About Retail: Redesigned for the 'wow' factor
Sarasota, Fla.--In an industry much maligned for its lack of imagination when it comes to retail design, the owners of the Diamond Vault are worthy of a very high compliment indeed.
In opening their new, standalone, 7,000-square-foot space in Sarasota, Fla., they have created a jewelry store that looks nothing like a traditional jewelry store. And that is exactly what the Chokr family intended.
Diamond Vault owner Ali Chokr and his wife LaRue worked tirelessly for many months alongside their three sons, Michael, Amir and Rachad, to create a store that is filled with natural light, makes clients feel at ease and appeals to all generations, from Ali Chokr’s longtime, older clients to young bridal customers looking to make their first fine jewelry purchase.
Ali Chokr, who opened the store with his wife in 1978, says the decision to move into this new store was one born out of space necessity.
After three decades in business, the Florida retailer has built up a solid base of customers. With the next generation stepping up to continue operating the Diamond Vault, the family decided it was time to move to a larger location where they could offer more services.
“I’m thankful for that,” Ali Chokr says, acknowledging that not every jeweler is lucky enough to get the next generation interested in the family business. “And that’s the reason I decided to expand. Otherwise, I wouldn’t of.”
“It’s their baby,” he continues. “I built the business, and I stepped back to let them create this work of art because they are the future. And they did a wonderful job.”
In the process of designing the store, the Chokr sons studied up on retail design, going outside the industry for inspiration and to see what materials were being used. Amir Chokr says he can remember flipping through images of hundreds of buildings on his iPad, studying their design.
Michael Chokr took it a step further, flying to New York City to visit Tiffany & Co., Harry Winston and the De Beers stores, not so much for inspiration but to figure out how they could design a space that would set them apart from the jewelry masses.
“Jewelry in general is the business of copying,” Amir Chokr observes, noting that a company such as Tiffany comes out with a ring and, a few months later, retailers everywhere are selling a similar design. “It’s definitely an industry of copying. I think the sooner we get out of that mindset that’s when companies excel and that’s when the industry in general can excel.”
The experience at the Diamond Vault starts just beyond the front door, where a concierge greets customers, offers them a beverage and directs them to the correct salesperson or area of the store.
In designing their new store, the Chokr family settled on natural materials including brick, stone and wood, including reclaimed cypress. The store has high ceilings, plenty of windows to allow in natural light, background music and a natural wood fragrance. “We tried to appeal to all the senses,” Rachad Chokr says.
Both the music and the fragrance are subtle. They are not meant to appeal to--or repel--one certain demographic or age group but are just there in the background, to be enjoyed equally by everybody. Ali Chokr says this was his sons’ way of bridging the gap between the store’s older and younger clientele.
“I think what my sons did (is), they are trying to unite the old and young. It appeals to all groups. When you walk in there, there’s not one person ... who doesn’t say the word ‘wow,’” he says.
Among the store’s more unique features are the 19 “Discovery Boxes” that house either standout pieces, such as a 35-carat black diamond, or, in the case of the boxes located at the front of the store, employee selections.
Ali Chokr says the employee-favorites boxes are changed every month and are meant to draw customers’ attention to the store’s varied selection. What’s featured in his box-- a 27-year-old male who’s a self-proclaimed “big diamond guy”--varies greatly from the pieces picked by an older female co-worker who favors colored stone jewelry with a Southwestern flavor.
The Diamond Vault is housed in a space formerly occupied by a boating store on Sarasota’s South Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41).
There’s also the 13-foot wide, difficult-to-miss Diamond Wall, a wall, as the name suggests, comprised entirely of loose diamonds. The wall contains a total of 140 loose stones of all cuts and sizes, ranging in price from $1,000 to $100,000. The stones can be removed from the wall for customers who want to take a closer look in a private room.
Rachad Chokr says the wall is ideal for younger customers who don’t know much about diamonds or who may be shy about asking to see stones. He says it’s also helpful for men that simply want to get an idea of what their girlfriend likes.
While he acknowledges that information and pictures are widely available on the Internet, there is no substitute for an in-person diamond visual. “You can’t actually see the stone (online),” he says. “It’s the ‘wow’ factor of being able to see the stone, to see what a one-carat diamond looks like in person.”
The new Diamond Vault has been open for less than two months but has received accolades from many customers who have come through its front doors. Perhaps the greatest compliment paid the new space, though, came from two people who came in strictly just to look.
Rachad Chokr said a couple of weeks ago, a consultant entered the Diamond Vault with another local jewelry store owner.
“The moment they walked in, they were both in awe. The consultant said this was the absolute nicest jewelry store he’s ever been into, which was an amazing compliment,” he says.
For a slideshow featuring more images of the new Diamond Vault, click here.