JBT data for Q1 shows that the number of retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers that opened in the U.S. rose to 62 in Q1, up from 46 last year. Of those 62 new businesses, 45 were retailers.
New York—For the first time in a long time, the Jewelers Board of Trade’s quarterly data showed an uptick in the number of new jewelry businesses in the United States.

It was a small increase, and the slow, steady reduction in the overall number of retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers in North America continues.

The JBT’s number of total listings for the U.S. was 25,667 at the end of the first quarter, down 4 percent year-over-year. Counting Canada, total listings stand at 26,903.

But as new JBT President Richard Weisenfeld pointed out Friday, the rate of closures remains lower than what it was in the post-recession spike of 2014-2016.

“It seems like the shrinkage has slowed a little,” he said. “It will be interesting to see if that continues.”

In addition, preliminary results indicate jewelry sales are up so far in 2018, he said, meaning better results for the retailers that remain.

Closings and Openings
The number of U.S. jewelry businesses—meaning retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers—that closed in the first quarter totaled 288, up slightly (4 percent) from 277 in the same period last year.

Among retailers, closings numbered 241, an 11 percent increase from 217 in the same period last year.

The continuing closure of jewelry stores is not happening in a vacuum but, rather, against a backdrop of changes in a market that is “over-stored” for the digital age. The U.S. has about 24 square feet of retail space per capita, compared with, for example, about 5 square feet in the E.U., according to a recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

Signet is set to close a net of about 165 stores this year, yes, but they are not alone.

Macy’s, Sears, Sam’s Club, GNC and Foot Locker are among the dozens of retailers that have announced plans to shutter locations nationwide, and some major retailers are exiting the market entirely. After creating generations of Toys “R” Us kids, the retailer is going out of business, as is department store chain Bon-Ton.

“There’s still going to be a lot of stores closing,” Weisenfeld said. “(But) it’s not just the jewelry business; it’s every business.”

Jewelry business consolidation and bankruptcies also were up in the U.S. in Q1.

Consolidations (meaning a sale or merger) among retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers totaled 45, up from 34 in the same period last year, and bankruptcies increased from 318 to 343.

JBT data shows a similar pattern in Canada: business closings were up from 15 to 22, mergers rose from one to three, and bankruptcies increased from 16 to 25.

While businesses continue to close, merge or file for bankruptcy, there also was a relatively significant increase in the number of new businesses to start the year.

The number of retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers that opened in the U.S. rose to 62 in Q1, up from 46 last year. Of those, 45 were retailers, compared with 37 in the same period last year.

That is a 35 percent increase, though it should be noted that overall, 62 is still a small number of business openings.

Shifts in the Southeast
Of those 45 new retailers, nearly half—21—set up shop in the Southeast, which the JBT defines as a region of 11 states plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

After the Southeast, the Northeast (eight) and Southwest (seven) had the highest number of store openings.

Interestingly, the Southeast also accounted for the greatest number of U.S. jewelry store closings in Q1. Of the 241 retailers that shut down, 83 of them (about one in three) were located there, followed by:

--41 in the Southwest (California, Nevada, Hawaii, Utah, Arizona);
--39 in the North Central (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, India, Ohio, Michigan);
--35 in the Northeast;
--33 in the South Central (Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Missouri); and
--10 in the Northwest (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Alaska).

When asked about the openings and closings in the Southeast, Weisenfeld said patterns in specific regions are difficult to explain, particularly in such a short period of time as a single quarter.

“As much as we try to figure out why, it’s sometimes inexplicable,” he said.

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