Everybody’s a Jeweler Now!

Forget the Internet for a moment. And the TV jewelers. Everybody else is a jeweler now, too! I can’t remember my father or grandfather feeling threatened by anyone making his or her own jewelry in the basement. In fact, my great-grandfather started his business in this country in 1913 by setting up a bench in my grandfather’s bedroom and taking job work. America still is a wonderful place where “If you can dream it, you can do it.” But any independent jeweler who doesn’t feel the pinch of the non-jewelry venues cutting into our marketplace isn’t being honest. About a year ago, our fourth-generation business moved from downtown to a fashionable boutique neighborhood, and it has been a good move for us. Still, while we have made many new customers, I am astounded by what I’d overlooked about the move.

There are three serious independent jewelers in our neighborhood, good solid shops with history. But we are all different in some ways, and I felt that they were good company to be in—and that has proven to be the case.

What I never considered were the many dress shops and gift shops—some of whom carry our vendors’ lines! Others carry costume jewelry, but such expensive costume jewelry that I respect them not only as good businesses but also as competition.

All are great shops with good taste, and that’s part of why I wanted to move here. But I can’t believe I didn’t understand that jewelry is a staple in these boutiques. Generally speaking, it’s not the same level of merchandise in which we specialize, but we’d like to attract that business, too. Little by little, it’s happening, but we’ve had to double our efforts toward marketing to increase our share in this arena.

Storefront retailers aren’t the only sources of competition for an independent jeweler’s piece of the good old American pie. How about when you discover that one of your customers—the one who solicited that nice donation piece from you for her favorite charity a month ago—is not only having “jewelry parties” at her home but also inviting many of your customers?

After much gnashing of teeth, I decided to ask her to have a jewelry party at our place, or at her place with our jewelry. I hear her customers spend big, so why not spend it on us?

If we truly believe that our merchandise speaks for itself, we can increase our sales without shop walls. Who among us hasn’t been surprised to see someone who you thought was a “civilian” at a jewelry trade show? In my case it was a dentist’s wife.

“I just keep a little jewelry case in my husband’s office so that his patients can purchase jewelry there,” she explained. “But really, I just do it so that I can buy jewelry for myself and my friends at cost,” she giggled.

I wasn’t amused. Who let her in? I fault our industry for allowing hobbyists like this into the trade-show halls. She and her friends were and are our customers, but she also is competition, despite having no connection to repair experts or custom designers.

However, we can all learn from the dentist’s wife and people like her. She gave me ideas about alternative marketing, and you know what they say about Mohammed and the mountain.

Once upon a time, there was dime-store jewelry, department-store jewelry, art jewelry, and what we did. What’s different today is that I never imagined “our” customer shopping for jewelry in a department store.

But today I have a life-size picture of our customer. Our customer shops everywhere. To these folks, jewelry is jewelry is jewelry. Customers no longer look for a jeweler to trust and stick with in the same way we look for a doctor.

Still, I hate to lose even one of them. I suppose that today, plenty of people think that the independent jeweler’s margins are too high, and that “no one can tell the difference anyway.” And so they go where they think they can get the same thing for a lot less money—that is, until they need a second opinion.

But that’s another story for another time. We can only pray, that, in the words of an ad I once saw for a carriage-trade business, “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.”

One thing’s for sure, though: There’s no going back. It’s a whole new ball game. Whose name is written in the book of success? Search me—I have no crystal ball … unless you want to consider that 17-inch strand of 18-mm quartz beads with the 18k clasp. Wait a second. I’ll have to look up the price—it’s our last strand!

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