Good Store Design: How To Beat Threshold Resistance

Every store is different. That’s the first rule in the design process. When designer and jeweler work together to envision a final result, they need to consider many elements, from personal taste and store location to merchandise carried and customers served. It’s desirable that a designer have some experience with jewelry retailing, but vital that he or she be a good listener. Design may be a visual experience, but unless the designer truly hears what a client wants, the result can not possibly suit the jeweler.

Whether the new look is for a new location or an existing store, it must meet certain goals or needs and must cope with certain problems or challenges. Here is how a handful of store designers have done the job.

A CUSTOM LOOK

The rustic look attracts many of the thousands who each year visit the scenic bayside hamlet of Sausalito, Cal. That’s why city elders pay close attention when retailers in the town’s historic district renovate or plan new construction.

When Terry Wong and architect Michael Partow approached the city with plans to create a contemporary, upscale jewelry store in a 900-sq.-ft. space that formerly housed a tourist shop, the city was strict. Officials required that many of the 1930s building’s original elements remain, including an exterior column and bay windows above the street level.

Trio Jewelry was to become the first U.S. outlet for a prestigious Hong Kong business that Wong’s family has operated for three decades. Wong asked Partow for a design that would meet city requirements, yet have a custom look not echoed in other shops nearby.

Wong stocks a range of contemporary jewelry from his own company and local artisans, as well as fine writing instruments, Italian designer goods and handcrafted glass items. Partow wanted people to have a clear view of the merchandise from outside, so he designed special window showcases and replaced narrow wooden doors with wide, glass French doors. The new doors generally are left open during business hours, allowing visitors six feet of entrance space &endash; twice the width of the old wood doors.

The front showcases feature armored glass placed directly into marble. The backs are also glass, allowing passersby to see into the store. The only vertical design element visible at the entrance: a lone architectural column to one side adorned with a carved wood diamond.

The interior was designed to optimize the limited floor space, says Partow. Vertical-grain Douglas fir cases are curved to break up the rectangular space. “It’s a fluid form of sculpting,” he says. Curves in the ceiling echo those of the showcases.

A low level of ambient light is offset by highly illuminated showcases. And various types of recessed lighting give the small space a grand sense of openness.

Wong says business has been good since the store opened in summer 1994. Though he has garnered a large customer base locally, traffic does swell during the peak tourist months of June to October.

NOT JUST ANOTHER CHAIN STORE

Ross Jewelers is a seven-store chain of high-volume jewelry stores located in malls throughout New England. Owner RJC Corp. wanted its newest branch in Saugus, Mass., to have a contemporary look that would set it apart from more traditional jewelry stores in the mall. Bob Rottenberg, president of Ross Jewelers, had Marsha Steinberg, his residential designer, assemble a team to handle the job. The team included Grid/3 International Inc., New York City.

The store has a curvilinear design that allows traffic to flow easily, helps staff members to keep track of customers for service and security reasons, and puts the jeweler in sight of the customers. Rich fabric, marble and tinted steel emphasize the curves.

Metal halide and tungsten halogen light is dramatic, energy efficient and customer friendly. (Metal halide, which emits a clear white light, is extremely energy efficient; a 70-watt lamp emits light equivalent to a 150-watt incandescent bulb.)

`A SPECIAL PLACE’

When the Tivol family, which has had a store in Kansas City, Mo., since 1910, decided to open a second store, they “wanted it to be a special place,” says President Tom Tivol. “We wanted an interior that was a jewel in itself.”

The Tivols asked Feingold Associates, Kansas City, to design a store that invited customers in, that made the jewelry &endash; not the architecture &endash; the star. The new store opened last year in the upscale Hawthorne Plaza in Overland Park, Kan., a Kansas City suburb.

First-time buyers often are intimidated by the counters and salespeople confronting them at the entrance to most jewelry stores. But at the new Tivol store, shoppers first see a 12-ft.-wide etched glass sculpture at the end of a 50-ft.-long barrel-vaulted ceiling. The spectacular Art Nouveau-style piece draws in customers.

So does the curving design of the 4,000-sq.-ft. store, expressed in the walls, the marble floor and even the display case drawers. It’s carried out in fine materials, including six colors of Italian marble flooring, hand-crafted mahogany walls and custom-designed mirrors atop the display cases. Thousands of lights keep the diamonds glittering and the gold gleaming.

Design credits go to architect Feingold Associates (Alan Feingold, principal; Arnold Woker, Sam Lappeman and Joy Blasi, project team); lighting consultant Yarnell Associates (Bruce Yarnell and Derek Porter); general contractor Stultz Manufacturing; and glass sculptor Kathy Barnard.

ANCIENT THEME, MODERN LOOK

J.B. Robinson Jewelers recently redesigned eight of its 80 stores with an Egyptian theme. Architect Richard Jencen Associates of Cleveland, Ohio, sought to convey the connections between ancient treasures and the modern treasures found in the store showcases. It did so by using Egyptian forms and shapes as design elements throughout the stores.

Visitors first see a blue-and-gold color scheme in dramatic columns that flank the entrances. Bold striping in the two colors is also sloped for a pyramid effect. The showcases, visible from outside the store, feature rotating displays and corners topped by pyramid-shaped glass; they are anchored with clawed feet.

Each store also features faux Egyptian artifacts. For instance, a golden statuette links today’s treasures with those of ancient Egypt. Materials used inside include stone, granite, gold leaf, sycamore wood and blue laminate.

The redesign’s premier store, shown in these photos, is in the Chapel Hill Mall in Akron, Ohio, not far from the headquarters of Sterling Inc., J.B. Robinson’s parent company. During the first weekend with the new design, the 1,200-sq.-ft. store doubled its sales compared with the same weekend a year earlier. Other stores with the new look are located in other Ohio cities and in Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.

MAINTAINING TRADITION

Levy Jewelers is a 100-year-old jewelry firm. Its flagship store, built in 1937 in downtown Savannah, Ga., needed a facelift that would create a new image and improve efficiency without sacrificing historic traditions. It also needed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act &endash; a tough challenge in many older buildings.

Using the original 1937 drawings, Grid/3 International of New York City replanned the store and office, moving merchandise and store operations downstairs. All wood fixturing and floor showcases now comply with ADA with 32″ minimum clear aisles behind showcases and gates that are 32″ clear when opened. (The staff also likes the extra space behind cases, which makes it easier to function at busy times, such as Christmas.) The sales, cash and service areas and the diamond room all are accessible to staff and customers by wheelchair. Levy Jewelers received a 1994 Preservation Award for its renovations.

AN UPSCALE APPROACH

When Simon Katz, owner of Simon’s Jewelers, Clayton, Mo., was ready to move his store from its 13th-floor location, he moved up &endash; to a stand-alone building three blocks away. He hired the Chicago Design Group and Trinity Engineering, Rohnert Park, Cal., to help him transform the former art gallery into a guild jewelry store.

In addition to the high visibility of the new location, the larger space allowed Katz to expand the store’s showcases from 30 to 120 linear feet, plus wall units. To fill the cases, Katz expanded his jewelry inventory and, for the first time, included a watch section. Three exterior window showcases increase visibility.

A curved central showcase area is flanked by additional cases against the wall; a smaller area separated by an arched doorway retains the rounded features (including the wall mirrors) seen throughout the rooms. Lighting is tucked into a ceiling unit that echoes the case below. The glass-topped cases are fronted with a cherry veneer that warms the carpeted room.

In the year since his store’s move, Katz says sales are up 250%. “The move was the best thing we’ve ever done,” he says. His upscale clientele found more items from which to choose at the new location, now enjoy a more pleasant environment in which to browse and &endash; thanks to new valet parking &endash; can reach Simon’s showroom faster than using an elevator to the 13th floor.

SPACE TO SPARE

Jeweler Dan Moyer created a new store two years ago that greatly expanded his selling space &endash; and his sales. It’s only three miles from his former location, but the stores are light years apart in many respects.

Moyer built the new store and owns it. He and a number of local architects and designers mapped out a large selling floor of 2,000 sq. ft., adjacent to a dramatic staircase that lands at a balcony overlooking the main floor. (By comparison, his former location totaled 1,200 sq. ft.) Thirty-two showcases dot the first floor, which features a separate bridal area and four main watch boutiques, each showcasing a different brand.

A conference room, kitchen and executive offices occupy an additional 1,000 sq. ft on the second floor. The basement is used for repairs and stocking areas.

Moyer says business has increased steadily since the building opened in late 1993; sales grew 30% during the first full year.