Connecticut Jeweler Talks Profits and Pearls

As the owner of Peter Indorf Jewelers, with two stores in New Haven and Madison, Conn., Peter Indorf certainly has a heart for pearls. But he also has a head for the business that generates pearl sales. 

A subscriber to the Edge Retail Academy, Indorf’s New Haven store is No. 2 in terms of pearl jewelry sales and his Madison location is No. 9 for the 160 retail stores that are benchmarked for pearls.

Peter Indorf, owner Peter Indorf Jewelers

Peter Indorf

Pearls make up 7 percent of Indorf’s total sales and 8 percent of his overall inventory. Of that 8 percent, 25 percent is freshwater pearls, 50 percent Akoya, and the remaining 25 percent is split between South Seas and Tahitian pearls.

Indorf’s five keys to pearl sales success started with learning to buy smarter for better margins. Given the price fluctuations brought on by supply issues that impacted most pearl varieties in the 1990s, he began using GemWorld International’s quarterly price guides as a barometer for wholesale prices many years back.

Today, Indorf averages a 58 percent profit margin on all pearl sales. As a general rule, however, larger, more important strands of fine pearls—such as a $20,000 strand of fine South Seas pearls—leave less wiggle room for mark-up, while pearl jewelry priced $900 or less tends to offer traditional triple-keystone mark-up.

For Indorf, size matters when it comes to the pearl vendors. He prefers buying goods from smaller companies where the owner deals directly with retail jeweler and has little overhead. “I like hearing from the owner who calls me when he gets back from Asia with new product or specials,” says Indorf. “That kind of attention and service means a lot to me.”

r Indorf Jewelers’ New Haven, Conn., store

Peter Indorf Jewelers’ New Haven, Conn., store

Other keys to Indorf’s pearl prowess include the initial training of his staff with regular updates and refreshers, reordering fast sellers, and selling quality over quantity. “We focus on carrying pearls with the best luster,” says Indorf. “We want to be the store that carries a quality of pearl people have never seen before. That’s what helps brand you as a pearl store.”

Carrying unique pearl products is another branding strategy for Indorf. While attending the April 2011 AGS Conclave, Indorf learned about soufflé pearls, a new variety of pearl nucleated with mud. When the pearls are drilled, the mud used in the nucleation stage of the pearl’s growth is removed, leaving the pearl about 10 to 15 percent lighter, explains Indorf.

Indorf was so taken by the pinkish tones and luster of the new variety that he’s currently working on designs set with soufflé pearls for his Cosmos Collection. “The light weight, colors, and luster of these pearls will make a great addition to our textured gold jewelry collection,” he says.

Whether it’s a new variety or the staples, Indorf also advances pearl sales with the jewelry designs he creates in-house. Roughly 50 percent of the jewelry sold at his two stores is designed by Indorf and fabricated and finished by his staff of bench jewelers. Of his store-designed jewelry, roughly 5 percent is set with pearls. His top sellers: pearl stud earrings.

Taking a page from the diamond stud display and sales playbook, Indorf presents pearl stud earrings the same way, with the smallest size and corresponding prices on one end, working up to larger sizes and higher prices on the opposite end.

pearl studs by size and price

Peter Indorf sells pearl studs by size and price, similar to diamond studs.

The smallest size of pearl studs he carries is 4 mm, with 12 mm on the top end. (Anything over 12 mm would be considered a larger, specialty-size item deserving its own display space.)

Indorf currently has such pricing matrix displays for freshwater pearl stud earrings, but is looking to have Tahitian, South Seas, and Akoya displays priced and ready to go by Christmas season. “Customers come in and quickly identify a size and price they want,” says Indorf. “The quality of the studs is fairly universal, so it comes down to how big and how much. These stud earrings practically fly out the door.”

The other part of the pearl sales equation is getting customers to come through the front door. In the run up to this year’s holiday season, Indorf has a four-part fourth-quarter promotional campaign starting with colored stones in September, custom work in October, pearls in November, and diamonds in December. “For November, we developed a catchy tagline of ‘Pearls of Wisdom…Be Wise,’” says Indorf.

JCK would like to thank the Cultured Pearl Association of America for its assistance with this month-long blog series on retailers and pearls.