Zale, Sterling post holiday sales gains

The two largest U.S. retail jewelry chain operators –Zale Corp. and Sterling Inc.–posted modest sales gains for the 2002 holiday selling period, despite what both call a difficult retail environment, in reports released Jan. 9.

Zale. Zale Corp., North America’s largest specialty retailer of fine jewelry, said its comparable store sales rose 1.3% in constant currencies for the two-month period. Total revenues for November and December totaled $804.3 million, a 1.3% increase over 2001’s $794.1 million.

Mary L. Forte, Zale Corp. president and chief executive officer, attributed the gains to “solid marketing campaigns,” tightly-controlled expenses and inventories, and “providing our customers with a wide assortment of quality merchandise at great values.”

The moderately-priced segment of Zale Corp.’s business remained its strength during the holiday period, says its Jan. 9 report, but its kiosk business “didn’t meet expectations.”

Zale Corp. has 2,300 retail locations in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, as well as online. Its brands include Zales Jewelers, Zales Outlet, Zale Direct at www.zales.com, Gordon’s Jewelers, Bailey Banks & Biddle Fine Jewelers, Peoples Jewellers, Mappins Jewellers and Piercing Pagoda.

Sterling Inc. For Sterling Inc., the U.S. division of the London-based Signet Group and the second-largest North American specialty retailer of fine jewelry, total sales rose 5.8% for the eight weeks up to Dec. 24, and comparable sales rose 4.7%. The Signet report noted that it “exceeded the 0.8% average increase of specialty jewelry retailers in malls” (based on a Jan. 3 survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers).

After a difficult November, Sterling’s sales in December recovered strongly, due in part to the timing of Thanksgiving which came a week later than in 2001. Jared, the company’s 67 off-mall jewelry stores, continued to outperform its mall stores.

Sterling “capitalized on its established competitive strengths in merchandising, store operations and marketing and didn’t increase discounting,” says the Signet report. The gross margin, though, “eased slightly” due to as planned changes in the merchandising mix.

In the 48 weeks leading to Jan. 4, the comparable store sales of Sterling, which provides 71% of Signet’s total revenues, grew 5.7%, with total sales up 2.5%.

Signet’s United Kingdom division saw comparable sales rise 3% and total sales growth of 4.1% for the eight-week holiday period. For the 48 weeks leading to Jan. 4, comp store sales were up 5.2% and total sales rose 6.5%.

Signet is the world’s largest specialty jewelry retailer. It operates 1,663 specialty retail jeweler stores, including 1,050 stores in the United States under the names “Kay Jewelers,” “Jared The Galleria Of Jewelry,” and a number of regional names; and 613 stores in the United Kingdom under the names “H. Samuel,” “Ernest Jones,” and “Leslie Davis”.