Rapaport Magazine

U.S. Retail

By Lara Ewen
Business on the Uptick

With the year half over and the JCK/Luxury/Couture shows in Las Vegas in the rearview mirror, retailers took stock of both their inventories and their expectations and seemed fairly optimistic about both. While attendance numbers for the shows were up slightly, with post-show reports indicating a nominal 4 percent increase over 2014, some buyers still reported that the size of the events continued to make navigation difficult. Other buyers chose to stay away from Vegas completely, relying on a tried-and-true mix of merchandise rather than testing reinvigorated consumer confidence with something new. But whether retailers went to the shows or not, their mood was generally upbeat, which boded well for the months ahead.

The Year So Far
   Although 2015 got off to a rocky start, stores noted a late-spring upward tick in their bottom lines. “2015 has been a little up and down, but year to date, our fine jewelry business is up in the low single digits ahead of 2014,” said Wm. Mark Michaels, chief executive officer (CEO) of Michaels Jewelers, with ten locations in Connecticut and an additional ten stand-alone PANDORA stores in five states. “Most of that gain is coming from the bridal category. I think we’re taking market share away from our competition, because there’s no economic growth in Connecticut.”
   In Washington, D.C., Ken Stein, owner of Bensons Jewelers, saw similar trends. “Business is okay,” he said. “We have had some ups and down for sure. And I see myself selling more wedding bands. But it’s better and I think people are opening their wallets a little more.”
   Judith Arnell, owner of Judith Arnell Jewelers in Portland, Oregon, agreed. “2015 is a little bit better than 2014 and it’s improving from the low,” she said. “The economy is getting better in Portland and we’re probably the last to improve. I think in general there’s more spending.”

A Welcome Change
   That said, some stores are seeing their business improving by leaps and bounds. “2015 is better than 2014 and we had the best flipping January we’ve ever had,” said Mindi Robuck, co-owner of Michael’s Jewelers in Anchorage, Alaska. “It was so busy. And our May was like that also. We doubled the month, year on year. And we’re not a tourist store. We’ve just had great results with word of mouth.”
   For stores that had a tough time at the end of 2014, the past few months have been especially welcome. “Business has been very good and steady and improving by the month,” said Bernie Butterfield, owner of Butterfield Jewelers, with two stores in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “We had a fairly decent 2014, but at the end of it, people stopped coming in. But this year, we’ve seen a lot of old faces that we hadn’t seen in years. They’re coming back now, and we’re selling diamonds again.”

The Show Reviews
   Since business was doing well, retailers turned their attention to inventory to ensure that their supplies would meet the expected demands. For some, that meant attending the shows in Vegas to see what new trends might be on the horizon. However, that did not always mean making actual buying decisions.
   “Our company practice has always been to utilize any trade show to get a pulse on the market and trends and to interact with suppliers,” said Michaels. “The trend is not always based on business, but also on what categories are growing. We want to see if there’s any new magic bullet, like PANDORA or Alex and Ani or the heartbeat pendant. If all the majors pick up on it, we watch that very closely. But we do very little physical buying at the show.”
   Arnell also goes to trend-spot. “I go to Las Vegas every year,” she said. “There are vendors I use that don’t travel anymore, and I want to go and see them so I can restock for the year, and I like to see the trends.”
   Not all retailers find the annual events appealing. “I have not been to Vegas in many a year,” said Stein. “It’s too big and I get overwhelmed and I buy too much. It’s exhilaratingly exhausting. You have to see your friends and then you don’t see anybody new.”
   For Robuck, the shows just don’t offer anything she needs. “We haven’t been to Vegas since 2010, she said. “But that’s because we’re not looking for anything new and our store is only so big.”
   For those who do attend the shows, though, the biggest issue is always the same. They’re just too big. “What’s most challenging is the size of the show and the navigation,” said Michaels. “They’ve made some substantive improvements, but I think they need to bring the fifth day back. You waste so much time walking from point a to point b.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - July 2015. To subscribe click here.

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