Rapaport Magazine

Retail therapy

Getting to the root of what clients want is the specialty of Carter’s Jewelry in Petal, Mississippi.

By Joyce Kauf

First and foremost, Chae Carter is a problem solver. “Customers walk into the store needing our help. For us, that means we have to create a fun, inviting environment to assist them in finding solutions. And we never say no,” says the president of Carter’s Jewelry in Petal, Mississippi.

“If they could solve the problem themselves or find the answer without paying someone else, they would,” explains Carter, who studied psychology. “Sometimes they are trying to express an emotion to someone close. They want to do it with jewelry, but they don’t know where to start. It could be that their ring doesn’t fit, or they decide they don’t like the length of their custom-designed earrings. Or maybe they’ve just had a bad week and want to hang out. And I’m like, girlfriend, come in and let’s talk. Maybe you need some retail therapy.”

Carter’s problem-solving mind-set is at the core of her retail philosophy. Yet growing up, she was adamant that she would never work in the family business that her mother, Judy Stuart Carter, started in 1986. A life-changing event — the birth of her son — forced the younger Carter to focus on the future. She switched her major to business and marketing, and in 2007, she approached her mother — who was planning to retire — with the “wild idea” of taking over the store.

Her mother agreed to a one-year trial. After Carter “stuck it out” for that year, her mother gave her another year’s extension, but with the caveat that Carter must make her own decisions. Carter recalls that she was “absolutely terrible” and barely survived “a pretty brutal learning curve.” But she emerged with the conviction that “there is no better lesson than a paid-for lesson,” and very grateful that an established and loyal clientele continued to shop.

‘Addicted to change’

In 2015, Carter purchased the store from her mother. Wanting a less traditional venue, Carter moved in 2017 to a recently opened shopping center, which offered an opportunity for a new look and new customers. She “went all out,” as she recalls, replacing the existing store’s dark wood cases and floors with custom cases, natural floor tones, and light grey walls.

This past May, Carter, who describes herself as “addicted to change,” completed a minor renovation that she considers “more like Botox than a facelift.” To improve efficiency, she installed a custom-built wrapping area and created a more open environment in the bridal section, including a photo wall with a neon sign.

She also designed a sit-down repair area and mandated that her staff devote at least 10 to 20 minutes to identifying the customer’s concerns and inspecting the piece, because “it tells the customer we’re being very thorough.” As a result, errors have diminished, the average repair ticket has doubled, and customers — happy to have been acknowledged — are spending more time in the store.

Making women feel good

Carter is an advocate of frequent “clienteling” — using customer data to personalize interactions. The jeweler sends regular e-blasts and newsletters, and keeps up a consistent, targeted social media presence. Bridal, which provides “the chunk” of her business, caters primarily to Generation Z and millennials, who have “definite preferences and need to be entertained constantly.” While she uses Instagram extensively, she engages with her female customers in the 35-to-50 age bracket via Facebook, their stated preference. Citing the 80/20 rule, she has assigned a dedicated sales professional to the 20% of customers whose large purchases account for 80% of sales.

Carter determined that women self-purchasers were an untapped market with enormous buying potential. But first, “the women needed to feel good about themselves and not think they had to ask for permission to buy something.” Her solution: introducing “zapping,” which she describes as a “self-love experience.”

During this Thursday-only event, women select a chain bracelet, which is then welded, or “zapped,” onto their wrist so that it can’t be removed. Under the tagline “Channel your inner goddess with EverLast at Carter’s,” the bracelets are named after goddesses and the power they symbolize. Aphrodite stands for self-love and acceptance, while Athena signifies wisdom. Customers can add gemstones or birthstone charms. Based on the popularity of this venture, Carter is contemplating adding more chairs to the shop so she can introduce anklet zapping.

Team effort

“As much as I talk about my strategies, I admit it takes a village to be successful,” she says. She encourages a collaborative working environment and makes a point of hiring staff from different backgrounds and experience levels. However, she is adamant that neither politics nor religion be discussed in the store. Carter does require new team members and interns to walk around the shop and tell her what they love — and hate — about it.

Her efforts continue to produce results. In 2020, the company saw almost 40% more sales than in the previous year. As of May 2021, sales were up 38% from last year. Carter attributes much of the store’s success to the fact that “everyone is happy because they are heard, and we help them find the easy solutions to their problems.” In any case, she notes, “the money is going to be spent. I want it to be here and not on some online designer site. It comes down to ‘I hear you — you’re right.’”


Customer favoritesHere are the top three categories that have boosted sales at Chae Carter’s store.


In-house collection Bloom tops all the shop’s bridal lines. Carter launched the project during the pandemic, using US-manufactured rings from the store’s inventory. “We dreamed it, repositioned it, named the rings after flowers — Iris, Lily, Magnolia, etc. — and marketed them aggressively on social media,” she says.


In this fast-growing category, Jude Francis and Gabriel & Co. are among the most popular brands. Carter features an entire island of cases “full of trending, fun and fashion jewelry” that the store continually restocks.


For all-time favorites such as hoops and studs, Carter has streamlined the display and made prices visible so customers can easily browse on their own.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2021. To subscribe click here.

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Tags: Joyce Kauf