Opportunity doesn’t always knock. Sometimes it sticks its head in the doorway and asks a question.
That’s what happened a couple of years ago to Harris Botnick, president and co-owner (with his wife, Geri) of Worthmore Jewelers, in Atlanta. They were preparing to open a second store in Decatur, Ga., on the site of a former art gallery. “As we renovated the space, getting it ready, several residents came in at different times and asked if it was going to be another art gallery,” Botnick recalls. “There was enough interest that we decided to change the store design to optimize the wall space for artwork.”
They “intermingled art with the jewelry cases” and hired a woman—a longtime customer—from one of Atlanta’s top museums as art director.
The Decatur store with in-shop artworks opened May 2008, and the effect on business was immediate. “It took off without hesitating,” says Botnick. “So much so that we redid our original 16-year-old Atlanta store, adding art there, too.”
Both stores display contemporary fine art—including oils, mixed media, and photography—by local and national artists. Recent artists include a 20-year-old woman holding her first show, a successful artist of national renown who held a one-man show at Worthmore, and a well-attended juried photography exhibit.
“Four times each year, we change the artists displayed in each store and have an in-store opening party,” Botnick explains. The parties are open to the public. Some are what he calls “A” openings—high-profile evening events with live music, hors d’oeuvres, and an open bar—and others are lower-profile daytime events. Attendance has ranged from several dozen to hundreds.
Worthmore informs clients of upcoming exhibits and openings through its Web site (www.worthmorejewelers.com), which has a separate page for artworks (all for sale). Botnick also uses e-mail blasts and ads on other Web sites. At press time, he was considering hiring a public relations firm to widen awareness of his business.
Selling fine art in a jewelry store might seem risky during a recession, but Botnick says otherwise. “It’s a good time because it differentiates you from other jewelers. Instead of playing it safe, this is another way to do something new, to really jump out of the box and shine.”
He adds, “We’ve always loved art. We feel jewelry is art, and both appeal to the sensibilities and tastes of our customers, so adding this was a natural progression.”
It also makes good business sense. “It offers our regular clientele a new product category for themselves or as gifts, and widens our market by bringing in new customers—art lovers, collectors, and people who might not have found us otherwise,” Botnick says.
“It also helps our in-store presentation, because when people come in, the store always looks different, making us stand out even more from other stores in our market,” he notes.
The artworks’ retail prices range from under $100 to $6,000 (though most sell for several hundred dollars), and Worthmore Jewelers usually gets a 50 percent commission on each one sold. Business has been good. One artist, for example, recently sold six pieces “right off the wall” and also got a commission for a private project. From May 2009 onward, business for both Worthmore stores rose sharply compared with 2008. “I had to hire extra people to handle the daily traffic, despite the recession,” says Botnick. “That’s not only due to the art, but it’s definitely a factor.”
Indeed, the art has done well enough that at press time Botnick was negotiating with his Atlanta landlord to rent an empty shop next door to expand.
This artistic approach reinforces Botnick’s view of being a jeweler. “Many think a jeweler has to be uptight and no fun,” he says. “But when people come in to our stores and see the unique selection of products they won’t see anyplace else in town, like artwork, they know the jewelry business can be fun, too.”