Rapaport Magazine

U.S. Retail

By Lara Ewen
Year-to-Date Sales Up

Retailers taking the long view have been rewarded with some positive news this year. Although sales and traffic have been unpredictable, the overall numbers are good and heading slowly upward. Most agreed that summer was a slow season, but it frequently is, historically speaking. Looking ahead to the holidays, the outlook is murkier and more uncertain. However, store owners hope that the good months in 2014 will be enough to offset whatever curves may lie at the end of the year.

Sales are Up
   One of the best signs that the economy is seeing real recovery is that sales are up almost everywhere. “Business has been strong so far in 2014,” said Tonia Leitzel Ulsh, chief operating officer (COO) of Mountz Jewelers, with three stores in Pennsylvania. “Consumers in our area are spending more openly.” Ulsh credited strong advertising and a new bridal program for helping keep Mountz’ customers happy and the business’ name in the public eye.
   In the Northeast, an emphasis on interacting with customers online via social media, emails and website communication was credited with bringing in positive numbers. “Business is going very well,” said Rick Beaulieu, president of Springer’s Jewelers, with two stores in Maine and one in New Hampshire. “All three stores are up. We’re focused on diamonds, and we’ve done well with social media.” Beaulieu also felt that the changing economy has had an impact on his business. “Estate is also strong for us, both because there have been a lot of people who have been liquidating their jewelry in the past three or four years, and there are other people — buyers — who want unique bridal. So that blends nicely.”

Hard to Predict
   Even for stores that saw increases, however, there was a lingering feeling of uncertainty. “We’re ahead of last year by about 7 percent or 8 percent,” said Lance Buttars, owner of Molinelli’s Jewelers in Pocatello, Idaho. “I still think the economy is hesitant, but we get the lion’s share of the jewelry money that’s being spent in our town. Our sales are up, but it’s different. Strong months aren’t the same in the past few years. For example, we had a great July, but June was less than it typically is, and June is typically strong. I’ve been puzzled.”
   “Good yet unstable” was also the feeling on the West Coast. “It’s still unpredictable, with great days and bad days,” said Gail Friedman, owner of Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers in Los Angeles. “But also, we need staff. We’re busy. It seems like traffic is up, but one day it’s busy and another day it’s slow. Los Angeles is a weird animal.”
   Still other stores were seeing stable overall numbers, but changes in customer shopping patterns. “Business is about the same this year as it was in 2013 up to this point,” said Fernando Schlaen, general manager at Richard’s Gems and Jewelry in Miami. “But we’re seeing less traffic and higher-ticket items. I wish I knew why there were fewer people shopping. I think people are changing their buying habits. They go to Apple for iPhones instead. And they buy jewelry only for weddings, engagements, anniversaries.”

Looking Ahead to Christmas
   Holidays are traditionally a time when jewelry purchases are expected to increase — and by a significant amount, in many cases. But for some retailers, the Christmas season is no longer the cash bonanza it used to be. “Christmas was always a blast and everyone would work morning until night and we would love it,” said Friedman. “Customers would come in, and everyone looked forward to the holidays. But as time has gone by, there are fewer busy days around Christmas. It’s busy all year until December, then the holiday is over and then it gets busy again. So I don’t know if everyone is tired of the whole hype, but we’re over the hype. We’re really over it.”
   Schlaen was inclined to agree. “Christmas 2013 was very disappointing,” said Schlaen. “The whole year is busier, but December is getting slower. Customer buying patterns are changing. I used to have to hire extra people for the holiday. But the past few Christmases have been slow, and the holiday has changed in general.”
   Ulsh had a different perspective. “We are optimistic for the fourth quarter,” she said. “We have strong messaging throughout the year and have an additional advertising push during the holiday season. The economy continues to grow, and consumers are looking to spend money on items that hold value.”
   Others were also hopeful that 2014 will end well. “We’re very optimistic,” said Beaulieu. “Looking at what we’ve seen already this year, it should be fine. In 2013, Christmas was late and customers always seem to come in late, but we try and do events that get shoppers in before that final week. We’re going to be consistent with our message and hope that people remember us through the barrage of advertising from the larger brands.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - September 2014. To subscribe click here.

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Tags: Lara Ewen