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VIRTUAL JEWELRY

Rather than lug cases into your store, a sales rep shows you a jewelry line on a laptop computer. Nearby, a consumer plays with ring designs at an interactive kiosk.

These scenarios and more will soon be available to users of a new interactive CD-ROM that features a virtual jewelry store.

The new CD-ROM technology, which is available from Phinney/Bischoff Design House, can be customized for manufacturers and retailers, says Leanne Mumm Pardo, marketing director at Phinney/Bischoff, a print and multimedia design company based in Seattle, Wash.

“It’s a whole new way to market your jewelry,” says Pardo. “Though it’s high-tech, it’s actually extremely intuitive to use.”

Manufacturers and retailers can display or catalog products on the CD-ROM, allowing for quick updating and repurposing of product images.

A user enters the virtual jewelry store displayed on-screen using a Macintosh or PC-based platform. Using the computer’s mouse, you may pan around the store 360š#-102#, zooming in on products of interest.

On the retail sales floor, the CD-ROM can act as another salesperson. Consumers can click on a painting on the wall and see an “object movie” of a featured piece from all angles. A click on the jeweler’s easel zooms to a screen where the customer can create a custom ring, choosing various settings, stone colors and shapes. The design can be printed in full-color along with product information and pricing.

A click to the TV shown in the room plays product information or commercials for the retailer, augmenting other marketing efforts.

“Our goal is to help inform jewelry businesses about the benefits of using emerging technology to creatively market their own products to retailers or to consumers,” says Pardo.

Phinney/Bischoff Design House, 614 Boylston Ave. East, Seattle, WA 98102; (206) 322-3484, fax (206) 322-3590.

TEENS SPEND $69 BILLION

Never underestimate the buying power of the teen market. In 1995, the more than 25 million teenagers in the U.S. spent $69 billion of their own money on jewelry, makeup, clothes, compact disks and entertainment, according to a study by Teenage Research Unlimited, a Northbrook, Ill., research firm.

The No. 1 accessory among those ages 13 to 19 is silver jewelry, says the study. They are looking for bold shiny metal designs, especially in neck and waist chains, cuffs, ID and ankle bracelets, stackable rings, neck wires and leather-and-silver lariats.

“Teens are trendsetters, investing in their image,” says Lisa Bruno of Accessor-eyes, a New York City trend-watching firm. “For fall/winter, I see a stronger influence coming from teens on the streets who are more socially and politically aware. They are becoming involved in extreme sports such as snowboarding and in-line skating instead of hanging out at the mall. Comic book heroes, as well as hip-hop and alternative music, are impacting kids’ style.”

Along with silver jewelry, teens are dressing in vintage ’70s chic, including Gucci handbags and loafers worn with orbital silver pendants dangling from ribbons or leather cords. Silver and gold metallic fabrics add sheen to outerwear, shirts and pants.

Silver shows up again in makeup and hair ornaments. Opalescent silvers and deep metallic purple, blue and green are hot nail polish colors, while purples and shiny pale colors shine on lips.

RETAILING AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY

Independent jewelry retailers comprise one of 14 businesses expected to do well in the economic climate of the next century, according to a new study titled “Retail Trends, the Next Five Years:Surviving the Turn of theCentury.”

Targeting diverse customers through local media, offering private-label merchandise and niche marketing are three tools that will enable smaller retailers, such as independent jewelers, to succeed in the next several years, according to the study. On the other hand, the outlook for other types of retailers, such as discounters and factory outlet stores, is less upbeat.

The study was conducted by G.A. Wright Inc., a retail management consulting company in Denver, Colo. It analyzes trends in retailing — such as demographic and lifestyle changes, advanced technology and the U.S. economy — and how they will affect retailers into the new century.

One significant change, notes the study, is in the buying habits of Baby Boomers, the nation’s largest population segment. As the oldest Boomers turn 50, they have acquired what they need to live comfortably. Their children are leaving the nest, their earnings are at the peak and “self-actualization will be the predominant motive influencing [their purchasing] decisions. This is not the profile of a discount store shopper,” the study says. “The quantity of product purchased [by Boomers] is declining, but the money is there to ensure quality and a high level of service.”

The study also determines which retailers will survive and includes tips for success in the years ahead. Generally, smaller retailers should do well, according to the study. Indeed, according to another study that Dun &Bradstreet Information Services and G.A. Wright conducted jointly, smaller retailers possess “two competitive tools that allow [them] to prevail against larger retailers … niche marketing and a strong service component. As we approach the year 2000, these will become even more important.”

Jewelers can maximize their chances of survival by exploiting their advantages in niche retailing and customer service. “People want to be unique and are interested in jewelry and accessories that fit their lifestyle and make them look different,” says the study. “While a woman might buy clothing at a national chain store to save money, she will go to the local independent for accessories she won’t see being worn by someone else.”

Brand and price savings are less important at the upper end of the price scale, which provides a good opportunity for the high-quality, high-service retailer who wants to build store identity through private labels and be protected from price competition, according to the study by G.A. Wright.

Private-label merchandise — which the study says can provide a 3% to 6% margin advantage and is more available now than it was a decade ago — is one area where small retailers can establish an edge over the competition.

To build on store identity, the report recommends using local media for advertising and marketing efforts. Local newspapers, cable TV and direct mail, for example, are becoming more important than metropolitan newspapers and network TV in targeting specific consumers.

The study says shopping via computer will continue to grow, but “is not likely to have the adverse impact on traditional retailing that many have predicted.” it says. “The store is still the only place you can touch, smell, taste, try on, have serviced and easily return a product.”

But small retailers need to learn how to compete with shopping on the World Wide Web as well as to incorporate it as an ally into their retailing strategy.

In other words, retailers who make shrewd use of traditional and new retailing techniques will do well — “Great opportunities exist for the breakthrough retailers of the 21st century,” says the report.

The report, “Retail Trends, The Next Five Years: Surviving the Turn of the Century,” is available for $19.95 from G.A. Wright Inc., 4105 Holly St., Denver, CO, 80216.

CAR PHONES ADD VALUE TO BILLBOARDS

The billboard, a low-tech and some would say old-fashioned advertising medium, may gain new life and popularity due in part to a high-tech ally: the cellular car telephone.

One jeweler in Murrysville, Pa., can testify to that link. Frank Weiss of Golden Creations recently received a call from a driver who saw the jeweler’s telephone number on a billboard and wanted specific directions to the store. Once there, he looked at anniversary bands and bought one for $6,000.

“That sale alone paid for my billboards,” says Weiss. He adds that the use of car phones didn’t occur to him when he contracted to advertise on two to four billboards during the year. The phone use is a genuine bonus.

Of course, a billboard’s effectiveness can’t be quantified by car phones alone. Weiss recalls an instance when, after visiting another jeweler in town, a driver’s wife suggested stopping at Weiss’s store. “She said she saw the name and location on our billboard,” Weiss says. “They bought a 1.25-ct. diamond ring.”

Most jewelers use billboards to promote special products or enhance overall marketing and advertising programs. Watch companies are notably large users of the medium, which lends itself to brand-name promotion.

Still, many retailers are content to use the boards to remind drivers of store location, product range and telephone numbers.