Gorjana and Jason Griffin Reidel founded a small jewelry company in 2004 and sold Gorjana’s delicate designs from the confines of their apartment.
Fast forward to the present day and that company - gorjana - is now a cult sensation with a robust online presence and 19 physical retail stores across the United States.
For many physical retailers, business is driven by maximizing square footage and cramming the windows with bestsellers.
For Gorjana and Jason, building gorjana was more about feng shui. By embracing things like aesthetics, scent, and an authentic sense of place, they’ve created a growing brand that customers come back to again and again.
On a recent episode of Resilient Retail, the power couple spilled the beans on how they’ve created a memorable brand that’s all about place, character, quality, and authenticity.
Passion makes perfect: a story of intentional growth
While gorjana has grown quickly over the last decade, that growth is intentional and fueled by curiosity. The opposite of a Krispy Kreme scenario of explosive and unchecked growth, Gorjana and Jason didn’t focus on getting bigger for bigger sake.
Every store we open, each store that's new, we're bringing all our mistakes and learnings forward. Making it better and better each time. Like constant optimization. So new store, new optimization. And so many things, like again, we're so not the people that are like, ‘oh, look at our retail, this is great! Like, let's just open 10 more of these.’ It's like, OK. We learned from that one, what can we fix? What can we roll back? How do we take it forward? Constant, constant, constant learning from everything.
Home sweet store: on the magic of a good aesthetic
Some retail locations feel special the minute you walk in the door. Others feel like a sterile white box. For Gorjana and Jason, it’s critical that every store has a welcoming personality. Specifically, they want each gorjana location to feel like you’re walking into someone’s airy and comfortable home. The couple has gone to great lengths to pursue this vision - even creating a signature store scent.
I'll speak to the design aspect. And like my goal, and our goal here, is that to bring Laguna to wherever - it's like Laguna in New York, it's Laguna in Scottsdale, it’s even Laguna in Malibu to a certain extent. Like, there's that vibe and our store has a certain aesthetic. And it's also we are really intentional about making the stores feel welcoming, like you're coming into our home.
Gorjana explains, "Like, obviously it's a store. But I want you to feel like you're in someone's welcoming home and have that feeling. So we just basically developed our own scent last year. And now all of our stores are scented with our signature scent. We have all the - there's so many details and things in there that we want it to feel that way.”
Catering to shopper personas
As seasoned shoppers themselves, Jason and Gorjana understand the customer perspective inside and out. From reluctant fathers to gift-givers to frazzled parents looking for a brief moment of retail therapy, their goal is to identify and cater to each and every customer that walks through their doors.
We're kind of shopaholics ourselves, right. So we've been in a lot of stores. And I know what the vibe is, and I want to think about that, right.
Jason went on to explain, "I want to think about what's the woman that just wants to go in and shop by herself, how does she feel? What's the woman that's in there with her kids, how do they feel? What's the person that walks in with their dog? What's the couple that walks in where the boyfriend doesn't really want to be there? What's the guy walking by himself looking for a gift? Who are all these little personas that are happening?
And like, if I'm a guy and I walk in and I'm looking for a gift, I want to be welcomed and educated on how I can get a great gift for my girlfriend, my mom, a sister or whoever.”
Old-school retail practices are showing their age
It’s no secret that retailers have to be business-savvy and financially focused. But when you’re in a creative business like jewelry design, you need to feel comfortable injecting a dose of whimsy. Sometimes, this means diverging from traditional retail wisdom like maximizing square footage and formula-based window displays. And gorjana aims to find the sweet spot in the middle of practical and creative.
I'm all about creativity, but really my thing is practical creativity. Because you have to really make it like someone can understand it and easy.
Jason expanded on this point, “I think there is an old school retail model that I think people have followed forever. And it's like the windows and these things and they're like, oh, you're not using your square footage. And I'm like, no. I don't. That would not make you feel like you're walking into my home.”
Pandemic priorities: pursuing quality over quantity
Quality is and always should be the North Star for retail businesses. But the pandemic took this philosophy into overdrive for gorjana. In a world turned topsy-turvy by closures and staffing shortages, Jason and Gorjana knew that whatever happened, they didn’t want to dilute the quality of the brand.
During COVID, I've had a few narratives, like North Stars that have led us through. But the number one narrative during COVID, the number one thing I’ve said, come out of my mouth in the last 365 days to our team is quality over quantity.
“Everything we do,” Jason shared, “because it wasn't just retail at that point, and it wasn't just customer experience or anything, or product. It was every single thing we're going to be tested. We have less people to do it. We're going to have to run really, really hard. And we ought to be quality over quantity. And we do. And I think it's so impactful.”
Stand out from the crowd: craft a unique vision and stick to it
There’s no magic formula for how a brand should position itself and how a retail store should look and feel. In fact, there’s an incredible spectrum of retail setups that work well, even if they leave one customer pulling out their wallet and another scratching their head. At the end of the day, you need to follow your instincts. For gorjana, an important factor has been finding unique ways to stand out from the crowd.
Gorjana shared her persepective, “You know, one thing that I was just thinking about is that I think in terms of retail, you really need to do what works for you, and what represents you.”
I’ve been into stores, where like even in terms of merchandising, there's like three shoes out. I'm like hmm. OK. Not my vibe. But it’s their vibe, and it works for them, and they're successful. And there's stores that are like completely over merchandised and have so much stuff, but that works for them too. And I think really sticking to you and not really looking at that, because I think the trend, especially with D2C and then D2C going into retail, they're all that sans serif font. Everyone starts to look the same. And I think that's where you could really get stuck.
The story of gorjana is almost as refreshing as the salty beachfront air that the brand’s aesthetic channels.
True, you can’t downplay profit margins. And no, you shouldn’t throw money at experiential elements you can’t afford.
But you can think deeply about where you are geographically, how things feel spatially, and what you can do to connect with customers on a visceral level that caters to their senses and spirit.
After all, a retail store is more than just four square walls. Like a brand new home, you have the opportunity to create a sense of magic inside. So take a moment to consider what might transport your customers, if only for a small moment, into another world.