Every year it becomes a challenge to pinpoint those retail concepts that fit the Up & Coming profile: unique retailers that have only a few locations now but are prepared to increase their presence nationwide or those that have a number of units but are embarking on an aggressive expansion in another area of the country or a different type of center.

Fortunately, the industry has not failed us yet. This year, we highlight six concepts: Only Diamonds, We're Entertainment, The Clubhouse, Scents of Nature, Tommy Bahama and Nickelodeon. Each of them understand their niche and are moving forward by targeting specific retail locations. Watch for them to make their mark in the years to come.

Nathan R. Light, a 30-year veteran of the jewelry industry, has started dotting the retail landscape with a gem of superstore proportions. Only Diamonds, described as a 5,000 sq. ft. category-killer, was founded two years ago by Akron, Ohio-based LDC (Light Diamond Co.) Group Inc. Today, the company has four stores and plans to open eight more in major cities this year, according to Light, chairman and chief executive officer.

"We are the only chain of diamond-only stores," Light says. Each location stocks at least five times the diamond inventory of a traditional jewelry store, with stones ranging in size from one-fifth carat to five carats in all shapes and even some colors. There are more than 2,000 styles of diamond jewelry priced from $100 to $50,000, he continues.

Light says the superstore/category-killer format is an ideal fit for his concept because of the perception this type of store has in retail today. Customers see a large selection of a focused line of merchandise and, therefore, expect value.

Moreover, he continues, the jewelry business had evolved unfavorably during the years: Businesses marked up prices to mark them down, there was always a perceived sale and the quality was not the best.

"I decided we would be a one-price, value-priced company with large selection," Light says, adding that discussions with focus groups revealed that consumers dislike two-tier pricing situations where they are always negotiating. "It makes them uncomfortable," he says. "They never know how low is low."

Light also possesses a strong philosophy to educate the consumer. "Over the years, I've witnessed time and time again shoppers who are uneducated and intimidated about buying diamonds," he explains. "At Only Diamonds, our purpose is to replace the fear and pressure with education."

Along with having a staff of professionally trained diamond consultants to help them, customers can watch a film that demonstrates the whole diamond process, including how to buy the gems and how they are mined.Each location also has a library of books on diamonds for customers' perusal.

To make customers more secure with their diamond purchase, every unset stone is accompanied by a certificate of verification from an independent gem lab, there is no pressure from salespeople because they are not on commission, and each purchase comes with a 60-day, money-back guarantee.There also is a jewelry craftsman on the premises."

We take the risk out of buying the diamond for the customer," Light says, adding that his stores appeal to a wide range of people, who are targeted at different times of the year. Light says Only Diamonds attracts the bridal/engagement group, which generally ranges in age from 20 to 35 years old; and the gift and self-purchase group, which ranges in age from 35 to 54 years old.

Appealing to these different types of customers while staying in sync with the merchandise, the interior decor of an Only Diamonds store is upscale and polished, yet comfortable with ample seating. "It is a warm, inviting environment," Light says.

With its sophisticated look and superstore format, Only Diamonds is focusing its site selection on outparcels in front of power centers, malls and neighborhood-type centers. According to Light, the company looks for trade areas that have a population density of 250,000 within a 7-mile radius and an average household income of $50,000 to $60,000.

Expansion will be stepped up in 1999 to include 20 new locations each year and a minimum of 100 units by 2002 or 2003, he says. The stores will all be company-owned.