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A Walk in the Woods

Northern Michigan store reflects its environment with rustic elegance.

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URL: michigansjeweler.com;  OWNERS: Ken Branham and Joyce Hill;  FOUNDED: 1959;  OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2016;  TOTAL LOCATIONS: 2;  DESIGNER: Michelle Bailey;  AREA: 6,000 square feet;  EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time; 8 part-time;  BUILDOUT COST: $400,000;  ONLINE PRESENCE: 5 Stars on Yelp;  TOP BRANDS: Alex and Ani, Effy, Gabriel & Co., Kameleon, Lashbrook, Levian, Michou, Pandora, Reactor, Rhythm of Love, Seiko, True Romance, Twogether


 

When the Branham family began renovation work on their new jewelry store in the northern Michigan town of Tawas, residents showed up to cheer.

The building had been so reviled — with its big green vinyl signs — that the fact they were buying and renovating it created a sensation.

“It was amazing how many people gathered around and cheered as we cut the awning away from the building and let it fall to the ground,” says Ken Branham, who owns the business with his sister, Joyce Hill. “As we did the countdown, much like the traditional New Year’s Eve countdown, you could feel the excitement build. The cheering could be heard throughout the neighborhood when the signs hit the streets. People were talking about it for weeks.”

Tawas is a picturesque Saginaw Bay village on Lake Huron that attracts vacationers, so when a landmark hotel was torn down to create a ghastly green discount retail outlet, the building and its owner became notorious. “When we announced that we would be purchasing and remodeling the old ‘Norman’s Building,’ the support we received from the community was overwhelming,” Branham says. “It really helped drive our passion for creating a jewelry store that complemented the community it belongs to.”

They told interior designer Michelle Bailey they wanted to create an interior that reflected the city’s personality and location.

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“I began designing Branham’s Jewelry from a perspective of walking through the northern woods,” Bailey says. As a result, the store has large pine trees, ash planks and a “river walk” running through it that invites customers to meander around showcases until they arrive at a two-story fireplace with a waterfall feature and a coffee bar.

All of the big timber and wood paneling on the walls and showcases came from the Branhams’ family property, including the 20-foot trees that function as support posts, the barn wood and the branches used in the custom lighting creations.

Branham and Hill sketched out what they wanted on paper. “We’re kind of artistic that way,” Hill says. “We kept getting ideas and sticking them together and hoping for the best. Everybody’s heart poured into it. We had a dream and it came to life.”

As  they collaborated with the design team, which included an architect with an engineering specialty, new ideas emerged every day. “It was exciting, but also there was a lot of pressure,” Hill says. “We really wanted to make sure we did it right so that everybody in town would be proud.”

Experiential Retail

The new store offers something extra for bridal customers.

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On the second floor is the Treasured Memories room. It can be converted easily to a conference or training room, but it was also designed to provide a space for brides to prepare for their weddings, many of which take place outdoors in the summer at lake or river settings. One such wedding-venue beach is directly across the street from the store. The room is equipped with full-length mirrors, lighted makeup stations and holders for curling irons. Once the bridal party is ready, they can have their picture taken on the staircase or in front of the fireplace. If the couple buys their rings at Branham’s, there’s no charge to use the room, which has proved to be a good incentive.

They host wedding parties every weekend in the summer, and sometimes two or three on a weekend. 

For Hill, the most memorable bride posing on those stairs was her daughter, Katie. “I remember her coming down the stairs and the customers running over to take her picture. They didn’t even know who she was.”

Branham says the feedback they’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive and he finds it humbling.

“We tried to find something that reflected the area so our customers felt comfortable,” he says. 

“It’s not over the top but it’s memorable. Our customers seem to just love it. I always joke around that I’m going to put a sign on the ceiling that says please occasionally look down at the jewelry.”

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Branham says he can tell when customers haven’t  been in the store before because they stand in the entrance with their mouth hanging open.

A Tourist Attraction

The store has become more of a destination than ever and has helped grow the business.

Hill says her brother began asking couples that came in whether they’d been to Branham’s before. And three or four out of five had never been in the old store even though they’d been visiting Tawas forever. “People drive by and want to see what’s inside,” Hill says. “It’s right on the corner. And it’s so drastically changed from that bright green box. People go home and drag over 10 more people.”

Branham’s Jewelry has been in Northeast Michigan for more than 50 years. Ken and Joyce’s parents, Joe and Betty Branham, founded the business and are retired now. “I think that any time the next generation takes the business to another level instead of just coasting on what’s been laid down for them, that’s always a prideful moment. I think they’re pretty pleased with what we’ve done,” Ken Branham says. 


 PHOTO GALLERY (17 IMAGES) 

5 Cool Things About Branham’s Jewelry 

CUSTOM CHANDELIERS. Interior designer Michelle Bailey designed two types of custom chandeliers in the showroom. The first suspends Mercury glass pendants from barn beams through plumbing pipe. The second suspends Mercury glass pendants from inverted 15 by 9 foot platforms through large branches and logs that were created as a group effort by Bailey, the contractors and the owners.

2.NEVER SAY “I CAN’T.” Branham has banished the words “I can’t” from their business vocabulary, because, Ken Branham says, they are the enemy of success — excuses that some teams use to stay within their comfort zones. “Our team has replaced these damaging words with, `How can we?’ We don’t settle for quick answers. We take a moment for all of us to examine a challenge from all angles. Egos don’t drive our organization; solutions do.

3.LOCAL TRIBUTE. The Tawas Destination Bracelet was designed as a tribute to the Saginaw Bay region and appeals to locals and visitors alike. The Tawas Point Lighthouse is wrought as a “T” that embraces the sunrise, and the union of the two symbols represents the “hook” that this locale has on the hearts of many. Two 14K gold wraps symbolize East Tawas and Tawas City.

4. ORIGINS HONORED. The original neon sign from the first Branham’s location is displayed in the showroom.

5.ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT. Since the first store opened in 1959, the Branham family has operated as many as five stores at one time. They have two larger stores now instead of smaller ones. The original was opened by Joe Branham in 1959 and the second one came along in the early ‘70s. 

Try This: Journey Videos

Branham’s works with Collected Concepts to offer customers personalized videos. The videos are created using a customer’s choice of pictures and music. They can be used to announce an engagement or a benchmark anniversary. Once they receive their video, they will almost certainly share it with others in person and on social media, which in effect allows customers to actively promote their store.

 

Online Extra: Q & A with Michelle Bailey, Interior Designer

What did owners Ken Branham and Joyce Hill say they wanted when you designed the store?

They wanted to create a store interior design that reflected the personality of the city and location of the store: Up north, woodsy inspiration.

What did you do to help them achieve that?

During the design process, we were able to incorporate large trees, as well as ash planking into the design scheme that actually were harvested from the owner’s own property. I began designing Branham’s Jewelry from a perspective of walking through the northern woods.

Please describe three of the most unique elements in the store.

I designed two types of custom chandeliers in the large showroom. The first suspends Mercury Glass Pendants from Barn Beams through plumbing pipe. The second was more complex and suspends Mercury Glass Pendants from inverted roughly 15’ x 9’ platforms through suspended large branches and logs that were created by contractors, the owners, and myself. The custom chandeliers provide functional lighting, but lend to greatly to the overall interior design of the showroom.

The interior “River Walk” meanders through the store along showcases and runs indirectly from the front entry through areas of main walk traffic along jewelry cases and ends at an interior side showroom entrance to 2-story fireplace with water feature and coffee bar seating area. The floor covering is strategically placed to allow customers to feel as if they are walking along a river, and offers a chance to travel beyond a strait line through the showroom.

I created a large private room that overlooks the showroom from the second floor we lovingly started calling “the transformer” room. This room converts easily into a large conference room offering a relaxed seating area, as well as, traditional conference table style seating for up to 36, as well as, converts as needed into a training facility. The “wild card” aspect of this room is that it transforms into a beautiful Bridal Suite space that allows Brides and their Bridal Parties to get ready for their weddings after purchasing engagement rings from Branham’s Jewelry. This “wild card” room is state of the art, and has brought customers to the showroom to purchase rings for use of the Bridal Suite. To our knowledge providing a Bridal Suite to Customers is a new idea, and it has proven a profitable venture that began somewhat as an experiment

What were some of the challenges you faced?

The main challenge I face when working on interior design projects is getting contractors to think outside of the box, to create to the maximum of their abilities, and to utilize materials in ways that are not just standard. When designing Branham’s Jewelry store the biggest challenge was pushing contractors to execute their fullest potential in creating a truly one of a kind showroom.

Had you worked with trees as design elements before? What was that like?

In the past, I have created large-scale custom artwork for healing environments, as well as, created interior design projects. I created a series of large sculpted bonsai tree panels for St. Peters Hospital’ Healing Garden, as well as sculpted a 12-foot-high Tree of Life for Maimonides Medical Center’ Oncology Departments, among other projects

I enjoy creating design elements that I have not ever executed or seen before. There is an element of fear, but also extreme excitement in implementing design elements that are cutting edge while pushing myself to the fullest of my own abilities. I have not ever utilized actual trees or branches in any previous design project, and had not ever created custom chandeliers. It was enjoyable creating the custom chandeliers for Branham’s Jewelry as contractors constructed elements of my design, and the owners and I created the remainder on site utilizing a scissor lift, wire, huge branches / logs, and other materials.

What has your clients’ and their customers’ reactions been?

The owners of Branham’s Jewelry are very excited by the design of their new store, and it exceeded their expectations. Good design often increases sales and business growth. Branham’s customers are extremely impressed with the new store, customer bases have been expanding, and there have been increased sales as a result. Word of mouth referrals have also brought much new business to Branham’s from a much larger geographic radius, resulting part from the interior design of the store, but also part from the amazing customer service that Branham’s Jewelry provides to their customers. The interior design of a store is the first impression; the customer service is part of why a customer wants to repeat an experience.

We created an interior design that functions even better than it looks, and customers are extremely impressed with the design, while the employees and owners are impressed with their increased ability to build relationships while operating their business.

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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