Start Running

If opportunity knocks but once, right now it’s pounding on the door, and smart jewelers need to run—not walk—to answer it.

The apparel industry (and, to a lesser degree, the beauty industry) has been beleaguered of late, giving jewelers an opportunity to fill a gaping hole. While the ’90s trend toward casual offices wreaked havoc among suit makers, most of the reasons the apparel industry has taken a beating have nothing to do with rumpled khakis.

One, big retailers’ demands for pricing, markdown money, and charge-backs have squeezed manufacturers’ margins to the bone and stifled creativity to the point where they’re afraid to produce anything that isn’t a proven winner. Two, the need to make numbers has cramped department store buyers’ willingness to risk new, untried brands. Three, any real innovation in apparel design tends to be targeted to the junior and contemporary markets, so customers with the most money to spend on apparel—Baby Boom women—are terribly underserved. Much of the freshest fashion is inappropriate for the over-35 woman’s lifestyle, professional needs, and body. What is being offered to the over-35 customer doesn’t look much different from what’s already in her closet.

These factors result in bland assortments that bore the hell out of those consumers with the most money to burn. Women’s Wear Daily has been analyzing this trend for the better part of a year—which means that sometime soon, that industry is going to wake up and smell the toast burning—and there goes our opportunity to cash in on all that unspent money.

Why has the accessories market taken off like a rocket? Because if the clothes are dull, the way that—dare I say it—middle-aged customers make their ensembles feel as hip as Carrie Bradshaw’s wardrobe on Sex and the City is to carry Carrie’s bag or wear Carrie’s shoes. Carrie’s bag—she propelled the Fendi baguette into stardom of its own—can rake in $500 or more for a daytime version, and upwards of $1,000 for an embellished evening version. Carrie’s Manolo Blahnik shoes range anywhere from about $400 to more than $1,000 a pair.

So the money spent on shoes that aren’t made for walking (believe me, I’ve tried) and bags into which one can’t fit wallet, cell phone, and sunglasses at the same time (tried that, too) is money that could be spent in your store! Money that could be spent for an object of beauty that lasts a lifetime, doesn’t wear out, doesn’t get ruined in the rain, doesn’t give blisters, and never needs to be dry cleaned.

But if Carrie’s shoes and bags inspire acquisitive lust, her jewelry has been disappointing. The diamond horseshoe was cute, but not a lifetime style statement. As for the nameplate necklace, most over-35 women either kept the ones they got as teenagers, or know their name and don’t need to wear a reminder around their neck. Here’s your opportunity to seek these women out and help each find her own signature pieces. But do it quickly, because the suit-makers and the perfume-makers are suffering, and they need this customer—and her money—back.

Jewelers have a golden opportunity to convert these women into jewelry collectors. Do it with stellar service combined with an exciting, inspiring shopping experience and dazzling new designs. Look at the fashion pages written by our own Carrie (Soucy) every month to see what’s new and innovative in every product category.

Paying spectacular attention to the customer who’s not being served by the competition is a sure formula for building loyalty—and a formula for ensuring that your future success is, well, in the bag.

hschupak@reedbusiness.com