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White, Gold and Oh-So-Bold

Forecasting the future, jeweler envisioned a destination store down to its smallest details.

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Ylang YlangST. LOUIS, MO

OWNER: Julie Ettinger / LOCATION: St. Louis, MO URL: ylangylang.com / OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2014 FOUNDED: 1985
/ LAST RENOVATED: 2018 / AREA: 1,546 square feet / EMPLOYEES: 3 full and 3 part-time
ARCHITECT: BOH Architect / DESIGNER: Temple & Hentz Design / BUILDOUT COST: $375,000 / TOP BRANDS: Carolina Bucci, Erica Courtney, Faith Jems, Heather Moore, Jane Taylor, Jennifer Dawes, Just Jules, Jade Trau, Kataoka, Lauren K, Moritz Glik, Phillips House, Single Stone, Temple St. Clair / ONLINE PRESENCE: E-commerce enabled website; 5 Stars on Facebook.


 

Julie Ettinger could envision what her freestanding destination store would look like, years before it became a reality.It would be white and gold with a hint of blue and a French flair.

Most important: the showcases would be arranged as if to reach out and embrace her customers.

“I had been dreaming about this for years. I kept a notebook at home and I drew and cut out pictures and saved clippings,” she says. “I made a Pinterest board of it, almost.”

Still, when it all happened, she felt like she was jumping off a cliff.

Ettinger, who worked for decades with her mom, Lois, had anticipated moving out of the luxury Plaza Frontenac mall that had been the original location of YLANG YLANG (pronounced elong, elong), but her parents and business partners, Lois and Ray Morganstern, were reluctant to move. “I said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to trust me on this.’”

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When the lease was up, Ettinger asked the landlord to fund a renovation, and when mall management didn’t sign on for that, everyone realized it was time to go.

She found the perfect, high-profile location in the upscale suburb of LaDue and worked with an architect to bring her vision to life.

Lois passed the company torch to Julie in 2013 and Ray passed away in 2015, but not before he had seen Julie’s vision become reality. “It was so meant to be,” she says. “When I took my dad to see the space, he said he loved it.”

While in search of an innovative jewelry concept, Ray and Lois Morganstern had discovered YLANG YLANG, which was a quaint boutique in the Bal-Harbour shops in Miami. They purchased a franchise from Jacque and Brigette, a French couple, and brought the concept to St. Louis in 1985, although at the time, Lois recalls, “Everyone thought it was too trendy for St. Louis.” Originally the boutique specialized in ‘80s European fashion jewelry, and it has since evolved into a curated selection of fine designer jewelry.

So, in 2014, when Julie opened the new store, it was just as she had envisioned — white and gold with a hint of blue and a dash of France. In fact, Ettinger has been told the clean-lined space feels like being in the South of France. The architect designed the layout of the main 800-square-foot sales floor in the shape of a diamond. It’s outfitted with custom curved showcases, family heirloom chandeliers and curved crystal-embedded walls with touches of sparkling gold.

Adding a rustic touch, the flooring resembles barn wood.

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“The store very much reflects my personality,” Ettinger says. “I like to combine high and low. Maybe that’s the Gemini in me. I can dress up, but my favorite outfit is jeans and a T-shirt.”

Now Ettinger, living her dream, has the enthusiasm of a kid in a candy store.

One of her favorite rooms is the blue room separated from the sales floor with French doors, she says. Guests appreciate the luxurious private experience, and the room has also been the site of a few surprise engagements and celebrations commemorated with  champagne toasts.

 

Ettinger graduated college with the goal of a career in nutrition or pharmaceutical sales. “But I came home to work in the summer, I fell in love and I literally never left,” she says. Working with her mother just clicked. “We were cute together. We were each other’s sidekicks.”

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Lois was thrilled when her daughter joined her in the business. Her daughter quickly proved herself and became the lead salesperson. She’s a natural, approaching sales like she’s shopping with a friend, or a friend in the making. Often, that turns out to be the case. “From the beginning, people would say to me, ‘you could sell anything,’ and I wasn’t really trying,” she says. “A client spent two and a half hours with me yesterday and she said she had the best time spending $10,000. She never felt pressured one minute.”

Ettinger is honest and if she doesn’t like a piece of jewelry on a customer, she’ll let them know.

She estimates that $2,500 is the most popular price point now. “We’ve always been a store for self-purchasing women, but in the new location, I think we’re seeing more men,” she says. “Men don’t like malls. We’re not known for bridal, but now in the new location we’ve done two bridal lines, Single Stone and Erica Courtney.”

Her approach is distinctly personal.

“When our clients enter YLANG YLANG, we focus on them,” she says. “I think eye contact and listening is key. It’s amazing how much you learn in the silence and how naturally you close more sales in that moment. People can tell when you are not being real. I truly think this is what keeps our faithful clients coming back again and again.”

The mother-daughter partnership has long been at the core of the business. Even in retirement, Lois is no stranger to the store. She has an eye for detail and is ready to offer her input.

“I butt heads a little with Mom, but we aren’t competitive,” Ettinger says. When they went on buying trips together, “Mom would kick me under the table and say ‘I am going to the ladies’ room.’ That was my cue that I was overspending!”

Ettinger’s strengths lie in forecasting and trend prediction, she says. “I can see and intuitively feel what I want to buy and what I see in the future.” That, she says, is why she knew it was time to take the family business to the next level and bring her dream to life.


(PHOTO GALLERY (26 IMAGES) 


Five Cool Things About YLANG YLANG

1. HEALING BRAND: Julie Ettinger launched her own jewelry collection, Faith Jems, born from her passion for natural gems and their healing power. Each handpicked, gem-studded crystal has been handmade and blessed in Bali with holy water. “I either wear my personal crystal every day or it’s always in my handbag. I’m really connected to it.” Customers are drawn to it, as well, when she’s wearing it.

2. THE YY BRAND EXPRESSION:YLANG YLANG is a tropical tree, which originates from the Philippines. Its fragrant yellow flowers take on the shape of an inverted crown. Ettinger and her team designed the YY (beyoutiful) recycled tote bag that they use as their gift bags instead of paper. “We wanted something more environmentally friendly and reusable,” she says. Other in-store branding includes YY branded cocktail napkins and custom aqua and gold packaging from London. Ettinger recently hosted a photo shoot of her clients wearing YY jewelry, to be included in the Scout shopping guide, which is new to St. Louis.

3. PHILANTHROPIC EFFORTS: Ettinger’s sister, Denise Holly, has autism, and YLANG YLANG has traditionally focused charitable giving on quality of life for special kids and their families. In particular, they’ve supported EasterSeals and Autism Speaks. They regularly donate Temple St. Clair angel pendants, and a diamond puzzle necklace that Ettinger designed to live auctions for the organizations. She also supports animal rescue groups, including Stray Rescue St. Louis.

4. YY WILL TRAVEL. :YLANG YLANG introduced a one-of-a-kind shopping experience for a special client. Ettinger and store manager Stephanie Marchetto flew to Los Angeles where they met up with jewelry designer Erica Courtney and visited the client in her home for a private shopping experience.

5. LOCAL PARTNERSHIP EVENTS: For Mother’s Day, they invited a flower truck to park outside of the store. Customers could assemble a bouquet at the “stem bar” while also shopping for jewelry gifts.


JUDGES’ COMMENTS:

Sofia Kaman: Absolutely beautiful store. Every detail from the packaging to the website is cohesive and tastefully designed. Bravo!

Lyn Falk: Interior is elegant and has some unique touches.

Tiffany Stevens: Chic and cosmopolitan. This store manages to be both modern and classic simultaneously. Love!

Mia Katrin: A jewel of a store! The natural refinement and beauty of a rare gem is magnified into an elegant shopping environment, pristine yet inviting. The emphasis on creating an authentic experience is refreshing. And the attention to detail! (Who includes a photo of the washroom in their promotional materials?)

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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Gene Shows His Competitive Spirit ... and It's Not Pretty

In this episode of Jimmy DeGroot’s satirical Gene the Jeweler series, Gene answers a viewer question: “It looks like you have a laser welder in your shop. Should I get one?” Gene suspects he knows who sent the query. He’s not pleased. In fact, the situation brings out the worst of Gene’s competitive spirit.

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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.

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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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America's Coolest Stores

Grace-Themed Jewelry Gallery Reaches Out To Santa Fe

Creative decor stops shoppers in their tracks.

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Wear Your GRACE, Santa Fe, NM

OWNER: Hillary Fitzpatrick Randolph; FOUNDED: 2015; URL: wearyourgrace.com; BUILDOUT COST: $39,650; EMPLOYEES: 5, full and part-time; AREA: 650 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Owner’s GRACE pieces and Etkie (contemporary hand-loomed bracelets crafted by Native American artisans)


ONE DEFINITION OF “GRACE” is simple elegance. Another is refined movement. The word is also associated with the bestowal of blessings.

Artist and designer Hillary Randolph takes a creative approach to exploring the nuanced meanings of “grace” as the theme for her brand and her Santa Fe store, wear your GRACE. She also established “Share Your Grace,” a multifaceted program that benefits Santa Fe’s community, including its nonprofit organizations.

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Choosing grace as her theme triggers interesting conversations and builds meaningful rapport with clients, she says, who share what grace means in their own lives.

Randolph designed her Santa Fe store based on her aesthetic sense of what grace looks and feels like — warm and inviting with a dash of elegant simplicity. She opened her gallery in 2015 in a 250-year-old adobe building on Palace Avenue in the heart of Santa Fe, just off the historic plaza. Her jewelry emphasizes graceful flowing movement. Much of the work is developed upstairs in the design studio.

Her approach to interior design is hands on.

A unique orb light fixture is an eye-catching element near the entrance. Randolph created it from a grapevine she found in Round Top, TX, that had been steamed, coiled, shaped into an openwork globe and re-dried. She took it home, painted the bottom of it with gold leaf and hung from it 100-year-old faceted crystal drops from France. The table below is also painted with gold leaf so it appears as if the crystals are dripping gold. It complements the interior design, with its gold-on-white palette and a trompe l’oeil tangerine curtain painted by a local artist across the back wall. The curtain painting creates a sense of flowing movement and acts as a backdrop for casually luxurious décor.

“The best decisions I have ever made came from feelings, instincts and hunches, rather than spreadsheets, schematics and trend forecasts. I’ve learned to make business decisions according to how I want my life to feel. The unique look of the gallery came from the feeling I get from certain colors, combinations and materials. I want my guests to feel as inspired by the store’s ambience as I do.”

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“I hear people talk about the experience they have when they walk in,” she says. “The product is an offshoot of the experience.”

Randolph’s approach to sales is to honor each customer’s personal sense of style, wardrobe and lifestyle in general. “It’s our passion to truly connect with women from all walks of life, listening to their stories and encouraging self-expression through their jewelry,” she says. “So we connect, we listen and we always have fun.”

Although shopping in Santa Fe is a favorite pastime of tourists, more and more of Randolph’s regular clients live in town. So marketing is increasingly local as well, with in-store events and email campaigns. This year she plans to feature the “faces of Grace” in her marketing and discover what “grace” means to her clients to make her social-media marketing more interactive.

Another goal is to spend less time on paperwork upstairs in her office and more time downstairs in the gallery, being the ambassador of her brand.

Randolph’s career started in Palm Beach in luxury goods followed by a move to New York, where she worked with Ralph Lauren in his flagship Madison Avenue store. Other luxury brand retailers recruited her to develop their wholesale brands and open brick-and-mortar stores across the United States.

In 1999, she visited her mother in Santa Fe and never left.

“I never thought I would stay, and then I saw the moon rise over the ski basin and it was the biggest moon I’d ever seen in my life,” she recalls. “There was a certain connection with people from all over the country that I found here. I had conversations with them here that I would never have if I were sitting next to them at a dinner table in New York. There is a certain veil that is removed here, an authentic connection that feeds me.”

She launched her jewelry-design career in 1999 with Somers, a line based on the sculptures of her creative partner that was sold in galleries and jewelry stores around the country. Later, the idea for Grace took shape.

“Even today,” she says, “there are things I’m still discovering. A new hike, people, artists. It’s not boring here. There’s always something to feed you.”

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She has found the business climate friendly, as well. Santa Fe, she discovered is the No. 1 spot in the U.S. per capita for women-owned businesses.

She finds inspiration for design in Santa Fe, as well. “I design in my head so when I’m on that hike the best design pops into my head,” she says, “If I’m just sitting there with the stones it doesn’t work as well.”

Randolph believes in being an active part of her community by creating a business model that gives back. She is a founding member of Santa Fe’s 100 Women Who Care, a group that meets quarterly to learn about and donate to a charity that the group selects.

Share your GRACE also holds invitation-only sales events throughout the year, during which a portion of net proceeds benefit non-profit organizations while boosting Randolph’s philanthropic profile in the community.

Randolph is certain she’s where she’s supposed to be — both literally and figuratively.

“I am living proof that if you choose to make decisions from your heart and persevere, you will never look back,” she says. “Creating GRACE has given me more connection, has inspired other women to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit and has led to deeper relationships with my clients all due to my own personal decision to choose GRACE as this next chapter of my life.”

PHOTO GALLERY (21 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Wear Your GRACE

1. Practical magic. Randolph is focusing on gemstones and custom-creating talismans using labradorite and rose quartz. They’re marketed as being an essential element of everyday protection. “Being in Santa Fe with all of our ‘woo woo,’ people love it,” Randolph says. The jewelry line that I am creating is the core things we need as women to feel safe, protected, guided, grounded, but it’s also an individual connection.”

2. The canine experience. Just outside the store’s entrance is the most popular “Dog Bar” in town, complete with treats tucked inside a mailbox over a trompe l’oeil of splashing water from a faux-spigot. Four-legged friends may quench their thirst in cool H2O. Pet owners peek in with an amused smile as they view candy colored leather dog leashes and collars engraved with “Walk with GRACE. Sales help support animal rescue groups.

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3. Versatility behind the scenes. The second floor is the atelier, where the jewelry is designed and made from cast components. “I have used the space for open houses, gallery night on Fridays, and featured a painter here with her larger work upstairs,” Randolph says. “So it is a working studio, but also a social space. Or I’ll have a client come up and we’ll collaborate to remake something. Just minutes after a design is completed upstairs, it can be displayed on the floor.”

4. Guest stars. Randolph loves collaborating with artists she’s met on her travels, so she regularly features jewelry by guest designers and hosts events promoting other artwork she loves.

5. Coco’s Bangles. The wear your GRACE collection includes best-selling Coco’s Bangles, designed by Hillary’s teenage daughter, Coco. Coco donates a portion of the proceeds of sales to the Heart & Soul Animal Sanctuary outside Santa Fe.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Sofia Kaman: I love seeing a business that embraces fun, whimsy and a sense of happiness in all that they do. The dog bar is a brilliant touch!
  • Jimmy DeGroot: I love the concept and the business model.
  • Lyn Falk: Great website. Clever and sophisticated. Unique name and use of the name in marketing. Interior and exterior are well done — distinct, savvy, artsy with touches of whimsy. Unique displays pushed the envelope in terms of a typical retail experience. More like a gallery. Hillary appears to exude charm!
  • Tiffany Stevens: This is a beautiful store! The exterior encapsulates the rich history of Santa Fe while the interior is modern and unique.
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America's Coolest Stores

Cool Store Design for Albany Store Based on Consumer Research

Vice-president Gregg Kelly considered aspects from the scent of flowers used outside to handicapped signage.

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Northeastern Fine Jewelry, Albany, NY

OWNER: Raymond Bleser; FOUNDED: 1980; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1998; ARCHITECT: C2 Design Group; LAST RENOVATED: 2017;BUILDOUT COST: $1.3 million; NO. of LOCATIONS: 3; EMPLOYEES: 14;AREA: 5,000 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Cartier, Tacori, Simon G, IWC, Forevermark


WHEN GREGG KELLY told customers he was planning to redo the Albany, NY, location of Northeastern Fine Jewelry, they inevitably asked him, “Why are you spending money on a store that still looks beautiful?”

But Kelly, vice president and son-in-law of owner Raymond Bleser, understands the importance of updating a store’s look and making it as functionally modern and approachable as possible. He invested untold hours studying store design, traffic flow and consumer behavior before embarking on the major remodel he undertook in 2017, which went far beyond a touch up or a new coat of paint.

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In fact, the store was gutted, all while it remained open, with the support of its two sister stores in Schenectady and Glens Falls, NY.

What’s new? A 1,000-square foot addition, the floor plan, the cases, a glass façade, a patio and landscaping. Even the parking lot is new.

“We try to redo the stores every 10 years, and some stuff was falling apart,” Kelly says. “When a customer visits a few times a year, we want to re-engage them and give them a new environment, a new experience.”

The company realized a 15 percent increase in business the first full year following the renovation.

In preparation, Kelly painstakingly considered every detail and collected sources of inspiration from around the world, making it a priority to visit stores when he travels.

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He also reads the Robb Report and other national luxury magazines to stay on top of retail trends. He took a class with neuroscientist Robert Cooper, a New York Times bestselling author and business strategist specializing in consumer behavior. Kelly was particularly interested in what gives people the ability to make good, conscious decisions based on the retail environment itself. “Once you have their attention, it comes down to the associate who guides the decision to purchase.”

To get their attention, Kelly wanted the store to have an open floor plan and optimal traffic flow while balancing the individual requirements of a variety of international shop-in-shop brands with less of a choppy look.

Michael Roman of the C2 Design Group says the overall challenge was to take Kelly’s concept and bring it to life within an existing building.

The sense of openness was achieved by repositioning the entry and shifting it over, which also affected the exterior of the building. The goal inside was to improve traffic flow, so shoppers could feel comfortable, meandering freely without encountering any obstacles. “It’s the experience that’s going to bring you back,” Roman says. The shop-in-shops are tied together with materials and lighting, while accommodating each vendor’s own design criteria.

The glass facade offers a transparency that puts shoppers at ease as they approach. Especially at night, the window reveals the character of the store within, Roman says. And the casual patio setting in front offers a decompression zone between parking lot and shopping experience, easing threshold resistance.

Finishes are sleekly upscale and timeless, rather than trendy.

Kelly also told Roman he wanted a store that looked like it had leaped off the pages of a luxury magazine. Accordingly, finishes are sleekly upscale, but timeless rather than trendy. Decor includes shades of gray and imported European leathers. LED lighting is new, green and efficient. Roman describes the materials used in the interior as the bow on the design package — timeless, clean and relatively simple, designed to complement the design without overshadowing it or being too understated.

Kelly put himself in the shoppers’ shoes when it came to details.

“We changed a lot of different things as we went and I always kept the consumer in mind. Even things like how they experience walking through the parking lot, the pitch of the sidewalk, and the feel they get when they step out of their car,” says Kelly.

“We researched for hours how to get the right thing — from handicapped signs that weren’t run of the mill, to the garbage can, to the outside rugs, to the extension of the awning over the front door to give them enough space for their umbrella, so they’re not getting wet when they get into the store. I studied the music, the rocks we used outside and the flowers we put into the planters to make sure the scent is appealing.”

While all of this was going on, by far the ultimate challenge was that the full-service jewelry store remained open, to the extent that it could, one section at a time, while chaos was kept at bay.

“The biggest challenge was to make our employees comfortable, as well as our customers,” Kelly says. “We sectioned off parts of the building so we didn’t lose too much consistency. Every part was gutted. We did all right, too, and our customers were great to us. They still shopped and stayed loyal. We were able to move things from store to store and still fulfill their needs.”

Ray Bleser, who founded the company, was happy to leave the renovation project to Kelly.

Originally, Bleser had studied to be a pharmacist, planning to follow in his father’s footsteps, but after just one day in that professional role, he knew it wasn’t for him. Instead, he decided to pursue his hobby of collecting and selling rare coins and gold.

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Northeastern Coin Gallery opened in 1980 and quickly expanded in scope, becoming Northeastern Fine Jewelry by 1985. In a twist of fate, the company’s flagship location in Schenectady, NY, occupies the building that once housed the drugstore where Bleser’s father worked.

Bleser has given his son-in-law his seal of approval. “He’s stationed in Schenectady, and every time he comes in, he says this is the nicest store from here to New York City,” Kelly says. “It’s a real modern look that’s attractive to all age groups. You get a New York City feel combined with a hometown experience, and I think that’s hard to accomplish.”

PHOTO GALLERY (12 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Northeastern Fine Jewelry

1. The Diamond District edge. Northeastern Fine Jewelry has an office in the Diamond District of New York. “We’ve never been one to just order stuff and ship it in. We like to look at things ourselves and have the first pick of diamonds. We’re picky when it comes to buying. And it gives us a nice edge to pick out what we want and pass those savings on to the consumer based on our buying ability,” says Kelly.

2. Training is top of mind. The company sends staff for training provided by its top brands and invests thousands of dollars a year into additional education. The expectation of expertise extends beyond sales to custom design and the repair shop. There’s also a watchmaker on staff.

3. A respect for jewelry history. They plan for an estate sale every year. “We try to keep our roots and the things that made us who we are today. They’re fun, too, because you get to look at things that are older and helped develop the jewelry industry for what it is today,” says Kelly. “And it’s fun to sell one-of-a-kind, rare things and tell the story of how it became what it is.”

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4. Making marketing a priority. “Traditionally, the jewelry industry markets for six weeks leading up to the holidays; we work hard to have a consistent approach to educating the consumer,” Kelly says. “We’re marketing 12 months out of the year.” Marketing is about 30 to 35 percent digital, and the website recently became set up for e-commerce.

5. Promotional savvy. In 2017, Northeastern sponsored a contest to win the opportunity to propose in a live commercial aired during halftime of the Super Bowl on FOX. The winner was featured in People Magazine, the Daily Mail in the UK and the New York Times. They also sponsored a half court shot during a Siena College basketball game; the contestant made the shot and walked away with $25,000, leading to intensive coverage from ESPN.

TRY THIS

When updating your store’s appearance, consider function as well as form and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Imagine you are the consumer approaching the building. What is the experience like? Is there shelter from rain? Are curbs accessible? Is there space for seating? Can they tell what kind of a store they will be entering? Have you provided a decompression zone between street and store?

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Geoffrey Brown: “Very strong positive word-of-mouth going on here. The more personable and authentic you are, the more you stay top-of-mind.”
    Laura Davis: “The exterior is beautiful and the interior is very nice.”
  • David Lampert: “Nice looking store. Clever promotion with the Super Bowl.”
  • Katherine Bodoh: “I like the modern exterior with the large windows and natural light. The interior layout looks beautiful and very upscale.”
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