For Jim Tuttle, owner of Green Lake Jewelry Works in Seattle, Wash., custom fine jewelry and e-commerce are not mutually exclusive. As the brains behind a destination jewelry store that only creates original pieces on-site, he was forced to reconsider opening a second location when the 2007 economic downturn hit. Instead, Tuttle invested in a proprietary website that allowed his bench jewelers to interact with out-of-town clients on a highly personal basis.
JCK: How did the idea for Green Lake come about?
JT: I was a bench jeweler for 10 years, but found that the customer always wanted to meet the designer. I really wanted to make the process of custom jewelry much more accessible, so in 1996 we opened a shop where the client and jeweler could fully interact. Today, we employ almost 50 people. Some are designers, but most are bench jewelers with a wide range of specialities from hand engraving to casting and everywhere in between. We’re unlike a traditional fine jewelry store because you walk in and there’s a huge workshop right in front of you.
JCK: When did the online portion of the business come into play?
JT: I went to school for computer science and industrial design, so as soon as the Internet started evolving, I realized it would be a great way to “meet” with anyone, anywhere. Of course it took a while to happen, but I knew the possibilities existed. Other parts of the business were evolving too – like CAD modeling – that made it much easier to do tricky work. In 2007, we knew we needed to diversify, so we took the resources we were going to use to open a new store to create a website.
JCK: How is your site different from other custom businesses?
JT: We don’t work over email, it’s just too impersonal. We created an interface that is more like a blog page where customers can interact with our designers and bench jewelers directly. There’s live chat, phone calls, and pictures that make up the process of an online custom design. These private blog pages can then be shared – the client can send photos directly to their friends and family or post them on other social sites. It’s a great way to see the entire process from the first pencil sketch to the first delivery.
JCK: How do you advertise?
JT: Because we work with web-savvy clients, that’s where we put our efforts. There’s not one magic place; we really think that you need to have a broad presence. We use Google and Bing ads, wedding sites, have a Facebook page and also a store blog.
JCK: What else are you working on to make the site even better?
JT: We just put up our first designer bio pages this week, allowing customers to learn more about our staff. Over the next few months, we’ll be linking these bios with examples of their work, so potential customers can get a better sense of who they’d like to work with. Every client can’t come into the store, so we want to make the experience as personal as possible.
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.