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Go Your Own Way

Creative concepts drive the success of these mavericks

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In the mood to shake up your business? These seven retail risk-takers have gone out on a limb to create unique shopping experiences for clients. From (live!) scorpions in cases and taxidermy on the walls to completely private shopping experiences and virtual custom design, these entrepreneurs have tried all manner of experiments to thrive in today’s retail environment.

 

Integrating Clicks and Bricks

Green Lake Jewelry Works, Seattle and Bellevue, WA

Green Lake Jewelry Works’ entire business model represents a maverick approach. Owner Jim Tuttle has replaced traditional sales staff with artists who consult with clients to create custom engagement rings in store.

That design conversation sometimes begins and often continues online, where shoppers are invited to use a personal design page with a collection of notes, quotes, inspiration ideas and contact information for the designer with whom they worked. They can pick up where they left off the following week or even in the next year.

“None of our designers ever sits down and designs without our website open, so there’s a starting point for clients. We’re very much a bricks-and-clicks operation — they go together intimately,” Tuttle says.

To persuade website visitors to sign up for a design page, they incorporate live chat, reviews, engagement stories and a thorough explanation of the custom process into a digital presentation optimized for mobile display. The next step is to engage the customer through their design blog, staffed by artists. “It’s really that human element that turns these casual inquiries into gorgeous rings,” says Eric Robertson, creative director.

Both locations also employ full-time photographers to shoot finished goods, loose gems, wax models, sketches and stages of work, which can be shown to online and in-store clients.

Green Lake’s online-only business accounts for a third of the company’s total revenue. That category has grown 30 percent in volume over the past four years. Quick video sharing services like Vimeo and Instagram have enabled the Green Lake team to communicate ideas with a richer story than any static product shot could offer. “As a result, we’ve won numerous diamond sales from clients on the other side of the country just by showing the gems on an actual hand and in various lighting environments,” Robertson says.

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A Conversation Piece

GOGO Jewelry, New Orleans, LA

A mounted taxidermy bobcat with a squirrel in its mouth might be the first clue that GOGO Jewelry has its own sense of style. But it’s certainly not the last.

Gogo Borgerding’s store is decorated with paint-by-number masterpieces and tchotchkes of all descriptions, her interior design sense inspired by her grandmother’s passion for garage sales.

But the thing that really sets GOGO Jewelry apart is the fact that the business is built on the captivating nature of Borgerding’s signature jewelry pieces — colorful sterling silver and anodized aluminum cuffs distinctive enough to spark conversations in far-flung locales.

Her career was strongly shaped by her education. At the Savannah College of Art & Design, Gogo’s senior thesis explored conversational jewelry — jewelry that would spark a dialog between people. At the same time, she had created a bold cuff bracelet for herself using a technique she had learned to anodize aluminum.

The cuff immediately began selling itself when observers found it as powerful a motif as she did. “I couldn’t go anywhere without someone making a comment about it,” she says.

Her jewelry secured her a booth at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where she quickly sold out of everything. In 2006, she opened a store in New Orleans with festival earnings.

She makes her jewelry in the back of her quirky retail space on New Orleans’ popular Magazine Street. “I describe it as if you’re walking into my house,” she says. Art from floor to ceiling; toys everywhere, sense of humor prominently displayed.

“I’ve been to a lot of jewelry stores that are sterile and clean, and I can totally understand why people want to have an emphasis on the jewelry, but I wanted to create an atmosphere where you could feel the personality of the person who owns the business,” she says.

“Everything is for sale except my lamps and my taxidermy. The taxidermy adds character and the lamps are actually functional.” Her taxidermy collection started with a deer head given to her by her dad and grew from there, with contributions from friends. “You never know what’s going to walk through those doors,” she says. “People know it’ll have a good home.”

She mentors fledgling jewelry artists, especially those who use offbeat materials, like stainless steel, rubber, nylon, formica and even 3D printing. Each artist’s name is spelled out in Scrabble letters. Prices are displayed on dice. Average prices for artists she represents are $60 to $80, while the sweet spot for her cuffs is about $250.

Word of mouth is key, although her store is listed in a variety of travel books, such as the French language Fodor’s Guide to New Orleans.

Her only concession to marketing is funny and irreverent direct-mail postcards. “I use drag queens or theater friends of mine or something controversial,” she says. “I try to have fun with them and people put them on their refrigerators.”

By Invitation Only

Mayfair Privé, Syosset, NY

To move forward with their fourth-generation jewelry retail business, Lauren Kulchinsky Levison and her family closed their main store in August and reopened three miles away in September.

In the process, they fired customers. And began to cater exclusively to clients.

Gone is their traditional store, replaced by Mayfair Privé, an appointment-only enclave in a 4,000 square-foot former warehouse. New clients are welcome, but only by referral.

“We didn’t see the point of doing business behind a showcase anymore,” Kulchinsky Levison says. “It had to be a new location and a new concept. A client is someone who is not a price shopper, not someone who comes in every five years for a repair. Our die-hard, love-what-we-do, love-what-we’re-about client.”

Mayfair Privé is for them.

The Mayfair team offers private shopping in an upbeat environment. First sales, particularly of engagement rings, are too important to leave to chance and the vagaries of other customers’ moods. “If you sell someone an engagement ring, 99 percent of the time they are going to buy everything from you for the rest of their life,” Kulchinsky Levison says.

The new space has private salons, a piano, a full kitchen, great lighting and the ambience of a high-end spa lounge. At Mayfair Privé, the team will know how you take your coffee, if you drink coffee, or if you prefer champagne. The entire shopping experience is customizable for each client.

The majority of their business has been done by appointment for the past 10 years.

“Most of our clients wanted to shop with the store closed, without their neighbors seeing them shop. And most of my VIP clients came in on days we were closed, so we had to operate around their schedule.” This meant their old store was often closed to the public at odd hours, a source of consternation to their former landlord.

Mayfair Privé offers a tempting alternative to the choice of shopping online at home or venturing out into a potentially unpleasant retail environment. “The second an appointment is made, it’s like a sale,” she says. “People forget that privacy is a type of currency.”

It’s lifted everyone’s mood.

“I only want to be surrounded by happiness,” she says. “My father is 68, and for him, this has been his most incredible experience so far.”

Best of all, it’s working. They’re busier than ever, but now they can plan their days in advance, which makes the operation more efficient.

“Selling under glass is definitely in the past,” Kulchinsky Levison says. “You might as well be behind a computer screen and we know we don’t want that.”

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It’s Part of the Package

Honey Designs Jewelry, Cincinnati, OH

Chelsea Mead helps clients devise creative proposals as part of a package she offers, meeting with them in coffee shops or in her co-working office space.

“My client base is coming to me for that specific reason, a fully catered service,” Mead says. “It’s not for people who want to get the best deal and say, ‘See you later.’”

The package includes proposal coaching and photography along with the engagement ring. Photographers are “willing to sell their kidneys” to capture those proposals because they often lead to wedding work, she says.

About 75 percent of ring recipients are involved in the design process. “The girls are the lowest hanging fruit in my business,” Mead says. “If they are happy about the ring design, it’s like a guaranteed sale. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but it shouldn’t be a complete surprise at this point in your relationship.”

After a styling appointment with the couple, Mead talks privately about the budget with the groom. “Guys go from being stressed to hugging me when they leave.” She even sets up preliminary design workshops with groups of women expecting to be engaged soon.

Mead helps plan the proposal to make it personal and retain some element of surprise, whether it’s simple or over-the-top. She recommends a lunchtime weekday proposal because it’s unexpected. Flowers are always a part of it. One creative proposal involved a scavenger hunt on the riverfront. “We coach them to avoid cliché situations or places,” she says.

 

The World’s Most Dangerous Jeweler

South Lyon Custom Jewelry and Watch Repair, South Lyon, MI

The best $30 Scott Ward ever spent on advertising was the first time he incorporated live scorpions into his jewelry display cases.

“I did that as a display idea when I first opened,” he says. “I had lost my job and couldn’t find work as a full-time bench jeweler, so I started doing trade work. I opened a little shop. When I got my first showcase, I did a Southwestern display, filled it with sand, went to a pet shop and I remember seeing these huge black scorpions in there.”

The finished display cases looked like a desert tableau. It led to a lot of publicity, including a call from Good Morning America. It also made the store an attraction of sorts. He started calling himself the world’s most dangerous jeweler.

He also has a honey bear named Lucy living in the store, which has a bit of a rainforest theme. Honey bears, also known as kindajous, are rainforest mammals with a lifespan of 23 years in captivity. Ward and his staff are dedicated to keeping her comfortable and well cared for. “Everyone is used to Lucy; they bring her marshmallows and stop by to see her.”

Quirky attractions — along with a focus on custom work — have helped Ward make a name for himself in a small town dominated by big box players and mall stores. Now his son has joined him in the business.

And, yes, he does bring back the scorpions from time to time. With a diet of crickets, they can live for several months.

Employees are trained to hold the scorpions to avoid being stung or pinched. “Stay alert, stay alive; that’s our store motto,” he says.

Custom Confidential

Mint DIAMONDS, HOUston, TX

Jewelry designer Nick Miller specializes in custom engagement rings for guys without much of a clue. Often, all they do know is that they want an awesome ring that won’t blow their budget — and they’d rather shop online.

Miller narrows down what they want with a questionnaire followed by as much handholding as they’d like through the design and manufacture process, usually by phone or Skype. Although he has a showroom in Houston, 90 percent of customers don’t visit, and only about 20 percent are local.

“Usually, they’ll find us through a referral, or social media or marketing,” he says. “I point them in the direction of the questionnaire with basic information, like ‘What shape?’ ‘What budget?’ and a few other questions, and I design the ring for free and show them digital renders usually within three days.”

Then he sends the digital rendering of the ring as well as a quote and a GIA certificate for a diamond he thinks would be a good fit. “Usually,” he says, “they like the first one I design, and about four weeks later, we are delivering the ring.”

Most customers are spending $5,000 to $6,000 and choosing a 1- to 1.2-carat center stone. The rings are made in Houston by a small group of craftsmen. “We’re bringing the best value and design to our customers without the huge overhead,” he says. Average production is five to six rings per week and Miller wants to keep growth manageable. Mint offers a 30-day, no questions-asked refund policy.

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It’s All Under One Roof

The Smithery, Columbus, OH

For years, Columbus jewelry artists Anne Holman and Jen Townsend found themselves wearing too many hats.

Holman had been selling her own jewelry at art festivals for years before opening a store became even a thought. “I was teaching and traveling and doing art shows and changing hats every day,” she says, while Townsend dreamed about giving up her day job in retail management to work full time in jewelry.

When Holman and Townsend, both graduates of the Columbus College of Art and Design, began sharing a studio, they talked about the concept of teaching workshops, selling and making jewelry all under one roof.

After creating a business plan and securing a modest loan, they opened the Smithery in 2014, the only jewelry store in the area that contains workshop space for the public, exhibition space and studios for themselves. Finally, they could hang up those figurative hats in one spot.

While Columbus has a vibrant art community, metalsmithing and art jewelry venues have been few. “We were anxious to bring the field we love to a greater presence in our city,” Townsend says.

Holman and Townsend each have their own line of jewelry and collaborate on a collection as well. They also represent 95 other artists. They’re rearranging the space to allow for temporary exhibitions of edgier, avant-garde collections.

They engage in social media, offer an e-commerce website and enjoy pedestrian traffic. Most important, perhaps, they encourage an interactive experience with their clients, including beginner friendly, project-based workshops that provide all of the tools and materials needed. “They’re often amazed they can make something and have so much pride that they made it with their own hands,” Townsend says. “People now see us as a place to go to experience a fun event with friends and family.”

Children’s workshops have included a make-and-take metal-stamping class for all ages. “A 5-year-old made a bunch of pieces for the whole family,” Townsend says. “You never know when you’re going to make a big impact on someone, a young budding artist who has a first experience working with metal at The Smithery.”

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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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.”

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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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Jewelry Stores Make First Impressions Memorable

Retailers employ doors, signs, seating and clocks to make entryways unforgettable.

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ENTRYWAYS, FACADES, SIGNS, seating and architectural touches go a long way to extending an invitation to the shopper. What do your potential customers see when they approach your business?

Window on the World

Jewelry designer John Atencio’s latest location, the Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree, CO, breaks out of the mall mold with an all-glass facade. Oversize panes of tempered glass wrap from floor to ceiling across the entire storefront. Because the mall itself is flooded with natural light, the Colorado sun illuminates the store as well. Inside, at the front glass, six tall light boxes have rotating dividers that create 12 jewelry showcases, half facing inside and half facing outside, which can be rotated throughout the day. Outside, they also installed two large liquid billboards using high definition TVs that rotate, allowing them to feature new designs or promotional events. The exterior backlit John Atencio sign centers and frames the glass facade. Using LED technology, they were able to intensify the brightness of the sign, making it 10 times brighter than previous signs they’ve had.

Montana Modern

At Stephen Isley Jewelry in Whitefish, MT, owners Stephen Isley and Cindy Just say that if they had a dollar for every time someone walked into the shop and said, “I love your door!” they wouldn’t have to sell jewelry anymore. The Montana-made custom piece — an arched, wooden door with a curved window and stone entryway — attracts a stream of people asking, “Can I take a photo of your door?” It meshes with the interior ambience, too. Moody gray walls and a treasure trove of jewelry, local art and antiquities, offer a relaxed Montana feel with a modern edge.

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It’s All in the Details

At Northeastern Fine Jewelry in Albany, NY, a glass facade offers a transparency that puts shoppers at ease. The window reveals the character of the store within, says architect Michael Roman of C2 Design Group. Roman and Gregg Kelly, vice president of Northeastern, created a casual patio setting in front that offers a decompression zone between parking lot and shopping experience. “I always kept the consumer in mind,” Kelly says. “Even things like how they experience walking through the parking lot, the pitch of the sidewalk, and the feel they get when they step out of their car. We researched how to get the right thing — from handicapped signs that weren’t run of the mill, to the garbage can, to the outside rugs, to the extension of the awning over the front door to give them enough space for their umbrella.”

A Neighborhood Landmark

At Wanna Buy A Watch in West Hollywood, CA, owner Kenneth Jacobs revels in the quirky, which begins out front with three memorable features. No. 1, there’s the name on the sign. No. 2, they adopted the RCA dog Nipper as their mascot when Jacobs purchased a 36-inch tall version. Placed outside to announce the store was open, Nipper became both watch dog and logo. Nipper was promoted to spokesmodel and featured in a series of amusing vinyl banners they rotate seasonally in front of their store. No. 3, a vintage, double-faced Gruen neon clock has graced Jacobs’ storefronts for more than 25 years, announcing the time to westbound and eastbound pedestrian and vehicular traffic. “No one has to remember our address; they just look for our clock,” Jacobs says.

ONLINE EXTRA

Heralding a Hangout

When Gary Spivak and his son, Josh Spivak, became partners and conceived their store At Spivak Jewelers in Cherry Hill, NJ, their goal was to make everyone comfortable. Why not start outside, they thought, and outfitted their front patio area with comfortable furniture. “We built our whole store to be like a lounge, like you’re walking into someone’s home, a place where people can hang out,” says Josh. “People love it. Our clients often bring their friends to experience Spivak jewelers.”

Florida Finesse

At the Village Jeweler of Gainesville, owned by Cynthia and Mike Thibault, multiple natural elements are incorporated into the bright and inviting entry way and exterior. Stacked stone with travertine tile accents, a 24K gold leaf sign and a brass inlay in the vestibule combine for a high-end custom look while evoking the feeling of a courtyard or piazza.

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Pedestrian Pull

Large prominent windows filled with tempting displays, sandwich board signage, and a popular coffee shop conveniently next door all combine to draw constant attention from passersby to this jewelry boutique in the historic Hamilton Building in downtown Portland, OR, owned by David and Ronnie Malka. “We are next door to the best coffee shop in town, Barista coffee, which we love to treat our customers to some fine coffee while pursuing fine jewelry,” Ronnie says.

Coastal Casual

If you’re on a dreamy island like Sanibel Island, FL, it’s natural to have a tropical-paradise ambience, right from the beginning. Owners Dan Schuyler and Karen Bell have outfitted their entryway with pastel-hued Adirondack chairs and plenty of tropical foliage. Of course, there is also a palm tree. There’s definitely a “welcome to our tropical home” vibe at the store, which also boasts a Sea Life Collection of jewelry.

Adopting a Sign

Longtime Maysville, KY, residents know that EAT Gallery (Exquisite Art Treasures) was long the home of the town’s Morgan’s Diner. EAT Gallery owners Simon and Laurie Watt kept the memorable neon EAT sign that has hung on the building for 60 years. It was refurbished to help preserve the history of downtown and was the inspiration for the gallery’s name. And yes, every once in a while a newcomer WILL stop by looking for lunch.

Attention to Detail

Park City Jewelers owners Ken Whipple, his son Cole Whipple and Cole’s wife, Shauna Whipple, own their own building on Main Street in Park City, UT. The entire exterior has a timeless, custom, hand-crafted look to it along with a sense of permanence. Once over the threshold, visitors are greeted by a 10-foot arch formed by a pair of amethyst geodes. The exterior speaks to the quality of the jewelry itself and the lifetime guarantee behind it.

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All In The Family

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At INSTORE, we often refer to family-owned jewelry stores as being the heart of the independent retail jewelry business. So, for our December issue, we’ve collected photos of some of the faces behind those family businesses. Whether they represent second- or fifth-generation jewelry families, they’ve learned something about how to navigate these close relationships and achieve a balance between their personal and work lives that transcend time and generational differences.

Brothers Gale and Flint Carpenter, from left, and Gale’s son, Chance.

An Unexpected Succession
Big Island Jewelers, Hawaii | Founded: 1983

When Chance Carpenter, already an entrepreneur in his own right, told his dad, Gale Carpenter, that he wanted to join the family jewelry business, Gale said it blew his mind. “He had never spoken to me about any interest in the business whatsoever,” Gale says. “I would have started grooming him much earlier.” Gale founded the business with his brother Flint, a goldsmith. When Chance joined the business in his mid-20s, he apprenticed with Flint, and when Flint wanted to retire at age 70, Gale bought him out through a stock-reduction plan. “Chance learned from a master working a foot away,” Gale says. “It was invaluable. Because you can’t learn 35 years of technique in a classroom. It just doesn’t work.” In another four to five years, Gale says, Chance will take over and begin buying his father out of the business.

1. Heather Wahl with her parents Bob and Barba Wahl. 2. Four generations, circa 1945. From left: F.X Wahl, F.C. (Frederick Charles) Wahl with baby R.C. (Robert Charles) Wahl, and F.F. Wahl. 3. A 1989 photo in front of the store’s original location 4. Barba in a 1970s era newspaper ad for the store.

125 years, five generations
R.C. Wahl Jewelers, Des Plaines, IL | Founded: 1894

“I am so proud of my family’s longevity in the jewelry industry!” says fifth-generation family member Heather Wahl, who is the first woman to own the business. “This year we are celebrating one family, five generations, 125 years!” Her parents, Bob and Barba Wahl, met at an Illinois Jewelers Association event in Springfield, IL, in the late ‘60s. “Mom worked at another jewelry store in Illinois and they were seated at the dinner together and the rest is history,” Heather says. Heather’s parents are retired from day-to-day operations but make special guest appearances and step in to help as needed. “They are fabulous sounding boards and have a wealth of background and knowledge to share,” she says.

Harold, Cathy & Hunter

A QUALITY TRADITION
Tivol, Kansas City | Founded: 1910

Charlie & Mollie Tivol

Immigrant Charles Tivol opened a jewelry shop in downtown Kansas City in 1910, meticulously crafting each piece of jewelry by hand and launching a family tradition that would continue through generations. His son Harold began working in the store as a boy, studied at the GIA and joined Tivol in 1946. In 2003, Tivol was recognized by the American Gem Society as top retail jeweler of the year. Harold’s daughter Cathy, representing the third generation, has worked in the family business for three decades. In 2010, Tivol celebrated a century in business, and a year later, Cathy’s son, Hunter Tivol McGrath, joined the company as a salesperson at the Hawthorne Plaza location, making him the fourth generation of the Tivol family to work for the company. Harold Tivol remained chairman until his death at the age of 92 on July 6, 2016.

A STRONG WORK ETHIC
Josephs Jewelers, Des Moines, IA | Founded: 1871

Toby Joseph, Trisha Joseph, Jake Joseph and Deb Joseph.

Jake and Trisha Joseph represent the fifth generation of the company founded by watchmaker Solomon Joseph in 1871 as a repair shop that also was officially in charge of timing the trains for the railroad. By the turn of the century, Josephs had expanded into fine jewelry and giftware. In 1934, Josephs was a founding member and investor in the American Gem Society. They attribute their success to respect, teamwork and a strong work ethic. “The Joseph family has always lived a modest life,” Deb Joseph says. “No one has ever had a second home or taken any more vacation than what their employees have. Toby is almost always the first one here in the morning and Jake, Trisha and I are usually in the group that is the last to leave the store.”

FAMILY COMES FIRST
Tapper’s, Troy, MI / Founded: 1977

Founder Howard Tapper is the company’s CEO, brother Steven is vice-president, son Mark is president, daughter Marla Tapper Young is a director and Mark’s wife Leora is heavily involved in the store’s merchandising and runs its estate department. Mark ascribes the company’s success in part to the tight family bond they all share. “We hired a family business consultant who asked each of us individually, ‘There’s no wrong answer, but is it family first or business first?’ And each of us answered ‘family first.’ We don’t always agree, but once a final decision is made, we all get on the bus and start driving in one direction.”

Founder William Croghan’s granddaughters and great-granddaughters form the current management team.

LAUGHTER IS A CURE-ALL
Croghan’s Jewel Box, Charleston, SC | Founded: 1907

Mini and Kathleen Hay; Rhett Ramsay Outten, Mariana Ramsay Hay and their mother Mary Croghan Ramsay.

Founder William Croghan’s granddaughters and great-granddaughters watch over the store that William opened around 1930 at 308 King Street. By 2000, granddaughters Mariana Ramsay Hay and Rhett Ramsay Outten, the third generation, began to knock out walls and expand the jewelry business in that original building. They’ve since been joined by fourth-generation Mini Hay and Kathleen Hay. Says Rhett: “Too many retail jewelers hang onto the image or idea of who they’ve been in the past. Our survival has been based on ‘Let’s try it; let’s see what happens.’ We also believe that laughter is a cure for just about anything, so we laugh a lot. And probably most importantly, we are always counting our blessings and looking for ways to give back in a meaningful way to this community that has given us so much.”

Robert and Jonathan McCoy

Old Place, New Course
Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, MO | Founded: 1965

Jonathan and Jennifer McCoy, left, with Robert McCoy and Samantha Smith, head of operations.

“When I was growing up, it was more like a routine,” says Randy Mitchum of the family store. “My dad, a watchmaker, went to work during the day, then he came home and we ate dinner and watched Wheel of Fortune.” Although he’d been assigned chores in the store, he never really thought of it as his life’s work. Randy graduated high school in 2000, but after a year in technical college, he lacked direction. “I asked my Dad, ‘Why don’t you let me work in the store part time?’ At first he told me, ‘No, I don’t think we’d get along very well.’ Then he needed someone after my first year in college and I started working in the store. The next semester came along and I wanted to work full time in the business.” Although he was trained on the bench, his dad told him, “You’re a hell of a better salesperson than you are a bench person. Why don’t you stay on the sales floor and make some money?” Randy never did go back to college. “Once I got into the store and started working, I saw some potential and started taking some ownership,” he says.

John Mitchum (right), shown with his son, Randy, purchased Trantham Jewelry in 1965. It came with a prominent, double-sided clock on the town square that now has a new name and a place of honor in their current location.

JEWELERS IN RESIDENCE
McCoy Jewelers, Dubuque, IA | Founded: 1973

The McCoys not only work together but also live above their business. Founder Robert McCoy, a master gemologist, jeweler and designer, lives on the third floor, and his son Jonathan and daughter-in-law Jennifer live on the second floor. Although semi-retired, Robert still works a couple of days a week on design and repairs. Jonathan is the head of bench operations, custom design, CAD/CAM and repairs; Jennifer oversees bridal and sales. “It’s hard to play hooky,” Jonathan admits. “My wife and I converse about the shop almost daily. Once you get in that mindset, it’s difficult to get out of it.”

Julia, Jeff and Daniel White

REBEL, REBEL
Jeff White Custom Jewelry, Las Vegas | Founded: 1995

When Jeff White opened Jeff White Custom Jewelry with 300 square feet in an office building, he received a stipulation from his wife, Michelle White. “My mom’s one condition was that he not be allowed to hire any of the kids,” says their son, Daniel White. Michelle came from a family business and knew the stresses associated with that kind of operation. Despite that warning, Daniel and his sister Julia both landed in the business (“I guess there are worse ways to rebel,” Daniel says). “My dad has cut back from his 60-80 hour work weeks — he has given me the ability to run and manage operations in the event he does decide to take off for a while. My sister, Julia, keeps our books clean and our staff happy. She is pregnant with her fourth child right now, but insists on coming in one day a week to manage the books and schedule, and when the holidays come around, she is our top salesperson. My brother, Joseph, got out of the business and became a hospital administrator; he still has an opinion on the direction of the business, but none of us listen. I have an older sister and a younger sister who are also not in the business, but they love jewelry and my dad loves giving it to them, so no one is complaining.” In total there are 11 grandchildren in the third generation.

Michael Kanoff and his father, Lenny Kanoff, became partners in 1996.

LIVING THE DREAM
Michael’s Jewelers, Yardley and Fairless Hills, PA | Founded: 1976

Michael’s Jewelers was founded by Lenny and Karen Kanoff in 1976, but the family’s jewelry roots run deeper than that. In 1918, Daniel Kanoff, a watchmaker and silversmith, emigrated from Russia to the U.S. and got a job working for a watch repair house in Philadelphia. A decade later, he opened his own business, Philadelphia Case & Repair. Daniel’s son Irving became a watchmaker, and his grandson Lenny became a retailer. Their son, Michael, fell in love with the business. “I knew I wanted to be in the jewelry business since I was 2 years old,” Michael says. After he earned his GG from the GIA, he worked at a variety of jobs in the industry. “In 1996, I was working as a jewelry rep in Atlanta, and I got a call from my father,” Michael recalls. “He said they were building a shopping center in Yardley and asked if I would like to partner with him and open a store in my hometown. So in 1997, we closed our Richboro store and we opened Michael’s Jewelers Yardley.” Michael says he is living his dream by owning a jewelry store and raising his three children, ages 9 to 13, in his hometown. “At this point, my children don’t have any interest in the jewelry business, but that might change,” Michael says.

Fourth-generation jeweler Sarah Hurwitz Robey, her parents, Jeff and Patty Hurwitz, and her sons, Tucker and Lincoln.

ALL AGES WELCOME
Colonial Jewelers, Frederick, MD | Founded: 1920

Fourth-generation jeweler Sarah Hurwitz Robey has brought her sons Tucker and Lincoln with her to work since they were 6 weeks old, with the help of her mom, Patty Hurwitz, and a babysitter. “We have an awesome staff who are like family to us and are very understanding of all of the nuances of working for a family business, whether it is Lincoln learning to crawl on the sales floor or Tucker running in from preschool excited to show everyone what he made that day. I feel like I have a dream situation. I get to work at the store, which I have always been very passionate about, as well as have my babies close to me.” The business was founded in 1920 by Sarah’s great-grandfather, Benjamin Hurwitz. Sarah’s father Jeff Hurwitz, president of Colonial, learned the business from his own parents, Will and Marilyn. They’ve had a recent surprise addition to the family lineup at work: “My 94-year-old great-uncle, who worked in the business with my grandfather, recently came out of retirement and is our official Saturday greeter. He’s a huge hit with our customers, may of whom remember him from years ago,” Sarah says. “I don’t ever want to put any pressure on my boys (the way I was never pressured) but I am hoping that having them here so young may instill in them the same love of the business that I have,” she says.

A JACK OF ALL TRADES
Spath Jewelers, Bartow, FL | Founded: 1986

Tina and Gene Spath, from left, work with their daughter Emily and son-in-law Matthew Clark.

Spath Jewelers founders and owners Tina and Gene Spath work with their daughter, Emily Clark, and her husband, Matthew Clark, who both have the title VP of operations. Tina handles community relations and marketing. Gene works as a liaison between their two locations and oversees jewelry and watch repair. Emily is custom design manager and oversees diamond sales, HR, scheduling and marketing. Matthew handles inventory, staff training and development, marketing and sales. “In a small business, there is a lot of overlap in job responsibilities, and you eventually become a jack-of-all-trades,” Matthew says. “The way to succeed in a family business is to help and advise other family members in their areas of focus when they request the advice, and stay in your lane when advice is not needed or requested. A wise man one said, ‘You never want too many cooks in the kitchen or the food will come out tasting like you know what … ‘”

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