When it comes to selling a luxury product, it’s important to create a relationship with the customer. What is their story? What is their motivation? You have to think about more than just the sale—start by getting to know them. Viviana Langhoff, owner of Adornment + Theory, a boutique jewelry shop in Chicago, created specific value-based pillars for her and her staff to live by. Through these pillars, she has been able to ensure that her business always operates to its fullest potential and that her values are never compromised—whether she is present or not.
Our Yelp reviewer, Shelby F., saw this come to life in her numerous interactions with the business. One of the essential pillars for Viviana is “ownership mentality.” She expects all of her staff to “carry a sense of personal responsibility for the greater vision of the brand and studio.” Viviana wants her employees to be as invested in the shop as she is and act in a way that reflects that. And it works. Shelby’s experience with a sales associate could have easily been (and actually was) mistaken for an interaction with the owner herself.
An authentic connection between the business and the customer is also incredibly important. Shelby has worked in the retail and restaurant industry since she was 15 and has seen and learned a lot in that time. She said that most importantly, “the difference between a sale and a relationship (with a customer) is a connection.” It’s the connection thatcompels people to come back, and it can be rare to truly feel that with a business. In Shelby’s words: “Really frankly, giving a crap about the people who are coming in the door and why and what they’re on a mission to look for.”
And so when Shelby felt that during her shopping experience, she developed an instant and meaningful connection with the brand. Her sales associate not only treated her as more than a sale but was actually excited for why Shelby was there in the first place—to celebrate a milestone with a piece of jewelry. Getting to the motivation behind the purchasing decision can allow for a more deep and meaningful consumer relationship.
Another pillar worth highlighting is “confident beauty.” As Viviana puts it, “We celebrate unique, diverse, independent, confident women.” She takes this very seriously. As a minority in the industry—a Latinx jewelry designer—she’s faced many challenges and hurdles to get where she is, and she gets excited about the opportunity to represent other minority designers. “I brought on many POC artists, and that’s kind of my heartbeat—to continue to bring on as many Black and Brown, indigenous, queer artists, and people with different identities and backgrounds. I think it makes for beautiful work. I have no interest in having a jewelry store where everything looks the same. For some people that works, but that’s just not the world I want to create.”
This has been core to Adornment + Theory from the beginning, but Viviana has noticed an uptick in business as customers have recently become more cognizant of how they’re spending their dollars. The trend of conscious spending has definitely been growing—in fact, searches on Yelp for Black-owned businesses are up 6500% year over year—and we don’t see this trend ending anytime soon.
Business owners who create an ownership mentality among their staff, focus on building meaningful customer relationships, and celebrate diversity will most certainly see a pay off—not only in their financial success but in the long-term customer relationships they create.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Viviana and Shelby, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.
Behind the Review, episode 9 transcript
Ownership mentality & meaningful customer relationships
SHELBY: It was so neat. I was transported to this magical place where everything was curated, but you could touch it and have your jewelry and rings and earrings and stuff on little trays. It was very accessible, which I found to be so different from other jewelry stores where you walk in and everything’s behind a glass case. People look at you as if you’re going to steal something and just walk off with it. The tone and even the music and the smell of the inside of the store was this whole experience.
EMILY: That’s Shelby. She’s actually a dear friend of mine. We met a few years ago when she was working as the marketing specialist for a family business in Chicago that owns two different restaurant concepts. We got lunch to talk about Yelp’s free tools and digital marketing and became instant friends. Fast forward to present day—I asked Shelby if she would share her story and experience with a jewelry store in Chicago: Adornment + Theory.
We had planned to feature a jewelry store on the show and figured the timing couldn’t be better—with Valentine’s Day coming up—to release this episode. I remembered that Shelby had a jewelry store she loved, so I asked if she’d be interested in sharing her story.
SHELBY: I wrote this in February of 2019. It reads: Long story short, stellar, gorgeous, and so much fun. I meandered in here while taking a staycation in Logan Square. And I’m so glad I did. I just finished a huge project and wanted a piece to commemorate the occasion. I didn’t know if I’d find anything, but wow, was Adornment + Theory a treat. I was greeted and hosted by Sarah who told me stories about the pieces in the shop and answered questions I had about metals and gemstones. She genuinely shared my excitement for hitting such a huge milestone and was super accommodating and warm while I made a once around the store. And then another. What ended up speaking to me was a gorgeous sparkling opal ring. So, so simple, but so, so me. I can’t stop looking at it, and it feels so amazing to have a project so close to my heart, commemorated on my finger. What a wonderful, hidden gem in the heart of Logan Square. I hope they get all the great things coming to them. You can tell the owner takes great care to curate and create a beautiful experience.
EMILY: A connection with the employee who shared her excitement for hitting a milestone and the owner’s care in curating a beautiful experience. These are the two main takeaways Shelby had after her first time visiting the shop in Logan Square. We’ll hear from her today about that first experience, as well as other interactions she’s had with the business since and we’ll also hear from the owner of Adornment + Theory, Viviana.
VIVIANA: So company culture is really, really important to me. Before I even opened the business, I was very meticulous, sitting down and being like, what are the values that we want to carry? What is the rubric in which whoever we hire needs to go through this process? And if they don’t hit these pillars, then, you know, we’ll have a drink with them, and I’ll kick it with them, but they might not work within our little jewel box.
EMILY: I think a lot of businesses have a set of “core values” if you were to ask them what they are or how and why they started, but Viviana has it clearly stated on the walls of their back room where the custom designing happens. She wheeled me over to the wall while we were on Zoom and read me through each value.
VIVIANA: These are our pillars. One is hospitality and service. We greet each guest as if they were our best friend. Ownership mentality. This one’s really, really important for me. As an individual, we carry a sense of personal responsibility for the greater vision of the brand and studio. Creative excellence. Confident beauty. We celebrate unique, diverse, independent, confident women. And then the last one is team mentality. So this is the tone and tenor of what we carry here.
EMILY: Ownership mentality really stuck out to me. Viviana emphasized that it’s very important for her, but it resonated with me because when Shelby was sharing her story in our interview, I honestly didn’t know at that point if Sarah, the sales associate who helped her, was the owner or not. The way Shelby described the level of service she got really showed me that whoever helped her cared about the reputation of the business and the experience that Shelby had. They were personally invested in the interaction.
SHELBY: I’ve been working in the retail and restaurant industry since I was 15, and I’ve learned from so many of my bosses and even friends in the retail business that the difference between a sale and a relationship is a connection. Like really frankly, giving a crap about the people who are coming in the door and why and what they’re on a mission to look for. And it feels a lot more exploratory and almost like storytelling, as opposed to you’re another number that’s walking through the door. You’re a transaction. You’re paying the bills. You’re keeping the lights on. Kind of this very logistical or impersonal kind of reception. And so when I came in and I met this person, she was the only sales clerk at the time. And to have her be so excited about a milestone that I had just hit in my own life, for us to kind of do a little dance about it together.
I was getting the stories about people who’d handcrafted the piece. The ring I chose had some cool inclusions in the stone, and so I got a whole story about why the artist keeps those in instead of discarding those stones. I love having a story to attach to a place. And now obviously it’s made me very attached to the brand. I’ve been in at least three or four other times to buy milestone jewelry and gifts for friends on different occasions.
EMILY: Shelby didn’t just imagine that connection between herself and the sales associate. It’s something Viviana impresses up on her staff.
VIVIANA: I have a big thing with my staff that whoever walks in, no matter what walk of life, I want everyone who walks through our door to feel loved and to feel seen and to feel comfortable. What Maya Angelou said is very important to me. People don’t remember what you said, but they always remember how you made them feel.
So that’s a big thing with our store. Our music’s really eclectic. It’s everything from David Bowie to Bad Bunny to Julie London. We have a wide range of music. We always have candles on or something warm and floral and a little musky, but clean, nothing overwhelming. It’s very clean, but it’s very warm, and I want people to feel welcomed.
EMILY: You may remember a previous guest Alex Bradberry, owner of The Sparkle Bar, sharing that Maya Angelou quote. I couldn’t help but share that it came up in this interview as well because a commitment and conscious effort to accept and serve everyone who comes to your business isn’t a commitment you just say verbally, in the wake of a movement. It’s something you have to live every day if you want it to be felt by your customers.
SHELBY: So to walk into a jewelry store that appeals to all of that, as opposed to are you getting engaged or married? It widens the spectrum of possibilities, but also, I don’t know if Adornment + Theory did this on purpose, they probably did, but it also widens the spectrum of people who feel comfortable walking in the door. And that very much includes me, a queer woman looking for a memorial piece to celebrate her first book who is not giving this piece of jewelry to anybody else. It is for me. And there was nothing odd or unusual about that. And that’s not to say that other jewelry stores would not have provided that experience, but the enthusiasm with which they did it at Adornment + Theory was so freaking cool.
EMILY: Feeling comfortable and welcome in a store isn’t always a given. The way Shelby felt all goes back to the pillars that Adornment + Theory live by. Shelby wrote in her review that she could tell the owner takes care to beautifully curate an experience.
SHELBY: I don’t know if the owner of Adornment + Theory has some experience curating art museums or shows or any kind of exhibition, but it felt very much as if I was not browsing through a commercial jewelry store where it’s like, here you have all your quartz and your amethysts, and it’s grouped by gemstone and not really anything else.
It was like, here’s the artist that thoughtfully designed this. Here’s the artist that’s local that created this. Here’s the black artist that created this. I felt like I was browsing through a gallery, but I could touch all of it. And there were no security bells that would go off if I did. And that was just so much fun.
VIVIANA: I always joke that if I wasn’t a jewelry designer, I’d be an interior designer. I think the way that you feel in a space, the way you walk into a space, everything gives you visual cues. And it’s really important. So for me, I wanted a space that was very warm and inviting and unpretentious but everything to be really luscious and gorgeous. So our floors are cement, black and white tile, Moroccan-inspired. And when you come in, you’ll feel the vibe of the gallery as well. There are white walls. Each artist has their names displayed in their own section, so each piece is actually framed up, but one of my main things is accessibility. I never want to inhibit people from being comfortable. I want people to come in and just play dress up. Just try it on—when else will you get to do this? So have fun and enjoy that.
EMILY: Viviana created and continues to curate the space with a lot of thought and attention to detail. You might have caught on that Adornment + Theory doesn’t just sell Viviana’s collection of pieces though.
VIVIANA: When I first started, almost everyone we carried I personally knew from being in the industry, from doing shows. So I have a personal relationship with the artists. I kept curating it to a point, now, all of our designers, our artists, are women. And from the conception, well before this BLM trend, have always been trying to look for POC artists and designers, and it’s really difficult.
I am a minority of minorities within our industry. I am a Latinx jewelry designer. I’m a woman. The majority are white women. Very high, high end are usually men. Most jewelry stores are owned by families, they’re legacy stores. So they’re typically handed down. It’s very expensive to start within the jewelry industry. There are a lot of barriers there, so anytime I found anyone Latino or Black, I’m like, I got you. I have to represent your work. I would always get really excited.
The thing is with BLM, which I think is a wonderful movement, fully back that, we are absolutely in solidarity with BLM. All of these designers are now coming out of the woodwork, and their work is being pushed forward. And the thing is, we’ve all kind of been there. We’re still a minority. Don’t get me wrong, but none of us, on our website, before this, we didn’t put Black jewelry artists or Latin jewelry designers. But now with social media and everybody really amplifying voices, now we’re finding each other, which is really exciting. So I brought on many more POC artists, and that’s kind of my heartbeat—to continue to bring on as many Black and Brown, indigenous, queer artists, people with different identities and backgrounds. I think it makes for beautiful work. It’s interesting. I have no interest in having a jewelry store where everything looks the same. And for some people that works, you know, but that’s just not the world I want to create.
EMILY: Viviana has been working to amplify and highlight minority artists long before there was a wave of activity and support for the Black Live Matter movement in 2020, but I thought it was interesting when she mentioned how her ability to connect with artists, and even become aware of their work, was easier in the wake of the movement. She also noticed her consumers having more intention with their spending and support of local businesses.
VIVIANA: It’s helped our business—people are now being really cognizant of how they’re spending their dollars. Where is that looking like? Where are these invisible spaces within small businesses that they might want to support. And that’s really helped support us. And we represent a lot of black artists, so that’s been good as well.
EMILY: Conscious spending is definitely a trend we saw pick up in 2020. On Yelp, searches for Black-owned businesses are up 6500% year-over-year. Viviana has been able to leverage the movement to get attention and visibility for her Black creators as well as people of color and the indiginous communities.
I’m going to let Shelby share a short story about a not-so-positive experience she had with a piece of jewelry she got from Adornment + Theory and how it was so quickly turned around.
SHELBY: So I went into Adornment + Theory, picked out these brass hoops, found out I was allergic to them, and I emailed the store using the contact form on their website. They got back to me in less than 12 hours. It was supremely fast for what I would consider a busy jewelry store in Logan Square. They said, yes, of course, come on in, we’ll take them back. You can exchange them for another piece whenever you like. And I ended up exchanging them for a different pair of hoops that had sterling silver that went through the post, and so I was no longer allergic to them. And what made that really phenomenal is that they didn’t ask questions. There was no suspicion surrounding, do you have your receipt? Can you prove it? Can you show us your ears? I don’t know. There was no suspicion about the process.
They were like, oh my God, that’s such a bummer when that happens. Of course, bring them in, and we’ll send you out with something else that you love. It was a very seamless process. And now these other earrings that I got are one of my favorite pairs of earrings, and I wear them at least four times a week. Just the ease of that experience was so cool too. So I continue to have this relationship with them. I trust them to supply really cool and beautiful jewelry for all of my milestone occasions.
EMILY: To close out this episode, let’s talk about reviews, engagement, and customer communication.
SHELBY: Most of my reviews are for local places. Mom and pops, women-owned, solopreneur… because I feel like most of the big corporations have had people speaking for them already, whether positive or negative. I don’t need to contribute to that conversation. I feel like there’s enough dialogue already happening there. But the places I love reviewing are local—both positive reviews and negative reviews. So when I am absolutely blown out of the water, when I’m definitely coming again, when I know that this is going to be a staple for me, I need them to know.
It’s also kind of fun being recognized for your review, especially Adornment + Theory. I posted a photo of the ring I bought, and so now when I come back in, they’re like, you’re the author that wrote the book and bought the opal ring. I’m like, yeah, that’s me. And so it continues the bond of the relationship.
EMILY: I also wanted to have Shelby share a bit about when she leaves negative reviews.
SHELBY: For negative reviews, the type of feedback I offer or try to offer is, here are what my expectations were and how they didn’t get met. Because if anything, you know, being in restaurant and retail for the years that I have, when people write reviews, they’re not telling you what’s wrong with you. They’re telling you about expectations that they had about your business that were somehow missed or not even met or not considered.
And if you listen to them, you can tailor your business experience so that people know what to expect when they walk through the door, and they get that experience and more. As opposed to not getting what they want, or maybe even less, which is hard and sad.
EMILY: Viviana hasn’t had to deal with negative reviews on Yelp, but she has had disgruntled clients.
VIVIANA: What’s crazy to me is I’ve now been open three years, and in three years, I can very easily say I’ve had three disgruntled clients. Now for other business owners, when I talk to them, they’re like, Viv, that’s fine. You’re doing great. But because my heart is outside of my body, I take it very personally, and my desire to reconcile, rectify that, is something that only comes with time and thicker skin and maturity and experience is allowing myself to separate from that.
Now those people didn’t leave negative reviews. And if you hear this, please still don’t. But even still, I’m ok with that. It’s learning to separate my identity from what I do, and when I slip—because we always will because we’re human—that’s not indicative of all of the positive work that we’ve done, and we have a lot of very good reviews.
EMILY: She makes such a great point. Feedback, criticism, and negative reviews can hurt. Especially when it’s your business! But with time comes thicker skin, maturity, and a separation of all of your incredible work as a business owner, from one consumer’s missed expectations in a negative review.
Before we go, I want to let Viviana share some of her insights about staying connected to customers during COVID and how to communicate with your clients or prospects to stay top of mind—and not necessarily to always be selling something.
VIVIANA: Marketing… I feel like that’s something that I’m quite a natural at. And I feel like we’ve created really good systems, whether it’s through pre-planning our grids on Instagram, social media, we have everything queued up. We have a calendar scheduled for our email campaigns. We typically have about two emails go out a week. We’ve seen a lot of success with email campaigns. So we have a high touch point when it comes to marketing. And I think my biggest thing is always having a really good marketing mix. Everybody doesn’t want to hear about products all the time. That’s just boring as hell.
So for the pandemic, we created a jewelry coloring book. We hosted a Rihanna dance party. For Halloween, we did a masquerade contest. Make a funky mask, and people stepped up to the plate. Even our blogs, interviewing creative women, so everything doesn’t have to necessarily be jewelry. One of our blogs is the poetry of Pablo Neruda. He did a whole book just on gemstones. So offering a marketing mix that’s not just product-based, I think is really important.
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