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Sonny’s Rocks

A denver store reinvents itself in a new location



Sonny’s Rocks, Denver, CO

OWNERS: Michael Nedler and Mark Allen; DESIGNER: Artco of Miami;
URL:sonnys; BUSINESS FOUNDED: 1979; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: October 2009; SLOGAN: We rock, baby; TOTAL AREA: 3,000 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 6; TOP BRANDS: Ritani, Peter Storm, Martin Flyer, Hidalgo, Alex Sepkus, Rebecca, Pandora, Teno, Charriol, Breuning

WHEN THEIR LEASE NEGOTIATIONS hit a serious snag in 2009, partners Michael Nedler and Mark Allen reluctantly left their space in Denver’s luxe Cherry Creek neighborhood. Six months later, they opened a freestanding store on one of the busiest corners in Denver. They had moved 2.5 miles physically. Psychologically, though, the new place was worlds removed. The staid Sonny’s Jewelers on Fillmore, founded by Michael’s father, Sonny, had been reinvented as the casual and edgy Sonny’s Rocks. It had a new attitude to go with the new name. “We chose rock as a theme,” Nedler says. “Rocks as in our diamonds, and most importantly, an attitude that we rock. After 35 years in the jewelry business, I’m ready to have fun and rock ’n’ roll.” The theme is comprehensive: Their business cards look like concert tickets, and they place orders with a company called Wine That Rocks for items like Dark Side of the Moon cabernet.


Five Cool Things About Sonny’s Rocks

1. A DENIM DRESS CODE Nedler says it’s obvious to him that most guys hate coming into a jewelry store. He wanted the experience to be as painless as possible and began by tweaking the dress code. “Denver is a very casual city so when we were a coat-and-tie store, customers would come in and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t dress up enough to be here,’ which you hate to hear.” Even before the move Nadler had thrown out the coats and ties in exchange for a business casual look. “I don’t have any suits left,” he says. “I don’t wear them.” These days, it’s laid-back all the way, which means fashionable jeans. “Like if you walk into your neighbor’s house this is what they’d be wearing. We want the whole feel of the store to be a place you can hang out and be comfortable.”

2.TWISTS ON TRADITIONAL Certain traditions had to stay — such as locked cases — out of necessity. Certain other mainstays — like carpeted floors — were thrown out with the suits and ties. They opted for earthy stone floors and decorated with Nedler’s collection of signed guitars and album covers from bands ranging from Pink Floyd to Michael Jackson. Instead of playing videos from jewelry

manufacturers, they show videos of rock concerts. Rock ’n’ roll murals adorn the restroom doors.

Another twist on tradition: Nearly every piece of jewelry is visibly priced. “Customers shouldn’t have to ask every time they want to know what it costs,” Nedler contends.

Yes, Sonny’s Rocks provides health insurance and profit sharing. But that’s not all. “We’ll buy you a tattoo, as long as it’s not across your forehead,” Nedler says. “We do have our limits. Most of my crew has taken us up on the offer, but you don’t have to be inked to work here.” Nedler has a dragon of his own, which gave him the idea.


3.PLAYING AROUND Nedler also installed a photo booth, where customers pose for photos with jewelry they’re trying on — or just fool around. One enthusiastic couple drew a crowd to the monitor outside the photo booth, which captured the “romance” happening live within. “They were young and in love, shopping for their wedding rings,” Nedler says. “We gave them a bottle of wine.” A Wii station also entertains customers and their kids.

4.RISKY ADVERTISING Some Sonny’s Rocks commercials feature amorous, scantily clad couples in scenarios Nedler describes as nearly soft porn.” “I go into it knowing that some people will look at it and be offended. If you want to be noticed, you can’t let that scare you. For everyone who’s offended, there’s going to be 100 who will laugh and love it. It makes you stand out and be remembered.”

The website, too, is irreverent.

Q: I’m really offended over your advertising campaign. Is there anything I can do to stop you?

A. No. But if you’d like to leave an outraged, rambling voicemail about it, we’ll make sure your thoughts on the subject are shared with others.


Five Questions with Michael Nedler

1. HOW IS YOUR BUSINESS DOING SINCE YOU BROKE WITH TRADITION? It was a tough year, but for a first year in business we hit the goals we set, and we’re seeing more momentum.

2. HAS YOUR THINKING ABOUT THE BUSINESS CHANGED? I don’t think like a jeweler any-more in terms of the keeper of the sacred standards. I think like a merchant: Give ’em what they like and get on with your life.

3. WHY DID YOU SETTLE ON A ROCK ’N’ ROLL THEME? I’m a drummer. And I do it as therapy. I’m a crappy drummer, but I like rock ’n’ roll. It makes me feel good. If I love it, I think, everybody loves it.

4. WHO ARE YOUR CLIENTS? We have two businesses, the bridal business, which is younger, early 20s to early 40s. We use our diamonds to bring people in to sell our mountings and hopefully you’ll hang onto them for future sales in fashion, where you can make some money. Fashion for us is 30s and up. Even there, we’re seeing price points coming down. Lots of people are coming in for Pandora. You can make money with it, but I look at it as an advertising expense. It gets people into the store.

5. WHAT SHOULD JEWELERS WHO FEEL STUCK IN A RUT BE ASKING THEMSELVES? We sell what nobody needs. How do you appeal to the demographic? How do you make it easy and fun and interesting enough to choose you instead of Acme Jewelers? Choose who you’re going to be and find your way to stick out. In the new economy, you’ve got to find a way to do it or you’re dead.

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