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U.S. Retail

May 31, 2013 12:01 AM   By Lara Ewen
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RAPAPORT... Business is Looking Up

Spring has been very good to independent jewelers. Customers are returning, and larger-ticket items are beginning to move again. Previous fears about the sequester seem to have disappeared from customers’ minds, and instead, shoppers are finding new joy in simply being able to buy things again. Of course, no one wants to count on a full-on return to economic stability, but at least for the time being, store owners are happy to be ringing up sales and they’re planning to buy at this summer’s trade shows. Good news all around.

Improving Economy
   “The spring has been strong,” said Tyler Nogai, vice president of sales and marketing at Arthur’s Jewelers in St. Paul, Minnesota. “We did expect to grow this year and we were up tremendously overall, and the average purchase price is also up. When you start to see six or seven good months, you start to think that the economy is coming around.” Nogai cautioned, though, that the upward trend is still fragile. “This improvement depends a lot on the national government,” he said. “And when people see the news every day, it affects their mentality.”
   Kaz Bagheri, owner of Bentley Diamond Importers in Wall Township, New Jersey, agreed that the media has been making customers nervous. “To be honest, everyone always talks about unemployment, but not about employment,” he said. “I think that people were scared, even though most people were still working. But because they talk about it on the news all the time, it looked bad. It was all psychological. The economy wasn’t as bad as everybody thought it was going to be, but people were afraid of spending money.” In fact, Bagheri has been having a very good 2013 so far. “Business-wise, we’re ahead of 2012 by a good margin. We’re up by about 20 percent,” he said.
   A lot of businesses have been reporting double-digit increases for the first months of the year. “This year has been going very well,” said Steve Samaras, owner of Zachary’s Jewelers, with two stores in Maryland. “In our first quarter, we’re up about 16 percent over 2012, and 2012 was about our best year ever.”
   For Stacy Lederer, manager of Yamron Jewelers in Naples, Florida, one of the main signs that things are getting better is that there’s a more relaxed feeling in the air. “Business has been good,” she said. “I think there’s less fear. I think after 2008 and 2009, there was more of a consciousness about the economy. But now there’s more of a calm in the air. I think we tend to get consumed, but I think the media has calmed down now.”
   Even with largely positive reports, some people are still feeling the sting of 2012’s somewhat difficult holiday season. “We’re probably a little bit down fiscally, because we had a horrendous November and December,” said Ken Stein, owner of Bensons Jewelers in Washington, D.C. “That was due to the impending doom of the fiscal collapse. But then January through April, we were much better, pretty close to 2012. So my business has been back up.”

Gambling on Vegas
   The improving business trend means this year’s Vegas shows should be more crowded than they have been in years past. And store owners will be there to buy. “We’re going to JCK and looking for new trends in diamond merchandise, and especially in bridal,” said Nogai. “And we buy when we go. Maybe we do about 15 percent of our annual purchasing there.”
   Looking for trends is big business at the summer shows, and especially at a huge event like JCK, Luxury and the other associated shows. “We do Vegas every year,” said Lederer. “I like the multiple shows. They’re easy to navigate. We look for new and interesting and fresh merchandise that lets us be on trend. We also go to Basel, and we take trips to New York City and other areas as needed.”
   Of course, Vegas isn’t for everyone. “I never go to JCK,” said Bagheri. “My staff goes to New York because it’s closer, and we do a lot of buying there. And we’re probably going to do more buying in 2013 than in 2012.”
Stein also chooses to stay away from Vegas, but for a different reason. “I used to go to JCK,” he said, “but when I go, I spend too much money and I get in a pickle. You want too much. It’s like being a kid in a candy store.”

Looking Forward
   So will the positive economic trend continue? Hopefully. “I just heard that house foreclosures are dropping,” said Samaras. “And this year, I’ve had more large sales — meaning $25,000 plus — than I had all year in 2009 and 2010. So, my outlook is positive. It’s always been positive. But you’ll get a better sense of what is really happening after Vegas.”
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