West Seattle business: 5th anniversary for Click! Design That Fits

Story and photos by Mary Sheely
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Frances and John Smersh are the owners of contemporary gift and home goods store Click! Design That Fits (2210 California SW; WSB sponsor). But you could say they have a silent partner: their neighborhood.

“A necessary part of our store concept is West Seattle,” Frances says. “We would not have opened a store had we not been able to do it here.”

Obviously, it was a smart decision: Click! will mark five years in business with an anniversary party this Friday, October 2, 6-9 p.m., featuring catering by West Seattle-based Splendid Cupcake, a free etched glass from Roost for each guest — with purchase — while supplies last, and weekend sales including 25% off Smersh Design, the gold vermeil and silver jewelry that Frances designs, through October 4.

Both the retail store and the jewelry business have proven staying power, despite the fact that neither John nor Frances had a background in retail or even art.

When the couple met as students at Loyola Marymount in LA, Frances was majoring in sociology and John was studying sound recording.

“I have this impractical/practical streak in me,” says Frances of her first foray into jewelry making about 20 years ago. “It was like, ‘We don’t have any money, and the only way I can justify doing this – taking a class, buying materials, buying tools – is if we sell some of it. So learning jewelry and selling jewelry came about almost at the same time.”

“Within weeks of her making her first trip to a jewelry supply place, we were at the Fremont Sunday Market,” John says.

Eventually, Frances began adding colored concrete inlays to her jewelry, and her wholesale sales took off. (These days she’s also working with thin layers of colored cork.) About the same time, John was laid off from his job as a sound engineer.

“I told him he could apply for a job at Smersh Design,” Frances says.

They immersed themselves in the business, marketing jewelry at trade shows and fairs. They also admired the contemporary designs at the other trade show booths.

“We’d come back to our booth going, ‘Did you see that? That was really cool! Go check this out,’” Frances remembers.

“We realized that there was no place in West Seattle that you could get those things,” John says. “We figured that there were probably other people like us who would like to be able to buy those things nearby, too.”

The idea for a store began to take shape, with one caveat: it had to be in West Seattle, where the couple has lived since 1994.

“It wasn’t like we wanted to just go into retail,” Frances explains. “We would not have leased something downtown, we would not have done anything in Ballard.”

They found a space just north of Admiral Junction, stocked a small selection of “contemporary, but not cold” goods – about a third of the glassware, handbags, table linens, and lighting they now sell – and got ready for an October 1, 2004 grand opening.

The event was not exactly stress-free.

“John actually left me that day,” Frances laughs.

“I walked out on her,” John concurs.

“I am such a space cadet,” Frances starts to explain, then immediately amends, “Well, not a space cadet; I get really in my head.”

“You’re kind of the opposite of a space cadet; you’re very focused,” says John.

“Except that I can’t articulate anything to anybody.”

“So that opening day, she was working on the display,” John says, “and I was trying to communicate with her about the display. She was being so…difficult, shall we say. I got very frustrated with her and I think I said, ‘Fine, open the store your own, uh, darn self!’ and I walked out.”

“And,” Frances says, “I didn’t really notice.”

“I came back a little bit later and just started working on something else. And she didn’t even realize.”

“He finally told me, ‘You know, I left you earlier today,’ and I said, ‘You did? Why?’”

Incidents like that aside, they love working together. “We get to spend time with the person that we like the best,” John says.

“We balance each other pretty well, John and I,” Frances agrees. “I’ll have an idea and be completely convinced about it and want to move forward, and John will be like, ‘Hey, let’s slow down a little bit.’”

“She’s the creative spark and I’m kind of the more practical structure of sorts,” says John.

“Not that you’re not ready to go out there,” Frances points out.

“Oh, absolutely. And not that you’re completely irrational or anything,” says John.

Not only do they like each other, West Seattle likes them. Sales have remained steady even during the recent economic downturn.

No doubt that’s due to the designs they sell, like handbags from Orla Kiely, coasters and placemats from Modern Twist, screenprinted wood bottle openers from FluffyCo, and recycled-plastic “Curly Lamps” from Fuz that combine high style with an affordable price. But John and Frances say it’s also because people in West Seattle want to support local businesses, something they appreciate even more when they talk to friends who own stores in other cities.

“They have people come in and want to see something in person so they can touch it, but then they leave and go buy it online for less,” Frances says. “It’s just a different mindset.”

“We have people come in and say, ‘I’ve seen this online for cheaper, but I’d rather buy it from you,’” John says.

He and Frances are big on local businesses themselves. They frequent Carmilia’s in the Junction, citing owner Linda Sabee as an inspiration and mentor. After closing Click! for the night, they can walk to Mission for late-night dinners and “the best margaritas in town.” Their long list of favorites includes Edie’s, Twilight, Husky Deli, Mashiko, Easy Street Records, and their “dueling yoga studios” (Frances likes Bikram Yoga; John goes to 8 Limbs).

“I think that people in West Seattle get why living here is so great,” John says. “When you walk out onto California, you’re not just entering some strip mall with a bunch of national chains. You’re going into a place where there’s somebody you might know behind the counter, and that is really awesome.”

As Frances says, “It’s just kind of a connection, you know what I mean?”

We do.

12 Replies to "West Seattle business: 5th anniversary for Click! Design That Fits"

  • Admiral Lady September 27, 2009 (9:11 pm)

    Yeah!! Congrats! Since moving to the Admiral District in Dec ’07, many many of my purchases have been made at Click! Love you guys, and will see you on Friday

  • beagle owner September 27, 2009 (9:40 pm)

    I love Click! I think it’s time to add to my Smeersh collection – see you Friday!
    Thank goodness my daughter got me connected through her job at Seattle Homes and Lifestyles Magazine a few years ago. Congratulations1

  • Connie September 27, 2009 (10:01 pm)

    Congratulations Frances and John! We are so thrilled to have you in the neighborhood! It’s fun to have cool jewelry and all the neat things from your store at our house! See you Friday!

  • Nat September 28, 2009 (8:12 am)

    Congratulations! I’m so happy for you guys! It has been a true pleasure to watch your ‘baby’ grow.

  • moesthatloveclick September 28, 2009 (8:42 am)

    I was just filling my sink this morning with bowls that I love from Click! The tsunami nesting bowls (which I had not idea I could not live with out), and the big and wonderfully heavy poured ceramic bowls from an artist in California. Thanks Click! for giving me beautiful dishes, even when they are dirty. But mostly they remind me of the Smershes, which is of course the bonus when you buy anything from Click! Happy birthday Click!- can’t believe you are already 5.

  • Deb September 28, 2009 (10:26 am)

    We love John and Frances and we love Click!

    Happy Birthday!

  • Holly+Drew September 28, 2009 (11:08 am)

    Congrats Frances and John! You guys are great!

  • Aquaman September 28, 2009 (1:35 pm)

    Click! is the coolest – Love my glasses/bottle opener/jewelry/vases/cups/bag and all of the presents bought there over the years.

    Hooray for John and Frances!

  • jsv888 September 29, 2009 (7:26 am)

    This is such a great store! So glad they survived this terrible year for retail. Bought place mats here and get compliments on them all the time.

  • Stephanie September 29, 2009 (10:26 am)

    congratulations john and frances! click! is wonderful, warm, convenient, and usually filled with all the west seattlites i adore ; )

  • Click! September 29, 2009 (4:34 pm)

    Thanks everyone! Hope to see you all at Click! this Friday.
    Bring friends and let us pour you a glass of bubbly to celebrate our crazy and wonderful five years as well as the many years to come. We certainly wouldn’t have made it this far without you.

  • kat October 12, 2009 (10:16 am)

    I love these guys..they are some of the nicest people in the industry..they are folks that remind you ..why you do what you do..they have a great eye for beautiful and unique things..and we know the market really well..the jewelry they make ..is hands down one of the most unique lines out there..
    You gotta hold one of her pieces..it sits on your skin and warms up to it..and it feels like it is a part of you..

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