Rapaport Magazine

New Beginning Brings Optimism

U.S. March Retail Market Report

By Lara Ewen

After years of cautious optimism, retailers are beginning to feel simply optimistic again. The 2011 holiday season saw very strong gains for most stores, and that steady flow of customers has continued into 2012. In fact, many retailers are beginning to see sales figures that resemble prerecession numbers. Of course, times have changed, and those sales are, increasingly, lots and lots of small-ticket items, and fewer large single-item sales. Even so, a solid bottom line is just the kind of mood enhancer the industry has been waiting for, especially in an election year.

The healthy start to the year has buoyed retailers’ expectations. As of mid-February, Joe Romano, director at Justice Jewelers, with one store in Springfield, Missouri, said 2011 was the best year in his store’s history. Regarding 2012, he said, “We are already headed to meet 2011’s numbers. Therefore, we expect no surprises.”

Ted Koester, owner of Herzog Jewelers in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, is also optimistic. “2011 was stronger than 2010,” he said. “People were willing to spend money. The average consumer went back to pre-2008 spending. I think people see the world isn’t melting down, and it’s more stable.”

Stability is trending out West, too. According to Tim Harold, owner and manager of William Harold Jewelers in Newport Beach, California, Valentine’s Day sales for 2012, for example, will probably be about the same as they were in 2011. Otherwise, he’s looking to see further improvements in his bottom line. “2011 was better, businesswise, than 2010,” he said. “I expect 2012’s overall business to do better, but not way better.”

Even stores that saw dramatic improvements in 2011 didn’t expect big Valentine’s Day numbers, but that’s not a reflection of the economy so much as it is the nature of the holiday. “Because we don’t carry beads, or rings in the $20 price range, generally our Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day see just a moderate bump in sales,” said Mark Cichanski, Sr., owner of Cirelli Jewelers, with one store in Boardman, Ohio.

Cichanski said that although his store saw 50 percent annual increases in both 2010 and 2011, Valentine’s Day isn’t a big holiday for him. “People think we’re really busy, but it’s not overwhelming,” he said. “By the time a guy takes a girl out to dinner, and gets her roses, he’s not going to want to spend another $500 on her.” Koester agreed. “Valentine’s Day has never been a super-strong event for us,” he said. “It’s a lower-price-point holiday, $200 and under.”

For some, though, special promotions and bargain prices brought in customers looking to get something sparkly for February 14. “I do a big sale before Valentine’s Day,” said Patrick Larkin, manager of Burri Jewelers in Cheyenne, Wyoming. “We do a sale for the Super Bowl, and then even through January, we’re pretty busy. This year was pretty crazy, and we got tons of people in, and we did well. And when people came in for Valentine’s Day, we still offered the sale price.”

The only downside to this year’s expectations is the coming elections, and the consumer insecurity that they breed. All retailers agreed that the months leading up to a big national election are quiet. “The election slows things down a little, but it’s not like it becomes dead slow,” said Larkin. “And then it depends on who gets elected. Our normal customers who have the money to spend on higher-priced items tend to wait to buy until after the election. I don’t know why, but they just do.”

Cichanski agreed. “The election usually has a little bit of an effect, but it won’t stop people from getting engaged,” he said. “What we see is that some of the people who are 55-to-70 years old, with safer, older money, who are either retired or semiretired, they’ll be the ones who hold off buying. The ones who are looking to become engaged will care less about this election.”

For Romano, events such as the election don’t play a major part in his planning, because it’s outside his sphere of influence. “There are circumstances beyond our control,” he said,“the election outcome, the challenges of the global and national economy and others. We will do our best with what we can control, which is our environment.”

Even if there is a slowdown, most expect it to be brief. “I think 2012 will have a 10 percent to 15 percent growth over 2011 but, come September or October, business will slow down for the election,” said Koester. “Still, so far this year, people are spending money. I think 2012 will be a good year.”


  • Round brilliants sell best, with princess, cushion and Asscher cuts all
  • tied for second.

  • 1-carat to 1.50-carat stones are top sellers.

  • VS2 is the most popular clarity.

  • G/H is the best-selling color range.

  • 14-karat white gold continues to outsell platinum in settings.

  • The average price for an engagement ring, including stone and setting,
    is $6,700.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - March 2012. To subscribe click here.

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