William Travis - Part 2: Gem collector, creative entrepreneur, environmental advocate

I recently visited William Travis at his elegant William Travis Jewelry in Chapel Hill, NC. Designer extraordinaire with 12 AGTA Spectrum Awards under his belt, including 3 in 2016, he’s also an avid gem collector, visionary entrepreneur and environmental trailblazer.

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Travis is deeply inspired by his love of gems. He shared with me his impressive collection of rare precious gems, garnered from buying trips at gem centers in exotic locales such as India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Brazil.

Mia Katrin: “How do gems inspire your creativity?”

William Travis: “It’s easy to forget that something as beautiful as a gem is a product of our natural environment. Over time nature’s variable processes generate a gem - each unique and precious. My passion for colored stones has fashioned my personal collection, arguably one of the largest on the east coast. Sapphires are my favorite. We source from all over the world but buy largely from the Tucson gem show.”

Travis’s unique rapport with his staff was obvious. Their enthusiasm was infectious.

MK: “Your staff seems unusually committed and happy. How do you motivate them?”

WT: “It’s not enough to simply be a good boss. You must actively seek your employee’s happiness. When I was an employee myself, the employees ate meals at our bench or desk. My philosophy’s been quite the opposite. The kitchen’s the heart and soul of every home. I built a large kitchen with all the appliances including a large dining table. Our team eat all their store meals together.  All my employees also designed their own work spaces. They’re all movable. They can sit or stand, as they prefer.”

MK: “What other tips do you have for motivating your team?”

WT:  “At the front of the store are two vintage cruiser bicycles, used almost daily. I may take a metalsmith with me to discuss how to best execute a design together as we pedal around. Two office staff may take a ride to discuss advertising ideas. While employees are not actively producing while watching the Olympics or sitting around the kitchen table, this makes them happy. And happy employees work harder and stay longer. This is where the payoff comes in.”

MK: “Your beautiful store is unique. What inspired your design?”

WT: “After building or remodeling 6 stores, my most recent 4,000 square foot store is my personal dream store. One of my best tools was a Feng Shui book, a gift from my brother-in-law. My ceilings are 32 feet high! This gives a very open feeling but can be overwhelming when you enter. So I lowered the first 10 feet of my entry way ceiling to 12 feet. The traffic pattern is always flowing. Two separate entry ways/exits form a big circle. You are never turning around. You are always moving forward in a flowing gradual arch.”

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MK: “How does your store design cater to clients and encourage sales?”

WT: “Most clients don’t like to hover over the cases when talking about a purchase. At the back of the showroom I’ve built a fully stocked 14 foot curved bar, with a large screen TV, seating 10. Most men are uncomfortable at a jewelry store. Many of my male clients come by just to say hi and will sit at the bar because they’re comfortable there. Once they are in the store there’s an obvious sales opportunity. I’m never pushy, but may ask if they need anything or show them a new piece on my bench that I am excited about. The rest of the time is spent on relationship building.

“People don’t buy art. They buy artists. They’ll only purchase luxury goods from someone they like. If I’m not a client’s cup of tea I’ll find one of my employees to sit with them that is. With new clients, the bar provides him a place to sit, have a beer, watch the game while his wife shops.”

MK: “You’re one of the industry pioneers in your commitment to the environment and responsible sourcing of materials, an important growing trend. What fuels your dedication?”

WT: “Metalsmiths were the first environmentalists because we recognized the intrinsic value of what we were working with. All of the metals used at WTJ are repurposed. Well over 90% of our jewelry is made in-house from metal recycled from our local community.

“Stone resourcing has always been a dilemma for me. It’s rare that a colored stone dealer produces reliable documentation of how a stone was mined or how much a cutter was paid. Sourcing stones responsively can truthfully only be done through years of experience spent with stone dealers, having conversations about how they run their operation, forming trusting relationships with credible dealers.”

MK: “Congratulations on your three recent Spectrum awards and thank you for sharing with us the sources of your inspiration and keys to your success. We’re looking forward to seeing what’s next on the horizon!”

Mia Katrin is an award-winning jewelry designer featured in over 100 top stores nationally. She is available for lectures and seminars. To add her Collections or book a lecture: www.jeweljewel.com, 877 539-3569, facebook.com/MiaKatrinforJEWELCOUTURELLC.