Beyond Beauty: Stores Designed to Sell

Lavish, beautifully designed jewelry stores are fun to look at. Sometimes, though, jewelers run the risk of intimidating their target customers, who assume they can’t afford anything in the store. A jeweler also risks sinking more money into the design than can be realized in return.

JCK spoke with jewelers and store designers from across the United States to get a feel for the latest retail design trends – particularly those that might shape jewelers’ future remodeling plans, inspire incremental modifications in the meantime, and help jewelers boost profits.

The design trends they described – store theming, creating an environment that appeals to customers’ five senses, and making it easier for clients to shop with spouses or kids in tow – aren’t just about aesthetics. They’re part of a plan to avoid extinction. In the face of fierce competition from other retailers, catalog merchants, television shopping shows, the Internet, and warehouse-type discount retailers, the store’s appearance takes on crucial importance.

The bottom line is that if you’re going to lure customers into your store and inspire them to spend, you must make shopping fun. Stores should intrigue and welcome customers by appealing to their senses, sense of humor, and spirit of adventure.

“Robo Babes.” When people talk about store theming, it typically brings to mind the Disney Store, the Rainforest Cafe, or Niketown, Nike’s futuristic Manhattan store. But theming doesn’t have to involve T-shirt sales, animatronics, or larger-than-life video displays.

Theming means coordinating all of the design and sensory elements to communicate clearly the value of what you’re trying to sell and to make shopping at your store a memorable experience. A theme can be whimsical, youthful, and in your face – communicated through huge, interactive displays relating to the origin or design elements of the jewelry. Or, for fine jewelry’s typically more mature customers, it can be classy, subtle, and understated – communicated perhaps through architectural moldings, classical music, and fine art (see page 76 for ideas).

The benefit of theming, says Greg Gorman, creative director of GMG Design Inc., a St. Louis-based store design firm, is that “if you have an exciting store environment, people will prioritize you higher compared to someone whose retail space is just so-so. People are more destination-oriented in that case.”

That’s certainly been the case for Zero Gravity, a store specializing in titanium jewelry and giftware located in the Pointe Orlando shopping center, across from Orlando, Fla.’s Orange County Convention Center. The store draws an estimated 1,100 visitors daily. That statistic comes from Edward Rosenberg, president of Visionz Unlimited Inc., a theme and design company that created the Zero Gravity stores primarily to showcase the company’s theming capabilities for other retail clients. He says that another location in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas (which closed in early 1998) drew a mind-boggling 7,000 visitors a day.

The draw at Zero Gravity is a curious collection of thematic displays loosely connected to the store’s name. At the Orlando store, which has 14-ft.-high ceilings, a series of what Rosenberg calls “Robo Babes” (metallic, robot-type mannequins) float 7 ft. above the showroom floor. The Robo Babes – which Visionz Unlimited is marketing to clients of its theming services – peer through portals into murals that depict different settings and eras: Egyptian, Mayan, outer space, undersea. One Robo Babe, cut in half, appears to walk through the plate glass front of the store. Another rides a 38-ft. sea serpent suspended from the ceiling.

“We give people something unexpected, an experience. As people walk through the store, they’re smiling and enjoying their visit,” says Rosenberg. He expects the store, which opened in mid-’98, to gross $1 million this year, even though its primary role is to sell his company’s theming services.

Zero Gravity is certainly a far cry from the elegant, refined image that most jewelry stores project. But the foot traffic into the store is almost unprecedented for a jeweler. Only 8% of the store’s browsers make purchases, compared with Rosenberg’s estimate of 30% to 40% for a more traditional jeweler. “Still, 8% of 1,100 shoppers a day is a whole lot better than 40% of the 10 shoppers a day that a more typical jewelry store might attract,” he says.

Theming won’t improve sales, though, if you take the focus off your core business, he warns, pointing to theme restaurants that quickly developed a reputation for low quality. “The people who will win in the next decade are those who take every part of the formula – the product, the atmosphere, and the service – and do them as best they can,” says Rosenberg.

The sensual jewelry store. Most jewelers think about store design strictly from a visual perspective. But Ruth Mellergaard, president of the Manhattan store-design firm Grid/3 International, makes a strong case for a multisensory approach. “People absorb information through their senses. The more senses you appeal to, the stronger your message is and the longer the impact,” she says.

Gary Wright, president of the Denver retail marketing consultant firm G.A. Wright Inc., concurs. Comparing storefront jewelers with those that sell via the Internet, television shopping shows, and catalogs, he says, “You can only communicate with a customer using all five senses in a retail store. To compete successfully, the retailer has to use that advantage to become the venue of choice. You have to think about the entire atmosphere – what the customer is hearing, smelling, seeing, feeling, tasting – and shape that atmosphere to enhance sales.” (See page 78 for ideas.)

The multisensory approach works best when it appeals to what Greg Gorman refers to as the “sixth sense,” meaning the sense of discovery. “Creating a sense of mystery, excitement, and discovery is what keeps customers captivated,” he says.

Child’s play. When Justice Jewelers in Springfield, Mo., opened a freestanding 10,000-sq.-ft. store in 1996, one of the best features was one of its smallest: a 100-sq.-ft. children’s playroom. Denny Ballard, merchandise manager for the store, which grosses $8 million annually, calls the glassed-in playroom “the single great asset

we built in the whole store. It’s paid off in millions of sales simply by not having children crawling all over their parents, interrupting a sale.”

That’s quite a statement given the store’s other features: a 50-seat theater, a freestanding exhibit of Treasures of the Atocha, a 5,000-sq.-ft. showroom, and even a drive-through window so that customers can pick up and drop off items from their car. “That’s a great asset when it’s cold and nasty, when you have screaming kids in the backseat, or if you just don’t feel like walking in the store,” Ballard says.

Playrooms are an increasingly popular addition in stores, says Wright. “Retailers are trying to create an environment that makes it easy for the customer. One thing that parents dread is dragging their kids into a store – especially at a certain age. Usually they’re embarrassed when they misbehave and grab them and get them out as quickly as possible. Playrooms keep them entertained.”

A playroom doesn’t necessarily mean a huge investment in space or equipment. James Elliot, a Phoenix store, created one in a corner of the 75-sq.-ft. manager’s office, using a television (tuned to Disney or Nickelodeon), Disney vid-eos, toys, Nintendo and Sony play stations, and a playpen.

Another family-friendly feature at James Elliot: six deep leather chairs where people can relax or read the paper while a spouse or companion shops. Rosenberg recommends taking this approach one step further: creating a special area where men can sit and watch ESPN or read magazines while their partners shop. The logic: Statistics suggest women enjoy browsing the entire store before making a selection, while men like to hone in on a single purchase.

The payoff. One caveat to jewelers considering remodeling or building a new store: Determine beforehand what it will take to break even after the investment. Also, you’ll need to carefully define your target customer to ensure that that’s the person your new environment appeals to. There are plenty of beautiful materials to work with and cutting-edge retail design theories, but what it all boils down to is whether you’ll be able to turn a profit when you’re done.

Sharran Selig Bennett, vice president of Bill Selig Jewelers in Windsor, Conn., warns, “Even if you’re only contemplating a store design, you should write a new business plan first. You really need to look at the financial implications.” She notes that Bill Selig Jewelers recently completed a marketing study for its Simsbury, Conn., store, analyzing every category of its revenues over the past three years. The results convinced store management to reconfigure the design for that store (which is expected to be rebuilt in November) by adding significantly more back-room space to serve repair customers.

Similarly, Jay Klos, president of Grogan Jewelers Inc., which has two Alabama locations, cautions that “you have to think of how much the remodeling will increase the bottom line. Initially you’ll see expenses rise, and it could be years before you see your profits rebound.”

That didn’t happen to Grogan’s, which has nearly doubled both gross revenues and profits at its Florence, Ala., store since it was remodeled four years ago. The firm, which is part of the Scull Group of retailers and management specialists that work collaboratively, used consultants to help it pre-plan what level of sales volume was necessary for the firm to realize a profit after the renovation.

Klos attributes the rise in profits in part to the renovation, which created a more effective sales setting, to the firm’s better-trained sales force, and to his ability to run the store increasingly as a business rather than as “just a jewelry store.”

Theming the Jewelry Store

You don’t have to sell T-shirts or populate your store with animated characters to reap the benefits of theming. Though theming has been used by a variety of retailers to attract the under-25 age group, the technique can be adapted to attract a jewelry store’s typically more affluent and mature customer base.

Here’s a short list of theming ideas for high-end jewelry stores from Ed Rosenberg, president of Visionz Unlimited Inc., a design and theming company in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

  • Present jewelry in a related artistic or period type of venue. For instance, if your estate section is strong on art deco jewelry, try for an art deco look in your store.

  • Display contemporary designer jewelry adjacent to original works of contemporary art or sculpture – building upon the concept of “wearable art.”

  • Play upon themes related to the jewelry’s country of origin: Italian designer jewelry, for instance, could be presented in an Italian Renaissance setting.

  • Similarly, build upon themes related to colored gemstones’ country of origin. Emeralds, for instance, could be presented in a Colombian rainforest setting, which could be as simple as using greenery, or building upon an Aztec or Mayan theme.

  • For a more playful approach, present diamonds in an “ice cave” (à la Superman) made of sandblasted acrylic.

  • Present colored gemstones in displays that relate to where they’re mined or to their names or hues. For instance, place aquamarine in an underwater, “marine” setting near a fish tank.

  • Consider presenting sports watches in various sports-related settings.

  • Place titanium wedding bands in displays that relate to other uses for the material, such as golf clubs or fishing rods.

Design for Five Senses

If you want to create a stimulating store environment, give some thought to how you can appeal to each of your customers’ five senses. Here’s a short list of ideas:

Charm them with candy. Serving refreshments is a time-honored practice among many jewelers. But some take it a step beyond the standard donuts and coffee to add to their store’s unique ambiance. Molina Fine Jewelers of Phoenix, for instance, serves Godiva chocolates and virtually any beverage a customer might request, creating a luxurious atmosphere.

The candy bowls at the James Elliot store in Scottsdale, Ariz. (which has “Serious Jewelry Casual People” as its motto) have quite a following of their own. They’re filled with sweets customers remember from their youth, such as Slo Pokes, Tootsie Rolls, Pixie Sticks, and bubble gum. The store’s casual atmosphere is also enhanced by a small bar that serves light refreshments during the day and at charity events after hours.

“People come in all the time to see what kind of candy we have in our bowls,” says Felicia Krigel, who co-owns the store with her husband, James Elliot Krigel, son of the owners of the Tivol Plaza jewelry stores in Kansas City, Mo., and Overland Park, Kan., “It cuts down a lot of barriers when you’re showing fine jewelry to a 50-year-old couple eating Slo Pokes. Our store is elegant, but we still keep a sense of humor.”

Stimulate sales with smells. Scent is a tricky, frequently overlooked aspect of the retail environment. There are some obvious ways to prevent problems. Ask store staff to go easy on the perfume and after shave. Pour freshly brewed coffee into a thermos carafe instead of leaving it on a burner. Increase the flow of fresh air throughout your store with improved ventilation.

It’s also possible to use scents to create positive associations, though it must be done carefully to avoid irritating those with sensitivities or allergies. Fresh flowers are one strategy, Mellergaard says, but she warns that pollen-producing flowers might aggravate asthma. Alternatively, she suggests aroma machines that give off subtle scents, such as the smell of a wild flower garden, a forest, citrus, fresh linen, or leather. “It’s an option that’s not outrageously expensive, and unlike other strategies, like flowers or plants, it’s not labor-intensive,” says Mellergaard. One firm that provides such services: AromaSys Inc. in Minneapolis, which is currently used by six jewelers nationwide.

According to the Chicago-based Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, there is a correlation between the introduction of appealing scents and an increase in sales. Alan R. Hirsch, M.D., neurological director of the organization, cites a study showing people will spend longer at a jewelry counter in the presence of a pleasant smell. He also notes that “of all the human senses, the olfactory has the greatest impact on the emotions because the olfactory sensory apparatus is intertwined with the limbic system – the part of the brain associated with emotions.”

The sound of silence. Sound is another way to create a selling atmosphere that can also be problematic. Run the same four CDs continuously, day after day, and the staff may get so irritated they pop the Spice Girls into the stereo when the manager steps out to lunch. When music creates a mood that appeals to your target customer, though, it can enhance the shopping experience. One option is to use a firm such as AEI Music Network Inc. in Seattle, which matches music selections to a particular store’s demographics.

A different approach would be to install acoustic muffling to create silence (virtually every store should do this to banish shop noises such as the jeweler’s polishing wheel and steamer from the selling area). “In metropolises where people are stressed by noise, to walk into a space that looks great and sounds peaceful gives you an immediate ‘aah,’ and that’s a very good feeling for a jeweler to encourage,” says Mellergaard.

Another sound-related design trend: an indoor waterfall that imparts an atmosphere of serenity. Just make sure it doesn’t sound like a urinal. In the James Elliot store, which has created the feel of an outside space inside the store, a black granite waterfall was installed on a back wall. “We love the sound of water, and thought it was relaxing,” says Krigel. Tabletop fountains are another way to achieve the same effect, with a significantly smaller investment.

A contrast of textures. The sense of touch provides yet another subliminal way to communicate your store’s identity. Again, at James Elliot, which opened about a year ago, a sense of permanence was created by the look and feel of a specially designed, intricately patterned stone floor made of pietra stone, travertine tiles, and black granite tiles.

That mixture of materials represents a trend toward the use of mixed materials throughout the store – all of which subtly transmit sensory stimulation. Flooring, for instance, can be a combination of hard and soft surfaces such as carpet, hard stone, or marble that together “create a contrast of textures that add interest in support of the store’s image and personality,” says Greg Gorman, creative director of GMG Design Inc. in St. Louis.

When a showcase is composed of mixed materials (a combination of woods, metals, or stones, for instance), “the intricacy draws the eye in and helps the customer focus on the product,” says Mellergaard. She says the use of mixed materials is of particular value to “jewelers with interesting merchandise who are looking for innovative ways to present product and separate collections.”

Added appeal for the eye. Though visual elements are the most obvious aspect of store design, a few points typically are overlooked. Gorman notes that vertical design features draw customers into a store. He recommends coffered ceilings or varying heights in the ceiling and in ceiling light fixtures, special wall treatments, vertical showcases, and even visual obstructions that create a sense of mystery.

“The downside of having no vertical interest,” Gorman says, “is that if someone quickly glances into a store, there is no merchandise visible nor any visual excitement, and they move on. People go to stores where they are comfortable or for reasons they can’t even explain, like ‘wow, that’s a pretty cool wall.’ ”