By Brecken Branstrator, Lenore Fedow & Michelle Graff
New York—In early December, National Jeweler editors interviewed 10 jewelry store owners from all over the country to get their predictions for the holiday season.

They weighed in on the unofficial start of holiday shopping—the weekend after Thanksgiving—and shared their thoughts on what was to come for the rest of 2019.

Now, a mix of those same jewelers, plus a few new voices, are reporting back on how they fared and sharing the insights they’ve taken into 2020.

Northeast: A Merry and Bright Holiday

The Mexican Shack in Somers, New York had a strong holiday season, as owner Steven Delzio predicted last month.

The store recently began working with a social media coordinator to attract new customers, and the investment paid off.

“A lot more traffic, much stronger,” said Delzio, noting that Facebook was especially useful for bringing in new and old faces.

The store stayed open later as the holidays drew closer and let its followers know via Facebook, bringing in a slew of shoppers looking for last-minute gifts.

“We were busier toward the evening because people knew we were open,” he said, noting in previous years, traffic wound down as closing time approached.

“The last couple of weeks [leading up to the holidays] we were busy every single day,” said Delzio, which led him to bring on extra staff to keep up.

As for best sellers, the store specializes in jewelry and collectibles from Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico, taking a page from Mexican and Native American cultures.

Shoppers looking for something unusual are his typical customers, but one trend stood out: lots and lots of color.

Delzio said he is looking forward to the next holiday season and continuing to grow the store’s social media presence.

In Boston, M. Flynn had a strong holiday season with an uptick in foot traffic.

Sisters Megan and Moria Flynn opened the store in Boston’s South End in 2009, previously selling wholesale to boutiques around the United States.

The shop carries in-house collections as well as designers like Brent Neale, Jade Trau, Jennie Kwon, and Retrouvai.

Carrying on the trend of last-minute shoppers, the busiest day for the store was the Saturday before Christmas, which fell on a Wednesday.

“Diamond and gold earrings were huge for us. Also chunky gold necklaces,” said the store in an email to National Jeweler.

The holiday season was also kind to Tiffany Peay Jewelers in Tiverton, Rhode Island.

Foot traffic in the store can be counted manually, said owner Tiffany Peay, noting the store’s rural location.

The shop is located in Tiverton Four Corners, a shopping center situated in a New England village setting with buildings dating to the 18th century.

Tiverton is about a one-hour drive from Boston, Providence, Newport and the towns in southeastern Massachusetts.

Attracting shoppers to local businesses is a community effort, said Peay.

The merchants organize an annual Bright Night event, illuminating the area and inviting shoppers to stop by late into the night.

This year’s event was the best the store has ever had, she said, counting about 60 customers for the night.

Peay also hosted a vintage holiday sale, featuring a collection of estate jewelry.

Foot traffic in the area was moderate, she said, but better than last year.

Peay recently closed her Newport store and a few of her old customers made their way to her current shop.

“There weren’t a lot of people, but those we had were looking to buy,” she said.

In addition to her jewelry, Peay has expanded her retail space to include a wellness center, known as Tiffany Peay Healing Arts.

The wellness-focused area of the store offers crystal light therapy, a process believed to align one’s chakras, and reiki, a technique believed to promote healing by channeling energy into the body via touch.

“My work is about gemstones and color and movement,” said Peay, noting how the store’s wellness center and jewelry sections flow into each other.

Southeast: A Story of Higher Average Sales

For Goodman & Sons in Williamsburg and Hampton, Virginia, the holiday season turned out to be better than expected.

President and owner Tony Goodman told National Jeweler after Thanksgiving that despite an increase in sales over that weekend, they expected the shorter shopping season and the way sales had been trending over the entire year to lead them to a 10 percent decline this season.

Luckily for the store, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Goodman told National Jeweler sales ended up 5 percent ahead of last year, which he attributed primarily to an increase in the average sale, up 25 percent when compared with last year.

Spending was up across all categories, with the biggest jumps seen in engagement, estate and diamond fashion jewelry.

As for what sold best this holiday season, Goodman said diamond and colored gemstone jewelry did well for them, as did diamond fashion and estate jewelry. Notable brands for Goodman & Sons were John Hardy, Gabriel & Co. and Shy Creations.

On the marketing front, Goodman noted the store saw a great response from new customers with coupon redemption and an increase in web traffic.

Ultimately, though, Goodman said the biggest success factor was being prepared.

“We knew what we were up against, and we had daily conversations with the staff to address the issues, [such as] forecasted decline in traffic.”

They created a plan around emphasizing product value to clients, handling sales objections and other issues they might come up against to combat lower traffic.

The store also held a two-day clearance event on Dec. 30 and 31, which he said helped them “in the home stretch.”

“I feel our staff did a great job working with our customers to not just find a gift, but find the right gift.”

Goodman said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the first and second quarters of 2020, but also recognizes some possible challenges.

“Election years are traditionally tricky, and 2016 was rough in Q1 and Q2. The economy appears to be strong, but consumer index going into 2020 is about the same as 2016.”

From where, then, does his optimism stem?

Their internal efforts as a company to mitigate the “outside forces,” he said, such as continuous marketing, differentiation in the marketplace, and investment in the team and tools to help them service the community.

Matthew Rosenheim of Tiny Jewel Box in Washington, D.C., meanwhile, predicted the holiday season would be a good one, and his prediction came true.

Just like Goodman & Sons, higher average sales—a trend the store has seen for the past few years—continued throughout the season and contributed in large part to the company’s growth.

There was one unexpected “anomaly” that popped up this year, according to Rosenheim—the Saturday before Christmas, usually a big shopping day for Tiny Jewel Box, turned out to be weak, while the Monday before Christmas was one of the biggest days in company history.

Sales came from all price points, though Rosenheim noted the store is seeing volume decline slightly on the lower end.

He added it appeared customers felt comfortable and happy to shop rather than feeling obligated to buy, a feeling he said many who’ve been in retail for a while can sense.

“It wasn’t like pulling teeth.”

For Tiny Jewel Box, watches were strong, as they’ve been all year, but the retailer saw a reversal in performances from bridal and fashion jewelry: where bridal had been “hot” all year, it slowed down during December, and where fashion had been “quiet” through the year, it sped up during the holiday season and performed well.

Noting the store has stayed busy into January, Rosenheim said he’s bullish about the first half of the year.

Midwest: So-So Holiday

Bob Malashock, president of Malashock’s Jewelers in Omaha, Nebraska, predicted a slow holiday season when he last spoke with National Jeweler.

He confirmed the sales period wasn’t great, but better than he expected.

Foot traffic was down overall but in the days leading up to Christmas, last-minute shoppers filed into the store.

The store no longer carries Rolex, which took a toll on sales, as expected.

The best sellers of the season were diamonds weighing 1 carat and above, as well as diamond stud earrings.

A notable number of customers were drawn to fashion jewelry in the $500-to-$5,000 range.

In Indianapolis, Rebekah Lewis of Lewis Jewelers said the store had a “pretty good” holiday season.

One of the biggest challenges facing the retailer was the closure of Toys “R” Us, an anchor store in the shopping center where it’s located.

The toy giant’s closure took a toll on foot traffic, but the week before Christmas drew in shoppers.

The best sellers of the season were jewelry sets, particularly earrings and necklaces.

South Central: Selling Diamonds, Natural and Lab-Grown

Both jewelers interviewed in the South Central region of the U.S. sold a lot of diamond jewelry this holiday season, though they have polar-opposite stances on one of the most talked-about products on the market—lab-grown diamonds.

Brian Hoover, of Avant Garde Jewelers in Austin, Texas, said: “The thing I sold the most was lab-grown diamonds. A lot of people in our industry do not want to hear it, but they’re foolish.”

Hoover said he sold more diamond earrings than anything, in sizes up to 3 carats, both natural and lab-grown.

Man-made diamonds also were popular among couples who come into his store for engagement rings, as the women realize they can get a larger diamond for the same amount of money.

As for the lab-grown stones’ future value, Hoover said he doesn’t anticipate prices dropping precipitously and he stands by the product, offering 100 percent trade-in value on the man-made diamonds he sells.

“I want my customers to feel secure,” he said.

Four hundred-plus miles to the northeast, in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Kevin Mays acknowledged there is a place for lab-grown diamonds in the industry. It’s just not at his store, John Mays Jewelers.

“It’s not for our business model. That’s not the client we want,” he said. “I love to sell beautiful rubies and beautiful natural stones that are triple X and ideal cut.”

And that’s a lot of what his store sold this holiday season, moving more “traditional, bread-and-butter pieces”—solitaire studs and pendants, and diamond bracelets—than anything.

Mays also noted consumers’ growing interest—and the potential—in colored gemstones, including for engagement rings, a noteworthy development in a traditional part of the South that doesn’t often stray from the diamond solitaire.

“If you have the knowledge to sell non-traditional color,” he said, meaning stones such as spinel and tourmaline, “I think you can make a lot of money there. But you have to be able to tell the story and talk about it.”

Hoover and Mays also both remarked on the changing nature of the industry, and the need to evolve with it.

Mays recognizes the importance of advertising to younger generations in new ways.

This year, he put money and energy into advertising on Instagram and Facebook, forgoing his usual TV commercial.

“I just feel with Roku, Apple TV, DVR, people watching things on their phones … I don’t feel like people are watching as much [live] TV as they used to, especially not watching commercials.”

And Hoover acknowledges the need for jewelers to appeal to consumers all year long and not expect the holiday season to carry the store.

“My feeling is Christmas—November and December—are no longer going to be what they were in the past, 30, 40 percent of your whole business for the year.

“Our industry has changed, and we’re just going to have to [find ways to appeal to consumers] all year long. You have to adjust.”

West: Color and One-of-a-Kind

Debbie Fox said her store, Fox Fine Jewelry in Ventura, California, had a “fantastic” Christmas.

Like Mays, they did well with color, selling higher-priced ruby, emerald and sapphire pieces. And, after slipping for several years, Pandora sales stabilized.

But Fox too noted the declining importance of the holiday season to a jeweler’s bottom line overall.

“We know for a fact that the holiday season is trending downward and our jewelry business is getting more spaced out throughout the year.”

She said consumers today are relying more on jewelers for services such as repairs and custom work, and less on buying jewelry from them. And repairs and custom work, she pointed out, aren’t just relegated to November and December.

At Fox Fine Jewelry, the store was as busy after Christmas as before, handling a couple returns, and sizing rings and adjusting watches.

She attributed this to the number of people who were off in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and were out running errands or just strolling in Ventura.

Fox said the store also has customers who bring family members in to meet their local jeweler—her—when they’re in town for the holidays, and those relatives ask for custom work or repairs.

Color also contributed to a holiday season that started in late November and was “considerably” stronger than last year at Smith & Bevill Jewelers in Beaverton, Oregon, a Portland suburb that is also the home of Nike.

Angela Bevill said one-of-a-kind pieces were the store’s bestsellers, pieces they made around colored gemstones or unique diamonds, as well as some antique pieces of jewelry and one-offs created by manufacturers.

The store’s success with unique items at Christmas is indicative of its general direction.

Smith & Bevill is moving away from branded and designer lines to focus on one-of-a-kind pieces and its in-house brand.

“I think people are interested in something that other people don’t have,” she said.

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