The Vacation Challenge

One in five jewelers says it’s almost impossible to get away for vacations, and nearly half say they don’t get enough time off, according to a recent JCK poll.

“Not going on vacations is an occupational hazard,” warns Richard Swetz, owner of the Independent Jewelers Organization (IJO), a for-profit buying group and business-assistance organization in Norwalk, Conn. “When you’re working six or seven days a week, and you’re deprived of the time that others have for family and friends, the work just becomes monotonous. You need to get away, or else it gets to a point where you start disliking it.”

Many jewelers are more likely to grant vacation time to employees—a necessity in today’s tight labor market—than to take time for themselves. JCK’s poll reveals that employees average 10 days of paid vacation annually, with a low of seven days and a high of 14. By contrast, 7.6% of the jewelers surveyed say they take no vacation, 21.3% take one week, and 24.4% take two weeks. (See chart on facing page.) And many who take vacations use the time to attend trade shows. (A total of 200 jewelers responded to the poll, conducted last fall.)

One possible reason for this nose-to-the-grindstone schedule is that many jewelry stores are both small and family-owned. Among the 470 stores surveyed for the Jewelers of America 1999 Cost of Doing Business Survey, for example, the average number of employees was four.

Jewelers may need to rethink their vacation policies. The most prevalent approach (used by 87.6% of survey respondents) is for the staff to cover while the boss is away. But success depends on the number of employees—their expertise, training, and personal relationships with customers—and the proprietor’s ability to delegate.

James Durbin of Durbin Trading Co. in Kirkwood, Mo., manages to take three weeks of vacation a year. “Properly staffing and training is a must to secure a relaxing time,” he says. “But if I as owner plan well and prepare my staff, delegate authority, tie up loose ends, and make everyone aware of jobs in progress and delivery dates, things run smoothly, and the staff has a sense of ownership.”

John Cryan of John S. Cryan Jewelers in Southampton, Pa., takes a somewhat dimmer view of the strategy. “It seems like you must work three times as hard before and after a vacation,” he says. “Sometimes it’s just not worth it.”

Another common approach is simply to close the store and have everyone vacation simultaneously. That’s what 10.4% of survey respondents do, including Joseph De Luca, owner of De Luca Jewelers in Palm Desert, Calif. “Years ago, when we used to stagger vacations, we as owners were frazzled by the time they were over,” he recalls. “We find closing the store during our slowest time much better. In this manner, all our specialized people are always in.” The firm sends a flier to its best customers notifying them of the annual sale that takes place the first two weeks of August. It encourages customers to “take care of your jewelry needs before summer closing,” which occurs the last two weeks of August, the hottest time in the California desert. Of course, this approach requires a lease that allows for vacation closing.

Swetz recommends the store-closing strategy, especially if marketing materials reinforce the notion that the store is closed because the owner is away buying goods customers want. “Vacation isn’t a good reason for a store closing as far as the consumer is concerned,” he says. “But going to buy inventory for them kind of makes sense.” A word of warning, though: The jeweler who closes down needs an excellent security system to protect the store during the staff’s well-publicized absence.

A few of the retailers we polled said they use either retired jewelers or family members who work in the store to cover for them during vacations. Sandi Dahlquist, co-owner of Dahlquist Fine Jewelry in Poulsbo, Wash., tapped a friend’s parents, retired former jewelers, to run the store during a vacation last April. She came up with the idea after a key employee quit only days before she was scheduled to leave for a family celebration. She contacted the retirees and asked if they would mind the store for a fee. “Not only did they keep the doors open, but they also made some good sales. The first morning we were away they sold a $1,200 sapphire ring.” More recently a jeweler friend who wanted to earn extra income left his well-staffed store to fill in while the Dahlquists were away on another short trip.

A similar approach—finding a trusted colleague who can step away from his or her store to fill in while you’re away—is recommended by jeweler David Geller of Jewelry Artisans in Atlanta, a well-known expert on jewelry repair pricing. Geller pushes the idea further, suggesting that jewelers take advantage of vacation time to have a peer assess a store’s performance. This could be done cooperatively by two store owners or by a group of four or six jewelers who know each other through buying groups or trade associations. After filling in at each other’s stores, the jewelers could meet to discuss their assessments. “You learn a lot by visiting people’s stores—new ways of doing things, how they treat employees, the way the store is arranged, merchandising, and pricing,” he says.

Geller has offered to fill in at fellow jewelers’ stores during their vacations—for a fee, of course—especially if he can add in a day or so of consulting on repair pricing or other management topics.

Assessing Employee Effectiveness

How do you know whether your sales staff is generating revenues on a par with similar stores? The Jewelers of America’s Cost of Doing Business Survey provides useful benchmarking data.

According to the 1999 survey (based on 1998 results from 470 jewelers), independent high-end firms rang up the highest sales per employee—$134,000—of any type of store. (The figure applies to both full-time and part-time workers and was calculated by dividing gross revenues by the total number of employees.) Sales per employee (again, full-time and part-time were combined) were $121,157 at chain jewelry stores, $76,466 at independent mid-range firms, and $66,000 at designer, artist, or custom stores.

In another measure of performance—sales per square foot—chain jewelry stores had the highest revenues, $729.84 in a typical store size of 1,639 sq. ft. Independent high-end stores recorded the next highest figure, $524.99 in a typical store size of 2,000 sq. ft. Designer, artist, and custom stores generated median sales per square foot of $330.13 within a typical 1,000-sq.-ft. store, and independent mid-range firms reported the lowest number, $305.93, in a typical store size of 1,521 sq. ft.

Childless Consumers Spend More

Spending on jewelry drops precipitously as the number of children in a household rises. On the surface, this finding from JCK’s recent jewelry consumer study (November 1999, p. 98) seems unremarkable. But closer examination of the data suggests a previously unrecognized consumer group that may respond to focused marketing initiatives such as direct mail: childless households. It’s a market that transcends bridal jewelry (which accounts for just 15% of the total dollar value of U.S. jewelry sales, according to the Diamond Promotion Service) to incorporate single or gay consumers, childless married couples, and empty nesters.

Among the 200 consumers surveyed for JCK (from a statistically representative group of jewelry consumers who spent $100 or more on jewelry in the last year), 56% belonged to households with no children living at home. Households with one child accounted for 16.2% of jewelry consumers, and those with two children accounted for 18.8%. The percentages dropped off rapidly among larger families. Households with three children made up only 5% of jewelry consumers, those with four children made up 2%, and households with five or more children made up 1%.

“The data show that there’s almost four times the potential for selling an item over $100 to someone who has no children in the home than there is to someone who has children,” says John Michaels of Michaels Inc., a Waterbury, Conn., jeweler and the former head of the American Gem Society’s Jewelers Education Foundation. “And if they have three or more kids, don’t even bother marketing to them. They have other priorities in their lives. This data screams ‘families without children—somehow identify them and market them.’ ”

Fashion Rules the Day

Jewelers say fashion trends have become increasingly important to their customers in recent years. Of the jewelers who responded to our recent poll, 87% believe the number of fashion-conscious customers has increased over the past five to seven years. Only 8% said they had seen a decrease in such customers, while 5% said the level of fashion awareness remained the same over that period.

The jewelers say at least half their female customers were influenced by trends in clothing fashion when they purchased jewelry or watches. Specific media influences are detailed in the accompanying chart.

Key Stats

32.5 cents – The new per-mile deduction for business-related auto trips, which the Internal Revenue Service put into effect on Jan 1. The 1999 rate was 31.0 cents.

130.1 – October’s consumer confidence index, the fourth straight month of decline recorded by the Conference Board, a New York business research group. The index has lost nearly nine points since June.

$1 million + – The worth of Fortunoff jewelry sold on a recent two-hour segment on QVC. During the program, QVC host Kathy Levine and Helene Fortunoff presented jewelry ranging from $50 to $1,495. Twenty-six product items sold out during the segment, which aired in honor of the 20th anniversary of Fortunoff’s Fifth Avenue store.

$10,000 – The price fetched for the most valuable Zippo lighter featured in the Year 2000 Millennium Edition of the Guinness Book of Records. The lighter, an original 1933 Zippo, is the most highly prized by collectors.

40 million – The number of households that will be headed by people aged 25 to 44 by the year 2008, a drop from 43 million in this age cohort today.

43 million – The number of households that will be headed by 45- to 64-year-olds by 2008, from 32 million today.

2035 – The year non-Caucasian Americans will become the majority.

33.3 million – The number of consumers who use the “Jewelers-Retail” listing in the Yellow Pages, said to be the 88th most-referenced heading of 4,200.

46% – The percentage of Yellow Pages references that result in a purchase.

$1.3 billion – Projected value of online purchases by kids and teens between the ages of 5 and 18 in the year 2000.

Sources: (Numbers represent order of data presented)

1 Runzheimer International; 2 Conference Board; 3 Fortunoff; 4 Zippo Manufacturing Co.; 5, 6, 7 American Demographics; 8, 9 Yellow Pages Publishers Association; 10 Jupiter Communications.