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2007 America's Coolest Stores Contest

9th Place - Tapper's Diamonds and Fine Jewelry

MALL RATS
Mall stores may be struggling in some parts of the country but Tapper's has been able to combine the drawing power of a mall location with a dominating presence usually reserved by free-standing stores. The store negotiated last year for signs over its own corner of the mall as well as at the front center of the complex.

EYES AND EARS
The store's digital security system allows managers to zoom in on "areas of concern" and even listen in on conversations. The ability to retrieve archival footage proved useful recently when a woman claimed she had left a bag in the store. "I knew she hadn't," says Steven Tapper. "I was able to go back into the system and show her that she wasn't carrying the bag when she came in."

ECONOMY BOOSTER
Economic success is rare in Michigan these days. Tapper's, however, managed to post sales growth of 10 percent in 2006 and will add at least a dozen jobs to the state's economy when it opens a new branch in the Twelve Oaks Mall, on the outskirts of Detroit, in September.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Staff training is constant (Tapper's funds GIA training) and some may say relentless. At the annual holiday dinner last year, staff toured an upscale restaurant to see what it means to provide a luxury experience in a different way.

TO THE RESCUE
One man's crisis is another's media opportunity. When a local news crew highlighted the plight of a local policeman whose fiance had lost her engagement ring, Tapper's stepped in to give the woman a new ring for free. Howard Tapper said the store wanted to show its appreciation for the work that all police officers do.

STORE FACTS
The store's ceiling mural is a striking piece of art bursting with color and life. But amazingly, many people don't even notice it until after several return trips, says Steven Tapper. Howard Tapper was named Michigan Retailer of the Year in 2002 for his "exceptional contributions" to civic, charitable and volunteer activities.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID:

CRAIG UNDERWOOD- 2006 COOL STORE WINNER
It's impressive that they have taken a dying mall and turned their store into a destination location. For the jewelry store to become the mall anchor ... now that's way cool.

DEBORAH E. HECHT- WHOLESALE JEWELRY REP
Tapper's has a lot to teach the retail jewelry store. It's unheard of for an independent to be considered an anchor for a standard mall. They spent a lot of time figuring out how to make a customer feel special in a store that's in a mall. Along with their designing expert, my guess is that it's a combination of personnel, passion and merchandise/ merchandising. If I were an independent retail store in a mall, I'd go visit.

RUTH FAILER- TRADE-SHOW CONSULTANT
Walking up to the store, you might forget you're in a mall.

RHONDA FABER GREEN- JEWELRY DESIGNER
The store has a warm, inviting feeling. Built with the customer in mind there is a room for children and a refreshment center. The logo and the entry lend themselves to an Asian feel with their cool, clean lines and sleek architecture.

LEATRICE EISEMAN- COLOR SPECIALIST
Well-done entry. It frames the interior, which brings us right in to the store, as if we were walking into a painting. The ceiling mural is exceedingly well done and helps pull together the store's interior features without overpowering to the merchandise below.

SHANE DECKER- SALES TRAINER
They've made a mall store feel like a freestanding store. They're a destination that appeals to all ages — very creative. The use of wood in their displays makes it feel very warm and inviting. Considering that the Detroit market is down, the Tapper brothers have done an outstanding job of keeping jewelry alive and the store vibrant.

DAVID PETERS- JEWELRY EDUCATOR
Striking, stimulating open and friendly — all words that describe Tapper’s Jewelers.

NICK FAILLA- SALES CONSULTANT
There is no mistaking that Tapper's understands the strength in the message that a diamond carries and pronounces it proudly above their signature tag line, "Mark the Moment." Simple, clean and important showcases highlight their jewelry while the elaborate ceiling that implies the creativity their design staff is well known for. The intricate and artistic beauty of their ceiling inspires a fascination that generates conversation within the marketplace. Employing artistic detail can be accomplished in several ways. Stores should not be afraid to search within and outside of their community to help develop an artistic conversation element within their store.

LARRY JOHNSON- MERCHANDISING EXPERT
The abundance of wood and color sets this store apart. The linear design of the ceiling and the matching floor inserts draw the customer deeper into the store.

BERJ ALEXANIAN- JEWELRY DISPLAY DESIGNER
It has clever and artistic frontage and warm hospitality.

TRUE TALES MARRIAGE-MINDED

Working with Tapper's staff, a young man picked out an engagement ring and had "Will you marry me?" printed on the ticket. He returned several days later with his girlfriend to browse rings and at one point asked a sales associate if he could look at the ring in the display. "The sales associate passed it to his girlfriend and the young man asked her what she thought. She looked at it, glanced at the ticket and totally fell apart," recalls Steven Tapper, adding that other staff quickly brought out champagne and joined in the celebration.

HOW THEY GOT THERE

FROM BROOM TO VROOM
Once Howard Tapper found his ambition, Tapper's started to sweep up in its Michigan market.

The story of Tapper's Diamonds & Fine Jewelry starts in the warehouse of a large discount retailer, where a young Howard Tapper had taken a sweeping job to earn a little cash. One day a short-handed supervisor asked him to help out on the sales floor, and Tapper promptly sold a gold watch.

It was the beginning of a 40-year success story in jewelry retailing.

Realizing he had found his calling, Tapper joined the Detroit based chain Meyer Jewelry and quickly rose through the ranks to become a diamond buyer. By the age of 28 he was ready to branch out on his own. He sold the family car, borrowed money from his wife's family and when he had scraped up enough cash, opened the first Tapper's — a 1,000-square-foot retail space in front of a health club. Over the next 18 years, Tapper's repeatedly expanded and remodeled, growing to 6,000 square feet. The growth was built on "a good selection and customer relationships, before that term became popular" says Howard's brother Steven, who joined the company in its first year and now serves as its vice president.

By 1995, the changing demographics of their neighborhood convinced the brothers a bolder move was in order, and Tapper's took over space in Oakland County's Orchard Mall. Designer Ken Nisch of JGA was brought in to give the store an identity that matched the business's growing brand.

Nisch's brief was straightforward if ambitious: design a store that provided a level of entertainment while remaining functional as a retail environment. Howard and Steven had always admired Fortunoff in New York, which is known for its clean display, large selection and open traffic flow for customers. The Tapper's wanted something similar, as they sought to attract the high-end customer while also making younger customers feel welcome.

"We wanted to build a store that would impress on the outside, but relax on the inside," says Nisch. To give it that dominating presence on the outside, Nisch used large, transparent windows at the entrance along with big stone blocks. "Tapper's customers are destination-driven, not walk-by," he explains. "So little display windows were not necessary. Instead, we needed to make the impact of an anchor store. It fits right in with the impressive brands that Tapper's carries, and the image they've built over the years."

Nisch personally created what is probably the store's most striking feature: a ceiling mural inspired by art nouveau works of the early 1900s, especially those of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt.

"We wanted something that would draw people's eyes when they walked in, but wouldn't distract once they were in the store," Steven Tapper says of the mural.

Nisch delivered on his promise of creating a "special place" but the excitement of the store's opening was dulled by a new anxiety: Tapper's fellow retailers in the mall were fleeing en masse.

"The economy was changing," Tapper says. "The big boxes were opening up, people operating small boutiques were having a harder time functioning."

As things turned out, the brothers had little to worry about. Sales continued to grow and Tapper's became one of the best known independents in the Detroit area. Indeed, such was their success that they helped the mall reposition itself in the market as a more upscale shopping environment.

Last spring, an exterior renovation was completed that gave Tapper's outside signage — possibly the strongest of any mall store in the area. "Our name is above the mall's entrance, and many people say it looks like Tapper's owns the mall," says Tapper.

The recent remodeling which introduced a rosy-cream color in the showcases that"really makes the jewelry pop," according to Tapper. The cases also contain new glass, and the walls have new paper and paint. A 100-square foot children's area has also been enhanced, including toys, books, a TV/VCR and chairs for adults. Improved lighting shines more directly on merchandise, making it look vibrant. Finally, a refreshment area was built, so customers can be offered fresh danishes, coffee and soda.

"There's not a big resistance factor walking through the door," says Tapper. "We're not selling one-of-a-kind pieces here, we sell a wide range of product to a wide range of people — from $100 to $100,000."

- CHRIS BURSLEM

Posted on 8/1/2007

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