Story byEileen McClelland
I t seems that a great idea can be found wherever Heather Hanst happens to turn her gaze.
Sitting in the back of her downtown Bend, OR, store in a comfortable chair meant for customers, checking her email on her laptop, Hanst had only to look up to envision what she knew would be the solution to her space problems.
Silverado Jewelry Gallery's soaring ceilings lend an expansive feeling to the gallery space, but when floor space was at a premium, Hanst began to see the space above her as more than just breathing room. She wanted to build a small loft in the back of her store to create semi-private office space.
The first architect she called said it couldn't be done. The century-old building was too old to handle that kind of structural stress.
But "can't" isn't exactly a word Hanst accepts at face value.
The former professional figure skater from Lake Placid, NY, is a lover of outdoor sport and — in the pursuit of heli-skiing, skate skiing and mountain biking — has broken her back, her arm, her wrists and has required repeated knee surgery. "The list is so long, of broken bones," she says. Still, she pursues those hobbies with the same passion, imagination and determination she puts into her business.
"I'm tough," she says.
So when the second architect said that he might be able to do it, but it would be hard; Hanst took that as a challenge, and sensing at least a glimmer of courage in her new prospect, assured him he could pull it off.
So in 2012, after overcoming myriad code and building restrictions and spending $30,000, Hanst got her loft, which she and longtime general manager Harmony Thomas have turned into Silverado's mission control. Now they can have a bit of privacy and space for paperwork while still being able to hear what's happening on the sales floor.
Hanst created the original Silverado in Hood River, OR, in 1998, a store she has since sold to former manager Christine Barthmus. The two still collaborate as informal partners, and they shop for jewelry together and even trade inventory as needed.
She also knew selling was a strength of hers, too; she had worked part-time in a jewelry store in Colorado.
And so, she just did it.
"I just figured it out," she says. "Successful athletes are also often successful business owners. I've seen the two coincide a lot."
When she relocated to Bend in 2002, she opened a business there, too, first in a small space in the center of downtown. Then, when a larger, corner space in the same building became available for lease in 2004, she moved in and gutted it, installing pine floors and complementary custom cabinets, counters and displays, for a warm wood feeling. That build-out cost a bit more than the first — $150,000.
The store's décor is eclectic. Shiny stuff — a large metal tree sculpture, exposed ductwork, a metal accent wall, a disco ball — add pizazz to the pine.
Each piece of the flagship Silverado in Bend, from the tiniest display to the largest showcase and the curvy counter, has been custom made and measured to fit Hanst's vision and her space.
She wanted each rustic in-case display piece to have an interesting surface texture, and so she picked out each piece of wood from the mill. She had a bracelet bar custom-made by a carpenter to display Chan Luu's highly collectible bracelets.
Although much of her merchandise is grouped by designer, she's also assembled theme cases — hoops, for example, and grouped those hoops by price point.
Hanst has opened other jewelry galleries across the U.S. In 2001 she launched a Silverado in Portland, OR, which she has since sold. In 2002, she helped her sisters Debbie and Robyn open Silverado galleries in Vermont and New York, which are still thriving under their ownership.
She prefers having one location now, in the town where she lives, so that she can focus on relationships with customers and spend time with her family — husband, Billy, a former coach for the U.S. Ski Team, and their two young sons.
"I want to know my customers," she says. "I want to see them at lunch."
BEAUTIFUL AND WEARABLE
Hanst has filled the gallery with the work of more than 100 jewelry artists. She chooses what she loves and what she knows jewelry shoppers in Oregon want. Beautiful, yes, but also sporty, wearable, practical and affordable pieces.
"They don't want to pay more for something if they can have what they consider to be a comparable piece for less," she says. "Because I'm practical and I think my customers are, I offer lower price points. They can get something fun for under $50. I don't think everyone has to spend a fortune to feel good. Everybody needs a piece of jewelry."
Hanst values relationships with designers, too, including individual Indian artists she visits on reservations near Gallup, NM, for silver and turquoise pieces. When shopping for turquoise these days, she picks pieces with a one-of-a-kind "supermodel look," something you'd envision on a runway or in a fashion magazine.
As she settled into Bend and her business grew, so did her merchandise mix. She had started out with a strong focus on turquoise and silver, and she still offers plenty of options under $100, but as her customers began clamoring for something more, she introduced gold, platinum and diamonds.
"I didn't realize how people adore diamonds," she says. "It makes people's eyes light up."
When someone comes in expecting a store called Silverado to sell only silver, she invariably points out that Pottery Barn sells more than pots — they also sell beautiful leather chairs. So the name Silverado doesn't mean she can't sell diamonds and platinum, right along with silver.
Hanst recently added a selection of bridal rings from some of her favorite designers, grouping them together in a "celebration case."
"This represents a huge investment in diamonds and gold that has changed everything for Silverado," Hanst says.
She also keeps iPads handy to show other bridal options offered by featured designers and can facilitate communication between customers and designers to explore custom options. Sometimes her clients talk directly to the designer.
"I'm the liaison between the customer and the artist," she says. "I don't try to own the sale. It's about the product, experience and relationship."
If her customers don't see what they want for their engagement ring or wedding band, she doesn't hesitate to send them down the street or around the block to other Bend jewelry stores, each of which has developed its own niche.
"You should get what you want," she tells them.
1. MARKETING: Hanst hosts three big sales a year and advertises in local glossy magazines. She also hosts First Friday open house events once a month, during which she features the work of a single artist and serves wine and hors d'oeuvres. But most of her buzz is created through word of mouth. "A good reputation doesn't need too much advertising," she says. Facebook is also working, very reliably. "My customers on Facebook are loyal. When I put something up there, I sell it. They call me."
2. THE HEALTHY LIFE: After six months on the job, employees are given their own commuter bicycles, health club memberships or ski passes to the local Mt. Bachelor ski area. She also keeps the store fridge stocked with healthful food for lunch or snacks. Fitting with its healthy outlook, Silverado also sponsors a local, amateur bike-racing team.
3. QUICK FIXES: Although Silverado doesn't have a shop per se, Hanst can do light soldering, extensions or add a jump ring. And for more extensive repairs, each piece of jewelry is sent back to the original artist.
4. PAST LIFE: The building where Silverado is located is 100 years old, but owner Heather Hanst didn't know much about the history of her leased space other than that it was an office supply and paper store for decades. Not long ago, a man who was likely in his 80s stopped in and told Hanst that he went on his First Date in that building. She was wondering who would go on a date in an office supply company. But he told her that when he was a young man, her jewelry store was a bowling alley.
5. CHARMING: Hanst has skipped the bead craze, but she does like charms and the idea of letting customers collect and assemble their own jewelry. Silverado has a table near the front of the store equipped with all the ingredients needed for a build-your-own charm necklace or bracelet project. A variety of designers and vendors are represented here.
WHAT THE JUDGES SAY
Ellen Fruchtman // Love this store! The perfect example of innovative and cool; the perfect mix of affordable and fine jewelry. Their commitment to their employees and unique internal programs distinguish them in the industry. I wish I could visit this store and see it in person. Their marketing is clean with beautiful photography and indicative of their store brand. They fall short on their website which is almost non-existent. But they have a very active Facebook presence, and their followers are totally engaged. I can easily see why!
Angelique Knafo // Industrial chic meets 21st century. Refreshing and innovative design and interpretation of what a jewelry shopping experience can be. The small façade belies the excitement inside. This store stands out with its originality, natural interior architecture and energizing vertical movement. I commend the owner for not going the route of status quo!
David Hollingshead // Tremendous curb appeal which carries through to the interior. The interior reflects the casual and natural Oregon environment through the edited selection of materials and finishes. The shoulder-to-shoulder selling experience is particularly effective with the product assortment.
Tony Pagliuca // Great materials and lighting. Space use and layout are very well done. The unique décor elements add great accents to the space. Exterior architecture is very well done given the small footprint and elevation opportunity. Nice overall execution of a brand idea.