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SMALL COOL 1ST PLACE: EAT Gallery / Maysville, KY

Hometown Treasure

International gem dealers remake a diner into a jewelry showplace.

OWNERS: Simon and Laurie Watt | MANAGER: Katherine Cotterill | OPENED: 2006 | LAST RENOVATED: 2014 | SHOWCASES: Grice Showcase | EMPLOYEES: 2 | AREA: 1,500 square feet total; 800 square-foot showroom | TOP BRANDS: Alishan, Erica Courtney, Jane Bohan, Bree Richey and EAT Gallery natural stone and pearl jewelry | ONLINE PRESENCE: 1,428 Facebook likes, 877 Instagram followers, 4.9 stars with 31 Google reviews


ON THE BANKS OF the Ohio River, in a picturesque Kentucky town that once was a hub of the tobacco industry, international gem dealers Simon and Laurie Watt have created an unexpected local treasure that’s also a regional tourist attraction.

By transforming a landmark of a downtown diner into a retail jewelry gallery, they have offered a gift to the town they’ve called home since they relocated from Los Angeles to Maysville, KY, in 1993.

Before the life-changing move, Simon regularly flew into Cincinnati to visit regional clients of their company, Mayer & Watt. But after visiting Maysville over several years to spend time with a client, Simon began considering how to move his family and business out of L.A. to the charming town with a population of about 10,000. At that point, he was invited to dinner at the home of his client’s friend, who was about to move and put his house on the market. Something resonated with Simon when visiting that house, which he describes as a 7,000-square-foot Victorian mansion with stained glass and pocket doors, about 12 miles from Maysville.

“The house spoke to me and said, this is your home,” he recalls.

Laurie’s initial reaction to that bit of life-changing news can’t be printed, Simon says. But the couple had made seemingly impulsive moves before. They’d married just 10 days after they met, for example. And, practically speaking, the house cost a tiny fraction of anything they’d ever be buying in or around L.A. Laurie came around to Simon’s point of view, and now can’t imagine life turning out any other way.

After becoming well-established and active in the community, they made another unlikely decision in 2006: they wanted to open a retail jewelry store and gallery in a 200-year-old downtown building.

When unsuspecting visitors come in looking for food, we tell them that we are here to feed their souls.

The diner itself had made an indelible impression on Simon; it was the first place in Maysville he had ever eaten. They kept the exterior EAT sign and invented the gallery’s name to fit the sign: EAT Gallery is also known as Exquisite Art Treasures. “When unsuspecting visitors come in looking for food, we tell them that we are here to feed their souls!” Simon says.

EAT Gallery is an example of the potential lurking in the beautiful old buildings in historic downtown Maysville. They restored the original hardwood floors and exposed the brick walls. The tin ceiling was long lost, so they replicated the original with a stamped-aluminum replacement.

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As gem dealers, the couple wanted to introduce their community to the world of crystals and minerals. Each piece of stone and pearl jewelry strung in-house is one of a kind. They also began to showcase jewelry made by friends in the industry, pieces from local artists and eclectic finds from the Tucson jewelry shows. Handcrafted jewelry is displayed alongside framed butterflies, hand-printed scarves and local art. Mineral specimens, natural stone carvings and fossils are scattered throughout the rest of the displays among jewelry from designers in both Kentucky and around the world, creating a compelling mix of old, new and natural.

The goal from the beginning was for the retail business to exist independently of their wholesale gem business.

“I can’t say it had nothing to do with Mayer & Watt, because it was inspired by us and our love for the business,” Laurie says. “The reality is a lot of the jewelry has our gems in them because they were made by our clients. But our gem business is strictly wholesale. We don’t sell to the public. So we have two separate identities.”

What Simon and Laurie hadn’t seriously considered was how challenging it would be to find an entrepreneurially minded manager living in Maysville who could take on the full responsibility of running the retail operation. No one they hired seemed to buy into the vision they had for the store’s potential.

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This is where Katherine Cotterill enters the story.

Nearly three years ago, Cotterill moved back to her hometown of Maysville and her resume floated Simon’s way. “I read her resume and said, we need to meet her,” he says. What struck Simon about her resume was her range of experiences — that not only had she traveled the world, she also had an MBA and had worked as an oenologist (a wine scientist) in Washington state, Napa Valley, CA, and New Zealand. She’d managed a resort in Samoa in the South Pacific. What she did not have was any retail jewelry experience.

But they knew they’d made the right decision just days after she started the job, when she began telling them what needed to be done in the business. “We really don’t run this place; she does,” Laurie says. “We try to meet every week or two and work together on ideas and promotions.”

Cotterill quickly discovered she loved working with jewelry, too, and, having become obsessed with pearls, she took an online pearl class and traveled on a pearl-harvesting trip to Mexico.

The Watts encourage her enthusiasm for the gem and jewelry industry by making educational opportunities available with groups such as WJA and the Cultured Pearl Association of America and sending her to shows, including the Tucson gem shows and jewelry week in Las Vegas.

“We wouldn’t have gotten where we are without Katie,” Simon says. “She is our hometown girl who has traveled the world and come back home again.”

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Although treasures can be found at prices that top out at $50,000, Simon says they make an effort to balance out price points. “Everything in here is very good value, especially the crystals and specimens. We tend to buy what we think is beautiful. In the wholesale business, we buy what turns us on, not what we think we can sell; we do the same here.”

They say they like to come in here because everything has a story, and it’s so true. We know who made everything.

Often EAT Gallery serves as a conduit to the outside world of the jewelry industry that local residents wouldn’t otherwise have access to. So, for example, if a client is wowed by a creation from jewelry designer Erica Courtney’s collection, that may not mean an immediate sale on a consignment piece, but could lead to a custom project in collaboration with the designer.

“Having been in the industry for 40-plus years, we have had the opportunity to meet wonderfully talented designers and industry professionals in every sector imaginable,” Simon says. “The customers love that we know the designers and have the ability to find the perfect gemstones and just the right person to create what they are imagining.

“And I think a lot of jewelry stores have taken a wrong turn in that when people walk in the door, they ask, what do you want? Instead of saying, let me show you what we have. Quite frankly, most of our customers have never seen 99 percent of what we have in here.”

Cotterill can attest to the success of that approach, based on customer response. “They say they like to come in here because everything has a story, and it’s so true,” she says. “We know who made everything.”

Judges’ Comments

Julie Ettinger: I love that this store kept the history of its space and created the name from the original sign, EAT, that still remains today. They also carry some fabulous designers.

Julie Gotz: I love the idea of having a mixed-use space! The owners have done a great job of creating a visually exciting and eclectic store. The displays are beautifully done with lots of attention to detail. I absolutely love the neon “EAT” sign — it’s definitely a great way to pay homage to the history of the building. The store has done an amazing job with non-traditional marketing and being such an important part of the community.

Joel Hassler: The mineral specimens really add to the unique feel of the store and the focus on education.

Barbara Ross-Innamorati: I love the uniqueness of every aspect of this store, from the historic building to the wide variety of items and price points you can find here. It’s almost like a treasure hunt and the process of discovery is what makes this store so special.

Hedda Schupak: I love the clever approach to everything in this store, beginning with the sign and preservation of the building’s history and how it drove the store name. Love the out-of-the-box marketing plan and how well it fits what the store stands for, plus the look of the store is such a nice departure from your standard jewelry store. This is the first store I’ve seen use Trip Advisor for marketing, which is an excellent and creative idea.

Eric Zuckerman: You don’t generally associate a neon sign from a diner as the right exterior for a jewelry store, but EAT Gallery has made it work perfectly. The store’s beautiful original hardwood floors, exposed brick and replicated tin-style ceiling match well the charm of the historic downtown location.

Special Podcast: Katherine Cotterill of EAT Gallery on JimmyCast

Jimmy DeGroot and Doug Meadows get some tips on cool from the manager (and sole full-time employee) of EAT Gallery.



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PHOTO GALLERY (35 IMAGES)

5 COOL THINGS ABOUT EAT GALLERY

1 Making a splash online. Because the designers featured in the gallery tend to focus on colored gemstones, their jewelry creates bright, memorable images for Instagram and Google searches. Cotterill also launched a video blog series on YouTube and the website called “Welcome to the Gallery.” In each episode, she tries on jewelry to demonstrate how it looks on a person, or introduces viewers to a piece of art.

2 Interactive ideas. Last year, Cotterill began the year with a social-media extravaganza. Every Monday for six weeks, she posted a task or a question on Instagram and Facebook for the store’s followers. On Saturday afternoons, participants were entered into a live drawing for an EAT Gallery swag bag. She also organized a contest at Thanksgiving called Thankful For, in which she invited people to write about who they are thankful for and why. The winner was given an original painting.

3 Marketing magic. EAT Gallery focuses on artsy media outlets where they can reach people who appreciate the craftsmanship of one-of-a-kind handmade pieces. They run an onscreen ad with product photography at three movie houses that show foreign and independent films as well as blockbusters in Cincinnati. They also are sponsors of National Public Radio and a local theater company, which loves to use inventory to dress their onstage characters.

4 It’s on the map. In Maysville, EAT Gallery is often in the top 3 list of things to do on Trip Advisor for day-trippers, along with Kentucky Gateway Museum and the Old Pogue Distillery.

5 Bourbon tourism. EAT Gallery offered a give away of Maysville’s Old Pogue bourbon last year to bourbon-driven tourists who stopped by the gallery, filled out a wish list and signed up for the mailing list. The event coincided with the annual release of Old Pogue bourbon and the opening of the Northern Kentucky B-Line self-guided tour of the Bourbon Trail. Maysville is the B-Line’s official gateway city.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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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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America's Coolest Stores

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.”

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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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America's Coolest Stores

Urban Planning Background Helps 4th-Gen Jeweler Find Perfect Location

Ohio store was once an airplane hangar.

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Welling & Co., West Chester, OH

OWNERS: Bill Welling, Daniel Welling; URL:wellingsjewelers.com ; FOUNDED: 1920; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2015; SHOWCASES: KDM Pop;DESIGN: Leslie McGwire & Associates Interior Design Co.; MTL Construction; EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time; 3 part-time ; AREA: 2,000 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Breuning, Christopher Designs, Frederic Duclos, Vahan; ONLINE PRESENCE: 53 Google reviews with a 4.9 rating; 1,706 likes on Facebook; 669 Instagram followers; BUILDOUT COST: $225,000


Daniel and Bill Welling play to their strengths at Welling & Co Jewelers.

IF YOU’RE VISITING Welling & Co. Jewelers in West Chester, OH, and happen to hear music from ‘70s progressive-rock band Ambrosia playing, it’s a good bet that Daniel Welling is out of town.

Daniel and his father, Bill Welling, clash a bit over what kind of music to play in the store, with Daniel leaning toward something more modern than Bill, the Ambrosia fan, would choose. No doubt hashing out a playlist is a typical source of exasperated eye-rolling in many a multi-generational family business.

There are other challenges in an overall deeply rewarding experience.

“It’s a learning experience working with Dad,” Daniel says. “I have to juggle being professional, but also having a personal relationship. It’s awkward for me sometimes, to say, ‘Hey, Dad,’ in front of a customer. We have a different relationship here than we do outside the store. For the most part, I’m being educated by him on how to run the business.”

The most important thing he’s learned from his father is how to be flexible by adapting to changes in shopping habits and inventory. When Daniel expresses his concerns about how to handle laboratory-grown diamonds or online shopping, his dad is able to put it in perspective, since he’s been through many changes himself over a 47-year career.

One of the most important changes they’re navigating lately, Bill believes, is that the current generation doesn’t see jewelry in the same light that his generation or his dad’s generation did. It just doesn’t carry the same significance. Second, the customer walking in the door is much more knowledgeable than in years past.

That means everyone in the store needs to be well-educated. “You have to be able to answer the questions,” Daniel says. “I want them to have an experience and not just come in and drop their watch off for a battery. They have to be engaged, even when they are waiting for a battery.”

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Daniel hadn’t planned to go into the business, but when he graduated in 2007 with a degree in urban planning, prospects in his field were few. He worked at Welling & Co. as a stopgap, but his level of commitment reflected the fact that he considered it temporary.

“My dad started getting annoyed, because I was just kind of hanging around,” Daniel says.

But Bill had an idea about where Daniel might shine. Although they had invested in Matrix, their bench jeweler didn’t have time to learn it. “Dad said, ‘Why don’t you try this out?’” Daniel recalls. Daniel agreed, and when he trained with Gemvision, something about it just clicked for him. Now he spearheads the custom design side of the business. ”Probably the thing I like the most about it is helping engagement ring customers make rings. That’s something that’s so exciting to them. That’s kept me going as far as being productive here, and it’s a full-time job for me.”

Both Wellings are pleased with their new store in Butler County, which is one of the fastest growing counties in Ohio and a bedroom community for both Cincinnati and Dayton professionals. The renovation of an old building — once an airplane hangar — on the road between Cincinnati and Dayton drew a lot of attention in the town of West Chester. Exposed brick interiors, an assortment of modern pendant lighting, high, open ceilings and modular cases all combined to add a fresh possibility to regional retail design. Impressed neighbors even stopped by to take a look at the floor, which is a vinyl material made to look like wood. And to marvel at the walls of windows that were once garage-style doors.

A converted airplane hangar provides a wide open space for a casual concept store.

After they made the decision to move out of a shopping center, Daniel and Bill met with interior designer Leslie McGwire during the JCK Las Vegas show to plan the place. ”She guided us through the process and pulled out information about what we wanted the same way we do with custom-design jewelry customers,” Daniel says. “She asked about the ambience and how we wanted our customers to feel when they came in.”

The inspiration for the store is a Starbucks coffee shop. It’s designed to create a relaxed setting, with organic elements throughout, including an open slate-gray painted ceiling and a textured wood plank floor, and textured stone on the wall behind the logo wall and the diamond bar. The focal point is the live-edge recycled walnut wood tables that display much of the jewelry. The neutral colors of the chandelier’s glass globes over the wood jewelry cases blend smoothly with the finishes.

“The amazing thing was that Leslie never stepped foot in this store,” Bill says. “But she did a terrific job coordinating. When customers first experience our store, they don’t know what to expect, because it’s not a traditional jewelry store. I think for that reason, they are more receptive to how you approach them and what you show them.”

Daniel agrees it’s made a big difference in how the business is perceived. ”People think it’s warm and inviting,” Daniel says. “Customers really appreciate us being on the same side of the case with them. I didn’t want people to come in here and feel like they were in a bank. I don’t wear a suit. I want to be comfortable and feel comfortable when I interact.”

Welling & Co. was founded a century ago in Loveland, OH, where it has returned to open a second store recently.

After the building was complete, a customer dropped by with a surprise: a Welling & Co. clock dating from the family’s first store, which opened in 1920 in Lockland, OH. The customer had inherited it from a relative who had found it in a building she owned. Now it occupies a place of honor on the new store’s wall.

In 1920, Richard E. Welling purchased a jewelry store in downtown Lockland, OH, on a recommendation from a friend in the wholesale business. After serving his country during World War II, William F. Welling, son of Richard, took over the store and was later joined in business by his younger brother, Thomas. They continued to thrive in downtown Lockland and decided to open a second location in 1979 in nearby Mason, OH. William F. Welling, Jr. had a large role in the success of the second location and eventually purchased the store from his father and uncle.

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Nearly 100 years since the store’s founding, four Welling family members are on staff: Bill and Daniel, as well as Josh in jewelry and watch repair, and Taylor in sales.
Good-natured disagreements about the musical playlist aside, Bill says his son’s interest in the business has inspired him.

“A jewelry store today is very much generational, and when he came onboard, it solidified to me that I did the right thing from the very beginning,” Bill says. “When you’re the employer and the father, you have to learn which boundaries you can step over and which boundaries you can’t, because no one will do the job exactly the way you want it to be done. I let him make mistakes. I just don’t let him make big mistakes.”

PHOTO GALLERY (15 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Welling & Co.

1. Back to the future. In August, Welling & Co. opened a second store in downtown Loveland, OH, where the business was born a century ago. The 700-square-foot space has a mid-century modern theme and polished concrete floors. Because the town has boutiques already, Welling & Co. in Loveland will steer away from fashion jewelry and concentrate on traditional and fine jewelry.

2. Summer soiree. An end of summer bash in September is a time to have fun with customers, Daniel says. “We rented a beer truck with three different local craft beer choices. We also had a food truck and DJ for the event. Our idea was to just have a fun night with customers and not necessary to have a big sale. We ended up having a large sales day early on and clearing up some space for new merchandise before the holidays. Later, our staff was able to enjoy the beautiful evening with our customers who hung out and enjoyed the beer, music and free food.”

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3. Something for everyone. It’s tough to pinpoint a typical Welling & Co. customer for marketing purposes because Welling & Co. really does offer a wide range of inventory, from Kendra Scott fashion jewelry to custom bridal.

4. Great Google reviews. This feedback forum has been the best form of marketing for Welling & Co., although the team also employs a wide range of social media, local publications, billboards, mail, e-blasts and, on occasion, movie-theater ads or TV commercials.

5. Floor plan. Clients can sit and enjoy a beverage at the L-shaped bar while shopping for diamonds. Instead of talking to customers over a counter, staffers are able to walk around with them from case to case, with many of them pulling out to allow customers to take a closer look.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Julie Gotz: The interior and exterior of the store is beautiful! I love the history of the building and the fact that the store has been in the family for over four generations. The L-shaped bar and End Of Summer Bash are great ideas and smart marketing tactics.
  • Julie Ettinger: I love the generations that continue to flourish in this business. The story behind the building is fabulous, and it must be the coolest exterior of any store that I have seen.
  • Barbara Ross-Innamorati: : I especially love the warmth of the hardwood floors. I am impressed that this business is 99 years old and still in the same family. Excellent online reviews tell me that this store has been a beloved retailer in the community for a long time. Kudos to them!
  • Hedda Schupak: It’s a lovely store, a lovely story, and a great third-generation business. I like how the design pays homage to the vastness of the space.
  • Eric Zimmerman: The Welling family’s store is a pleasing combination of materials such as walnut wood furniture, textured stone walls and glass chandeliers. They have done an excellent job of creating a warm and comfortable environment for their customers.
  • Joel Hassler: They did a great job of keeping the character of the building but still creating a unique shopping feel. I like that it has an open industrial feel without looking cluttered and mismatched.

 

Try This: Gem Lightbox

The purchase of a new piece of tech equipment will allow Welling & Co. to more easily photograph its jewelry (the images can be rotated 360 degrees) and prepare for e-commerce on their Gemfind-designed website, launched last year.

 

ONLINE EXTRA: Q & A with Daniel

Will you carry lab-grown diamonds?

We live in Cincinnati and it’s a pretty conservative area. We haven’t really gotten a lot of requests for it yet. I wouldn’t say I’m against it. The hardest thing is to see in the future. At our store and at a lot of stores, if you buy a center stone and you upgrade it later, you get that price back. But are lab-growns going to drop in price and how will that affect the trade-in policy. That’s our biggest hesitation. That and just being transparent. I want to be as transparent as possible.

Why did you decide to open a second store?

We felt like it was a great opportunity to get a footprint somewhere there wasn’t much competition. It’s going to be more work but we signed a five-year lease. After five years, I’d rather say I failed than be kicking myself for not trying. Dad is the type of person who loves having sales and events where people are lined up out the door. Opening a new store is giving him energy and excitement in the industry.

How did you choose your current location in West Chester?

My major was in urban and regional planning. I was able to look at this location from that perspective and say I think this is a positive and evaluate the whole area. Butler has been one of the fastest growing counties in the country. So it wasn’t too difficult to choose something here. Cincinnati/Dayton will eventually be one large metro area. West Chester is ranked the No. 1 county in the area, it’s an affluent area and an easy commute to Cincinnati or Dayton. There are lots of parks around here and shopping. The mall is two exits up.

How did you get into the family business?

I did not know I’d go into the business. It was a fallback plan. My sister works here and I have two other siblings, but when I graduated the job market wasn’t great. I started working here and my dad started getting annoyed because I was just kind of hanging around. Our jeweler had done the Matrix course and he just wasn’t grasping it and didn’t have time to learn it. Dad said, why don’t you try this out? So I went out to Gemvision and got trained on it and I’ve been doing it over 10 years. Probably the thing I like the most about it is helping engagement ring customers make rings. That’s something that’s so exciting to them. And that’s kept me going as far as being productive here, that’s a full-time job for me here.

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