Cool Store: Rodriguez's House of Stones
BY EILEEN MCCLELLAND
Published in the March 2012 issue
URL: houseofstones.org | Owner: Alan Rodriguez | Founded: 1877 | Purchased by current owner: 1987 | Area: 3,500 square feet | Employees: 4 full-time, 6 part-time | TAGLINE: Where Tuscarawas County gets engaged | Top Brands: Hearts On Fire, Pandora, Breuning, Asch Grossbardt, Lorenzo, Cherie Dori, Artistry Ltd.
Rodriguez's House of Stones in New Philadelphia, OH, (pop. 17,000) is as much a regional hub in the Tuscarawas Valley as it is a retail space. When Rodriguez bought it in 1987 he became the fourth owner of the building, considered — at three stories tall — to be the town’s first high rise. It’s been a landmark, across the street from the courthouse, for well over 100 years. When Rodriguez moved in, he found a daily watch and clock repair log dating to the turn of the 20th century. “One hundred and eleven years later, I recognize the same names coming in our store today.”
The community naturally attracts generations of customers. New Philadelphia is surrounded by rolling hills, farmland and Amish country. There’s a hitching post at a McDonald’s in the next county over. It’s inhabited largely by people with strong roots and traditional values, including a strong sense of loyalty. “You don’t earn their trust immediately,” Rodriguez says. “But if we’re patient, we can be rewarded many, many fold by the loyalty of those patrons.”
Five Cool Things
1HISTORY The jewelry business was founded by its first owner in 1877 on a corner of a prominent public square. In 1912, the illuminated “Welcome to Our City” sign was added to the roof and it’s been there ever since. The third floor of the building was home to the Elks Club during Prohibition and — because it served alcohol — was equipped with buzzers and peepholes, which remain. When Vaudeville was in its prime, W.C. Fields was a frequent performer there. The piano he played is still on the third floor.
2ON THE SQUARE The walls of windows, decorated for the seasons, are a downtown focal point. But Rodriguez has extended the store’s reach even beyond the windows. Metal tables and chairs beckon to passersby, colorful flowers spill from oversize planters, and street lamps and trees create an inviting ambience. Rodriguez has installed decorative, memorial benches, too, one of which honors Doyle Stone, a watchmaker and previous owner. At Christmas time, Santa and his sleigh add even more color to the scene. The welcoming corner is depicted on specially designed House of Stones note cards.
3COME ON IN “In an industry that requires most jewelers to buzz their customers inside, our front entrance opens automatically as you walk toward us,” Rodriguez says. With its central location and free street parking, residents find it easy to stop by to chat. “You have to keep traditions going in a small town,” Rodriguez says. “I’ve inherited a legacy that’s over 100 years old.” Inside, recessed alcoves offer bridal shoppers privacy and intimacy in a town where everyone knows everyone else. In store and window displays are likely to include an unexpected twist — such as live, jewel-colored Siamese fighting fish in shallow glass bowls.
4THE SHOW House of Stones is about romance, emotion and passion. “In the old days we felt we needed to educate, educate, educate,” Rodriguez says. “Now we need a different value component. We need to successfully weave education into emotion and to the intent of the event. I think of it like theater. We need to entertain the person in a way. Everything is choreographed so that the customer interacts with several of our staff, whether they are bringing refreshments or wrapping or cleaning the jewelry. Our goal is that when they walk out of that store, they will have participated in a unique retail experience. “It’s about weaving it all in a seamless way to provide a retail shopping experience that provides lifelong memories.”
5A FRESH WEBSITE Rodriguez, realizing the need for a strong interactive social media presence, took ownership of the store’s website, designing and managing it internally, which allows for daily updating. “It highlights our personality and keeps us approachable, with staff contributing pictures,” Rodriguez says. “It’s always a work in progress, people check back frequently and their feedback is extremely positive. We also crosspromote events and promotions with our sister store’s website. Through Google Analytics, we track hits to Web pages, traffic sources, and time on site to measure the effectiveness of our marketing strategies.”
Five Questions With Alan Rodriguez
1What makes you different? We are contemporary in our thinking while being respectful to the traditions of our industry and community. We recognize the symbolism of jewelry, knowing that each piece of jewelry from the House of Stones will serve as a lifelong reminder of the love and sentiment it expresses both for now and as an heirloom. Our ultimate goal is to create exceptional experiences that will become lifelong memories.
2What is most important to you in your business?: We emphasize our service and what we mean to people we serve. We respect the traditions of our predecessors and the value of the service we provide.
3What are your greatest challenges?: While we evolve into the demands of our marketplace, our competition arena has been magnified. What can brick-and-mortar store do to survive and co-exist? It comes from the relationships we develop, what we can do to continue to earn the loyalty of the children of supporters of our business.
4How do you hire?: In the old days, I wanted that superstar, the person who could do everything. Whenever a great salesperson didn’t have the best bookkeeping skills I would be frustrated with that. Or if my marketing person couldn’t answer a customer service question. Now I try to pick the best talent for that particular job. To have one person’s weaknesses compensated by another person’s strengths. That way we’re really working as a team and it provides a foundation for the total shopping experience.
5What effect do you want to create among customers?: We want to create raving fans who become our own brand ambassadors. Whenever our name comes up, I want it always to be in the context of “Wow, what a place!” It’s not rocket science. The challenge is sustaining it and doing something unexpected.
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