By Brecken Branstrator, Ashley Davis & Michelle Graff
New York--It’s mid-December, which means the holiday shopping season is in full swing.

With all the competition, it’s increasingly harder for retailers to get consumer attention, get them into the store and make the sale.

Our editors talked to 10 jewelers across the country Monday to ask them how their seasons have been going so far and what’s been helping drive traffic and sales at their stores. 

Here’s what they had to say.

For Evan James Ltd. in Brattleboro, Vermont, the season has been about the same as last year.

Evan James Deutsch told National Jeweler that traffic has been slightly down and sales are about even, though the retailer got a pretty good start to the season on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend (Small Business Saturday) and has seen strong sales in engagement, estate jewelry, diamond fashion jewelry and Alex & Ani.

And while Deutsch thinks that strong start had less to do with Small Business Saturday promotions and more with the simple fact that people were out shopping, they have been and continue to use the “shop local” idea throughout their Instagram posts.

The store has found the most success so far this season with its boosted Facebook posts, which allows for a targeted message about the business to be sent to people in its area.

Given that the seven busiest shopping days are still to come and the store has a number of custom jewelry order pickups and special orders to come, Deutsch said they’re feeling enthusiastic about the remainder of the season.

David Rotenberg of David Craig Jewelers in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, said sales and traffic both are up so far this season for the store.

The store has seen strong sales across all product categories but what’s been doing especially well is drop diamond earrings, pendants and bracelets.

Overall, it’s clear that people are spending this year.

“We’re feeling very positive,” he said.  

When asked what has been working the best for the store to bring in traffic and sales, Rotenberg said “everything seems to be working,” noting they seem to have found a good mix of ads, promotions and social media posts. Plenty of people have come in saying that they saw the store’s ads on the internet and in newspapers.

What he believes it comes down to, Rotenberg said, is putting a focus the rest of the year on consistent customer service and building a relationship with clients so there’s not quite so much reliance on the end of the year.

A combination of traditional advertising and social media are helping to boost business this holiday season for the two jewelers National Jeweler contacted in the Southeast.

In Albany, Georgia, Steve Allen said Allen’s Jewelers is having his best year since the recession and is not far behind his best December on record, December of 2007.

What are his customers buying? High-end color, diamond engagement rings, bracelets and diamond earrings, he said, while noting that watch sales are lagging.

Allen said he has two young women who work for him who post on social media every day, one handles Facebook--the store boosts it posts on the social media site--and the other Instagram.

He said the get comments about the pieces they share on social media and often have to reorder them.

Allen’s Jewelers also has been advertising consistently throughout the year, including on the local NBC affiliate.

“I just hope it keeps up,” Allen said Monday morning. “We have this last week push here.”

Farther south in Panama City, Florida at Maharaja’s, Mohit Samtani said the season has been steady.

He said a warmer-than-normal start to December delayed holiday shopping a bit; people were on the beach rather than at stores. But the store has seen business pick up as the weather has cooled down.

The store is selling a lot of stackable bands (it’s a Forevermark retailer) and diamond stud earrings. Watches sales have been “decent,” Samtani said, while Pandora sales are “fair.”

He said the store has been advertising the Forevermark Tribute collection heavily, while airing two holiday commercials on TV and advertising in the newspaper, which works in the Panama City area because the popular skews older.

“It’s going really, really well,” Randy Cole, CEO of the Diamond Vault in Troy, Michigan, said of the holiday season.

He’s a new Forevermark retailer and said the Tribute collection has been driving traffic into his store this holiday season, for a number of reasons.

First, the advertising; he’s tagged his store name onto the end of  the Forevermark TV commercial and said he gets a lot of compliments on the quality of “his” commercial.

“It has been missing,” Cole said of advertising for diamond jewelry. “It’s good to see them (De Beers) back in the marketplace creating a market for the retailer.”

Second, customers love both the style and the message behind Tribute.

“I like the name, it fits our customer. The collection is really about paying tribute to what you’ve accomplished in life,” he said.

Plus, he added, “The stack band business is very strong for us, very, very strong, and that is what this (Tribute) is, so it helps.”

Cole said it also helps that the Forevermark diamonds are traced from mine to market, nullifying any conflict diamond concerns.

Low agriculture prices are depressing business for stores in Midwest farming communities, Bill Longnecker, of Longnecker Jewelry in McCook, Nebraska said.

But his store is surviving and picking up the customers of other local jewelers who have closed down.

He said sales and repairs have picked up during the holiday season, and he attributes the positivity to an increase in advertising and changing the message of his ads to focus on his great service, longevity and reputation. Longnecker has doubled his efforts on social media and added regional TV advertising this year.

The retailer also has had success with the “Husker Football Challenge,” in which they partner with other local businesses to awards prizes based on the scores of University of Nebraska football games.

“Instead of sitting back, I started spending more (on advertising) and started focusing my efforts,” Longnecker said.

South Central
Coleman Clark of BC Clark Jewelers, which has three stores in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, said improved sales this year can be attributed to a better economy and the 125th anniversary of the fourth-generation business.

“It is much busier,” said Clark. “Traffic is better, the mood is better, and sales are better.”

The company increased advertising “pretty significantly” this year because of the anniversary. Clark also said that they spread out their annual holiday party for customers over three nights and gave them “more incentives to purchase,” partially through direct-mail advertising.

Additionally, Clark explained that, “The local economy is stronger now than it was a year ago. Energy prices are very important in our market, and they have stabilized in the past year. We hope they will get back to where they used to be, but companies and job security are much more stable and the outlook is better.”

Clark also noted that improvements in the national economy and the stock market’s strong numbers have contributed to consumers’ spending power.

“I think people’s general mood and comfort level is much higher than it was last year,” he concluded.

In Amarillo, Texas, Barnes Jewelry is experiencing foot traffic and sales of epic proportions, and that’s because it’s holding a retirement sale to herald a change in store ownership.

Don Adams, the store manager who will be taking over ownership early in 2018 from the family, said, “We’re kind of skewed. We’re averaging 300 to 400 people a day.”

The retirement sale, in which product is being discounted up to 50 percent off, began Nov. 16.

When the store opened that day, there were “40 or 50 people waiting in the parking lot to get in,” Adams said, “and that was just from a VIP sale letter we sent out to customers.”

The 6,000 square-foot-store went on to advertise its sale on billboards, signs in front of the store and on television, radio and in the newspaper. So far sales figures have been three to four times what they were during the holiday season last year, with new customers accounting for about 70 percent of total foot traffic.

The biggest challenge for Adams going forward will be to let these new customers know that Barnes Jewelry is still in business; a furniture store down the street is also hosting a “retirement sale” but unlike Barnes, it’s closing down.

Adams joined Barnes Jewelry to manage operations three-and-a-half years ago after spending 20 years at Helzberg Diamonds.

Despite the latter being a chain and the former an independently owned store, Adams found great similarity in the way both businesses are run.

“Mr. Barnes (Vess Barnes II) and Mr. Helzberg could have been best friends,” he said. “The ethics and integrity are so high. (Barnes Jewelry) is a business that’s been doing it properly all of these years.”

Adams will officially take over from the Barnes family in late February or early March.

“I felt it important to keep the legacy of Barnes Jewelry going,” he said. “Mr. Barnes had established a great name in the local community as well as the vendor community. The sales associates have given so many years to this business and I wanted to keep it going for their sake as well.”

In Missoula, Montana, Rogers & Co. Fine Jewelry and Design is “up about 40 percent over last year,” according to husband and wife team Mariaha and Matt Rogers.

Mariaha grew up in the jewelry industry, working for her parents for more than 20 years. When they retired four years ago and closed their business, she opened her own store.

Matt Rogers said that he thinks sales are up because, “More and more people are finding out that this is Mariaha’s store, so more and more of her following is coming in.”

While he believes that social media is important, Mariaha’s custom jewelry is the cornerstone of their business and keeping up with that hasn’t allowed them to post any more than usual this holiday season.

“I don’t think you can ever overdo the social media,” he explained. “That’s a huge thing these days, but we’re so busy that it’s hard to do more.”

The Rogers operate their business “old-school,” letting the product speak for itself, and relying on word-of-mouth to advertise the quality and integrity of their business.

“Mariaha is so good at her job,” Matt said. “That’s all she’s ever done, and it’s hard to compete with her knowledge and experience. I think we’re up mainly because the word is just getting out more.”

This holiday season, customers are after Mariaha’s custom pieces featuring Montana sapphires, particularly necklace styles.

But in Ventura, California, holiday sales are the furthest thing from the mind of Fox Fine Jewelry owner Debbie Fox.

“We’re in the middle of the Thomas Fire emergency,” Fox said. “Many people are just not in that (shopping) place. We decided, since we’re so affected, we were going to give diamond necklaces for free to people who lost their homes.”

Fox has created two necklace designs--one that says “Ventura” and another that says “Thrive 805” in honor of the local area code.

For customers who simply want to buy the necklaces for themselves or loved ones, they are donating half of the proceeds to the Thomas Fire Fund.

Fox was more apt to talk about the struggles her community is facing and how she and her staff are trying to help, but when asked about store sales she said, “Our sales have been devastated.”

The store was closed for about five days and, naturally, shopping has remained very quiet, except for the approximately 300 customers who have come in to claim their diamond necklaces because they lost their homes.

Fox added that “every day, that number goes up.”

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.