Good News In the Industry This Year (And Yes, There Was Some)

Let’s not mince words—this was a very difficult year for the industry, the worst I’ve seen in my years of doing this. So instead of recapping all the things that went wrong, which no one has the stomach for, let’s look at some of the positive, or at least less bad, things that happened:

-         In recent years, when a jewelry chain went bankrupt, it liquidated almost immediately afterward. But at least three chains went Chapter 11 this year and are still in business: Robbins Brothers, Ultra Stores and Shane. The first two are now out of Chapter 11; the third is still formulating a reorganization plan but is expected to survive. (Its reorganization plan was due at the end of this year but that has been pushed back to January.)

-         Founding families are reclaiming the companies that were ruined by their big corporate purchasers. I’m thinking of the Fortunoffs, who regained ownership of the “Fortunoff” name after their namesake chain liquidated this year; Carlyle founder Russ Cohen, who bought 14 stores from the ashes of Finlay; and Scot Congress, who purchased a Congress Jewelers store, also from Finlay. Best of luck to all of them.

-         It’s been a long time since the industry had a brand that was an unqualified hit like Pandora is. With its affordable price points, appeal to younger consumers, and interactive (“mix and match”) element, it’s the perfect, fun item for these times, and it’s nice to see many jewelers who ordinarily wouldn’t carry a “low-end” item embracing it as a traffic builder. Also, Sterling’s Jane Seymour line still looks like a hit, proving again that people will purchase a product, even in a bad economy, if it means something to them.

-         The jury’s still out on Everlon, but things are looking good, and it’s clear that the team at JWT still knows how to make noise–and maybe even sales—with its marketing.

-         Independent jewelers showed they had considerable fight in them. Yes, not all of them made it, but we are also starting to hear about just as many independents expanding as closing. As small businesses, some were able to adjust to the new circumstances more quickly than their bigger brethren. Certainly the rising price of gold was a godsend for many, as they kept their businesses alive by buying “scrap.” And the smart ones brainstormed ways to turn the trade-in customers into jewelry buyers down the line.

-         The manufacturing community did not have the wave of bankruptcies that many feared.  Though we may see some in the first quarter of next year. (Oops. Trying to stay positive.)

-         The industry is clearly in recovery mode, though it’s a long, hard slog. But consider this: Last year, Mastercard’s Spendingpulse survey ranked jewelry as among the worst categories it tracked. This year, it found jewelry sales 5.6% up for the holidays. That’s just a snapshot, and I am not sure that will track with the market overall, but it’s nice to see.

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JCK News Director