The Personal Touch

For many, having a successful retail jewelry store requires marketing surveys, inventory analysis, demographic research, and myriad other details before the first sale is made.

For Maidie Franklin, all it took was an understanding of herself, a love of beauty, and the guts to take the plunge.

Franklin, the owner of Maidie Franklin Jewelry in Philadelphia, sells handcrafted jewelry from local and international jewelry designers specializing in “classic, contemporary designs,” a variety of estate pieces, sterling silver, gold (lots of gold), and colored gemstones. The pieces she sells and the design and concept of her store are statements of her personal tastes and her vision of beauty, which were nurtured when she was a young girl growing up in Alabama.

“I buy only what I like. Isn’t it arrogant?” the soft-spoken Franklin asks in a quiet Southern drawl. “Who wants to stand there and sell a piece you don’t like?”

She adds, “My idea of beauty came from watching my mother and her friends and playing in my mother’s jewelry box while living in Alabama—trying on her clothes and looking at the long tea gowns of all the women. That kind of thing doesn’t exist anymore, but I draw on that heavily. I never had an art class in my life. I just know when it’s right. I like to be around beauty. Lots of women say, ‘I don’t know if I can justify this [purchase].’ I say beauty doesn’t need any justification. It enhances your life.”

Using this concept, she has developed a loyal clientele of mostly women. They vary in age, background, and economic status, but all share Franklin’s unique (or as some have termed it, eccentric and eclectic) tastes.

“She really does have a broad range of customers,” says Geoffrey Eskut, Franklin’s store manager. “Some have been with her since she started. She has a very familiar relationship with them. She loves her customers, and she loves her store.”

Passion. Franklin sells almost exclusively women’s jewelry at price points ranging from approximately $50 to $5,000. The store also does a good business in custom work. The uniqueness of her product line, the variety of price points, and the ability to design according to her customers’ needs have led to a strong reputation as a bridal jeweler (items include engagement rings, wedding bands, headpieces, and earrings for the bride and bridesmaid) and as a place to purchase gifts.

“We make sure we have things for all age groups, because if someone wants a gift for their daughter or grandmother, we want to have it right there,” Franklin says.

One of Franklin’s favorite designers is local resident Robin Bocra, a doctor who wakes up at 3 a.m. each morning to design her jewelry. She works with a variety of materials, including pearls, silver, gold, and colored gemstones. According to Franklin, Bocra’s passion for her work is a prime example of what makes the store special: “The whole thing about this store is it’s just a bunch of passionate people making it happen.” Other designers featured at the store include Michou, Deb Brilla, and Sylvan Spirit. Eskut, who has a jewelry and textile design background, designs many of the custom jewelry requests, and local craftsman Ira Jaffe constructs many of the jewelry designs.

Comfort in design. The layout of the small retail space reflects Franklin’s love of antiques and her preference for gold and coral jewelry. Beside the front door is a church pew where customers often are served tea and Evian water as they relax. Jewelry is displayed in antique cases, some freestanding and some attached to walls. Augmenting the antique cases is a replica Queen Anne case as well as a few cases from Ikea. Down lights are used sparingly throughout the space, and a large picture window lets plenty of sunlight into the store. Gold tulips and handmade masks are scattered throughout. The main colors are shades of orange (which represent coral) and gold, which complement the natural-wood floor. Window displays change often, and during JCK‘s visit, white linen and metallic birds were prominent in the display.

“The store reflects the way I want my living room to look. And it’s close, without the jewelry,” Franklin says. “There’s some whimsy and fantasy in the décor. We spend a lot of our time dreaming up the most fanciful things we can do.”

She continues, “One of the things that’s so nice is that we’re not a franchise, we’re not a chain. I don’t have to follow someone else’s instructions. We just knock down some walls. We’ve kept the wooden floor; we use wooden cases. It gives the store a warm feeling. There’s no store anywhere like it. It’s my dream.”

In addition to designing custom jewelry, Eskut is responsible for helping Franklin unify her design themes and designing the store’s window displays, Web site, and business cards. “She trusts me with her baby,” says Eskut, who has been at the store for more than a year. “I have the chance to do everything, from soup to nuts.”

“Geoff, what a godsend,” Franklin says. “It’s been over a year and it seems like three months. We looked at each other yesterday and asked where the time has gone.”

Eskut says his role is to integrate Franklin’s ideas about store design. “I’m just trying to tighten up the visuals and create continuity with the colors and visuals—trying to give a more cohesive look, an identity. I have great material to work with. Maidie laid some really good groundwork. I’m just trying to unify it. And when all else fails, paint it gold.”

Going with a good thing. Franklin moved to Philadelphia in 1979 and worked at several jobs, including advertising representative and doctor’s assistant, and for several commercial art galleries. She was working at a gallery called Indigo, on Pine Street in Center City (known in Philadelphia as Antique Row), and talking about opening her own store when the owner of the gallery told her about a space available next door.

“More and more I knew that I wanted my own store,” Franklin says. “People would say, ‘You’ve never taken any course.’ I said if I didn’t do it, I would always feel sorry. When I worked at Indigo, Debbie [the owner] said, ‘There is a store for rent next door’… and I took it and put my own stamp on it.”

Franklin opened her Pine Street store in 1989 and spent the next seven years building up the business. She relocated to the Manayunk section of Philadelphia on Main Street, a popular shopping and dining area with lots of foot traffic day and night. Except for the location, the new store was virtually identical to the first.

“It was a replica of the store in Center City,” she says. “If you’ve got a good thing, you don’t change it. We keep trying to be creative, but the basic concept is there.”

Keeping her personal concept in place has proved to be successful not only in a business sense but also as a lifestyle choice. This transplanted Southerner has found a place to nurture the idea of beauty that she learned as a young girl growing up in Alabama, and discovered that others shared her dream. As Franklin says, “I can’t see myself not ever involved in this.”