Rapaport Magazine


AshBlue brings a bit of the exotic to Nashville.

By Joyce Kauf

Dawes Design
Customers always tell me that walking into AshBlue is like taking a vacation,” says Susannah Scott-Barnes, describing the boutique in Nashville, Tennessee, that this city native owns with her South African–born husband, Zulu Scott-Barnes. The soothing sounds of a water fountain and an array of plants nestled among imaginative displays of jewelry, crafts, tabletop and clothes create a warm and inviting ambience that greets customers as soon as they step through the door — from area residents to celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman and Faith Hill. 
   Jewelry has always been a mainstay of the boutique that the couple started ten years ago. They originally planned to establish a wholesale business importing luxury products from South Africa but switched to retailing after taking over a small store that sold jewelry, among other goods. “After five years, we wanted to expand into higher-end merchandise and needed a larger space,” Susannah explains. Their current location is in Green Hills, a suburb approximately five miles from downtown Nashville that has become a regional shopping destination.

Exclusive Partnerships
   “We want to be in retail for the long term and it is especially important that we have good business relationships with everyone whose products we carry,” says Susannah. Following the couple’s decision to expand into fine jewelry, she points out that they did not jump into it immediately. “We approached it slowly,” she notes, adding, “We had to make sure they were the right purchases for both our customers and our investment dollars.” The couple’s first venture into the designer segment was Anne Sportun Fine Jewelry. “We began carrying her silver designs, then gradually got into gold and after that, semiprecious stones and, finally, diamonds,” Susannah explains.
   Artisanal, handcrafted designs top the list of criteria for jewelry designers whose creations are chosen for the store. “We make our selections based on the designs as well as the people behind the products. We have to believe in what they stand for,” Susannah points out. Exclusivity remains another key criteria as the retailer looks to broaden her jewelry designer base. AshBlue carries Dawes Designs, Anne Sportun, Temple St. Clair, Polly Wales and Misha exclusively in the Nashville area. Susannah is a strong proponent of trunk shows and credits them with helping introduce new designers to AshBlue’s customers.
   Gemstones are the best sellers but Susannah reveals the store is “getting a lot of traction” with the opaque diamond trend that is popular now. She notes that often her customers, but more importantly, her longtime staff, provide feedback in ensuring a salable product mix. “They are a good barometer of what is missing,” she says.

Eclectic Displays
   AshBlue reflects the taste, cultural influences and personal history of its owners. The boutique takes its name from a horse that was once owned by Zulu, who was a professional polo player in South Africa. Behind the counter is a picture of Zulu as a child in his native country.
   In a space that once housed three different stores, AshBlue now consists of three distinct selling bays. A mix of modern and classic light fixtures — and an occasional zebra rug — hang from the high white slatted ceiling that serves as the dividing point among the three bays. The decor is an eclectic mix of style and merchandising. A wall of glass cases filled with silver and china frames rustic wooden tables piled high with books. A selection of giftware and fashion jewelry is displayed on glass étagères, making it easy to touch the product and try on the jewelry. Customers can contemplate their purchases from a sitting area of comfortable armchairs that are also for sale.
   High-end jewelry is featured in closed cases in the center bay near the entrance, arranged by designer or collection. The 40-inch to 48-inch cases are higher than standard cases, which was a deliberate decision on the part of the owners. “Looking down at the jewelry gives customers a better perspective on the design,” Susannah points out. Easy-to-read cards highlight product details. Earrings are often displayed on acrylic easels. She advocates changing displays frequently as a way to showcase the product.
   While displaying different products on the same table helps to reinforce the boutique’s unique atmosphere, Susannah supports cross-promotional efforts between clothing and fashion jewelry to encourage multiple sales. “We are a local-owned business surrounded by malls with national stores. In both our design and product mix, we strive for that boutique look and feel that may be getting lost amid all the bigger stores,” she concludes.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - November 2013. To subscribe click here.

Comment Comment Email Email Print Print Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Share Share
Tags: Joyce Kauf