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US Retail Keeping Up Steady Momentum

Store owners are enjoying the influx of business, which is persisting even after the return of travel spending and other experiential purchases.

Aug 19, 2021 5:11 AM   By Lara Ewen
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Jewelry retailers across the country have been reporting record traffic and sales numbers. Even with restaurants and travel destinations reopening, store owners said consumers were still spending, with no signs of stopping. Engagement, bridal and repairs made up most of the business, while smaller celebrations such as graduations had little impact. There may be a slowdown by the end of the year, but in the meantime, jewelers seemed happy to be overwhelmed with work.

Busier than ever

There’s been no shortage of customers this summer, store owners said.

“We’ve been very, very busy,” reported Judith Arnell, owner of Judith Arnell Jewelers, which has stores in Portland, Oregon, and Chicago, Illinois. “More than I can handle, almost. I can’t keep up.”

Others echoed that sentiment. “Summer has been crazy,” said Ted Koester, owner of Herzog Jewelers in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. “It’s been insanely busy. Everyone who owns a jewelry store feels the same way.” The reopening of various locales “hasn’t slowed anything down,” he added. “None of us knows why traffic has been so busy.”

Some owners appeared to be pleasantly surprised at their good fortune.

“Business is still really good,” said Joe Strong, co-owner of Waterfall Jewelers, which has two locations in the Detroit, Michigan, area. “We’ve been waiting for it to slow down, but it hasn’t.”

With experiences starting to compete again for customer dollars, that might change, he continued. “Our real competition is sporting destinations, restaurants, and travel destinations. So now that everything is opening up, we’re expecting a little slowdown. But that hasn’t happened yet. Traffic has been insane. We’ve been busy every day since last July [2020].”

Where the customers are

After 49 years in business, many of Arnell’s current shoppers are repeat customers looking for anniversary gifts, or the next generation buying engagement jewelry.

“It’s all by referral,” she said. “I’m social, and I belong to a lot of clubs. People know who I am, and a lot of my customers are the kids of my customers. A lot of my business is third-generation.”

Digital outreach has also helped her expand her clientele, she continued. “Occasionally, people find me through my website and through insurance replacements, which brings people in the door. And I do a lot of custom work and remodels.”

Other stores have seen new shoppers showing up. “We’ve been redoing our website for the last seven months, but we haven’t done a lot of advertising. And we’re still getting new customers,” said Strong. “I don’t know where they’re coming from.” He said services were a big part of his business. “We’re still doing repairs — so much that it’s overwhelming our jewelers. People are doing home improvements and outdoor gardening, and it abuses their jewelry.”

What they’re buying – and not buying

Customers are spending money on “a little bit of everything,” reported Koester, and that wide range has affected services. “[This year] has not been about a certain category, even for repairs. Everything from sizing and prongs to broken clasps,” he observed. “And people are getting engaged, and wedding bands are strong.”

Not everything did well, though. “Graduation season has always been nonexistent,” Koester said.

Arnell agreed that the graduation business was nominal. “Sometimes, with graduation, they get an inexpensive gift. I think I did a couple of little gifts, like $200 or $300 necklaces. But it’s mostly like Valentine’s Day: nothing.”

Looking ahead

Overall, retailers were grateful for the influx of sales, no matter how long it was likely to last.

“I sure hope I stay busy as we come out of the pandemic,” said Arnell. “I didn’t ever really slow down, even during the pandemic, when I was working basically alone. I am so grateful that my customers are so loyal to me.”

Koester said he was bracing for change. “It might slow down around Christmastime. I think for the fourth quarter, people will spend more on travel. And there might be inflation, and [the] market has to correct.”

Strong, meanwhile, hoped the momentum would carry on into fall and beyond. “We’ll continue having a record year. But is it still going to be great, or will it settle down to pre-pandemic business? That would still be good. But also, this is crazy.”

This article was first published in the August 2021 issue of Rapaport Magazine.

Image: A woman selecting rings in a jewelry store. (Shutterstock).
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Tags: Jewelry, Lara Ewen, retail, US
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