New York--Following the weekend regarded as the start of the holiday shopping season, National Jeweler called jewelers across the country to see how business was in their stores.

Our editors called two jewelers each in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, South Central and West and asked them about post-Thanksgiving traffic, top sellers and the impact of Small Business Saturday.

Here’s what they had to say.

Northeast
For David Craig Jewelers in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, Thanksgiving weekend traffic has been trending down over the past few years. Owner David Rotenberg said this year, it “may have been an all-time low.”

He added that according to what his local newspaper said about retail traffic this weekend, and what he saw himself when he was out briefly on Thanksgiving night, this seems to be the story of the first holiday weekend: fewer shoppers.

The store was open Saturday and Sunday, and though Small Business Saturday did little for them,

 Rotenberg said they had a few sales that made the weekend worthwhile.

When looking toward the rest of the holiday season, he said he believes people will feel comfortable spending money, but noted that they are “going to make sure they get mileage on their money.”

In fact, when all is said and done for the 2017 holiday season, he said jewelers will look back and see that, “at the end of the day … better value will be what drives the cart.”

For some customers that could be a more competitive price point, but for others that could mean better customer service and better quality goods.

He has a conservative outlook for his own store for the remainder of the holiday season--he thinks they’ll have enough sales to be happy with--but believes that the holiday season could continue to lose its luster and importance for jewelers such as himself.

J. Dennis Petimezas of Watchmakers Diamonds & Jewelry in Johnstown, Pennsylvania also said that sales and traffic were less than last year, but added that the store saw an uptick in online sales as they’ve begun to push e-commerce a little more.

He said what is most surprising was the amount of customers in his local market who could have come into the store but instead shopped online.

“It’s strange. It seems counterintuitive to what you’d think,” he said, but added that they are customers who have known the store, its quality and the way it conducts business, for years.

In regards to the lower in-store sales and traffic, Petimezas said shoppers could be waiting to see what happens with the economy this holiday season before they buy.

His area of Pennsylvania also had beautiful weather over the weekend and when that happens, customers tend to travel farther to larger markets where the malls are to get more shopping done.

Overall, though, the store was up in sales for the year going into the holiday season, so “a couple of days doesn’t make much of a difference,” he said.

Petimezas added that the average ticket price was up over the weekend. What sold were traditional pieces like engagement rings, diamond bracelets and diamond earrings, while trendier items didn’t perform as well.

Ultimately, he echoed Rotenberg’s thoughts about this weekend being less important for small retailers, and said that they’re going to save their advertising dollars for later in the season.

Southeast
Jerry Gause says sales at Gause & Son Jewelers in Ocala, Florida were down this weekend, though he adds that the Thanksgiving weekend isn’t usually a big one for the store and a lot of people came in for “Small Business Saturday” to help make a difference.

Gause says though things have been good for the store this year, that performance seems to have turned a little this month.

He believes part of the problem is getting certain products that shoppers are looking for specifically, like Rolex watches.

What they have been doing well with is fashion jewelry, especially from brands like Roberto Coin. And though the price points depend a great deal on what they customer is looking for, shoppers do seem to be comfortable with spending right now, Gause says.

Even though the Thanksgiving weekend wasn’t that strong for them, he says he still feels like they will have a good holiday season as consumers feel like they have more money to spend, especially the older clients in Florida, with much of the buying coming in the week leading up to Christmas.

For Steve Allen of Allen’s Jewelers in Albany, Georgia, the weekend proved to be a great start to the holiday season.

Business was slightly up on Friday and for Saturday, the store promoted for Small Business Saturday with an incentive that proved to be fruitful--the local NBC affiliate did a segment on local business and the store was in the mix.

They had a bag of Christmas ornaments, each containing a promotional percentage off, ranging from 15 percent to 40 percent, and whatever the customer drew they got off their purchase. Allen says the promotion worked well and helped bring in brisk traffic for the first half of the day.

In terms of what people were buying over the weekend, Allen says they’ve noticed a continued interest in bracelets, especially those from Alwand Vahan as well as their own custom-made bracelets sold in the store, ranging in price from $1,800 to $4,000.

In fact, Allen says he has noticed a slight uptick in the average price point of what people are spending: where they’re usually looking between $500 and $1,500, they have of late been spending in the range of about $1,800 to $5,000.

And when he reflects on his outlook for the rest of the season, Allen says the same thing a number of other jewelers have told National Jeweler so far--that he feels good about how it will go as the economy continues to improve.

Midwest
Toledo, Ohio jeweler Jeffrey Mann did well over the weekend, despite fierce regional competition--the annual Ohio State-Michigan football game, which takes place on the Saturday following Thanksgiving every year.

“We know traffic-wise we are going to be dead [that day],” Mann said via telephone from his eponymous store Monday morning.

And they were; he said the store only had about six customers that day but one of them was a “big spender” who made the day worthwhile in the end.

He added that his store had a “great” Friday too, noting that there were a fair amount of customers buying jewelry for themselves mixed in among the gift-givers on both days.

This year, Mann started working with the Vantage Group, a consulting company out of Carlsbad, California, run by Lori and Dan Askew.

Among the tips he’s taken from Vantage was to set a team goal for his store this November and December. If the store hits the mark, then every employee, including himself, gets an extra $1,000.

Mann said he considers money to be a great motivator, as is having everyone in the store working toward a common goal.

So far, they are on track to hit their goal for November and, barring any meltdowns in the financial markets, he expects to make the mark for December as well.

“It’s going to be a really great holiday season,” he said.

At Evergreene Jewelers in Minnetonka, Minnesota--one of the participants in National Jeweler’s 50 Jewelers/50 States series--Liz Greene-Simmons saw an even mix of self-purchasers and gift-givers over the weekend, which was solid for the store.

What helped boost their business was a direct mail piece on clearance inventory that went out before Thanksgiving.

Greene-Simmons said this helped boost business the entire week and into the weekend. “It was effective,” she said. “We had an excellent weekend; we really did well.”

What sold was a mix of color and diamond jewelry staples, including diamond stud earrings.

When asked about Small Business Saturday, though, neither store owner said the American Express-led initiative was particularly beneficial to their business.

Greene-Simmons said it’s “not been a big pull for us,” while Mann noted: “I think it’s a really great idea. I just wish they would do it on another day than Ohio State-Michigan football.”  

South Central
In this region of the United States, jewelers said that post-Thanksgiving sales started off strong, causing them to anticipate a great holiday season ahead.

“We had a really good Saturday,” said Craig Underwood, president of Underwood’s Fine Jewelers in Fayetteville, Arkansas. “(I’m) very pleased with the amount of traffic and the sales we had.”

Underwood said that he never expects a strong sales day on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but, surprisingly, “the second half of the day turned out to be really strong.”

He said that his store’s advertising on television and in newspapers and magazines was a bit heavier than in years past.

Customers so far have been buying engagement rings for proposals as well as holiday gifts, which have been varied in terms of category. Gold jewelry, diamond jewelry and colored stones have all been popular so far.

“We anticipate it to be a good year this year,” said the Arkansas jeweler. “Our area has been really strong. We have some large corporations here--Walmart, J.B. Hunt and Tyson--and all three have had a good year. Consumer confidence seems to be up.”

In Fort Smith, Arkansas, Newton’s Jewelers store owner Kelly Newton said that his store has been bustling since before Thanksgiving, really for most of the year.

“We’ve been up every month since April,” he said. “We’ve reduced our (traditional) marketing and done a little more social marketing.”

Newton attributed the positive sales to the overall economic climate.

“The stock market has been great so people are spending money,” he explained. “I think the tax deal in Washington is a big deal. I think it really will be the impetus for people to get out and spend.”

Saturday was a great day for the retailer, who noted he is getting short on merchandise and will spend today trying to restock his cases.

Rolex has been a hit so far this holiday season and so have Forevermark diamonds. “That’s a real trend up from last year with the Forevermark,” said Newton. “We’re selling bigger and more Forevermark diamonds.”

Jewelry from Vahan and Roberto Coin also has been a hit with the store’s clientele. “I don’t typically try to specify lines that are selling but I can’t ignore it,” he said.

West
The news broke today that England’s Prince Harry is engaged to American actress Meghan Markle, but Tom Hart, owner of Hart’s Jewelers in Grants Pass, Oregon, already knew.

Markle’s older half-brother lives in Grant’s Pass, and Hart was informed of the engagement when he sold him a diamond band for his girlfriend a week ago. 

Thomas Markle Jr. told Hart, “I’m not going to be getting anything like what my sister is getting,” explaining that his sister was set to wed the royal. 

Hart recently had some windows replaced and Markle works for the companies that replaced them. A quick Google search confirmed for Hart that Markle was telling the truth.

Royal connections aside, Hart is expecting a strong holiday season this year.

“We’re optimistic,” he said. “I think we’ll end up ahead of last year and last year was a good year.”

The Friday after Thanksgiving was unexpectedly busy all day long, after Hart used Facebook to spread the word that the store would be open.

“It’s not a day that we expect a whole lot out of but we were actually pleased with the amount of traffic,” he said.

In general, Hart said that business lately has “been nice and steady. Seems like traffic is up over last year. We’ve been pleased.”

Recently, engagement ring sales and self-purchases on items ranging from sterling silver to diamond fashion jewelry have been doing well for the store.

In Bellevue, Washington, Steve Goldfarb of Alvin Goldfarb Jeweler said that, so far, his store hasn’t been “terribly busy” but has been “solid.”

Still, the signs point to a good holiday shopping season this year, as most of their sales happen during the month of December rather than the weekend after Thanksgiving.

“In terms of sales, there are a lot of people who have already put things aside,” Goldfarb said, explaining that some of his longtime clients have already asked for items to be shipped, enough to account for what Goldfarb expects to be 10 percent of his December sales.

“I did have one guy come in early at 9:30 on Small Business Saturday, before the store opened, for a Christmas gift,” he said. “(He was) in and out before we technically opened.”

“Everything points to good,” he continued. “I expect we’ll be 10 to 15 percent over last year.”

Goldfarb chalked up his prediction to a general sense of the economy and its effects on his customers.

“The economy feels so much better than it did last year. Last year, it didn’t feel like shopping in stores was a priority. This year, there’s a better feeling.”

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