Independents

Strong Start Has Jewelers Hopeful for the Holidays

IndependentsDec 03, 2020

Strong Start Has Jewelers Hopeful for the Holidays

See what the 12 independent jewelers interviewed by National Jeweler had to say about Thanksgiving weekend sales, their bestsellers and how the pandemic has changed their businesses.

New York—This week, National Jeweler contacted a dozen retailers spread across five regions of the United States to ask them, how is the holiday season going so far?

The independent jewelers gave generously of their time to tell our editors about their bestsellers, foot traffic, online browsing leading to quick in-store buying, health and safety measures, and how COVID-19 has changed their businesses, possibly permanently.

Read on to learn more about what they had to say.

Northeast: An Early Rush

All three retailers with stores in the Northeastern U.S. say Christmas has come early this year and they’re optimistic about the season ahead, with money not being spent on travel or eating out hopefully funneled to fine jewelry.

Jewelers in Boston, suburban New York City and Erie, Pennsylvania all report strong sales on Black Friday—not usually a busy day for buying fine jewelry—and the following day, Small Business Saturday.

They all attribute their early-in-the-season success to uncertainty.

Consumers aren’t sure what the rest of the holiday season might bring in terms of COVID-19 numbers spiking and lockdown orders being reissued—not to mention potential shipping delays with so many people shopping online this year—so they want to buy their gifts now.

“Especially in New York, there’s a sense that everyone doesn’t know if we’re going to be shut down. The clients who are out and about are interested in being a little more organized,” says Dawn Hendricks, owner of Peridot Fine Jewelry in Larchmont, New York.

“I think that’s definitely on a lot of people’s minds: don’t wait too long.”

Anticipating clients might want to shop earlier this year, she pushed forward the publication of the store’s holiday lookbook and continues to put a lot of energy into her store’s website.

Hendricks says she’s always focused on her website, which is ultimately what enabled her store to survive the months-long shutdown in New York state earlier this year.

“In the past, people were a little more conservative with their money. Now, they’re unsure what the future holds and they want to say ‘I love you’ now.”
— Daniel Niebauer, Ralph Miller Jewelers & Gallery
Meanwhile, up in Boston, “We’re pretty bullish,” says Megan Flynn, who owns M. Flynn with sister Moria. “I think the consumer is feeling a lot of pressure to do this early (shop) because they don’t know what’s coming.”

Like Peridot in New York, M. Flynn
is coming off a strong Black Friday weekend, where a promotion on an earring style the store makes in-house got their customers excited. (Earrings were strong sellers for both Peridot and M. Flynn, which is understandable given the amount of time we all now spend on video-conferencing platforms like Zoom.)

Megan says her store has pivoted to appointment-only because of the pandemic, a change the store might make permanent. Appointments feel more secure, she says, and attract serious shoppers for whom they can be completely prepared.

M. Flynn also made another change it’s considering keeping after the pandemic subsides.

Megan and Moria opened up a pop-up in the empty warehouse space next to the store that functions strictly for order pick-up. Megan says many of her customers are parents who are now homeschooling their children on top of working full time so they want to be able to just drive by and pick it up.

“We think that might be a very good thing for us to have going forward,” she says.

In Erie, Pennsylvania, Ralph Miller Jewelers & Gallery had “probably one of the best shop-small Saturdays and Black Fridays we’ve ever had,” says Vice President of Operations Daniel Niebauer.

Customers who visited the store mainly purchased larger-ticket items—big diamond bracelets and earrings.

“In the past, people were a little more conservative with their money. Now, they’re unsure what the future holds and they want to say ‘I love you’ now,” he says.

Ralph Miller Jewelers actually has been filing custom orders for Christmas since the end of June, for the same reason all three jewelers think they had such a strong sales over the weekend.

“Panic,” Niebauer puts it simply. “A lot of people were thinking ahead, at least in our neck of the woods.”

Southeast: A Strong Start

The Thanksgiving weekend was a good one for Beré Jewelers in Pensacola, Florida, which topped its sales performance from 2019, according to Barry Cole.

Cole attributes the success of the weekend in part to the store’s continued marketing efforts throughout the pandemic—a time when, he believes, many small businesses pulled back—keeping Beré front of mind, especially when holiday shopping started.

While the store didn’t do any marketing for Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday, it did offer a few Black Friday deals that brought in shoppers, like Pandora at 75 percent off (the retailer is closing its business with the company) and 20 percent off almost all other merchandise.

Cole says the sale brought in a “decent amount” of bridal customers who weren’t getting married until later in 2021 but wanted to take advantage of the deal.

The holiday weekend was also popular for yellow gold, custom orders, watches—Breitling did well and Omega was “on fire,” Cole says—and Freida Rothman jewelry for price-point driven purchases.

He says he is optimistic about the remainder of the season.

“What we found throughout all the other holidays and occasions (this year) is that people will wait and wait and then at the last minute say, ‘OK, we’re going to go shop.’”
 “While it is a challenge to provide extraordinary service online as well as in the store, it is our charge. We feel the success of the future depends on it.”
— Rhett Outten, Croghan’s Jewel Box
Carreras Jewelers in Richmond, Virginia decided several years ago to close on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, since the latter is usually about deeply discounted electronics and the like.

This year, the store was only open the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Saturday after, and those two days did a little better for the store in terms of sales, General Manager Tami Toms tells National Jeweler.

She notes several of the sales during those two days were pick-ups that had been in the works for several weeks.

When asked what consumers were buying, she added that there didn’t seem to be any specific styles or price points trending, with shopping across the board.

While many articles on retail this year have talked about the boom in online spending during the pandemic, Toms says for Carreras Jewelers, spending remains largely in store.

However, the retailer is encouraging customers to make appointments to make them feel like they’re getting a private showing and to indicate Carreras is trying to keep in-store crowds to a minimum.

While the jeweler hasn’t had to turn away anyone who has walked in, encouraging appointments has better allowed for social distancing in the store.

Croghan’s Jewel Box, meanwhile, is currently open by appointment only.

So, the team at the Charleston, South Carolina store is “very happy that we were able to come within a few thousand dollars of last year’s sales for the weekend,” Rhett Outten tells National Jeweler, especially since the store was not “overwhelmingly crowded” over the weekend, as it has been in years past.

Croghan’s is also seeing “exciting growth” on its website.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the store added a chat button to the site as well as AfterPay to allow for an installment payment plan option. The store also added curbside service and local delivery added as options this year.

Outten says that though e-commerce business remains a small part of overall revenue, 90 percent of customers who walk into the store or contact it have been on the website and are ready to buy. That is especially true this year, when customers are planning ahead of time for efficiency.

“Having a good website and social media presence is crucial in helping the customer be prepared. They can preview you online and have a good idea of price range and product. This pre-shopping goes a long way in keeping our staff and customers safe.”

Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Outten says she expects a strong final push for 2020.

“It is all about personal service and providing something that Amazon cannot,” she says. “We are a high- touch industry and while it is a challenge to provide extraordinary service online as well as in the store, it is our charge. We feel the success of the future depends on it.”

Midwest: Hopeful Start to the Holidays

In Minnesota, R.F. Moeller Jewelers saw foot traffic over the holiday weekend decline significantly across its two locations.

Small Business Saturday didn’t do much to bolster those numbers, but the weekend wasn’t a wash.

“People that come in are buyers,” says President Bob Moeller. “Generally, the average ticket is higher.”

Moeller expects to surpass last holiday season’s sales, but doesn’t foresee foot traffic improving.

When it comes to what customers are buying, Moeller says the communities where its stores are located are conservative. They gravitate toward classic pieces, especially watches and diamonds.

A few colored stone pieces have also found buyers recently.

Inventory availability has been an issue, he notes, particularly in the watch department.
“I was on fire as far as June, July, August, September.”
— Jeffery Broestl, Broestl & Wallis Fine Jewelers
In Lakewood, Ohio, Jeffery Broestl of Broestl & Wallis Fine Jewelers had a “very good” Small Business Saturday while Black Friday traffic was moderate.

“I was on fire as far as June, July, August, September,” says Broestl, noting a slowdown starting around October.

Broestl is looking toward the holiday season with optimism, but says he wouldn’t be surprised if sales are flat compared with last year.

He stocked up on colored stones for the holiday season, particularly sapphires, rubies and emeralds.

It may be the only way to compete with online sellers, says Broestl, so he’s trying to make that the store’s niche.

“You have to see color [in person],” he says.

South Central: Strong All Around

At David Gardner’s Jewelers & Gemologists in College Station, Texas, co-owner Julia Gardner says they are “very, very pleased with how things have gone since we were quarantined. We’re having a strong fall and are looking forward to a very good December.”

Per city and state guidelines, the store was shut for about six weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, and reopened May 1.

Despite any hesitation customers might have about visiting their favorite stores with COVID-19 ongoing, David Gardner’s is experiencing significant foot traffic, “fairly close” to the amount of years past.

“We’ll have busy days where every salesperson is busy and those of us not normally on the floor step in to help,” says Gardner.

Luckily, the store is big so social distancing is easy. Employees and customers wear masks and hand sanitizer is readily available.

She says they always follow state and local health and safety guidelines, and consult with other jewelry stores to provide the safest service possible.

Though the store has e-commerce, it has traditionally been a “miniscule percentage” of business and continues to be.

The Gardners have taken advantage of the vast number of webinars offered by the jewelry industry and other luxury sellers to prepare as best as possible for the holiday season in this unusual year.

“We really focused in on going deep on bestsellers,” she says of their resulting strategy, particularly “because of not getting things quickly due to COVID.”

So far, the strategy is paying off, with classic pieces—diamond earrings, diamond necklaces, tennis bracelets, watches—continuing to fly off the shelves.

“We haven’t seen any significant drop in any category,” she notes.

David Gardner’s custom work is well-known in the College Station community, and the store is seeing a high demand for his pieces this holiday season as well.
 “I know the car dealers and boat dealers and four-wheeler sellers have run out of product. At least we can order more.”
— Kelly Newton, Newton’s Jewelers
Kelly Newton of Newton’s Jewelers in Fort Smith, Arkansas has been having such a solid 2020 he almost feels guilty for it.

“It’s bizarre,” he tells National Jeweler, particularly as friends of his, other local business owners, struggle to make ends meet. “There are people here that have been hurt terribly in other businesses. It’s not so good for some people.”

Newton is a member of the American Gem Society, and, luckily, fellow AGS members he’s close with are also experiencing great business in 2020. “They’re all pretty darn busy,” he says.

He attributes this to folks who would typically be traveling, going on luxurious vacations and eating out cutting back on those activities because of the pandemic, instead turning to jewelry to brighten up their year as they remain “captive in their own residence.”

“[Customers] need something to make them or their husband or wife feel good.”

A few other industries beyond jewelry are benefitting from this, Newton notes.

“I know the car dealers and boat dealers and four-wheeler sellers have run out of product. At least we can order more.”

The week leading up to Thanksgiving was “crazy,” and even weeks prior have been really busy, with more foot traffic than this time last year. He said the store’s business has doubled every month since April.

The store closed in March due to the pandemic and Newton and his team rebuilt their in-store custom shop in stainless steel, “something we always wanted to do but didn’t have time for,” he explains.

Newton’s Jewelers did curbside pick-ups and special appointments complying with local and state guidelines until it was allowed to reopen.

Now, the staff has limited their two-entrance store to one so they can control the flow of traffic and make sure customers enter wearing masks or offer them one at the door.

Newton’s Jewelers has also upped the sanitizing, cleaning every item a customer tries on and cleaning each section after a customer leaves. It even hired an outside service to professionally clean out the store’s ductwork when it was closed.

Newton says the store is also building out e-commerce, though it’s not live yet. But no matter; customers are snapping up Rolex watches and pieces of Forevermark diamond jewelry at a clip.

“The bridal business has gone crazy,” he says, but no category is falling behind. Each simply has expanded.

To keep up with the holiday pace, Newton is having to push certain services until January, when he hopes to hire one or two additional staff members.

West: Resilience Is the Word

One business that was well positioned to switch its focus to e-commerce in 2020 is Fountain Hills, Arizona’s Sami Fine Jewelry.

CEO Stephenie Bjorkman has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to omnichannel retail, creating a website at least two decades ago and launching e-commerce about eight years ago.

But it’s only been in the last three years that she’s tried to treat selling online as “opening a second store.”

Because of this, “we were way ahead of pushing our online presence,” she says. “We’re really lucky on that end because we’re busy in store and online.”

She has two employees who work on the e-commerce site and social media “pretty close to full time,” from advertising to shipping out the online orders.

There’s been a learning curve in that aspect of the business, but Sami Fine Jewelry was on the right side of it when COVID-19 struck.

For example, Bjorkman has learned that you can’t just outsource your social media or website needs; to be successful she has to be heavily involved so it reflects the Sami Fine Jewelry brand.

Success with e-commerce is “more than spending money on Google AdWords, you have to post every day on social media, write blogs, change your product, post pictures of jewelry at different angles,” she says.

“There’s definitely a formula and we’ve been doing it right for a long time, but it took time to gain traction. I don’t think you can suddenly decide to sell online [and be successful], it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Another major investment in building up the online sales? The time required to engage with people virtually, paying customers just as much attention as you would in-store.

“You have to be patient, kind, responsive. It’s a lot of work selling online. To some degree you have to sit there and do it the hard way, $50 at a time. Something is better than nothing but if we have $3,000 to $5,000 a day in web sales that keeps us open.”

But that means answering questions, through messaging on social platforms and through the website, constantly.

Some are basic questions, a result of customers not reading the written details about a piece of jewelry, or asking for images at various angles. Others are the results of today’s educated consumer asking where specific materials were sourced.

A common frustration online is answering questions about a hypothetical custom piece that would cost upward of $2,000, only to find out the client has a budget of $100.

Bjorkman advises fellow retailers to be patient and be kind. “Don’t get in any Facebook fights,” she says.
“If they close us, we will keep shipping. We’ll do what we can to just survive right now.”
— Stephenie Bjorkman, Sami Fine Jewelry
Her diligence is paying off. The Tuesday after Thanksgiving, for example, the store shipped out 25 packages. By noon that Wednesday, it was already wrapping up six more orders.

The store closed because of the pandemic earlier in the year, though, “we never quit working,” says Bjorkman.

Employees communicated with their top customers (sending thank-you notes with a couple of pieces of toilet paper for comic relief), fulfilled online orders and offered curbside pick-ups and by-appointment-only services.

Still, the store lost a ton of business at the time and have been trying to make up for it ever since.

With business going well now, Bjorkman’s fear is Arizona shutting down businesses again.

“I think they are going to right before or after Christmas,” she surmises. “Right now I’m just hoping to stay alive as long as possible and ship packages and get people handled. If they close us, we will keep shipping. We’ll do what we can to just survive right now.”

This year has been a mixed bag for Steve Goldfarb of Alvin Goldfarb Jeweler in Seattle as well.

Goldfarb says they store is “nice and busy” right now. “Even in this unusual year people are thinking about the holidays.”

Seattle weather was dismal in early November, but the last two weeks were “cold, but beautiful” (read: not too rainy) ushering in a bit more foot traffic, which Goldfarb called “good but not monumental.”

The busiest time for the store always begins around mid-December, and Goldfarb is optimistic about how sales will pan out as shoppers come by this month.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask what could they do to help and we said, tongue-in-cheek, but we meant it: Don’t help us sweep up the broken glass; make us part of your holiday season. If you want to help us, let us know how we can help you. People seem to be responding to that.”
— Steve Goldfarb, Alvin Goldfarb Jeweler
The spring proved difficult for most retail, with Seattle jewelers shut down from mid-March to June 1, but it was particularly rocky for Alvin Goldfarb Jeweler.

As protests in response to George Floyd’s death in police custody gripped the nation, looters targeted the store.

Looting happened at night when merchandise was stored away securely, but it took weeks for Goldfarb to be able to reopen after installing new doors, windows and showcases, as everything had been destroyed.

“My customers have been very supportive,” Goldfarb says.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask what could they do to help and we said, tongue-in-cheek, but we meant it: Don’t help us sweep up the broken glass; make us part of your holiday season. If you want to help us, let us know how we can help you. People seem to be responding to that.”

Upon reopening, the store had a good summer and a good fall.

Staff members wear masks and ask clients to do the same. They occasionally ask customers to wait to enter the store until someone has left, so as not to overcrowd. Rather than hinder shopping, “it makes customers more comfortable,” Goldfarb says.

The staff cleans about twice as much as they used to, to keep the environment sanitary.

Employees also now have company cell phones so they can walk around the store showing clients jewelry on FaceTime, which Goldfarb says is more efficient than pulling jewelry from the showcases and going to the back to do a Zoom call.

While the window for custom orders before Christmas is shrinking, the store is stocked with lots of customer favorites—watches, Roberto Coin jewelry and all manner of stud earrings.

“There’s no question that stud earrings are a lot easier to wear than hoop earrings with a mask,” Goldfarb says. “It doesn’t have to be a simple stud, but any style that’s not easily tangled in a mask is popular.”

With what are traditionally the busiest shopping days for the company, roughly Dec. 10-14, fast approaching, Goldfarb will soon know how successful the 2020 holiday season is.

He’s “hoping to finish the year strong.”
Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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