When a jewelry store makes it to the third generation and spans a century, the gem and jewelry industry takes notice. In spring 2021, Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Lewis Jewelers will turn 100. To celebrate the centennial year, third-generation jeweler and store owner David Lewis has decided to quadruple their working space to 10,000 square feet in a new store, which will be completed by late summer or early autumn next year.
As with many business-related expansion plans in 2020, David and his store’s custom design specialist and creative advisor Keith Largin decided to postpone building the new store this year. “The ideal timing would have been to open the new store when our centennial celebrations officially begin in late March or early April next year,” says Keith. “But with so much uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, we thought it was best to wait.”
Like a kid at Christmas, store management couldn’t help but celebrate a little early with a moving sale in the waning days of summer. In summers past, when there was no pandemic to work around, Lewis Jewelers was known for hosting a summer inventory reduction sale with proceeds going to the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV). Animals looking for a home (mainly cats and dogs of all ages) were part of the store celebration.
This year, however, things went a little differently. The store went back to full operations in early June after an extended mandatory COVID-19 shutdown that began in mid-March. Pets weren’t allowed in the store this year, but HSHV still benefited with a check for $2,180 from a moving sale that lightened the inventory load.
The Lewis family of jewelers isn’t a stranger to making moves in tumultuous times. Lewis Jewelers got its start in Detroit in 1921. Back then M.B. Lewis opened a store that sold jewelry and home appliances.
Lewis Jewelers and the city of Detroit prospered for many years as the auto industry pumped new life into the Midwestern city. When your business has a timeline of nearly a century, however, the generations of jewelers see history repeat itself. Much like the civil unrest of this summer, civil rights riots of the late 1960s began what is now viewed as decades of urban decay for Detroit.
In 1970, second generation family jeweler Mort Lewis decided to move the store 45 miles west to Ann Arbor. “I’ve been with Lewis Jewelers since 1993,” says Keith. “In the beginning of my career here I worked with Mort for seven years before he retired. Even then Ann Arbor was a growing city with a lot of promise in terms of business growth. He thought it would be a better place to call home for his family and his family jewelry store.”
Mort decided that the bustling and busy west side area of 250 North Maple Road was a good place for his store to do business. Fresh starts give store owners the opportunity to do things a little differently. Mort kept the tradition of being a full-service jeweler, a market differentiator that continues to draw customers to Lewis Jewelers. Twenty-Five years later was the next move a few miles down the road to the free standing store at 2000 West Stadium Blvd where it currently continues to thrive today.
More importantly, Mort transitioned the family business to be a true fine jewelry store with bench jewelers making most of the jewelry sold in the store’s many display cases. Being open to new ideas that expand sales growth to meet the needs of customers was a quality Mort taught his son David.
This is the jewelry store management acumen that would make Lewis Jewelers a modern day full-service jewelry store that could be all things to many customers. Another key culture instilled by Mort was to have all of their trusted advisors non-commissioned. This created a very comfortable, laid back, stress free shopping experience that is still the main focus for all clients.
In the late 1990s, David and Jonathan began partnering with key vendors such as Hearts On Fire and Tacori to fill mostly bridal jewelry needs for their store. Additional bridal jewelry brands were brought on as were many of the world’s top fashion lines for trends of the day. And, in-store jewelry production shifted to mainly custom work and repairs, making the store a true destination in Southeastern Michigan.
The store enjoys roughly 110 transactions a day, 50 to 60 of which are repair related. As David and his team look forward to a new store in 2021, much like his father Mort, now David has the opportunity to shape the family business for the future, starting with an expanded bench jewelers’ shop.
“Right now, we have four bench jewelers,” says Keith. “But given the store layout, we have them working in two areas on two different levels of the building. As you can imagine, this creates a lot of inefficiencies in work flow. With 10,000 square feet in the new store we’ll have them all in the same area which will increase efficiency. During the build-out phase of the new store we’ll also make that area ready for updated equipment.”
With updated technology comes new ways of selling jewelry – especially custom work. Advances in 3-D printing will allow quick turnaround for prototypes of custom pieces. A larger bench jewelers’ shop is just one of many changes coming with the store’s new location. The store’s showroom will grow significantly. Office space will also get a big increase with three offices dedicated to mainly diamond sales and one office dedicated exclusively to appraisals. “This is a growing sector of our business,” says Keith.
The COVID-19 crisis will have its mark on the new store’s footprint. In what many anticipate to be a post-COVID-19 world next year, kids’ play areas are more of a liability versus an asset with constant cleaning and disinfecting needed.
Although the showroom will be much larger than the store’s current sales floor, additional display cases won’t be the only items filling in the extra space. “We’re looking to have pods and ergonomic seating as part of larger lounge like areas that will be very family friendly,” says Keith.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines will be part of the new store plans with safety shields installed throughout the store, mainly at point of sales areas. Ultra violet sanitizers will also be available in many areas of the store. The new technology allows jewelers and their staff to quickly sanitize trays of rings at a time.
These health and safety considerations weren’t part of David’s first thoughts of what the new store would look like, but staff safety and customers’ peace of mind are vitally important for the foreseeable future. Long term, David and Jonathan are placing high importance on increasing production innovations in the new store to help increase customer interactions. The new store will have some open display cases populated mainly with jewelry prototypes while other open cases will be stocked with limited amounts of live merchandise.
“The new store, updated technologies, and increased customer experience will be our contributions to the next generation of Lewis Jewelers,” says Keith.