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The Fakier family creates a museum-quality retreat customers would be happy to call home.

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AT THE HEART of Fakier Jewelers in Houma is an international love story.

When Louisiana-native Greg Fakier met his wife, Montreal-born Manon Phaneuf, in Switzerland at a school for young jewelry-store owners, it quickly became clear that they belonged together.

Naturally, there were some obstacles to overcome. Manon spoke French and Greg spoke English, with very few words in common. But love won out over language. “To make it work, he has to be your soul mate,” says Manon — now, of course, fluent in English, with an intriguing inflection that is part French-Canadian, part Louisiana. “Her teacher told her that she would never learn English,” her husband says. “He was wrong! The accent is the best part of her English.” 

Manon had planned to take over her father’s jewelry store one day, but once she met and then married Greg, she found herself worlds away from Montreal. Greg says Manon brought great taste to his family jewelry business when she joined the operation in 1983. In addition, she brought knowledge of an ahead-of-its-time inventory control system her dad had developed, which helped the Fakier business grow and thrive.

Greg’s grandfather, George Fakier (pronounced Fa-Kay) had founded the business in 1928, selling jewelry first from a briefcase and then a very small storefront alongside a clothing store. In 1967, George moved the business into a renovated 4,300 square-foot former movie theater. George died in 1977 and Buzzy, his son, died just 18 months later in 1979.

Greg was just 17 when he and his younger brother, Glenn, were faced with the decision of whether or not to succeed their father, Buzzy,  in the business. Somehow, it felt natural to commit to that, even as a teenager. “There was some infatuation with the jewelry business, just being brought up in it,” Greg says. “I don’t think we had anything else on the horizon that we had locked into. So we said, ‘Why not?’”

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While the boys learned the business, their mother, Lois, and two aunts orchestrated the transition and held it all together, even after a devastating robbery. “Mom was the glue,” Greg says. “And she still comes in every day.”

Sadly, Glenn died suddenly in 2004. Greg, Manon and Lois continued to work in the renovated theater, all the while envisioning what they’d like a future store to look like. “We tried to make this more of a home, a museum and a jewelry store mixed into one,” Greg says.

It’s hard to imagine a museum — or a jewelry store for that matter — that feels comfortable enough to move into, but that is precisely the feeling that the new Fakier Jewelers evokes. Airy, light-filled rooms with high ceilings, soothing neutrals predominated by white, and sophisticated furniture inviting enough to sink into all conspire to give the illusion of a high-end home. “I wanted you to be able to come in and sit down, have a cup of coffee and feel like you are home,” Manon says. “I wanted comfortable, but elegant. Now clients say, ‘I would move here to live.’”

After years working in a space that had its drawbacks — one of which was that Manon, who worked behind the scenes in an isolated cubbyhole of an office, couldn’t even see the sales floor or the customers — they decided it was time for their dream store, which took about two years to build. They grabbed the location in the heart of downtown Houma overlooking a bayou when it became available six years ago. 

In their previous store, showcases created barriers between customers and staff. “We decided that in this store, we were going to be 95 percent shoulder to shoulder — and the customers love it. It’s an enjoyable experience to be on the same side of the counter with your customers looking at jewelry together rather than upside down,” Greg says. He also wanted some chairs on wheels, so that if a customer stopped to chat anywhere in the store, he could roll a couple of chairs over and offer them a seat.

They agreed it should be white and bright with color provided by accent touches and the jewelry itself. And they wanted it to fit in with its surroundings and to reflect the charm of Louisiana, while at the same time being different enough to create a local sensation. It was a tall order.

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Manon compiled design ideas from photos she had seen and places she had visited, particularly New Orleans, Montreal and Paris, and then worked with The French Mix interior design firm of Covington, LA, to pull it together. “We wanted to bring a little bit of that French culture in the store,” she says. “I would take one picture of something I liked — like long windows in Paris — and another part I liked from something else.” The French Mix team understood her idea of blending antiques with comfortable seating for everyday function. “It’s a clean look and the focus is on the jewelry,” she says. 

Emily Robin, design assistant for Jennifer Dicerbo of the French Mix, says while Manon loves antiques, she also wanted the space to be modern. “It has a classic French elegance with a crisp modern twist,” Robin says. Starting with a white foundation is an interior designer’s dream, she says, because it allows for endless options. “You can always layer on top of that with curtains and dark furniture,” she says. “Museums are primarily white because you want to focus on the art. Here, the art is the jewelry itself.”

It’s clean and pristine without being sterile; textures and draperies warm it up, dress it up and enhance its elegance. Plentiful natural light makes it inviting, too. A mix of warm and cool light makes diamonds sparkle like crazy, Greg adds.

Robin says the Fakiers didn’t want to cut corners in any way that would water down the experience; they wanted to “wow” the city of Houma, in which they are very well known. The furniture is a blend of antiques and pieces made especially for the space, including custom showcases. Most of the art was custom made by Greg’s sister-in-law, Cynthia Colis.

The chic, comfortable vibe even extends to areas shoppers won’t typically see, such as the sleek employee lounge, a luxurious departure from the typical break room.

“I’ve never worked with people who care so much about their employees,” Robin says. 

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She cites the example of both the break room with the full kitchen and comfortable seating, as well as the restroom, reserved for the staff and outfitted with a console, beautiful mirrors and an ottoman.

The new store attracts three to five new customers every day, who are nearly always inspired to exclaim, “Wow!”

“It gives us the opportunity to be the new hot thing,” Greg says.


PHOTO GALLERY (17 IMAGES)


5 Cool Things About Fakier Jewelers

1. CELLPHONE AUDIO TOUR: “My wife and I like museums, and when you go to a museum you can rent the audio tour, so I thought, why not in a jewelry store?” Greg Fakier says. The app is accessed from the store’s website and customers use their own phones, listening to descriptions associated with each display. It’s also a novel way to acknowledge the importance of mobile window shopping. “As far as the consumer coming in to learn about the diamond, nothing has changed except how they buy it. If you don’t embrace the Internet you’ll be left behind. The consumer now comes in with their phones in their hands, usually with something they saw on our website.”

2.WATERFRONT PROPERTY: The newly engaged are invited to attach engraved locks to a gate that encircles a pergola in back of the store and hurl the keys into the bayou. The idea was inspired by the tradition in Italy and France of attaching locks to bridges as a symbol of love. Customers who bought rings from Fakier in the past are invited to participate, too. Engagements are celebrated with Champagne toasts and sealed with locks in the romantic, waterfront spot.

3. JUST FRIENDS: Fakier says the business shies away from having a rehearsed sales approach. “We are here to help guide the customer in the direction to find what they want. These customers are not targets. We do not have a method. There are no approaches. We don’t believe in it. We don’t like it. We treat our customers as friends, which they are.”

4. SIGNATURE DIAMOND: Fakier has designed and patented a diamond called Momenti di Luce, which means “the moment of light,” offered in round, emerald, cushion and princess, as well as oval and pear on request.

5. FOURTH GENERATION: In 2011, the store welcomed Adam Courtney, a fourth-generation member of the family, who is the son of Greg’s sister, Susan. Adam is a bench jeweler and apprentice engraver.

Try This: Create a Text Club

  • Customers can sign on for a text club to remind them to come in and get their rings cleaned and checked. Every Friday is “free cleaning Friday,” celebrated with Champagne. Sometimes the event includes giveaways or prizes. The texts aren’t used for other forms of marketing, and the cleaning reminders are well-received.
 
JUDGES’ COMMENTS

Jill Maurer: Fakier Jewelers is a beautiful store that feels like visiting someone’s home.

Geoffrey Brown: On key with trends while still being authentic and personable online. Love how they incorporate their clients into their social media, making them feel a part of the brand.

Laura Davis: Fakier is setting the bar. Their story is amazing, their store is sublime and they so get customer experience. The unique experience signatures are perfect. The events are perfect. The site is wonderful. I know exactly who they are and they do, too. Wonderful.

Katherine Bodoh: I like the bright, open and modern feel of the store’s interior. It is very inviting and fresh. The exterior has a lot of large windows, which creates openness and natural light.

David Lampert: I like that they have their own diamond cut.

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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A customer leaves a valuable strand of pearls with Gene ... and Gene and team aren't quite as careful as they needed to be with the customer's treasure. See more Gene the Jeweler videos here.

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America's Coolest Stores

These Retailers Know What (Manhattan) Women Want

Couple creates inviting niche for Manhattan’s bridal elite.

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Marisa Perry, New York

OWNERS: Marisa Perry and Douglas Elliott; FOUNDED: 2002; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2015; ARCHITECT: Julie Hardridge/Architexture; EMPLOYEES: 5 full-time and 2 part-time; AREA: 1,000 square feet, TOP BRANDS: Douglas Elliott, Christian Bauer, Benchmark, Zenove, Marisa Perry


 

MARISA PERRY knew it was past time to move her store into larger quarters when she realized that the staff member in charge of manufacturing (the most organized man she’d ever met) had a desk so small that diamonds were sliding off its surface and becoming ensnared in electrical cords.

Transitioning from 500 square feet in Soho to 1,000 square feet in the West Village may not seem like that big a deal, but doubling the space of a ground-floor atelier is a leap of faith when Manhattan-size rents are involved.

The wish list was: spacious, functional, secure and compatible with the distinctive look and feel of the brand.

“We carried over the design elements of the store,” Perry says. “The chandeliers were a signature look in my old store, three chandeliers running down the center.” So, of course, the chandeliers made the trip to the West Village location on Hudson Street, which turned out to be perfect.

“It’s the bomb. It’s mind-blowing,” Perry says. “When I moved here, Hudson had a lot of closed stores. It’s turned out to be a spectacular location, which I did not know in advance of renting it. A lot of my customers find me by being in the neighborhood.”
The look and feel of the place also needed to appeal to a client of 25 to 35, the demographic at the heart of the business, which is shared by Perry and her husband, jewelry designer Douglas Elliott.

When the couple met in 2001, Perry fell in love with Elliott and his jewelry designs at the same time, she says. Elliott was then designing a fashion-driven, semi-precious jewelry collection, Elliott, which was sold at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, among other stores. Concurrently, he maintained a custom jewelry design business for private clients, for whom he created elaborate diamond pieces. Enchanted, Marisa saw an opportunity to create a new venture to bring Elliott’s diamond jewelry designs to the forefront.

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Prior to establishing her fine jewelry company, Marisa had a successful career in gourmet food marketing, working with top chefs and artisanal food producers. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she moved to New York City to work in the fashion world after graduating from L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

Together, they launched Marisa Perry Atelier in 2002. At the new location, Marisa Perry Atelier showcases Elliott’s artistry along with a curated selection of pieces by other designers. They specialize in diamond jewelry, with a particular focus on wedding jewelry, including engagement rings, wedding bands, and other custom-crafted pieces.

While the previous store had the look of a Parisian boutique, Perry wanted this one to combine classic and antique elements — French moldings, custom-made showcases and luxurious furnishings — with contemporary lighting elements and edgy art. Pops of color from fresh flowers add drama to the soothingly neutral room with its light and airy ambience and diaphanous white draperies.
A long, custom-made community table is the centerpiece of the store’s selling area.

“No matter what I have in my showcase, people want to design their own rings,” Perry says. “They want it round instead of emerald cut, 2-carat instead of 3-carat. We get a selection of diamonds in and they pick it. We make sure they get the best stone for their money.”

Salespeople can be as comfortable as clients when they’re collaborating around the table, where Elliott works on the pieces from drawing to execution, choosing every diamond, no matter its size, himself. Elliott and his team made 725 pieces of jewelry by hand last year.

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“Customers deserve the best no matter what they spend,” Elliott says. “But our average sale is around $30,000. This is not a refrigerator or a car. You can’t make a mistake with an engagement ring, and you’ve got to make sure these people are treated with love. If the diamond isn’t beautiful, we don’t sell it. Everything is bespoke and made in New York.”

The experience of shopping at Marisa Perry Atelier is elegant, of course, and serious, but also relaxed and inviting. Max 2.0, the couple’s chocolate Lab, is the company’s greeter.

“Every sale is a party,” Perry says. “We hand them a glass of champagne. On weekends, men don’t have to wear a suit, so they’ll come in with their dog, carrying a coffee cup and wearing gym clothes and buy a $50,000 diamond. It’s very relaxed, easy to just pop in. It should be really fun and not a science project like a lot of men make it out to be.”

Elliott says most of the New York brides-to-be he works with want the most delicate diamond rings possible with very thin bands.
While Perry runs the business and marketing side, Elliott runs design and production.

“He has his department and I have mine,” Perry says. “ If I want a piece of jewelry made I can tell him, but whether he makes it or not is his choice. I’m not allowed to interfere. He wants full creative control. Our marriage would not survive my butting in.”
On the other hand, Perry has complete control over branding, marketing, decor, and how the company is run.

“We’re very compatible and we’re both strong people,” Perry says. “He’s really bossy. I can be very bossy. By some miracle we get along well. We understand each other. We will ruffle some feathers, but it just kind of works. We do respect each other’s boundaries … sort of.”

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5 Cool Things About Marisa Perry Atelier

Behind the magic curtain. To accommodate celebrities and others seeking privacy, concealed pocket doors can be closed to make the back half of the store completely private. There’s also a side entrance behind a blue drape.

Trial period. Perry credits divine intervention for finally being able to have the level of talented staff she’s always wanted. But because of some difficulty hiring in the past, she began asking job candidates to work for three months before either party made a commitment.

Sales strategy. “We do a lot of training, and Douglas and I are involved in every sale. We talk strategy before every appointment. If they’re walking in my store — unless they’re here to shop for a gift — they’re going to buy an engagement ring. It’s just a question of whether they buy it from us or not. There’s lots of competition from the Internet and 47th Street, but people are willing to pay more for our settings, because they are better.”

If the shoe fits. They created a Christian Louboutin sales incentive program. “When any employee hits a certain profit margin on any given sale, we take them to the Christian Louboutin men’s or women’s boutique for a pair of shoes of their choice,” Perry says. “We love that brand and we wear that designer shoe most all the time.”

Only precious metals. “I was selling tungsten carbide because I love it, but I’d have to tell a guy I didn’t recommend it because if something happens, you can’t cut this ring off your finger,” Perry says. “It’s dangerous. The ER can cut silver and gold right off you, but not tungsten carbide. I’m like the mother hen for my customers. I want them to have something they can leave to their son or grandson.” Elliott strongly agrees that men’s bands should be made only in gold and platinum. “If you want to wear wood on your finger for the rest of your life, that’s your business, but you won’t find it here,” he says.

 

Try This: Be Specific About Responsibilities

The buck stops there. Each team member has specific jobs for which they are ultimately responsible. “It’s great for me as an employer because if something doesn’t happen, I know who to go to,” Perry says. “The buck stops there.” Not having assigned responsibilities for every staff member is the most critical mistake business owners can make, Perry says.

And Try This Too …

Express yourself. “We have started to put extra emphasis on encouraging our employees’ individuality by having them dress in their own unique style and sell in their own unique way,” Perry says. “We think it is better for them to be different from one another and create a balanced set of skills and talents over all, then all be the same, and all offer the same things. Employees are happiest when they can be themselves and are encouraged to develop their own self in a safe and happy environment.”

 

What Our America’s Coolest Judges Said

  • Sofia Kaman: Everything about this store is so cohesive, and represents high-quality craftsmanship. From the online experience to the marketing materials, to that adorable dog, I’d want to shop here!
  • Lyn Falk: Great story and fun interior with interesting pops of design elements (chandeliers, black and white wall mural).
  • Tiffany Stevens: Inviting and organized; very attractive.
  • Mia Katrin: The husband and wife collaboration is a nice touch. A compelling story for a bridal boutique!
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    America's Coolest Stores

    Crafting a Surprising Customer Experience Comes Naturally to Stephen Webster

    Beverly Hills boutique combines art, events and a lounge to showcase designer’s theatrical flair for jewelry.

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    Stephen Webster opened his Beverly Hills store so that he could have control, at least in one location, of the customer experience.

    Stephen Webster Beverly Hills Boutique, BEVERLY HILLS, CA

    OWNER: Stephen Webster;   LOCATION: Beverly Hills, CA;   URL: stephenwebster.com/us;   OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2010;   FOUNDED: 1989;   LAST RENOVATED: 2018;   AREA: 3,500 square feet;   EMPLOYEES: 2 in the store; 48 overall;   INTERIOR DESIGNER: Kevin Micallef;   ONLINE PRESENCE: E-commerce enabled; 4.6 stars on Facebook


     

    IMAGINE WALKING into a jewelry store to find a guy lying on a couch with a Louboutin stiletto embedded lethally in his chest. Or so it seems.

    For British jewelry designer Stephen Webster, staging a murder mystery in a Rodeo Drive boutique is a perfectly reasonable expression of experiential retail. Created to highlight a jewelry line he called “Murder She Wrote,” Webster took the show on a world tour, producing it 15 times in far-flung locations, including Russia.

    That collection centered on mythological, real and fictitious women murderers. “I had that storyline and that could have been enough, but I wanted to really engage our clients. So I created the idea of this guy, a womanizer found dead, and surrounding him are all the women in his life — his chef, his trainer — they are all characters in this thing.” And no, Webster didn’t play the dead guy; he was the narrator.

    Soon his clients were vying for parts in the production, and he sent them kits equipped with props to get into character. The collection itself included a smoking-gun pendant, a poison-apple ring, a barbed-wire necklace and dagger earrings.

    The idea arose from the tradition of English murder mysteries like those written by Agatha Christie. “Everything I do comes from being English, or being me, or if I can bring in an element of something that makes people smile,” he says.

    Above all, Webster knows the power of storytelling.

    “Everybody talks about experiential retail these days,” he says. “I think we’ve always offered that. They know they are coming to something fun, a bit of a party, a bit of a surprise. I’m not necessarily saying, ‘Just come by and look at my jewelry collection!’”

    His U.S. flagship store is an experience in itself, from its circular layout and leather display cases in the round, to its neon signs and the No Regrets lounge on the second floor.

     

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    Welcome to Stephen Webster’s Club

    Webster opened his boutique in Beverly Hills to control the retail experience in at least one location where his jewelry is sold.[/caption] “I was thinking that I wish I could express a bit more of our personality, because I’m so connected to this jewelry that it is an extension of my personality,” he says.

    The Mediterranean-style building is round with a stone facade, a commanding location and killer views, at the pinnacle of Rodeo 2, a grand pedestrian open-air mall that resembles an Italian piazza, complete with cobblestone paving and a cafe patio along the street. Neighbors include Tiffany and Rolex.

    The interior has theatrical flair, even on an ordinary day. New collections are displayed in a round leather showcase arrangement at the center of the first floor. An island of carpeting circling the showcase offers definition in a sea of poured concrete floors etched with jewelry motifs.

    Upstairs, there’s an art gallery, lounge and event area with a bar and banquet tables, where Webster and friends can easily accommodate dozens of guests for catered dinners.

    “We made a bar, we made a lounge, it felt a bit like coming to a club,” he says. “And you can come up here and see the things that I enjoy. I’ve done many, many shows with artists, photographers, musicians, fashion designers. The first floor is always Stephen Webster. The second floor is what Stephen Webster likes.”

    When he moved in, he reached an agreement with his landlord to tear out the walls and low ceilings of the second floor — previously used as office space — to make it the wide-open loft he envisioned. Now, open to the rafters, it takes full advantage of the panoramic views of Wilshire Avenue and Rodeo Drive.

    This year, the store got a facelift after Webster began to think the decor and finishes looked a bit tired and not as modern as they once did. Removed was a massive sculpture in the center of the showroom that had lost its allure. Carpet was replaced and the ceiling repainted. New showcases were designed to complement window alcoves. New furniture replaced the old.

    Besides freshening up, they also created a cozy lounge space on the first floor, where shoppers can settle in with a drink to make the experience more comfortable.

    “I think the store is absolutely 100 percent a reflection of what we are as a brand,” Webster says. “I feel like it crosses over and reflects the product we make.” For one thing, it’s a neutral design, neither feminine nor masculine, which is significant in itself when it comes to the Stephen Webster brand. “I learned my trade making jewelry mainly for women, but I always loved men’s jewelry. I launched our first men’s collection 20 years ago, and straight away, you saw that women were starting to buy the men’s. Our clients think that way, they’re not in a box particularly.”

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    Webster Attracts the Like-Minded

    The designer’s rock-star reputation and renowned sense of humor, the unusual events, the jewelry display and the stories behind each collection all converge to create an avid following.

    “Once they get to drink the Kool-Aid, they tend to just get right into it,” Webster says of his collectors. “They want to know more, to look behind the scenes and become part of it. And especially in this place where you can engage with the brand way beyond what you can do in a space that’s not my own store. I’ve actually tried to replicate a bit what we were doing here in my store in London.”

    At one point, Webster’s customers could have been described as distinctly different from one country to the next. As the world has become more connected, he says, that’s no longer true. “I know it seems weird to say that. And it might have been true when I was first a jeweler in America and I went back to England. I liked the Americans. They had enthusiasm. And I had to struggle to find that client in England, but now I find you attract someone who is interested in what you’re offering, anywhere. Russians want as much fun, as much drama, as Americans.”

    Although Webster offers e-commerce, only 10 percent of transactions are completed online, and he’s confident his clients prefer an immersive brick and mortar experience, whether they find that in his own locations or through one of his retail partners. “I think it’s about creating an excitement or buzz that’s just about what you are,” he says. As much as he enjoys hosting events in his own environment, he’s also felt that level of excitement spread through his retail partners, right from the start. His first trunk show was in Idaho, where he found an avid audience. “It was great,” he recalls. “At the end of it, we all went out in the woods and had a bottle of tequila.”

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    Five Cool Things About Stephen Webster Beverly Hills Boutique

    1. WIDE REACH: Stephen Webster has a workshop and design studio in Mayfair, a flagship store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and a salon on London’s chic Mount Street. In recent years, the brand has expanded globally with 150 points of sale worldwide including the United Kingdom, United States, Russia, Dubai, Japan and Hong Kong.

    2. EYE-CATCHING ARTWORK: When Webster opened his Beverly Hills store in 2010, his friend, artist Tracey Emin, gave him one of her signature handwritten neon signs to hang in the boutique. It reads “I Promise to Love You” inside a heart — appropriate for a store where people buy wedding and engagement rings. Also on display are Webster’s personal sketches for his designs, other neon signs designed by Webster and Emin, and Shark Jaw installations, echoing Webster’s love of the ocean and sea creatures.

    3. INDUSTRY ACCLAIM: In June, Webster won the “Best in Innovative Design” award at Couture for his earrings from the upcoming Vertigo Collection, to be released in 2019. Last year, he won the Cindy Edelstein Award for Human Spirit at the Couture Design awards, for his 40-year contribution to the jewelry industry, his support of new designers through the British Fashion Council’s Rock Vault platform, as well as his charitable work and dedication to ethical sourcing and sustainability. Among other awards are a three-time win of the British Luxury Jeweller of the Year Award, Diamond Jeweller of the Year, Jewellery Designer of the Year and UK Jewellery Brand of the Year.

    4. THE LAST STRAW: Webster recently partnered with the Plastic Oceans Foundation to develop the ‘Last Straw,” a $175 sterling silver straw, as part of a commitment to environmental responsibility that reflects his love for the ocean and its creatures. He designed the straw to be reusable and eliminate the need for plastic straws. Each is hand-engraved with the owner’s name. Ten percent of sales benefit the Plastic Ocean Foundation.

    5. FAIR TRADE GOLD: Webster has always been an advocate of ethically sourced materials, traveling to mines in Tanzania and Peru to meet the mining communities and trace the origins of the precious materials he uses. He is now an ambassador for Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold and in 2016 was awarded the Butterfly Mark powered by Positive Luxury, which recognized Webster’s tradition of producing fine jewelry with sustainability at its heart.

     

    Try This: Tell a Good Story

    Webster recognizes the importance of a good story. Each of his jewelry collections has a storyline attached to it. For one of his latest releases, “Fish Tales,” Webster wrote an actual book to accompany it. Each letter of the alphabet is rendered in gold, but wrapped with some kind of sea creature, such as electric eel for E. The book describes each of the featured 26 creatures.

    America’s Coolest Stores: Judges’ Comments

    • Katherine Bodoh: Stephen has a great POV and it is reflected in the store design and his social media presence. I appreciate his work on the Last Straw project.
    • Jill Maurer: Gorgeous store with a distinct point of view. It manages to be exclusive and inviting at the same time. It’s a place where I could feel both excited and relaxed. Love love love!
    • Geoffrey Brown: I really felt drawn to the brand, right away. It’s something that you want, but also leaves you wondering what is next. It can fit any type of person in any type of situation.
    • Laura Davis: Stephen knows who he is and his aesthetic, values and story shine through. He also knows his audience, and it shows. There’s a little whimsy, a lot of cool and a siren call for the elite set that wants to shine uniquely. His pieces are stunning, as is the presentation and photography. Just wow. Sets the bar.
     
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    America's Coolest Stores

    203-Square-Foot Store Achieves Cool Status as Bridal-Focused Shop

    “Always Be Changing” is a philosophy that encourages innovation.

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    McCoy JewelerDubuque, IA

    URL: mccoyjeweler.com / OWNER: Jonathan McCoy / FOUNDED: 1973 / OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1973 / RENOVATED: 2018 / AREA: 1001 total; sales floor, 203 square feet / EMPLOYEES: 4 /BUILDOUT COST: $58,500 / TOP BRANDS: McCoy Jeweler Custom, Noam Carver, Naledi, Stuller, Artistry


     

    ABC IS AN ACRONYM the McCoys live by. Always Be Changing. All Be Comfortable. Always Be Closing.

    So in 2004, when the McCoys decided their business focus resembled a shotgun and not a laser beam, they decided it was time to change. They transformed the business into a custom-only bridal shop, implemented design software Matrix and CounterSketch and watched their business boom.

    Custom bridal proved dependable enough to weather the coming economic storm of the Great Recession. As business grew, they added designer brands including Noam Carver and Naledi. Today, nearly 80 percent of sales are bridal; the rest are fashion diamond and sterling silver jewelry.

    “It resulted in fantastic growth, and we’re continuing to see that,” says owner Jonathan McCoy, who took over leadership of the business with his wife, Jennifer, from his father, Robert, in 2013.

    They continue to change with the times and nearly three years ago began selling laboratory-grown diamonds. Now 84 percent of center diamonds they sell are laboratory-created. “It’s dominating the business,” McCoy says. “But we’re not invested in either. We present both natural and laboratory grown  as wonderful options. We discuss the rarity of mined diamonds and the lack of history of lab. The whole presentation is about offering up options and showing the stones next to each other.”

    Technology helped facilitate the evolution of the business. “It allows us to do a level of intricacy and to be able to create some lines and duplicate some things quickly,” he says. As photo-realism improves, it makes it far easier for clients to say “I get it” when they’re shown a rendering of a ring. They accommodate clients who want all levels of custom, from tweaking a design to starting with a blank sheet of paper.

    Although they offer e-commerce, usually there’s a brick-and-mortar connection before an online purchase is considered. 

    “At this point, we have just been keeping ourselves as busy as possible with people walking in the door,” McCoy says. “We’ve been happy with our draw in the area and we’ve pulled in people from 250 miles away to have that in-store experience, to see the casting process. We try to hit that experience out of the park.”

    The store is across the street from a large hotel. And although that proximity brings people in for watch batteries more often than for custom design, there are people who have wandered in, enjoyed the experience and come back to work on a custom piece.

    ABC also stands for “Always Be Closing.” “Because without a sale, we have no business,” McCoy says. “We have learned that educating and advising is always better than selling. Customers appreciate being helped, not sold. If you follow this, the customer will close for you.”

    ABC also stands for “All Be Comfortable,” too. “Our unwavering stance is everyone is welcome and treated with respect. Period. There is no surprise reaction when a young woman comes in to buy a ring for her girlfriend. There is no judgment when a farmer comes in with dirty jeans to buy a ring for his future wife.”

    They’re also up to date on green issues, from solar power and recycled gold to an emphasis on heirloom gems. The McCoys cast from vendors who supply them with 100 percent recycled gold. They also recycle street buys into casting grain. “That’s made a difference not just in our image, but in our bottom line.”

    The green aspect of the business is popular with shoppers, but the heirloom business they do is just as strong a selling proposition.

    “Moving something forward from one generation to the next has created a ring with more than just style, but with history to it. This is not just a millennial thing; we have been doing this for decades for our clients in all age groups. From those in their 20s with restyled engagement rings to their 60s restyling their wedding sets. All have loved not just the new jewelry, but the story they get to share.”

    Although the sales floor of McCoy Jewelers is a cozy 203 square feet, the Main Street building it occupies is known among family as the McCoy Tower, because when Robert launched the business in 1973, he bought the whole building. Now Robert lives on the third floor and Jonathan and Jennifer live on the second floor. Although Robert sold the business to Jonathan in 2013, he still works a couple days a week, assisting with designs and repairs. Jonathan is the head of bench operations, custom design, CAD/CAM and repairs and Jennifer oversees operations and sales.

    When Robert opened McCoy Jewelers on Main Street, the economy was troubled and downtown had become a dubious area for shopping. Their neighbors were a triple-X theater and an adult bookstore. Today, Historic Old Main Street is home to fine restaurants, boutique shopping, hotels and local breweries.

    The place, built in the late 19th century, came with character, including a tin ceiling and a walk-in safe that a former realtor occupant had used to hold original deeds and documents. It also came with a quirky layout. McCoy’s is 16 feet wide and has the layout of a bowling alley, which accommodates a fully functioning shop as well as a sales floor. “We’re a very small footprint,” McCoy says. 

    The sales floor is outfitted with two century-old marble-trimmed 10-foot traditional showcases expertly crafted by a local casket company. The recent renovation includes custom pull-out showcases, a magnetic wall display and interactive bridal area. “We kind of do things in waves — a project here, a project there,” McCoy says. “With the scale of our shop, doing an entire tear-out wouldn’t work very well. We’ve retained the look of the original store to pay tribute to the history of Dubuque.”

    Although living and working in the same place is convenient, there are some downsides to that arrangement. “It’s hard to play hooky,” Jonathan admits. “My wife and I converse about the shop almost daily. Once you get in that mind-set, it’s difficult to get out of it.”


    PHOTO GALLERY (18 IMAGES)

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    5 Cool Things About McCoy Jeweler

    1. Green business: Their solar array is a long-term investment. “We pull first from our solar array, and then during peak times, we get additional power from the grid. When our production exceeds demand, it is routed back into the grid for others to use,” says Jonathan McCoy.

    2. Cutting edge technology: McCoy’s completes the entire custom piece in a shop barely larger than many garages. “We can design, print and cast the same day. We perform all bench work and stone setting right in front of our clients.”

    3. Saturday staff lunches: Jonathan makes lunch for the staff on Saturdays, which provides an informal time for casual conversations, strengthens the family vibe and keeps everyone around during peak sales hours. Jonathan and Jennifer often plan vacations around cooking classes in destinations like Italy, Morocco, Portugal and Spain. “Part of that interest is being in Iowa in a small Midwestern town. Interesting food options are a little limited. So we’ve gotten good at cooking. Our shop staff gets to be our guinea pig on some of these things.”

    4. Customer models: McCoy’s uses their customer couples as models in advertisements and store decor. “They are the reason we are still in business.” A gallery wall features images showing couples on their big day. It says two things: 1. We sell bridal. 2. We are trusted in our community.

    5. Community connection: McCoy serves as chairperson of Dubuque’s Zoning Board of Adjustments. The store also hosts community events like the Diamond Dash, a holiday open house and a men’s panic party, in cooperation with other businesses.

    Try This: Use Social Media To Promote Connected Charities

    • $45K for 45 Years is a year-long event celebrating 45 years in business and involving more than a dozen non-profit groups. The company is donating $45,000 in custom jewelry. Each month, two non-profit organizations share McCoy’s social media posts linking followers to the voting portal and allowing them to vote for their favorite organization. At the end of the voting period, the organization with the most votes wins that month’s featured jewelry prize. In November, the organizations who did not win their month’s prize will be given a second opportunity to win one of three custom jewelry pieces. Then in December, each winner will battle it out for a grand prize of an additional custom jewelry piece.
     
    JUDGES’ COMMENTS

    Tiffany Stevens: Very informative website. Exterior and interior are charming. It’s amazing what was achieved in such a narrow space. Clean, unique, attention to detail throughout. Great philanthropic story. And who doesn’t love a golden doodle?

    Lyn Falk: I particularly love how they took a bowling alley layout and just owned that layout and did an amazing job. This is definitely a place that I would want to walk into.

    Jimmy DeGroot: A shining example of a two-generation family business that modernizes and adapts to the changing community. I love that every piece of jewelry can start and finish in the same place, and the store maintains a polished, unique retail atmosphere.

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