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What I’ve Learned

Retailers, jewelry makers and even a consultant or two sound off on what they know about wedding jewelry

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We asked a sampling of notable jewelry retailers, designers, manufacturers and consultants to talk about the most important things they’ve learned about the art and science of making and selling engagement rings. Respondents shared everything from practical tips to the emotional high they get from participating in these momentous celebrations of love.

Women are the Drivers

Noam Carver, Noam Carver Designer

  • Women are in the driver’s seat. There was a time when a guy would surprise his bride with an engagement ring. Today, women are active in the process of choosing their ring, sharing images, shopping together and informing their close friends or family of the styles they favor. 
  • Biggest challenge? Getting stores out of their comfort zone, getting them to try new brands and introduce new collections. Retailers can get attached to lines that are not performing out of fear of losing that initial investment, but they are missing out on new collections that can bring revenue growth and new clientele. 
  • Dainty bands, solitaires and intricate setting styles are trending now; demand for halos is declining. Rose gold is very strong and we’re starting to see an uptick in yellow gold; white is still No. 1.
  • What I like about being in this business is: It’s a beautiful harmony of design, fashion, marketing and strategy. Keeps you on your toes and is continuously stimulating. Forging relationships with storeowners, sales staff and consumers brings meaning to all the hard work.

Millennials Get A Bad Rap

Marc Adwar, Brooklyn Jewelers

  • For our new bridal line, we’re trying to target millennials. We take a traditional style and add a little Brooklyn edginess. We built Brooklyn Jewelers in the heart of Williamsburg to be surrounded by millennials. They get a bad rap. They’re misunderstood.
  • I think everyone is wrong about the future of retail. I don’t think everyone is going to be sitting in their houses ordering from Amazon and taking Ubers everywhere. Stores need to change the experience, and if they’re willing to change the experience, they are going to do very well. Everyone has discounted the relationships these retailers have made with their communities over the years. But if those stores aren’t willing to change, then they are going to have a very hard time.
  • When I was a young kid and Dad used to send me on the road, customers would pick out dozens of different styles. And nowadays, stores have much less inventory and everything is more custom-based. Even if a retailer has 5,000 rings, people will want the 5,001st ring. We built our systems for us to be able to build the CAD designs and make alterations for the customer with anticipation that that was going to be happening in the future.
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Make a Personal Connection

Erica Tague, Michael & Sons, Reno, NV

  • I have learned to ask about her. What is she interested in, what does she do for work, how did they meet? Making a personal connection with the person shopping for the engagement ring makes it more than a sale to them. They feel that they have a friend and not just someone trying to sell them something. 
  • I have learned to talk less and listen more. This is difficult because I am Italian and I love to talk, but I have found that if you ask a question, pause and hear their response; then they feel that they are driving the bus.

Show Them Three Diamonds

Alan Perry, Perry’s Emporium, Wilmington, NC

  • Show the customers three loose diamonds and let them pick the one they like best. I learned the three-diamond approach from someone on Polygon many years ago. The nerdy type guys came in saying 54 percent table, 60 percent depth, VVS1, D color, etc. So now I order three diamonds with different colors and cuts and clarity within a certain price range and at least one with a little spread on the table and one triple-X cut and then put them out there, ask him which one is the table and depth you want? Which one is the clarity you want? He always picks wrong … and then I teach him it’s in the eye of the beloved one. Most times, he picks the diamond that’s a lower cut and clarity and a lower price. He usually buys the one I pick for him, because he thinks it’s the most brilliant one of the three!

Let Shoppers Dream the Dream

Jo Goralski, The Jewelry Mechanic, Oconomowoc, WI

  • I want the client to dream his or her best dream, then I want to know the budget. I learned early on that if I design based on budget, no one wins. A young couple came into the studio. She wanted a yellow emerald-cut diamond in a split shank covered with diamonds, and a wedding band for him, and he had a $1,500 budget. Knowing the look she was going for, I found a semi-mount with melee diamonds. I found a killer soft yellow emerald-cut sapphire, and my shop hand-forged him a wedding band. With the sales tax, it came in at just under $1,500. They have been married over 10 years and have three kids, and they have always remembered we treated their dream with respect.

Look Out for Relatives

Chuck Kuba, Iowa Diamond, West Des Moines, IA

  • Beware the groom’s mother! They are surely the spawn of Smaug! We are thinking of selling a gift item for the bride to give to the groom. They’re called “Cut the Cord” scissors. 
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Drug Straight to the Heart

Ryan Karp Jr., Cornerstone Jewelry, Palos Park, IL

  • Selling my first engagement ring was a complete joy. Every time still feels like that first time. You’re involved in an intimate experience. To make their dreams come true is better than having my own dreams come true. Like a drug straight to the heart, it keeps us running and always wanting more.

Re-Educate When Necessary

Pat Henneberry, The Jewelry Coach and VP of learning  and development for Hearts On Fire 

  • Many years ago, the consumer came in with no information. They would try their best to learn about the 4Cs. Now they come to us overeducated, and some of the education is not the best. You kind of have to backtrack and start at square one. I like to start by educating them on cut and how important that is.

Find Margin in Mountings

Terry Chandler, President and CEO of the Diamond Council of America

  • When the bridal sector crosses into the millennial sector, the jeweler must have the knowledge, equipment, and expertise to create a one-of-a-kind engagement ring. Millennials want “their” engagement ring, not “an” engagement ring. 3 Amidst all the conversation about shrinking margins on larger center diamonds, the jeweler has an opportunity to make up margin on more diamond-set bridal mountings.

Be Very Good at Getting Them to Talk

Shane Decker, Sales trainer

  • If they’re shopping together, you need to ask her a lot of questions about style, fashion, what she’s seen, what she liked, if she has a photo on her phone. Too many people get defensive when they bring in a lab report from Blue Nile or James Allen or something. Say, “I’m so glad you did some research!” If they bring that in, it means they haven’t bought it yet.
  • The Internet doesn’t deliver an experience. So give them an incredible experience, get them talking about their engagement, their lives. This is something that’s among the top 10 most incredible memories of a woman’s life.
  • So many salespeople don’t know how to close. You have to have the ability to romance the product. When you drive up the value of the ring they want, that closes the sale.
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Do Not Be Afraid of Silence

Aleah Arundale, Olympian Diamonds 

  • The problem with most salespeople is they don’t stop talking! Decisions are not made while you are talking, they are made when the customer is thinking. Do not be afraid of silence. Give him the chance to have an inner conversation on how he will pay for it or picture how much she will love it. If you interrupt this, you kill the sale.
  • As strange as it sounds, the price of the diamond does not matter. Shoppers may tell you they saw a cheaper diamond somewhere else, but the more likely truth is that they are not sure what they saw. Think about it. Do most customers really understand diamonds? 
  • You need more and better reasons to buy from you. I call this a value story. Your value story can be that you buy second hand diamonds, or that you have 40 years buying experience, or that you just got back from Antwerp. Even telling customers you have the best warranty can give them that feeling of value and reasons to buy. Not everyone is a price shopper, but everyone is a value shopper.
  • Tell them the price early on. Why? Because all they are thinking is “how much?” “that’s nice but how much?” “would she/he shut up and just tell me how much?” By saying the price early, it shows you are not ashamed or scared of the price. Everything you say afterwards adds value to it.

It’s Not a Refrigerator

Douglas Elliott, Designer and partner, Marisa Perry Atelier, Manhattan

  • Customers deserve the best no matter what they spend. Our average sale is around $30,000. This is not a refrigerator or a car. You can’t make a mistake with an engagement ring and you’ve got to make sure these people are treated with love.
  • I don’t believe in emails for customers. If you’re spending $35,000, I want them to get a phone call.
  • I’ve learned to give the women what they want. They like a thin and delicate ring. We have the world’s thinnest wedding band. This is what the New York woman, between 25 and 35, is wearing today.
  • If the diamond isn’t beautiful, we don’t sell it. We made over 725 pieces of jewelry by hand last year. Everything is bespoke and made in New York. I pick every diamond in the store. And we sell only gold and platinum men’s bands. If you want to wear wood on your finger for the rest of your life, that’s your business, but you won’t find it here. 

Find Out What Exactly They Want

Marisa Perry, Marisa Perry Atelier, Manhattan

  • Everyone shopping for an engagement ring is scared. Guys are scared because they’re spending a lot of money and making a huge emotional commitment. They want to get it right. Girls are like “Oh my God, I need a ring! I don’t know what I want!” It’s important to let them try on a lot of options and make sure it’s what they want. It should be really fun. It’s not a science project like a lot of men make it out to be.
  • You have to make the customer feel at ease while getting the job done. It’s half business and half fun. Nobody walks out of my store without knowing what they want. We’ve asked them enough questions that they know what they want. They’re grateful. They’re relieved. They figured it out.

Educated Staff Clears Up Confusion

Harvey Rovinsky, Bernie Robbins Jewelers, NJ and PA

  • Education is one of the most important roles of the jeweler — for most clients, this is one of their first significant jewelry purchases. At Bernie Robbins, we have 5 C’s of diamonds: cut, color, clarity, carat, and confusion. Our team is highly educated on our diamonds’ quality, style and process of being responsibly mined.3 The rise of social media allows brides to see pieces online of different styles that they would not have seen otherwise. It also allows our sales team to better understand a bride’s style by seeing photos of pieces she “likes” online. 
  • Customers are increasingly looking to buy from local family-owned businesses instead of major chains to get the personalized, artisan experience.
  • An online presence is even more important as customers investigate a company’s website and social media channels before ever coming to the store, and we want to make sure they have the BR experience online and offline.

Go Deeper Into Collections

Megan Thorne, Designer

  • When it comes to designing rings, I’ve learned to leave room for customization. Styles that work only with a certain shape or size stone make accommodating clients’ stones difficult.
  • The biggest change I’ve observed in what women want is that size is no longer the defining diamond characteristic. Women care about quality, history and the ethical implications of a stone. 
  • My best advice for retailers selling designer engagement rings is to give space to each artist. There are so many talented designers and thousands of gorgeous rings, and it must be tempting to get a little here and a little there so that you can represent more designers. But limiting your selection to fewer artists and going deeper into the collection with each of them allows your team to establish a relationship with the brand and engage more knowledgeably and thoroughly with your clients.

Wedding Jewelry is Recession Proof

Asaf Herskovitz, GN Diamond 

  • People are too negative about millennials. Eighty-eight percent of them believe in getting engaged with a traditional natural diamond. I’m seeing millennials spending more on diamonds than their parents did. There are fewer smaller diamonds and more classic jewelry being brought back, like solitaire settings. Millennials still want natural diamonds and the industry is starting to explain a little bit better why one diamond outshines another diamond. They’re looking for a different life experience. Just being on Main Street for 25 years is not going to cut it any more. Stores need to provide a wow factor and education. 

Love is Love

Rony Tennenbaum, Designer 

  • There were a number of reasons I began designing wedding and engagement rings for the LGBT community. A little over 10 years ago, six states had the laws on the books that allowed gay couples to marry. I woke up one day and said, “I have so many friends who ask me about engagement rings,” but when you Googled gay and lesbian rings, all you would get were rainbow rings and triangle rings, and none of my friends or I would want to wear those as our wedding rings. 
  • I’d get hundreds of emails all of the time from couples seeking advice. I started lecturing on the topic because there’s a different dynamic involved. All we knew was what the tradition is for a traditional couple. Do we both get engagement rings? Do we need to have matching rings? They were asking me these questions. So that’s how I started my series of talks for couples called, “The New Etiquette of the Rainbow.” 
  • I can’t say wedding jewelry is “normalized” in the LGBT community. I think if anything, it’s an individualized niche where a lot of people do different things. No one believes it has to be a certain way. 
  • When the political arena was very favorable, I stepped back from targeting the LGBT market because there’s nothing about my jewelry that says, this is gay, this is straight. There’s no such thing as a gay ring. In my store, 80 percent of my clientele were straight and looking for something unique. I lost a little bit of the fire for LGBT only. Now we’re kind of back to it.
  • It is important that this is an LGBT line, that I am a gay designer and that I stand for LGBT rights. That’s where I feel most comfortable. In the current political climate, we’re going back a step to gay, proud and shout it at the top of our lungs: love is love. Let’s show people that we are here.

One Customer at a Time

Julie Terwilliger, Wexford Jewelers, Cadillac, MI

  • 3 I had a gentleman purchase a modest wedding set from us, and then his fiancée began working with me to exchange it for something bigger. She was a nightmare, and after countless changes to a designer name that we carry, we perfected what she wanted. She explained that she would be paying the difference personally as she made more money than her significant other. I then finalized and updated the invoice to collect a deposit for the new project. Unfortunately, it was automatically sent to the original email on file, which was the gentleman, who apparently had no idea that she had been working with me. It blew up and she was very upset. She intended to table the upgrade for maybe a year until this blew over, but it has been over three years now. Wondering if they are even together still. Lesson learned: email the invoice to the one paying. Ugh!

Become An Invited Guest

James Doggett, Doggett Jewelry, Kingston, NH

  • Over the past 40 years, I have found that the bride-to-be who is the most realistic about what her fiancé can afford stays married the longest and becomes a great repeat client. Remember, for the 5th or 10th anniversaries, the husbands will be back for “something bigger” and all those dates in between, birthdays, holidays, push gifts, they remember how reasonable you were when they were younger and poorer. In 1980 after the silver market crashed, I was working in an urban jewelry store when an “average Joe” came in looking for an engagement ring between $750 and $1,000. Store policy at the time was that you guilt them into $2,000 if they said they had a budget of $1,000. Breaking store rules, I showed him rings in his price range and reminded him that sizing was extra. He bought a nice ring from the estate tray for $900 plus tax. It fit his fiancée perfectly. They followed me when I opened my own store and have been clients ever since. Last Christmas, he bought his bride a sapphire and diamond necklace almost 25 times the price of her engagement ring.
  • I’m not looking to rip anyone off. I’m on the third generation with some families I’ve been dealing with for years. If I treat them right, they will keep coming back. There’s a reason I no longer have to advertise.
  • I am often invited to weddings (learn to dance, guys, and dance with anyone who is sitting alone at a table), where I am often introduced by the bride shaking her left hand at people saying “This is Jim, he made my rings!” Husbands introduce me to their friends and suggest they come to me when they are ready to do “something good for a change.”

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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America's Coolest Stores

Transparency and Green Initiatives Make This California Jewelry Store Cool

An open, airy store design eases threshold resistance.

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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.”

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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.
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Best of The Best

This Jeweler Set Up Shop In Grand Central Station

Her travel-themed jewelry is a hit with tourists and locals alike.

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FAR-FLUNG ADVENTURES and an affinity for whimsy inspired Nicole Parker King’s creation of a line of jewelry with a travel theme.

She’s visited more than 50 countries, and like many a peripatetic traveler, is always searching for a treasure to remind her of a favorite destination.

“I was looking for something small, chic, collectible and wearable that would remind me of my most special memories on my travels,” she says. “You can sometimes find charms in different locations, but there was nothing that covered all of the places I’d been, so I had to create it.”

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She launched her wanderlust-inspired Jet Set Candy jewelry collection in 2014 featuring luggage-tag charms and charms depicting airplanes, mermaids, seashells, in silver, gold-plated and 14K gold. The jewelry was sold on her own website and in boutiques and gift shops across the U.S. The packaging is bright and plush. The whole collection is presented in a passport-style book with photos and pricing.

“We really did pretty awesomely from the get-go,” she says. But something was missing.

“I don’t think it’s possible to build a true brand just living online, digital only,” she says. “People need to experience the physicality of a space for a brand to exist and for people to care about it. We’ve done a lot of pop-ups in the past but hated the transient nature of only having the pop-ups.”

In July, she opened a 316-square-foot store in New York’s Grand Central Terminal, and for the first time was able to fine-tune visual merchandising to reflect the brand’s playfulness.

There’s a lot going on in the small space, including perfect Instagram opportunities: A 6-foot-tall hot pink Statue of Liberty, and a closet transformed into a travel shrine with a floor-to-ceiling, travel-inspired collage.

There’s a mint-green ceiling, travel quotes on the walls and a custom-designed backlit cash wrap highlighting a map of the world. The store also features an engraving machine on site for personalization. Consumers shop by continental regions, creating a unique flow to the experience. The overall theme of “The World” is juxtaposed with “New York City.”

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A central island is dedicated to all things New York as well as rings with travel-themed slogans and necklaces spelling out “wanderlust.”

“People have seemed delighted to stumble upon it, and long-time customers are excited we have a permanent home for the brand,” King says. “I think there is always going to be a place, especially for jewelry, to see the product up close and try it on. No place is better than Grand Central for our audience, which is a good mix of tourists and New Yorkers.”

Nicole Parker King

King, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, studied graphic design and has career experience in branding. She lived with her husband, a diplomat, in India, where she learned about jewelry from artisans. Her jewelry designs are heavy with graphics and she does all the technical drawings.

Although Jet Set Candy is her first foray into jewelry, she’s loved it all of her life. “I had my own charm bracelet when I was a kid, a sterling bracelet from James Avery.

“My favorite type of jewelry is whimsical quirky pieces that tell stories and have the smile factor.”

The long-term plan is to open additional stores in airports. But short-term, she’d like to try pop-ups to test target destinations including Los Angeles, London and Las Vegas.

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America's Coolest Stores

Missouri Jewelry Store Expansion Creates Wow Experience

Mitchum Jewelers takes interior design to the next level.

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Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, MO

OWNER: Randy Mitchum; URL:mitchumjewelers.com; FOUNDED: 1965; RENOVATED and EXPANDED: 2018;ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Jesse Balaity, Balaity Property Enhancement; Torgerson Partners Architect; Rex Winslow, general contractor; Larry Johnson Consulting; JMJ Showcases; EMPLOYEES: 12; AREA: 2,775 square foot showroom; 5,600 total; TOP BRANDS: Tacori, Shinola, Pandora, Armenta, Beny Sofer, Henri Daussi; ONLINE PRESENCE: 159 5-Star Google reviews; 9,501 Facebook likes; 1,322 Instagram followers; BUILDOUT COST: $1 million


Kristie and Randy Mitchum feel at home in their new modern store with its neutral palette.

BY ALL APPEARANCES, Mitchum Jewelers was functioning like a well-oiled machine when owner Randy Mitchum approached store designer Jesse Balaity about a major renovation and expansion. So Balaity says he was initially perplexed.

“Randy already had a well-designed freestanding building, a successful business model and impressive staff retention. He also had two young children and a third on the way. Why would he want to take on a full renovation and expansion?” Balaity wondered.

Once he arrived onsite, he says, he understood. “Mid-morning on a Tuesday, I walked into organized chaos. Randy had created such an engaging atmosphere filled with an exceedingly gracious staff that his 2,800 square-foot store was bursting with customers at a time of the week that many retailers spend dusting and watching the door. He simply needed more space to provide the level of service his loyal customers deserve.”

Mitchum says he gave Balaity a wish list. “We had a restricted area, so we had to maximize the space. Our store is very linear, but it has high ceilings and we capitalized on that.” Mitchum wanted more room on the sales floor, more storage, a vault, a private meeting room and more working areas for the staff.

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A request for more space turned into a doubling of the building footprint, split about equally between support areas and the showroom.
While the previous look had been traditional with laminated burl wood showcases, that particular showcase model had been discontinued, and opting to keep the existing showcases on only one side of the store would have been discordant.

“The existing showroom was attractive — filled with natural light, uncluttered, and tastefully finished — but it was not a ‘wow’ space,” Balaity says. “If we created a spectacular retail space in the addition, the existing showroom would feel unfinished. That meant convincing Randy to sell an entire store’s worth of showcases that were in perfect condition, modify the ceiling framing, and start over with a new lighting plan.”

Mitchum was on board once he saw the conceptual drawings. In addition to the overall “wow” look, choosing all recessed LED lighting was a game changer, Mitchum says. “When we turned on the lights and everything was LED, that rocked my world. If you worked in a store with fluorescent and halogen lights and all of a sudden it’s so much brighter, you can go into shock. The lighting in the ceiling matches all the lighting in the cases. People notice that.

Recessed LED lighting was a game changer for Randy Mitchum, who says the upgrade rocked his world.

They talk about how amazing the lighting is.”

Randy and his wife, Kristie, both favor a farmhouse-modern style of interior design that Randy would describe as bright, simple and neutral. “We wanted an accent color, so we used blue. We sell Tacori, so that was helpful.” There are also stainless steel accents and white brick material.

They wow customers right from the parking lot.

“The first thing customers notice is the huge illuminating diamond we have displayed on the building,” Randy says. “We chose to use Macheche, a Brazilian hardwood that is very rare and beautiful, which accents the brick colors to give a rich appeal.”

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Working with Balaity on the store design was easy, Mitchum says. “I’m probably the most organized person you’d ever meet and Jesse is, too. There wasn’t a lot of downtime. He visited three different times and scheduled the last trip on the day the showcases were being set up. He’s very confident in what he does and he’s pretty much always right. It was honestly pretty effortless.”

Randy’s father, John, retired in 2011 but still helps out as a watchmaker. “When we decided to expand again it was pretty cool that he decided to participate again,” Randy says. “He’s been excited to be a part of all that.”

John Mitchum graduated from Bradley University School of Watchmaking in 1961, and in 1965, he purchased Trantham Jewelry from Lloyd Trantham. A double-sided clock with the name Trantham Jewelry hung prominently on the Ozark Square near the store, which had first opened in 1947.

A little more than a year after he purchased the store, John changed the name to Mitchum Jewelry and asked Ron Bilyeu, a local sign painter, to change the name on the clock to Mitchum Jewelry, too. Over time, Mitchum’s grew and relocated within the Ozark area. When it came time to expand their freestanding location in 2018, Randy decided the original clock should be displayed. John Mitchum was able to restore the clock and the Mitchums tracked down Bilyeu, who repainted the words “Mitchum Jewelry” on the sign.

Watchmaker John Mitchum restored a clock that hung outside his first jewelry store to hang in the new one.

The original watchmaker’s bench that John Mitchum still uses has been circulated throughout the Ozark community since the beginning of the 20th century and was signed by previous watchmakers who used it to service and repair watches. Just like the clock, the bench remains at Mitchum Jewelers and will be a part of the community for years to come.

A turning point for the store’s business came in 2007, when John and Randy not only built their freestanding store, but also hired a marketing agency to help spread the good news about their moving sale and new building. One of their competitors had been advertising heavily on the radio, so Randy chose TV as the medium to dominate. “I wanted to step up the marketing game and start pushing bridal rings, and that was something my dad hadn’t done a lot of. But he gave me free rein, and it worked.”

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There was a learning curve, however. “I was so nervous for the first TV commercial, I had to bring an extra change of clothes,” Randy says. “I sweated through two shirts.”

Mitchum’s has tallied record sales since the renovation, from three-quarters of a million dollars in 2006 to $5 million in 2019.

Balaity says the expansion also accommodates all the positive energy he found at Mitchum’s the first time he visited.

“I recall thinking that this perfectly nice space failed to capture the exuberance of its owner and staff,” he says. “Now there is a parallel between the brand and its namesake. Both are bright and welcoming, grounded with a bit of sparkle, and an honor to the family legacy.”

PHOTO GALLERY (18 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Mitchum Jewelers

1. Familiar Faces. Mitchum has set itself apart with a hugely successful TV commercial campaign that features customer testimonials. “There are about a quarter million people in the area,” Mitchum says. “Familiar faces talking about their experience here has been a really big deal for us.” They’re also starting to produce informal Youtube ads. “In the community, a lot of people know and recognize others, so it’s been extremely beneficial to put our happy customers on camera telling their favorite Mitchum story.”

2. Pandora Partnership. Mitchum’s has forged a positive relationship with Pandora, and the collectible charms are still a big deal in their market. He has sales staff onboard who love Pandora, which keeps the excitement around new collections going.

3. Group Commission. “We do a group team commission, so if you are a shopper, you wouldn’t notice any pushy competitive atmosphere,” Mitchum says. “I reward all of our full-time people evenly on a monthly commission because without every single person working in the store, we wouldn’t be successful. You can’t sell a diamond ring without having a jeweler there to size it.”

4. The Jingle. Using the “Your Jeweler For Life” tagline in all advertising has created consistency in branding, as has a related jingle that customers love to sing whenever they happen to run into Randy. “I have people stop me all the time and sing our jingle, and it’s pretty neat to see how memorable the message and branding of our store has been. What’s really funny is I had had that jingle playing for five years or so before I met my wife, and when we were dating, she said I want to introduce you to my friend Julie. Julie said, ‘I’m the girl who sings your jingle.’ I had no connection to her originally, but I met her and she’s now a family friend.”

5. Fashion Show. Mitchum Jewelers partnered with 417 Magazine, the area’s largest publishing company, in a high-end fashion show. “We had models sporting Mitchum and Tacori jewelry in front of a captive audience of over 1,000 people. Our models dressed in all white accented with masquerade masks. We were able to put some items in the gift bags of all attendees and we inserted our store’s signature color green masks in the swag bags, so when our models hit the runway, all the audience was in support with their green masks on. Our social media blew up and we got tons of publicity.”

 

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Benjamin Guttery: The store has a larger-than-life presence to it from the street that is magnified once you enter the space. Each brand’s area is framed beautifully with different color materials and textures specific to its target audience. I love the touches of history placed throughout this modern store for a nod to the past. The vintage branded clock really pops!
  • Elle Hill: They combine history with the historic clock that has been in the community for half a century and modern flair with the Angie Crabtree diamond paintings that decorate their diamond consult room. This speaks to both new and loyal customers, excellent touches! Their use of video is smart and current. Add to that in-person events that can be leveraged as engaging social media content, and you have a winning combination.
  • Bob Phibbs: : That moving image of your diamond ring at the top of your website is perfect! Your masquerade masks were very creative and the exterior of your store leaves no doubt what you do and who you are.
  • Michael Roman:  Striking interior showroom and exterior facade. Clean modern interior space including casework!
  • Mark Tapper: I really like the new store design, it’s really well laid out and looks clean and beautiful. I also really like the company’s TV commercials, especially the Christmas ad featuring Santa Claus.

 

ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with Jesse Balaity

What did Randy Mitchum’s wish list for his store look like?

Randy approached the store design project like the rest of his business, with great contemplation and organization. He prepared a detailed wish list prior to our first conversation, and it largely focused on ideas that I typically preach to clients: focus on the experience; create new opportunities for customer engagement and pampering; optimize operational efficiency; focus on the Mitchum brand more than the individual brands within. We shared a perspective on modern jewelry retailing and formed a great team from the start.

Were there any challenges?

Every store has that one awkward space, an odd angle or a dead end that might not be the best for selling. For Mitchum’s this was a zone between the existing and new buildings where the rooflines necessitated a lower ceiling and the footprint left an odd gap. We turned the gap into a concierge station/extra POS and then enlarged an archive photo of Randy’s father in front of his first jewelry store as a full wall graphic behind the station. For the balance of this zone we partnered with Shinola to create a unique brand experience combining our custom showcases with their brand collateral. Now that potentially awkward space feels perfectly intentional and subtly showcases Shinola without taking away from the Mitchum brand.

What about Mitchum Jewelers is particularly distinctive from your perspective?

In my earliest renderings I proposed graphic wall treatments in some areas without any ideas on the actual source. Kristie Mitchum and I searched independently for materials and somehow, out of the limitless options, we both picked the same geometric blue wall covering from a small English company. We built the palette of materials and colors from that cool material, mixing in complimentary patterns like the bold “bee hive’ carpet.

I try to avoid seated bridal showcases when space allows. Seated customers block access for others, it is hard to focus on a presentation with many other options just beneath the glass, and the glass itself takes a beating. For Mitchum’s we provided a seated desk at the end of the bridal run along with a private consult office around the corner. This makes for a neater visual presentation and a more tailored jewelry presentation to customers.

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