Michael Nedler and his business partner Mark Allen like libraries and museums. They just don’t want their jewelry store to be like the hushed and hallowed halls of either public building. That’s why the business partners will have a quiet riot of sorts next month when Sonny’s Diamonds & Jewelry will reopen as Sonny’s Rocks.
The new moniker’s double-entendre signals a move to a rock ‘n’ roll persona for the store, with many dynamics of the old business model changing to capture the younger twenties and twenty-something bridal sector as well as female self-purchases with more silver and fashion jewelry offerings as the business model for the future.
But the management essentials of five generations of sound jewelry retailing that lead to the opening of Sonny’s Diamonds & Jewelry, with its certified diamonds and high-end quality jewelry from recognized designers and brands, including the display cases that house them, will remain the same.
Nedler’s late father Sonny opened Sonny’s Diamonds & Jewelry in the 1970’s. The 1,800-square-foot store was located Cherry Creek, now an upscale 3-block x 5-block retail boutique area in Denver.
Several decades ago, Cherry Creek was more accessible. But as the shopping area grew more exclusive, logistically it became more of a “have to go” destination instead of a “want to go” destination, says Nedler. Rent was also adding significantly to the store’s overhead while the high-end reputation of the shopping district gave the impression their jewelry was too pricey and the store atmosphere and its staff haughty and unapproachable. Throw in extremely limited metered parking and Cherry Creek had become too exclusive for its own good for the business partners and their jewelry-buying customers.
Obstacles be damned, Nedler and Allen were willing to keep the Cherry Creek store location open. Expansion plans for a neighboring retail space would have allowed the store co-owners to bring in the brands and expand their inventory and services to capture the desired demographics.
The deal was nearly sealed when the landlord had a sudden change of heart and offered Nedler and Allen a less than favorable alternative in a take-it-or-leave-it scenario. “So we left it,” says Nedler. “In looking back, our former landlord had no idea what a huge favor he doing for us.”
The two-mile move from Cherry Creek to South Colorado Boulevard and Florida Avenue has been in the making for four years, but subconsciously it was more like six years ago. “That’s when Michael and I stopped wearing suits and ties,” says Allen. As the business owners go from business attire to a “step below business casual, slacks and Tony Bahamas shirts will Sonny’s new ‘uniform,’” Allen added.
This year the store owners let the lease expire, held the obligatory moving sale, opened a temporary office and hired a local marketing and promotions firm to manage the image overhaul.
Business partners for 13 years, Nedler and Allen share the view that: “From mom and pops to big chain stores, the jewelry buying experience is and has been static for many years,” says Nedler. “Most guys would rather set their hair on fire than walk into a jewelry store.”
Dousing the flame but keeping the heat of passion associated with buying jewelry is all part of the image change. Somewhat limited by city building codes, Nedler and Allen will transform the store from the outside in starting with their exterior sign of the bold new logo featuring bright yellow letters.
Inside a 3,000-square-foot space the new store image is currently taking shape. Large, flat-screen LCD monitors will be installed throughout the store. But don’t look for store commercials or vendor videos played on a repeating loop. MTV-like rock videos and a sound system to back them up will exorcise the spirits of Muzak past in the building’s former life as an Eyeglass World store.
To bolster the rock image, Nedler’s collection of guitars from rock legends such as Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, The Eagles, Bon Jovi and many more will be displayed throughout the store. Wii stations loaded with rock band playing software in the store’s sitting area will also enhance this aspect of the store’s new image.
Some other fun features include an updated photo booth in the store. The new version will not only produce print pictures on the spot but also digital images that can be sent electronically. “Imagine the email accounts we can capture by offering this feature to customers?” says Nedler.
The store will also have two waterfall features. Duratrans will also dot the store’s landscape. But it’s not just the interior design and visual merchandising that will get an overhaul. There will be changes happening to the inventory price levels, the range of jewelry offerings and a vetting of brand names, starting with watches.
Nedler says he’s tired of being a “brand bitch” as many branded merchandise contracts give the vendor too much say and sway in a retail jewelry store’s showroom and inventory safe. Nedler and Allen will keep the brands that have performed well for them including Hidalgo, Alex Sepkus, Ritani and Simon G to name a few. “We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” says Nedler. “In addition to these and other proven names we’ll also be offering new silver and fashion jewelry lines that we’ve never done before. Season by season we’ll see what works and what doesn’t.”
Tapping into local and region jewelry designing talent is also part of the strategy in moving away from brands for both bridal and fashion jewelry. Nedler and Allen estimate that the 40% drop in overhead by moving to a lower rent district will allow them the financial flexibility to explore new lines at prices that are significantly lower than at their previous location. “In our old store you couldn’t purchase an engagement ring for much less than $3,500 on up,” says Nedler. “In the new store it’ll be more like $1,500 and upwards.”
In keeping with his father’s tradition Nedler will offer good values on quality jewelry, but with an Information Age twist. The business partners plan on competing with online leaders such as Blue Nile and Cheap Diamonds on loose certified stones. “We’ll monitor Internet prices and then price our diamonds competitively against theirs,” says Nedler.
Lastly company policies will experience a breath of fresh air. In addition to the usual medical and dental benefits, Nedler and Allen with offer unconventional fringe benefits that are in keeping with the store’s rock image, including employees seeking to get “inked” (getting a tattoo) or a body piercing. “It’s all part of the new attitude,” says Nedler.
And, forget the traditional business card with the company logo and a schmaltzy tagline. New business cards will look like a rock concert ticket.
With the store opening a month away, Nedler looks back at his family’s five generations in the jewelry industry and his father’s store. Nedler’s father, who passed away several years ago, was a traditionalist but was also a pragmatist. “He would have been all over this move,” says Nedler. “For businesses, especially in retail, you have to change and reinvent to always be on top of your game. You’ve got to constantly look at ways people do business.”
Assumed paternal posthumous blessings aside, actual customer and vendor approval has been the real motivating factors in the move. “Our existing clients are part of a very loyal following,” says Allen. “And, with the new location people will be more willing to check us out.”
Lower overhead, a revamped inventory with broader price point spreads, and increased visibility is just a few of the many benefits Nedler and Allen will soon realize when the new store opens next month. But also on the store owners’ short list of perks is plenty of free parking.
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