Double Agents



Sometimes selling sweaters simply isn’t enough. Inside four fashionable boutiques that have branched out into the jewelry business.

From New York to Naples

Jennifer McCurry is used to her employer’s store, Naples, Fla.–based Marissa Collections, being compared with some of New York City’s swankiest fashion salons. But it wasn’t always this way. Five years ago, owner Marissa Hartington hired McCurry, a graduate gemologist, to help bring her jewelry department up to par with Barney’s, Bergdorf Goodman, and other iconic Manhattan fashion emporiums in an effort to give her jet-setting clientele the one-stop shopping experience to which they’d become accustomed.

Jennifer McCurry, fine jewelry buyer for Marissa Collections

“We have clients who want us to dress them from head to toe in shoes, handbags, and makeup,” says McCurry, “so why not ­jewelry? We are moving into an era of lifestyle stores, not traditional jewelry stores.”

As fine jewelry and accessories buyer, McCurry started stocking the cases with myriad looks at a variety of prices—gold rings by Lucifer Vir Honestus, gemstone earrings by Irene Neuwirth, and crystal necklaces by Erickson Beamon, for example—united by one common theme: In addition to complementing the store’s couture selection (Jean Paul Gaultier dresses, Givenchy handbags), McCurry also wanted jewels that, rather strategically, looked good on the go. “That’s what Naples is about—bikes with baskets, and people driving to dinner in golf carts,” McCurry says.

18k yellow gold hoop earrings with carnelian, chrysoprase, lapis, pink opal, and turquoise; $10,980; Irene Neuwirth, Venice, Calif.; 310-450-6063; ireneneuwirth.com

Thanks to her efforts, fine jewelry now plays a significant part in the store’s business, accounting for 25 percent of sales. McCurry chalks up Marissa Collections’ success to cross-trained stylists (not sales associates) and to the woman who started it all: “Marissa, Marissa, Marissa!” she says. “She’s on the floor with the stylists all the time, perfecting each client’s style.”

One tactic that works wonders: The store holds morning style sessions—complete with printouts of designer bios—that bring staffers up to speed on vendors and how to determine complementary accessories and clothes. Additionally, the store encourages all employees—from those on the floor to behind-the-scenes support staff—to take advantage of online Gemological Institute of America courses to further their jewelry knowledge. For her part, McCurry supplements these efforts with exercises from her own bag of tricks. “I test stylists on stones and styles, especially during slow times,” she says.

Hallmarks of Success

The secret to the success of Halls—an upscale Kansas City, Mo., department store opened by Hallmark founder Joyce C. Hall in 1913—is a proprietary blend of experience, reputation, and best-of-category offerings. That includes fine ­jewelry, which accounts for 10 percent of total sales. With a wide-ranging designer ­fashion selection—think Rock & Republic jeans, Nanette Lepore dresses, and Rebecca Taylor blouses—the emphasis is on offering looks that convey unique “artistic expressions,” says fine jewelry buyer Scott Stiles.

Kansas City, Mo., institution Halls

The strategy makes the most sense on the jewelry front, where Halls must battle a slew of competitors—on its own block, no less. Located directly across the street from well-regarded Tivol, a rival for nearly 100 years, Halls also competes with a nearby Tiffany & Co. boutique, not to mention several other jewelry stores, all within a few blocks’ radius. Halls’ sterling decades-old reputation and loyal following have gone a long way toward helping the store prevail over its neighbors. But don’t underestimate the power of an original accessory selection to lure customers and keep them coming back.

“Lines need to have something that people can hang their hats on as far as a look or design,” says Stiles, citing Russell Trusso’s karat gold and enamel flower pins as an example of a distinct designer aesthetic. Using a coherent and unmistakable designer signature as his chief criterion, Stiles stocks Ippolita gold bangles featuring “changes of colored stones from one season to the next,” pieces from Temple St. Clair’s Angel collection, and Gucci horsebit-theme jewels, an iconic motif that’s evident across the entire line.

Meanwhile, Buccellati’s Italian baroque-style jewels speak to a different customer, while still satisfying Stiles’ desire to offer pieces that have a recognizable look, he says. “Each has something special to offer,” Stiles says. “Jewelry is a lot about self-expression, so Halls carries a lot of different looks and designers.”

Aspen of the East

Joe Extine, manager of the popular Highlands, N.C., haunt Acorns

Most retailers have to work hard to capture an audience. Not so for Acorns, a European-style boutique situated at 4,118 feet above sea level in Highlands, N.C., on the grounds of the Old Edwards Inn & Spa, a destination resort in the southern Appalachian mountains. The inn promotes the store in ads, and draws in international visitors, American vacationers, and local second-home owners looking for a break from their mountaintop retreats—all of which explains why “Acorns has been compared to stores in Aspen,” says Joe Extine, store manager.

To appeal to his well-traveled, luxury-loving clientele, Extine stocks antique Persian rugs, English and French furniture, Lilly Pulitzer shift dresses, and Carlos Falchi leather bags. Completing the mix are fine jewels from Yossi Harari, Elizabeth Locke, and more. Designers included in the shop’s five cases of jewelry have quality workmanship and excellent customer service, says Extine, to accommodate “a lot of special orders.”

A man in need of a birthday gift for his wife visited Acorns last fall. He wanted an 18-inch Elizabeth Locke chain necklace in Locke’s signature 19k gold, but the only piece in stock was too short—just 16 inches. Acorns’ staff and Locke accommodated his request for a longer piece within two weeks. The final sale totaled $19,000.

“Our customers are used to finer things,” Extine says. “They are used to shopping at Neiman Marcus.” Fortunately for Acorns, the closest Neiman’s is two hours away in Atlanta, the nearest metropolitan area. And, adds Extine, Highlands’ town ordinances prohibit chains from setting up shop, allowing retailers like Acorns to thrive.

Today, approximately 30 percent of the shop’s total sales are from fine jewelry, despite the fact that it accounts for just 5 percent of floor space. Fueling those numbers are knowledgeable salespeople who are trained to sell all products. When shoppers are buying dinner attire on the second level, associates ask guests if they have the right jewelry to wear with their purchases and are quick to messenger possibilities upstairs or ready them for inspection on the first floor. “Repeat customers are our lifeline,” Extine says.

Graceland Great

Jeweler Jay Mednikow, who’s partnering with the jewelry-minded Memphis fashion retailer

Sure, plenty of people come to Memphis, Tenn., to visit Graceland, Elvis Presley’s eccentric former abode. But what jewelry fans among them may not know is that a nearby shopping destination offers an experience every bit as unique as the King’s castle. James Davis—a 17,000-square-foot store selling Armani suits, Red Engine jeans, and Etro tunics—boasts an impressive roster of jewelers including Emily Armenta, Vendorafa, and Rhonda Faber Green, to name just a few.

“There’s no Saks or Neiman’s,” says Van Weinberg, owner of the 49-year-old lifestyle store, by way of explaining his store’s strong designer offering.

Memphis, Tenn., shop James Davis

To strengthen his market share, Weinberg started leasing space to a jeweler in 2006, a move that made sense for his upscale customers, who consider jewelry the ultimate accessory. (Case in point: The day before Weinberg spoke to JCK, a woman breezed through the store, “spent $4,800 on sportswear, and bought a silver $1,800 necklace on the way out,” he says.) Now Weinberg is forging a new partnership with Mednikow Jewelers, which will rent the store’s 450-square-foot jewelry boutique.

18k rose gold Capri rings in chalcedony (right) and rose quartz; $9,500 each; Pomellato, New York City; 800-254-6020; pomellato.com

For Jay Mednikow, president of Mednikow, which is located in a shopping center across the street from James Davis, the collaboration will help the store “keep a foot in high-end fashion lines,” he says, acknowledging that these styles have failed to find the right customer in his own flagship. The recession drove sales of classic looks like three-stone diamond rings and rivière necklaces, but Mednikow looks forward to attracting more fashion-forward clients, such as fans of Pomellato, Heather Moore, and other indie designers.

Jewelry price points in James Davis will be a tad lower, but it’s the new breed of high-fashion jewelry buyer—different from most ­jewelry store shoppers—Mednikow says he’s excited to meet. “If they spend a couple thousand dollars on a suit, they’re not afraid to spend a couple thousand on a necklace they’ll only wear for one season.”