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Leaning Into the Experience

Chae Carter and team go the extra mile to ensure shopping is fun.

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Carter’s Jewelry of Petal, Petal, MS

OWNER: Chae Carter; URL:cartersjewelry.com ; FOUNDED: 1986; Opened featured location: 2017; EMPLOYEES: 11; AREA: 1,800 square-foot showroom; 2,800 total; TOP BRANDS: Forevermark, Gabriel and Company, Christopher Designs, Henri Daussi, Simon G; BUILDOUT COST: $250,000


AFTER CHAE CARTER took over her mom’s jewelry store, she followed through on a plan to move to a lighter, brighter space, feeling driven to find the niche that would work for the second-generation business in Petal, MS.

“Before I moved locations, I was in a dark and traditional style location that my mother had before me,” she says. “I tried to brighten it up and decorate, but it always felt like it wasn’t mine. When we moved locations, I really went for it! I designed everything myself and decorated everything. I had it pictured in my mind for so long it seemed easy.”

The move was welcome and definitely a win, but Carter continued to struggle to find a niche with a particular category of product or service. Despite her willingness to experiment, nothing seemed to be sticking at first. At the same time, she realized she had assembled a young, talented, enthusiastic team who offered customers an experience that was so much fun people began driving hours just to visit the store.

Chae Carter, left, and marketing director Payton Weathersby

Chae Carter, left, and marketing director Payton Weathersby have been successful at selling jewelry to clients directly from trade shows.

“People kept going on and on about the experience and how friendly everyone was and how they felt like they were just hanging out and being entertained,” she says. “So, I thought, ‘We should lean into that.’ So we focused on the experience and that’s what got us 1,000 five-star reviews on Google, that people love to come here and have fun!”

While COVID-19 threw an unexpected wrench into experiential retail, bridal stayed strong, so Carter and her team developed an exclusive bridal line and began to create a complete bridal experience, with lots of loose diamonds in stock and on-the-spot financing available. After customers send in photos of their proposal, Carter gives the bride-to-be a swag bag, complete with travel cases, jewelry cleaner, jade face rollers, crystal jewelry dishes and a T-shirt. They also take high-quality photos of the ring and post it on social. If Carter’s jewelers have reimagined an heirloom piece, they’ll do a TikTok video about it. They also send a follow-up email reminding them of their wedding band appointment and give the couple a rubber ring with the purchase of their gold ring.

“It’s a whole vibe,” she says. “The packaging is beautiful; the store looks great. That’s our niche!”

Any event at Carter’s is sure to draw a crowd. They’ve hosted themed trunk shows like Brunch with Christopher Designs and ear-piercing parties, and they’ve launched a new collection with a $5,000 engagement ring giveaway.

The showroom is outfitted with a sit-down bridal appointment area, a high-top bar for piercing, an area where customers can enjoy a cup of coffee, and a repair inspection desk that builds confidence in customers leaving their jewelry to be worked on after a repair intake appointment.

Carter says that while the experience could be described as young and fun, it isn’t limited to a certain generation of customers.

“Young, 20-something women love the overall look and the neon signs, the young and fun staff and all of our options to try on in person,” she says. “Then women in their mid 30s to 50s have the mimosa bar, the anniversary bands, a place for the kids to play. For our men and women that are older, we have a lounge area with coffee and a TV to just relax and hang out. For the men we have our Men’s Den where they can have a seat or hang out by the bar. No matter the age, sex or interest of the customer that walks through the door we have a way for them to relax and have the best experience,” Carter says.

Mississippi Jeweler Finds Niche in Experiential Retail

Carter realized her dream with a light and airy location.

Carter finds the key to creating a comfortable experience is to look at it from beyond her own perspective. “I always listen with my eyes,” she says. She’s added a fun place for children, so their parents aren’t distracted, for example.

Chae’s five-year plan includes building a standalone destination store for which she’s purchased land.

But for now, she’s building on her success by doubling the space of her current store, a sorely needed expansion scheduled to be completed in July. She’s knocking out walls into an adjoining space to accommodate expanding staff, inventory and services.

“We’ve been working in 2,250 square feet, and most of it is showroom,” she says. “Eight of us are sitting around one table behind the scenes. Jewelers are in a tiny room, and I kept taking space from them to add to the showroom. When we expand the showroom, we’ll have a big service department, a meeting room, bridal boutique, and a lounge spot for meetings.”

The new bridal suite will be 900 square feet with high-top interactive displays for men, which will allow them to “walk up and play.” The main showroom will be devoted to fashion and color.

She’s also making room for a repair café with a window into the shop. Repair has grown significantly and more than pays for itself. “I feel a duty to our client to offer the service. Where else can they trust that it will be done right?”

Mississippi Jeweler Finds Niche in Experiential Retail

Every marketing element must be eye-catching and out of the box, from social media posts to billboards.

They’ve also upgraded their “zapping” or permanent jewelry experience station, transforming an old jeweler’s bench into a zapping station on the main sales floor to create visual interest and generate excitement about the service.

They sell a collection of 14K gold bracelets, priced at an enticing $140 to $320, which can be permanently affixed to the buyer’s wrist and come with a one-year warranty. They’re named after goddesses, such as
Aphrodite for self-love and Athena for self-wisdom. Gemstone charms can be added.

“We encourage people to make it an experience, to bring their best friend, daughter and sister,” Carter says. “We see a lot of sisters and mother-daughters. It’s fun and it’s meaningful.” She reassures hesitant clients that it doesn’t have to be permanent.

Clasps are optional.

Five Cool Things About Carter’s Jewelry of Petal

1. THE GEMSTONE FRENZY. Carter admits she was surprised when she stocked up on colored gemstones last year, leaned into it, and drove the category’s business up 600 percent. “We sold out. I was mind-boggled,” she says. “We had pieces that were $3,800 to $6,500 and they all sold. Montana sapphire, opal, pink tourmaline, citrine and amethyst. They’re just gone, gone, gone.” Creative settings seem to seal the deal: “The stuff that you make fun and cool flies off the shelves. Color is truly one of a kind. That’s why they love it.”

2. LEANING INTO TIKTOK. Carter has more personnel on her marketing staff than in sales. Social media and digital efforts are led by Payton Weathersby. “We are huge into social media,” Carter says. “We listen and adapt. They tell us they want to see more videos, Payton has videos going the next day. We’ve gotten a lot of pressure because local people call us marketing gurus, and so everything we do has to become phenomenal. We’re really leaning into TikTok and Insta reels. We’ve sold through Insta reels.” Payton accompanies Carter on buying trips and they’ve built up so much interest in shows that they routinely sell tens of thousands worth of jewelry directly from their buying trips through text and social media. The marketing effort also leads to post-show sales.

3. DIGITAL DYNAMICS. “We’re always readjusting how we do digital and traditional marketing,” Carter says. “We won’t put up a billboard unless it’s eye-catching and out of the box. We’re really measuring that data, taking the time to be reflective on what did and didn’t work.” Since updating the website with the company Punchmark, traffic in the store is insane, Carter says. “People come in with a screen shot. They come in and say, ‘I want to buy this!’” Online sales fall into two camps, true virtual selling handled by a dedicated virtual salesperson on the marketing staff, who communicates through Podium. But many of them begin online and end in the store. “We will have people screen shot it on the website instead of just clicking and adding to the cart.”

4. COMMUNITY PRESENCE. “We do giveaways, contests and promotions through the local universities and schools. We give out gift cards to the local teachers to tell them thank you, donate awards to the first responders, and do field trips with 4- and 5-year-old kids from our local preschools. We get our name out in the most fun and unorthodox ways,” says Carter.

5. ROOM TO THRIVE. Carter starts everyone in sales and after a few months moves them into a position where they seem most likely to shine. “I like everyone to run their own positions, so they get to really do whatever they want and create their own way once they’ve learned the ropes. We have a lot of freedom at the company so the team members that are self-motivated and have real drive really thrive!”

PHOTO GALLERY (20 IMAGES)
JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Jennifer Acevedo: Love the flexible management style based on tapping the unique talents of each member of the team and bringing out the best in each individual..
  • Andrea Hill: This store has nearly 700 5-star Google reviews, for a 5.0 rating. That’s exemplary, and says a lot about how “cool” a store they really are. It’s also a significant contributor to their “online presence” score, due to the SEO power of having that many high Google reviews.
  • Emma Boulle: A bright cheery place to shop. Their enthusiasm must make it fun to be there.
  • Larry Johnson: The interior of the space is bright, trendy and fashion forward. They have a great online presence.
  • Gabrielle Grazi: Digitally savvy with a strong presence on social channels this team of Gen Y and Gen Z women are positioned well for the omni-channel landscape. Chae Carter and her team are providing experiences in a fun and inviting space for the multi-generational consumers she serves in the community.
  • Eleanor Smith: The opening page on the website shows handicap friendly shopping service. The interior is bright and inviting. It feels modern and fresh. The overall experience is consistent through marketing and interior presentations.

 

Try This: INCENTIVES — Make it a Game.

Carter offers staff a “giant” percentage of the sale price when staff members sell designated high-ticket items within 30 or 60 days. This encourages staff to practice clienteling, to show out of their comfort zones and to be comfortable learning about high-end products. Carter also offers points as incentives that sales associates can use to buy a piece of jewelry or watch for themselves. For add on sales, each of the staff is represented by a Disney villain on an add-on game board with a yellow brick road. “We have up to 13 sales or incentive games rolling at any given point!”

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