Directions

U.S. WATCH IMPORTS REBOUND

Watch imports grew a modest 4.3% to 102 million units in the first half of 1995, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the American Watch Association. That’s a strong turnaround from the 2.2% decrease reported for all of 1994.

The customs value (the value of the watches themselves before the addition of tariffs, freight, insurance and other charges) of the watches rose 18.3% to just over $1 billion.

Precious-metal case watches had a stellar performance, rising to 1.3 million units (up 62.5%) worth $133 million (up 46.2%).

The country reporting the largest percentage increase in watches sent to the U.S. was the Philippines, up 24%. Here’s a breakdown of imports from other major watch sources: Japan, up 25%; Thailand, up 15%; Italy, up 3.2%; China, down 4.4%; Hong Kong, down 5.1%; and Switzerland, down 8.4%.

Considering only watches with precious-metal cases, imports from China appeared to skyrocket 217% to 750,000 units. But AWA says that figure is likely wrong because the U.S. mistakenly classified $5 digital watches as having precious-metal cases. Elsewhere, precious-metal watch imports from Hong Kong fell 21% while those from Japan rose 11.3% and those from Switzerland rose 4.6%.

These figures represent total U.S. imports but not those shipped from U.S. possessions. As such, they include watches that don’t normally show up in market surveys, including premiums, give-aways, counterfeits and others. In addition, reports from various countries referring to their watch exports to the U.S. often differ from the Department of Commerce figures because of differences in classifications and reporting methods.

FIRST-HALF WATCH IMPORTS (in millions)

Sources: U.S. Department of Commerce and the American Watch Association.
Units Value
1995 1994 1995 1994
Precious Metal Case Watches 1.3 0.8 $133 $91
Other Watches 100.6 96.9 $881 $767
Total 101.9 97.7 $1,014 $858

DEMAND FOR PLATINUM IN JEWELRY RISES

Demand for platinum jewelry continues to rise worldwide, according to Johnson Matthey’s review of the market in 1995.

As usual, Japan used the most platinum for jewelry: an estimated 1.49 million ounces, up 40,000 ounces from 1994.

Other estimates: Europe, up 10,000 ounces to 105,000; North America, up 10,000 ounces to 65,000; and the rest of the Western world, up 10,000 ounces to 145,000. Interestingly, the biggest percentage increase was projected to be in North America, 18%.

Demand in North America – primarily the U.S. – rose in 1995 largely because of increased demand for platinum wedding bands and engagement rings. However, Johnson Matthey says sales of platinum chain are beginning to show signs of sustained growth also.

In Europe, a revival of interest in platinum watches is leading the growth, says Johnson Matthey. Another factor is platinum chain made for export to Japan and elsewhere in Asia.

In Japan, new products that catch consumers’ interest have helped to restart platinum sales that stagnated when the economy drifted into recession several years ago. The most notable new product is Platinum 1000 jewelry, made from almost pure platinum. Platinum 1000 jewelry hallmarked by the Japanese Mint rose 75% in the first half of the year alone. Johnson Matthey expects many jewelry manufacturers to convert their entire production to this higher alloy in coming years. A second reason for the growth in Japan is more affordably priced platinum jewelry, just in time for the country’s new age of austerity.

Of course, platinum has other uses than jewelry. Industrial demand was expected to rise 16% to 945,000 ounces in 1995, the highest level since 1979, says Johnson Matthey. Higher demand from high-tech industries offset decreasing demand by the auto industry, which is moving toward less expensive palladium in catalytic converters.

Supplies of newly mined platinum ran slightly ahead of demand, increasing about 8% to an estimated 4.9 million ounces. Johnson Matthey expects platinum will continue to trade for $400 to $440 per ounce this year.

WHY CONSUMERS STAY AWAY

Do you get the feeling consumers are growing less enthusiastic about shopping?

If you do, you’re correct, according to a new study by the International Mass Retail Association. The number of people who reported going shopping less often grew from 27% of all respondents in 1991 to 36% in 1994. The reasons consumers cite most often are too many stores, an absence of direction by stores, limited product offerings and too little time.

Retailers who want to get customers back into the store may want to consider these findings as a wake-up call.

Other findings from the study:

  • One style of customer service doesn’t fit all situations. Customers seek different levels of service, depending on the situation.

  • Consumers expect fun, entertainment and enjoyment to be part of the shopping experience.

  • Non-traditional shopping venues are growing in appeal. The number of consumers using catalogs and other mail-order shopping grew about 6% from 1989 to 1994.

  • Salespeople influence customer satisfaction – not surprisingly. Asked to rate the most important attributes of salespeople, consumers said they should be knowledgeable (mentioned by 73% of the study participants), they should be plentiful enough that no one has to wait (70%) and they should know the customer (43%).

COLLECTING COLLECTIBLES

Sales of collectibles hit a record $7.2 billion in 1994, according to a just-released survey published by the Collectibles & Platemakers Guild.

The 8% upsurge in sales was fueled by growing consumer demand for collectible figurines, cottages, ornaments, dolls and teddy bears, says CPG.

“Collecting is a hobby enjoyed by at least 11 million households nationwide, although the actual number of collectors is probably much higher,” says CPG President Susan Peterson. “The collectibles industry is poised to soar over the next decade as the Baby Boomers reach their prime collecting years.”

Collectibles are an attractive retail product because they appeal to a very personal and emotional level, says Pam Danziger, president of Unit Marketing in Reinholds, Pa., which conducted the survey for CPG. “Along with the three perennial best-selling themes – Christmas, wildlife and children – we are seeing significant growth in religious, fantasy and folk art themes.”

In 1994, retail sales accounted for 75% of collectibles sales, up 10% from the previous year. Direct marketing accounted for the rest, up 5%.

Why do people collect? Younger collectors are more concerned with monetary value or the overall value of the collection. Older collectors are more likely to do it as a hobby, for viewing pleasure or for sentimental reasons. These are the findings of a new landmark study conducted by NFO Research for Enesco Corp., a major collectible supplier. The study broke the respondents into five age groups to learn the primary reason they collect (objects of interest range from collectibles to cars, antiques, trading cards, dolls and books). The findings: teens (18-19) collect as a hobby and for investment reasons; Generation Xers (20-29) for viewing pleasure; Baby Boomers (30-59) as a hobby, though sentimental reasons are also a factor for older Boomers; ages 50-59 for viewing pleasure; and seniors as a hobby or because they like the look of an item.

Respondents listed several specific reasons for collecting. They include starting or continuing a family tradition, decorating at home and finding a source of gifts for friends and family. Keep these in mind in your sales presentation.

Another interesting point from the study: men are more likely than women to be big spenders when it comes to collecting. They also have a higher family income and education levels than women who collect, according to the study. Twice as many men said they collect for investment purposes, and a higher percentage (nearly 38% vs. 33%) would rather spend money on collecting than on dinner out.

Women, meanwhile, are more likely than men to collect for sentimental and decorating reasons.

Collectibles & Platemakers Guild Inc., Box 1474, Northbrook, Ill. 60065; (708) 272-0028, fax (708) 272-4388. Enesco Corp., 225 Windsor Dr., Itasca, IL 60143; (708) 875-5300, fax (708) 875-5858.

MOST POPULAR COLLECTIBLES IN 1994

Figurines $2.8 billion
Dolls $1.2 billion
Plates $0.6 billion

U.S. SHOWS COMPETITIVE MUSCLE

High taxes, meddlesome government regulations and rising labor costs have caused many jewelers and other business owners to wonder whether it’s possible to take the government’s advice to compete globally.

However, the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, has some good news: the U.S. still has the world’s most competitive economy. It ranks higher than such up-and-comers as Singapore and Hong Kong and such stalwarts as Switzerland and even Japan.

In its “World Competitiveness Report,” the World Economic Forum credits a number of factors for the U.S.’s rating. They include:

  • Relatively low taxes and regulation, compared with those in other countries.

  • Innovative technology and management techniques.

  • Stable labor costs.

The leading position was not achieved without cost, says Stephane Garelli, a professor at the Swiss business school IMD and project director. Salaries of many workers in service industries are below minimal living standards, and corporate downsizing has eliminated many well-paying jobs.

Japan, the traditional leader of this survey, fell to fourth place this time because of the high value of its yen against other currencies and concern over a financial crisis that looms over its banking system.

SHIFTING SANDS OF RETAIL

Changes in the retail marketplace were the focus of “Turning Points,” a Fashion Group International seminar held in November in New York City.

Janice Suczewski, a partner in Deloitte & Touche, discussed the relationship of the environment (as in general life standards, not the earth and atmosphere), the retail marketplace and the retailer. She cited these trends:

  • Competition is national and global as well as local.

  • The environment is that of an aging America. People older than 50 will increase from one in four now to one in three by the year 2010.

  • Ethnic markets are growing significantly, especially Asian and Hispanic.

  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) continue to be a significant force in the marketplace. They have created the biggest demand for housing, children’s apparel and educational toys. Now they’re also creating a savings environment as college tuition and retirement replace acquisition in importance.

  • Work and lifestyle have wrought changes in the shopping place. Dual incomes are necessary, the number of working women will continue to grow and working women now display typically “male” shopping behavior (shopping is a chore instead of a pleasure to them).

  • Consumer confidence in the economy is better than it was a few years ago, but it’s still not great.

  • Consumers will spend for quality, which is superseding price and convenience as a reason to shop at a particular store. However, this doesn’t mean retailers can scrimp on convenience or good prices.

  • The country is overstored. Per-capita shopping space grew from 7 sq. ft. in 1970 to 18 sq. ft. in 1994. But this has led to consolidation.

  • New retail avenues are constantly opening up, including television and computer shopping.

Also speaking were Arthur Martinez, chairman of Sears, Roebuck & Co., who discussed the company’s recent emphasis on soft goods such as apparel after decades of being known for its hard goods, such as tools and appliances, and Terry Lundgren, chairman of Federated Merchandising Services, who discussed his company’s efforts to build vendor relationships and assess customer needs in each market after acquiring many new stores in the past year.

FYI

If hiring plans are any indication of economic outlook, the wholesale and retail trades are more optimistic than employers as a whole. Wholesalers and retailers usually reduce or maintain staff in the first quarter of the year. But this year, 20% plan to add permanent workers, according to the Employment Outlook Survey conducted by Manpower Inc., Milwaukee, Wis.

The only industries in which a higher percentage of employers plan to increase staffing are durable-goods manufacturing (26%) and non-durable goods manufacturing (22%).

Regionally, the percentage of wholesalers and retailers who plan to increase staffing ranges from 21% to 22% everywhere but in the Northeast, where it is 15%.