Rapaport Magazine

U.S. Retail

By Lara Ewen
Coping With The New Retail Reality

As the weather cooled, retailers spent the fall days preparing for the coming holiday season. Some stores were opening new brick-and-mortar locations and refining their online presence, while others were trying to gauge how to accommodate a shopping season that has become increasingly erratic and unpredictable. Buyers mentioned stocking more affordable metals and unusual engagement pieces, such as rings featuring sapphires or rose gold, in order to drive customer interest and bring in more traffic.
   However, with Black Friday — the official start of the holiday shopping season — coming on November 28, especially late this year, as it did in 2013, retailers were concerned that there would be more last-minute shoppers than usual. And they were mentally steeling themselves for the inevitable stress that would bring.

New and Improved
   Fears over the economy have mostly abated, and store owners are adjusting to what they see as the new reality of doing business. In Brooklyn, New York, Tara Silberberg, co-owner of The Clay Pot, said that business has been good in 2014, but not great. “Business isn’t up, but it’s stable,” she said. “I feel like there are parts of our business that are down. We’re getting fewer bodies in, so we’re opening another location in December to increase overall traffic.”
   At Sissy’s Log Cabin, Bill Jones, president, is also planning to open a new store in Memphis, Tennessee, in mid-October. This will be the company’s first out-of-state store added to the current roster of three doors in Arkansas. “Business in 2014 has been good and steady,” said Jones. “It’s been better than 2013 by 5 percent or 10 percent, but it’s also changed so much, with new stores and new growth. I think we are for sure seeing stabilization in the economy. And when you go through some tough times, like the past five or six years, it’s a slow curve down and a slow turn up.”

Holidays on the Horizon
   The year-end holidays bring with them a mixture of excitement and anxiety as stores prepare for a busy sales season while bracing for the possibility of a slow start. “I’m thinking the holiday is going to be very good, although we are approaching it with much caution,” said Eric Wagner, co-owner of Showcase Jewelers, with three stores in Kansas. “2014 seems to be a year where we have some months that are even or up over 2013, but the months that are down seem to be really down. For the rest of 2014, I’d say I’m overly anxious to know what Christmas will be. Seems like this year the holiday might be the part of the year that makes or breaks the year for us.”
   Holiday sales are also a huge part of the year for Patrick Larkin, manager of Burri Jewelers in Cheyenne, Wyoming. “I think every year, with everyone, we’re hoping that we’re going to do a lot,” he said. “Christmas and February are a large part of our total annual. But for the past few years, it’s started slow and then ends crazy. It’s just odd. It’s the final two weeks that are the busiest, which to me is just panic-shopping.”

Men Show Up Late
   The lion’s share of last-minute holiday shopping is by men, according to most store owners. “Christmas is huge,” said Silberberg. “We make, like, a quarter of our annual money in ten days of business, and we have a huge gift business. It’s pretty much all women until December 22, and then it’s all men. Christmas Eve is all guys. They say, ‘Oh my G-d, I need a present. Oh my G-d, there’s only this left. Oh my G-d, I have to get it.’ They often get the things that are more expensive, because they get desperate.”
   Russ Varon, co-owner of Morgan’s Jewelers, with two stores in Southern California, agreed that Christmas can be stressful. “Holiday 2013 was okay because I ran a huge sale but, since 2009, holiday hasn’t been great,” he said. “We always have a holiday sale, and guys always shop the last three or four days. So we’ll be up overall by the end of this year, but I think it’ll be a struggle.”
   Even stores that anticipate strong holiday sales were cautious. “I’m hoping holiday is going to be very good,” said Jones. “But 2013 started out weird. And the holidays either start off strong and end slow, or start off slow and end strong, because you only have so many consumers who will shop for Christmas. I think this year is going to start off slow, but December will be crazy.”

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

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