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America's Coolest Stores

Spexton -“Cool” Story



Tulsa, OK
Owners: Greg Shelton and Nate McPherson
Year Founded: 2003
Opened Featured Location: January 2008
Interior Cost: $1,000
Store Area: 450 square feet

Spexton’s version of cool might SEEM casually effortless, but owners Nate McPherson and Greg Shelton continually have experimented with their business concept, selling hand-fabricated steel and titanium jewelry in their store, online and to retailers. The customers, mostly guys, who shop in the store, find the experience comfortable, the marketing hip, and the merchandise, somehow, just what they were looking for, whether or not they had ever worn jewelry before. – Eileen McClelland

5 Cool Things

The partnership
1. The partners met in 2003 and opened a men’s designer-clothing store called Underguy. Shelton, a former truck driver, was inspired by a ring McPherson had bought in Germany to try to make one of his own. Shelton acquired a small lathe and scraps from a machine shop next door to create his first pieces, and soon the whole business shifted completely from clothes to jewelry. "I’m motivated by the creative process," Shelton says. "I love sculpting an ugly tube of steel into something truly unexpected and beautiful, yet timeless and masculine." McPherson polishes the raw jewelry, and manages the photography, Web development, sales, advertising, and the Spexton store. "Jewelry is a very sacred thing for so many people," he says. "Being able to create the symbol for someone’s memories, or life event, or self-expression – that is the true joy of what we do."

No-stress space
2. The downtown Tulsa store is in a 1920s mixed-use building. Shelton and McPherson, who live above the store, commute 18 steps to work. The partners kept the exposed brick wall and original tin ceiling. They painted, hung lights, and found supplies and furnishings on craigslist. A salon donated the cashwrap as well as a display case that the partners sandblasted into a jewelry display. The couches and small metal tables were foraged from a club across the street that went out of business. Customers are invited to sit and peruse catalogs featuring the designs, and encouraged to handle the jewelry, too. The overall impression is warm, clean, neutral and relaxed. "No suits, no salespeople and no stress," McPherson says.

Intermittent hours
3. Spexton opens its retail doors a few days a week or, in the summer, only on Saturdays. The intermittent operating hours don’t seem to discourage customers, who can’t find the custom pieces anywhere else. "They’ll wait, they’ll come back, it’s kind of nice," McPherson says. One advantage is that every summer Saturday seems like a special event. Their custom overnight service is even more popular than buying ready-made jewelry from the cases.


For the everyday guy
4. "Men who have never purchased jewelry before buy it, and we can’t believe it," McPherson says. "It’s great for the everyday guy. It’s not cheesy or gaudy or blingy or Liberace. It’s something that men actually feel comfortable with. It doesn’t look cheap but it’s not insanely expensive. It appeals to the guy who would otherwise only wear a watch and a wedding ring – but you can actually get a guy to wear this stuff." Spexton jewelry has caught on with other retailers, too, as the partners have begun to develop their wholesale business in earnest.

Post-modern marketing
5. A large part (37 percent in 2008) of Spexton’s business is global e-commerce, but the website sells the store as well. Ninety-five percent of store visitors know what they want when they walk through the door. McPherson emphasizes Internet advertising and social networking and makes sure Spexton is easy to find in a Google search. They’ve installed a live-chat button; they send an e-mail newsletter to several thousand customers; they blog and tweet and update their Facebook page to share photos, news and reviews, as well as new designs and marketing efforts, such as their current treasure hunt. Establishing Spexton as a global brand, they have found, drives more traffic to the store.

Global scavenger hunt

"Our next-door neighbor is a graphic designer, who came up with the idea for a scavenger hunt. He creates a handcrafted box, and inside we put a limited-edition cuff bracelet. He’s sending them to friends all over the world and they hide the box somewhere in plain sight and take a picture of it. Using Facebook and Twitter, we send out the picture and hints. The first one was hidden in Seattle, and the girl who found it said there were lots of people racing around looking for it. When they get the cuff, they take a picture of themselves with it and upload it. We couldn’t believe the response. Our Facebook and Twitter fans are contacting other people. It’s ingenious. And there’s no cost to us except making the bracelet, that’s it." – Nate McPherson


Low-cost marketing
Spexton negotiated a marketing deal with The BOK Center, a 20,000-seat arena that recently opened nearby. Each music star who plays at the center receives a piece of Spexton jewelry as a gift from the Center. In exchange, Spexton is allowed full rights to the photographs of the celebrities receiving the jewelry, as well as free ads on the large digital billboards throughout the concourse of the center, giving the Spexton brand and store great exposure at almost no cost.

Behind the scenes
Shop tours and demonstrations of basic lathe and millwork fascinate customers while bringing them in direct contact with the creative process.


"Upon receiving his shipment, an Internet customer several hours away realized he’d ordered the wrong sizes of rings for his ceremony in Hawaii the following week. With no time to do a re-sizing by mail, and since he would be flying out of our city, we offered to make him two new rings and open our store at 4 a.m. Christmas Eve so he’d have time to make the exchange and catch his 6 a.m. flight. He e-mailed this: "We just wanted to take a few minutes and thank you…What could have been a disaster turned out to be the perfect vacation and the rings that we ordered from you were the perfect complement. THANKS AGAIN SO MUCH!!" – Nate McPherson



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