Three years into owning and operating their jewelry company Air & Anchor, Rachel and Omar Ajaj have jumped into their next dream project: opening a pop-up retail store to highlight their locally made jewelry and give customers an interactive experience with the brand.
Air & Anchor’s pop-up shop opened May 1 in Cranston, R.I., and will serve as a template for a permanent retail space in the near future, the wife-and-husband founders say. The store is located in Garden City Center, a boutique shopping destination just down the road from the company’s factory.
The Ajajs debuted Air & Anchor in April 2020 as an online store and have been thinking about opening a physical retail site for two years, Omar says. Air & Anchor offers handmade and vintage jewelry, including its signature cuff-keeper necklaces, along with a variety of home and fashion goods. Many items feature meaningful symbols.
“Our customers have been phenomenal, helping us determine the brand and its direction. They know we make everything in-house, so we wanted to give them an experiential store,” Omar says. “We knew it would be impactful for our other products as well—our hats or blankets are goods that are harder to buy online.”
He says customers inspired the store’s mix of interactive areas and product sales: People who bought Air & Anchor jewelry online were given the option of picking it up in person, and many of them took that opportunity to meet the staff and even tour the factory. So the Ajajs wanted to create a store where people could get to know them beyond their social media posts, buy their favorite pieces they have seen online, and even enjoy making jewelry themselves.
For example, shoppers can make a necklace at the BIY (bead it yourself”) bar, get a permanent bracelet, and choose the length and metal of their custom chain. They also can personalize a serving board, one of the home goods Air & Anchor offers.
“We want retail to be fun again,” she says. “We want people to come in, laugh, and have a good time with their friends and family. People know the brand, and they’re coming in because they want that interaction.”
Seeing people come in together, like a father and a daughter who want to bead a necklace as bonding activity, has been momentous, Rachel says. She says she and her husband are loving the customer interaction as well. They introduced the brand during the pandemic, so they did not get to meet with their customers for months. Some customers are driving to Rhode Island to go to the store from Connecticut and Massachusetts, so the months of work to get the pop-up shop opened feel well worth it, she says.
“From an e-commerce standpoint, we know we needed to differentiate our retail space. If you can get something online, why would you want to come into a store?” Omar says. “Here, you can put your hands on the product and we’re constantly rolling out new products to the store.”
Rachel says that what customers gravitate to in these first weeks of the store’s opening will inform what the brand makes going forward. “These interactions mean the world to us. We don’t exist without our customer base,” Rachel says.
Top: Rhode Island’s Air & Anchor opened a pop-up shop in early May to showcase and sell its symbolic jewelry and offer interactive experiences for customers. (Photos courtesy of Air & Anchor)
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