WRITTEN BY Stepahnie Hunt
PHOTOGRAPH BY Aleece Sophia
The Croghan’s family, (left to right) Kathleen Hay Hagood, Mariana Ramsay Hay, Rhett Ramsay Outten, and Mini Hay Avant, focused on classic business values, like gratitude, to keep customers engaged despite the shutdown on King Street.
In its 115 years in business, Croghan’s Jewel Box has never closed its doors for more than a few days at a time—except after a major hurricane. Until March 16, 2020. “We came roaring up to March after a hugely successful 2019. It seemed there were more attendants than ever at SEWE and Charleston Wine + Food, and our front door was getting a workout,” says Rhett Outten, who, along with her sister and two nieces, runs the fourth-generation King Street stalwart. When the shutdown occurred, the Croghan’s team thought they might be closed for two weeks and immediately started strategizing.
“Our goal was to keep all of our 25 employees employed,” recalls Outten. Fortunately, as a legacy business they own their building and had some cash reserves on hand. The Croghan’s team had already invested in a digital footprint, embellished with a solid social media following, so they capitalized on those assets to connect with their customer base. To enhance engagement, they launched a series of clever “Deal of the Day” sales—all emeralds were 15 percent off on St. Patrick’s Day, for example. “Then it became clear that this closure wasn’t going to be just two weeks, but a long while. Things got scary,” Outten says. So much for their “Blue Skies Ahead” special (discounts on all aquamarines). Instead of pushing jewelry sales, they focused on expressing gratitude to their customers and the community, handwriting notes and sharing encouraging messages on social media.
Croghan’s made ends meet until they were cleared to reopen the last week of May. “That Saturday the riots happened—a devastating double punch. We could not believe it,” she says. “King Street was so sad.” After some protesters following George Floyd’s killing turned violent, 155 King Street businesses were damaged. “Shops were boarded up, business people and shoppers were scared. It felt so overwhelming,” Outten recalls.
According to her, in the days and weeks following the riots, “we were in a state of disbelief, and it took a bit to get in sync with the police department, but once they did, Police Chief Luther Reynolds and his team listened to and responded to business-owners’ concerns.
“We’ve learned that the power of ponding together is phenomenal. The future is about working together, because who are we if we’re on King Street alone?” —Rhett Outten, Croghan’s Jewel Box
Similarly, Explore Charleston (formerly known as the Charleston Visitors Bureau or CVB) spruced up the shopping district with flowering hanging baskets and added mask and hand-sanitizer carts. “The only way King Street is going to bounce back is if people feel safe, both from the virus and protests. The CVB has been an incredible partner in that,” she adds.
“Our favorite dance is the pivot; every day we wake up with a plan, and we’ve pivoted twice before lunch. We’ve learned we have to adjust, constantly retrain our employees, and adapt to what’s happening,” says Outten. For Croghan’s those adjustments include a by-appointment policy (with limited walk-ins) that enables them to provide safe, personalized service, as well as curbside delivery (“which we’ve actually always done, just not 40 times a day,” laughs Outten).
Additionally, Croghan’s has partnered with M. Dumas & Sons and eight other locally owned neighboring retailers to create the Shop Middle King initiative. “We opened it to every mom-and-pop, and these 10 signed on. We’ve come together to say, ‘Middle King is clean, it’s safe, and shoppers will find customer service bar none,” says Outten. The partners collaborate on marketing efforts, including a lookbook and coordinated customer deliveries. “It’s how people get their groceries, and now, how your jewelry and khakis arrive.”
While vacancies abound on King Street below Wentworth, where national brands like Lucky, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor Loft have all closed, the one-of-a-kind businesses of Shop Middle King are surviving, if not thriving. “We share a devotion to the local economy, and in return have felt so much support from this community,” Outten says. “We’ve learned that the power of ponding together is phenomenal. The future is about working together, because who are we if we’re on King Street alone?”
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