Professional Jeweler Archive: Jeweler Needed an Image, but 'Hip' Wasn't It

January 2001


Jeweler Needed an Image,
but 'Hip' Wasn't It

Tradition reassures long-time customers during a Pennsylvania jewelry store's reincarnation

Some jewelers need a hip image. Others need a nothing-ever-changes image. November 1999 was a time for nothing-ever-changes.

Wayne Reid was reopening a store in Wayne, PA, that had served the affluent Philadelphia suburb since 1947. The previous owner, Sam Spear, retired in February 1998 after selling Wayne Jewelers and Silversmiths to a chain of jewelry stores that closed the 3,000-sq.-ft. location and liquidated its inventory after 18 months.

The closing left a black hole at the town’s main intersection and grief among longtime residents who viewed shopping at the store as a tradition. In fact, customers wept at the liquidation sale. When Reid, Spear’s manager from 1994 until 1997, decided to take over the space, his first task was to re-create as much as possible of what had been lost.

“Wayne is a very traditional town,” says Reid. There are some newcomers, but the tone is Old Money. The streets are lined with century-old stone mansions, half of local children attend private schools and having your photograph published in the local weekly’s society section is still a sought-after coup.

When Spear operated Wayne Jewelers, it was the first in the area to carry Rolex. Other high-end brand names included Baume & Mercier, Waterford, Baccarat, Lladro, Lalique and all the major sterling silver manufacturers. Some of these lines declined to join Wayne Jewelers’ reincarnation. Until Reid can convince them to reconsider that decision, he’s trying to reassure long-time customers by offering the store’s traditional extensive selection of diamonds.

“The biggest change has been in giftware,” he says. “We’ve limited the number of suppliers we deal with, hoping to make an impression with them and be important to them.”

He also hired some of the old staff, believing familiar faces will help restore some of the store’s familiarity. Nevertheless, there are fewer of them: Spear once employed six full-timers, while Reid has three including himself, plus eight part-timers who work two to four days per week. It’s enough to provide the service that had long differentiated Wayne Jewelers from mall and chain jewelers.

Typically, people shop in the community because most stores are owner-operated and offer a higher level of expertise from the people behind the counter. That’s as true at the hardware and coffee shop down the block as it is at local restaurants and the gourmet bread store. “Even the landlord wanted an owner-operated store,” says Reid.

Yet there’s a growing demand among these consumers for merchandise that’s new and different, so Reid is making changes cautiously. The town of Wayne was the subject of Bobos in Paradise, writer David Brooks’ recently published book examining the new phenomenon of affluence among people with counter-cultural tastes. Bobos – an acronym for “bourgeois bohemians” – are a mainly middle-aged cohort of people who are former hippies or wish they were. As consumers, they value things that are natural, authentic or unusual over those that are traditional and defined by other people as upscale.

In the jewelry realm, for instance, bobos might prefer the lumpy texture of freshwater cultured pearls to the smooth perfection of their rounder counterparts. “I hope to bring some of the newer, fashion-forward pieces into the market place,“ says Reid, a Canadian who entered jewelry retailing in 1972 and originally came to the U.S. with the J. Caldwell chain. Wayne Jewelers, he notes, recently introduced two-toned and white-metal jewelry.

Nearly a year after reopening, Reid says, sales are ahead of original projections.

– Mark E. Dixon

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications