2009 Holiday Was Better, Jewelers Say

Overall, Christmas 2009 was better than 2008, but it wasn’t strong across the board, and low price point items reigned supreme, said retailers surveyed by JCK.

Most jewelers told JCK they ended the year up but said consumers remained frugal, and they had to work for every sale.

“It was a better year than last year,” said Mary Beth Fritsch, owner, Semir, Cincinnati, Ohio. “But a lot of people were saying they wanted to stay in that $200 or $300 range.”

Still, jewelers like Pat Gilmore, president, Dunbar Jewelers, Yakima, Wash., noticed a definite improvement in shoppers’ moods. “People were upbeat,” she said. “We are having a really good start to January.”

“I don’t think our increase had anything do with what we did,” said Jim Russell, president, Stein Jewelry, Madison, Miss. “The increase was really the result of a little more positive consumer attitude.”

For all the good reports, several retailers said their local economy was still bleak. “There are a million empty stores in Red Bank,” said Leonard Kaplan, owner, Ned’s Jewelers, Red Bank, N.J., who said sales were down. “People are afraid of being laid off, and they don’t want to spend their money no matter what price you offer it to them.”

On top of that, the weather didn’t always behave. Greenberg’s Jewelers, with stores in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota, was up about 2 percent going into Christmas. But a Christmas Eve storm stopped rural customers from traveling to the store. “You can’t get those lost sales back,” says co-president Amy Greenberg-Sachnoff.

Others faced different challenges. At J.H. Bechtold, in Sioux Falls, S.D., Christmas sales were down 20 percent, and co-manager Paul Bechtold blames a major competitor in his market holding a going-out-business sale.

Even so, when the majors are factored in, Christmas 2009 may show the industry beginning to recover. The 2009 “Holiday Wrap-Up” from SpendingPulse, a division of MasterCard, found that jewelry sales rose 5.6 percent this holiday, with both the high and low ends of the category showing strength. Last year, SpendingPulse said jewelry was among the worst categories it tracked.—with additional reporting by Jennifer Heebner, Paul Holewa, and Richard Dalglish