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WWD Milestones issue 07/21/2008

One Thursday morning in June, Todd Mitchell sent a personal e-mail to a busy corporate executive, a man with little time to shop. It was an acknowledgment that his wife’s birthday was coming up. Todd, vice-president of jewelry for Mitchells, had something she might really like. Within five hours the customer wrote back. He would be in on Saturday to see it.

This story first appeared in the July 21, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


Paying attention to the personal preferences of shoppers, keeping data files and then following up with e-mail messages and postcards have helped Mitchells’ jewelry department blossom. It is now a multimillion-dollar business representing 30 percent of its women’s sales, or around $16.5 million.


The magnitude of the department “is the best-kept secret,” agrees Todd, who holds a master’s degree in gemology from Gemological Institute of America, where he was educated on the fine points of diamonds and colored stones. With stores in Westport and Greenwich, Mitchells is now the largest jewelry retailer in Connecticut, he notes.


It wasn’t always so. Jewelry was a late addition to the family’s business, with sporadic offerings beginning some 15 years ago. The initial focus was on pieces with fashion stones to match outfits. For a couple of years an entry-level diamond line was presented at a trunk show at Christmas. “We started selling bigger pieces in the $2,000, $3,000 and $4,000 range,” recalls Todd.


Then the diamond line was brought in year-round and put in a case. “It did phenomenally well,” says Todd, who is the son of Jack Mitchell. Because customers trusted Mitchells in other areas, they started making special jewelry requests. “That was the number-one factor in our growth — the trust.”


“They don’t want to get hoodwinked. If the suit didn’t fit, we took it back. We were a local, loyal community-based retailer,” says Todd. “The jewelry business is different from suits. But we were fair in our pricing and slowly built the business.”


Jewelry remains in a growth mode, with annual sales increases projected in the 12 to 15 percent range. “In our own customer database, we [jewelry sales] have only penetrated 20 percent,” says Todd.


Today, Mitchells is full-service and prides itself on special requests. The Westport flagship has 32 cases and four jewelry specialists; its Greenwich store has 16 cases and three jewelry specialists; and its third and newest store, Marshs in Huntington, N.Y., has nine jewelry cases and a jewelry specialist on staff.


“If someone needs clocks engraved for a business event this evening, I can get that for you. If someone says, ‘My wife needs diamond stud earrings’ at whatever price, I can get something in two hours,” says Todd.


Although selections vary from store to store, Mitchells currently offers nearly 30 jewelry lines, including: Bedat, Cartier, Judith Ripka, Michael Beaudry, Renee Lewis and Temple St. Clair.


Prices inched up over the years, too. From semiprecious stones, there are now pieces with precious stones at prices from $100,000 to $500,000. Upstairs even from that, its biggest one-time purchase came two years ago: a diamond and sapphire bracelet priced $750,000. “It was gorgeous,” says Todd, who finds the jewelry sector appealing partly because of its feelgood, emotional aspect, whether it be a gift or self-purchase.


To keep the departments exciting, Mitchells holds several in-store events a year. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day are key holidays, and from Thanksgiving to Christmas there are typically four or five vendor presentations a day.


Mitchells also pairs jewelry lines with fashion trunk shows, says Todd, citing as an example women’s Armani shown with Pomellato jewelry.


Vendors and customers acknowledge the attention to detail as well. “The level of customer service is the best I have ever seen in my life,” states Anjanette Clisura, president of Diamonds in the Rough, a jewelry collection featuring uncut diamonds carried by Mitchells since last September.


Mitchells staff is so accessible, she points out. “If you call the store after hours, they give you an option to reach every person at home. They are giving people. They always try to please the customer. Because they are like that, that makes me want to be like that.”


She recalls one male customer who never wore a wedding band. But he liked the Diamonds in the Rough collection and requested to have something custom-made. “We worked with Mitchells on getting him exactly what he wanted. It took two to three months. We even reworked the thickness of the band several times until it felt just right,” says Clisure.


Longtime customer Wendy Doyle of Fairfield, Conn., says that while it sounds like hype, “it really is true. You do become part of the family. Yes, they are in a business to sell things. But at least in my case, I do consider a lot of them my friends now, which is nice.” Recently the company donated to a charity founded by Doyle’s twin teenagers that benefits refugees throughout the world. “They were willing and more than happy to do it.”

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