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America's Coolest Stores

Small Cool 3: Cut Fine Jewelers

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CUT FINE JEWELERS
3rd PLACE SMALL COOL DIVISION

Working in his family business
in Baton Rouge, LA, for six years,
Matthew Patton discovered he was
a natural salesman.


 

QUICK FACTS

LOCATION:
Baton Rouge, LA

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URL:
cutfj.com

TAGLINE:One of a kind, just like you.

FOUNDED: 2012

OPENED FEATURED
LOCATION:
2014

AREA: 1,500 square feet

BUILDOUT COST: $35,000

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SHOWCASES:Interiors by Stuller

ONLINE PRESENCE: 1,725
Facebook likes; 273 Twitter
followers; Alexa Traffic
Rank: 5,303,688

But gradually, as he developed confidence in his own
ideas, he began to feel a bit like a square peg in a round hole.
“The traditional setting of selling jewelry was not
appealing to me,” he says. “I enjoy the creative process
and working with clients side-by-side, encouraging them
to be creative and involved in the design of their jewelry
if they wish to be.”

Instead of forcing himself to stand behind a counter
and adapt to the traditional ways of doing business, Patton
struck out on his own, first opening an appointment-only
office in a business park, and then, sooner than expected,
finding he was doing well enough to open his own store
with his wife, Evan. “Fortunately, it grew much more
rapidly than I ever thought it would,” he says, largely
through referral and social media.

There was not much of an ad budget. But he did work with a marketing agency to produce a series of polished
promotional videos featuring millennial couples in
slice-of-life scenarios.

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Patton describes himself as a networking ninja. It
helps that he’s outgoing and remembers the name of
practically anyone he’s ever met.

The name of his store, however, sometimes prompts
questions. He was recently asked at a networking event
if Cut is a butcher shop. It’s also been mistaken for a hair
salon. But the name offers the opportunity to educate
customers about the importance of cut when assessing
a diamond’s quality. And he likes the simple and concise
nature of the name, “Cut.” “We didn’t need another
Family Name Fine Jewelers,” he says.


From the start, Patton set out to appeal to Baton
Rouge’s youthful bridal market. Inspired by his love of Apple stores, he designed Cut Fine Jewelers with clean
lines and sleek, modern cases of varying heights and
shapes that allow for side-by-side selling. Cases in the
center of the store are grouped in three islands and are
finished in a different, lighter shade than cases on the
perimeter, which really brightens up the space.

STRONG PROMO
The Young and the Social: Baton Rouge’s young
bridal market is the principal
target of the store’s
marketing.

In a break from the tradition of a wood look in jewelry
stores, he wanted to avoid browns and yellows. “There
are lots of grays on the walls and in the carpet,” Patton
says. “The focus is on the jewelry and on the diamonds.”
Although the sales floor is only 1,200 square feet, the
open case layout makes it feel much larger and creates
plenty of breathing room everywhere.

Patton’s goal from the beginning was never to compete
on price but to sell the most well-cut diamonds and
gemstones he could find. And showcase those gems in
the highest quality settings he could buy or manufacture.
It’s a true mom-and-pop operation for now, with just
the Pattons, who wed in April, staffing the store. One
valuable asset Patton brought with him from the family
business is an instinct for how to talk to customers.

“I grew up watching my dad and my grandfather
interact with their customers, and it was never business,”
he says. “It was like talking to an old friend. They
taught me how to handle clients and realize that they are
the reason you are there. I sincerely believe that if you
keep your clients’ best interests in mind and are always
honest, you cannot help but be successful.”

 

PHOTO GALLERY

{igallery id=7363|cid=1499|pid=18|type=category|children=0|addlinks=0|tags=|limit=0}

 

VIDEO INTERVIEW: MATTHEW PATTON

 

SCORE CARD
Story 74%


Interior 77%


Exterior 67%


Individuality 75%


Marketing 83%


Online 80%


OVERALL SCORE
75.1%

WHAT THE JUDGES SAY

Sally Furrer: Everything
about this brand is
clean and uncluttered,
not to mention also very
consistent. Love the
packaging with the bright
yellow pop of color. Their
tagline is powerful and
plays perfectly to the millennial
bridal client.

Pratima Sethi: They have incorporated
their
logo into all their
branding messaging
very well.

Jesse Balaity:
Cut
fully embraces the
front-sell model, which of
course makes for friendlier
customer interactions.
This layout has an added
benefit at night, where
the full glass storefront
reveals a complex layering
of graphics and jewelry
showcases that invite
passersby to peer in and
explore. This is also one
of the best implementations
of non-custom
showcases.

David Kepron: Cut’s brand message is
provocative with multiple
meanings. The graphic
expression of the brand in
advertising is compelling
with a strong contemporary
lifestyle sensibility.

Bryan Eisenberg: I like the consistency
between their ads and
website in terms of their
messaging and imagery.

 

5 COOL THINGS

1. U.S.-MADE GOODS

“We’re sticklers for quality;
we want to make sure it’s
properly made. Being made in
the United States is a huge
selling point for us,” Matthew
Patton says. Around a third of
bridal is custom. The Pattons
use Stuller CounterSketch and
other design software to show
clients what’s possible. Interestingly,
they’ve found that
men who shop alone are more
likely to choose the custom
route, and that men who bring
along their brides-to-be wind
up spending roughly $2,000
more on an engagement ring.

2. SOCIAL SAVVY
A Cut Fine promotion invited
guys to send a letter to ESPN
explaining why they should
receive a diamond ring from Cut. In 12 days, they received
more than 20,000 hits, with
amazing social-media results.
Patton and on-air personalities
chose the winner.

3. FORWARD LOOKING

Ninety percent of the showcases,
designed by Interiors by
Stuller, are forward-opening,
allowing shoulder-to-shoulder
selling, complemented by museum
cubes outlining the outer
perimeter of the showroom to
showcase jewelry lines.

4. SECRET WEAPON

Evan Patton has what Shane
Decker calls a missile selling
style. She particularly excels
at selling to guys who want to
be told what to do, her husband
says. “A guy said, I have $7,000 for an engagement
ring. What would you buy?”
Evan says. “I told him, ‘This is
what you need. I’m not going
to give you something ugly.’
And she loved it!” Other shoppers
just crave some reassurance.
“They need to be told,
it’s OK to buy it. It’s OK to get
engaged. It’s OK to spend the
money,” she says.

5. TRY IT ON

If customers need to wait a
few minutes, they can play
with an iPad, or try on a variety
of prototype rings. “I did not
want it to feel like a museum,”
Matthew Patton says. “I wanted
it to be inviting and people
to feel comfortable, that it’s
not a bad thing to touch something.
Adds Evan, “Something
you can’t touch can feel like
something you can’t have.”

 



Online Q&A With Matthew Patton

 

One book? Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow

One newspaper? The Advocate (local Baton Rouge paper)

One website? Our own, I guarantee it is the most modern website in the jewelry industry, period.

One gadget? My Nikon DSLR

One plane ticket:? Rome

Most significant mentor and why? Hands down my father. He got to experience the way my grandfather and great grandfather conducted themselves and their business. If there are any greater examples known to me personally they do not come close to the way they created a fantastic customer service experience.

Favorite business book? “Hug your Customers” by Jack Mitchell

Favorite book? “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson

Best advice ever given? Dream so big you’ll never achieve those dreams in your lifetime.

Best advice ever received? To marry my now wife.

Advice for a new store owner? Get ready to second guess everything you were ever confident about in opening the store. Trust the gut instincts that got you to the point you began to doubt yourself and carry on. All you can do is give it your best and what’s meant to be is going to happen no matter what.

Pitfalls to watch out for? Thinking that you have to have the coolest “designer lines” or the latest and greatest of what’s out there. Give it time and allow the store (and your brand) time to grow and establish itself in the market.

I drive a … Cadillac CTS-V; if I could choose any car, it would be a … Ferrari LaFerrari.

What superpower would you like to have? Reading people’s minds

What question do you wish customers would not ask you? Is this on sale/what’s my price?

What’s your sign? Leo

Perfect day? Sleep until 8, home-cooked breakfast and two cups of coffee. Head down to New Orleans to spend a day in the French Quarter just walking the streets. An amazing meal at some random restaurant that we stumbled across and then coming home to spend the rest of the evening on the couch with my wife and two dogs.

What have the last few years taught you? That God doesn’t care about your plan, that you need to enjoy the journey and not focus so much on the destination.

How do you stay current? From an industry perspective, I read INSTORE and JCK magazines plus the daily emails blasts that are sent out by the former plus National Jeweler. From a local perspective, I read the local paper when I can but mostly reading the Baton Rouge Business Report. Nationally and globally its Fox news and MSNBC.

What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do professionally? Tell my dad that I was going to leave the 70-year-old family business because my idea of what a fine jewelry company should be and stand for no longer lined up with other members of my family involved in the business. My father and I want the same things professionally and sharing that same vision made it even harder to leave.

If your store were on fire, what’s the one thing you’d save? As long as we are safe, it does not matter. It can all be replaced.

Advertising campaign I wish I’d thought of: From a jewelry perspective I have always liked the Tivol ads using both Howard Tivol and then the other series they did using dogs. From a brand perspective when GM did the “America still builds rockets” ad campaign for the ZR1 Corvette, that was great.

If money were no object … I’d sell nothing but wedding jewelry and offer custom work at my store.

When I meet people, the first thing I notice about them is … the type of jewelry that they are wearing (style, metal type, gemstones).

Favorite flick? Batman (the trilogy with Christian Bale)

Favorite place to shop? If it’s related to car performance parts, that is where you will find me.

Favorite lunch? A huge, delicious hamburger gets me every time with fries and a local beer

Best vacation ever? Our honeymoon; we went to Rome and Venice.

Favorite website? Anything sports car related.

Favorite job at work that doesn’t involve customers? Scouring the Internet searching for new and different up-and-coming jewelry lines.

If I weren’t a jeweler, I’d be … building custom cars.

Current career goal? To establish Cut as the source for the highest quality jewelry and best client experience in Baton Rouge and other markets we eventually expand into.

Current life goal? To spend as much time as possible with my beautiful new bride.

My heroes are … My parents and great grandmother

Favorite gemstone? Alexandrite

Favorite store that’s not my own: Tivol for their heritage and Tara & Co. for their store design (and their building is awesome!)

I am most frustrated when … I spend hours educating a client and they purchase an inferior product somewhere else because they “thought they were getting a better deal” which they did not.

People do not understand … just how important the cut of a diamond is and are shopping solely based on price and what a grading report says it is.

I am happiest when … a client refers me their friend or family member for a jewelry need. Nothing is more valuable than a loyal client sending you a referral, they are the lifeblood of our business. New clients are sent to us by referral or when someone recognizes our logo out in public and asks “are you that jewelry store?!”

Weekend activity? Something outside, maybe taking the car for a spin down some secluded winding back roads, or being out on the river with the family.

Favorite all-time jewelry designer? I have a lot of respect for the designers at Cartier and the unique pieces they have put out over the years.

Thing I worry about that I know I shouldn’t: If we have a few slow days in a row I have to constantly tell myself that we are only eight months into this new showroom venture.

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America's Coolest Stores

How These Georgia Jewelers Reinvented Marketing

Focus on charity touches community.

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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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America's Coolest Stores

Chicago Retailer Harks Back to History While Pushing Boundaries in Design, Art and Events

Designer pushes boundaries of fine jewelry, art and events to create an exceptional shopping experience.

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Adornment + Theory, Chicago, IL

OWNER: Viviana Langhoff; FOUNDED: 2017; URL: www.adornmentandtheory.com; EMPLOYEES: 4; AREA: 750 square feet


WHEN VIVIANA LANGHOFF PLANNED a pop-up tattoo event to celebrate her first year as an entrepreneur, it seemed like the kind of thing her artistic, creative core customer would enjoy.

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It usually takes a year to get an appointment with Kelsey Moore, the tattoo artist Langhoff recruited. The two even collaborated on designing gem and art deco-inspired tattoos to personalize the experience. So while Moore was virtually guaranteed to draw a crowd to the Logan Square gallery, Langhoff was still amazed when the line stretched for two blocks and some people camped out the night before, as if Apple had launched a new iPhone or Black Friday deals were about to be unveiled.

Langhoff is adept at putting jewelry in context, so she also seized the opportunity to explore the history of body adornment, which can be traced back to the invention of tattoos. A fun event combined with storytelling was destined for success.

See video below.

Langhoff’s interest in the historical roots of adornment also inspired the name of her business.

“I wanted to select a name that sheds light on the history of jewelry, which is ‘adornment,’ as well as the ‘theory’ portion that is the practice that artists have in studios. From the beginning of civilization, we find that cultures made currency and jewelry and adornment. I want to highlight the history and continuation of that into contemporary studios all around the world. We draw on aesthetics from many different artists: feminine, edgy, approachable and most important, wearable.”

Langhoff’s retail experience appeals to the independent, confident woman who loves beautiful design, knows what she likes and delights in artist-made pieces. Langhoff encourages her customers to let creativity dress them. “People are limited sometimes by what they think they can and can’t wear and what magazines tell you you should wear. Really, ultimately, If you love it, wear it.”

A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, she studied fine art and design and then worked for a variety of jewelers, some specializing in fine jewelry and others specializing in art jewelry, before creating a niche for herself that pulls inspiration from both. Her studio showcases one-of-a-kind work that pushes accessory design into wearable art. “We are passionate about representing emerging artists and brands who are crafting the future of functional art and design,” she says. She also custom designs and makes by hand wedding and engagement rings in precious materials.

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Her gallery is in the Logan Square neighborhood in northwest Chicago, about six miles from downtown. The neighborhood’s diverse, artistic population of young professionals and families is attracted to bike-friendly park-like boulevards and an ethos that includes green construction and preservation of historic buildings. Other draws are Michelin-starred restaurants, music venues, breweries, craft cocktail bars, a farmer’s market and art galleries.

The business is very experiential. She’s hosted “make your own silver ring” workshops and invited gemstone miners into her store. She mixes it up with lectures.

“I select and curate events that highlight the theory portion of jewelry,” she says. “And I love history. Once a week on Instagram I use points of jewelry history from ancient Egypt to the crown jewels.”

For Valentine’s Day, she recruited neighboring businesses to join her in a collaborative approach with the theme of “bazaar love.” She organized the bazaar and featured a pop-up shop of luxury lingerie and chocolates. She suggested to neighboring card-shop owners that they host an event for kids to make their own cards. She connected the eye-care professionals next door with a photographer and encouraged them to host a kissing booth.

“Each store offered a fun and enticing event,” she says. “It wasn’t just jewelry focused; all of the businesses pulled together and people came out. I was shocked because the weather was terrible.”

For the holidays, she hosted a Great Gatsby-themed Christmas party.

During the sustainable fair-trade conference in Chicago, she invited a group of international miners to bring rough-cut gemstones to the gallery so her clients could make their own selections. Then she sent the gems out to lapidary artists to cut them.

A summer workshop called Diamonds 101 introduced customers to diamond basics — color, cut, how to use a loupe and what to look for when shopping. Other workshops included metal etching (creating a pair of etched earrings in copper) and jewelry illustration.

Langhoff has no formal training in event planning or marketing, but it seems to come naturally to her; both she and her staff of four find events fun and energizing.

She even created her own interior design. “I drew inspiration from contemporary art galleries, Hollywood Regency as well as Moorish design with our floors,” she says. “I wanted to create a jewel box that was contemporary and glamorous while simultaneously being warm and inviting. I think we achieved that.”

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About half of Langhoff’s business is bridal-related, and much of that is custom, but most of her clients prefer alternative stones to traditional diamond jewelry. Most of the bridal work is custom, but she also showcases rings made by several other fine jewelry artists. “So if someone wants gray diamonds and an earthy look, I have several artists who have styles that have that, who are distinctly different from other artists and from myself. I’m not very big on mimicking another artist’s aesthetic.”

E-commerce to this point has been limited, but Langhoff credits her website and social media for driving business into the store. “I still count those visits and sales as website sales. I think our website is really important even as a landing pad for people to get a taste and flavor of what our brand is about.”

Everything she sells is handmade and everything has a story. “People are looking for a personal touch,” she says. “They want to know if it’s handmade, they want to know about the designer, the story, the fair-trade component, where the stones are coming from. They like knowing the details.”

PHOTO GALLERY (16 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Adornment + Theory

1. DESIGN OVER DRINKS. “Our Jewelry Bar is a space where individuals or couples can pull up a bar stool as I serve them drinks and discuss creating the piece of their dreams,” Langhoff says. “Once drinks are served, we review A+T’s full service menu and walk them through the highly personalized design process. The goal is for them to walk away with an heirloom piece that they will wear for a lifetime. I take the client/designer relationship very seriously and want each one to feel welcomed and delighted in.”
2. ART EVENTS. Beyond jewelry events, Langhoff hosts bi-monthly fine art openings in the store. “We’ve showcased everything from conceptually driven contemporary art jewelry (in conjunction with SOFA Expo), as well as fine art photography and paintings,” she says.
3. SOFT SCENT. Customers always comment about how lovely “our little jewel box smells,” she says. The in-store scent is created from candles and the notes are typically flowery, clean and beachy. It’s all intended, she says, to evoke a romantic, relaxed, beautiful and approachable space.
4. A SWEET IDEA. “We teamed up with a chocolatier to create a custom-branded ‘chocolate jewel box’ for our Valentine’s season,” Langhoff says.
5. MONTHLY WORKSHOPS. “Our monthly workshops are fun-filled afternoons where attendees learn hands-on techniques that help them create and appreciate the art of metalsmithing and other accessory-based techniques. We’ve hosted workshops on ‘How to Make a Silver Ring’, ‘Shibori Dying: Make Your Own Scarf’, as well as ‘How to Read Diamonds’. These workshops have helped cultivate community and further the customer experience. Not to mention, everyone has a great time. I love hearing the store filled with laughter,” Langhoff says.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Jimmy Degroot: If we’re looking at location as the primary form of marketing, then Viviana is spot on. It’s so refreshing to see a space as well-appointed and thought-out as this. Beautiful.
  • Sofia Kaman: Love the interior design and concept. Very polished!
  • Tiffany Stevens: I’m obsessed! Smart and beautiful choices on every level.

 

Try This: Offer a Workshop

Offer your customers an unexpected hands-on experience. Why not try a “make your own silver ring” workshop, if you have the facilities for it?

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