OWNERS: Mark and Candy Udell
FEATURED LOCATION REMODELED: October 2008
ARCHITECT: Callison RYA Studio
CASES AND MILLWORK: Halo Art
AREA: 15,000 square feet
EMPLOYEES: 160 companywide, 80 in Manhasset location
TOP 10 BRANDS: Rolex, Patek Phillipe, Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels, David Yurman, Panerai, Audemars Piquet, Roberto Coin, Judith Ripka and Harry Winston.
Candy Udell stands calmly at the center of a maelstrom of civilized chaos in the London Jewelers’ showcase store in Manhassat, Long Island, on a midweek afternoon. Little white dogs cling magnetically to her heels as three casually dressed customers also vie for her attention. Candy, despite a hectic day, even baked a cake for a noon meeting. Now she takes a moment to joke with a security guard about everyone’s No. 1 priority: Don’t let anyone walk off with the store’s most valuable assets: those little white dogs.
Despite its chic elegance, London Jewelers is anything but stuffy. How could it be, with four family dogs flying underfoot — running the length of the many-roomed establishment — from the David Yurman boutique to the watch salon, and up and down the sweeping staircase that leads to the giftware gallery?
“It’s our home,” Candy says. “Our vision was to be very unique; to be someplace a customer would feel comfortable and not intimidated.”
Since they joined the business in 1973, Candy and Mark Udell gradually transformed London Jewelers from a small, mom-and-pop store in Glen Cove, NY, with an excellent reputation for service, to what it is today: A bustling, high-profile Long Island business with five upscale stores, including the Americana Manhasset location. Candy had always loved jewelry while Mark knew — from the time he was 5 years old playing with a toy cash register — that he wanted to join the family business.
Charles London, an immigrant trained in watch repair, established trust among the upper crust of Glen Cove in the 1920s by servicing clocks found in mansions along the Gold Coast of Long Island. His clients were the elite of The Great Gatsby circuit, including such luminaries as the Vanderbilt family. In 1926, deciding he had a pretty enviable customer base already, he opened a jewelry store.
Fast-forward to 1947, when the business nearly slipped away, sold off to a non-relative. After the deal fell through, though, London’s daughter Fran and son-in-law Mayer Udell, owner of a sweater factory, decided to keep the business in the family. “My father-in-law wanted to sell the store, and there were no buyers,” Mayer recalls. “I said, ‘I’ll buy it,’ and I immediately started to learn jewelry. Then I sold my sweater factory and took all kinds of watch-making classes. I wanted to know what made a watch tick.”
Mayer, now 88, and Fran, now 90, still report to work each day, as do their grandchildren, Scott and Randi, the fourth generation. And Mark and Candy are amazed at how close they came to perhaps running a sweater factory, save for a twist of fate. Mark and Candy joined the business, brimming with ideas and youthful enthusiasm. But they didn’t want to sacrifice even a fraction of the company’s honorable reputation. “My parents built a very nice, local, small-town business in a very honorable and ethical way. We wanted to keep maintaining who we are,” Mark says.
London Jewelers moved to a bigger store in Glen Cove and Mark found himself thinking big, too. “My mission, because we were very local, was to try and see if we could get the Rolex brand. It took me about two years to convince them that we were worthy. Finally, when they came to meet me, they felt I had the energy to sell the brand. We were successful with Rolex from Day 1.”
They began to think globally. Every year after the Rolex triumph, London Jewelers added a brand in an effort to become a higher-end store, and Mark and Candy began traveling to Basel, shopping for Italian gold companies to work with them on what were initially small orders. By 1980, they were reinventing themselves in other ways, too, adding locations, for example, while entertaining and traveling with clients. They had realized they were in the business of building relationships.
In 1984, they opened their store in Americana Manhasset, a strip center known as the Madison Avenue of Long Island, where BMWs are as commonplace as Chevys in less rarefied environs. In 1996 they opened an East Hampton store and watched their celebrity clientele grow as well.
Mark was a pioneer in establishing branded boutiques within his stores, an idea that finds its ultimate expression in Americana Manhasset’s most recent incarnation.
“At that time, jewelry was not branded at all,” Mark says, “but when we were displaying jewelry in the store we started to see that if we put all the rings together, the looks didn’t fit together. We learned it was better to keep the lines together.”
Four years ago they began planning an expansion of Americana Manhasset.
They separated watches from jewelry and asked several brands to open boutiques — each with its own sign and entrance — managed by London Jewelers. David Yurman, Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier obliged. In all, they went from 3,500 square feet to 15,000 in three years, completing the project in October 2008, and now having five separate but adjacent storefronts in one location.
Becoming a destination
Architect Steven Derwoed, associate principal for Callison RYA Studio, says the store design reflects the Udells’ personality. It’s all about welcome and warmth.
“London Jewelers has been able to create a conviviality in the store that has to do with their business,” Derwoed says.
The project began with the renovation of the designer jewelry and diamond salon. The challenge was to house a large number of brands without making it feel crowded, so merchandising needs drove design decisions.
“We wanted to create something that was open with a broader, more state-ment-y presentation of jewelry. We were trying to make this space feel larger and trying to make the flow more effortless for the customer,” Derwoed says.
One key was to use curved cases, which add a feminine flair while maximizing the lineal footage. The left side of the store is anchored with huge, sweeping, waves of cases, and the right by a statement piece found in a New Orleans antique shop — a steel, hand-engraved safe, circa 1870, that belonged to the Rothschild family in Paris and looks like an armored armoire.
Full circular cases anchor the center of the store, providing an airy and elegant means of displaying key pieces, and creating inviting negative space around them. (Sales associates access the cases through an easy-to-use, pull-out drawer with a spring lock.) The minimum passage between any two cases is 6 feet, but in most cases, it is more generous than that. The flow invites exploration.
“If you walked through the store once and made a circle, you’d feel like you had been exposed to all the product offerings, but then you see there are all these little nooks and crannies along the way, where you can browse, out of the main traffic flow, for privacy,” Derwoed says.
Pierre Beauchamp, president of Halo Art, which built the cases and millwork, says those niches and shadowboxes required meticulous attention to detail. “It is the most fabulous store we’ve been involved in,” Beauchamp says. “We have seen big stores, but to have this intimacy within this wide space, it’s really unique. It’s more than a jewelry store. It’s a small castle.”
Every detail and material contributes to the overall effect. Carpets were custom made as was all of the wood paneling — and even the chairs. Carpeting, paneling and tapestries absorb sound in a busy environment. Floor to ceiling windows bathe the space in natural light that glints off Italian marble surfaces.
Derwoed also suggested connecting the London Jewelers stores directly with the branded boutiques so shoppers could walk back and forth without going back out to the street. “It created a sense of consistency and flow that you don’t necessarily get from the exterior,” since each façade has a separate brand identity.
All that, though, was only the beginning. When Barney’s vacated the two-story space next door, London Jewelers ultimately decided to take half of it, creating a large space for its watch salon as well as creating a gift gallery upstairs.
“It really became more than any of us imagined in terms of lifestyle destination,” Derwoed says.
“WE HAD ONE CUSTOMER, a lonely guy from a famous family, (since deceased) who hung out at a bar every day and if a woman talked to him at the bar, he would bring her into the store and say, ‘I want you to set my friend up with dubies and riamonds,’ which was how he referred to rubies and diamonds. He was born in July and he loved rubies. He would usually set a $10,000 to $20,000 budget. And all because the person had spent time with him at the bar. At one point he was doing this a couple times a week.” — MARK UDELL
Five Cool Things About the Store
1It’s a way of life for the Udells. They have a marketing department, they socialize with clients, host frequent events in and out of the store, publish their own jewelry-style magazine, and have a London Jewelers jingle, written by Jake Holmes and Paul Shaffer, that they won in a charity auction for world hunger. “We won the bid—after much bidding—and Jake came out to see the store,” Candy says. “He wrote the jingle in a week and Mark and I went to the studio to see Paul and Jake and the whole band record it! It was so much fun ... and it’s the perfect song for us!”
A seamless look
2In addition to separate brand boutiques with individual facades, brand areas within London Jewelers are clearly delineated yet blend perfectly with their surroundings. “It’s done by design so everything is in our monotone colors. The brands worked with us and our colors,” Candy Udell says.
3Watchmakers, who can be seen working behind a window in the watch salon, are certified to repair nearly every brand the store carries. A custom-built humidor behind glass doors is available for customers to store their cigars, adding to the room’s masculine vibe. The humidor is crafted of solid Spanish cedar, the wood best able to balance the temperature and humidity of the space. It’s the perfect spot for watch-centered parties and fairs.
Invitation to relax
4The gift gallery is near the store kitchen, which facilitates party planning. Clients are invited to sip an espresso or glass of wine while they lounge on a sofa accented with throw pillows swathed in a cozy, sweater-like material, and watch a plasma TV hung over the mantel. Crystal on open shelves glitters in the sunlight against floor to ceiling windows. Shoppers peruse selections from Jay Strongwater, Mackenzie-Childs and vintage Chanel, purchased from a Paris antiques dealer.
Cases and the craftmanship
5Using different wood in similar-looking styles lends individuality to each room while retaining unifying features. Halo Art selected individual logs to begin the project, rather than purchasing pieces of veneer. Each piece of veneer is cut from the log and pressed to suit specific cases. “That gives the nicest wood feature for each specific case,” says Halo Art president Pierre Beauchamp. The watch salon cases were built with rift-cut white oak from choice northern U.S. trees, and stained a dark brown. For the balance of the store, Halo Art employed European steamed beech veneer. Mixing the dark wood with chrome features adds a contemporary accent.
OVERHEARD IN THE STORE
“One day the (family) dogs were going crazy in front of the door, and someone came in and said, ‘Do you sell any dogs?”
— LONDON JEWELERS SALES ASSOCIATE
Pack a Bag
“IF YOU’RE IN BUSINESS and you want to meet customers who can buy what you sell, you have to go where they are and be with them in a relaxed environment. You have to travel with them.” — CANDY UDELL
Give Your Excellent Service a Name
“LONDON CALLING,” a VIP service designed to personalize shopping, offers everything from bringing jewelry and watches to a client’s home or office to introducing clients to celebrated jewelry designers. One example of personal attention: In spring 2008, a London Jewelers manager received a request for a 32-carat diamond ring from a loyal client wintering in Florida. The manager contacted the diamond dealers in New York, located the perfect stones and then traveled to and from Florida on the same day, accompanied by security, to accommodate his client’s request..
What the Judges Said
ADAM GRAHAM: From the beautiful interior, to the bar, the humidor and their “London Calling” VIP service, this store’s environment is what all guild retailers should aspire to create.
MICHAEL M. CLARKE: London Jewelers redefines the luxury shopping experience by removing the intimidation factor. From simple street access, to the customer-friendly layout, to the remarkable welcome and hospitality, the experience is made to be exceptional and memorable.
KATY BRIGGS: London Jewelers delivers a classic luxury shopping experience at every consumer touch-point. Their marketing is professional and represents the brand personality flawlessly, and they know how to leverage their best brands.
SARAH READ: The website is great. Utilizing actual pictures of guests and staff in the store gives the website “realness” and a taste of what to expect when people come in.
BOB TACZALA: The skylight, cappuccino bar, sitting area and humidor lend a sense of casualness and frivolity to the store, similar to a Bentley — breathtaking, exhilarating and yet beautifully designed.
TODD REED: A generally fabulous feel all around. Advertising to displays are creative, luxurious and inviting.
This story is from the August 2009 edition of INSTORE