[Republished with permission from Instore Mag]
What’s the value of a good idea?
In the rapidly changing landscape of jewelry retail, your good idea could revitalize your business, if you have the vision and courage to put it into action.
In 1998, it was a commonly held belief that by 2019 we’d be driving flying cars. Little did we know that the cars wouldn’t (yet) be flying, but rather that we wouldn’t be driving them. Autonomous cars — highlighted in recent Consumer Electronics Shows — are poised to disrupt an industry that hasn’t changed much since the first combustion engine was added to a push cart in 1808.
Our point is this: progress is inevitable. Change is a part of life, and our industry, much like the automobile industry, is on the verge of an evolution. The independent retail jeweler has the opportunity to be a self-driving car… or a horse-drawn buggy.
On the following pages, you’ll find examples of how innovators with a variety of different backgrounds are experimenting with their own good ideas to embrace change in jewelry retail. Read up. Be inspired. The (r)evolution is now.
Customers Commit to Catbird
Catbird — the Brooklyn, NY, jewelry boutique with the reputation for appealing to the coolest of celebrities (Meghan Markle, for one) and blowing up trends like stackable rings, multi-stud earrings and delicately layered necklaces — introduced an idea last year that appeals to its most loyal of followers: jewelry you can’t take off. Really.
The retailer is selling a Forever Bracelet, a barely there 14K gold chain bracelet for $94, that solders directly onto the wrist. The custom-size chains are available at Catbird’s Welding Annex in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood.
It’s inspired by the idea that many women have favorite pieces they never want to remove. Rony Vardi, Catbird founder and creative director, told Elle Magazine that she never takes off her Catbird Greco Lariat, for example.
“For years, we had been playing with the concept of permanent jewelry,” says Sriya Karumanchi, manager of marketing and communications for Catbird. “Once we acquired a set of welders for our studio, we started to experiment. In the beginning, it was just our jewelers zapping each other and the rest of our staff. Now, almost all of us have a permanent chain on our wrist.”
The idea of offering the jewelry to Catbird’s customers was brewing for some time, Karumanchi says. “We tested it with a ‘one night only’ event a year ago — and that had a really big turnout. Seeing that this was something people wanted from us, we were able to build out a welding annex space that’s open Friday through Sunday.” During the soft opening, they welded about 30 bracelets within a few hours.
“The jewelers who weld the bracelets are also in-house bench jewelers, so they really merge that piece for us: a behind-the-scenes process that is now part of a customer-facing experience.”
Catbird is ethically minded, and boasts cool brick-and-mortar locations and seamless online shopping. Everything a millennial (and her younger sister, too) dreams of.
Profit Sharing Sparks Jewelry Revolution Jewelry Works
Jennifer Farnes, founder of Revolution Jewelry Works in Colorado Springs, CO, is an innovator across the board — in operations, marketing and customer service. But she points to profit-sharing as the best idea she’s implemented. “It’s shocking to me that businesses (of any kind) are still operating on a commission basis. Profit sharing makes the dynamic of my business completely about the end-goal for everyone under my roof. We celebrate wins together, joke about weird situations, feel loss, and work as a complete unit for each client that comes through the door. If we make the clients happy, and make money, then at the end of the year we all reap the benefit of doing good work.”
“Other business owners look at me like I have a third eye when I explain our profit-sharing structure, except one local restauranteur who adopted my model exactly. He is opening his third restaurant in five years, solely with the profits from the businesses he already is running under my model.”
Revolution Jewelry Works specializes in custom design with an average sale of $1,200. Farnes believes strongly in spending 15 percent of gross income on advertising — with a priority on movie theater advertising as well as radio and TV, but only stations her team listens to. She also runs a business that is completely transparent to her staff, and treats them well — offering paid time off, a 401K plan and competitive salaries, which, not too surprisingly, keeps them around. “We have lost only one employee to a job change,” she says.
Those strategies are working for Farnes, who reports that in 2016, 2017 and 2018, Revolution Jewelry Works was recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in Colorado. While only six years old, the company has exceeded $1 million annually in revenue and so far is realizing sales that are 45 percent up over last year. ”My opinion is; if you’re not succeeding, you’re doing it wrong,” she says.
SOHA AND AUBREE JAVAHERIAN
Soha Is A Different Way to Diamond
Retailers Soha and Aubree Javaherian are not working in a huge market in Madison, WI. On the other hand, Madison’s residents tend to be young and open to new ideas, such as the ideas that propel Soha Diamond Co., a self-funded startup with no employees.
Soha Diamond Co. is a click-and-mortar design studio that sells only laboratory-grown diamonds. It’s opposite, Soha says, from what most other jewelers do: “Usually they build a beautiful store and take a lot of pride in it — and the website is an afterthought.”
To build their company, though, Soha and Aubree launched their website first. Although it was up and running by the fall of 2017, it took 18 months to build their e-commerce site to the point that they considered it to be polished, presentable and functional enough to begin building credibility.
Then came the appointment-only design studio, which they opened in an office building. “We find about 50 percent of sales comes from each — half from the design studio and half from online sales. The biggest challenge we have in Madison is that it’s not very common to find a jeweler in an office building. It’s a brand-new building in a nice new part of downtown, but our name is not on the outside of the building. So we are really reliant on the web.”
Soha is a graduate gemologist and a 10th-generation jeweler whose last name means “family of jewelers.” Aubree has a background in wedding planning. They’ve also found success getting out of the office to meet potential clients at wedding trade shows and expos.
When they meet customers in their office, Soha and Aubree can tell from their body language if they are a little hesitant. “We don’t put any pressure on them,” Soha says. “There are no physical products they can buy and walk away with. Everything we do, no matter how nominal, we are making it to order. Generally, our clients are relieved.”
An integral part of their strategy was to sell only lab-grown diamonds, moissanite and lab-grown colored gems. “For us, it’s a very technical sale. We have to go out of our way to describe what these items are, and what their value is. We didn’t want to be a jack-of-all-trades.”
Third-Gen Jeweler Modernizes Appraisal Process
Dustin Lemick is a third-generation jeweler who became frustrated by what he sees as a lack of in-store technology in the jewelry business. After he earned his graduate gemologist certification, he found himself in charge of appraisals and claim replacements for insurance companies. “I realized there are some serious issues here. Communication between the insurance companies and customers was horrible.”
After talking with other jewelers, he came to believe it was an industry-wide problem. “Appraisals haven’t changed in forever, and retail jewelers are getting left behind on the technology front,” Lemick says.
So, together with partners, he launched Briteco, a business concept wherein a new type of personal-jewelry insurance is tied to a user-friendly appraisal software program. He began his efforts by moonlighting after hours, but after a few months, it became clear he had to either make it a full-time enterprise or let it go. He considers his decision to go for it to be one of the best he’s made in his career. “We built a full-fledged insurance company with notable investors and an incredible insurance partner in 48 states and D.C. I hope to launch with approval in every single state.”
The software is intuitive, fast, and it really works, he says. “It’s designed by jewelers, so we completely understand how this needs to function.”
It’s free to qualified jewelers. Algorithms will give jewelers guides for what the pricing of the appraisal should be. Once jewelers complete the appraisal with an easy-to-use online form, the consumer is sent a text message and an email saying, “Don’t forget you need insurance.” They click on a link to get insurance, go through four short screens answering questions that take two to three minutes, and they then have A-rated insurance.
“I believe that millennials and gen Zs still want to go into stores,” Lemick says. “They just want technology to help assist in the process.”
JUSTIN AND HEATHER KNAPP
Markette Six Creates Online Store For Designers
Justin and Heather Knapp worked for Apple for years, traveling to launch iPhones in 60 countries. That globe-hopping led them to begin a treasure hunting habit, bringing home collectible souvenirs, which often took the form of gems and jewelry.
Inspired, they decided to strike out on their own to create an online treasure-hunting experience of their own, and recently launched Markette Six, a secure marketplace to sell one-of-a-kind pieces, including jewelry, watches and gemstones. The platform aims to support jewelry designers in telling their brand stories, while being supported by the Knapps, who bring their branding knowledge to the jewelry industry. The site is clean, structured and replete with layered storytelling. “Jewelry is a personal reflection of who you are, whereas online is impersonal. It’s hard to have people trust you,” Justin says. “Storytelling can make all the difference.”
The goal is to let the pieces speak for themselves. Navigation and design are inspired by the aesthetic of sites like Design Within Reach and Lonely Planet.
Markette Six is targeting small- to medium-sized designers for its platform. “We’re looking for originality,” Justin says. “They’ve created a brand and stories about why they have designed what they have designed. Sometimes, they are one of a kind, but always they are things that have stories and will speak in an online setting. You become more emotionally invested when you know the designer and the story behind the piece itself.”
Markette Six holds the funds on behalf of the buyer, notifies the designer of the purchase, and the designer sends the piece to Markette Six. Every piece is received by Markette Six and evaluated by an independent lab in Portland, OR, for authenticity. “That’s a very important step for us to make sure they feel comfortable buying online,” Heather says. “Designers can decide if they allow for returns, and if a client does return it, it is sent back to the lab to make sure it is still authentic and not damaged. We’re never going to hand a customer over to the designer to deal with or vice versa.”
They launched in November 2018, about 19 months after devising a business plan. “Our biggest focus is building the relationships, finding the right partners and building those partnerships that will grow with us,” Heather says.
Cool Store Winner Packs His Bag And Goes Home
In 2018, Thomas Mann sold his Magazine Street buildings, closing the New Orleans location that landed him on the cover of INSTORE with a 2016 America’s Coolest Stores win. The next step in his revolutionary jewelry career was to regroup into his own home, which contains his shop, gallery and party space. He even shares his kitchen with gallery guests.
He has created an interactive experience where jewelry display and artwork are integrated into living and dining areas. “Because the gallery space is tiny, we’re going to turn every space into exhibition space. Even the decor is for sale,” he says. Every detail of his gallery is an expression of his design aesthetic, from the jewelry furniture and displays he designed and built himself, to the work of other jewelry artists he selectively curates.
His staff comes and goes, often arriving while Mann is still asleep. “People bring their dogs. It has a homey feel. This is where we live and work. There’s no curtain between the two.”
Angele Seiley, who runs the business and marketing side of the operation, says visitors are delighted when Mann comes out of his workshop, meets them in the gallery and then shows them around the space.
Before he moved, he had watched foot traffic decline in his former Magazine Street location. Now, an estimated 10,000 cars a day pass by on busy Tchoupitoulas Street, which connects the Central Business District with Uptown New Orleans.
Mann, a jewelry artist, sculptor and painter, has operated on the cutting edge of art-jewelry design for decades, inventing a distinctive style that initially incorporated found objects into his designs. “I came up with a peculiar look at the right time and the right place for an audience that was ready to receive it,” Mann says. “I wanted to make it as technically fulfilling as possible at a price that most people could afford.”
More Revolutionary Ideas
From Retailers on the Cutting Edge
Clicks, Bricks and Custom Keep Green Lake Growing
Green Lake Jewelry Works’ entire business model represents a retail revolution. Owner Jim Tuttle replaced traditional sales staff with artists who consult with clients to create custom engagement rings in colorful stores with bench jewelers visible behind walls of glass. 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. They incorporate live chat, reviews, engagement stories, video-sharing services 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 a design blog staffed by artists. Both locations, in Seattle and Bellevue, WA, 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. Whether online or in-store, design is a carefully considered process. Most in-store customers visit five times.
For D&H Jewelers, Seeing is Believing
Partners Shawn Higgins and Lindsay Daunell founded D&H Jewelers in San Francisco in 2011 on a commitment to sustainability and responsible sourcing. For the building, they used LED lighting, bamboo walls and recycled doors, restored the wood floors and made displays from discarded material. The sycamore bar top was salvaged from a construction site. Sourcing presented more of a challenge. Higgins and Daunell personally verify every source of jewelry, gold or gemstones. They have traveled to mines in Botswana and Sri Lanka and manufacturers in Canada to verify ethical claims. Ninety percent of their gold is reclaimed from consumer electronics.
At Cut Fine, the Emphasis is on Quality and Yes, Cut
Matthew Patton and his wife, Evan, set out to appeal to the youthful bridal market of Baton Rouge, LA. Their goal from the beginning was to sell the best-cut diamonds and gemstones they could find and showcase them in the highest quality settings they could buy or manufacture. The name of the store offers the opportunity to educate customers about the importance of cut when assessing a diamond’s quality. About 80 percent of the business is custom engagement rings. Now Matthew, a pocket knife collector, has started a second brand, a business called Slice, to sell high-end custom pocket knives almost entirely online. They sell for $1,500 to $16,000 and are made to order by expert knife makers all around the world. “There are only a few countries we haven’t shipped knives to,” Matthew says.
Marks Jewelers Turns Store Design Upside Down
Marks Jewelers in Montgomeryville, PA, completely reimagined the layout of the traditional large jewelry store with the location it designed and debuted in 2016. Each unusual feature of the 15,000 square foot store is designed with a practical reason behind it. The Diamond Diner, for example, affords couples a comfortable, intimate way of choosing a ring at the same time it creates a more effective selling environment. Shoppers are seated in booths, and diamonds are both safe and easily accessible for showing. The gem lab is on a “stage” that is three steps taller than the booths, so the diamond manager can keep tabs on what’s happening in the booths, keep an eye on the movement of diamonds and assist in the sale as needed. It’s resulted in a higher closing ratio, say owners Jim and Dareen Brusilovsky. Also innovative are the spacious fashion lounge, where shoppers can relax and enjoy a drink, and multi-purpose modular cases that can be reconfigured for trunk shows and other events.
Embedded Consultant Shares What He Learned at Mucklow’s
Rod Worley manages Peachtree City, GA’s Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry as a successful business for owner Robert Mucklow, who has retired from the day-to-day business. But Mucklow’s is also a laboratory for Worley, who has used the store to test innovations in marketing, merchandising and management and now shares his insights with other retailers on a contract basis.
Worley is president of consulting company Four Grainer LLC and host of “Inside the Jewelry Trade Radio Show”.
Worley developed a community-outreach program based on charitable giving, through which all marketing funds are channeled with the goal of getting people in the door. It’s worked so well that Worley wrote a book about it — A Reason To Chant — and created a portfolio of marketing and management options that he shares with other retailers on a contract basis. Four Grainer sets up the program, trains the staff and contacts local 501(c)3 charities. Worley’s company also drives traffic to clients’ websites by establishing retailers as the thought leader for jewelry, bridal planning, women’s health, fashion and beauty. The ultimate service is total store management, which allows the owner to retire within 90 days while retaining complete ownership and drawing their salary. “We put a leader in place that has the skill set needed to grow the business and support that leader through continued training and supervision,” Worley says.
Bitcoin on the Bayou
David’s Antiques & Jewelry, owned and managed by Sharona Edly and her mother, Ester, in New Orleans, decided to start accepting Bitcoin as a means of payment in 2013. “We think it’s a revolution,” Ester says. “It’s a new, global currency, there’s no government behind it; it’s run by the people. We believe in the system and the idea behind it.” The store deals with people from all over the world, adds Sharona. “It’s pretty much like accepting cash, but even better because it cannot be counterfeited. It has low transaction fees and we enjoy the playfulness of it. Our first Bitcoin purchase was by someone who traveled from Austin, TX, specifically to buy his wife something using Bitcoin, an amber necklace for his wife.”