By Ashley Davis
Our South Carolina jeweler is Croghan’s Jewel Box in Charleston. Sisters Rhett Ramsay Outten and Mariana Hay are the third-generation owners of the store their grandfather opened in 1907.
Charleston, S.C.--In 50 Jewelers/50 States, National Jeweler interviews one retailer in each of the 50 U.S. states to find out how they are meeting the challenges of the changing retail environment.

Sisters Rhett Ramsay Outten and Mariana Ramsay Hay are the third generation of their family to operate Croghan’s Jewel Box in Charleston, South Carolina, and the tradition has continued since Hay’s two daughters have come onboard to work at the company.

Ramsay Outten describes the atmosphere at the store as “like a cocktail party,” but any celebration is the result of a great deal of hard work. Croghan’s employs 25 people at its store, which has expanded over recent years to occupy the entirety of its historic Charleston building.

The original showroom is on ground level, while the second floor houses a workshop with four jewelers and a private area for special appointments and trunk shows, and the floor above that is dedicated to operations and the website.

“We try to be small,” said Ramsay Outten, “but we’ve grown a good bit over the last few years.”

She told National Jeweler how her family is keeping up with the demands of modern retail.

20171004 SouthCarolina1Sisters Rhett Ramsay Outten and Mariana Ramsay Hay are the third generation owners of Croghan’s Jewel Box in Charleston, South Carolina. Their grandfather founded the store in approximately 1907, and their mother ran the store before them. Their business occupies a 3,000- square-foot three-story historic Charleston building, with the selling floor occupying about 1,000 square feet. They employ 25 people.

National Jeweler: What’s the biggest challenge your store is facing today?

Rhett Ramsay Outten: Customer service is our number one focus at all times. We’re lucky to live in a vibrant city that is a tourist destination. Charleston has been named a top travel destination consistently by publications like Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure, so we have an amazing non-local trade, so to speak, because we’re right in the middle of the historic town.

Customer service is the most important thing we offer, and it’s the thing we focus on constantly. We have a website, and we have lots of customers coming in and out of our door and the toughest challenge is to have the right staffing, the right employee in the right place at the right time, being able to give that customer service.

My grandfather started the store many years ago and it was just him and my grandmother and my mother. And then my mother ran it for a really long time with just a handful of people, three or four. We entered this century without about 10 employees, and now we’re up to 25 because it’s all about that experience and being able to provide good service and just finding the right people to be in the right spot is, I think, the hardest.

We’ve been really lucky, though. We have one employee who has been here 50 years, started as a teenager. So our retention rate is good. We just have to keep a website now and keep up with the times and keeping your staff up with the business I think is probably our biggest challenge.

NJ: What’s the top-selling category at your store?

RRO: Diamond rings.

20171004 SouthCarolina3An interior view of Croghan's Jewel Box

What’s your top-selling brand?

RRO: We’re not really a brand-centered store. We do well with Henri Daussi. We do well with Single Stone. I would say that, behind diamond rings, our biggest seller is antique and estate jewelry. We do a large business with that. So Single Stone is one of those diamond companies that uses antique diamonds with new settings and that is a very good brand for us. We also do well with Temple St. Clair.

NJ: Describe your regional customer.

RRO: We are lucky because we have many fourth-generation customers to whom we’re selling a diamond ring and my grandfather sold to the first generation. Very often, we use the same diamond he sold, and we’ve reset it for three different generations, from platinum to yellow gold back to platinum and now we’re putting it in with a halo. So that’s very rewarding to have the longevity of a younger customer buying an engagement ring because we’ve all sort of grown up with the local customer.

Our website customer is generally aged 22 to 40 and our engagement ring customer is generally 25 to 35. But really we feel like if we do our job right selling an engagement ring to a young couple getting engaged, we hope that we’re serving them all the way through their lives for anniversaries and babies, so we really have quite a wide range of ages.

NJ: What’s the most popular style of engagement ring with your clientele now?

RRO: We sell a lot of antique engagement rings and then the solitaire is back. We’re selling a lot of solitaires. Cushion cuts have become very popular and round remains the number one (diamond shape). We’re seeing a few ovals come back; it’s become popular as well. Platinum is our most popular metal.
20171004 SouthCarolina2Pictured from left to right are Mini Hay, Rhett Ramsay Outten, Mariana Ramsay Hay and Kathleen Hay. Outten and Mariana Ramsay Hay are the third-generation owners of Croghan’s Jewel Box, and Mini and Kathleen Hay represent the fourth generation of the family to work in the business.

NJ: Which social media accounts are important to your business?

RRO: I would say Instagram. We try to post every day, really more than once a day, and it’s just really exciting to see that following grow and how that follower makes their way into Croghan’s from Minnesota and New York and Georgia. It’s such a national audience, and it’s the number one leader to our website and ecommerce.

NJ: Do you have e-commerce?

RRO: We instituted ecommerce in 2014. We work very hard on our website. We find e-commerce most useful as a tool for our customers to be able to go on the website and look at what’s available. We try to have our website give people a glimpse of who we are and what we have.

Our actual sales for larger items is not huge. However, there are very few people who walk in here ready to make an important purchase if they haven’t been on our website first--it’s more of a marketing and PR tool than a sales tool so far.

But it’s increasing constantly. Our growth in sales is tremendous each year. I think we doubled it this year from what we did last year so we see great potential there, though it’s not a big percentage of our sales so far.

NJ: What’s the best piece of advice you’d offer to a fellow independent jeweler?

RRO: To have fun and make your store a place that makes people feel good. Between my sister and her two daughters and some of our employees who have been here a long time, it’s clear that everyone is having a good time and working hard.

Sometimes we say it’s like a cocktail party. There are many times when we pull out champagne and start offering people drinks when the line gets too long.

We’re so fortunate to work in an industry that provides things for happy milestones, and that radiates in our store. Have fun and laugh a lot because that is truly contagious, and it makes people feel comfortable.

NJ: What’s a fun fact about you we can share with our readers?

RRO: A fun fact is we call our employees “the jewels.” We enjoy doing things together like going to plays or baseball games or out to dinner together. We like to have fun!

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