By Brecken Branstrator, Ashley Davis & Michelle Graff
New York--The 2017 holiday season has officially come to a close, and reports are starting to come in on the final results for retailers.

To see how independent jewelers fared, National Jeweler’s editors called 10 retailers across the country Tuesday, with many of them reporting an increase in sales over 2016.

Here’s what they had to say about how things went, the standouts during the season and what they expect for 2018.

Despite the fact that he was competing with a going-out-of-business sale from a competitor and another competitor’s “more aggressive” marketing for the holidays, J. Dennis Petimezas of Watchmakers Diamonds & Jewelry in Johnstown, Pennsylvania said the store met the sales goals it had set for the year.

“All factors suggested that it was going to be a challenging year, but it really came down to the last three or four days (before Christmas),” he said.

In fact, it was the sale of a riviere necklace on Dec. 23 that helped the sales numbers reach a goal with which Petimezas was happy; they ended the year with a 3.5 percent increase.

Though traffic was down for the store, the average ticket sale was up, and the extra shopping day provided by the way Christmas fell (on a Monday this year) also helped.

What surprised Petimezas about this holiday season, however, was that the high end and the lower end were strong, while the category he expected to provide the “sustainability” and which they promoted--the middle tier--lost ground.

But there also was one product in particular that stood out to him as helping them, somewhat unexpectedly, through the season.

Just before Thanksgiving, the store launched the “Magnificence” collection from Gem Star, which features a setting that magnifies a diamond’s size, and Petimezas said they pre-sold even more product than expected.

For Manfredi Jewels owner Roberto Chiappelloni, a positive energy among customers, as well as some good weather for Connecticut, resulted in a strong holiday season.

The season started out on a positive note with the Thanksgiving weekend and the trend continued, helped along by the extra full weekend of shopping the calendar provided this year.

All told, the retailer ended the year up 16 percent in sales when compared with 2016.

While he said foot traffic for the holiday season wasn’t that strong, he noted that people were shopping “very purposefully,” visiting the store with information and ideas of what they wanted already.

Diamonds were a strong seller for the store, with bridal a standout for Manfredi after it increased its branded product in the category.

Chiappelloni also said they saw more activity in the lower end, particularly between $2,000 and $4,000. He said he believes this is because they got more young buyers this year; good news as they go into a new year and have more clients with which to build relationship in the future, he told National Jeweler.

Jim Rosenheim, chairman of Tiny Jewel Box in Washington, D.C., said the holiday season was “brilliant” for them, noting the store’s sales were up 25 percent in the month of December.

He said the first half of the season was really strong for them, as were the few days leading up to Christmas. Sales of high-end watches like Rolex and Patek Philippe were strong all the way through, while the jewelry side “really kicked in the last two weeks (before Christmas).”

When it came to price points, Tiny Jewel Box’s customers were looking for everything this season, buying anything between $2,000 and $25,000.

Prior to holiday season, the retailer had upgraded its website. Though Tiny Jewel Box doesn’t sell online, Rosenheim seemed to think customers were responding positively to the updated site, in addition to radio advertising and direct mailings.

They also held a trunk show during the holiday shopping season, an annual event, and Rosenheim said it was the best show they’ve ever had, noting all the vendors that participated saw “robust” sales.

In the year to come, they will continue to upgrade the website and have a new marketing plan for later in the year.

“We’re hoping 2018 is as good as 2017,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Ocala, Florida, Jerry Gause of Gause & Son Jewelers said they also had a good season. Beating their sales goals for last year, the store ended up with 5 percent sales growth for December.

Echoing a sentiment shared by other jewelers across the country, Gause said the five days prior to Christmas day and last-minute shopping were vital in helping them meet their goal.

Though many of their regular customers didn’t come in to buy jewelry this season--a factor he thought could have something to do with the hurricane last fall making people cautious about spending--they did get a lot of new clients.

They also saw a positive response to the catalog they mailed out this year, with coupons included.

Gause said that with the economy seemingly in good shape and the stock market doing so well, barring any major event in 2018, they’re expecting 2 to 3 percent growth.

In Avon Lake, Ohio, a community west of Cleveland on Lake Erie, Peter & Co. Jewelers shifted its marketing for the last six weeks of the year.

Owner Theresia Oreskovic said the store spent more money advertising on Google and Facebook and less on traditional outlets, like television and newspapers.

The result: After a strong year, the store finished with a holiday season that was up 20 percent over last year and is up 28 percent for the year as a whole. Foot traffic increased year-over-year as well, though Oreskovic didn’t have that number immediately available Tuesday.

When asked why she thought her store did so well, particularly given all the reports about the death of brick-and-mortar retail, she said the store’s strategy is to keep consistent hours, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Customers never have to wonder what the hours are on any given day at Peter & Co. Jewelers, and the store is still open late enough to be convenient for people to stop on their way home from work.

“We try to evaluate what is it that drives people to shop a different way. In the end, it’s always convenience, it’s always a time thing.

“In the long run, people still like the actual shopping experience.”

In Toledo Ohio, Jeffrey Mann of Jeffrey Mann Fine Jewelers said the beginning of the holiday season--post-Thanksgiving--was the strongest time for his store sales this year, rather than the days leading up to Christmas, but he has no complaints.

Compared to last year, “we were up nicely,” Mann said. He thought that a better overall economy likely contributed to that.

“We did very well with large diamonds,” Mann continued, “(and) diamond bracelets always do well with us as well.”

Branded lines also found a following at Mann’s stores; he introduced Marco Bicego in the late fall and thought it was a good fit for his clientele, but the response exceeded his expectations.

Forevermark was also a hit. He said: “We found great success with the Forevermark Tribute collection. We were advertising that pretty heavily. For the first time in a while, Forevermark got it right with the product mix and it seemed to go very well.”

South Central
Jewelers in Texas and Arkansas said they had a good Christmas--good, but not great.

In San Antonio, Texas, Aaron Penaloza, of C. Aaron Penaloza Jewelers, said estate jewelry sales were strong, which helped boost profitability over last year even though November-December sales volume was no better.

He said customers like estate jewelry because it is 20 to 30 percent less than an equivalent new piece and because they can’t find it anywhere else. It is not, as he put it, “the stuff Jared has.”

Estate jewelry also cannot be price shopped online, though when asked about that aspect of selling the category, Penaloza said this: “The people who go shopping with their cell phone out, that’s not our customer. We stopped chasing those people.”

He added that the store is, instead, spending its promotion and advertising dollars on a “better prospect.”

When asked if he worries about what abandoning a younger demographic could mean for the future of the store, Penaloza said while that is a concern, the millennials are getting older as well (the oldest members of this generation are now in their mid-30s) and are seeing the value in shopping with an established jeweler who has a good reputation and quality merchandise.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, “It wasn’t the barn-burner I was expecting, but we had a very good Christmas,” said Craig Underwood of Underwood’s Fine Jewelers in Fayetteville.

The store was celebrating its 60th anniversary. Underwood was expecting a double-digit sales bump like he saw when the store celebrated its 50th anniversary, but what he got was a single-digit year-over-year increase in sales. Customers were buying diamond basics and engagement rings, as well as fashion earrings and necklaces at the store, which sells only custom and private-label jewelry under the Underwood brand.

Underwood said he realizes now he was overly bullish given where the market is for most of the industry, but said his store did pick up a healthy amount of new customers in 2017.

Overall, both he and Penaloza said they are optimistic about the year ahead.

Penaloza said people seem to be more positive and willing to spend money so, barring a major catastrophe, “I think it’s going to be a good year.”

Stephenie Bjorkman, CEO of Sami Fine Jewelry in Fountain Hills, Arizona, said that holiday sales were good this year, similar to last year.

“We were busy, busy the whole month of December,” Bjorkman said, noting the store saw a lot of foot traffic.

She said diamond earrings were a big hit this holiday season, particularly Gems One earrings that “are basically diamonds that appear bigger with the setting.”

Bjorkman said that in terms of special promotions, her store participates in the Gems One flyer program and provides “no-strings-attached gift certificates,” in which the amount is determined by what the customer spends in store, typically in the range of $50 to $100.

A state over, Mike Butterfield of Butterfield Jewelers in Albuquerque, New Mexico said his holiday season was also pretty good overall though, “it wasn’t record-breaking.”

Sales were down a little compared with the year prior, though 2016 proved to be an outlier: December of that year was surprisingly strong despite a neighboring independent jewelry store’s going out-of-business sale.

“I didn’t think we were going to meet last year’s numbers,” Butterfield explained, so instead he used 2015 as a benchmark, a year in which sales were more average.

“We beat (2015) quite nicely,” he said, noting that his store experienced “a very peppy kick-off after Thanksgiving,” then a lull, followed by the biggest rush right before Christmas.

Butterfield noted that in the $200 to $500 range, silver brand Belle Etoile did well with his clientele, and colored gemstones priced in the $500 to $1,700 range were popular.

Above that, he said that Heartstar Diamonds have “really been resonating,” and “are about the nicest diamonds anyone could find.”

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