Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a weekly Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around the city.Photos by William Chan
If you've never met Caitlin Mociun, jeweler and founder of her namesake store on Wythe Avenue, here's a little snippet from her bio: "At a young age she developed an intense fear of coyotes and spent large amounts of time pretending to be an appaloosa." The rest reads a little bit like a fairytale, and Mociun is the first to admit that she's long been a fan of make believe. Fortunately, she's been able to turn her love for the weird, abstract, and eclectic into a booming jewelry business.
In just over a year of opening her Brooklyn storefront, she's become a key player in the indie and commercial wedding industry, designing custom rings for clients as far and wide as Australia. She's also in the process of getting her gemology degree, and now sources antique stones that can range upwards of $15,000. She adds, "You need [a client] who has a wacky budget to be able to do that."
In addition to carrying her own jewelry lines, the store's roster of merchandise also includes home goods, fragrances, and gifts—offering plenty of options for those who might not be able to afford one of her custom designs. Of the items she carries, Mociun explains: "I think it's amazing when something is a piece of art or a piece of jewelry, and it also functions really well—whether it's sitting on a table making a room look beautiful, or if it just looks beautiful on your hand." We spoke with her about what it's been like in Williamsburg so far, her plans for a second store, and how a five-digit ring gets made.
Have you always wanted to open a store?
I never intended to open a store. The beginning of 2011 was when I first thought about it. I was offered a free space to do a pop-up shop, and I was like—okay! And after that, it really sparked my interest. It happened pretty fast: in the beginning of 2011 I thought about it, and by the end of the year I was making furniture for this store.
At first I was going to open a store with Baggu, and there was no falling out or anything, but we just realized that I'm going for high-end luxury and they're going for volume. Our aesthetics are pretty different, even though our companies do stuff together all the time. They were focusing on other parts of their business, whereas I was ready to do this.
What was the process like of getting this location and opening here?
I originally had a different space in mind, and that didn't happen—and the person who was helping me make all the furniture had already made all the furniture. I designed the store with him, and it was always in our minds that it would be a modular space. I get tired of things pretty fast, so I wanted to make sure that I could move the store around. That's why there's only three shelves in the whole store—there's really only one thing that can't be moved. I want people to feel like it's different every single time so that they can discover something new.
So the furniture was half-way done and I was like, I better go find a storefront. I went out and looked for a couple days and found this. As soon as I came in here I knew that it was perfect and what I wanted.
We've spoken to some store owners who had to hunt a lot longer than that.
For me, I'm not like that in any aspect of my life. It's either right or it's not. And if I feel a little unsure about it, I know that's it's not right.
How does the retail landscape here compare to your pop-up in Downtown Brooklyn—they're definitely dramatically different.
[Laughs.] Well Downtown Brooklyn, that was such a weird location. It was across from Macy's, on Livingston Street. Lots of foot traffic, and people would come in and be like, what is this? It was 4,000 square feet. It was really crazy and it was fun, and it was a cool space to have. You know, we threw it together: I didn't have a budget, nobody was helping me—I mean, I had friends helping me—and all of the designers just gave me stuff on consignment.
I feel really lucky that people trekked far and wide to see us. Luckily, it was a block from a G stop, so it was easy for people to come from Greenpoint and Williamsburg. But we were doing really good numbers, actually. We made a huge profit. And I was open for 15 days total.
I think for me, a really big part of it was that people like the weird stuff that I like. And then I did another pop-up in December when this store was supposed to be in another location. Most of the designers that I had in that I still have their work here. Basically, that was when I was like, this is what I care about, these are the products that I care about, and these are the designers that I care about.
I think having those two pop-up shops really helped me test out my idea. I wasn't scared at all about opening this store—I wasn't like, this feels like a risk. I was just excited to do it.
How have you seen your business grow in just a year?
I started out with one employee, and I have five now. The company's profits have more than doubled since I opened the store. I have a whole person devoted to the custom ring program. It's been really, really great. The main reason I really wanted to open the store is that there's nowhere in the world other than here that you can see the full collection. Some of the rings are expensive, and people want to see them and try them on. And then I also do consultations with people for custom stuff. So this is a place where I can do that.
When people come, the girls can talk to them about the custom ring program. Because wedding is really my bread and butter. Everything else that is in the store is the lifestyle that supports the person who wears the jewelry. So that's all super important to me, and promoting the artists' and designers' work I have is really important to me. But it's not where I make all my money—it certainly supports itself, but you're not going to be able to support a company and five employees on selling cups. But you can with diamonds.
I would imagine too that doing the wedding jewelry facilitates you to do fun side projects that don't bring in as much.
Yea, exactly. And we can also have the wedding registry. I think it's always important to have a product that people can walk out of the store with, and be like, "I want that $5,000 ring, but I'm going to buy a $14 mug instead, or a bar of soap." And then we have clients that come in for jewelry, but they also have a place to buy gifts.
That's what I really found when I opened. More than anything, people were saying that this neighborhood didn't have a great place to buy gifts. That's overwhelmingly what people were saying to me when I first opened, because I was the only person here for the first month. I had help here and there, but I was out there every minute. It felt really nice, and I knew I opened something and I wasn't just another of the same thing. That's my worst nightmare—to be, "Oh, another whatever..."
Are there any categories you want to dabble in that you're not yet?
I'm going to open another space. I know what it's going to be, but I'm not telling anyone yet. It's going to be completely different. It's going to go into a part of this market that I'm working in that isn't covered, and it's what I've talked to people about and they're really frustrated with not being able to find for... a certain aspect of their life. So that's what I'm going to open. Another thing I've toyed around with is a furniture store, but I really weirdly never planned to be in the wedding industry.
Do you try to keep your price point at a certain level?
It's totally open. I'm starting now to do rings in the $20,000 range. In all honesty, that's what I want to be working in. I'm having less interest in doing rings in the lower price point. For the main collection I think it's great, but as far as custom goes, it's a lot of work—it takes a huge amount of energy in your personal skills. Talking to someone, making them feel comfortable, figuring out a new design.
Because we get so many inquiries now, and because I'm learning about all these stones and being comfortable buying these amazing stones, I like working with people who have a bigger budget. Not just because it supports me and my staff and being able to open another store, but I can also work with really cool stones and really elaborate designs, and that's why I like having a more open budget.
I do a lot of stuff for people who don't have a big budget, and it's easy because you're limited to this. But when you have a bigger budget, that's when I feel like I can start designing something I've never done before.
How long do you usually work on one custom piece? Or does it completely vary each time?
There are people where we get the design set in a day. I just did this $20,000 ring that we designed the other day. I met them once, they were here for 2 1/2 hours, and we used stones that I had. They came in on Sunday and their piece is at the jewelry now.
But sometimes for the customs—we have my stone library—but I might need a very specific stone and I'll have to go to other sources to get them, then bring them back, photograph them, photoshop it, email it to the customer, get their approval, and then possibly move on to the next stones that need to be added.
Since you're getting a lot of attention outside of New York, would you ever consider opening somewhere else?
That was going to be my plan. I was thinking of opening a second store somewhere warm! I was about to go on a research trip to Bermuda. But running a store, there are a million tiny pieces to this machine. And just from a being-smart standpoint, opening another location here make more sense, so that then we could see how running two locations goes.Then we'll go to Bermuda [laughs.]
I think for me, with an outside store location, I would be far more interested in opening in a hotel or a store within a store. Something that's kind of going to be a parent to the store so that there's a larger security system. Or if it's in a hotel, maybe we can get deals on hotel rooms for when I'm there for a couple weeks, or for when one of my managers is there for a couple weeks that they have a place right there where they can stay instead of having to rent a company apartment. You think about all that, and the stress of it, and then it's like—nope, I'm not ready quite yet. So I think experimenting with something a few blocks away would be easier.
I also never know where my business is going to go. I never intended to do jewelry design. And now that's what I do. And I never thought I'd open a store, and now we have a store. I never tie myself down creatively. If in four years I feel like I'm sick of having a store and want to close all my doors even if we're doing well—I don't intend to that—but I would never not be open to being like, "My life has taken me in this direction now and I don't want to do this anymore." Because I used to have a clothing line and now I couldn't be happier that I don't.
Okay, the last part is the lightening round. 1960s, 1970s, or the 1980s?
I don't know how to distinguish between the 60s and 70s in all honesty. Definitely not the '80s. I'd say probably more the '60s.
8am or 8pm?
Beach or mountains?
Cats or dogs?
Mad Men or Game of Thrones?
Game of Thrones. I hate Mad Men. I know one other person who doesn't like Mad Men.
I just can't get into Game of Thrones.
You have to be a fantasy lover. I've always liked make believe. I mean look what I do for a living. It's like, "You need a $20,000 ring!" I live in a fantasy world. Luckily people get on board.
· Mociun [Official Site]
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