YOUNG AND FUN
Elliott and Eva-Michelle Spicer celebrate love and friendship in Asheville, NC.
Reinventing the Family Business
WHEN NEW OWNERS Elliott and Eva-Michelle Spicer decided to reinvent her family business in Asheville, NC, they put a lot of thought into how modern shoppers look for engagement rings. For one thing, they often search the Internet for the diamond, separately from the mounting, and such diamond information is usually presented in a grid format online.
So, when they laid out their store, they presented their loose diamond collection in a grid format in their cases, which mimics how it’s done on their website and other e-commerce-enabled websites. “People want it to be easy to browse and not have to wait for someone to go back to the safe repeatedly,” says Elliott. “All of our diamonds are loose and out in the case.”
It was just one feature in an overall business plan designed to meet their customers “where they are.” This decision alone completely transformed the trajectory of the business.
“These diamond grids are unbelievable,” Elliott says. “When we started, we went from very little diamond sales, about $150,000, to over $1 million with good margins. It’s been working really, really well for us.” What makes them stand out in their market is that they have become known for having the largest loose diamond collection in North Carolina.
They also photograph every item available in their store and display them all on their website. During the first year of that project, they spent $100,000 on equipment and staffing, and saw little return on investment. “A year after that, we saw sales go up, but it wasn’t till COVID that it really took off,” says Eva-Michelle. “I’m happy we are proactive and not reactive,” when it comes to e-commerce.
“Every single product is our own photography, and what’s on our website is all in our cases,” Elliott says. “We won’t list it unless it is here physically in our store.”
Communication is another important element in their business plan, because meeting the customer “where they are” is also a literal goal.
So if the customer wants to chat on the website at 3:30 a.m., they make sure they are available, at least with an auto-response. “Making our customer feel heard and well taken care of, however they expect that, is crucial. It goes beyond just knowing what kind of beverage they want; you have to know they don’t want text messages or don’t like phone calls.”
Elliott says old-school retailers may be great at forming and maintaining relationships but not very adept at understanding or navigating the modern buying cycle. “Shoppers want to be able to look at it online and pick it up in the store,” he says. Ignoring the buying cycle is an existential threat. “If businesses aren’t omni-channel, they’re not going to have a business in 10 years.”
Company founder E.O. Wick was old school at its best. In 1926, he moved to Asheville from Tiffany & Co. in New York and opened a small jewelry repair shop on Wall Street in downtown Asheville. His skills as an enamellist, hand engraver and jeweler served him well and established a thriving repair business. In 1942, Wick brought on Paul Greene as an apprentice, teaching the business and the art of creating one-of-a-kind custom jewelry. In 1953, Paul became a full partner in the jewelry store and Wick and Greene was born.
In 1975, Paul’s son, Michael Greene, joined the family business. During this time, Wick and Greene moved from the small shop on Wall Street into the art deco building on Patton Avenue that once was a gas station. The bays for the cars are now large glass windows facing the street, and customers shop right where the vehicles were serviced
In 2014, Michael and Eva Greene retired, and their daughter, Eva-Michelle and her husband, Elliott, purchased the business and began the journey to take Wick and Greene Jewelers into the 21st century. That modernization included the gutting and renovation of the space. The goal was to make it more accessible. “It used to be old timey with huge wall cases; it looked like the walls were closing in on you,” says Eva-Michelle.
The interior went from old, heavy wood cases, maroon carpet, and pervasive wallpaper to a light, bright and airy environment. The store has an open feel with the showroom divided into a few distinct sections. The center room where the customer enters has name-brand fashion, watches and men’s jewelry. The room to the left is women’s diamond fashion and gemstone fashion. On the right is bridal and wedding jewelry, along with loose diamonds.
They changed all of the store’s systems, re-evaluated every single line and re-merchandised.
They also faced a tough decision when it came to staff, ultimately deciding to start completely from scratch. “People weren’t on the same page. It was a hard transition; we were trying to move the ship in a different direction,” Elliott says. The new staff was hired based on attitude and a willingness to learn. “You can train someone at a job, but you can’t train a positive mindset,” says Elliott. They also hired the most experienced jewelers and sales professionals they could afford.
They were well prepared to face challenges when 2020 brought both COVID-19 and a mandatory closing of their store. E-commerce carried them through April’s shutdown, and business rebounded sharply in May, even before they reopened. They were so excited to be allowed to reopen at 5 p.m. on May 8 that they opened their doors for an hour that day. “We’re scrappy, and we’re working hard for every dollar,” Eva-Michelle says.
While they were closed, they commissioned an artist to paint a graffiti-style mural on the side of their building with the words, “Love is not canceled,” which was shared thousands of times on social media and news outlets. “It’s amazing to have our community appreciate something we do. It’s a positive message for the folks in Asheville, and they are responding so beautifully to that,” says Eva-Michelle.
They’re optimistic about the future of jewelry retail.
“We’re millennials, even though I hate that word,” says Eva-Michelle, “and our generation gets so much bad press for not wanting things. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. We do want high touch, but we want it how we want it. I think we are a fiercely loyal generation. We do want to shop local, we don’t want to support the big guys, but you have to make it convenient for us. If your customers only want to text, make that accessible to them. If they refuse to respond to your emails, send them an Instagram message.”
Elliott sees parallels between the millennial and baby boomer shopper.
“They weren’t buying things in the ‘60s, but they grew up and started making real money and everything was golden in our industry. I think we’re going to see something similar. The jewelry industry has been a little harder in recent years, but I believe we’re on the precipice of a real growth cycle.”