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Eileen McClelland

What I Learned From INSTORE’S America’s Coolest Stores This Year: 13 Ways to Be Cool in 2020

The most important lessons we learned from the country’s very best stores.



BE CHARITABLE. “We say we will give you as much money as you want if you’re representing the local chapter of the Cancer Society,” for example, says Rod Worley of Mucklow’s Jewelry in Peachtree City, GA. “All we ask is that you have people come into the store and sign the book.” The “book” is a list of names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers. “We donate based on how many people the charity sends in and we get everything we need to contact them in the future.” They’ve been able to reduce advertising costs while building their mailing list. They give away tens of thousands of dollars to 30 to 40 charities each year, boosting their community profile in the process and guaranteeing foot traffic.

BE COLLABORATIVE. “We all know the projects, what’s going on, and what’s coming up,” says Ronnie Malka, co-owner with her husband, David, of Malka Diamonds & Jewelry in Portland, OR. “It doesn’t feel compartmentalized.” That approach also creates opportunity for growth. Chloe, who works in the showroom, says Malka offers the friendliest atmosphere of anywhere she has worked, as well as enormous growth potential and pride in values. “It gives me satisfaction learning-wise and experience-wise, knowing what the jewelers have to do to have a certain outcome for whatever kind of piece we’re making,” she says.

BE DISCRIMINATING. Northeastern Fine Jewelry of Albany, NY, has an office in the Diamond District of New York. “We’ve never been one to just order stuff and ship it in,” says Vice President Gregg Kelly. “We like to look at things ourselves and have the first pick of diamonds. We’re picky when it comes to buying. And it gives us a nice edge to pick out what we want and pass those savings on to the consumer based on our buying ability,” says Kelly.

BE FLEXIBLE. Jamie Hollier at Balefire Goods in Colorado, offers customers loaner rings to use to pop the question, allowing the couple to have the element of surprise for that special moment while ensuring that everyone can take part in the design process for artisan and custom engagement rings.

BE GRATEFUL. Give thanks. Croghan’s Jewel Box in Charleston, SC, sent thank-you letters to more than 15,000 customers. “We wanted our letter to just say thank you … not ask for anything, not promote anything, just a good old-fashioned snail mail letter with sincere gratitude as its only purpose,” says owner Rhett Ramsay Outten. “We were BLOWN AWAY by the response. We received many thank-you notes for our thank-you note! We even sold a few pieces to people who were not customers but received the letter because they lived in a home that at one time was inhabited by one of our customers. We were even invited on a podcast to discuss the power of gratitude in business at a high-tech convention called DigSouth!”

BE HANDS ON. Viviana Langhoff at Adornment & Theory in Chicago, invites her custoemrs to monthly workshops where attendees learn hands-on techniques that help them create and appreciate the art of metalsmithing and other accessory-based techniques. She’s hosted workshops on ‘How to Make a Silver Ring’, ‘Shibori Dying: Make Your Own Scarf’, as well as ‘How to Read Diamonds’. These workshops have helped cultivate community and further the customer experience. Not to mention, everyone has a great time. “I love hearing the store filled with laughter,” Langhoff says.


BE HELPFUL. Reis-Nichols knows how to draw a crowd. “On a Saturday, we’ll do over 100 watch battery replacements and it’s all for charity,” says owner William P. “BJ” Nichols. “The feeling is it’s good having a busy store. We’ll have the large fashion retailers across the street refer their clients to our store for watch battery replacements and we tend to keep them as clients. And it lets the customers know we believe it’s important to give back, and they’re not just helping me buy my next luxury car.”

BE HOSPITABLE. At Bere´ Jewelers in Pensacola, FL, the bar boasts local craft beers on tap and eight large-screen LED TVs playing sports, fashion videos and brand information. They also offer wine, champagne and bourbon. The children’s play area is stocked with LED TV, toys, books, puzzles and original paintings of sea creatures. An 18-foot granite community table is the center for meetings, events and for customers to relax with a hot cup of coffee or cold beer. Owners Barry and Laura Cole offer their space to local charities for events and board meetings, too.

BE LITERATE. At Talisman Collection in California, owner Andrea Riso has discovered the power of the pen, er, blog. “We have over 120,000 customers and tens of thousands of social media followers,” Riso says. “It grows by an average 18 percent per quarter at minimum. Contrary to the industry standard, we do more with written word in outreach than with video or photography. We provide a narrative and a dialogue for which photos or videos are an afterthought. This makes the marketing extremely personalized and genuine. We’ve found that blog entries sell more jewelry and gems for us than signage, print ads and social media ads.”

BE MAGICAL. Hillary Randolph, owner of Wear Your Grace in Santa Fe, is focusing on gemstones and custom-creating talismans using labradorite and rose quartz. They’re marketed as being an essential element of everyday protection. “Being in Santa Fe with all of our ‘woo woo,’ people love it,” Randolph says. “This necklace you’ll put on in the morning with intention and walk out the door knowing you have your talisman, that you’re not not alone — you’re protected. The jewelry line that I am creating is the core things we need as women to feel safe, protected, guided, grounded, but it’s also an individual connection.”

BE PHILANTHROPIC. In 2014, to celebrate 100 years in business, New England’s Day’s Jewelers made the decision to raise $100,000 for Jewelers for Children. The campaign launched with voluntary participation from all Day’s 138 employees primarily through weekly payroll deduction. With generous contributions and a great deal of hard work from employees, customers and suppliers, the firm contributed $102,000 to JFC in January 2015.

BE PROACTIVE. Randy Mitchum, owner of Mitchum Jewelers in Ozark, MO, takes the initiative when it comes to hiring, keeping an eye out for stellar service in the community. “We do have a wonderful staff, a dream team, but it’s taken a long time to build that team,” he says. “I hear about someone or am referred to someone and I approach them, rather than just a random person coming in to apply. I try to think about how are they going to get along with everyone. We’re so busy all the time and there’s no time for personal drama.”


BE RESOURCEFUL. At Yaf Sparkle in Manhattan, owners Yaf Boye-Flaegel and Torsten Flaegel use an in-house photo studio every day for model and product shots. In fact, 99 percent of marketing is created in-house. Social media is important, but they also rely on phone calls and postcards to share news of an event, a promotion or a specific gemstone that could be of interest. “Our newsletter marketing resembles our in-store experience,” Torsten says. “We don’t take ourselves or our product too seriously. Our love for local is what ties us all together. This is where we met our customer, and this is where we will see her again.”

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