Panning for gold may have been an exciting experience for early settlers, but in modern times looking for jewelry can be a challenging task. With a flood of jewelers on the market, customers demanding high-quality jewelry can get confused about where to shop and what to buy.

In an effort to provide an environment where customers can learn about jewelry and feel comfortable while shopping, Akron, Ohio-based Sterling Jewelers Inc. has created its newest concept, Jared, The Galleria of Jewelry.

At about 6,000 sq. ft., Jared is a category-killer concept that focuses on selection, customer service and comfort. The first store opened in 1993.

"The basis of Jared is that it is a jewelry shopping experience," says Mark Light, executive vice president of operations for Sterling Jewelers. With 525 Kay Jewelers stores and 200 regional jewelry store brands, Sterling is the second largest jewelry specialty retailer in the country.

Because Jared is so large, the retailer takes advantage of the space by dividing it up into different departments, or stores-within-a-store. Areas of the store include a diamond department, a karat gold jewelry department, a color stone department, a watch department and an on-site jewelry repair lab.

The repair lab is behind glass, so customers can sit on stools and watch while their jewelry is repaired. "We can do most repairs in an hour," Light says. "In today's world people are in a hurry and don't want to leave their jewelry to be repaired."

Jared aims to make customers as comfortable as possible while they wait. In the coffee area, Jared serves cappuccino, cookies and pastries.

"When you walk into the store, the first thing you'll see is a greeter," Light says. "It is a customer-friendly layout. We have a children's play area with video games and movies. During Christmas, the children's area is a major benefit. Parents say the kids even ask to go to Jared."

In addition to the jewelry repair area, Jared has a custom shop where the jewelers can create anything a customer wants from scratch. In all of the departments, the employees are experts trained in a particular type of jewelry and trained in customer service, Light says.

Jared currently has 15 stores open in Dallas; Detroit; Denver and Colorado Springs, Colo.; Phoenix; Las Vegas; Knoxville, Tenn.; Akron, Ohio; Orlando, Fla.; and Richmond, Va.

Later this year, the retailer plans to open 13 more stores, including additional locations in Phoenix, Detroit and Dallas as well as Houston; Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; and Boynton Beach, Fla.

For future locations, the company is looking for freestanding pad sites that have about 350,000 people in a 10-mile radius. The retailer often prefers to be near stores such as Borders, Toys 'R' Us or The Sports Authority.

Jared appeals to developers for a few different reasons, Light says. "We advertise a lot on the radio, which drives traffic into a center," he says. "We usually compete (for space) against restaurants, and we require much less parking."

Contact: Kyle Robson, director of Jared real estate, Sterling Jewelers, 375 Ghent Road, Akron, Ohio 44333-4600; (330) 668-5080.