Pounamu and jade retailer Mountain Jade is the largest of its kind in New Zealand. On December 1, it opened a flagship store in Auckland Airport that does justice to the heritage and soul behind its products.
Mountain Jade’s 170 square metre store in Auckland Airport’s international departures area is designed to showcase the natural beauty of New Zealand jade for an audience of 10 million international visitors per year.
In the airport environment, where many shoppers have time to spare before boarding their flights, the store’s five digital touchscreens, collaborations with contemporary artists and jewellers and educational elements give them plenty of reasons to stop by and linger.
Mountain Jade managing director John Sheehan says his team tried to create a space where customers can “discover the journey of jade” and experience cultural connection. The business was started by Sheehan’s grandfather, who began carving pounamu in his garage during the 1980s and sold it from his car around the central and upper North Island.
“We’re jade carvers ourselves, we’re a family business,” says Sheehan.
He says the most powerful customer engagement tool at Mountain Jade’s flagship is the workshop housed in-store.
“Customers can walk in, see the stone being carved, and go, ‘Wow, now I understand.’”
The digital touchscreens showcase the stories of the more than 20 jade artists and craftspeople with whom Mountain Jade collaborates, plus the meanings behind their designs. A ‘discovery’ nook in the back of the store contains imagery, an educational DVD playing, and lightboxes showing the translucency of jade stones.
Sheehan says Mountain Jade’s flagship’s airside location means it can appeal to a diverse clientele: “The collectors from around the world”. He hopes it will compete with high-end galleries around New Zealand and open the door for artists who may struggle to reach this kind of market while representing themselves.
“There’s some amazing emerging talent in New Zealand and we’re keen to help build their profile and have them come along on this journey of discovery with us,” Sheehan says. “It’s a great opportunity for them to earn a good income and have their work in front of a really wide audience.”
“Our artists will now have huge exposure to a wide range of international travellers, many of whom seek either a carved piece to remind them of New Zealand, or a high-end and unique piece of art.”
It will be run by a staff of 15, who will have it open to the public from 4am through to 1am. The long hours are to take advantage of the airport’s 24-hour foot traffic. Many of Mountain Jade’s airport staff have been strategically hired for their language skills, which are important given communication is an important part of the company’s sales strategy.
“Obviously, we can’t speak to everyone, but we have Mandarin and Cantonese speaking staff on at peak times,” Sheehan says.
He feels that when it comes to jade, shoppers should not simply take a product off the shelf and head to the counter to complete their purchase. Instead, Mountain Jade staff are trained to educate customers, speaking with them about the artist who made the product they’ve selected, where the jade is from and what the design means.
“Customers walk out with the product – they haven’t just picked it off the shelf – and they’re also walking out educated.”
This approach often results in repeat custom online, Sheehan says.
Carving out Mountain Jade’s flagship store
Designer Bevan Wiig of Wiig Design has been involved with the design of five previous Mountain Jade stores, and has been part of the business for 10 years. He shares some details on the Auckland International Airport flagship’s design process.
Can you tell us about the effect you wanted to achieve at the airport’s Mountain Jade outlet?
The design philosophy and effect I focused on was in essence to entice customers on a journey, and turn the shopping experience into one filled with discovery and intrigue.
As time-strapped shoppers are drawn through the space, the target was to help quickly transition their state of being into one of captured involvement, calm, and a deeper examination into the beauty of jade artworks, then ultimately convert that connection into investment at the till.
To help achieve the story and invite discovery, sensory elements and selected educational information is integrated into the journey. From the tectonic plates creating the jade stone, to the jade extraction processes, right through to the artists’ uniquely considered design and carving process, it’s all available to experience in-depth through touchscreen points, and more instantly accessible with the applied fit-out graphics and loose hand-out information.
The plant-clad pillar close to the entrance which displays the floating jade stone bolder is a key feature in the sensory experience. A continuous trickle of water rolls over the bolder and drains through the pebble filled base plinth. The idea was for the hands of thousands of travellers to polish the stone through traditional sand and water friction methods, this engaged process adding to their sense of legacy and physical connection to a stunning piece of New Zealand they’ve left behind.
What’s an aspect of it that you’re particularly pleased with?
I suppose it’s the resolve of how the space flows together in its entirety, even with quite a few variations of vibe, finishes and unique elements.
Designing and massaging an authentic flowing shape into the tenancy proportions, and functionally mirroring the wall panels below then linking the flooring elements, etc, had its challenges, but was well worth the effort. Watching customers being drawn into the back area, and actually enjoying the experience of being subconsciously lead through the journey from front to back, with the flooring and ceiling elements helping guide the way is definitely rewarding.
Were there any tricky parts?
A tricky part was a tight timeframe for the level of design resolve and construction detailing required. Conducting a fit-out at the end of the year is always tricky. It’s just the nature of the beast that from October through to December working hours can run dry if allowed, and details overlooked. We still have a few elements to resolve with graphics, media content, kicks, and track lighting narrow beam angles etc to install, so the very best is still to come.
Also, after hitting a hurdle, I had to order all of the individually selected plants last-minute. After a massive few days on-site managing and installing the plants myself amongst the chaos, some key personnel walked through and were very surprised that the planting features were in fact artificial and not real! This was a rewarding outcome and a little puff of wind in the sails after minimal sleep.
(P.S: Please don’t tell anyone else they’re fake though!)
What would you like readers to know about Mountain Jade’s fit-out?
The main aspect would be that the fit-out is owned and operated by a fantastic team with a real passion, belief, and genuine care and pride for what they do. All of those traits are seen within the amazing works on display, and the glowing quality of the stone they ethically and sustainably source. It’s also to their credit that they endeavour to provide this quality at any budget level.
Mountain Jade are a humble family business with a big heart, and a holistic vision that’s an absolute pleasure to get in behind and support, and I wish them all the success they deserve.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 754 February/March 2018