Connect with us
A Dream Turned Into Gold

A Dream Turned Into Gold

Impromptu decision to open a business builds a community of artists.

Published

on

Alchemy 925, Belmont, MA

URL: alchemy925.com; OWNERS: Munya Avigail Upin and Kirsten Ball; FOUNDED: 2012; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2012; AREA: 400 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 3; BUILDOUT COST: $40,000; TOP DESIGNERS: James Binnion, Ryan Gardner, Thea Izzi, Karen Jacobson, Karen Karon, Jera Lodge, Tom McGurrin, Judith Neugebauer, Bree Richey, Beverly Tadeu; ONLINE PRESENCE: 5 stars on Google and Yelp; e-commerce enabled website


 

ALTHOUGH OPENING a jewelry store involved a steep learning curve for Munya Avigail Upin and Kirsten Ball, they didn’t leave themselves much time to dwell on the coming challenges.

After moving to the Boston area from London, Ball studied metalsmithing with Upin, who has teaching experience that includes the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design at Boston University. Before relocating, Ball’s career had been in historical gilding and interior restoration for Britain’s National Trust.

A few years after they met, in a conversation over coffee, Ball, who had been selling her jewelry at local craft shows, asked Upin, who had become a mentor, for advice about where else she could sell her jewelry. Upin joked that they should open a gallery together. But that joke led to the impromptu decision to do just that. They signed a lease within two weeks and opened Alchemy 925 just four months later.

“It happened pretty quickly from a spark of an idea to rolling our sleeves up and opening the store,” Ball says. Adds Upin, “We jumped into the deep end, and it’s been a great six years. We’re having a marvelous time.”

Alchemy 925 is a contemporary jewelry and fine craft gallery that represents 50 artists and showcases the owners’ own work. Upin specializes in woven metal and Judaica crafted from metal. Ball creates contemporary silver jewelry with geometric lines. The Boston-area gallery offers handmade works including gold and silver studio jewelry, ceramics, wearables, sculpture and glass. Repurposing old gemstones, remodeling heirlooms, designing and creating custom jewelry all make up a large part of the business.

Advertisement

They also had the good fortune to find their ideal location — a 19th century Victorian house — that stands out from other buildings on the street and appealed to their design aesthetic. Both partners are big fans of mid-century design. Their interior space was blessed with natural oak floors, the perfect starting point for their vision. “We wanted something elegant, stylish and sophisticated,” Ball says. They designed all of the jewelry cases based on that aesthetic, with slender legs and simplicity, and to complement some display pieces they loved, including a mid-century modern credenza.

“We wanted to show off the jewelry and not have too much of an ornate interior,” Ball says.

While the operations side of retail presented a challenge, what came naturally to the pair was an inclination to help shoppers develop their own style. “We want to make people feel confident and gorgeous when finding the right jewelry for them,” Ball says.

“We don’t want to sell just to sell,” Upin says. “We want the pieces they select to really work for them and their style.”

Their guidance (and patience) extends to male shoppers who desperately need some direction.

“One male customer bought the same pair of earrings almost three times (for the same woman),” Ball says. “The first time, she loved them. The second time, she returned them and we did an exchange. When he came in the third time, and he went straight for them again, we had to diplomatically suggest that he look at a different designer’s earrings!”

Advertisement

Upin and her former student have definite goals when it comes to their business, many of them focused on education and experimentation. The partners encourage shoppers to step out of their comfort zone to see how different they can look and feel if they try something a little more edgy — they have pieces made out of rubber, painted steel, beetle wings and titanium.

“One of our goals is to educate people about the wonderful world of handmade objects,” Ball says. “To open their eyes to the fact that not everything has to be manufactured by the tens of thousands in a faraway land. Many of our artists are local or regional, and customers love to support that artists’ community.”

They also encourage creativity among artists by organizing design competitions. In February, they held the opening reception of their first design challenge, called “LOVE.” Seventy-five artists started with the same kit of materials with the goal to design and create a piece that focuses on love. Of those, 29 pieces were accepted into the exhibition. Customers were invited to purchase the one-of-a-kind pieces for themselves or for a Valentine’s Day gift. Award winners were announced at the opening reception.

Ball and Upin are members of Ethical Metalsmiths and are dedicated to raising awareness of responsible mining and sustainable economic development. They represent artists who are also members, and they try to educate their customers about consciously making decisions when buying jewelry, thinking about the stones’ origins and whether they are traceable and ethically sourced.

If coolness is judged by the number of hugs received from strangers turned new customers, the store is successful beyond measure, they believe.

PHOTO GALLERY (11 IMAGES)

Advertisement
 

5 Cool Things About Alchemy 925

1.FLEXIBLE SERVICE. The partners split the time the store is open and overlap their schedules in the middle of the day. Of course they’re never really off the clock. “We often stay late and meet with customers when we’re closed to accommodate their schedules,” Ball says. “We also make personal deliveries, even during blizzards.”

2.INSTANT IMPACT. The first year in business, the Boston Globe named the gallery “Best of the New.” Alchemy 925 has also been named one of the best jewelry stores in the Boston area and best gift store in Belmont by Boston-area publications.

3.WELCOMING TO ALL. A bowl of water is set up outside for dogs, who are welcome inside, too. The partners will happily entertain children so the parents are free to relax and shop. Because they’re in a small town and on the same block as many good restaurants, friends can meet in their gallery for an opening or trunk show and then go out to dinner.

4.ADD-ON PRODUCTS. They complement their jewelry with other handmade items, including scarves, candles, ceramics and hand-blown glass, although jewelry is always the main focus.

5.INDUSTRY CATALYSTS. In 2016, they sponsored a screening of SHARING THE ROUGH at the Harvard Natural History Museum. The film, by Orin Mazzoni, follows a rough gem from a mine in Africa to a stonecutter in Detroit and then onto a jeweler in California who creates a finished, wearable work of art. The free showing brought together members of Harvard’s Mineralogical and Geological Museum, makers of all kinds and the public. During the holiday season, they gave a copy of the film on Blu-Ray to special customers. In 2015, Alchemy 925 sponsored an international juried exhibition held in conjunction with the SNAG (Society of North American Goldsmiths) conference in Boston.

 

Try This: Give Your Business a Rebirth

Because they’re across the street from a craft beer store, Ball and Upin provide beer at their trunk shows and gallery openings.

 

Online Extra: Our Judges Say…

  • Alchemy 925 stands out from the competition in many ways. Here are some highlighted cool factors that I noted: amazing story of the opening collaboration, jewelry collections of individuality, the high importance of customer service, the ethical standard maintained and giving back to a good cause. It’s a cool store in my book! — Megan Whitmire, marketing manager, American Gem Trade Association
  • Alchemy 925 has a beautiful personality and refined style. It seems to fit well in its community and would draw shoppers in with its orderly yet comforting design. — Bernadette Mack, executive director, Women’s Jewelry Association
  • What I like the most about Alchemy 925 is their eclectic mix of jewelry, glass and ceramics and the way they display them together. I think they have succeeded in showing to their clients that they care about beautiful handmade objects. — Josette Patterson, creative director, Mark Patterson Jewelry
  • Knowledgeable owners with an international reputation, invested in promoting the artisan and bridging the divide between fine jewelry and contemporary metalsmithing. People who shop here can feel assured that the work is unique and thoughtfully crafted. Love the educational efforts of showing the film about the cycle of the gem and also practicing responsible sourcing of materials. — Thomas Mann, Thomas Mann I/O Gallery

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

Advertisement

SPONSORED VIDEO

Gene the Jeweler

Gene the Jeweler Gets Kicked Out of the Studio

In the latest episode (#42) of Gene the Jeweler, Gene is going about his business, recording a new episode. But that doesn’t last long. Four-time NFL Pro Bowl leading rusher Ahman Green walks in, and Gene finds that his time in the studio is over — whether he likes it or not. (See more Gene the Jeweler episodes at instoremag.com/gene.)

Promoted Headlines

America's Coolest Stores

These Were Our Editors’ Favorite Cool Store Characteristics

INSTORE editors picked these stores as their top choices for interior, exterior, marketing and online presence.

Published

on

WE’RE NOT QUITE ready to announce who won the 2019 America’s Coolest Stores contest. But to pique your interest before the big reveal, we’re sharing INSTORE editors’ top picks in four of the judging categories: Exterior, Interior, Marketing and Online Presence. Entries always contain a wealth of good ideas, and we want to start sharing those as soon as possible. Stay tuned for the announcement of winners, chosen by our panel of industry-expert judges, on instoremag.com in late July, and in our annual America’s Coolest Stores issue in August. As always, the competition was tough. Thank you for entering!

BIG COOL INTERIOR DESIGN

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: When shoppers step into the new Park Place Jewelers in West Ocean City, they say they feel transported to a land of luxury. The 4,100-square-foot store has vaulted 30-foot-high ceilings, curved glass showcases and walls accented in shimmering Anatolia Baroque glass tiles. Even the restrooms attract attention with gold-tone hand dryers and fixtures. Owners Todd and Jill Ferrante welcome customers with a 50-inch flat screen TV, coffee bar, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, and comfortable chairs for resting tired feet.

1. Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, MO
2. Classic Creations, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
3. Day’s Jewelers, Nashua, NH
4. Provident Jewelry, Jupiter, FL
5. Park Place Jewelers, Ocean City, MD (Pictured)

Advertisement

Big CoolEXTERIOR

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: Owners Sanjay and Sapna Singhania have pulled architectural inspiration from the White House, Las Vegas casino hotels and the temple of Vedic planetarium, under construction in India, to create Tanmai Jewelers, a palatial, 3,500 square-foot showplace in Irving, TX. The grand exterior is incredibly detailed; features include an eye-catching water fountain and the company’s logo inset into the corners of the building.

1. Day’s Jewelers, Nashua, NH
2. John Atencio, Lone Tree, CO
3. Tanmai, Irving, TX (Pictured)
4. H1912, Princeton, NJ
5. Provident Jewelry, Jupiter, FL

Big CoolMARKETING

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: In Bloomington, IN, John Carter, owner of Jack Lewis Jewelers, treats Facebook as if it were his own TV network, with regularly scheduled programming throughout the week that promotes elements of the business. “The other thing we do is highlight our staff in these features,” Carter says. “We are unique in the fact that we are not all about the owner. Our people are the key to what we do.” Video is an integral part of what drives business. Carter and his staff sing and lip-sync invented lyrics set to popular tunes with hilarious results. “If you’ve heard me sing, you know there’s no talent involved whatsoever,” Carter says. “When I started doing it, it was just me, but I’m blessed to have people who work for me who want to be part of the gag,” he says. “It’s nice to show we don’t take ourselves so seriously. It’s another way of bonding with our customer.”

1. Jack Lewis Jewelers, Bloomington, IN (Pictured)
2. Croghan’s Jewel Box, Charleston, SC
3. Day’s Jewelers, Nashua, NH
4. State St. Jewelers, Greensboro, NC
5. H1912, Princeton, NJ

Big CoolONLINE PRESENCE

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: Sisters Mariana Ramsay Hay and Rhett Ramsay Outten, owners of Croghan’s Jewel Box in Charleston, SC, have reason to celebrate their attractive new website, croghansjewelbox.com, which boasts 9,000 to 15,000 visits per month. Visitors are drawn to the site’s layered storytelling, including a blog with a behind-the-scenes vibe and an e-commerce section overflowing with treasures. The century-old family business also uses Facebook and Instagram to develop their online personality and engage customers directly. They’ve experimented with geofencing. During the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, which attracts more than 40,000 visitors, they drew a virtual fence around four luxury hotels and served ads to their visitors on sites including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Harper Bazaar and Vogue.com, which proved to be an inexpensive way to reach nearby visitors looking for something to do.

1. Croghan’s Jewel Box, Charleston, SC (Pictured)
2. Jack Lewis Jewelers, Bloomington, IN
3. Day’s Jewelers, Nashua, NH
4. Classic Creations, Toronto, Ontario
5. H1912, Princeton, NJ

Advertisement

Small CoolINTERIOR DESIGN

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: The lobby of the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort is home to a luxurious surprise: Chronus Gallery, owned by David Veitsman and Fred Sirota. Encased in glass, it looks like a giant greenhouse showcasing ever-changing conditions in the Sunshine State; rain creates a pattern on the glass, while sunset illuminates the space with a red glow. To maintain some control over the changing light, a sculptural light fixture provides consistency, and a film shields the glass ceiling panels. Gold leaf back-painted glass panels reinforce the luxurious look. Art Nouveau-style showcases and furniture feature chrome metal legs, a high gloss finish and smooth embossed leather that dress up the space.

1. Welling & Co. Jewelers, West Chester, OH
2. The Loupe by JB Hudson Jewelers, Minneapolis, MN
3. Chronus Gallery, Bal Harbour, FL (Pictured)
4. EAT Gallery, Maysville, KY
5. Balefire Goods, Arvada, CA

Small CoolMARKETING

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: Rather than spending money on traditional marketing, owner Jamie Hollier of Balefire Goods focuses on building relationships. Fostering relationships with magazines, local news outlets, and other publications has led to editorial use of Balefire jewelry as fashion features and gift guides. Being seen in the content of local media means more to her customers than seeing an ad, Hollier says. Donations of jewelry, space and time to non-profits, private groups and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce have helped to build the brand, too. In the look book for Balefire’s commitment line, called Kindle, models are real couples that represent a diversity of ages, sizes, and sexual orientation.

1. Yaf Sparkle, New York, NY
2. Brax Jewelers, Newport Beach, CA
3. EAT Gallery, Maysville, KY
4. Wanna Buy a Watch, West Hollywood, CA
5. Balefire Goods, Arveda, CO (Pictured)

Advertisement

Small CoolONLINE PRESENCE

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: At EAT Gallery in Maysville, KY, owned by Simon and Laurie Watt, the focus is on colored gemstones, which means jewelry tends to be bright and ideal for great photography. This helps the gallery stand out on Instagram and Google. Manager Katherine Cotterill has launched a video blog series, “Welccome to the Gallery,” which is featured both on the website and on YouTube. In each episode, Cotterill models jewelry so viewers can see how it looks on a person. It’s a great way to showcase their jewelry in a casual, conversational way online. They’re also using social media contests with great success.

1. Yaf Sparkle, New York, NY
2. EAT Gallery, Maysville, KY (Pictured)
3. Wanna Buy a Watch, West Hollywood, CA
4. Balefire Goods, Arvada, CO
5. Malka Diamonds & Jewelry, Portland, OR

Small CoolEXTERIOR

WHAT THE EDITORS SAY: Yaf Sparkle, owned by Yaf Boye-Flaegel and Torsten Flaegel, sparkles and shines on an iconic street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. If Broome Street looks familiar, you may have seen it in the movies; it went back in time for “The Knick” set in 1901 and again for “The Irishman” by Martin Scorsese, set in 1972. Owners Yaf Boye-Flaegel and Torsten Flaegel spread glitter across the sidewalk outside, making it impossible for party folks to overlook the store on a lively Saturday night.

1. Welling & Co. Jewelers, West Chester, OH
2. JC Jewelers, Jackson, WY
3. Balefire Goods, Arveda, CO
4. Yaf Sparkle, New York, NY (Pictured)
5. Amor Fine Jewelry, Brooklyn, NY

Continue Reading

America's Coolest Stores

Meet the Judges of The 2019 America’s Coolest Stores Contest

The panel includes experts in store design, merchandising and retail, as well as jewelry designers and retailers.

mm

Published

on

Small Cool Judges


Julie Ettinger owns YLANG YLANG in St. Louis, MO, first-place winner of America’s Coolest Stores in 2018. Julie opened her freestanding, destination store in 2014, after leaving the mall location that her parents had founded. The store’s style and decor evoke the South of France. julie@ylangylang.com

Julie Gotz, chief marketing officer for Freshly Digital, spends her days “listening to” market trends and directing market research efforts on behalf of her clients. Prior to joining Freshley Media, she worked in strategic business development and marketing at companies including CBS Television, Esquire Magazine (Hearst Publishing) and Glamour Magazine (Condé Nast Publishing). Gotz has worked with some of the most prestigious luxury brands in the world including Cartier, David Yurman, Patek Philippe, Tiffany & Co., LVMH, Saks Fifth Avenue and Mercedes Benz, to name a few. julie@freshleymedia.com

Barbara Ross-Innamorati, a devotee of jewelry history, architecture and fine art, began Evocateur as a hobby after years in corporate finance. The inspiration came when she was a student in London and saw an exhibition of the glistening, golden paintings of expressionist artist, Gustav Klimt. “Since that time I have been fascinated with gold leaf and the way it can transform even the most ordinary object into something extraordinary, even magical.” It was only natural for her to go on a mission to adapt 22k gold leaf and her love of art into jewelry design, perfecting a proprietary process unique to Evocateur. In the company’s Connecticut studio, Evocateur’s proprietary artwork and designs are gilded and burnished by hand and flecks of gold or silver leaf are added. barbara@evocateurstyle.com

Joel Hassler has been in the jewelry industry almost 20 years, spending most of it on the retail side. In 2016 he sold his interest in the store and started Von Hasle Jewelry Advisers, with a focus on appraisals and store training. Drawing on past experiences in the automotive, restaurant and hospitality industry; along with training from the Ritz Carlton Leadership Center and as an alumnus of the Disney Institute, his focus is on operational efficiency and creating a remarkable guest experience. joel@vonhasle.com

Hedda T. Schupak has been an editor, analyst and business leader in the fine jewelry industry for 33 years. Since 2010, she has been editor-in-chief of The Centurion, a weekly e-newsletter and webzine serving the industry’s luxury sector, bringing relevant business information to prestige-level jewelers and manufacturers. Prior to joining Centurion, Hedda was editor-in-chief of JCK magazine, and before that served as JCK’s fashion and luxury editor. Schupak sits on the board of the Diamond Empowerment Fund and is a member of the 24 Karat Club of the City of New York. For 20 years, she served on the national board of the Women’s Jewelry Association, and also sat on the executive committee of the New Leadership Division of the former jewelry industry chapter of NCCJ. Schupak has won more than two dozen awards for outstanding journalism, was named one of Pennsylvania’s Best 50 Women in Business in 2003, and was inducted into the Women’s Jewelry Association Hall of Fame in 2006. Hedda studied fashion design at Drexel University in Philadelphia and graduated in 1984 from Albright College, Reading, PA, with a BA in English and Communication Arts. heddaschupak@gmail.com

Eric Zuckerman grew up around the timepiece industry. After graduating from Alfred University in New York, Eric’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to launch a niche marketing agency before returning to his roots within the watch world in 2005 by partnering with Alain Borle, owner of Pac Team, USA. Over the next decade, the partners grew the group to the global organization it is today, with offices and manufacturing facilities across the globe. This year marks 70 years for Pac Team Group, which has established itself as an international leader in the design and manufacturing of displays, packaging, fixtures and retail environments. In 2017, Zuckerman launched PT NEXT, a division focused on the integration of custom-designed retail technology solutions for the luxury and accessories industries. ez@pacteamamerica.com


Big Cool Judges

Benjamin G. Guttery, SSEF, GIA GG, A.J.P., is an advocate for jewelry designers, a storyteller, and a self-proclaimed “gem nerd” from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He spent 13 years selling fine jewelry behind the counter of major and independently-owned jewelry stores in Texas before debuting his @ThirdCoastGems account on Instagram. To date, the account has amassed 111,000 followers—including some celebrities like Debra Messing and Kelis. In addition to sharing gorgeous snaps of jewels on the medium, he also teaches retailers how to master it for maximum sales. Reach him at thirdcoastgems@gmail.com

Elle Hill has amassed a golden rolodex and a stable of A-list clients served by her and her team of fine jewelry industry experts in the US, UK and Hong Kong during her 24 years in fine jewelry. In December 2015, she spearheaded the successful IPO on the Australian stock exchange of Plukka, an award-winning, designer jewelry, omni-channel retailer that she launched in 2011 in Hong Kong. In 2010, Hill helped overhaul the business model of the jewelry division of Dalumi Diamonds, the largest diamond cutter in Israel, which she helmed for four years, opening the US and Chinese markets and making them profitable for the first time since the jewelry division’s launch 10 years earlier. Hill is now based in the UK, the time zone perfectly suited to manage her team of fine jewelry consultants located in the USA, Europe and Asia. elle@hillandco.co

Surbhi PandyA is the cofounder and designer behind VIVAAN diamond jewelry. Having been born into the diamond business, she believes passionately in the healing power of diamonds. The spiritual aspect of life has always attracted Pandya, whose guiding principle is: “Every moment is beautiful.”  surbhi@vivaan.us

Bob Phibbs has over 30 years of experience in retail, and he has worked as a consultant, speaker and entrepreneur, helping businesses revolutionize their brand and grow their success. He is the author of The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business: A Step-by-Step Approach to Quickly Diagnose, Treat, and Cure. Clients of his consultancy, The Retail Doctor, have included Yamaha, Omega, and Vera Bradley. He also has experience working with startups, such as It’s a Grind Coffee, which he helped grow to over 125 franchised locations around the country. Over many years, Bob has helped thousands of businesses in every major industry to strengthen their business structure, close more sales, and stay ahead of the competition. bob@retaildoc.com

Michael Roman, AIA, founded C2 Design Group in 2009, combining functionality and award-winning design. Roman has over 20 years’ experience in the management, design and construction of a wide range of projects including planning, programming, adaptive reuse, renovation and new buildings. He has designed multi-family houses, mixed-use buildings, corporate and municipal offices, retail stores, medical facilities and worked with SUNY Schenectady. Michael serves on the Board of Directors for the Eastern Contractors Association. roman@c2-designgroup.com

Mark Tapper is president of Tapper’s Fine Jewelry, based in Southeastern Michigan where the family has three stores. His father, Howard, founded the family business in 1977 and Mark began working in the store around the age of 12. He took over leading the business in 2010 and is passionate about creating unique experiences in his own family stores. Tapper’s Jewelry is proud to have been named among America’s Coolest Stores in 1995 and 2018. matapper@tappers.com

Continue Reading

America's Coolest Stores

Century-Old Store Embraces Change With Futuristic Features

Lighting and high-level interior design enhance a dramatic renovation.

Published

on

Reis-Nichols Jewelers, Indianapolis, IN

OWNER: William P. “BJ” Nichols; URL:reisnichols.com ; FOUNDED: 1919; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION:1998; LAST RENOVATED: 2017; STORE DESIGNER: Jill Duzan LLC; EMPLOYEES: 76 in two locations; AREA: 2,100 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Rolex, Patek Philippe, David Yurman, Roberto Coin, JB Star, Forevermark


B.J. and Lori Nichols with daughter Hannah Nichols

A HUNDRED YEARS AFTER its founding, Reis-Nichols Jewelers is teeming with energy and optimism — from its mood lighting and comfortably elegant interior to the debut of Hannah Nichols, who represents the family’s next generation.

Highlights of the 12,000 square-foot space, expanded and reinvented in 2017, include sophisticated brand boutiques, cases designed for side-by-side selling, futuristic lighting and a glass-walled custom shop.

“The feeling when you walk in is a lot of energy,” says president William (B.J.) Nichols. “Our vendor reps say it’s the busiest store that they are in.”

Nichols sought to set a friendly tone for all of those visitors and welcome them in a natural manner, with a hospitality bar at the front of the store staffed with greeters. Refreshments are served there, and a video explains the history of the business.

History is reflected in the interior design itself. “We’ve used lots of the hip, dark-colored woods with white brick and some wrought iron and steel around the windows, so it feels a little bit more like a manufacturer, which is basically the origins of our company,” Nichols says.

Reis Jewelers was founded in 1919 as a manufacturing company that produced handmade, emblematic jewelry for Masonic organizations. In 1957, William Nichols began working for his uncle, the owner, and became an expert on jewelry manufacturing and wholesale distribution. When he bought the company, he renamed it Reis-Nichols. William later opened a public showroom and began selling to consumers. In the late ‘80s, William sold ownership of the company to his five children, including B.J.

Reis-Nichols’ latest retail incarnation does more than pay symbolic homage to its manufacturing past. In addition to a sprawling showroom and administrative offices, it also houses an authentic shop integrated into the space with steel and glass factory-style windows that reveal behind-the-scenes craftsmanship. If customers take a peek, they will notice a busy operation, with 10 jewelers and three watchmakers on staff. The watchmakers hold several Swiss-brand certifications. The versatile jewelry team has created everything from a 19 total carat weight yellow diamond ring to the official dog collar for Blue III, Butler University’s mascot.

Growing a strong in-house shop has helped Reis-Nichols thrive in a hot custom market, where smart jewelers are finding favorable margins and where consumers aren’t able to easily compare prices among competitors. It’s also very personal. “You can really make a connection with your client, and they’ll tell 100 people about what you did with a diamond they may have brought in,” Nichols says.

“It’s important for customers to know you have top brands. But brands are less important to engagement-ring buyers, and so we are designing most of the engagement rings we are selling.”

Jill Duzan Willey of Jill Duzan LLC, who is both an interior designer and a jewelry designer, was tasked with creating the overall customer experience, working with architects, lighting experts, engineers and builders to achieve that goal. “B.J. wanted it not to look like any other jewelry store,” she says.

By moving the main entrance to the south side of the building from the original north side location, the design team was able to create a modern new identity while adding space. All sides of the exterior were reimagined using up-to-date forms and materials.

A stately chest, left, deployed to display estate jewelry, is juxtaposed elsewhere with modern seating and cases.

Willey also fashioned a floor plan based on a multi-path pattern that allows shoppers to meander at will.

“It is not a typical one-path jewelry store. It is more of a boutique layout — each designer is identified, but all fit under the Reis-Nichols brand umbrella,” Nichols says.

The design team created a graceful traffic flow around the casework and used cases of different styles and sizes to add visual interest. Five curved showcases, usually set up in a semi-circle at the front, can be easily converted into a serpentine showcase for special events. “We tend to put what’s new and coolest up front, what we’re trying to show off,” Nichols says. The new space also includes several seating areas: from a comfortable waiting space and a semi-private diamond showroom to a luxurious watch lounge.

One challenge was to smoothly balance high-end branded boutiques with an overall casual ambience and make it cohesive, a feat accomplished with the informed choice of materials, lighting and layout. Nichols believes that a sense of brand identity offers clients something unique — the feeling of an escape to another place. Customers can be transported by that experience, as if they were visiting Rolex or Cartier in New York. On the other hand, if the design of branded boutiques is not integrated well into the overall design, the effect could be that of a duty-free shop at the airport.

PROMOTION: Advertising emphasizes the tradition of enduring craftsmanship.

“We tried to overcome threshold resistance while still presenting a luxurious experience,” Nichols says. “Our concept is to not be too intimidating for the younger clients, and not too casual for the higher-end luxury client.”

Layout, décor and technology are ambitious and look to the future. A steel structure, which was hoisted into the space with a forklift, creates a semi-private circular diamond showroom in the middle of the sales floor. A lucite table glows with light to enhance bridal sales or the delivery of an important watch.

A Ketra lighting-control system is connected by wi-fi to each light on the sales floor, shops and offices. The lighting in different areas can be customized to be cool or warm, based on whether it’s being used to illuminate watches, diamonds or colored stones. But the most exciting use for this system, Nichols believes, is to change the mood, scenery and feel of the store, especially during parties and trunk shows. During a Rolex event, the lights were a perfect shade of “Rolex Green,” while red lighting has been used for Valentine’s Day. In December, exterior accent lights glow green. Settings are programmed for morning set-up, daytime selling and overnight security, all activated with the click of a button on keypads placed around the store.

The company’s delicate balance between branded and unbranded, casual and elegant, past and future, modern and traditional, appears to have been achieved, with a big dash of wow factor.

PHOTO GALLERY (15 IMAGES)

{{gallery_holder}}

Five Cool Things About Reis-Nichols

1. A weighty wall. The stainless-steel wall behind the guest-services area was handmade by a local artisan, weighs 700 pounds and took half a dozen construction workers to install. The current installment contains permanent initials for father/founder William P. Nichols, who died in 2011, the names of B.J. Nichols and VP Cindy Nichols, and the initials of Megan, the graphic designer who designed the concept. Additionally, magnetic plaques recognize employee anniversaries of more than 10 years.

2. A brilliant idea. Reis-Nichols developed Brilliant, its own custom point-of-sale, inventory and client-management system. It was conceived by Nichols, brought to life by the company’s long-time CEO, and has been modified to fit ever-changing business needs, including real-time website inventory interface. “We can do entire store audits in less than two hours, and we’re able to make changes quickly and inexpensively to be more customer-centric,” Nichols says.

3. Finders keepers. For a Valentine’s Day promotion, Reis-Nichols staff hid clues throughout the city leading to treasure. “When they find it (the clue), they bring it in and we present them with a piece of jewelry and donate $100 to their favorite charity,” Nichols says.

4. E-commerce evolves. “We decided to get serious about e-commerce over five years ago,” Nichols says. “We tend to do very well with showing merchandise on the website and having customers come in and ask for it. For actually transacting e-commerce on the website and someone hitting the purchase button, that’s still a work in progress, but it’s growing.”

5. Hope for the future. B.J.’s daughter Hannah Nichols, graduated with a marketing degree from Indiana University five years ago, and is working as an assistant diamond buyer and bridal-jewelry consultant. “Customers like to see a family member,” says her dad. “And she’s developed a following from her days at Indiana University.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Jill Maurer: Reis-Nichols Jewelers is a beautiful blend of heritage and modern. Rather than resting on their impressive laurels they pushed boundaries with their redesign. I especially love the programmable lighting system!
  • David Lampert: Nice store. Seems like they do a good amount of digital marketing.
  • Laura Davis: What a cool experience. And their Instagram should be a best-in-class shout-out. I can see why they get national attention. Just a fantastic story. I want to know these people! 🙂
  • Larry Johnson: Beautiful choices of colors and textures make the interior combination of iconic brands seamless.
  • Katherine Bodoh: I love the interior and exterior. The lighting, whitewashed brick and modern cases add a cool vibe to a more “traditional” store layout. The Est. 1919 sign is a great way to inform customers of their heritage without being “stuffy”.

 

ONLINE EXTRA: Q&A with BJ Nichols

What kind of philanthropy do you participate in?

We love to give back and probably the biggest one is our watch battery donation. We ask our clients to donate to a charity. A big one we’ve sponsored is Second Helpings, which is the repurposing of food from restaurants and is a very large organization in Indianapolis. We do the yearly event, Corks and Forks, where restaurants donate their food. With the watch-battery program we’ve bought now two $20,000 delivery vehicles, with our name on the side of it in small print. When you have a purpose, each month we’ll do a charity and customers will get excited and sometimes write a check for a thousand dollars. We tend to donate to our better customers’ charities and juvenile diabetes and Indiana university cancer research

Are your customers expressing concern about responsible sourcing, or other ethical issues?

The majority rely on our reputation to be ethical but certain customers, younger, more informed customer today is more curious about that. We’re very good at explaining our processes, the Kimberley process and we carry Forevermark diamonds, which is a very important part of their positioning and marketing.

What has been your approach to lab-grown diamonds?

We do not market synthetic diamonds to the public. We will sell them by special request if it’s important to them to have that. But the main issue with lab grown diamonds is it’s a race to the bottom as far as pricing. We’re not comfortable selling someone a diamond that will continue to drop significantly in price. People buy jewelry from us to maintain its value over time. When I talk to my better clients, they’re all like `I want the real thing.’ If I’m promoting synthetic diamonds, it’s like speaking two different languages. It’s difficult to do both. And I want customers to have the confidence to know it’s all natural – rubies and sapphires and diamonds.

What have you learned about the latest generation of engagement-ring shoppers?

It’s very easy to be stereotypical and I don’t think you can generalize, but the bridal portion of our business has a more transactional approach than other parts of the business. But the majority want to buy in store and appreciate the experience and are buying based on their relationship with the sales person. So I see both sides of it. The average amount spent is down but we are selling higher end diamonds to younger and younger engagement ring buyers. There’s more variation between how people shop for engagement ring, and there is a trend that the latest generation is spending more on the experience and the wedding than they are on the diamond ring.

Have you noticed any engagement-ring trends?

Shoppers are looking for more curved shapes, ovals and cushions are strong. Less important are princess and Asscher cuts.

What’s the Most Important Lesson You’ve Learned as a Retailer?

After nearly 100 years in business, we’ve learned not to wait for customers to give you enough feedback to do something cool. Customers always want more. Lead, don’t follow. Be an innovator, don’t be ordinary. Start selling new and creative lines before anyone else. Make changes to the look of your store and develop out of the box ideas first. Be the jeweler (and sales professionals) that people want to spend time with, for fun! A word of caution: make sure to poll a couple of your good customers before implementing those changes. Just because it’s a great, out of the box idea doesn’t mean that your best customers will actually love it!

Continue Reading

Most Popular