Rebel (Jeweler) with a Cause

Tim and Cherie Greve don’t carry a single piece of bridal jewelry. The only gold in the store is in the liqueur behind the bar. Customer reading materials include Inked magazine, a publication containing articles and ads that would make a Merchant Marine blush. And the focal point of the store is the “Wall of Rebellion,” a 20-foot by 30-foot panel displaying every conceivable seditious word and phrase imaginable. Welcome to Rebel Jeweler.

The Greves opened for business in November. Their jewelry may be all silver, but the inventory mix dedicates 60 percent of product choices to female self-purchases and 40 percent geared toward fashion-forward gents. This is the couple’s niche in their Portland, Ore., market. 

Tim and staff

Store owners Tim and Cherie Greve and various rebels

“Given where the market is heading, there’s only two types of silver jewelry available,” says Tim Greve. “There are the more upscale designers like John Hardy and David Yurman and then there’s craft-style silver jewelry made by working artisans. We’ve found an opportunity to work in middle with inventory in styles that cater to our clients ranging from $150 to $600.”

Considering that they’ve been in business for barely three months, it’s a gross understatement to say that it’s too early to determine if investing so exclusively in silver jewelry will work for the adventuresome couple. But Tim sees great promise in Rebel Jeweler’s future.

Traditional jewelry stores in the Portland market can’t invest as deeply as the Greves can in silver given the limited amount of linear square footage most conventional retailers can dedicate to this product category. The couple is also purchasing silver from designers other jewelry stores wouldn’t dream of touching given their button-down business model. And if done well silver has better margins, but there are certain challenges associated with selling solely silver.

Bad Santa

Christmas greetings from Rebel Jeweler!

“One thing that’s different with this business model than on the higher end is the need for pretty quick replenishment of stock,” says Tim. “When the average sale is so much lower than diamond-focused stores, you need to move a lot of units to make it add up to significant dollars. Paired with that is an anticipated need for constant newness. As an example, because it was doing so well, we had to start working with Lisa Nik on new collections 45 days into the opening in order to have fresh product by spring. The traditional jewelry merchandising model is much more forgiving in inventory turn.”

Tim comes from a very traditional retail jeweler background. He wanted to try something completely different from his family’s traditional business model, and with his 30-plus years of jewelry retailing experience he set off to create Rebel Jeweler.

“It’s a great concept and I really like the name,” says Tim. “With a name like Rebel, it gives us lots of opportunity traditional jewelers don’t have. We’ve created a cool, happening vibe in our market and people are attracted to places that are edgy and fun. Now the challenge is to keep that buzz, that fervor going.”

Part of the success for Rebel Jeweler owners is being secure in the knowledge that everyone likes to be a rebel. Making a career of it isn’t exactly a résumé enhancer, but small, infrequent dabbles on the dark side never hurt anyone.

Tim recalls a perfect example of such a customer spec when an older woman entered the store last month. The antithesis of his younger female demographic demonstrated a strong interest in ring designs from Lisa Nik whose silver rings are stamped with the words single, taken, and bitch.

Lisa Nik

Lisa Nik’s single, taken, and bitch silver rings

“I thought this woman would enter the store and immediately walk out,” says Tim. “She ended up buying a bitch ring. The woman said she was going through menopause and it was a perfect ring for her. Even for this person, who appeared to me to be a conservative older woman, there’s a little rebel in her.”

Having the right inventory on hand to appeal to that impulse rebel purchase is part of what appeals to one-time, returning, and now loyal Rebel Jeweler customers. King Baby silver jewelry, in rebellious stamped styles, is one of the store’s faster-turning designers. “King Baby’s ‘F*ck You’ ring is one of our top sellers,” says Tim.

King Baby cuff links are popular with the gents, as are price-point–friendly “Day of the Dead” or “sugar skull” Mexican-themed jewelry. But it isn’t all about skulls and crossbones, rings stamped with four-letter words, or cuff links featuring dollar signs and pin-up girls.

Being wedded to silver, Tim has the golden opportunity to invest in a variety of designers that also appeal to Portland’s more astute silver jewelry and watch buyers. An upscale silver jewelry designer from Spain, Jorge Revilla creates fine quality silver jewelry that’s snapped up by a number of Rebel customers.

The new Phosphor World Time watch in white rubber.

The new Phosphor World Time watch in white rubber

The store also carries watches from Phosphor that incorporate the e-ink technology used in Kindle readers. These watch styles—with smooth, high-quality rubber bands and curved crystal cases framing stylish LCD displays—appeal to those who work in Silicon Forest. That’s Portland’s tech moniker with Intel the area’s leading employer, along with many established and start-up tech companies. Young professionals with plenty of disposable income…that affluent, nerdy demographic are the rebel-wannabes the Greves are trying to attract.  

The progressive city of Portland make it a good city for the Greves’ counterculture business model. But the actual street they’re located on is also a big plus. Across the street from Rebel Jeweler on Couch Street is Powell’s City of Books. Four stories tall and occupying an entire city block, it is the world’s largest book store. “It’s also a major tourist attraction for Portland,” says Tim. “We benefit some from the traffic that side of the street.”

Wall of Rebellion

Rebel Jeweler’s famed “Wall of Rebellion,” painted by Jason Prouty of Garage 31

Foot traffic for Rebel Jeweler is “pretty good,” according to Tim. He doesn’t have a store entrance traffic counter, but his ARMS POS software indicates sales are brisk and names are constantly being added to the store’s database, which are probably the only two conventional business management qualities his store shares with other traditional jewelry stores.

That said, the Greves aren’t immune to the staples of success that have worked well for mainstream jewelers. The couple has many strategic cross-promotional partners in the Portland market. But, it should come as no surprise that such allies include local motorcycle dealers—namely those who carry Ducati and Harley-Davidson motorcycles—and the local female roller derby team.   

The “Wall of Rebellion” should provide insight into the interior design, visual merchandising, and display case choices at Rebel Jeweler. The store features artwork from street and tattoo artist Michael Giant. Hardware used to open to display cases is custom-made brass knuckles.

The Greves are also into leather—display platforms and risers that is. No leatherette in this store! With Langlitz Leather in town, it only makes sense that Rebel Jeweler source locally, using the same leather the world-renowned leather giant supplies for motorcycle seats, riding accessories, and garment manufacturers around the world.

Sticker contest ad

The Sticker contest ad

And for a jewelry store that appeals to younger customers whose two commonly used words to describe their favorite beer is strong and cheap, Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer paraphernalia and memorabilia adds to the visual merchandising verve these and other biker elements (think sprockets and small motorcycle parts) bring together in jewelry displays 

Rebel Jeweler has only been open a handful of months, but the store’s grand opening set the stage for what customers can expect in terms of store events. In addition to deafening decibel levels of edgy rock music, Irish Car Bomb Jell-O shooters were served that night. The layered Guinness Beer, vodka, Baileys Irish Cream, and Jell-O shooters were such a big hit at the party it is now Rebel Jeweler’s signature drink.

The following month, during their first holiday selling season, Tim and Cherie held the store’s first contest. With 3,000 Rebel stickers printed up the couple encouraged people to stop by the store and grab as many stickers as they wanted for a chance to win a $250 store gift card. The goal of the contest was to establish the best sticker placement and submit a picture of it.

Mural

The store’s namesake mural, painted by Jason Prouty of Garage 31

The contest categories included: most inappropriate placement; most number in a bar bathroom; most famous place; furthest distance from the store; and best use of the word rebel in the sticker placement.

Some notable entrants to date include a Rebel sticker panty liner, a sticker at London’s famed St, Paul’s Cathedral and a Rebel sticker tacked to the bill of a Subway staffer’s baseball cap. “We’re in a surfer, skier, and skateboarder town where cool stickers or symbolic stickers have real meaning for people,” says Tim. “This underground quality to the sticker contest has allowed us to go viral without a computer or Internet connection.”  

The Christmas season sticker contest is now a monthly challenge with the five categories still holding. “But with the monthly winners we give them $100 in cash instead,” says Tim. 

Model photo

A model wears a silver rose ring during a recent Rebel Jeweler photo shoot

Lastly is the couple’s more practical side. With much of their front-end working capital invested in the store and its inventory, they didn’t have the resources to have a website when they opened their doors in November. The solution: purchase a domain name and forward it to the store’s Facebook profile wall until the corporate website is completed and online in March.

“It was a money-saving decision plus having people land on Facebook helps us better leverage our social media outlets,” says Tim. “We’re not there yet with video marketing and YouTube and we’re still very careful about who we follow on Twitter. But Facebook presents a lot of latitude and flexibility in terms of marketing and promotions that is a perfect fit for us at this point. And, for the most part, it’s free.”

For now, Rebel Jeweler is doing well. The Greves are establishing the right mix of inventory, have fun and interactive monthly events, and are gaining a following. But will being solely invested in silver jewelry work?

Rebel Skier

“We’re in a surfer, skier, and skateboarder town where cool stickers or symbolic stickers have real meaning for people,” says Tim Greve.

“We’ll know in a few years,” says Tim. “As compared to more traditional upscale jewelers it’s harder to lower your price points to meet the spending threshold of your customers than it is to go up. If we have to go upscale we will. But that’s really not our goal. It’s always an option, but we would prefer to stay in this niche of silver. We’re well positioned any way you look at it.”

With all the variables Tim and his wife Cherie can control in advancing their business model, there’s one thing they can’t change: their age. At 43, Tim admits that he’s already considerably older than the youngest portion of his key age demographics. He’s cognizant of the age gap, but will stay on top of trends, quickly reorder fast-turners, explore other collections from proven designers in his store, and seek inspiration on the road.

“Nothing helps me do more thinking than long cruises on my motorcycle,” says Tim. His bike of choice? A 2008 Harley-Davidson Crossbone. 

Favorite Rebel sticker placements

 Sponge Bob Rebel Pants

SpongeBob RebelPants

Subway guy

Rebel with chipotle sauce

Toilet

Rebel plumbing

Donnie and Marie Osmond

The irony is palpable

St. Paul's Cathedral

 London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral