Rapaport Magazine

U.S. Retail Market Report

Wishing for an Up Holiday

By Lara Ewen
RAPAPORT... As the air begins to chill, retailers are warming up to the approaching holiday season. And while no one is predicting anything approaching 2006 or 2007 numbers, most describe themselves as cautiously optimistic when considering the possible year-end sales totals. Assuming the economy stays at least flat, and no unexpected events shake an already skittish buying public, store owners are hoping to see shoppers relax into a little goodwill spending as 2009 draws to a close.

Positive thoughts

“I think we’ll have a good Christmas,” said Carol Meierotto, owner of Meierotto Midwest Jewelers in Kansas City, Missouri. “I think it will be as good or better than it was last year. But I just think we’re positive about things. I was pretty positive last year, and though our business is down from then, I would say we’re better than most. And I don’t always believe what I read. It’s hard to believe that people are up, but maybe some people are even. Still, if you’re starting from no sales, you can always go up.”

Victoria Marshall, co-owner of Marshall’s Jewelers, with two stores in Tucson, Arizona, is also feeling upbeat. “I actually feel pretty optimistic about holiday,” she said. “I think it’ll be better this year than it was last year. People were really scared in 2008, and more scared because things were so new, and they didn’t have any idea what was going to happen. I get a sense that people are feeling better about it, and we’re in better shape. I don’t think it’ll be like 2006 or 2007, but I think it’ll be up from 2008.”

In Sacramento, California, Ted Grebitus, owner of Grebitus & Sons, which has two stores in the city, managed to survive the roughest part of the economic downturn, while many of his competitors did not. “The other jewelers who were around us have disappeared,” he said. “In this area, we’re the last independent jeweler standing.” That said, Grebitus is hopeful that the coming holiday season will be good for his stores. “I’m a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. I’m ecstatically optimistic that we can only go up. I’m looking forward to a brisk close to 2009.”

In other parts of the country, this upbeat attitude moving into holiday is tempered by the ghosts of Christmas past. “2008 was the worst year in maybe 30 or 40 years,” said Hy Goldberg, owner of Safian & Rudolph Jewelers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and president of the Philadelphia Jewelers’ Row Association. “I think 2009 will be an improvement, but how much of an improvement, I don’t know. Last year, the way it hit us was just psychological. The reason I think it’ll be better this year is that there isn’t that shock that we had last year. Now, there’s been a little spilling of water. We don’t expect a great Christmas by any means, but there should be some stabilizing. It should be a better Christmas.”

Providing a contrast to this sentiment are stores such as Symmetry Jewelers in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to owner Richard Lee Mathis, he never felt the sting of the economic downturn at all. “Maybe because we are specialized, and have a good clientele, we have not been affected by the downturn,” he said. “Our business has grown every year since 1994, even when we were closed down for two months after Katrina. And though we’ve had one or two down months this year, the rest of 2009 was better than 2008.”

So far, so good
Although almost every jeweler is planning for a respectable holiday take this year, there is still caution. “I’d say our Christmas business accounts for about 20 to 25 percent of our annual,” said Marshall. “So I am cautiously optimistic, because 2008 wasn’t a great year, and then it died at the holiday season unexpectedly. So though I am optimistic, I don’t want to be blindsided like that again. We’re not throwing a bunch of money out there and assuming it’s going to be great, but so far it’s been okay.”

“So far, so good” seems to be a common refrain. “Holiday can make our year,” said Grebitus. “If you do 20 percent of your business in a single period like that, it becomes very important. This year, people are looking and thinking, ‘a year has gone by and we’re not destitute.’ They’ve had time to acclimate, and I hope this will be a good year because 2008 was such a bad year. And we’re seeing some nice sales going into fall.”

The Marketplace
  • Round is the best-selling shape, with cushion and princess cuts both following neck and neck a distant second.
  • 1.5-carat stones are selling very well now, though 1-carat stones continue to be popular.
  • SI1 is the top-selling clarity, as customers prefer to spend on color over clarity.
  • G-H is by far the preferred color range.
  • 18-karat white gold is the top-selling metal for settings, although luxury customers still insist on platinum.
  • The average price for an engagement ring, including stone and setting, is $6,800.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - October 2009. To subscribe click here.

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