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Creative License

Hands-on family has a DIY approach to business that offers artistic freedom.

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Once Upon a Diamond, Shreveport, LA

OWNERS: Steve, Nicholas and Jordan Brown; URL:onceuponadiamond.com; FOUNDED: 1912; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2008; RENOVATED: 2015; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN: Nicholas Brown, Jordan Brown; AREA: 2,650 square-foot showroom; 3,400 square feet total; TOP BRANDS: CrownRing, Noam Carver, Supreme Jewelry, pre-owned Rolex, Almor Design; BUILDOUT COST: $250,000


Steve Brown, center, and his sons Jordan, left, and Nicholas, right, divide up responsibilities based on their interests.

Steve Brown, center, and his sons Jordan, left, and Nicholas, right, divide up responsibilities based on their interests.

HAVING A HANDS-ON  approach means different things to different business owners, but for the Brown family, “hands on” can be taken literally.

Steve Brown and his sons, Jordan and Nicholas, designed and renovated their building interior, built their own website, do their own buying, merchandising and display, and run every other aspect of their operation with, so far, no employees.

“We designed and built the majority of what you see with our own hands,” says Jordan Brown. Jordan and Nicholas Brown both have degrees in architecture, and all three owners, including their father, Steve, have experience in construction.

They transformed a building that had previous lives as a corner store, a fast-food joint, a pet store and a cubicle-divided office building. The Browns did all the interior work themselves but hired a contractor to make sure the exterior met building codes when they built a second story, put in a new roof, stuccoed and repainted it. They also expanded the front entrance to accommodate a double door.

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On a world map in his office, Jordan Brown notes locations around the world to which he has shipped online orders.

Inside, they took apart cubicles, demolished and rebuilt a bathroom (took turns jackhammering it out), and leveled the floor.

“It was a total renovation,” Jordan says. “We were working all day, and then from 6 to 10 or 11 or midnight, we’d come over here and work. But I love doing stuff like that, creating and building; we all do. There’s freedom in doing whatever we think of. And if it fails and falls apart, it’s our fault, too.”

They used their creative license to give the store a split personality. The exterior is modern and sophisticated with a black and white color scheme. Inside, it’s dynamic, bold and sparkly, rendered in shades of gold, redwood and charcoal gray. “The burst of enthusiasm and color inside makes you want to circulate and explore,” Jordan says. “Most people say it’s beautiful and they didn’t expect it.”

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Half of the store is bathed in natural light, while the other half is a controlled artificial light setting, so the spaces offer varying degrees of light and shadow to view the gallery.

The Browns wanted a gallery-style space, rather than the classic jewelry experience of looking down into cases. “I always liked going to museums and having that space to myself to stand and look at the wall space, walking around looking at pieces of art on the wall. I wanted customers to have time to themselves like they are in a museum space,” says Jordan. The majority of showcases are built directly into the wall. They’re crafted of reflective black acrylic with larger and smaller sized viewing windows surrounded by engraved red mahogany-stained wood trim and hand-applied golden Venetian plaster.

Louisiana Jewelers Take Creative License with Store Design

The store is designed to offer a gallery experience.

The brothers earned their architecture degrees during the Great Recession and housing crisis, so it was tough to find a job in their field of study. But the family had jewelry in their background, and Steve had returned to that line of work around 2001, when he began to sell jewelry online. It was natural for the brothers to join him in business.

“I always liked the jewelry business, and so did Nick,” Jordan says. “Architecture is certainly my passion. It’s weird to think about what we would bring to the table from architecture, but I learned Photoshop, organizational skills and structural skills, and I look at jewelry like small-scale architecture. We use our knowledge to design every aspect of the business from packaging to the website to the store to the jewelry. We got to play with CAD to design the store.”

Steve had taken a detour from the family jewelry tradition when he became interested first in opening a guitar store and later in horse racing, a pursuit that brought the family to Shreveport, LA. When he returned to jewelry, he recognized that e-commerce was on the verge of explosive growth. When his sons joined the business, they took over the internet side while Steve concentrated on growing their first brick-and-mortar store.

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Getting a jump on e-commerce has paid off. Nearly half of sales revenues originate online, and they sell across five channels, including their website, eBay, Etsy, Ruby Lane, and Chrono24. “By offering this access to our business from multiple avenues, we’re able to take risks on more unusual pieces that may fit other locations’ tastes better,” says Jordan, who marks all of the places he’s shipped to on a big map of the world installed in his office.

“My biggest dream was to travel, and the next best thing is when I sell to different people all over the world,” he says. “Each piece is a chance to meet somebody new.”

Louisiana Jewelers Take Creative License with Store Design

Posters of jewelry stand out on the walls of the exterior.

“It’s interesting to see what kind of pieces go to which places. A lot of pieces are odd and unusual and not really Shreveport’s taste, I don’t think. But we can sell pieces across the world and not just wait and hope someone from this area buys it. Because the pieces we like are the really unusual ones. Some pieces we thought would sell here sell elsewhere and vice versa. Domestic sales were very soft when we first shut down (for COVID), but I sold internationally to odd places like Japan and Germany and the Isle of Man.”

Often, there’s a dialog with online purchasers, but sometimes not. Jordan sold a pair of earrings online for $50,000 with no discussion; his dad’s record is an $80,000 pair.

But discussion and even negotiation are encouraged.

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“I let them make an offer because everything is negotiable. That option to make an offer creates that kind of dialog to start a conversation,” says Jordan. About 70 percent of online shoppers do make an offer online, but 30 percent just buy the piece at the list price. “We try to be fair with the pricing,” Jordan says. “We want the pieces to find a home and want our name to get out there; we want return customers.”

Online shoppers might ask, “Can I see this on a model?” When that happens, Jordan asks his girlfriend to come in and model the piece. He’s hesitant to post model shots with every piece in stock because he says that request is one way to start a dialog.

Five Cool Things About Once Upon a Diamond

1. They’re flexible. “We all wear a lot of hats,” Jordan says. “My father takes care of payroll, buying and selling. My brother takes care of the books and does sales on the Internet and packaging, as well as in-store sales. I mainly work on sales on the Internet, but I do in-store sales. I like the packaging and shipping, photography and website work. We all have a say-so in the displays, but my dad really has a blast doing that; it’s his favorite part. We all seem to do what we need to do when it needs to be done.”

2. What’s in a name? They didn’t want to be Brown Jewelers, especially on the Internet. “We wanted something different that’s also easy to remember if you wanted to shop online,” Jordan says. Focusing mainly on the sale of fine jewelry and rare collectibles, Steve felt that the business name should evoke a special feeling or fantasy. “Once Upon A Diamond” was born to remind everyone of their personal fairy tale and that maybe a piece of it could be found in-store.

3. Origin story. The family’s first pawn and jewelry shop, Brown’s Loans, was founded in 1912 in Council Bluffs, IA, by Nellie Brown. It was handed down to her two sons, George and Melvin, in the late 1940s. Melvin ran the shop with his brother and also mentored his only son, Steve, to one day take over the business as the third generation.

4. Top performer. In 2016, Once Upon a Diamond’s eBay store was chosen by eBay Mainstreet to represent the state of Louisiana in Washington D.C. as they were recognized as one of the top sales performers in the state.

5. The right attitude. “Working with family? It’s fun. You thought you knew somebody, and then you really get to know somebody when you’re in business,” Jordan says. “But you can’t get too upset because you want to work it out.”

PHOTO GALLERY (16 IMAGES)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Hugo Kohl: Impressed with how well rounded their internet presence is. The family story and intense involvement with the storefront are amazing.
  • Ruth Mellergaard: Their social media is very friendly. The exterior of the store is charming and serene.
  • Michael O’Connor: A well-thought-out story and great design theme. Really enjoyed the website experience and accessibility of information.
  • Jeff Prine: Good use of social media to reinforce the breadth of merchandise offerings. Love the literal hands-on aspect of designing the store and the owners’ use of their architectural background. Impressed by the store owners’ ability to anticipate their clients’ needs, especially the “make an offer” aspect, which encourages clients and lessens the intimidation factor many jewelers encounter with high-end merchandise.
  • Jennifer Shaheen: The store is very eclectic. There seems to be something for everyone. This would be the place I would go if I were looking for something unique. They do a nice job of posting different content to different digital outlets.

 

Try This: Elevating Online

Offering e-commerce online across multiple selling platforms has allowed the Browns to reach audiences all over the world. Across the board, they offer a two-week return policy and free overnight same-day shipping unless there needs to be an alteration to the piece. They also giftwrap each piece and include a handwritten thank you card sealed with a real wax stamped seal. “We try to bring the store to them,” Jordan says.

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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