Our 13th annual America’s Coolest Stores Contest drew 126 entries, making our independent judging panel’s choices tougher than ever. Check out which stores rose to the top and why. And feel free to draw inspiration for your own store — remember, it took years for these businesses to achieve “Cool” status. They paid their dues before achieving their dreams. And remember, too, that America’s Coolest Stores are cool beyond their interior design. They’re judged on individuality, marketing and how they tell their often remarkable stories. Among this year’s honorees are a few who launched their business or opened a store five years ago and showed their mettle by overcoming the obstacles of a Great Recession. We can all learn from stories like these. Happy reading! And congratulations to this year’s crop of Cool Stores! INSTORE magazine invited Leslie McGwire™ to be one of four judges to evaluate each jewelry store. It was an honor for Leslie McGwire™, ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) Allied to be chosen to judge the latest design work of some of the industry’s coolest looking jewelry stores.
Story by Josh Wimmer
Location: Dallas, TX
Owners: Kelly Mitchell, Steve Dawkins
Cost of buildout: $590,000
Area: 2,600 square feet (1,700 showroom, 700 office, 200 shop)
Employees: 2 full time; 4 part time
Top Brands: Bayco, Siera, ARA, Zorab
Online presence: 123 likes on Facebook; 5 stars on Yelp; Alexa global rank: 4.81 million
“The outside looks like a pub,and the inside looks like a chocolate shop,” Kelly Mitchell says of her namesake store. “Unless you don’t like to drink or eat chocolate, one of those should make you want to come in.”
She’s not joking. The table in the center of her enchanting store was inspired by a visit to a Godiva retail outlet, where a glass-enclosed table held slabs of fudge sitting on elegant marble. “They had to access it by cutting out a drawer and pulling out the piece of fudge that you wanted,” Mitchell says. “And I remarked to the person I was with: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you were getting in there to show somebody a watch or a diamond?'”
Mitchell has hawked jewelry since her teens, when she earned a gold bracelet for convincing numerous people to attend a family acquaintance’s gold chain parties. She liked the pieces — but it was more about the challenge of getting people to come. She worked for a chain jewelry store while attending college in Kalamazoo, MI, and for supplier Nova Stylings after graduating. Then a South African diamond company hired her to sell loose stones to private clients all over the globe. In 1994 she started her own private practice, Rede Diamond, serving a similar clientele.
“I’m not gonna lie,” she says. “That was a blast. I got to see so many glimpses of so many people’s lives in so many different countries. It was really an amazing time, because you could still kind of get around with a suitcase full of loose stones.”
But insurers gradually became more timid about covering that kind of expedition, and Mitchell had grown weary of spending days away from home. In 2009, she started her own retail operation out of another jeweler’s space in Dallas, and in 2012 began looking for her own location.
She knew what she didn’t want. “I never liked the jewelry stores I would walk into. I just wasn’t comfortable,” she says. “It seemed like the best jewelry stores — you always look at yourself like, ‘Am I dressed well enough to go in there?’ It seemed like you always had to be a serious player to go look at the most beautiful things on earth.”
So when Mitchell finally built her dream store, she aimed for a different feel. “It looks like there should be edibles in the cases,” she says.
Her store is approachable but also radiates luxury. The warm browns of the wood floor and cases combine with the gold-hued walls and pressed ceiling to give it an undeniably tasteful energy. Fresh, pretty flowers accent the showroom. Mirrors and hanging cases dot the walls.
“And if you don’t want to be messed with, you can come right in and sit down at the bar,” Mitchell says. Her boyfriend and co-owner, Steve Dawkins, a real estate executive, insisted on the bar.
He also helped inspire the arrangement of the merchandise — cases and displays are organized by “life events.” “He said, ‘What is it in your store that you could do to help me if I was coming in to try to shop?'” Mitchell says. He meant that for men especially, the layout of a jewelry store could be … non-intuitive.
That was familiar territory for Mitchell, who’d spent the jet-setting early part of her career essentially acting as a personal shopper for upscale middle-aged men without the time or knowledge to purchase gifts for their partners. She set up “collections” around the store: Engagement & Anniversary, Black Tie, Art & Investment, Everyday Wear and others.
“Usually people give us a clue what they’re looking for, but you can figure out the layout pretty quickly,” she says. “They get it.”
Her price points start around $200 and range up to half a million for some one-of-a-kind pieces clients can see in the private room. Mitchell looks for designs that match the unique sensibility of the space.
“There are lots and lots of fabulous, wonderful stores in this market,” she says. Dallasites are well-heeled and sophisticated. “We had to have a niche of beautiful, comfortable, ready-to-wear, one-of-a-kind pieces that people are going to notice even if they’ve traveled all over the world.” (She does a lot of custom work, too.)
And you have to have a store they notice.
That’s been no problem.
“Ninety percent of the people who walk in just go, ‘This is a beautiful store!'” Mitchell says, just a touch abashedly. “I hate to say it, but it’s such a nice compliment!”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAY
Danielle Miele: The interior is gorgeous! Looks like a delicious treat! Not only does the store look flawless, but their website carries the same presence — beautifully done!
Leslie McGwire: Just amazing! The overall design style is excellent. The metal ceiling, the elegant light fixtures, the gold tones to the store are just beautiful. The mid-century modern twist design is very different compared to other jewelry stores and refreshing to the client.
T Lee: The “patisserie” style curved glass cases and the pair of round pedestal cases give such a cafe feel that it literally makes my mouth water even before I see the jewelry. Kelly has successfully leveraged a niche clientele in the safari community. I love the branded chocolates, but I’m relieved there are no animal heads on the wall!
Andrew McQuilken:It’s all about the metallic gold ceiling. The attention to detail and updated Old World charm create a space full of energy and newness. It’s all familiar but with the metallic gold twist.
Cindy Edelstein: I really appreciate the interior design — from the scale of the room to the unique fixtures. I think it’s a very inviting and enticing atmosphere that I’m sure appeals to the customers who want an experience and a fun place to visit.
1. COMFORTABLE LUXURIANCE. The store has an open floor plan that gives it a salon feel. Showcases resemble old-fashioned bakery cases, and shoppers can sample branded KM chocolates while they browse. “It’s all designed to be ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ instead of ‘What are you doing here?'” Mitchell says. Not bad for a shop where prices reach six figures.
2. INSTINCTIVE NAVIGATION. Mitchell’s showroom is arranged by “life events” so customers can see a selection of pieces that meet their particular need. It’s intuitive and provides a sense of price point. For example, the Everyday Wear area is lighter, with more self-purchase-type items. Farther back in the center are areas like Black Tie.
3. SIT DOWN, STAY A WHILE. Customers are invited to grab a flute of champagne while they shop. “The reason Cheers resonated so well is just that a bar brings people together and they connect,” Mitchell says. “Our bar is where every sale seems to close — and it usually leads to great conversation.”
4. WILD DESIGNS. Mitchell has a wealth of safari hunter clients from her globe-hopping days. “It’s a unique client base,” she says. She’s custom-made pieces using lion claws, warthog tusks, leopard bones. “There’s plenty of controversy around the community, but these hunters love animals as much as anyone.”
5. THE CONCIERGE APPROACH. “I was used to having a whole book of men that expected me, the day before every anniversary, to have either email pictures right in front of them or a FedEx box of jewelry on their desk,” Mitchell says of her early career. She stresses that level of service at her store, too. “Service at a level that is unexpected is what buys you clients.”
ONLINE Q&A with Kelly Mitchell
One newspaper: Fox News online
One website: ted.com
One gadget: Mophie to charge my iPhone
One plane ticket: Alaska
Favorite business book: “Richest Man in Babylon”
Favorite book: Anything by Wilbur Smith
Mentor and why: I would have to say my parents. Probably specifically my mother. She is the strongest most disciplined fun person who taught me to stand by my principles even when it’s not cool to do so.
Best advice ever given: Learn to be completely self sufficient in life before marrying another.
Best advice ever received: Know your operating numbers $$
Advice for a new store owner: KNOW YOUR OPERATING NUMBERS $$
Pitfalls to watch out for: Overspending for your store means NO retiring for you !
If I would have just made myself learn French and Spanish completely instead of quitting, it would have made a big difference now!
Favorite architect/designer/artist — Frank Gehry — museum and hotel designer (Marques De Riscal Bilboa, Spain )
I couldn’t care less what car I drive.
What superpower would you like to have? I would love super vision…mostly because my eyes are just starting to go and I miss them so much !
What question do you wish customers would not ask you? “If she says no can I bring it back?” … it just makes me sad !
What’s your sign? Pisces
What’s the best customer service you’ve ever experienced? — hotel service at the Four Seasons … nothing too small to ask …never questioned …done with a smile
Tell me about your perfect day: I would say shopping in Aspen, taking the Gondola up for lunch on top of the mountain ..ending up chasing dogs in the dog park.
What have the last few years taught you? Life is short — work hard but take great, fabulous, adventurous trips all through it …don’t wait tip you’re old and rich !
How do you stay current? Ted.com, Rapaport, talking to 20 year olds, talking to 60 year olds : )
What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do professionally? Fire nice people
If your store were on fire, what’s the one thing you’d save? The video cartridge of all the stock for my insurance agent ( Howard Baker !)
Advertising campaign I wish I’d thought of. — I love campaigns that stick in your head like …”what day is it? Hump Day …with the camel.
If money were no object, I would bring in An ART gallery along with a GUN collection gallery and add a cigar bar in the back.
When I meet people, the first thing I notice about them is their smile or lack thereof….
If I were a precious stone, I would be a fine Colombian emerald, because even with all of its flaws, it’s highly valued.
Favorite flick — extra points if it involves jewelry! “Thomas Crowne Affair”
Favorite place to shop: Bruno Cuccinelli
Favorite lunch: anything overlooking water
Best vacation ever: Alaska in a float plane
Favorite job at work that doesn’t involve customers: Designing jewelry
If I weren’t a jeweler, I’d be photographing for National Geographic
Current career goal? To see if I can open several stores
Current life goal — To work very hard for the next 15 years..and exercise my exit strategy
My hero is Jesus Christ
Favorite gemstone: I’m a diamond lover but I do love a great emerald
I am most frustrated when … people come in the store and won’t allow me more than 30 seconds if they don’t immediately see something they want.
I am happiest when … I’m traveling to great parts of the world ….to see Sting in concert
Weekend activity: Biking the Katy trail
Favorite artist — music: Sting; sculpture : Botero
Favorite art period: Baroque
Favorite all-time jewelry designer: Cartier
Thing I worry about that I know I shouldn’t: When will the Republicans wake up and get a candidate?