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JEWELERS CAST THEIR VOTES

The votes are in. The people have spoken. Sen. Robert Dole should be the next president of the United States.

That’s the opinion of jewelers JCK polled in January. But the endorsement of Dole wasn’t overwhelming. He simply had the most votes (27%) in a field of 13 declared candidates at press time. (The poll preceded the spring caucuses.)

Multimillionaire publisher Steve Forbes was close behind. His lavish self-paid campaign push for the White House convinced at least 22% of jewelers polled that he’s their man. (Curiously, though, only 3% specifically cited a flat income tax – Forbes’ primary campaign issue – as something they would like to see enacted.)

President Clinton was the third-place choice with 19% of respondents. Other candidates fell far behind (see chart). The 4% of jewelers who cast their vote in the “other” category were asked to name their candidate of choice. Responses ranged from the specific (Ross Perot and Colin Powell, for example) to the vague but hopeful (“any businessman”).

The issues: Jewelers also were asked what issues they would like the next president to address. Far and away, taxes are the biggest concern. One in three jewelers polled want to see tax cuts and tax code revisions.

The budget – mainly balancing the budget and reducing the deficit – followed close behind, cited by almost one in three respondents.

There also was concern about the economy. One in 10 said economic stability, consumer confidence and stimulating jobs are critical goals.

Some normally hot-button issues scored far down the list this year. Reducing government operations and/or spending was mentioned by only 4%, and minimum wage and welfare reforms were barely blips on the screen. (Other issues cited by individual jewelers included international terrorism, the moral climate and illegal aliens.)

Issues that might be expected to top jewelers’ lists but that landed at the bottom instead? Crime, truth in advertising, truth in pricing and making government more business-friendly. Fewer than 3% of jewelers mentioned any of these.

FEWER NEW JEWELRY BUSINESSES IN ’95

The North Central region of the U.S. bucked the trend toward fewer new jewelry businesses in 1995, based on an industry census maintained by the Jewelers Board of Trade, the credit rating and financial services company in Providence, R.I.

In fact, the North Central states comprised the only one of six major regions to report any statistically significant increase – up 19 to 104 (see chart on page 42). The increase marks a rebound from a significant decrease (35) in 1994, when many industries limited expansion as consumers tried to recover from financial losses suffered in severe flooding the previous year.

The Northeast reported a small increase (up two to 185) and the other regions reported decreases. The biggest ones were in the South (down 27 in the Southeast, 26 in the South Central region and 23 in the Southwest). The Northwest reported a decrease of three.

Overall, the number of new jewelry businesses fell from 720 in 1994 to 662 last year. It was the fourth decrease this decade (1990, 1992, 1994 and 1995). The manufacturing sector of the jewelry industry accounted for the biggest share of decreases last year (down 27 to 66 new companies). The retailing sector was close behind (down 26 to 529). Wholesalers rounded out the statistics with a small decrease (down five to 67).

Fewer financial problems: For the fourth consecutive year, the jewelry industry suffered fewer financial embarrassments than the previous year. These include bankruptcy filings, receiverships, assignments, arrangements, partial settlements, moratoriums and bulk sales where creditors were not paid in full. Interestingly, the only increase in financial embarrassments was in the North Central region, the same one that reported the biggest increase in new businesses. Overall, embarrassments fell by 34 to 181.

JBT also notes that credit ratings rose for 2,151 companies (down by 105) and fell for 3,184 (down by 247) from 1994. The number of claims totaled 4,817 (down by 138), and the average claim was $3,156 (down $44).

NEW JEWELRY BUSINESSES

Source:Jewelers Board of Trade
’90 ’91 ’92 ’93 ’94 ’95
Northeast
Retailers 133 133 136 146 122 118
Wholesalers 38 47 49 37 33 39
Manufacturers 25 32 36 28 28 28
Total 196 212 221 211 183 185
Southeast
Retailers 196 209 166 201 184 166
Wholesalers 15 23 11 8 10 11
Manufacturers 26 30 23 15 15 5
Total 237 262 200 224 209 182
North Central
Retailers 86 71 81 108 75 90
Wholesalers 7 5 3 4 2 4
Manufacturers 12 15 15 8 8 10
Total 105 91 99 120 85 104
South Central
Retailers 85 72 63 88 92 70
Wholesalers 9 16 8 14 7 7
Manufacturers 16 13 9 18 15 11
Total 110 101 80 120 114 88
Northwest
Retailers 21 28 18 28 24 21
Wholesalers 2 4 2 1 0 2
Manufacturers 7 7 3 2 6 4
Total 30 39 23 31 30 27
Southwest
Retailers 72 77 70 55 58 64
Wholesalers 18 16 15 18 20 4
Manufacturers 26 14 23 18 21 8
Total 116 107 108 91 99 76
Total U.S.
Retailers 593 590 534 626 555 529
Wholesalers 89 111 88 82 72 67
Manufacturers 112 111 109 89 93 66
Total 794 812 731 797 720 662

MALLS GROW, GO UPSCALE TOSURVIVE

Retail experts have warned for several years the U.S. has more shopping malls than shoppers to support them. To varying degrees, most malls already face problems with vacancies.

But this problem of “overstoring” hasn’t stopped ambitious renovations and expansions of some of the nation’s premier regional and super-regional malls. In fact, these malls may see renovation and expansion as the best weapons in their battle to win shoppers away from other malls, says Women’s Wear Daily. What’s more, these malls are looking upscale to attract shoppers away from high-end downtown markets.

The Plaza and Court at King of Prussia in King of Prussia, Pa., is a notable example. In November, the mall formally opened a whole new section of stores – many of them upscale – after renovating the old section the previous year. And this spring, upscale Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom will open their doors, making the King of Prussia complex the second-largest mall in the U.S. in terms of retail space.

Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue also opened new stores in Short Hills, N.J., which has one of the nation’s toniest shopping plazas. Elsewhere, renovations and additions are under way at upscale centers such as Lenox Square in Atlanta, Ga., and Roosevelt Field in Long Island, N.Y.

Why expand a mall and offer more expensive merchandise in such a tough economic environment? Mall developers say malls with more upscale demographics and larger drawing areas offer consumers what they can’t find in smaller and less upscale shopping areas: wider selection.

Developers also hope the new stores will pull in shoppers who will end up buying in middle-market stores that have had disappointing sales in the past few years.

ELECTION 1996: JEWELERS’ CHOICES
At this moment, which one of these candidates would you vote for in November to be president of the U.S.?

Bob Dole (R) 27% of votes
Steve Forbes (R) 22% of votes
Bill Clinton (D) 19% of votes

TOP THREE ALSO RANS:

Source: JCK Retail Jewelers Panel, January 1996
Phil Gramm (R) 7%
Lamar Alexander (R) 3%
Patrick Buchanan (R) 1%
Richard Lugar (R) 1%
Maurice M. Taylor (R) 1%
Robert Dornan (R) 0%
Alan Keyes (R) 0%
Lyndon LaRouche (I) 0%
Other 4%
None 4%
Uncertain 1%
No Answer 10%