About 15 years ago, brothers Leon and Sammy Rbibo made a strategic decision to transform their traditional wholesale business into a direct-to-consumer e-commerce operation called the Pearl Source.
They’ve never looked back.
“It seemed like that was the direction the business was taking,” Sammy Rbibo, cofounder of the Los Angeles–based company, tells JCK. “We like to think of ourselves as the e-commerce leader based on traffic and sales volume.”
“Everything on the site has three to five customizable options,” says Rbibo. “We handle everything on-site. We can customize the pearl type, the size, and quality of the pearls.”
Since the start of the year, business has been brisk. “People are looking for more designer-esque pieces, like those with baroque and misshapen pearls,” Rbibo says. “A little funkier, a little more fashion. It speaks to the edginess of pearls. They can work as a timeless piece for your wedding day and also for someone looking for something more designer-esque. They’re so dynamic.”
Earlier this year, when the Barbie film came out, the Pearl Source saw a spike in interest in pink pearls that took Rbibo by surprise. “I knew of the movie’s release but didn’t know it would carry over into pearls,” he says.
Other trending styles include the beaded Mira bracelet and necklace featuring unique shapes that “veer away from traditional round shapes,” Rbibo says. Stacking styles have also resonated with the Pearl Source’s clients. “We have been seeing that layering is very popular,” he adds.
Demand, in other words, is not the problem.
Supply, on the other hand, “has been quite a pain in the neck, to be honest,” Rbibo says. “It’s something we’ve gone through before, but not to this extent. There are always ups and downs in availability, particularly when you’re looking for high-end goods.
“But in this environment where production is down, pricing is high, competition is high—the Chinese have controlled a lot of the buying in Asian countries that are hubs for pearls—we have had to increase pricing to accommodate the supply constraints and the customer is dealing with it,” he adds. “We haven’t seen it affect our conversion rate drastically yet. But it definitely is a challenge.”
Rbibo says that no pearl supplier “could claim they’re not affected.”
While price hikes are unavoidable, Rbibo says the company is doing its best to blunt the impact on consumers. “As an online seller, people are very price-sensitive,” he says. “Pricing has gone up 50 percent, but we cannot increase our prices 50 percent—that’s too drastic to see a wild swing like that. The gradual method has been a lot better. Toward the end of the second quarter, we decided we had to change prices on the website, and every 60 days since then we’ve gone up 15 percent, then we’ve waited and monitored.”
With the holidays fast approaching, the bright spot in an otherwise challenging marketplace is the degree to which pearls have found favor among buyers, including plenty of men who are not after predictably classic looks.
“The pricing and lack of availability is definitely a headwind and a crush on margins for us, but we hope it’ll be a strong selling season,” Rbibo says. “The general sentiment is positive.”
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