied record sales since the renovation, from three-quarters of a million dollars in 2006 to $5 million in 2019.

Balaity says the expansion also accommodates all the positive energy he found at Mitchum’s the first time he visited.

“I recall thinking that this perfectly nice space failed to capture the exuberance of its owner and staff,” he says. “Now there is a parallel between the brand and its namesake. Both are bright and welcoming, grounded with a bit of sparkle, and an honor to the family legacy.”

PHOTO GALLERY (18 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Mitchum Jewelers

1. Familiar Faces. Mitchum has set itself apart with a hugely successful TV commercial campaign that features customer testimonials. “There are about a quarter million people in the area,” Mitchum says. “Familiar faces talking about their experience here has been a really big deal for us.” They’re also starting to produce informal Youtube ads. “In the community, a lot of people know and recognize others, so it’s been extremely beneficial to put our happy customers on camera telling their favorite Mitchum story.”

2. Pandora Partnership. Mitchum’s has forged a positive relationship with Pandora, and the collectible charms are still a big deal in their market. He has sales staff onboard who love Pandora, which keeps the excitement around new collections going.

3. Group Commission. “We do a group team commission, so if you are a shopper, you wouldn’t notice any pushy competitive atmosphere,” Mitchum says. “I reward all of our full-time people evenly on a monthly commission because without every single person working in the store, we wouldn’t be successful. You can’t sell a diamond ring without having a jeweler there to size it.”

4. The Jingle. Using the “Your Jeweler For Life” tagline in all advertising has created consistency in branding, as has a related jingle that customers love to sing whenever they happen to run into Randy. “I have people stop me all the time and sing our jingle, and it’s pretty neat to see how memorable the message and branding of our store has been. What’s really funny is I had had that jingle playing for five years or so before I met my wife, and when we were dating, she said I want to introduce you to my friend Julie. Julie said, ‘I’m the girl who sings your jingle.’ I had no connection to her originally, but I met her and she’s now a family friend.”

5. Fashion Show. Mitchum Jewelers partnered with 417 Magazine, the area’s largest publishing company, in a high-end fashion show. “We had models sporting Mitchum and Tacori jewelry in front of a captive audience of over 1,000 people. Our models dressed in all white accented with masquerade masks. We were able to put some items in the gift bags of all attendees and we inserted our store’s signature color green masks in the swag bags, so when our models hit the runway, all the audience was in support with their green masks on. Our social media blew up and we got tons of publicity.”

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Benjamin Guttery: The store has a larger-than-life presence to it from the street that is magnified once you enter the space. Each brand’s area is framed beautifully with different color materials and textures specific to its target audience. I love the touches of history placed throughout this modern store for a nod to the past. The vintage branded clock really pops!
  • Elle Hill: They combine history with the historic clock that has been in the community for half a century and modern flair with the Angie Crabtree diamond paintings that decorate their diamond consult room. This speaks to both new and loyal customers, excellent touches! Their use of video is smart and current. Add to that in-person events that can be leveraged as engaging social media content, and you have a winning combination.
  • Bob Phibbs: : That moving image of your diamond ring at the top of your website is perfect! Your masquerade masks were very creative and the exterior of your store leaves no doubt what you do and who you are.
  • Michael Roman:  Striking interior showroom and exterior facade. Clean modern interior space including casework!
  • Mark Tapper: I really like the new store design, it’s really well laid out and looks clean and beautiful. I also really like the company’s TV commercials, especially the Christmas ad featuring Santa Claus.

 

ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with Jesse Balaity

What did Randy Mitchum’s wish list for his store look like?

Randy approached the store design project like the rest of his business, with great contemplation and organization. He prepared a detailed wish list prior to our first conversation, and it largely focused on ideas that I typically preach to clients: focus on the experience; create new opportunities for customer engagement and pampering; optimize operational efficiency; focus on the Mitchum brand more than the individual brands within. We shared a perspective on modern jewelry retailing and formed a great team from the start.

Were there any challenges?

Every store has that one awkward space, an odd angle or a dead end that might not be the best for selling. For Mitchum’s this was a zone between the existing and new buildings where the rooflines necessitated a lower ceiling and the footprint left an odd gap. We turned the gap into a concierge station/extra POS and then enlarged an archive photo of Randy’s father in front of his first jewelry store as a full wall graphic behind the station. For the balance of this zone we partnered with Shinola to create a unique brand experience combining our custom showcases with their brand collateral. Now that potentially awkward space feels perfectly intentional and subtly showcases Shinola without taking away from the Mitchum brand.

What about Mitchum Jewelers is particularly distinctive from your perspective?

In my earliest renderings I proposed graphic wall treatments in some areas without any ideas on the actual source. Kristie Mitchum and I searched independently for materials and somehow, out of the limitless options, we both picked the same geometric blue wall covering from a small English company. We built the palette of materials and colors from that cool material, mixing in complimentary patterns like the bold “bee hive’ carpet.

I try to avoid seated bridal showcases when space allows. Seated customers block access for others, it is hard to focus on a presentation with many other options just beneath the glass, and the glass itself takes a beating. For Mitchum’s we provided a seated desk at the end of the bridal run along with a private consult office around the corner. This makes for a neater visual presentation and a more tailored jewelry presentation to customers.

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