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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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America's Coolest Stores

Century-Old Store Embraces Change With Futuristic Features

Lighting and high-level interior design enhance a dramatic renovation.

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Reis-Nichols Jewelers, Indianapolis, IN

OWNER: William P. “BJ” Nichols; URL:reisnichols.com ; FOUNDED: 1919; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION:1998; LAST RENOVATED: 2017; STORE DESIGNER: Jill Duzan LLC; EMPLOYEES: 76 in two locations; AREA: 2,100 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Rolex, Patek Philippe, David Yurman, Roberto Coin, JB Star, Forevermark


B.J. and Lori Nichols with daughter Hannah Nichols

A HUNDRED YEARS AFTER its founding, Reis-Nichols Jewelers is teeming with energy and optimism — from its mood lighting and comfortably elegant interior to the debut of Hannah Nichols, who represents the family’s next generation.

Highlights of the 12,000 square-foot space, expanded and reinvented in 2017, include sophisticated brand boutiques, cases designed for side-by-side selling, futuristic lighting and a glass-walled custom shop.

“The feeling when you walk in is a lot of energy,” says president William (B.J.) Nichols. “Our vendor reps say it’s the busiest store that they are in.”

Nichols sought to set a friendly tone for all of those visitors and welcome them in a natural manner, with a hospitality bar at the front of the store staffed with greeters. Refreshments are served there, and a video explains the history of the business.

History is reflected in the interior design itself. “We’ve used lots of the hip, dark-colored woods with white brick and some wrought iron and steel around the windows, so it feels a little bit more like a manufacturer, which is basically the origins of our company,” Nichols says.

Reis Jewelers was founded in 1919 as a manufacturing company that produced handmade, emblematic jewelry for Masonic organizations. In 1957, William Nichols began working for his uncle, the owner, and became an expert on jewelry manufacturing and wholesale distribution. When he bought the company, he renamed it Reis-Nichols. William later opened a public showroom and began selling to consumers. In the late ‘80s, William sold ownership of the company to his five children, including B.J.

Reis-Nichols’ latest retail incarnation does more than pay symbolic homage to its manufacturing past. In addition to a sprawling showroom and administrative offices, it also houses an authentic shop integrated into the space with steel and glass factory-style windows that reveal behind-the-scenes craftsmanship. If customers take a peek, they will notice a busy operation, with 10 jewelers and three watchmakers on staff. The watchmakers hold several Swiss-brand certifications. The versatile jewelry team has created everything from a 19 total carat weight yellow diamond ring to the official dog collar for Blue III, Butler University’s mascot.

Growing a strong in-house shop has helped Reis-Nichols thrive in a hot custom market, where smart jewelers are finding favorable margins and where consumers aren’t able to easily compare prices among competitors. It’s also very personal. “You can really make a connection with your client, and they’ll tell 100 people about what you did with a diamond they may have brought in,” Nichols says.

“It’s important for customers to know you have top brands. But brands are less important to engagement-ring buyers, and so we are designing most of the engagement rings we are selling.”

Jill Duzan Willey of Jill Duzan LLC, who is both an interior designer and a jewelry designer, was tasked with creating the overall customer experience, working with architects, lighting experts, engineers and builders to achieve that goal. “B.J. wanted it not to look like any other jewelry store,” she says.

By moving the main entrance to the south side of the building from the original north side location, the design team was able to create a modern new identity while adding space. All sides of the exterior were reimagined using up-to-date forms and materials.

A stately chest, left, deployed to display estate jewelry, is juxtaposed elsewhere with modern seating and cases.

Willey also fashioned a floor plan based on a multi-path pattern that allows shoppers to meander at will.

“It is not a typical one-path jewelry store. It is more of a boutique layout — each designer is identified, but all fit under the Reis-Nichols brand umbrella,” Nichols says.

The design team created a graceful traffic flow around the casework and used cases of different styles and sizes to add visual interest. Five curved showcases, usually set up in a semi-circle at the front, can be easily converted into a serpentine showcase for special events. “We tend to put what’s new and coolest up front, what we’re trying to show off,” Nichols says. The new space also includes several seating areas: from a comfortable waiting space and a semi-private diamond showroom to a luxurious watch lounge.

One challenge was to smoothly balance high-end branded boutiques with an overall casual ambience and make it cohesive, a feat accomplished with the informed choice of materials, lighting and layout. Nichols believes that a sense of brand identity offers clients something unique — the feeling of an escape to another place. Customers can be transported by that experience, as if they were visiting Rolex or Cartier in New York. On the other hand, if the design of branded boutiques is not integrated well into the overall design, the effect could be that of a duty-free shop at the airport.

PROMOTION: Advertising emphasizes the tradition of enduring craftsmanship.

“We tried to overcome threshold resistance while still presenting a luxurious experience,” Nichols says. “Our concept is to not be too intimidating for the younger clients, and not too casual for the higher-end luxury client.”

Layout, décor and technology are ambitious and look to the future. A steel structure, which was hoisted into the space with a forklift, creates a semi-private circular diamond showroom in the middle of the sales floor. A lucite table glows with light to enhance bridal sales or the delivery of an important watch.

A Ketra lighting-control system is connected by wi-fi to each light on the sales floor, shops and offices. The lighting in different areas can be customized to be cool or warm, based on whether it’s being used to illuminate watches, diamonds or colored stones. But the most exciting use for this system, Nichols believes, is to change the mood, scenery and feel of the store, especially during parties and trunk shows. During a Rolex event, the lights were a perfect shade of “Rolex Green,” while red lighting has been used for Valentine’s Day. In December, exterior accent lights glow green. Settings are programmed for morning set-up, daytime selling and overnight security, all activated with the click of a button on keypads placed around the store.

The company’s delicate balance between branded and unbranded, casual and elegant, past and future, modern and traditional, appears to have been achieved, with a big dash of wow factor.

PHOTO GALLERY (15 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Reis-Nichols

1. A weighty wall. The stainless-steel wall behind the guest-services area was handmade by a local artisan, weighs 700 pounds and took half a dozen construction workers to install. The current installment contains permanent initials for father/founder William P. Nichols, who died in 2011, the names of B.J. Nichols and VP Cindy Nichols, and the initials of Megan, the graphic designer who designed the concept. Additionally, magnetic plaques recognize employee anniversaries of more than 10 years.

2. A brilliant idea. Reis-Nichols developed Brilliant, its own custom point-of-sale, inventory and client-management system. It was conceived by Nichols, brought to life by the company’s long-time CEO, and has been modified to fit ever-changing business needs, including real-time website inventory interface. “We can do entire store audits in less than two hours, and we’re able to make changes quickly and inexpensively to be more customer-centric,” Nichols says.

3. Finders keepers. For a Valentine’s Day promotion, Reis-Nichols staff hid clues throughout the city leading to treasure. “When they find it (the clue), they bring it in and we present them with a piece of jewelry and donate $100 to their favorite charity,” Nichols says.

4. E-commerce evolves. “We decided to get serious about e-commerce over five years ago,” Nichols says. “We tend to do very well with showing merchandise on the website and having customers come in and ask for it. For actually transacting e-commerce on the website and someone hitting the purchase button, that’s still a work in progress, but it’s growing.”

5. Hope for the future. B.J.’s daughter Hannah Nichols, graduated with a marketing degree from Indiana University five years ago, and is working as an assistant diamond buyer and bridal-jewelry consultant. “Customers like to see a family member,” says her dad. “And she’s developed a following from her days at Indiana University.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Jill Maurer: Reis-Nichols Jewelers is a beautiful blend of heritage and modern. Rather than resting on their impressive laurels they pushed boundaries with their redesign. I especially love the programmable lighting system!
  • David Lampert: Nice store. Seems like they do a good amount of digital marketing.
  • Laura Davis: What a cool experience. And their Instagram should be a best-in-class shout-out. I can see why they get national attention. Just a fantastic story. I want to know these people! 🙂
  • Larry Johnson: Beautiful choices of colors and textures make the interior combination of iconic brands seamless.
  • Katherine Bodoh: I love the interior and exterior. The lighting, whitewashed brick and modern cases add a cool vibe to a more “traditional” store layout. The Est. 1919 sign is a great way to inform customers of their heritage without being “stuffy”.

 

ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with BJ Nichols

What kind of philanthropy do you participate in?

We love to give back and probably the biggest one is our watch battery donation. We ask our clients to donate to a charity. A big one we’ve sponsored is Second Helpings, which is the repurposing of food from restaurants and is a very large organization in Indianapolis. We do the yearly event, Corks and Forks, where restaurants donate their food. With the watch-battery program we’ve bought now two $20,000 delivery vehicles, with our name on the side of it in small print. When you have a purpose, each month we’ll do a charity and customers will get excited and sometimes write a check for a thousand dollars. We tend to donate to our better customers’ charities and juvenile diabetes and Indiana university cancer research

Are your customers expressing concern about responsible sourcing, or other ethical issues?

The majority rely on our reputation to be ethical but certain customers, younger, more informed customer today is more curious about that. We’re very good at explaining our processes, the Kimberley process and we carry Forevermark diamonds, which is a very important part of their positioning and marketing.

What has been your approach to lab-grown diamonds?

We do not market synthetic diamonds to the public. We will sell them by special request if it’s important to them to have that. But the main issue with lab grown diamonds is it’s a race to the bottom as far as pricing. We’re not comfortable selling someone a diamond that will continue to drop significantly in price. People buy jewelry from us to maintain its value over time. When I talk to my better clients, they’re all like `I want the real thing.’ If I’m promoting synthetic diamonds, it’s like speaking two different languages. It’s difficult to do both. And I want customers to have the confidence to know it’s all natural – rubies and sapphires and diamonds.

What have you learned about the latest generation of engagement-ring shoppers?

It’s very easy to be stereotypical and I don’t think you can generalize, but the bridal portion of our business has a more transactional approach than other parts of the business. But the majority want to buy in store and appreciate the experience and are buying based on their relationship with the sales person. So I see both sides of it. The average amount spent is down but we are selling higher end diamonds to younger and younger engagement ring buyers. There’s more variation between how people shop for engagement ring, and there is a trend that the latest generation is spending more on the experience and the wedding than they are on the diamond ring.

Have you noticed any engagement-ring trends?

Shoppers are looking for more curved shapes, ovals and cushions are strong. Less important are princess and Asscher cuts.

What’s the Most Important Lesson You’ve Learned as a Retailer?

After nearly 100 years in business, we’ve learned not to wait for customers to give you enough feedback to do something cool. Customers always want more. Lead, don’t follow. Be an innovator, don’t be ordinary. Start selling new and creative lines before anyone else. Make changes to the look of your store and develop out of the box ideas first. Be the jeweler (and sales professionals) that people want to spend time with, for fun! A word of caution: make sure to poll a couple of your good customers before implementing those changes. Just because it’s a great, out of the box idea doesn’t mean that your best customers will actually love it!

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America's Coolest Stores

This Cool Store’s Design Was Influenced by Aviation History

Contemporary design lends their building a new purpose.

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Beré Jewelers, Pensacola, FL

OWNERS: Barry and Laura Cole; URL:berejewelers.com ; FOUNDED: 1985; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Jesse Balaity, project designer; Patrick M. Pillot, architect; Morette Construction, contractor; JMJ Inc. showcase manufacturer; EMPLOYEES: 9 ; AREA: 7,350 square feet; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; BUILDOUT COST: $2.1 million


A ROUTINE DRIVE HOME from the airport changed everything for Barry and Laura Cole. After a buying trip to Las Vegas in June 2016, the couple passed a furniture store they had long imagined would be the ideal spot for a jewelry store. In fact, for years, they had peeked in the windows and dreamed about its potential transformation. This time, they did a double take when they noticed a for-sale sign. “Our wheels started spinning,” Barry says. Despite years of daydreaming, they never really believed they’d be starting over after 31 years in business, but they wanted to set up the business for its best possible future for their second generation, sons Conner and Harrison. Conner won the Atlanta 24 Karat Club’s Robert Foreman Memorial Scholarship in August 2018 and has earned a graduate gemologist degree.

Bankers were called, and construction began about four months later under the guidance of store designer Jesse Balaity. It was to be a remarkably quick turnaround with the opening in April 2017.

“Jesse is a little more contemporary and I am a little more traditional,” Barry Cole says. “But I’m a pretty laid back guy, and we wanted it to have a less traditional feel to it than most stores. I didn’t want dark cherry wood or drop cloud lighting systems. I just wanted it to be different.”

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Balaity was happy to deliver that distinctive look.

The building was in great shape, he says — a well-designed furniture store with a wide-open canvas inside and an exposed ceiling.

“It lent itself to having a more contemporary feeling,” Balaity says. “I often advise clients working with a big open ceiling not to pursue a traditional approach. Dark woods and lower ceilings don’t work with a big volume of space. If they do want to finish out everything with wood veneers and moldings, it gets uncontrollably expensive to deal with all those finishings.”

So, finding themselves in agreement, the Coles and Balaity kept the industrial-style open ceilings and added old reclaimed Chicago brick from local sites to build columns and walls.

Another important consideration was to determine which generation (or generations) the Coles were trying to woo as clients. “Pensacola has a good mix because of the Air Force base,” Balaity says. “And we want to be able to broadly attract younger bridal customers and older customers alike into this space. Having a contemporary approach was more approachable for everyone.”

To balance the jewelry and watch brand identities with the Beré identity, each was given its own distinct zone, created by a mix of wood plank and porcelain. The Breitling enclave is defined by wood plank and the Forevermark zone is highlighted with a similar material in a lighter color. “We had to pick and choose how each would have its presence and how they would play together, and we found ways to overlap Forevermark and the bridal zone,” Balaity says.

The store is across the street from the airport, says Cole, who can sit in his conference room and look at the runway. The city is known for being the home of naval aviation and the Blue Angels, local themes Cole wanted to tie into the store.

An entire wall anchors a bar, lounge and Breitling watch zone, where panel walls with rivets mimicking old airplane and antique propellers pay homage to the local military and aviation history.

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The bar boasts local craft beers on tap, wine champagne and bourbon. Entertainment includes eight large-screen LED TVs playing sports, fashion videos and brand stories. The children’s play area is equipped with LED TV, toys, books, puzzles and original paintings of sea creatures.

An 18-foot granite community table is the center for meetings and events and invites customers to relax with a hot cup of coffee or cold beer. The Coles offer their space to local charities for events and board meetings, too. Original artwork by Laura Cole hangs throughout the store.

Barry believes the design achieved all of his goals, even goals he didn’t realize he had and wouldn’t have been able to articulate without Balaity’s input. “On front-facing showcases, the drawer pulls are made out of leather,” he says. “Just little details like that that I never in a million years would have thought of. Showcases all of a sudden looked like an old trunk. I’m good at what I do, but I never would have thought of those things.”

Balaity says the store is an extension of its owners’ personalities. “Barry and Laura are community-engaged and affable, and they grasped the idea of the store being a community hub,” he says. “They took a big leap to create a full bar area, an outside seating area and a lounge area. When you walk in and see Barry in this environment, it looks like you’re seeing him in this large living room. It really is the owner’s personality that melds with the design and makes it a retail experience.”

Cole agrees it can feel like his living room and that the hospitable atmosphere is good for business. “We will sit here at night and open a beer and really enjoy being here,” he says. “It’s pretty cool when you feel you don’t have to be away from this place. Every single day someone comes in and is wowed.” In fact, during the first six months the store was open, the Coles welcomed 3,000 new customers. In the first fiscal year, revenues were 50 percent over the previous year, even though the previous year had included a Wilkerson sale event.

Origin Story

Barry Cole’s origins in jewelry can be traced to a high school job at Zales. “I loved working with people and selling diamonds and watches,” he says. During his senior year in college, Ray Jones, his former boss at Zales, suggested they open their own store. “I was 21 years old, I was living at home, going to school. We spent the better part of that year, late 1984, saving up money. We each saved $10,000, and we found a bank to loan us $25,000.” They rented a 700 square-foot store, had some cases made, secured some inventory on memo and chose a name, a simple combination of their names. “Goofy, but it worked!” Cole says. “We opened on Oct. 15, and on Dec. 31, we had an armed robbery and we lost everything.” Although they were insured, much of the inventory was on memo and it took nine months to start over. In June 2005, after Jones died suddenly, Cole relocated the Pensacola store closer to the heartbeat of the Pensacola shopping area.

The Coles have come a long way and aren’t afraid to evolve.

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“Don’t be afraid of change,” Cole says. “I’m a big college football fan and I follow the University of Alabama. (Coach) Nick Saban is willing to change, to hire the right people who know the things to do to change with the times. That’s what I aspire to.”

PHOTO GALLERY (13 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Beré Jewelers

1. The Golden Ticket. The Coles created a VIP event with a “golden ticket” inspired by Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. VIP customers are offered a Golden Ticket invitation with a discount good for one night only. The evening features a full bar, catering from Pensacola’s best restaurants and live music.

2. The Blue Angels. Beré teams up with Breitling to sponsor the Blue Angels air show in Pensacola. “There will be about a quarter million people attending, and they blast our name over the intercom system,” Cole says. “We’ll end up selling between 10 and 25 watches as a result of that show.”

3. Embracing watches. The Coles are building a new watch shop on site. “I have a big passion for watches,” Cole says. “As much as a lot of jewelers are getting out of watches, I’ve kind of embraced watches because it gets people in our store. Guys come in and look at Omega, Breitling, Tag Heuer, Shinola, Oris, and that gets them exposed to our brand and our store.”

4. Marketing strategy. The Coles built a strong Facebook presence with 125,000 followers. After contracting with an agency, they began using geo-fencing and got into Instagram. They’re on network TV every day and advertise on seven or eight billboards. They’ve also got an ad on the back cover of several local magazines. “We’re the most aggressive advertiser in our market. It’s a transient community and I’ve got to let people know we are here.”

5. Community presence. “We’re big into charities and events around town,” Cole says. “We do a lot of sponsoring of ball teams and schools. When you support these things, the parents will support you.” During construction, they also made a concerted effort to use the community as a resource, going to local furniture and lighting stores and working with people they knew, even though at times they paid a premium to do so, Balaity says.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Geoffrey Brown: This overall brand and the online presence of the business is great. It appeals to every age. They are engaging on social media and review sites, and they are experts with a blog. They hit three major millennial and small business market must-haves.
  • Laura Davis: Very nice store, super-enlightened and experience-based approach. It’s a great brand and business.
  • Larry Johnson: The interior is the best I’ve seen in years. Definitely cool. Laura’s art gracing the store is a classic touch. The long table in the watch area creates a central gathering point that works extremely well.
  • David Lampert: I like that they have an active blog.
  • Jill Maurer: The Golden Ticket event is a great way to celebrate VIP customers and sounds like a lot of fun!
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America's Coolest Stores

How These Cool Georgia Jewelers Reinvented Marketing

Focus on charity touches community.

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Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry, Peachtree City, GA

URL:mucklowsfinejewelry.com ; OWNERS: Robert and Priscilla Mucklow; FOUNDED: 1996; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2003; LAST RENOVATED:2010; ARCHITECT AND DESIGNERS: Foley Design Associate Architects; Chris Kacena, lead architect; Dave Stone, interior design; Rock Eagle Store Fixtures; Grice Showcase & Display Manufacturing; BUILDOUT COST:$790,000 ;EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time; AREA: 5,000 square feet; TOP BRANDS: JB Star, Henri Daussi, Gregg Ruth, Dabakarov, Nina Nguyen


JEWELER ROBERT MUCKLOW, owner of Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry, is uniquely qualified to understand the value of relationships.

At the heart of his life story is the 50-year bond he’s enjoyed with his wife, Priscilla, whom he met when he was 16 and married when he was 20.

“We deal with love in our business, so we all know that there’s not an awful lot of people who meet the love of their life as a kid,” Mucklow says.

Cultivating relationships extends to his dealings with clients and employees alike.

And when he decided to take a step back from his beloved retail business in 2010, he forged a relationship with manager Rod Worley that helped him achieve his latest dreams to spend more time with his family.

The two met when Worley worked as a regional manager for Bailey Banks and Biddle, which closed in 2010. At that time, Mucklow asked him to come aboard as manager. Says Worley: “I told him I was going to start my Four Grainer consulting business, and he said, ‘Why don’t you use Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry as your base store?’ So I became an embedded consultant.”

They also agreed that Worley would use the store as a testing ground for innovations in marketing, merchandising and management. “It’s totally different how we run this store versus how every other independent runs,” says Worley, who wrote the book, A Reason To Chant, based on his experiences at Mucklow’s.

PROMOTION: Mucklow’s takes every opportunity to be visible in the community..

Mucklow had been spending heavily on print, radio and TV advertising, but he wasn’t able to gauge the response. “So we said let’s change things up,” Worley recalls. “Let’s not go after ‘likes’ on social media, let’s get people to come through the door, actual bodies.”

They developed a community outreach program based on charitable giving, through which all marketing funds are channeled. “Every day across the country, jewelers are approached to give to local charity, to take an ad in a yearbook, to sponsor this or sponsor that. It’s not effective. It’s not sending the right message or portraying the store correctly in the community.”

Worley wanted to approach charity differently. “We say we will give you as much money as you want if you’re representing the local chapter of the Cancer Society. All we ask is that you have people come into the store and sign the book.” The “book” is a list of names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers. “We donate based on how many people the charity sends in and we get everything we need to contact them in the future.”

They’ve been able to reduce advertising costs while building their mailing list and goodwill throughout the community. They give away tens of thousands of dollars to 30 to 40 charities each year, boosting their community profile in the process and guaranteeing foot traffic.

“When we hire people, we ask them to tell us about their community involvement. Everyone is involved in the community, and if they need to work on that during store hours, we make that possible,” Worley says.

Another big change they implemented was a 30 percent reduction in inventory. “We reduced all the inventory to what’s in the case and we buy continually,” Worley explains. “We’re placing orders just about every day. That’s what really turned us around financially. He carries no debt.”

Rod Worley, manager, and Jessica Rossomme, director of operations.

How It All Started

Mucklow, who grew up in Chicago, took a circuitous route to retail.

The most likely career for him would have been a third-generation electrician, he says. “I always liked to work with my hands, but Grandpa and Dad always said you’ve got to go to school and work with your head, not your hands.” A film major, he took two elective metalsmithing classes at Southern Illinois University and began crafting art jewelry in his mother’s basement, an effort that led to acceptance in a juried Chicago art fair. “I don’t know what inspired me. I was very primitive in materials, wood and ivory and amber, organic materials, silver, rattlesnake rattles.” With plans to start a family, he landed a job polishing wedding rings, and then worked in a variety of roles in wholesale and retail companies before he returned to the bench to learn to repair fine jewelry.

Robert and Priscilla moved to Peachtree City, GA, in 1986, after his sister relocated there. “It’s an idyllic town,” Robert says. “It looked like heaven on earth.” Mucklow initially worked as a lead goldsmith for Maier & Berkele Jewelers in Atlanta.

A decade later, he stepped out from behind the bench, setting up a 130-square-foot shop with two showcases called Canterbury’s Gift Shop and Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry.

“I fell in love with retail because back in the day, when I was doing those art fairs, I got to meet you — the person who was going to wear the earrings,” Mucklow says. “That’s what I had missed all those years.”

In 1999, he graduated to his own 800 square-foot strip center rental space, which was half shop, half showroom. But Mucklow couldn’t create the overall impression he craved without his own building. So he bought a lot across the street and planned every detail of his building, inspired by the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright and assisted by like-minded architects.

“The décor of my store was very important to me,” he says. “We’re big fans of the Arts and Crafts period, and that’s reflected in furniture design, showcases, everything.”

Even the drainage eave spouts on the roof are historically correct. “He didn’t just put up rain gutters,” says Worley. “He researched and had another company bring in the right rain gutters for the period. It’s part of the whole philosophy; it’s all about the details that when you put it all together make a huge difference.”

Mucklow wanted his store to showcase handcrafted jewelry along with the pottery and glasswork of the artists he knew from his days on the art-show circuit. “I have absolutely zero threshold resistance,” Mucklow says. He’s got proof of that:

“One Saturday morning, a guy walks in at 10 a.m. and sits down in an overstuffed leather chair. The staff tries to approach him. Finally he says, ‘I’m getting new tires at the tire center and if you don’t mind, can I wait over here?’”

Mucklow says much of the magic lies in authenticity. “Everything you saw and heard in the store was me. I was the DJ, I picked all the music we would play. I want people when they drive down the street to have an experience when they pass by my building. I want the experience to envelope you as you approach, with the atrium and the cathedral ceiling, the mica light fixture.”

Now Mucklow, although still overseeing the business, spends most of his time with Priscilla, their three children and seven grandchildren, planning getaways in a newly purchased RV. And his dream store is just a 20-minute stroll through the woods in the idyllic village he still adores.

PHOTO GALLERY (10 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry

1. Personal connections. A Brand Ambassador program directly rewards clients for sharing their excitement for the brand.

2. Team building. Mucklow’s empowers staff to make decisions, pursue continuing education, chair local charities and go on buying trips. Employees benefit from generous paid time off, educational support and flexible schedules. After their first 90 days, everyone gets four weeks of vacation and five paid holidays.

3. Reasonable workload. Limited store hours allow full-time team members to work just 36 hours per week. The store is open five days per week and closes at 5:30 p.m. It works. “We had done the research and we knew what the traffic patterns were,” Worley says.

4. Every visit is unique. “We are an escape from the mundane,” Worley says. “Every touch point reaffirms and strengthens the other. Our captivating décor creates a visual experience and is enhanced by our jewelry offerings. We don’t carry under stock; jewelry sold is replaced with a different offering. We’re continually sourcing new designers and reworking our displays so every trip to Mucklow’s is unique.”

5. Accessible authority. The online Mucklow’s Magazine has become the destination for women in search of a one-stop site for their fashion, health, beauty and fitness needs. Constantly updated with engaging articles, the site is also an invaluable source for wedding planning and features local vendors for a range of bridal needs.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Lyn Falk: Informative website with good info on founder. The great online magazine supports the business. Amazing attention to detail with the Arts and Crafts decor throughout. Exterior design is strong and memorable. The butterfly bench has probably become an iconic piece!
  • Sofia Kaman: What an inspiring business! I love the magazine and Brand Ambassador programs. Here’s a model of how to stay connected and relevant to customers for life!
  • Tiffany Stevens: Gorgeous exterior, colorful and fun overall.
  • Mia Katrin: Beautiful, warm and elegant interior and exceptional Arts and Crafts inspired exterior. Mucklow’s Magazine is a cut above!
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