National Jeweler Network

Retail Surveys

Weekend storm slows sales for some

By Brecken Branstrator and Michelle Graff

December 09, 2013


New York--The winter storm dubbed Dion has been making its way across the country since late last week, dumping a mix of snow and ice on a number of states and interfering with any shopping that wasn’t taking place online.

Retailers in some parts of the country tell National Jeweler that the storm disrupted what otherwise, they hoped, would have been a busy pre-holiday weekend.

Those without weather-related issues, however, say sales continued to be strong. Diamonds are doing well this holiday season, with more than one retailer reporting success with De Beers’ branded stone, the Forevermark.

National Jeweler publishes a weekly holiday sales roundup every Monday throughout the holiday season. The roundups encompass interviews with independent retailers in five regions: the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, South Central and West.

Read on for a brief report from each region.

NORTHEAST
The weekend was “strong” at David Craig Jewelers in Langhorne, Pa., store President David Rotenberg said Monday morning, with diamond fashion jewelry performing well.

“I would say purchasing was strong, traffic was OK. We are double digits ahead of last year, maybe triple digits ahead,” he says.

Natural color diamond bracelets, diamond necklaces and diamond pendants were the top sellers, with customers spending $2,000 or more on diamond fashion pieces.

“Last year I did well with diamonds but it was sort of a last-minute push. This time last year we were into the $500 and under sale, and I’m happy to report that at this time this year I don’t think we’re selling anything (at that price point). It’s at a couple of thousand and up, for the most part,” he says.

Overall, Rotenberg says customers have been spending an average of $1,000 and up and while bridal wasn’t a particularly strong category over the weekend, he did sell a few rings last week.

“We’re a Forevermark dealer, so we’ve really gotten behind that brand and it’s working for us,” he says.

Promotion-wise, Rotenberg says he did Forevermark, Heather B. Moore and Anzie events prior to the holiday shopping season kick-off in October and November, as well as a Black Friday promotion on certain sterling silver and watch lines that either gave 50 percent off or a gift certificate for a percentage off a diamond purchase.

“For that kind of promotion I sold very little. I think that kind of thing, dollars off or free gifts, (consumers) can get anywhere. It was nothing special, as much as a tried. But if we do promotions and offer something with quality and that’s meaningful then we get that higher- level consumer to come in,” Rotenberg says.

He adds, “At the end of the day I’m thinking the basic consumer is still out there, but they’re at the mall and the higher-level consumer is out there, but you have to give them something to come out for.”

Daniel Niebauer, vice president of operations at Ralph Miller Jewelers & Gallery in Erie, Pa. says he had a great weekend at his store.

Ralph Miller Jewelers participated in Erie’s holiday season tree-lighting celebration “Downtown d’Lights,” which took place Friday night. “We have a big gallery (in the store) where we featured artists like Greg Lee Carlson, a ceramics worker from Palm Springs, Calif., so we had lots and lots of traffic. We’re thinking close to 1,000 people came in on Friday alone,” Niebauer says.

Purchasing at the store was up this weekend from the same weekend last year, the jeweler says, with diamond pieces topping sales.

“Anything diamonds, anything to do with diamond fashion rings (sold),” Niebauer says. “We sold some pieces with birthstones and tanzanite this past week, and we’re trying to put some more earrings together today for that very reason.”

So far, it’s been a robust season at Ralph Miller Jewelers.

“We do four to five digits every day,” Niebauer says. “We had snow before and after Thanksgiving Day and it has put everyone in a festive mood in this part of the country.”

SOUTHEAST
Jim Rosenheim of Tiny Jewel Box in Washington says that even though the bad weather slowed down traffic and business on Friday, the company pulled through with a good Saturday, saying that about 180 people visited the story during the day.

“Our business is trending toward the high end,” Rosenheim says. “Diamonds, watches and yellow gold are all doing very well for us.”

He notes that the business’ silver sales are soft, and that the bridge jewelry area also has been soft over the past year. The higher-end is more than making up for it, though, as the retailer comes to the end of what Rosenheim calls its best year of business.

“November was the biggest growth month in our 84-year history. We had 70 percent growth year-over-year,” he says, adding that the company has seen an unusually large number of orders above the $50,000 price point during the last five or six months, a trend they expect to continue through December.

While Rolex and Jaeger-LeCoultre watches are performing well, Rosenheim notes that Shinola watches continue to sell out at the store. The watches are produced in Detroit, and the “made-in- America” point sells well among the D.C.-area customers.

In Florida, Jerry Gause of Gause & Son Jewelers reports that the weekend was slow. Traffic and sales were about even with this time last year, with both being “quiet.”

Gause says that silver sales have been relatively flat, and that the business sees more sales in gold and diamond jewelry and watches, with brands like Rolex and Roberto Coin performing well.

“The large sales, speaking of those $25,000 and up, are a little weak for us. It seems like people are shopping more for value than anything else right now,” Gause says.

Still, he says he is optimistic about the holiday season, as business at the store tends to pick up the week before the holiday.

“In Florida, everyone waits until the last seven days. It seems like it gets later every year. So we are still expecting a good Christmas. It’s just the anxiety of playing the waiting game,” Gause says.

MIDWEST
Saturday sales were “absolutely unbelievable” at Jeffrey Mann Fine Jewelers in Toledo, Ohio, starting from early in the morning. Owner Jeffrey Mann says they doubled the day’s sales from the same weekend last year.

“We were strong across the board. Every product category did reasonably well, and we had a lot of transactions in general. If that’s any indication, we think we’ll have a great holiday season,” he says.

Mann says that the positive traffic flow into the store reminded him of how it usually is in the days before Christmas.

The store was strong in the $7,500 to $20,000 price point range over the weekend, and Mann notes that the business had a lot of Forevermark activity, both in terms of requests for knowledge as well as sales.

Silver has done fairly well at the store, with the Lagos brand continuing to be a strong seller, though the category seems to be about on track with where it was at last year. Watch sales, particularly pieces from Breitling, have been strong as well.

“People were in a great mood. They seem to be comfortably buying these days,” Mann says.

James Alperin of James Alperin Jewelers in Pepper Pike, Ohio, however, says the weekend was average for the business, noting that it’s “not doing well, but not doing poorly either.”

It’s been a tough year for the business, Alperin says, but the holiday season has been going a little better than he was expecting. The store’s silver business is up, with a lot of silver and diamond pieces selling.

When it comes to buying silver, Alperin’s customers have been buying in two price brackets: above $1,000 or below $200.

“Lau International has been doing well because it gives a great look for little money,” he says, adding that the company’s bangle bracelets are top sellers.

SOUTH CENTRAL
Certain areas of the South Central United States felt the impact of the giant winter storm known as Dion over the weekend, a storm that brought a combination of snow, sleet and freezing rain to parts of the country ill-equipped to deal with such conditions and kept many shoppers indoors over the weekend.

Stanley Jewelers Gemologist in North Little Rock, Ark. was among those impacted, says Laura Stanley.

Dion dumped an inch-and-a-half of ice on North Little Rock beginning Thursday night and continuing through Friday morning. All store employees, save the jeweler who has a four-wheel drive vehicle, were unable to reach the shop Friday and Saturday, as were customers.

It was very quiet for a holiday weekend; they received only three messages on their answering machine during that entire span.

“This is the first time we’ve lost a weekend this close to Christmas so I don’t know what we are going to do exactly,” Stanley says.

She says she’s hopeful customers trapped inside over the weekend will just shift their shopping to this coming week, though she worries she might have lost business to the Internet. “That’s a concern. I was bored and I was on the computer. Why wouldn’t they be?” she asks.

Susan Eisen’s eponymous shop in El Paso, Texas was not in the path of the storm, and she says she had a steady weekend of sales, though she noticed one interesting trend.

Due to discounts being offered at nearby discount stores, including an outlet mall containing a major jewelry retailer, customers are asking for engagement rings priced at $3,000 or less. 

Eisen says she takes time to explain to the customers about why those rings are priced the way they are and the differences among diamond grading reports from various laboratories, as well as the added value of expertise her shop brings.

“When they come in with those prices, I am like, ‘What?’” she says. “I have to explain to each customer about pricing and quality.”

Outside of the customers asking for lower-cost engagement rings, Eisen says her customers continue to show interest in Forevermark, the diamond brand from De Beers.  “Forevermark diamonds are great. They diamonds are beautiful and customers really are interested in the story,” she says.

WEST
Hart Jewelers in Grants Pass, Ore. was another store impacted by the storm. Tom Hart says a combination of snow and ice forced them to leave early Friday and limited traffic on Saturday. (The store is not open on Sundays until the last couple weekends before Christmas.)

“It was a fairly quiet day but we did better business than I thought we would,” he says, adding that their part of Oregon is not prepared for such heavy snowfall and single-digit temperatures. “It was a fairly quiet weekend but we are optimistic.”

Noting that driving remains treacherous, he says he is hopeful the bad weather will encourage people to shop closer to home this season.

It also was a quiet weekend for Cheryl Burchell of Cheryl Burchell Goldsmiths in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. But that’s not unusual: she says she normally doesn’t get busier until closer to Christmas.

She adds that her store is not as dependent on Christmas as some other retailers due, in part, to the fact that many of their wealthier residents live there only in the summer. “It’s never like other stores,” Burchell says. “We don’t make our year that week.”

She does expect a boost in the week before Christmas and is hopeful the recent cold snap, which has kept temperatures below normal for two weeks, will break before then. Overall, they are “positive,” about the season, she says.

--Senior Editor Hannah Connorton contributed to this report.