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U.S. Retail

Sep 4, 2013 12:01 AM   By Lara Ewen
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RAPAPORT... So Far, So Good

So far, 2013 has been a good year, with mostly positive reports from across the country about steady sales and healthy traffic. Though a few places saw a bit of an expected slowdown during the hot summer months, most stores were feeling positive about their bottom lines and optimistic that the coming months would usher in a strong holiday season.

Steady Sales
   The main barometer of an improving economy has been not large increases in sales, but more dependable numbers. “2013 is going okay,” said Fernando Schlaen, general manager at Richard’s Gems and Jewelry in Miami. “It’s slightly better than 2012. People feel comfortable spending a little more money, and the overall economy is not as bad as it has been.”
   Small improvements were news elsewhere as well. Rick Beaulieu, president of Springer’s Jewelers, with two stores in Maine and one in New Hampshire, said he’s been trying to be more proactive and upbeat around his customers, and it has helped. “Business has been steady so far in 2013,” he said. “It’s slightly up from 2012. Banks are back lending money, and jobs are picking up in our neck of the woods, so people are ready to spend. Things are looking up.”
   For Lance Buttars, owner of Molinelli’s Jewelers in Pocatello, Idaho, the biggest surprise was not that business improved in 2013, but that it didn’t decline, as the store has been going through a months-long construction and renovation. “I was nervous that our business would be challenged during our construction, and I anticipated contractors scaring a lot of people away,” he said. “But for all those who were scared away, there were others for whom it sparked interest. So our 2013 business has been on par with 2012, which was a record year for us.”
   Sales are also stable for Tim Harold, owner and manager of William Harold Jewelers in Newport Beach, California. “Numbers in 2013 have been comparable with 2012 so far,” he said. “And it seems we are selling a lot more engagement rings than we did in the past.”
   However, a few business owners are still feeling a bit of a downturn. “Business has been slow during the whole summer,” said Patrick Larkin, manager of Burri Jewelers in Cheyenne, Wyoming. “It was okay up until April, then it started dying. I’m hoping that it’s just a slow summer and that it will get busier. When it starts getting closer to Christmas is when it starts to pick up.”

Early Expectations
   Although the holiday season is still a few months away, stores are already setting year-end goals, and expectations are high. “We expect holiday 2013 to be much bigger than 2012,” said Harold. And although he doesn’t think the overall year will end up too differently, he expects to see changes in the type of sales. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we sold a higher volume of lower-ticket items and less high ticket.”
   In Florida, Schlaen said he’d have to wait to know how holiday would shape up. “The rest of 2013 will be unpredictable,” he said. “This year, I don’t want to create any high expectations, but we always have goals. If I do 10 percent more than 2012, I wouldn’t be disappointed. But also, in South Florida, November will be the beginning of the holiday season. It’s coming later and later every year.”
   For Beaulieu, a lot of his sales will depend on how much effort he puts in. “With the right marketing, it’s going to a very good year,” he said. “Not to say it’s not going to be a struggle, but you have to have a good fourth quarter.”

Year-end Marketing
   The pressure to meet year-end sales goals makes some store owners nervous. But even so, pragmatism rules. “I think with this business, you don’t know how customers will react,” said Larkin. “Jewelry is a want, not a need. I would like to hope it’s a necessity, but in all honesty, it’s not.” That sentiment might explain Larkin’s understandable caution. “Business now is not as bad as it was two years ago,” he said. “But it feels like it wasn’t as good this year as it was last year. It kind of just feels a little less.”
   Still, in tough situations, independent jewelers have proved hardy and resourceful. “I expect our numbers to be up significantly for the rest of 2013 because of our new construction and our heavy promotion for the remodel,” said Buttars. “And when other people are being conservative, as an aggressive marketer, I always see an opportunity to steal market share and be better.” Buttars added that while his gold buyback from customers has slowed, sales of finished jewelry out of the case are up. “So we fish where the fish are,” he said.
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