Talking to Tom Dougherty, the Retailer-Manufacturer Behind Studio 2015

This holiday season, Tom Dougherty will have a new way to entice his clientele.?

?In 2008, the retailer-manufacturer bought a building in ­Woodstock, Ill. His plan: Create a 6,000-square-foot showroom and 8,000-square-foot ­manufacturing facility for his jewelry company, Studio 2015, and rent the rest to an outside client.

But the recession made the space “fairly difficult to grow,” says the ­jewelry veteran, and it remained unoccupied for years. Instead of accepting defeat (or jumping ship entirely), Dougherty doubled down by building out an additional 3,500 square feet.

In September, he debuted the Design Center, a high-tech, multiuse space kitted out with upscale party props—from massive flat-screen TVs and oversized sofas to a wood-fired bread and pizza oven. The jewelry shop is adjacent to the space, which Dougherty rents to groups for special occasions. Weeks before opening, a few rehearsal dinners, baby showers, and one slammin’ Super Bowl fiesta were already on the books.

Dougherty also plans to host client get-togethers in the Design ­Center—groups of 20 or so women who bring in their jewelry to be cleaned and appraised, free of charge, while noshing on pastries. The concept: “We figure out what pieces they’re wearing, and what we can repurpose into something else. They have lunch with us, and afterward we’ll drive them downtown to Woodstock’s historic district, which is where they filmed Groundhog Day. Then we’ll give them a great swag bag and get them home by dinner.”

Chances are good that Dougherty will figure out how to make it work. Since 1992, when he opened his first jewelry retail store, his daring and love of innovation on every level has kept the business on the up-and-up.

A biology and chemistry major in college, Dougherty was one of the first regional jewelers to adopt 3-D technology in fabrication and has been a thought leader in 3-D printing and in-house manufacturing ever since. He bought his first 3-D printer 14 years ago for $110,000. “It’s amazing that you can get one for $3,500 now,” he marvels.

He was also the first jeweler in the Midwest to buy and use a laser welder. “With my background in science, it’s been very easy for me to see the value of technology,” he says.

Studio 2015 currently produces 1,000 to 2,000 pieces a week, shipping to stores in North America after stocking its own cases. Corporate work is another big area. The output is far from Stuller-sized, but it exemplifies Dougherty’s goal of being completely vertical, a state he hopes more jewelers will aspire to: “We believe that jewelry can be designed, created, and distributed in the United States and be competitive with anyone in the world.”

The innovations he embraces are becoming more and more accessible to the entire industry as machines and gadgets get easier to use, but he cautions that simply going high-tech is no guarantee of success: “The challenge now is, How do you use a tool you’ve been given? That’s what’s going to separate the good jewelers from the others.”

As JCK went to press, Studio 2015 was in the midst of acquiring a manufacturing company it’s worked with for many years, which will make ­Dougherty’s operation a “cradle to grave” manufacturer, with every facet of fabrication done in-house. Following the acquisition, Dougherty plans to debut five new branded collections, hopefully in time for JCK Las Vegas 2015.

But first up is the busy holiday season, which typically starts with a huge sale to clear the cases of old inventory. “It’s also a chance to reestablish that connection with your clients,” he says.

The store creates a special item for its clients every holiday season; past pieces included snowflake pendants, with no two snowflakes exactly alike.

“It’s always something fairly inexpensive, but unique,” he says. “You really have to have something different to attract them now.”

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