By Michelle Graff
A total of 55 jewelry businesses closed in the third quarter, Jewelers Board of Trade data shows, bringing the total for the year to 399. That’s less than last year, but the drop doesn’t tell the whole story of 2020, JBT President Erich Jacobs said.
New York—The Jewelers Board of Trade’s data for the third quarter is out, and it shows that not much has changed from Q2.

COVID-19 has created an environment of uncertainty, leaving business owners unsure what to do next and making it difficult to make predictions about the fourth quarter, traditionally the most important period of the year for retailers.

Last week, National Jeweler caught up with JBT President Erich Jacobs (virtually, of course) to talk more about these unknowns and how they impacted the industry in Q3, as well as what he expects in Q4.

1) Business discontinuances stayed low in Q3.

In the U.S. in the third quarter, 55 jewelry businesses closed, bringing the total to 399 for the year. That is down 11 percent from last year, when 450 businesses had shuttered by this point. 

Among retailers, closures have totaled 325 so far in 2020, down 10 percent year-over-year.

Jacobs said the fact that fewer businesses are closing this year is not an indicator that the industry is healthier.

It is, instead, a continuation of what started in Q2.

The “unique” economic environment is keeping some businesses from formally closing even if that is where they are headed, he said. And it is making it difficult for the JBT to distinguish between temporarily and permanently closed businesses.    

Some might be considering a going-out-of-business sale but don’t want to run one in this environment, while other stores are hanging on, waiting to see if they can recover from decreased business during the pandemic. 

Still others are getting rent breaks from their landlord, who know they won’t be able to fill the space right now anyway, but won’t be able to stay open long term.

The unprecedented nature of 2020 also is impacting the number of bankruptcies and consolidations, as courts are moving more slowly than usual, and companies remain hesitant to make deals in an uncertain environment.

There were 37 consolidations (sales and mergers) among U.S. jewelry businesses in Q3, bringing the total for the year to 93. That is down 27 percent from 2019.

Bankruptcies totaled 101 in Q3 and have hit 514 for the year, a 14 percent year-over-year drop.  

2) K marks the spot.

Jacobs said JBT subscribes to the philosophy that the economic recovery is K-shaped. 

In a K-shaped recovery, the wealthiest Americans are rebounding; some are even doing better than they were before the virus. They are the top leg of the K.

Middle- and lower-income Americans, meanwhile, are hurting; they are the lower leg of the K.

Jacobs said he sees some parallels in the jewelry industry.

There are some stores that are having “banner years,” as some of the disposable income not being spent on travel gravitates to fine jewelry, while others are saying this is their worst year ever.

3) Businesses that didn’t build up their online presence are paying.

To better understand the differences between the businesses on the upper and lower legs of the K, JBT conducted a brief, informal study.

The staff examined posts on social media and other industry platforms to order to identify commonalities among the stores that report they are doing well, as well as the similarities among stores that aren’t.

Among the stores having a rough year, there was a bold through line.

“Those who were struggling had zero online presence,” Jacobs said, meaning they lacked both e-commerce capability and a sizable social media following.

“Everyone that was struggling had neither of those. That was the common factor.”

4) Not surprisingly, there still aren’t a ton of people rushing to open businesses in 2020.  

The number of new retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers listed by the JBT is down significantly this year.

So far this year in the U.S., JBT data shows a total of 112 new jewelry businesses have opened, including 42 in the third quarter. That is a 40 percent drop from this point last year, when there were 186 new businesses, including 61 in Q3.

Overall, the size of the industry continues to shrink.

The total number of jewelry businesses in the U.S., as listed by JBT, stands at 24,258, including 18,375 retailers, both down 3 percent year-over-year.

Including Canada, the total is 25,573, down 3 percent from 26,344 at this point in 2019.  

5) The holiday season is a big question mark.

“Q4 is the great unknown,” said Jacobs.

As of this writing, the COVID-19 infection rate is rising and the presidential election has yet to be decided, as has the fate of a second stimulus package.

Late last month, the National Retail Federation was among the more than 200 trade associations that sent a letter to Congress advocating for passage of additional pandemic relief for consumers and businesses.

Jacobs also noted that a stimulus could be a boost for retailers this holiday season.

“The stimulus might be a driver for consumer confidence, which in turn can be a driver for discretionary purchases,” he said.

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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.