Croghan’s Jewel Box – a resilient antique and estate jewelry store that occupies an 18th-century building in Charleston, South Carolina – was opened 100 years ago by hand engraver and jeweler William Joseph Croghan. Croghan started out with a long, skinny, small shop, occupying only the side porch of the building.
Today, the store occupies the entire building and is the oldest family owned jewelry store in Charleston, offering unique estate and antique pieces, as well as gifts for different occasions, to its fourth generation of customers and Charleston visitors. Personal thank you letters from customers and vintage images of the store can be admired on their website.
This month, we were able to get in touch with Rhett Outten, head of PR and second generation owner of Croghan’s Jewel Box, to discuss incorporating modern trends and technology into a business rooted in tradition and history, how the store today differs from years prior, and what the store does to stand out significantly to customers. See what she had to say and see some examples of how Croghan’s Jewel Box styles traditional and modern jewelry together:
How would you describe your store using only three words?
Fun. Intriguing. Caring.
Your inventory includes a lot of vintage-looking pieces along with more modern, fun pieces. What are the main characteristics you look out for when choosing pieces for your store, or what are some of the major purchasing strategies you typically practice?
Estate jewelry has always been a very large market for us because we live in a historic city and people here and those that travel here appreciate workmanship and uniqueness. Customers love a story when it is attached to the piece. Charleston is unique! Our customers love history but also innovation and exciting new things, so we are always trying to strike a balance of mixing old with new and keeping things exciting around here.
Being a store of such a long and rich history, how do you incorporate modern trends, technology, and market changes with continuing traditions?
Our wonderful, faithful customers keep us committed to the tradition part of things as we still sell sterling julep cups and add a pearls and basic bangles and charms. As far as modern trends…we love reading trade publications (JCK is a favorite of course). Trade shows keep us excited about what is trending and exciting in the industry. We go to Centurion, AGS Conclave, our state associations, Luxury, Couture…. and we never miss the JCK Vegas show. It is truly where you can pick up the vibe for the coming year. It is exciting, and we use this time away to plan and try new things. We also use social media to monitor trends and tell our story.
The technology that has truly changed the way we run our business is THE EDGE. The reports that we are able to generate give us information that helps us be true partners with our suppliers. We know what is selling, we know how long it took to sell, and we know how long it took us to get it back in to sell again! We are able to negotiate from a place of knowledge. That has been a game changer for this 100 year old relic! It has also helped us know exactly who our best customers are and how they found us—which helps us from everything from clienteling to marketing strategies.
How is Croghan’s different from what it was, say, 50 years ago, or even a few years ago? What would you say is the most important factor in staying relevant and thriving throughout different market changes?
It is dramatically different! 50 years ago our Grandfather would close up every day at 2:00 and walk the few blocks home to sit down with his family for 2:00 dinner. It is told to us that he would invite anyone who happened to be in the store (mailman, customer, traveling salesman, or tourist) to join him for lunch! Charleston was a sleepy southern town and has recently grown to a tourist destination. Almost half of our customers are from out of town. So everything is very different. We used to know 95% of the customers that walked into our store. Now… not so much. The customer of today is informed and has done their research and usually has already visited our website or follows us on social media. They have a picture on their phone of what they want to purchase. And those tourists? So many of them no longer have a family jewelry store in their hometown. They are used to buying jewelry in department stores and big box retailers and they are charmed by our unusual mix of inventory as well as our hospitality. Some days we are more concierge than salesperson…making reservations for folks and offering rides back to their hotels on a particular bad weather day.
Instagram has also been a huge sales tool for us. It has been a great way for us to connect with customers and take away the intimidation many feel when it comes to buying jewelry. We make sales straight from our Instagram feed very often. It is instant gratification and a whole lot of fun!
Your website includes lovely personal thank you letters from customers. What do you do to stand out so much that customers are inclined to send personal letters?
We are consistently overwhelmed by the kindness, generosity and gratitude of our clients. With the advent of the worldwide web, we became well aware that there was not too much in our store that our customers could not buy anywhere online. Our MANTRA is…All we have to sell is CUSTOMER SERVICE!! Truly, it is the” experience” one gets in a 4th generation store that bonds us with people. We try very hard to make each customer, whether one walking in the store or shopping on our website, feel at home and part of our family. Let’s face it…It is not about the stuff. It’s about the occasion being celebrated and it is how we make clients feel when they are making a purchase. For someone to sit down and write us a thank you note… which happens often….well it means a lot to us. It makes us feel like we are doing our job.
You also hold a number of different events. How often do you do events?
We generally have 8 to 10 trunk shows a year. Again, we have found that our customers enjoy an experience! We are constantly thinking, what can we provide that can not be experienced anywhere else? Our building is a 1790’s Charleston House. Many of our shows take place in a Drawing Room and dining Room housed on the 2nd floor. This makes the show feel special and allows the designer to really be showcased and displayed beautifully alone upstairs. We usually serve fun cocktails and lunch or happy hour fair….depending on the event.
And then we try to have 1 or 2 bigger events. We love to partner with non profits to create a partnership of support. When Temple St. Clair published her last book, we partnered with our historic library society to host a book signing where we served wine and cheese and Temple spoke about her inspiration behind the book. We had about 150 people attend and it was a wonderful evening and resulted in great retail sales the next day. We gave a portion of profits to the Library Society and everyone was happy. Famed jewelry designer Elizabeth Locke bought a house about an hour away from Charleston and we partnered with the Preservation Society to take a bus load of contributors to her home for a picnic and tour. This was also a win/win in terms of sales and contribution to a worthwhile cause.
People love pulling back the curtain and seeing a little something extra…it connects them to the brand. If we can achieve that, we achieve a different level of collector.
Are there any particular stones, colors, or styles that you are partial to and prefer to carry more of in the store?
After diamond rings, our largest seller is sapphire!
What are some of your best sellers and what are the top trends that have been selling well?
Temple St. Clair, Elizabeth Locke, Single Stone are a few of our top selling brands….we are noticing an a strong come back in the pearl market and love Mizuki’s modern take on the pearl.
What are you most looking forward to at JCK Tucson 2019?
Tucson is all about inspiration for us! We love stone hunting and creating one of a kind pieces when we get home. Is the people watching better anywhere else in the world?
What was one of your most memorable moments at a JCK show?
The Maroon 5 concert on the beach at the Mandalay Bay!
Croghan’s Jewel Box has been a store in Charleston for over 100 years. Would you ever consider expanding into other cities or states around the U.S.? How do you think the merchandise would differ if a store were to open in a city like New York, or would you want to apply the same buying strategies/decisions regardless of the different location/demographics?
We love having all of our inventory under one roof. We see our expansion in web sales moving forward. Although our website only contains a fraction of our inventory, we work very hard at updating it daily. It has become a very large part of our business.