Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
I am Tara Mikolay, one of the co-founders of Desires by Mikolay, a brand offering fine and designer jewelry, fashion and gift items, custom design and jewelry repair.
My husband was a classically trained bench jeweler and custom design expert who worked for many of the luxury jewelry stores in the Westchester area. His father, Larry Mikolay decided to retire from being a Master Jeweler, and Scott had always dreamed of opening up his own designer jewelry showroom. I was a social worker at the time, but I decided to leave my career temporarily to help him open the business (we were just 24!). Now, 14 years later it is not only surviving but THRIVING and continue to be known as one of Westchester County’s premier jewelers and design shops.
Desires by Mikolay is located in charming downtown Chappaqua, NY. We have a beautiful designer showroom featuring up-and-coming artists as well more known brands like Hermes & Monica Rich Kosann. Scott & I also design our own fine jewelry lines and Desires specializes in diamonds and custom design. However, it is one of our mission’s to also be approachable...we have a large gift selection and fashion jewelry starting at just $35.
We love our community and want everyone who comes into the store to feel like our guests. We shine in our customer service and offer complimentary jewelry cleaning as well as sparkling water or expresso while you browse. Our focus on providing great customer service speaks to our rapid growth. We expanded our store in 2011 and tripled our brick and mortar. Our online store receives orders from all over the country daily.
It is a personal motto that we never stop moving. We are constantly accessing how the business functions, if we are serving our customers properly, and what we can do to improve. Currently we are working on offering our customers even MORE ways to shop remotely. We want to make it an easy process for them to celebrate all their special occasions with us.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Scott of course had such incredible experience and was a Master Jeweler at a very young age. But his ambition would not let him stop there...it was a natural progression when his father wanted to retire to consider growth.
Scott & I have always been such a great team in every sense of the word. We truly balance each others skillset. We sat down one night in our home, opened a bottle of red wine and discussed what the options where. While the thought of opening a store was intimidating, we felt we could do it better and with more HEART than other jewelers in the area.
What I have learned from this is to slow down, take the time to review information properly and make educated decisions.
We were so young and just starting out our lives together...and our finances were developing. We discussed looking for investors but in the end we decided to self-fund the venture (on a bit of a wing and a prayer)! We were approved for a very small line of credit and we got to work...due to being conscious of spending that meant that Scott and I had to do a lot of the work ourselves.
Scott actually taught me how to sheetrock (I am horrible at it). We painted, installed showcases, built walls and really learned as we went along. It was a true leap of faith. I remembered reading that almost 90% of new businesses go out within the first 3 years...so when we passed that milestone Scott treated me to the most gorgeous pair of diamond hoop earrings. I still wear them to this day and often think about what they represent (essentially, LOTS of hard work). They are one of my most beloved pieces of jewelry.
The response to the store and the community support has been incredible. Truly. It is so touching to feel that our customers love us and want us to not only succeed but reach new levels of success.
It has been extremely gratifying to launch both Scott Mikolay Jewelry Design and DEVOUT by Tara Mikolay and have them become the two top selling designer lines in the store. People believe in us and the jewelry that we craft...and that means a whole lot.
Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.
Being a husband and wife design team I feel like we are constantly designing together! We get inspired by almost anything! Last year’s trip to NYC, Scott fell in love with the bold lines of the Chrysler building and created a modern line of jewelry to represent the Art Deco movement.
I recently was visiting the Buddhist monastery that I live close to and got all sorts of inspiration for Devout. We take the everyday and make it into wearable art.
Sometimes we sketch, sometimes we design in CAD (a 3D computer design program), it truly depends. We have two bench jewelers who create the pieces in our Chappaqua shop. They are a father and son, both Master Jewelers and have been with us for over 10 years...truly it is like working with family!
The process for us is seamless as we design/create/manufacture all in house. This is also the reason for our success with custom design and jewelry redesigns...all the work is done on premises and not only does that give our customers peace of mind but it also ensures that the work is done by a very cohesive and knowledgeable team.
Describe the process of launching the online store/business.
Once we had the brick and mortar up and running it was time to expand our reach through an online store. We did a few months of research, and it was clear that Shopify was the best partner for us.
We used Out of the Sandbox for their award winning website themes. We have always been able to run our business very lean, so we uploaded most of the products ourself, learned how to write for SEO and splurged for great quality photography. The orders started to come in right away...from local customers who loved the convenience to customers as far away as California who just love our products!
The most important thing is making sure your customers are happy! By offering a great product, at a fair price, quickly, you are ensuring future sales with that customer.
The great thing about Shopify as a ecommerce platform, they have all sorts of articles for beginners on organic SEO. From labeling an image to writing the product copy...it all counts. Take your time and do it right, using search worthy phrases and you will see the results. The resources are all out there for free...you just need maybe a day to read through it, absorb best practices and then start writing!
Having an online store not only for your customer base to reference but to also be able to shop is a critical aspect in modern business success. You quite simply need to have one, and it needs to be GOOD.
Having an easy navigation, GREAT and I mean GREAT product photos, social media feeds, etc...are all super important. One aspect that cannot be overlooked is the need for your website to be responsive. This means if a customer is looking at it on their phone, it formats correctly. With 80% of website views being mobile, you simply cannot afford to overlook this.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The most important thing is making sure your customers are
happy! By offering a great product, at a fair price, quickly, you are ensuring future sales with that customer.
Our marketing efforts include social media, facebook ads, PR statements, twice weekly newsletters, and a variety of partnerships with our designers who in turn promote us as a place to purchase their items to their followers.
The top 3 things we have done to increase sales are easy and free!
First, we post regularly on Instagram and tag our shoppable products...making it super easy for someone who loves a product to go and buy it! You really want to streamline the process for those interested in your product and it makes checkout quick and efficient.
Second, we give back. People have more choices than ever to shop, and you have to give them a good and authentic reason to choose YOU. Philanthropy is a very important core component to our brand and it resonates with our customers. If you can buy something sparkly AND have it benefit those in need? Well that is a win-win and generates customer loyalty.
Finally, Google reviews. To have a nice amount of reviews that are positive and descriptive inspires trust in those who might be new to your brand. We ask our customers at the end of the sale, both in-store and online, to please leave us a review on Google when they have a chance. We let them know it helps us grow and it is much appreciated. They love to help us out! In today’s world reviews are king!
The most important thing for growth is to be authentic with your customers. It shows through and instills trust in your brand and product.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The future is all about scale! We have the basics to a strong healthy business, both brick and mortar and online, intact. Our customer service is strong and we are perfectly poised to seek out the next generation of customer acquisition. We will be focusing on growing our product offerings on our e-commerce site.
We currently do approximately 25% of our annual sales on our online store and are looking to bring that up to 40% in the next 12 months through a series of strategies - from retargeting to referral incentives.
Long term, we would ideally like to be abl
e to sell our products internationally and grow our business to new levels of success.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I think there are a fair amount of mistakes you make along the way...spending too much on something custom and having it not be a right fit for your store...being approached by SEO companies who promise the world and do not deliver...you name it. It is called the cost of doing business. What I have learned from this is to slow down, take the time to review information properly and make educated decisions.
The very best skill set that Scott & I have put in place to help us manage our business properly is starting the day with a TO DO list. We write out our high priority items, phone calls that need to be made, decisions to finalize, quick tasks etc...It is a
godsend! We stay on track and are able to gain a sense of accomplishment at the days end.
A daily habit that I employ is hiking my dogs though the woods each morning. I make sure to use that time to breathe, think about my day and get started in a peaceful mindset. Trust me, you THINK better when you walk!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Shopify and could not be more pleased with our experience with them. They have incredibly response customer service and have built in a number of wonderful resources.
Tools that I personally like are Tidio Chat (our customers LOVE to ask questions when they are browsing online) and MailChimp (so that when people sign up for our newsletter it auto loads onto the email blast platform).
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
We use Shopify for an online store platform and their learning center is unparalleled. So many incredible resources on every topic (from product launch to shipping centers) you can imagine.
For books, the three most influential have been…
Hug Your People - MITCHELL
Good to Great - Jim Collins
Delivering Happiness - Tony Hsieh
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Read, read, read. EVERYTHING. Absorb what you can about the business you want to be in. Join networking groups, learn from others, sign up for industry newsletters. You would be surprised about how many people are willing to help.
The biggest mistake I see for entrepreneurs is not fully adapting to this ever-changing world. Meaning that you must have a strong social media presence...and while it might feel unnatural for someone who is over 35 or so, it is critical to your business’ strength and longevity. If you cannot translate your story and brand over social media, then hire an intern to do it. It will quick literally be a game changer for your sales and for encouraging brand ambassadors.
Finally, people always ask me how to be successful. Scott & I believe if you have these key components you will achieve great levels of success. Strong work ethic, perseverance, passion, an authentic brand/story and a bit of luck!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are not currently looking...however with that said, some of our best staff have come to us when we were not looking. So sometimes it is just kismet!
Where can we go to learn more?
Our website: www.desiresbymikolay.com/
- Tara Mikolay, Founder of Desires by Mikolay
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