We recently had the opportunity to chat with Cheri Swan, the owner of the retail store Something Silver. Cheri graduated from UCLA with plans to go into marketing, but quickly decided that she wanted something more than a traditional office job. She first dipped her toes in the retail pool at the Gap, where she was a manager at the store level for a few years, and then began working with an old friend for a much smaller retail store that sold high-end accessories and sterling silver jewelry. Finally, Cheri took a risk and moved to Seattle to start her own retail operation, which became the successful store she runs today, Something Silver. Cheri prides herself on staying current and innovative, which she believes is essential to the success and growth of any retail store. We chatted with her about what makes Something Silver unique, where the company is headed, and what she is most looking forward to at JCK Las Vegas this year!
How did you get started in the industry?
After graduating from UCLA and having done many internships in marketing, I decided that I would not be happy sitting at a desk doing a traditional job. I had always loved fashion and merchandising and thought that retail might be a good fit for me. I went into management at Gap Inc. At the time, it was the most happening and innovative company in retail. With the iconic Mickey Drexler at the helm, the opportunities for advancement seemed endless. After working at the store level for a couple of years, I was recruited by an old high school friend to come and work for her smallish company selling high-end accessories and sterling silver jewelry. Within six months, I found myself operations manager and head buyer for the company’s eight stores. Unlike the Gap, where I learned how to manage a well-run retail operation, I was challenged to reorganize this company and bring their standards to a higher level. Although overwhelming at times, this was a valuable experience for me because I learned how quickly things could go wrong in a small retail company. After a couple of years with the company, I determined that I wanted to move to Seattle and open my own company. I felt that I had all the skills I needed to start my own retail operation, while still being young enough to take a risk and potentially lose everything. Luckily for me, I was in the right place at the right time, and Something Silver was an instant success.
What are some of the biggest challenges working in retail jewelry? The biggest rewards?
I find some of the biggest challenges to be staying ahead of the curve and always being current. It takes a great deal of constant innovation in retail to feel fresh to your customers. In this retail environment, you must continue to reinvent yourself, or perish. To keep up to speed, I read retail newsletters, the newspaper, and fashion magazines, follow fashion bloggers, shop my competitors, and travel to retail destinations worldwide. I have found most of my inspiration in London and Amsterdam. The shops there always seem to be two steps ahead of the shops in the U.S.
The greatest reward I’ve had working in retail jewelry is meeting and forming long-standing relationships with exceptional people. I have been buying from many of my designers since the day I opened my doors. I believe in staying loyal to the people who helped me build my business over the years. I am continually impressed and inspired by how my designers continue to update their collections while staying true to who they are as a designer.
What are the types of trends or changes you see going on in the retail scene right now?
I think the biggest trend I’m seeing right now is that people want to know whom they are buying from and the origin of the product. People care to know the stories behind how the jewelry is made—what inspires the artist, what materials they’re using, is the product handmade, are the materials sustainable, etc. I feel there is a real backlash toward big-box retailers and a trend toward supporting small business. I also believe that people are willing to spend more for something that is handmade in the U.S.; however, there are still those who make finding a bargain their top priority.
What types of pieces do you look for to put in your stores?
We look for lines that will fill a niche in our store. We don’t want one designer to cancel another designer out if their looks are too similar. And the driving philosophy in our buying department is that we will carry a line only if it is a good value. That is not to say that we do not carry high-end lines, but rather the pieces in those lines must have an inherent value in them. People must never walk into our shops and wonder why something is the price that it is.
What is it exactly that you think makes Something Silver unique?
Contrary to what many experts may advise, we have always tried to offer something for everyone. Our customers range from a 10-year-old girl to a 40-year-old mom to a 25-year-old man.
Also, since our inception, it has been important for us to know the most minute details of the pieces we carry and the artists who design them. We have always believed that the stories behind the art are what make the pieces meaningful to our customers.
What are you most looking forward to about JCK Las Vegas?
I always look forward to reconnecting with our designers at the show and catching up with them about their families and seeing their excitement behind their new designs. I also look forward to finding the latest and greatest new designer and seeing what the overall jewelry trends for the year will be.
Where do you see your company five years down the road?
Something Silver is built for longevity because of our outstanding and dedicated team and loyal customers. I expect that we will continue to innovate and seek out new trends as we have always done. We are a group of people who constantly challenge ourselves to think differently from how we have in the past in order to grow. With that relentless dedication to be better and do better, I see no end in sight to the possibilities. After two decades in business, I continue to feel optimistic toward the future.