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U.S. Retail

Feb 26, 2013 12:01 AM   By Lara Ewen
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Optimism as Sales Pick Up

Although the country is still in the throes of winter, optimism is in the air. Sales have been picking up slowly but surely, and many stores are continuing to see steady improvements, year on year, even if that improvement is only incremental. With spring on the horizon, the small sales boosts that come with such holidays as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and May graduation ceremonies may help stores raise their overall sales totals for the year.

Valentine’s Boost
   While Valentine’s Day isn’t an economically important holiday, most stores still hoped to see at least a bit of a sales jump in the days leading up to February 14. “Valentine’s Day is a good two or three days,” said Doug Jones, owner of Dale’s Jewelers in Idaho Falls, Idaho. “It’s decent for us. This year, I’ve prepared the same as in 2012, and I feel like it will be good. I feel like people held back at Christmas time a little bit, and then the earth didn’t open up and swallow them. People don’t like to remain down that long.”
   Eve Alfillé, owner of Eve J. Alfillé Gallery and Studio in Evanston, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, agreed that Valentine’s Day would give people who had been shy about Christmas spending a chance to make up for it. “Valentine’s Day is not a big event, but it does motivate a lot of gentlemen to come in,” she said. “In some ways it’s incidental, but I think 2013 will be a little better than 2012. People are prepared to spend.”
   Of course, no one expected record sales in February. “It’s not that Valentine’s Day doesn’t matter,” said JJ Slatkin, general manager of Jay Feder Jewelers in Denver, Colorado. “But it’s not something we push. There are a lot of good reasons to spend money throughout the year, so if you weren’t already planning to do something big for Valentine’s Day, then I’m not going to push in that direction. I expected this Valentine’s Day to go well, and to be better than 2012, but it’s not a huge thing for us.”
   It’s also not big for Brandon Katzeff, owner of Joyce’s Fine Jewelry in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and Joyce’s Jewelry Boutique in Morgantown, West Virginia. “Valentine’s Day is not as important as most people think,” he said. “We prepare for the week of it, and hopefully we make a few good sales. But it’s about equal to Mother’s Day for us. Still, it got off to a good start.”
   For some stores, though, Valentine’s Day is still important. “It has been a big deal for us in the past, and I think personally, sometimes, with the economy the way it is, and the struggles, things like Valentine’s Day pull people together,” said Richard Neustaedter, owner of Neustaedter’s Fine Jewelers in St. Louis, Missouri. “It’s not like it used to be, years ago, but then again, people are more conservative than they used to be.”

Corporate Giving
   One topic that everyone agreed on is that it’s important for independent jewelers to give back and participate fully within their communities. But just as important as giving is making sure that it’s not seen as marketing, or worse. “At one point, we were donating to 120 different causes a year, so we had to limit that so we could go a little deeper,” said Alfillé. “But what we don’t do is publicize our donations. I think that’s pandering, and it feels dishonorable.”
   Slatkin agreed that donating and volunteering are not things that should be used as traditional marketing tools. “Cause marketing, to me, is going out into the community and donating money and time,” he said. “And that’s important to us, not because it will bring in sales, but because it’s the right thing to do. And it’s not just about marketing. You do it to be an added benefit to your community. If you truly care about your cause, then you are building positive relationships with people, and then they trust you on something they know nothing about: diamonds.”

Looking Ahead
   The coming year looks good, according to store owners and managers. “Each of the past three years has been our best year, and we’ve grown each year,” said Katzeff. “So I’m positive about 2013. It’s not an election year, and interest rates are still low and gold is finally remaining a little more stable. I think it will be a great year.”
   Jones agreed. “My outlook is positive,” he said. “I’m stocking the shelves, and I love my customers. They may not be spending as much, but I’ve got them covered.”
   Slatkin is also positive. “I feel very optimistic,” he said. “If we can stabilize the economy, that will provide the consumer confidence we need to keep things going. A rising tide raises all ships. And our general outlook is that we expect 2013 to be another up year.”
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