Schwarzschild Jewelers, Midlothian, VA
OWNERS: Schwarzschild Jewelers; PRESIDENT AND CEO: Merritt Mayher; OPENED: October 2003 (New Location); BUILD-OUT COST: $1 million; STORE AREA: 5,000 sq. ft; ADDRESS: Alverser Plaza, 1200 Alverser Drive, Midlothian, VA 23113; TARGET CUSTOMER: Middle-to upper-middle class; PHONE: (804) 344-0150; URL: schwarzchild.com; 2004 REVENUES: “Seven-figures.”
WHEN IT FIRST OPENED in the late 1890ʼs, Schwarzschild Jewelers served the people of Richmond, VA — a booming consumer market fueled by wealth coming from emerging industries and the booming local railroad. More than 100 years later, the company faced a similar challenge when opening a new location in a local shopping plaza — how should one best promote traditional values and quality in an era of rapid change? The answer to the challenge lies in the design of this richly-appointed store, in which Schwarzschild Jewelers proves that you donʼt have to be square to pay homage to the past.
Talking Cool with Schwarzschild Jewelers
In 1897, Schwarzschild Jewelers was founded by William Schwarzschild … and has been serving the city of Richmond, VA, ever since. In the 1950s, the store showed its innovative streak by being one of the first downtown merchants to open a second suburban location. Now, the company has three locations in the Richmond area —including two recently-opened locations, one at Alverser Plaza in nearby Midlothian, VA, which opened in 2003, and another in Richmondʼs Short Pump Town Center, which opened in 2004.
With 100 years in the retail business, Schwarzschild Jewelers was ready to update its image when it opened its two most recent locations. While the Short Pump Center marks a complete overhaul of the jewelerʼs traditional image, the Alverser Plaza store is more of a gradient step towards modernity.
When opening the Alverser Plaza store, Schwarzschild Jewelers took the approach of improving the mold, but not breaking it. Says Schwarzschild Jewelersʼ president and CEO Merritt Mayher. “With this store we wanted to take advantage of our ability to do something more up-to-date with different case styles, emerging technologies and the like,” says Mayher.
The storeʼs highly curvilinear theme was an approach that balanced a traditional business image with contemporary interior design features that would appeal to both older existing and younger, potential customers. “When customers came in to the new store, they were startled at first as it was a bit more modern than what they may have expected from Schwarzschild, but they have grown to like it.”
Schwarzschild Jewelersʼ Alverser Plaza store is an end-cap store in a small mall that is roughly 30,000 square-feet. The 5,000 square-foot Schwarzschild store is perfectly square, which also emphasizes the storeʼs circular layout and display cases.
Mayher knew it wouldnʼt be cheap to update the image of her more-than-a-century-old company. Thatʼs why the initial budget for the build-out of the Alverser Plaza location was set at $1 million-plus. Mayher brought her initial concepts to a local interior designer, Stephanie Maxey, who then fine-tuned the design to its final form. The build-out, which was performed by local contractor EDC, took about five months to complete. The finished project is a store that artfully combines traditional and contemporary features using subdued earth tone color schemes and handsome, dark and light woods to create contrasting elements that create a strong visual interest.
The attention to detail can be seen from floor to ceiling — starting with a cream-colored mosaic floor with brown square accents, which transitions nicely to a pale oatmeal-colored carpet that has “abstract, organic” patterns. Throughout the store are unusually high 10-inch baseboards that create a tiered look through the use of two types of wood trim — one light maple, the other dark walnut.
The walls are a combination of plaster and mainly light woods. Accent wall coverings range from a soft pewter to copper tones, “but isnʼt overly metallic looking,” says Mayher. Wall partitions, cabinets and columns are used in the store to achieve an open feeling. With jewelry located in the front of the store and giftware in the back, this continuity of the wall coverings helps draw customers to the back of the store.
The dark-versus-light theme seen in the stores baseboards is also found in the storeʼs many display cabinets. The store boasts 649 linear feet of display space housed in a variety of standalone and standard display cases. Of these, the centerpiece is the central display case customers see as soon as they enter the store — a round, dark-walnut display case measuring 14-feet wide, connected to other display cases in a manner which serves to guide customers through the store. Display- case shapes are alternated artfully — with square standalone cases interspersed amongst the curvilinear cases. Shadow boxes are also used to provide additional display space without being overpowering or cluttered-looking.
The store has 14-foot high ceilings. Beige- colored drop ceiling tiles continue the earth- tone themes to their final ascent with a dramatic 12-foot wide dome adding a luxury feel to the otherwise modest ceiling. Inside the chocolate-colored oval is a recessed dome that is painted a pewter color and accentuated with bright lighting.
An added bonus of being an end-cap store in a strip mall is having a corner space. “We have floor to ceiling windows that allow plenty of natural light in during the day,” says Mayher. “And at night the store lights up like a little jewel box.”
Schwarzschild Jewelers serves the rapidly expanding community of Richmond — the city where tobacco giant Phillip Morris has its headquarters. Besides tobacco, other industries flourish as well — with some wealth coming from real estate investments and lucrative construction projects. Schwarzschildʼs selection of exclusive jewelry designers, top name brand watches and the foremost names in giftware and table-top accessories appeals to the storeʼs mainly upper middle class to solidly affluent customer base.
Somewhat modest about a traditional storeʼs ability to be modish, Mayher stresses her storeʼs product offerings and longevity is what makes Schwarzschild Jewelers hip. “Thereʼs only one reason weʼve been in business as long as we have and thatʼs by having cutting-edge jewelry designers … thatʼs what makes us cool,” says Mayher. “We keep our customer in touch with all types of high-end jewelry that meets new or classic jewelry needs. We play a lot with different designer and have an emphasis on a fashion mix with designers like Stephen Dweck.”
When characterizing a visit to Schwarzschild Jewelers Mayher says, “overall we foster a friendly and welcoming atmosphere and a warm environment where the staff is friendly, somewhat jovial and down to earth. And we take the time to educate our customers on all types of jewelry.”
She adds that the storeʼs staff is a mixture of seasoned salespeople — some with certification from the American Gem Society and others are working at completing their Graduate Gemologist certification, while others are not only new to the industry but sales as well.
“Itʼs a good mixture of staff that nicely comes together with an emphasis on team work in serving a broad range of customers,” says Mayher. “There is plenty of mentoring and cross-training and sales turnovers that happen in this store because of such an eclectic mix of staff who work well together to make this store successful.”
PHOTO GALLERY (3 IMAGES)