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Throwing Open the Doors

A breezy, transparent approach to selling jewelry works for Andrea Riso’s second act.

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Talisman Collection Fine Jewelers , El Dorado Hills, CA

OWNER: Andrea Riso; URL:talismancollection.com; FOUNDED: 2008; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2013; EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time; 2 part-time; AREA: 3,700 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Asher, Yael Designs, Lisa Nik, Doves, Chris Ploof; ONLINE PRESENCE: 40,500 Instagram followers; 43,797 Facebook likes; 13 Google reviews with 4.4 Star rating; BUILDOUT COST: $551,000


ANDREA RISO REACHED for the stars, the sun and the sky when she designed Talisman Collection. The store was the culmination of a lifelong dream, and that dream did not include a humdrum ceiling, but rather a lofty art installation.

Fifty-two contractors passed up the chance to hang the artist-created 2-ton “Sky,”— a 200-square-foot, blown-glass platter tray — before she found one willing to take it on. It was a practical as well as pretty addition to her environment. ”It was important to replicate a blue sky over the diamond counter because taking a break every hour or so from studying diamonds to gaze at blue sky or green grass rests the eyes and the central nervous system and allows the viewer to see the details in diamonds,” she says.

Then there’s “The Sun,” a 1,500-pound, 8-by-8 foot blownglass fixture. At the center of the sun is a custom cast bronze metal orb with 122 numbered pieces. Each ray of glass is hollow and at least 4 feet long.

Museum-replica airplanes and hot-air balloons soar over the library lounge. The kids’ tech oasis is topped by a small-scale planetarium.

Vintage airplanes and hot hair balloons, left, and a blown-glass work of art, above, create aerial interest.

Nine to 10 months of the year, the massive glass doors in front and back are thrown open to create a cross breeze. A “river” path snakes through the center of the store from front to back, highlighting zones or interactive experiential areas that engage people of all ages, from the library lounge and tech oasis to the bar. “It’s a spacious and unusual environment for a fine jewelry store,” says Riso.

There’s even an indoor-outdoor floor. Riso tells the story of Rachel, a client, who rode her motorcycle from San Francisco in order to meet jewelry designer Alp Sagnak at a trunk show. “There were no parking spaces left outside, so I told Rachel to bring it in. The ‘river’ floor is made of garage flooring, printed underneath. So people ride their bikes and skateboards and scooters through the store every now and then, which I love.”

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Seventy percent of Talisman’s customers are men, often initially driven by curiosity and an open door. The layout was designed to have a ton of open space, lots of seating and no boundaries between personnel and customers. ”I think it’s appealing to men because they don’t feel caged in,” she says. “It’s a big space, bright and not all filled with showcases. One of our customers said, ‘This is the only jewelry store that I go into where I don’t feel like I’m walking in wearing my underwear.’”

Life Story Is As Layered As The Store Itself

As a child, Riso was obsessed with jewelry and gemstones. She had worked for jewelry stores and studied with the GIA. But after college, she pursued an unrelated corporate career, which eventually led to her working as a communications consultant for NASA’s Sustainability Base in Moffett Field, CA, which became the greenest building in the federal government after it debuted in 2011.

But Riso, determined to pursue her dream, quit her job with NASA, pulled together her life savings, an inheritance, and a seven-figure bank loan to fund the launch of the Talisman Collection, a jewelry store named for a street on which she once lived as a child.

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She had thought about opening a jewelry store all of her life, and when the time came, she had strong feelings about how it would work, as well as how it would look. Most important to her was transparency. She wanted her customers to understand the markup on jewelry she sold. “We are up front about the margin we are making on almost all of the finished jewelry and especially the loose diamonds and gems,” she says. ”Everything I do in this business model is anti-greed, anti-over-consumption and anti-triple keystone margins.”

Mine-to-market events, such as Opalpalooza, have been far more successful than trunk shows.

A full-service fine jeweler, Riso sells the jewelry of 70 different designers and designs her own custom jewelry. “I sell way more custom than I do finished goods,” she says. “Seventy percent of the custom we sell is by us and 30 percent by other brands and designers. I am in an upper-middle class residential suburban area, and I never thought people would want my designs. But most of these people have their family diamonds and they want to repurpose them.

“At first, we would do great in November through January, and then business would die,” she says. “And now we’re busy all year long, partly because we’re more established. We don’t have people coming in anymore and saying

‘What is this place?’ But that took eight years.”

The average visitor spends 39 minutes in the store. If they stay more than five minutes, they are more than likely to buy something. ”There are things that are $35 and $35,000,” Riso says. “We also have a fun and sparkly discount table.”

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Making Talisman a green business was a priority. The LEED-certified store (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) boasts LED lighting, recycled outdoor air and a low ecological footprint. Riso uses recycled metals and forms relationships with suppliers to determine their sourcing to the best of her ability. ”California is very strict with laws about building,” she says, “and even about light pollution,” the amount of artificial light that can be seen leaking outside. While Riso uses the lowest LED lights available, the store is bright with natural light. “To me, it wasn’t an option not to do the buildout this way. It would have been irresponsible, and it didn’t cost more.” The benefits are being a good corporate citizen, having good karma, protecting the earth and leaving a smaller footprint.”

She’s also deeply committed to her staff, whose compensation is not commission-based.

“There is no power struggle, no pushiness, and reward is based on overall performance of the entire store,” Riso says.

She also sponsors and pays for college and GIA classes for her staff and gives equity to staffers after two years.

“My staff knows they will inherit the store at the time of my death or retirement.”

PHOTO GALLERY (17 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Talisman Collection

1. NAME RECOGNITION. “Talisman is the name of a street that my family lived on for a bit when I was little,” Riso says. “It’s a word I sort of tucked away for later review. I always loved that word and I always was a jewelry fanatic.”

2. IN-HOUSE PRODIGY. “Our bench jeweler, Victoria Kozycz McIntosh, has been a bench jeweler for 25 years. She’s 30 years old. She’s been working a flex shaft and torch in her parents’ and brothers’ stores since she was 5.”

3. JUST SAY YES. “We don’t say ‘no.’ Ever,” Riso says. “We support every single school, charity and request for involvement, donation, and/or to use our space for events. We are known as a major supporter of every charitable endeavor presented to us.” Riso hosts town-hall events, charitable fundraisers, salon gatherings, cultural season kickoffs, etc. “Our extended community comes to us when they need a large space or major outreach, and we host groups and people of all ages and backgrounds.”

4. THE CUSTOM APPROACH. “We design and render original custom jewelry pieces for clientele in 48 hours. If clientele don’t like our designs, we offer the design services of 78 independent designer brands we sell.”

5. OPALPALOOZA. Major mine-to-market events, like Opalpalooza, celebrate colored gems. “We bring in both loose goods and wholesale vendors selling finished goods in the respective jewelry or stone category,” she says. “This has been way more successful than trunk shows.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Julie Ettinger: The interior space is not like any I have ever seen. I love that they offer services in every area of a traditional jewelry store, but yet the space is so non-traditional and open.
  • Joel Hassler: The “river” and “sky” are simply gorgeous. The open floor plan allowing for side-by-side selling creates a more welcoming feel.
  • Barbara Ross-Innamorati: : I love the open floor plan with so many different options for viewing the products. It looks like a treasure hunt to me! I also commend the community involvement and the total focus on the customer.
  • Hedda Schupak: This store has an impressively robust website and digital presence; they clearly “get” the online shopper. Objectively speaking, this is a super-creative, distinctive, and unusual space, and it definitely looks like it’s fun to shop, which can’t be said of a lot of jewelry stores.
  • Eric Zuckerman: Between the large glass doors opened the majority of the year, massive blown glass fixtures, the children’s planetarium and plenty of open space, they have made this store into more than just a place to purchase jewelry.

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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