Feb. 14 is traditionally a big day for jewelers, but for Ellen Hertz, owner of Max’s, located in St. Louis Park, Minn., it’s a double whammy. Besides selling a curated collection of fine designer jewelry, Hertz stocks an impressive collection of artisanal chocolate—the traditional go-to for last-minute Valentine’s shoppers. Although chocolate and carats might seem an odd pairing, Hertz insists that they share the core characteristics of her business: indulgent, highly giftable, and artist-created.
JCK: How was the idea for a jewelry and chocolate store born?
Ellen Hertz: I came from 20-plus years in the high-tech industry, but jewelry has always been in my DNA. The shop is named after my grandfather who owned a jewelry store in Michigan for 54 years. Chocolate, similarly, has always been a passion. I’m a self-professed chocoholic and snob. After wandering into a chocolate boutique in Chicago, I noticed that the concept was springing up around the country. I figured, why not do both? There’s no law that says you can’t mix the two! Plus, we think it’s fun. I believe that jewelry shopping can be intimidating, and this is a great way to not only lighten the atmosphere, but also appeal to customers who would not have walked in otherwise.
JCK: Are the two types of customers similar?
EH: The best part is that people do come in a lot just looking for chocolate, and they end up buying jewelry, whether it’s that day or down the line. The two work together from a self-purchase aspect and as an indulgence. I look at it as not that different from stocking lower price-point jewelry to appeal to a different customer. You’re not going to sell diamond necklaces all day long, and for us, chocolate fills that space like costume or silver might for another store.
JCK: Is everything displayed together? What was your strategy in designing the store?
EH: There’s chocolate displayed on all sides of the store, so you really have to walk through the jewelry in order to see all of your choices. We have about 30 different artisanal chocolate vendors from all over the world and offer everything from bars to truffles to holiday-themed treats. The similarity to our jewelry is that we try to get as many exclusives as we can and we really work with the highest quality, unique providers. Most customers can’t help but look at the jewels at some point!
JCK: Tell us a story about a converted chocolate customer.
EH: Last year, a man came into the store right before Valentine’s Day to buy candy for his wife and daughter. He had Googled chocolate and found our store online. He left with a huge selection of chocolate, but also a $2,000 necklace.
JCK: How do jewelry trade shows differ from chocolate shows?
EH: In a lot of ways, it's quite similar. After tasting so many pieces of toffee, or mint truffles, or chocolate-covered caramels, they begin to look and taste alike. One has to be significantly better or different than the other in order to convince me to buy it. The same is true of a jewelry show—there are a lot of really pretty hoop earrings, oxidized silver cuffs with multicolor sapphires, or corded bracelets, so at some point they tend to look the same and it all becomes a blur. There has to be something truly unique about a jewelry line in order to get me to buy.
Author of A Girl’s Guide to Buying Diamonds, Randi Molofsky has covered the fine jewelry and gemstone industries for 12 years. A noted contributor to fashion and business publications ranging from W to New York, and the former fashion editor at National Jeweler, she also serves as a strategic consultant for industry organizations and high-profile designers. Randi muses on personal style and design at pimpsqueak.com.
Ellen Hertz, owner of Max’s, located in Saint Louis Park, Minn. (Photos courtesy of Max's)