America's Big Cool 2nd Place goes to...
Raising the Bar
Colorado couple draws on microbreweries for inspiration.
BIG COOL 2ND PLACE: THOLLOT DIAMONDS & FINE JEWELRY, THORNTON, CO
OWNERS: Troy and Joy Thollot; URL: thollotjewelers.com; FOUNDED: 1993; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2013; LAST RENOVATED: 2019; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN: RAD Construction, Robert Dykman; SHOWCASES: YCC Limited; Ron Gay; EMPLOYEES: 7 full time; 4 part time; AREA: 4,900 square foot showroom; 5,985 square foot total; 13,600 total square feet; TOP BRANDS: Forevermark Diamonds, Gabriel & Co., Shy Creation, Michele Watches, Fana; ONLINE PRESENCE: 941 Instagram followers; 6,040 Facebook followers; 417 4.9 Star Google reviews; BUILDOUT COST: $1.2 million BAR-HOPPING IN a jewelry store? At Thollot Diamonds & Fine Jewelry, anything seems possible.
Troy and Joy Thollot’s goal has long been to “raise the bar” on the Colorado jewelry experience.
With the 2019 renovation of their showroom, they incorporated that goal in a very tangible way by creating multiple bar areas. There’s a bridal bar with private booths, a “Pour Your Heart into It” jewelry casting bar, a custom jewelry design bar, a jewelry repair bar and a social bar for celebrations, stocked with local spirits and brews and backlit to shine through the front windows as a nocturnal beacon. They’re also finalizing plans for a Last Call Bar for discontinued and aged inventory. They like to call the experience of shopping in their store “The Thollot Bar Hop.”
Colorado couples, they’ve found, are not typically interested in a traditional, high-end jewelry store experience. So, instead of visiting other jewelry stores for ideas, the couple looked to distilleries, breweries, museums and 19th century gold mines to inspire a store design that would resonate with their target clients.
Store designer Robert Dykman, accustomed to working on East Coast mall-style stores, flew to Colorado from New Jersey to meet with the couple. Dykman wasn’t daunted by the couple’s unusual ideas, nor by the 23-page wish list they presented him before leading him on a tour of microbrew restaurants in Denver. Several weeks later, he presented ideas that were close to what they envisioned, but the details took six months to hammer out. “We were not in a hurry, and we knew what we wanted,” Troy says.
They wanted the kind of place to which Denver residents would naturally be drawn to spend their downtime. “We designed it after the places we liked to have that same feel of a Friday night out,” Joy says. “When you walk in, we have a definite Colorado chill vibe, which is super warm and super comfortable. It disarms them immediately. It happens right at the front door and you can see it happening. They relax, they sigh.”
“We like to call it a secret sauce,” Troy says. “Everybody has to have their own secret sauce. I can’t be a jeweler in Chicago. I’m not. I’m a jeweler in Denver.”
The surface of the bar and high-top tables are made from wood salvaged from Pullman cars that transported Coors beer from Colorado to California in the 1800s. Reclaimed wood from a historical local gold mine accents the ceiling; they’ve even dedicated wall space to a mural depicting the mine’s history.
Thollot didn’t close for even one day during construction. The expansion involved adding 1,700 square feet left vacant by a departing tenant, so once that side was usable, they moved all of their modular cases into it and built a window into the dividing wall so customers could watch the progress.
How It Began
Troy met Joy when he was 19 and apprenticed with her at a jewelry store in Chicago. The two later became graduate gemologists through the GIA and moved to Denver armed only with their diplomas, a $7,000 loan and a passionate pursuit of the unknown.
They set up a tiny shop in a spare bedroom, sharing one set of tools between them, and then started visiting independent jewelry stores with their resumes (and boxes of donuts) looking for repair work. “Our first $750 invoice for a week’s work was the surreal moment we realized, we can actually do this,” Troy says. “It took a month or two, but two accounts became 20, and Joy and I sat at the bench side by side cranking out great repairs.”
Their reputation for honesty was cemented when they chipped an emerald owned by an independent retailer. Realizing the defect could have been hidden, they instead revealed their mistake and gave their client a check for the loss of value. “That was a moment where our character was defined,” Joy says. “At that time, it was a big check for us, our grocery bill for a month. He was so impressed that he told other jewelry stores.” What the couple thought might taint their reputation instead established them in Denver as highly reputable.
Moving Into Retail
Retail also happened one step at a time.
“I went to JCK in June of 2000 with $60,000 to spend and that was it, and I had to furnish the whole store,” Troy says. “I looked for the best bargain wedding bands, every little thing I could get to fill up a case. Nobody would talk to me or give me the time of day. But I was always JBT rated 1, and whenever a sales rep came in, I would do a meet and greet. I struck up a lot of friendships. Now it’s a little different, but we still enjoy having an entertaining conversation with vendors. It’s important to show respect to hardworking individuals; they deserve five minutes even if I’m not buying right now. Without a partnership with great vendors, we wouldn’t have grown.”
Since the beginning, managing their finances and cash flow has been of the utmost importance.
When renovating and expanding the interior, they did everything they could to keep costs down, managing to shave off close to $100,000 from initial estimates, which is earmarked to renovate the store’s exterior. They’d like to freshen up the stucco, add a wrought-iron awning and align their signage more closely with their branding. When Denver’s north line light rail system is complete, their building will be adjacent to its largest single stop with parking for 960 commuters. A sign on the back of the building will catch their attention. Marketing is centered on the concept of “Colorado Cool” and letting potential clients know they are “Colorado True.” The Thollots say Denver-area residents value laid-back authenticity and quality craftsmanship and disdain pretension. Their marketing, much of which is organic, declares that they value the same convictions.
“We try to avoid one media that’s overdone here, and that’s radio,” Troy says. “Too many very large companies own that market.” So it’s boots on the ground, social media, SEO, direct mail, web chat, as well as a handful of local upscale magazines with a focus on what’s happening in the community. They also partnered with Podium two years ago and watched their reviews soar.
“I do think that in this world, reviews are a really important tool to use, and it can surpass the big boys with big marketing budgets,” Troy says
Five Cool Things About Thollot Diamonds & Fine Jewelry
1. 1 ON NATIONAL TV. ABC’s “Extreme Weight Loss” commissioned Thollot Diamonds to create a custom ring for the couples’ weight-loss show and featured the ring selection in their showroom for a five-minute segment of the episode.
2. PRICE RANGE. No need is too small or too large. They hand-fabricate with sterling silver and recently sold a 7 TCW three-stone ring with a retail price of $240,000.
3. CUSTOM BREW. The Thollots use their own recipe to custom-brew their private-label Colorado beer, which they display on their bar shelves and pour to celebrate special moments with clients.
4. HANDS-ON RETAIL. The “Pour Your Heart Into It” concept came years ago when their best friends came up with a sketch for a ring and then melted the gold themselves. “It was the ‘a-ha’ moment when we realized it is possible for customers to pour their heart into it,” Troy says. Now it’s a regular thing at their casting bar. Master jewelers guide each client through the design, creation and centrifugal casting process, creating a unique proposal story. The couple is invited back to cast each other’s wedding bands. Each casting experience is caught on video and followed by a toast with a Colorado distilled spirit.
5. DIAMONDS FOR DIABETES. The Thollots have adopted their own community cause. The Barbara Davis Center, a research hospital in Denver, cares for children with type 1 diabetes, regardless of their ability to pay. The couple’s annual Diamonds for Diabetes event features a tree of opaque ornaments hiding $25,000 in jewelry and loose gem prizes. Clients come back year after year to purchase ornaments for a $25 donation to see what they can win. Proceeds go to a “Helping Hands Fund” for underprivileged children who need treatment.
Try This: Instill A Sense of Pride
The Thollots implemented “Areas of Pride” using a map of their store, divided into 11 smaller areas. Each associate is assigned a group of showcases as their “Area of Pride” for a month. Within their areas, they have the freedom to merchandise creatively (within brand standards) and can add graphics to support their displays. All jewelry within an associate’s area is cleaned, retagged when necessary, inventoried at least once, and counted daily. Showcase glass is cleaned and pedestals and displays are brushed or vacuumed. This has promoted a fun spirit of competition and a better knowledge of inventory.
KATHLEEN CUTLER: My favorite thing is the casting bar. I like that when designing the store, they went to distilleries, breweries, museums and 1800s gold mines. The store design feels really fresh and thoughtful. I loved the video on their homepage, especially because it includes people with tattoos. It might not seem important, but for the younger buyers, it signals that they aren’t another stuffy jewelry store. You can drink beer here and you can interact with the jewelry in a way you might not have been able to at other jewelry stores you’ve visited in the past.
KEN NISCH: Very creative. Nice nods to the culture and history of the area.
ERIK RUNYAN: We loved the bar. Making customers feel like they are in a comfortable place, like a home or a neighborhood bar, wins them over.
PRATIMA SETHI: The story really showcases resilience and perseverance. Bringing in the Colorado vibe to the interior and on the website home page banner is a nice touch. Investing in employees by paying for their GIA courses is fantastic. I love the Areas of Pride idea.
JEN CULLEN WILLIAMS: The store is customer-centric and driven by their local market. I was impressed by all the added touches to the interior, like the tables made from actual wood from Pullman cars, and the reclaimed wood from the historical gold mine. I love how their motto of “raising the bar” is incorporated into their store merchandising, branding and the customer and employee experience.
ROD WORLEY: Excellent use of video to convey brand excitement and energy. The tagline, “Pour Your Heart Into It,” convincingly brings all elements of the brand together. The store experience is the brand message.