Rapaport Magazine

U.S. Retail

By Lara Ewen
Sales Trending Up

Despite a gloomy start to spring and below-average temperatures, things are heating up at jewelry stores across the country. Retailers are reporting strong numbers for the first quarter of 2013, and seem optimistic that the upward trend will continue throughout the year, albeit with certain caveats. First, no one is expecting dramatic increases. Second, even the most positive outlooks are somewhat chastened by the twists and turns of the past several years, so everyone is cheerful, but cautiously so. Store owners and managers are not taking any chances. That said, it’s good to hear even reserved optimism, and the numbers, so far, are backing up the reports. With any luck, this will be a bountiful spring for everyone.

Good News
   According to almost everyone, customers are coming back and embracing the joy of shopping again. “The whole industry is better,” said Debbie Berkowitz, co-owner of Glitters Fine Jewelry in Leawood, Kansas. “Everything I’m reading points to the fact that the whole jewelry industry was up for 2012, and everybody is just ready to come out and play. Maybe customers became desensitized to the news, and just began living their lives the way they wanted to again. But we’re feeling better.”
   John Nichols, sales manager at Huntington Jewelers in Las Vegas, agreed. “We’re seeing a lot of positive indicators,” he said. “It’s looking up. There’s more positive activity since Christmas, and I’m just seeing and hearing more positive news. Maybe we’ve turned the corner.”

Free to Go Shopping
   Some of the increased activity could be attributed to a more robust economy overall, according to Hy Goldberg, owner of Safian & Rudolph Jewelers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “People are feeling better because the stock market is up,” he said. “Our customer is finally saying, ‘I don’t have to sit on my money.’ So every month since Christmas, we’ve seen an upward trend. Nothing earth-shattering, but January and March were both up in double digits. I don’t know what tomorrow is going to be, but customers who had wanted to buy something for someone can now do it.”
   Another part of the upward turn, according to Richard Lee Mathis, owner of Symmetry Jewelers in New Orleans, Louisiana, is that people are just starting to feel better. “We didn’t slow down, even when the economy took a dive,” he said. “But in the past two months, our business has been improving even more. I do think it comes down to confidence. Customers will spend money if they think things look better.”
   It’s not just sales that seem to be improving. Stores are also seeing more people coming in the door, which is always a good sign. “I don’t track traffic in the store, but we’ve been pretty busy,” said Richard Hegeman, owner of Hegeman & Co. in Providence, Rhode Island. “People are finding me online, too. And I can’t complain.”

Forward Thinking
   While the mood is cheerful now, one prime indicator that this is not simply a temporary high may be that retailers are forecasting increases for the rest of 2013. The numbers won’t be astonishing, according to Mathis, but they’ll be positive, and that’s a good start. “I think it’ll continue on an upward track for the rest of 2013,” he said. “I don’t see it going up, up, up, but I seeing it going a little higher and remaining constant.” Mathis indicated that for now, it’s not even necessary for things to move upward, as long as they don’t move downward again. “Everyone would love it if things would just stabilize,” he said.
   Of course, there’s nothing wrong with moving up, either. “I think numbers are trending upward,” said Goldberg. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand for stuff. There’s a lot of gift-giving that hasn’t happened, because having to pay for gasoline and your mortgage and in our area, Hurricane Sandy, has taken money out of the jewelry market. The disposable money that would come our way went somewhere else.” But Goldberg feels that’s changing, as long as the economic and political environment doesn’t introduce any surprises.
   Nichols is also feeling good about the coming months. “I see things slowly increasing over the rest of 2013,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ll have a boom year; it might be a slow, steady grind. And we may have to wait, maybe a few years, until we can do business the way we used to. But I’m happy. Of course, we always want more, but we’ll take what the customers can give us.”
   Berkowitz agreed. “I think it’s going to be a good year,” she said. “I really do. We are happy with the first quarter, and we have to move forward and think the rest of the year is going to do as well.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2013. To subscribe click here.

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