Innovative Retailer: Debbie Klein of Art + Soul in Boulder

Debbie Klein, owner of the fine jewelry and art outpost Art + Soul in Boulder, Colo., had been planning to redo her 3,000-square-foot boutique for years. Then, during a shopping trip with her adult stepson, a 20-something police officer, renovation inspiration struck.

“He had been going to a big-box store looking at an engagement ring for his girlfriend for, like, three months—as guys do,” she recalls with a laugh. “Eventually, he asked me to come see the ring. And when we walked into this big-box store, ­everyone knew his name and was welcoming him so warmly. I thought, When he wants to buy a pair of earrings for his wife next year, this is exactly where he’ll go.”

That retail experience led Klein to create a special section for Art + Soul during a recent top-to-bottom renovation. The shop-in-shop, called Soulmate, exclusively showcases wedding and commitment ­jewelry—with a special emphasis on alternative engagement rings from innovative fine jewelry brands including Anna Sheffield, Polly Wales, Anne Sportun, Adel Chefridi, Megan Thorne, and Delphine Leymarie.

“Bridal and commitment bands—those are often the first significant pieces of jewelry someone invests in,” Klein explains. “You may not ­remember where you bought a pair of earrings, but you’ll always ­remember where your engagement ring came from.”

What led you to create Soulmate?
After last year, the economy changed and the local demographics changed a little for us, too, with so many big tech companies coming into the area. It occurred to me that I wasn’t seeing my old reliable clients as much anymore. I thought, Okay, how do I see them more? With bridal, you have the opportunity to really work closely with your clients. That’s why we created Soulmate and expanded the jewelry sections in our store in general. Soulmate features nine to 10 designers doing alternative bridal. It’s an opportunity for people to really see a breadth of different designers’ work. Someone who really doesn’t know what he or she wants can come in and try on different metals and styles.

What does alternative bridal mean to you as a retailer?
For me, alternative bridal means there’s an element about a style that’s not necessarily something you might find in a big-box store. We carry lots of colored stone styles, and we carry lab-created diamonds from Diamond Foundry, among other things. We started out as an art gallery 17 years ago, so we take a similar approach to jewelry—we don’t carry high-­production jewelry. There has to be the hand of the designer in ­everything.

What does Soulmate look like ­within the store?
We redid the entire store with all-new casing. For Soulmate, right now we have primarily pulled most of the store’s bridal into cases in the section. I created a seating area. And we have a sign with a Wi-Fi password. We have a couple of desks in the store so people can sit down and look at things. Ring shopping can be an exhausting and overwhelming process, so I wanted to make it fun and friendly.

How did you know the demand for a special alternative bridal section was there?
I know from analyzing my own business. It wasn’t the biggest stretch to take this next step because it was sort of the natural direction of where we were going with bridal. It was a question of: How can we put it together and market it as an entity within the gallery? I don’t want to lose my clients who want a pair of earrings.

How do you see the concept ­evolving in the future?
I see it growing and being able to rotate different designers in and out of it. I see us being able to continue to offer more custom options, too, which will be really fun. It’s exciting to see where it can go.

Above: alternative engagement rings with sapphire center stones by Adel Chefridi

(Kim Huggins Photography/Cynthia Cruz)

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