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LAS VEGAS LEADS NATION’S GROWTH

Las Vegas was the fastest growing metropolitan area in the nation during the early 1990s, according to a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau. The population grew by nearly 14% to just under 1 million between April 1, 1990, and July 1, 1992.

The nation’s gambling capital also has become a hot spot for the jewelry industry with the launch of the JCK International Jewelry Show there in 1992, a new Jewelers International Showcase in 1994 and the brand-new United Jewelers Expo this month, not to mention the American GemSociety’s move from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 1993.The Chamber of Commerce has no statistics on the number of new retail jewelers in the past few years, but established jewelers note a definite increase.

What’s the attraction? Part of it is the booming resort industry. And part of it is an influx of Californians who “sold their houses and made a lot of money, came to Vegas, bought a home for a lot less and retired with the rest in their pockets,” says Paul Christensen, a longtime jeweler who also is a commissioner of Clark County (which includes Las Vegas) and chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “With all the growth, jobs are created, and this has brought a lot of people, too.”

The growth has brought some problems, as well – traffic, crowded schools and some people who want to stop the growth, says Christensen.

But has the growth hurt or helped the local jewelry industry? The city’s jewelers have mixed reactions. Christensen’s father opened his first store – M.J. Christensen & Sons Inc. – in Las Vegas in 1939. Christensen recently opened a new branch in The Forum Shops, an exclusive shopping arcade adjoining Caesars’ Palace. But the growth hasn’t particularly helped his firm because it’s brought many more jewelry stores to the area. “Everyone’s in the jewelry business,” he says. In fact, the Yellow Pages of the local telephone book carry 201 entries under the heading “Retail Jewelers” – many of them with the words “pawn” or “loan” in their names. Recent court rulings have eased rules governing pawnshops, and many now call themselves jewelers, says Christensen “We also have lots of wholesale-to-the-public-type of stores,” he says.

Richard Huntington of Huntington Jewelers Inc, in business in Las Vegas since 1950, agrees. “There’s lots more competition, and there’s more advertising of `wholesale prices,'” he says. “This hurts everyone.”

But John Fish of John Fish Jewelers feels the growth has been good for his business. “We deal mostly with locals – not much with tourists – and our customers are getting educated that there’s a cheap way to make jewelry and there’s a better way to make jewelry,” he says. “People have seen the results of buying cheap goods and are turning back to the better merchandise.” Fish, who has operated a store in Las Vegas for 39 years, says the city has always been a “good jewelry town.”

Elsie Taroy of J. Burton Jewelers agrees and thinks the trend will continue; her company has three stores in Las Vegas and expects to open three more soon. And Angel Keppler of The Whitehall Co. says more people equals more sales.

Ben Bridge Jeweler Inc., a well-known chain based in Seattle, Wash., found Las Vegas attractive and opened a store there in 1993. “It was a strong market, attractive and we had a good location,” says manager Patrick Stout. The city has changed from a strictly gambling environment to one that is more family-oriented and that should help business, he says. But this very change concerns Thomas Jerbic of The Diamond Palace. “When things change to a family-oriented fun spot, people will spend less on gambling. This means less all the way around.”

Adds Christensen: “The total pie may be bigger, but there are more people trying to get a slice of it.”

For the record, other metropolitan areas with strong population growth were Laredo, Tex., +11.4%; Yuma, Ariz., +10%; McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Tex., +9.8%; Anchorage, Alaska, +8.6%; Naples, Fla., +8.3%; Las Cruces, N.M., +8.2%; Bakersfield, Cal., and Lawton, Okla., both +8.1%; and Boise City, Idaho, +8%. This ranking is a big change from the 1980s, when Florida repeatedly was home to nine of the 10 fastest-growing areas.

In sheer numbers, Los Angeles added the most new residents: 500,000-plus for a total of 15 million.

PART-TIMERS `OUT-STEAL’ FULL-TIMERS

Part-time retail employees commit more internal thefts than full-timers, and their thefts are more costly to employers, according to a study by Reid Psychological Systems, an employee testing company in Chicago, Ill.

The nationwide study asked more than 15,000 employees about their thefts of cash and merchandise in the previous three years. The differences between part-time and full-time employees were substantial.

Part-timers stole 33% more cash from their employers (an average $414 vs. $311). They also took 47% more in merchandise than full-timers ($368 vs. $251). On average, this means each part-timer accounted for combined merchandise and cash losses of $782 over the three years, 39% more than the $562 for full-timers.

And these figures are likely to be understated because the survey focused on admitted thefts, says Reid President Stephen Coffman.

“This study clearly confirms that employers need to be on guard against theft by part-time workers,” says Coffman. “Employers who count on employees to handle cash and merchandise need to reevaluate their screening procedures for part-time as well as full-time employees in order to find solutions to employee theft and other counterproductive behavior.”

EMPLOYEE THEFT
(average theft value over three years per employee)

Part-time employees   Full-time employees
Cash $414 $311
Merchandise $368 $251
Cash and merchandise $782 $562

Source: Reid Psychological Systems, Chicago, Ill.

WATCH IMPORTS ESCAPE TWO-YEAR SLUMP

Watch imports increased 4% in units and 9.8% in value in 1993, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the American Watch Association. They totaled 243.6 million units valued at $1.9 billion.

Considering only precious-metal-case watches, imports rose 5% to 2.1 million units, a turnaround after two years of declining figures. (This category peaked at 5.8 million units in 1990.)

By type of movement, the quartz analog remained the favored category of watch import, topping the precious- and non-precious-metal watch lists. Digital watch imports, meanwhile, fell nearly 70% in the precious-metal category and 6.5% in the non-precious category.

Considering all precious-metal-watch imports, pocket and stop watches had the biggest unit increase: 114.7%. They were followed by quartz analogs at 81.1% and mechanical/automatics at 14.3%. Unit decreases were reported for mechanicals (down 75%), digitals (down 60.9%) and anadigitals (down 57.5%).

The biggest source of precious-metal-case watches by value was Switzerland, which sent watches worth $147.3 million, accounting for 84.8% of the total.By units, China and Hong Kong dominated with a combined 159 million, or 73.4% of the total. Following China and Hong Kong were Switzerland (10.9% ) and Japan (1%).

Considering all watches – precious- and non-precious-metal cases – China accounted for 40.2% of the imports by unit, followed by Hong Kong at 25% and Japan at 19.5%. The Philippines, whose share skyrocketed 122.4% to 18.4 million units, was next with 7.5% of the total. Switzerland accounted for 2.9% and other countries had a combined 4.9%.

ENCOUNTERS WITH DISCOUNTERS

Gold jewelry sales in discount department stores merited an article in a recent issue of Women’s Wear Daily. Based on a World Gold Council report that discount stores accounted for 11% of the $9.6 billion gold jewelry market in 1993, WWD sent a mystery shopper to three discount stores in northern New Jersey.

The shopper encountered poor service and unattentive, less-than-knowledgeable salespeople in the fine jewelry departments of two stores. But the shopper reported excellent service and a wider selection of diamond jewelry at a Kmart store. The salesperson reportedly displayed jewelry on a pad, explained differences in gold karatage and offered to special-order a ring the customer had admired earlier which had since been sold.

Promotional pricing – with 50%-70% discounts – was prominent in all three stores.

Just how successful are discount stores nationwide with gold jewelry sales? In 1993, says the World Gold Council, gold jewelry sales in discount stores rose 24.6% in dollars and 17.5% in units. And from January through August 1994 (the latest figures available), such sales rose 15.2% in dollars and 14.3% in units over the same period of 1993.

The average price paid for a piece of gold jewelry in a discount store was $34 in 1993, compared with an industrywide average of $88. The average price for January through August 1994 was unavailable.

FYI

It’s no surprise that higher education usually leads to higher income. But a new study by the U.S. Department of Commerce backs that up with actual figures that you may find surprising.

The study, titled “Educational Attainment in the United States, 1992-1993” found that a person with an associate’s degree can expect to earn more than $1 million in a lifetime.The figure rises to $1.4 million for someone with a bachelor’s degree and $3 million for a professional such as a lawyer or doctor.

Other highlights from the study:

  • Annual average earnings ranged from $18,737 for high school graduates to $32,629 for someone with a bachelor’s degree to $48,653 for advanced-degree holders.

  • A larger proportion of men than women had a bachelor’s degree or more (25% vs. 19%). There was no statistical difference in the proportion of men and women who had completed high school.

  • The increase in educational attainment among younger people (25-29-year-olds) has slowed considerably and may be leveling off.