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U.S. Retail

Aug 1, 2013 12:01 AM   By Lara Ewen
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Money to be Made

More than halfway through the year, sales seem to be steady — and even improving — with a consistency and a vigor that’s positively heartening. That said, the new breed of customer expects to find a wide variety of price ranges and multiple style options, and they also expect a high level of service. Furthermore, they have educated themselves, for better or for worse, online, and will likely have a lot of ideas, some of which may be flat-out wrong.
   Retailers who are able to meet customers’ demands and steer them toward the best buys for their budgets have been finding, however, that not only is there money to be made again, but that consumers are once again looking for good independent stores, and those consumers will stay loyal to the ones that treat them with respect.

Up and Up
   The first six months of 2013 have seen steady growth in almost every market. “2013 started off slower than 2012, but things picked up around May,” said Tonia Ulsh, chief operations officer at Mountz Jewelers, with three stores in Pennsylvania. “Driven by Mother’s Day and bridal sales, each of our stores exceeded its May goals by 23 percent to 33 percent. The momentum continued into June with a diamond event that generated a higher level of sales than a similar 2012 event.”
   In the Midwest, the news was similarly cheerful. “Things have definitely been better than they have been in awhile,” said Steven Tapper, vice president of Tapper’s, with three stores in Michigan. Tapper attributes that in part to an overall improvement in the economy. “People feel a little more comfortable with their income stream,” he said. “And we’re a consumer society. People love to shop, and that’s how we entertain ourselves. So, Michigan is doing better, and we’re doing better.”
   At Gleim the Jeweler in Palo Alto, California, owner Georgie Gleim is also seeing improvements. “Other than March, which was terrible, we have had a very good first half of 2013,” she said. “We are fortunate to be in a part of the country that has undergone a good recovery and is currently doing very well, as compared to those still hit by recession.”

Gold Impact
   One of the most encouraging signs is that retailers seem to think this economic upswing isn’t merely a bump but a real sea change, albeit a slow one. “Business has been good in 2013,” said Pen Fix, owner of Dodson’s Jewelers in Spokane, Washington. “You know, it’s not exceedingly good, but solid. What’s interesting is that I think we’re starting to see the turnaround. It’s not coming in leaps and bounds, but we’re anticipating a slow improvement. With the price of gold going down, the people who have been surviving by selling gold are going to be in trouble. If they haven’t kept up their jewelry inventories, then they’re not going to be positioned for this next stage.”  
   Of course, stores that work hard to provide their customers with exactly what they want will always do well, regardless of the current economic temperature. “Our business has been doing great this first half of 2013,” said Mindi Robuck, co-owner of Michael’s Jewelers in Anchorage, Alaska. “Business in 2012 was awesome, and it is about the same this year. We continue to grow each year, and always keep things new and fresh. When the economy got funny in the lower 48, we didn’t panic up here and compromise on our quality. Instead, we went higher end. And I have to say, our customers want quality and service, so their overall confidence is strong and positive.”

Looking Ahead
   Retailers think this upward trend will continue through holiday. “We are confident about the second half of 2013,” said Ulsh. “As we do every year, we are strategically looking at the third quarter as a time to keep the momentum going and focus on continuing training for our employees prior to the holiday selling season.” Ulsh also feels that the year will end well. “I believe that the fourth quarter will be stronger in 2013 than the past several years,” she said. “The outlook of the economy is positive and in turn gives ‘permission’ to our clients to spend.”
   Tapper agreed. “My gut sense from customers is that they’re a little more open to making purchases,” he said. “So we’re working both sides of the teeter-totter. We’re selling, and we’re trying to reduce inventory. But if there are no major catastrophes, this could be a great holiday season, and we’ve waited a long time for a good holiday.”
   Still, it may not be time to break out the champagne just yet. A bit of reserve is still a good idea. “Business is challenging,” said Fix. “It’s a lot of hard work. We are anticipating that business is only going to get better, and we believe the economy is going to get better. But we’ve been cautious about how we’ve been spending our money. We’re not going to see a 20 percent increase over 2012. But if you can do 10 percent, you’ll be doing very well.”

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