Luxury Brand Holdings has been diligently focused on building a robust internet presence over the last 20 years, but it also built and refreshed a collection of upscale retail stores. Tracy Zaslow, the jewelry retailer’s director of design and construction, has always acknowledged that the brand’s brick and mortar business was not the company’s main revenue generator.
Since her hiring in 2000, her focus has been to direct the design, construction, and visual for all retail projects. However, a plan to gradually close stores was underway when business shifts during the pandemic drove growth in internet sales and hastened the company’s move to shut down all but one of its stores.
This strategy shift could have marked the end of Zaslow’s career with the company known for the Ross Simons jewelry brand. Instead, the company’s evolving business model created new opportunities to exercise and stretch her design skills to address new challenges.
As the company’s catalog and digital business grew, it needed to hire more people to support these channels. So, Zaslow stepped up to guide the transformation of Luxury Brand Holdings’ old headquarters in Cranston, Rhode Island, into a modern, more efficient space needed for a new generation of workers.
“Digital marketing requires a younger, more tech-savvy team,” Zaslow observes. These employees, who may consider working for the likes of internet retail leaders such as Amazon or Wayfair, expect to work in a modern, stylish office environment.
Luxury Brand Holdings’ home was decidedly not that. Checkerboard tile flooring, restrooms with pink tiles reminiscent of a 1950s time warp, and a stark warehouse vibe permeated the facility.
Indeed, until recently, aesthetics had not been a priority for company leadership. “It was an old family business growing organically and clearly not focused on the workspace,” Zaslow says. It was all about just getting the job done. A new president, though, shifted gears. “He understood the value of an environment that fosters collaboration and an upbeat workplace with a more current vibe, “she says.
One option was to move the headquarters to a newer building, but that plan had drawbacks. “It is not the type of business that you can easily move,” she says. “We have a heavy need for vault space, and we ship a ton of packages, so we needed the space to accommodate that.” Moving would be very disruptive and require costly customizations at a new site, so leaders opted to stay put.
That meant Zaslow’s talents would be needed to transform the old facility, and new leadership gave her leeway to craft plans. “The president was willing to have me lead the direction of renovations,” she says. “I understand the company and proactively bring to attention and deliver effective changes to the areas of focus that would benefit [from it the most].”
Almost every square foot of the facility needed a refresh, and Zaslow set out to transform it on a reasonable budget while minimizing disruption to operations. Her guiding principle was encapsulation—upgrading flooring, walls, finishes, ceilings with as little demolition and tear out of existing material as possible.
For example, rather than removing the pink ceramic tiles in restrooms, contractors put a skim coat over them and laid dark, slate colored vinyl tiles over it. Similarly, rather than ripping out existing counters in some areas, recladding vertical surfaces and installing engineered stone countertops over the existing countertops prevented landfill, while minimizing disruption.
To brighten and liven up the dark main warehouse hallway that lacked windows, Zaslow specified faux skylights in the ceiling with warm, natural finishes, and eco-friendly materials.
The new business strategy has demanded an expanded, revamped space for a critical function—the creative studio that houses photographers, digital image retouching, designers, and copywriters. As Luxury Brand Holdings’ online and catalog sales has grown, it brought more production functions in-house. “We needed to gain more control and turn the work around faster,” Zaslow says.
Zaslow is designing new office and collaboration studios within a large, underutilized warehouse space. This space will be equipped with generous lighting fixtures for flexible photography sets, and shared equipment storage spaces.
Another function, a jewelry repair shop, also required an upgrade. The undersized space where craftsmen performed meticulous repairs of necklaces, lockets, and other adornments, was woefully inadequate for this growing part of the business. Jewelry benches where the craftsmen worked were falling apart, Zaslow says. The space was too small, not arranged very efficiently, and new equipment including laser printers for imaging on jewelry, and new engraving machines had to be incorporated.
Zaslow embarked on a thorough analysis of operations workflow in the repair shop with its chief. They looked at every workstation—cleaning, polishing, repairing stations, etc.—and devised a more efficient layout to minimize how many steps workers needed to take to perform different types of repairs.
The newly built and expanded repair shop demonstrates the advantages of two decades of design work for the same company. Even though Zaslow works remotely and has never had her own office at Luxury Brand Holdings’ headquarters, she has known many of the key decision makers for years and is intimately familiar with the company’s strategy and business practices. Despite her early apprehension over the business’s altered course, remaining with the company has worked out well.
“I was disappointed that the company was taking the foot off the gas pedal on retail sites, but I was able to shift to workspace design and exercise new problem-solving skills,” she says. The future may be a bit uncertain, but there is a possibility that her retail acumen may once again come into play.
“We have had a couple of conversations about potential pop-up shops in locations where we had a retail presence in the past,” she says. “That would remind people in those areas about the brand, and we could present new product lines and drive people to our internet site.” Certainly, Zaslow would welcome new opportunities to exercise her creativity. She clearly thrives on such challenges.