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Holiday Season Off to a Strong Start, Jewelers Say
A dozen retailers shared with National Jeweler their weekend results, thoughts on the election and predictions for the holiday season ahead.
New York--Ask almost any independent jeweler and they’ll tell you the same thing: Black Friday is not traditionally a day on which they do big business.
It’s a day that’s more about bargain hunters flooding the big-box stores to get steep discounts on big TVs, the latest electronic gadgets or hot toys for the holiday season.
Still, it’s a good time to stop and take stock.
How is the holiday season shaping up, and how are jewelers feeling about it this year, particularly following such a contentious election?
Read on to see jewelers’ comments, broken down by region.
Northeast: ‘Small Business Saturday’ Boost
Steve Duvarney of Duvarney Jewelers in Fitchburg, Massachusetts said that both foot traffic and sales were about the same as last year’s Thanksgiving weekend.
He told National Jeweler that they always have a little bit more traffic come in on Saturday, especially as Small Business Saturday gains in popularity, and he expects it to continue to play more of a role in the future for independents. This year, the local chamber of commerce also got active in promoting it for the community.
Over the shopping weekend, Duvarney Jewelers got a good cross-section of shoppers, he said, from those who were looking to have something special made for the holidays to those looking for smaller items.
As for whether or not the election has affected sales or will affect the rest of the holiday season, Duvarney said that’s a “wild card.”
“I really don’t have a good guess. I think there’s something to be said for the election being over, whether or not you agree with the results,” he said, adding that he thinks many customers are just happy to be moving on and getting into their holiday shopping.
Looking forward to the remainder of the holiday season, Duvarney said he’s optimistic about the rest of the year and that he’s targeting a 5 percent sales gain over last year’s numbers.
He will try to achieve this through a little more direct mailing to the store’s customer base and more of a focus on social media.
In Brattleboro, Vermont, Evan James Deutsch said that foot traffic and sales were mostly the same as last year, with poor weather and a “gloomy weekend” preventing people from strolling the streets.
This might have been slightly offset, though, by a push on the store’s Facebook and Instagram accounts for Small Business Saturday.
According to Deutsch, the election cycle has “definitely affected” traffic, reporting that it has been down for the last four to six weeks, but doesn’t know how the results or the fact that it’s over will influence things for the rest of the year.
“I think we’ll have to wait until after (Trump) is in office to see what’ll happen one way or another.”
Still, Deutsch said he feels good about how the rest of the season will go. This year, they’re stocking more lower-priced inventory, especially in the $300 to $500 range, to be able to accommodate more customers.
Southeast: Better Than Last Year
Down in Georgia, Marc Jacobson of Cumberland Diamond Exchange said that even though traffic was about the same as last year, sales were more than double what they were in 2015.
Jacobson said that people were spending and the store was able to make some big sales, which, combined with being open on the Sunday following Thanksgiving for the first time, made for a strong weekend.
Small Business Saturday also did play something of a role in the store’s good Thanksgiving weekend, with Cumberland getting a few first-time clients that day who told the store that they would much rather shop small independents than the big-box retailers.
The store also received the prestigious “Jeweler of the Year” award from the 24 Karat Club Southeastern United States and the 2015 Small Business of the Year from the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, and still is seeing some momentum from those awards, he said.
Jacobson said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the season ahead. Even though he acknowledged that that those two words get thrown around a lot, he said it’s still the best way to describe how he’s feeling right now. People are spending and the stock market is high, and as long as the store can stay focused, keep track of the traffic flow and sales and accommodate every customer, they can do well.
Steve Allen of Allen’s Jewelers in Albany, Georgia, also reported a strong start to the holiday season, seeing both traffic and sales do “much better” this year.
But even though the store tried pushing for Small Business Saturday, including a 30-percent-off promotion, they didn’t see much turnout for it. Instead, Black Friday, which doesn’t usually do that well for them, turned out to be the best day.
While he doesn’t know why that is, he said they ran the gamut on prices for pieces sold, from smaller jewelry all the way to a $39,000 engagement ring.
But the strong business over the Thanksgiving weekend wasn’t a sudden uptick for the store; rather, business has been up since the election was over, Allen said, and he thinks that may have something to do with the results.
“I think, from what I can tell, everybody thinks a business man in office means business will be better for everyone.”
For the overall holiday season, he said he expects the store to be up in sales as people feel more comfortable spending. This year, they’re going to put more focus on social media to boost their internet presence.
Midwest: Michigan vs. Ohio
Black Friday was a good day for both Randy Cole in Troy, Michigan and Jeffrey Mann in Toledo, Ohio but slowed down on Saturday for the same reason: the big game between Michigan and Ohio State, which kicked off at noon.
Still, Cole, who owns the Diamond Vault of Troy, said they had “tremendous” sales Friday, with their engagement ring business continuing to be strong just as gifting season starts.
He attributed the store’s success with bridal to word-of-mouth marketing, mainly in the form of online reviews on sites like Google, The Knot and Yelp.
Customers, particularly millennial customers, come in, have a great experience, and let others know about it via the internet.
“We work hard all day every day for the customer,” Cole said.
He also noted that, “I think the holiday season is going to be a great season, because it’s already started to be a great season.”
Mann said he expects his store as well as the overall jewelry industry to have a strong holiday season, and he has his eye on making one sale in particular: the 16-carat $1 million Forevermark diamond that comes with a “free” Mercedes-Benz.
Though Mann said Monday he hasn’t sold that million-dollar diamond yet, he does have one prospect.
South Central: Not Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket
Both Susan Eisen, who owns a jewelry store in El Paso, Texas, and Craig Underwood of Underwood’s Fine Jewelers in Fayetteville, Arkansas said they had a solid weekend.
For Eisen, the key to success was, and is, diversification.
Her eponymous store does gold buying consignment, appraisals, repairs and custom work, and currently has an exhibition featuring reproductions of the jewelry worn by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
She said the exhibition has drawn in potential customers because “it’s something different.”
“You have to do lots of things. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket with everything changing as it is,” Eisen said.
Both Eisen and Underwood expressed the same sentiment about the now-concluded presidential election: It made their customers hesitant to spend and slowed business, particularly in October and early November.
But that feeling is easing now and they expect some pent-up demand to show itself come December.
As Underwood put it, “The election made a lot of people nervous, and we feel that as retailers.”
But, now, he said he’s very optimistic about the holiday season ahead, noting, “There’s a lot of pent-up demand.”
West: A Couple Bright Spots
Across the western half of the nation, jewelers reported a fairly slow post-Thanksgiving sales weekend, with bright spots.
Steve Goldfarb of Alvin Goldfarb Jeweler in Bellevue, Washington, near Seattle, said that, despite not offering any Black Friday or Small Business Saturday deals, Friday boasted good traffic and sales across multiple categories, including watches, and even repairs.
Goldfarb said Saturday was “disappointing” compared to Friday, though he remains optimistic about the holiday season at large.
“I’ve been relatively accurate in my predictions this year,” he said, “and I’m still optimistic for the holiday season.”
In Colorado Springs, Colorado, Dale Bierfeldt of D. Bierfeldt Master Jeweler said that the week of Thanksgiving is so slow that he closes down for business entirely. He noted that the month of October was “very strong” and November was positive as well.
Mike Butterfield, president of Butterfield Jewelers in Albuquerque, New Mexico explained that he faces severe challenges this holiday season due to going-out-of-business sales from jewelry stores in the area, particularly from one jeweler who is offering discounts of up to 60 percent off.
“The amount of discounting on the independent side is pretty out of hand right now,” said Butterfield.
He said that this holiday weekend was “no different from any other holiday weekend…kind of slow.”
However, Butterfield also noted that his store has endured such challenges many times in the past.
One jeweler found success via her creative approach to a holiday event: a super-popular ladies’ night.
Stephenie Bjorkman, the CEO of Sami Fine Jewelry in Fountain Hills, Arizona, has been hosting the ladies’ night event for 15 years.
It’s proved to be so popular that Bjorkman has stopped holding the event on a weekend night, opting to host it on the Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving when fewer people can make it.
Instead of simply offering a deal, Bjorkman invites customers and their girlfriends for a night of “client pampering” that includes free hair and make-up services, psychic readings, appetizers and jewelry giveaways.
Bjorkman said that last Tuesday sales reached $25,000, with an additional transaction that originated at ladies’ night bringing in $12,000 the following day.
This made up for post-Thanksgiving weekend sales, which were “decent but nothing to write home about,” according to Bjorkman.
She also noted the importance of garnering in-store traffic right at the start of the holidays, as many customers pick out items for their personal wish lists as well as gifts they will buy when the holidays get closer.
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