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Cool Store: Spexton Jewelry

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Tiny Spexton has big plans to promote its brand online and in-store.

SPEXTON

TULSA, OK

FOUNDERS: Greg Shelton and Nate McPherson?
URL: www.spexton.com?
YEAR FOUNDED: 2003?
FEATURED LOCATION OPENED: January 2008?
INTERIOR COST: $200?
STORE AREA: 450 square feet

BUSINESS PARTNERS Greg Shelton, formerly a truck driver, and Nate McPherson, a career student, hadn’t spent any time in jewelry stores before they opened their own. But they believe that may have worked to their advantage. What they were after, and what their mostly male customers want, too, is something different. The 450-square-foot Spexton store in downtown Tulsa, OK, seems to fit the bill. It’s in a 1920s-era, mixed-use building that houses five lofts, an art gallery and a micro winery. Each day, Shelton and McPherson make the 18-step commute from their loft upstairs to their shop below, to begin making the Internet orders from the night before. On Saturdays, they throw open the doors to their adjacent retail store, and blast dance music, while they sell custom steel and titanium jewelry to their loyal clients, including guys looking for unusual, handcrafted wedding bands. — Eileen McClelland

Five Cool Things About This Store

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Finding inspiration

1The partners met in 2003 and decided to open a men’s designer clothing store. But Shelton, inspired by a steel ring McPherson had bought in Germany, decided to buy a lathe and used scraps to create pieces of jewelry. From a small selection of rings and bracelets, he moved on to a full collection of wedding bands, cuffs and neckwear. Shelton is the principal machinist, overseeing production and design. “I’m constantly looking for new techniques and materials,” Shelton says. “I love sculpting an ugly tube of steel into something truly unexpected and beautiful.” Soon, they stopped selling clothes and launched Spexton.

Limited hours: Getting ready to rock the world?

2 The store is open on Saturdays or by appointment. “We were open every day and then we made the choice to be open only one day and our sales showed a marked increase. We make it clear that it’s not the normal store, that we live here and we are happy to come down and meet them. And it’s no big deal. I just walk downstairs.” Saturdays turn into special events and Spexton often stays open till after midnight. “We play dance music or something loud. It’s like a party. We just hang out and meet people. There’s no barrier between customers and us. It’s laid-back. It’s not like I’m being forced to meet some kind of sales goal. I want you to buy it if you love it.” They have no employees and spend most of their time crafting jewelry to fill orders. Still, they do expect to expand their hours as the neighborhood is revitalized; there are plans for residences, restaurants and a ballpark nearby. “My goal is to have a seven-day-a-week flagship store, but we want to build a brand first on the Internet,” McPherson says. “Our retail store will be poised to absolutely rock in the next few years.”

E-commerce: Letting the website do the work?

3 A large part of Spexton’s business is e-commerce. “It is safe to say that because of our somewhat difficult-to-find location, 95 percent of our visitors have already been to the site, and they already know exactly what they want to buy before they arrive. The selling has been done for me,” McPherson says. They have chosen Internet advertising over traditional methods of local advertising and pay close attention to keywords on their website pages, to make them easy to find in a Google search. They’ve made the most of their website by installing a live-chat button, which allows customers from around the world to ask questions in real time; sending an e-mail newsletter to several thousand customers; and blogging to share photos and customer reviews, design previews and press coverage. It’s all working. “Each time we send the email, we’re guaranteed immediate online sales,” McPherson says.

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Brand expansion: Creating the chain mind-set?

4 Spexton products are cut, turned, hammered, sanded and polished by hand using manual tools, mills, and lathes. The partners want to become the premier brand for handcrafted titanium and steel. “The market wants that small boutique store. But everything in Tulsa is a chain and there’s this mind-set that if it’s not a chain, it’s not good,” McPherson says. “So we present this brand online as if it’s a huge, global chain and that really seems to pay off.” More exposure came in February 2007, when fashion designer Carmen Marc Valvo invited Spexton to create all of the runway jewelry for his fall 2007 show at New York Fashion Week in Bryant Park. “After Fashion Week, we began targeting contemporary jewelers, high-end department stores, and designer fashion boutiques as potential wholesale buyers. Today our outside retailers run the gamut from art galleries, traditional jewelers and home accessory stores.”

$200 Build-out: Projecting style on a budget

5“I’m 27 and I find jewelry stores too mature for me. A lot of them look like my grandmother’s living room. When I go into jewelry stores in Tulsa, I am immediately out of my element, no matter how great the salespeople are, or how welcome they make you feel,” McPherson says. But before Spexton, McPherson had no idea of what other jewelry stores were like. “I know it sounds crazy, but I had honestly never been in a freestanding jewelry store before, so I had a very open mind about what I wanted to create.”?The space had an exposed brick wall. The partners painted, hung lights, and began scouring craigslist.com for supplies and furnishings. “We’re very frugal,” McPherson says. “Amazingly, the cashwrap was given to us for free from a salon, as was the display case that we sandblasted to turn into a jewelry display; and the couches and small metal tables were from a club across the street that went out of business. In all we spent about $200 — yes, $200 — on the interior.” Much of the jewelry is displayed outside of cases and shoppers are encouraged to handle it. A casual seating area is equipped with catalogs featuring the designs. The overall impression, McPherson says, is warm, clean and neutral.

STORE IMAGES

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MaRKETING IMAGES

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Five Questions With Nate McPherson

1 WHO IS YOUR CUSTOMER?
About 60 percent of online sales are to men, although necklaces and bangle bracelets are also purchased by women. Eighty percent of in-store sales are men’s wedding rings. We have lots of blue-collar types who are buying steel wedding rings so they hold up to their work. And we have wealthy people who think it’s a fun, cheap thing to buy, — even at $500 — and they will load up on it.

2 WHAT TRENDS AMONG SHOPPERS HAVE YOU NOTICED?
People are really into the green movement and the buy-local movement. Especially people in their 20s and 30s want to support a local business that is really unique to Tulsa, and get a cool piece at what is probably a better price than something that’s mass-produced.

3 WHY BLOG?
It gives you credibility. People can see the real person  behind the store, especially online customers.

4 HOW DO YOU PERSONALIZE THE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE?
We like to bring the client into the shop to see the process and educate them on what we do.

5 WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF RETAIL SALES?
We’re dealing with men who often don’t like to shop. I hate shopping, myself. So it’s really a joy for us when a guy is so excited to come to the store. They just gush over it and they love having so many options.

This story is from the April 2009 edition of INSTORE

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