How He’s Managing: Bill Hermsen, Owner Of L.A.’s August Boutique

Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’re checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt glean shareable tips and tricks for doing business—and living as well as possible—during the COVID-19 crisis.

Today we hear from William “Bill” Hermsen, founder and owner of influential Los Angeles fine jewelry boutique August, which specializes in sophisticated and sculptural jewelry from artist-designers including Ted Muehling, Gabriella Kiss, Judy Geib, Rosanne Pugliese, Lola Brooks, Maria Beaulieu, and Nicole Landaw.

JCK: Are you still in some stage of quarantine? Is the store open?

We’re based in Los Angeles, and we are open with slightly reduced hours. But due to the small size of our store, we’re only allowing two customers in at a time, and requiring all guests and employees to wear masks and use hand sanitizer.  

Everybody has happily complied, and all of our regular customers seem as happy to see us as we are to see them. 

How has business been for August during the pandemic—have there been any silver linings?  

The day we had to close to quarantine was the day we launched our new website. I was very reluctant to launch it that day, but we had been planning it for nine months, and I was so excited about the new design. I honestly thought nobody would be looking at jewelry at a time like this, but I couldn’t have been more incorrect. Typically, the summer months are a little more quiet for us, but since families were not traveling, we noticed quite a surge in sales.     

How has the pandemic changed the way your clients interact with your business? 

We are noticing that many of our customers here in Los Angeles are shopping on our website and picking up curbside or having it shipped to them. We have also been processing more transactions over the phone, and there are many more DMs [direct messages] on Instagram from customers wanting more information on items or more images.

Alice Cicolini ring
Alice Cicolini ring at August

In what ways do you see jewelry retail changing in the coming years? 

Before the internet, each store had its own market, and it was rare to compete with another store across the country. But with more stores going online and with everybody on social media, it’s become a very competitive marketplace.

We have customers all across the country, and they are savvy shoppers. They know where to find their favorite designers, and they are building relationships with many stores. Jewelers also have the opportunity to talk directly with customers, so retailers really need to be passionate about what they do and about the collections they represent. Otherwise, I think it could be easy to get squeezed out of the market.

You stock such incredible jewelry brands! How do you describe your merchandising and choice of artist partners? 

I discovered jewelry when I began working for Ted Muehling in the ’90s, and his work and the environment he has created really helped shape my eye. I tend to respond to organic shapes and designs, and I like for each collection to have its own distinct voice. I also have to love the collections personally. The collections have been curated from a love for design, and not just what I think would sell.  

What advice do you have for brick-and-mortar jewelry retailers who have seen business flag during the pandemic? 

If you want to be competitive, you need to develop an online presence. I think having an online presence and utilizing social media outlets are crucial, especially for smaller brick-and-mortar stores. We’ve had customers come in and tell us that they are from Turkey, Italy, Mexico, etc., and that they follow us on social media. Many of our local customers have also found us, and now follow us, online.  

Bill Hermsen goddaughter 2
Hermsen recently taught his goddaughter (above) to make sourdough bread.

How have you personally been de-stressing during the lockdowns and after?  

I have been working my stress out in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking and baking when I have time to research recipes, plan a meal, and spend the day prepping and cooking. I was able to teach my goddaughter how to make sourdough bread this weekend, and she loved it!  I was also able to sneak in a trip to Utah and a trip to the Oregon coast.

Have any podcast/TV/movie recs? 

Some of TV series I’ve been watching: The Great, Abstract: The Art of Design, Schitt’s Creek, and The Vow.

Top: Bill Hermsen, owner of the August boutique in Los Angeles, at Cannon Beach in Oregon (all photos courtesy of Bill Hermsen)

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JCK Magazine Editor