Jewelers Report Having Their Best Holiday in Years

SurveysJan 04, 2017

Jewelers Report Having Their Best Holiday in Years

The 2016 season of merriment is officially behind us, leaving in its wake a trail of at least 11 jewelers who were happy with the outcome.

New York--Take down the tinsel; it’s all over.

The 2016 holiday season is officially behind us, leaving in its wake a trail of at least 11 jewelers who were happy with the outcome.

The retailers who talked with National Jeweler on Tuesday reported less price resistance, fewer procrastinators and big diamond sales.

Read on to see how your holiday results stack up against those of jewelers in your region.

Northeast: ‘Ready to Spend’
Roberto Chiappelloni at Manfredi Jewels in Greenwich, Connecticut said that although foot traffic was down a little bit this year, sales were up slightly when compared with the holiday season last year.

“Things kind of broke loose almost immediately after the election,” he told National Jeweler, reiterating what many jewelers have said. Many consumers, regardless of their feelings about the outcome, were just happy that it was over.

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That momentum seemed to carry through the entire season, with the store seeing that “people were ready to spend.”

The strong buying activity was going on up until right before Christmas Eve, which also coincided with the start of Hanukkah, and continued the next week as more people came in to exchange or upgrade their gifts.

“I feel great about this season,” Chiappelloni said.

Meanwhile, Daniel Niebauer said that both sales and traffic were up for Ralph Miller Jewelers & Gallery in Erie, Pennsylvania, also reporting that customers seemed to be comfortable buying again.

“This was the best year in about four years,” he said.

At Ralph Miller, the busiest part of the season was right after Thanksgiving and during the first week of December.

Niebauer said business tapered off a little toward the end due, he thinks, to the weekend timing of Christmas Eve.

Yet the week between Christmas and New Year’s was strong for the retailer, which does a lot of custom jewelry, as customers came in for repairs and resizing.

He said this year buyers were shopping for the look they wanted instead of the price they wanted, and also were returning from sterling silver to precious metals, even yellow gold.

“We had some marvelous large pieces sell this year, from diamond rings to large diamond earrings.”

Southeast: Fewer Big-Ticket Sales
Tiny Jewel Box in Washington, D.C. did not have a December that was as good as last year’s, but that was no surprise to the family who owns the retailer.

Chairman Jim Rosenheim said Tiny Jewel Box relocated to its new 8,000-square-foot space

late last year and had 1,500 people in the store the first four days they were open. The opening-days fervor led into an “incredible” December and subsequent 11 months.

“We’ve had a phenomenal year by any standards,” Rosenheim said.

While this December did not outdo last year, he said it was on par with their goal for the month, with strength in watch sales as well as designer jewelry and bridal.

There were fewer big-ticket items sold but the unit volume was there, he added.

At Gause & Son Jewelers in Ocala, Fla., Jerry Gause faced similar circumstances. The store was up against tough comps from December 2015, when it celebrated its 65th anniversary, and had a strong trailing 11 months.

Business slowed down in December, however, leading Gause to believe that his customers got their shopping done earlier this year.

Bridal and watch sales were off in the month, as were sales of big-ticket items, but the store did sell a lot of diamond stud earrings as well as other pieces of fashion (non-bridal) diamond jewelry.

Both Gause and Rosenheim said they are optimistic about 2017.

Midwest: A Strong Finish
Jeffrey Mann, whose eponymous store is in Toledo, Ohio, admitted that his store was a bit behind coming into the week leading up to Christmas but managed to finish the year strong.

“Our last week was absolutely amazing,” he said Tuesday. “It honestly was like the good ‘ole days, and I haven’t said that in eight-plus years.”

He said his in-store traffic was substantially better than it has been. Also helping was the fact that he got zero price resistant from consumers, who seemed more willing to part with their money than they have in years.

“I think it’s a better economy, people feeling good, (feeling) optimistic,” Mann said when asked what he thinks brought so many people into his store. “I believe that optimism rules our business.”

Michigan retailer Randy Cole also saw his season finish strong.

He said his engagement ring sales, which usually slow down after Nov. 1, “never stopped” this year. He attributed the trend to the multiple positive online reviews for his store, which people are finding when their local jeweler closes down and they go search on the internet for a new place to go.

“What are the customers going to do? They are going to find somebody new, and they’re going to go online to do it. If you’re not prepared to attract them through your online presence, you’re going to miss out,” Cole said.

Bridal brands that did particularly well at the Diamond Vault include Frederic Sage and Beverly K along with the FireCushion diamond from New York-based Hasenfeld-Stein.

Cole said before the store started carrying FireCushion diamonds, cushion-cut stones accounted for only 1.7 percent sales; they are between 7 and 8 percent now.

The jeweler said he expects 2017 to be his store’s best year yet.

Mann also is very bullish on 2017: “I haven’t felt this good coming into a January in years.”

South Central: A Great Season
In the South Central region of the United States, not only was the holiday season great, the last quarter of the year was fruitful for retailers.

“Our entire fourth quarter was huge,” said Craig Underwood of Underwood's Fine Jewelers in Fayetteville, Arkansas, noting that his store saw a double-digit increase over the previous year.

In San Antonio, Texas, C. Aaron Penaloza Jewelers saw a major sales increase around the holidays.

“We were up about 30 percent,” said Mary Penaloza, though she noted that “last year was terrible.”

Valerie Naifeh of Naifeh Fine Jewelry in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma also saw a jump over a tough holiday season in 2015, saying her store was “up 25 percent for the month from last year.”

For Naifeh, business has been booming since “about 10 days before the election,” and stayed strong ever since.

It’s a welcome change after a dismal 2015 and beginning of 2016 for the jeweler, a time that saw Oklahoma City’s oil-dependent economy lose 3,500 jobs.

“Last year we were way down,” Naifeh said. “We were hit very hard by the falling price of oil.”

This holiday season, however, she noticed that her clients were in the market for big diamond purchases.

Large diamond studs were popular, and she sold two pairs of 8-carat total weight diamond stud earrings, plus lots of upgraded engagement rings for couples who started out with smaller diamonds when they were married 20 to 30 years ago.

Diamond solitaire pendants sold well throughout the entire fourth quarter.

In addition to diamonds, Naifeh’s customers also have been gravitating toward fine fashion pearls.

“We always generate a nice business in our fine fashion category because we’re known for that,” she explained. “We sold a lot of pearl jewelry. I manufacture a line and we do a series of South Sea pearl and Tahitian pearl pendants that are best sellers, and we basically sold out of those.”

For both Naifeh and Underwood, the week leading up to Christmas was the best of the year.

“It’s good and bad,” said Underwood of the annual anticipation of the pre-Christmas blitz. “The stress builds leading up to it, but when strong sales do come through it’s wonderful.”

Both jewelers noted that the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day was on the slow side this year, without too many returns but also without much gift card or Christmas money shopping.

Underwood said it was, “a good week, but not as busy as it was a year ago.”

Naifeh explained, “Typically the week after Christmas is very, very strong for us,” partially due to the fact that many of her customers celebrate wedding anniversaries around New Year’s Eve.

“That was kind of gone this year,” she continued. “We didn’t sell many of our gift cards this holiday season. All in all, the week was a little bit quieter than normal.”

Naifeh Fine Jewelry did finish up a lot of custom orders that week, however. Naifeh said it’s common for clients to order last-minute custom pieces that can’t be finished up in time for Christmas but end up being delivered before the new year.

West: Call It a Comeback
In Bellevue, Washington, Steve Goldfarb of Alvin Goldfarb Jeweler said that the holiday season, “went very well.”

Unusually snowy weather in the Pacific Northwest seemed to get shoppers into the Christmas spirit, Goldfarb noted, saying, “It reminded everyone that it was Christmas and they better get their shopping done.”

The week leading up to Dec. 25 was, predictably, the strongest sales time.

Goldfarb said that even the morning of Christmas Eve was bustling with last-minute purchases, but cooled off when the Seattle Seahawks came on at about 1:30 p.m.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s was “modestly positive,” though quieter than the year before, without much shopping or returning happening.
Goldfarb expects to see more of that post-holiday action this year.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mike Butterfield, president of Butterfield Jewelers, experienced, “the best December since 2010,” despite initial concerns about going-out-of-business liquidation from his competitors.

“In the end, our customers stayed faithful to us and we picked up a number of (new) customers,” he said. “We know that people went over (to the liquidation sale) and found the quality of goods wasn’t what the company would have normally sold.

“In the end, it didn’t really affect us too much. In the short run, we might have done even better. In the long run, we will pick up some new customers.”

Overall, Butterfield Jewelers saw a 13.4 percent increase in December 2016 over December 2015, with a relatively slow but positive week post-Christmas that included some exchanges and returns as well as gift card purchases.
Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

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