Jewelers As Store Designers

Maybe its a ’90s thing.

Maybe it’s simply a matter of finances.

Regardless, more independent jewelers are remodeling their stores. And rather than hire outside designers, most are doing it themselves.

A poll of the JCKRetail Jewelers Panel in August found that one in three jewelers (35%) have done at least some remodeling in their stores in the past two years. In many cases, the jewelers felt a makeover was more than a cosmetic nicety. They deemed it necessary to remain in business.

Customers at Bartle Jewelers in Mukwonago, Wis., for example, never seemed to venture past the repair section in the front room to the two rooms in back until remodeling opened the store into one large space.

The owners of Carriage Fine Jewelry and Gifts, Bakersfield, Cal., found that customers mistook the jewelry store for an office because of its location in a business center.

And Jennie Lee Ellis of Ellis Jewelry in Gunnison, Colo., considered her storefront “a sorry combination of old red brick, painted concrete and dilapidated plywood.”

A number of jewelers tied their remodeling project with a move upscale. “I’m moving into more expensive goods, and I want a more expensive and refined look,” explains one Arizona jeweler.

Jewelers need to reevaluate store appearance periodically because of its effect on traffic, says Frank Molteni of D.B. Ryland & Co. in Bristol, Va. It should be done regularly because it’s just as important to the business as inventory, advertising and personnel concerns. “Change is always a necessity,” he says. “Customers notice when things always are the same.”

DIY remodeling: Half of those polled planned the remodeling themselves rather than hire someone else. That can save on costs. But it also means a deeper commitment — or “sweat equity,” as some jewelers put it — than is required if you hire a designer and contractor to do the work.

Most jewelers who do their own design and remodeling, at least the shrewd ones, put serious time into deciding what needs to be changed. They critically evaluate their facility, ask hard questions about what should be changed and how to do it, check out other stores’ designs and research who can do the work most efficiently at the best price.

Sharon and Don Brakebill of Carriage Jewelry, for example, spent six months on their remodeling. Four of those months were devoted solely to research and preparation. Meanwhile, Dale Robertson of Norris Jewelers, Milford, Ohio, walked the malls and chose styles and layouts he liked from other stores.

If you prepare well for the remodel, you can save money. While some jewelers in the poll reported costs as high as $160,000 for a major overhaul, a good number of jobs cost around $10,000, with several in the $2,500-$5,000 range.

There are hassles, of course. Remodeling can take longer than expected, especially if there isn’t adequate planning or there are delays in securing permits, variances and financing. But a good remodel will pay for itself. Most jewelers polled say their project improved their image, boosted store traffic and, for many, significantly increased annual sales and profits, in part because of a more efficient use of space and better selection of inventory.

Seibert Goldsmith & Jeweler in Columbus, Ohio, moved from a mall location to a building bought specifically to house the business. The store was honored by a proclamation from the mayor in connection with its $180,000 remodeling and is now “super busy, with lots of different people,” says Jack Seibert.

The effect a remodel has on customers can be startling. “People still go ‘Wow!’ when they come in, and it’s been a year,” says Steve Bartle, owner of Bartle Jewelers.

Some jewelers get double value from their remodeling by incorporating their makeover into their marketing. Carl Carstens of Schnack Jewelry in Alexandria, La., used the slogan, “A ‘New’ Store to Serve Your Needs” in his ads after his store was remodeled. Norris Jewelers in Milford, Ohio, went all out with balloons and grand opening ads announcing its new location.The whole event was tied to a Mother’s Day promotion.

Following are a few case studies of jewelers who designed their own remodeling project and benefited as a result.

‘A MAJOR CHANGE NEEDED’

In the beginning, there was dissatisfaction.

Carriage Jewelry in Bakersfield, Cal., owned by Sharon and Don Brakebill, has a perfectly fine corner location with plenty of parking on a main street in a strip office center. That, however, was the problem. The store — a 10-year-old business with a staff of six — looked like an office not a jewelry store, says Sharon Brakebill.

The Brakebills commissioned a local junior college to conduct a “secret shopper” survey of the store’s operations and service. The results were good, except for one: non-shoppers couldn’t tell it was a jewelry store from outside.

“Clearly, a major change was needed,” says Sharon Brakebill.

To get some idea of what looked good and what didn’t, the Brakebills and their staff evaluated other stores and buildings, locally and in nearby cities. They also looked at what local contractors and store remodelers could do for them. “We asked ourselves questions such as ‘What makes this look like an office building? How do I know that it’s a retail store?'” she says.

They settled on a new look inside and out with red and green paint, a new brick exterior and a stylish green awning. Indeed, the awning was the key to the whole redesign. It makes a statement that “this is a fine jewelry store,” she says. It’s also a recognizable landmark when giving directions.

“It has become, in effect, our signature piece.”

The entire project took six months, four of which were spent studying other businesses and checking out professionals to do the work. The awning, for example, had to be custom-made and fit to the building. Dull gray paneling below the windows was replaced with a brick veneer, which also covered additional insulation.

The entire cost for the project was an economical $4,500. Sharon Brakebill attributes the low cost to the careful planning and preparation.

The effects of the remodeling have been impressive. The new exterior look “upgraded our image instantly,” she says, and there has been a noticeable increase in the number of customers from nearby businesses and residential areas.

It also affected other retailers. Brakebills’ makeover has spawned a brood of copycats. “Suddenly, there are a lot of new awnings around town,” Brakebill observes dryly.

The best endorsement has come at the cash register. Since the remodeling, there’s been a noticeable increase of upper-income customers, says Brakebill. “The redesign gave us a completely different, more upscale look, and makes it comfortable for [higher-income customers] to come in,” she says. “It gives them confidence about who we are and what we have.”

Since last year, that has translated into a 15% gain in the store’s annual profits and sales.

SWEAT EQUITY BUILDS A WEALTHIER IMAGE

In the upmarket ambiance of Norris Jeweler’s new location, it’s hard to imagine the combination of sweat, sawdust and pounding hammers that shaped the store.

When owner Dale Robertson moved his Milford, Ohio, store to a new location within the community, he saw it as the perfect opportunity to upgrade the store’s image. The location he was moving from was in an older building with a leaking roof and heating problems. His customers complained of inadequate parking and difficulty getting to the store from the highway. However, he wanted the remodeling of his new location to be as inexpensive as possible — which left out expensive contractors or designers.

“We used our own finances to fund the project with much ‘sweat equity,'” Robertson says. With a little resourcefulness, Robertson designed and set about building his own dream. He visited stores in the nearby shopping mall and noted which styles and layouts worked well. Because his store has always specialized in upscale jewelry, including a large selection of beautiful colored stones, he wanted to create a “richer” look than was evident in his previous location.

He chose two shades of dark blue carpet and a gold metallic wallpaper imprinted with colored roses, grapes and grape leaves in deep tones. He hung 4C’s diamond posters in gold frames and added mirrors to the walls. He also added a new seating area with wing chairs and a table.

Robertson wanted to use the space in the new store efficiently while still communicating openness and trustworthiness to customers. He added more space for the sales and shop areas, including room to add another bench person and casting equipment in the future. He enclosed the shop area with solid walls to add “mystique” and divided the sales area with a wall of windows, a setup that refrains from “violating our customer’s trust,” Robertson says. “Our store is more open and inviting,” he says. “All our customers appreciate the warmth of our store.”

The overall project took longer than he expected — three weeks from the time he was handed the keys to the building to the store’s grand opening. Ten days before the new location opened for business, Robertson closed his old location and worked on finishing the new store every day from 8 a.m. to midnight. He hired a contractor (who happened to be a customer) to do the more difficult construction. Robertson and a friend laid the carpet. On the day of the grand opening, the store was finished except for a few final touches. The total cost of the project: $12,000.

The response has been phenomenal, he says. Robertson heard “great raves” from customers and vendors about the new location and saw traffic improve, sales double and profits increase due to a more accessible location, easier parking and a more inviting look. Because his new store’s appearance is wealthier, Robertson says the clientele has become more upscale — fitting nicely with his high hopes for his store’s new image.

NEW DESIGN REVEALS A HIDDEN BUSINESS

The people of Mukwonago, Wis., knew Bartle Jewelers as a great place to have a clasp fixed or a watch battery replaced.

What they didn’t realize, much to owner Steve Bartle’s despair and dismay, was that there were two more rooms in the back of the store filled with cases of new jewelry. “Some people never got past the front door and thought all I did was repair,” says Bartle. The building had once housed offices and was divided into four small rooms. In the front room, Bartle’s father, the former owner, had built a counter with a cash register to take in goods and charge for repairs. Two doorways in the front room led to back rooms, “but people either didn’t know there was anything back there or felt they had to ask permission to enter the back rooms,” says Bartle.

Once he realized the problem, Bartle took a closer look at his store, which had been remodeled in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The decor was stuck in the “Brady Bunch ’70s,” complete with orange wallpaper and wood paneling below a chair rail in one room, checked and striped wallpaper in others and dull brown carpet on the floors, he says. With the help of a good friend who he calls “a whiz with colors,” he began to plan how he could more effectively draw customers into his showroom while bringing his store into the ’90s.

He picked out paint and carpet and knocked down walls. Though he talked to carpenters to get ideas and hired outside help for the framework, drywalling and electrical work, he did about 70% of the remodel by himself. “I did it in the middle of the summer when it wasn’t as busy,” Bartle says. “I worked at night, cleaned up and did the best I could.” Closing the store to finish the job seemed to defeat the purpose, so he continued to run his business through the chaos. “I did a lot of ‘Sorry about the mess,'” he says. “People were very understanding.”

The store was opened into a large L-shaped room instead of the smaller rooms. The counter and cash register were moved back so customers have to walk past all the showcases to have repairs done.

He sanded down the fake wood grain on the showcases, used a special painting technique to give them a marble effect and moved them to the front. He painted the walls mauve with a light gray below the chair rail, and added borders at the ceiling and the top of the chair rail. The new carpet is blue-gray. “The new colors really tied the store together, and the job opened up the entire store,” he says.

Bartle ran into a few hassles doing the remodeling himself, spending extra time with unexpected steps. “Whoever put up the wallpaper never prepped the walls first,” he says. “What a pain.”

Despite a great deal of work and some temporary inconveniences, however, the do-it-yourself remodeling work paid off. The total cost of the job came in under $3,000. More than a year later, customers still exclaim at the beautiful store. And Bartle met his ultimate goal.

“People actually look in my cases while I change watch batteries or do simple repairs,” he says.

FRESH NEW FACE GREETS CUSTOMERS

The brick and glass building housing Ellis Jewelry in Gunnison, Colo., was built in the 1950s for a dry cleaner. It was certainly not the least attractive shop along the main street of this tourist town. But owner Jennie Lee Ellis knew the storefront had to go.

“To me it stuck out like a sore thumb,” she says. The red brick sat over a strip of concrete, and the roofline of old plywood sat low over the store. The store looked run-down.

“I wanted to improve the appearance and my attitude and make it more compatible with the ‘Western/Victorian’ mix that is prevalent in our community,” she says.

Where to begin was the dilemma, however. “If I had the financial resources, I would have demolished the entire front, constructed a real jewelry storefront and remodeled the interior as well,” Ellis says. “But since that wasn’t possible, I did the best I could to spruce it up.”

The owner of the bar next door had building experience, so the two set out to draft plans for the storefront. First, they tore out the threshold and door frame that customers often tripped over as they entered the store and replaced them with a new door and frame. They removed the old sign and reframed two large windows. The overall cost was only $2,500.

At first, the renovation was confusing to customers, many of whom visit the town as tourists only once a year. “They thought we had gone out of business,” Ellis says. But in the year following the remodeling, she noticed an increase in traffic and a 12% increase in sales.

She also noticed that her own work sparked a wildfire of beautification efforts around town. “The city started a downtown revitalization and put up trees and green benches around town,” she says. “It’s amazing how a town’s attitude changes when one business spruces up its store. I seem to have started a domino effect among all the other businesses.”

SELF HELP FOR YOUR STORE

Feeling vaguely dissatisfied with the appearance of your store lately? Before you start tearing down walls, consider these tips from Herb Schottland, owner of Store Design & Fixturing in Fairfax, Va., who designs stores for jewelers around the country. He recommends plenty of planning before hammering the first nail.

1. Consider the W’s. Decide why you want to remodel your store. Are you trying to retain current customers or change your image to attract new ones? Examine what you carry in your store; focus on the products that are working and eliminate those that aren’t. Who are your customers? You must fit your new design to the people you are trying to reach and avoid looking more upscale than your customer base and merchandise. Also consider where you are located: images that work well in large cities may not survive in small towns.

2. Realistic budget. “Some jewelers think they can remodel for $1.75,” jokes Schottland. Be realistic, making a list of everything that needs to be changed and adding up the prices. If the job is too expensive to do at once, finish it in pieces. To make sure your finished product achieves what you envisioned, Schottland suggests consulting store designers to make the project most effective. Most designers offer a free initial consultation. To save money, hire customers or friends who are skilled in carpentry, carpet laying or electrical work. Round up family and friends to help you do simpler tasks such as painting and wallpapering. Break out the hard hats and keep your store open as much as possible during the project. Schottland recommends remodeling sales to bring people into the store despite the dust. “I’ve found that people love to come in and watch the construction,” he says. He tries to minimize his customers’ “down time” to only one day.

3. Usable design. Your store layout should enhance traffic flow and prioritize your merchandise. Consider how much space you want to devote to each product.Think about special features such as diamond rooms and seating areas. Schottland spends time looking through books with his customers to choose layouts that work well.

Modern stores are using light wood veneers (especially in high-end jewelry stores) or light laminates, and they’re relying on Leatherette and suede as backgrounds for the jewelry. Schottland recommends solid colors instead of patterns on the walls, and only one color instead of two shades in the showcases.

Octron lighting, which produces a whiter light to enhance jewelry, is recommended in showcases as opposed to halogen lighting, which makes merchandise look better in the showcase than outside. Halogen lights are best for ceiling lighting, Schottland says, and are most effective when mounted directly over the front rail of showcases and angled back to minimize glare.

Have you remodeled your store in the past two years?

Yes 35%
No 61%
N/A 4%

Who designed the remodel?

Store Designer 26%
Architect 18%
Yourself 50%
Other 1%
N/A 5%

Source: JCK Retail Jewelers Panel, August 1996