The chain plans an ambitious expansion, including nearly doubling its store count in the next few years
Farhad K. Wadia, the CEO of Samuels Jewelers—which owns the Samuels, Rogers, Schubach, and Andrews chains—talks about the company’s ambitious expansion plans in the United States, including how (and why) the company plans to nearly double its store count in the next two years.
JCK: How many stores do Samuels plan to open?
Farhad Wadia: When I joined the company last year, we had 100 stores. We have 113 stores right now. We are about to add seven more before Christmas, and we hope to open 25 to 30 in the next year. The plan is take it to 200 by fiscal 2018.
We are bullish on the U.S. We are owned by a public company in India [Gitanjali Group]. The U.S. market is the best in the world for growth. It is the only market in the world that is growing for jewelry. Most of that growth is online, but we still see huge opportunity.
JCK: What kind of stores do you expect to open?
Wadia: It just depends on the location. We are exploring different formats. We are exploring the outlet mall format, we are exploring superstores as another format.
We are also looking at tie-ups with large-format, big-box stores, where we put a small-format Samuels store into another, larger store.
JCK: Will they all be Samuels stores?
Wadia: It depends on which cities. If I open in Utah, it would have to be Schubach. If you open in the Midwest, it would be Rogers or Andrews. Texas and California, it would be Samuels.
JCK: Signet dominates in the U.S. market, certainly in the mall arena. How do you plan to compete against it?
Wadia: Signet is a behemoth. They are the Goliath. We are the Davids. I don’t think we are going up against anyone. They have their customer base. They do certain things well. We do certain things very well. We do loose diamonds very well. Our stores carry a vast selection of loose diamonds. In our stores, we have loose diamonds readily available. You can get your stone of choice and put it into your semi-mount of choice. That is a huge USP [unique selling proposition]. So we have our niche, they have theirs. There is enough room for everyone to coexist. If they do well, we do well.
JCK: Can you talk more about your competitive advantage?
Wadia: Our biggest advantage is we are a vertically integrated company. We have the opportunity to manufacture product and pass on the savings to the consumers.
JCK: So you can sell cheaper?
Wadia: We can make it better and cheaper. Just cheaper is not always good when you are talking about aspirational goods like jewelry. We support all kinds of price points. We sell from $200 to $200,000.
We specialize in bridal jewelry. We have a huge amount of styles, and that sets us apart. You can walk into our store, you can buy a 2.5 ct., 3 ct., diamond, and it can be a marquise, a princess, or a round, and you can have it set then and there by the jeweler. We also have a great credit program. For the first four or five years, we allow credit with no interest. That is a huge incentive for the consumer to shop with us.
JCK: Are your stores profitable?
Wadia: I don’t think that anyone can tell you all their stores are profitable. As a company [Samuels Jewelers Inc.] is profitable.
JCK: You are in the Midwest, Utah, Texas, and California. Do you think you will ever come East?
Wadia: We are going to launch in Florida. Two of the seven stores we are opening this year are in Florida. We are very bullish on the Florida market. We will go into the Carolinas, Georgia, up the coast until we finally get to the tri-state area, which is the golden goose.
JCK: Do you plan national advertising?
Wadia: One of the problems we have is we don’t have one brand name. We have different brand names. I would never think of changing Schubach to Samuels in Utah. In Utah, Samuels means nothing, but Schubach has been the neighborhood jeweler for generations. We are advertising in clusters, and we try to open stores in clusters.
JCK: With the talk of different department stores closing locations, what do you see as the outlook for mall stores?
Wadia: There is always going to be a crunch, with some big-box retailers stepping down. It’s a process. We are always on the lookout for malls that are doing well. The jewelry business has always been very resistant to online. People think nothing of buying jeans or shirts online, but when you are buying a $20,000 or $1,000 piece of jewelry, most people want to feel it, hold it. They want the experience of seeing it. The buyer wants a friend behind the counter to lead him through the process and to explain the cut, the color. Our salespeople invest time with the customer. It’s a human interaction that is difficult to duplicate online.
Jewelry is not a branded commodity. I think nothing of buying a TV online because I will get that model. But every diamond is different. Every piece of jewelry speaks to someone in a different way. There will always be stores shutting down and opening up, but I don’t think we will ever do away with brick-and-mortar stores for jewelry retail. At least not in my lifetime.
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