Expectations

Sissy Jones, owner of the highly successful Sissy’s Log Cabin in Pine Bluff, Ark., broke up a serious-stuff meeting in New York a month or so ago with an explanation of why she expects Christmas business to be great this year.

“My sales are going to be three times higher than last year,” she said. “I just know that because I bought three times as much!”

Because Sissy Jones knows how to sell jewelry and knows her customers, she probably will do just as well as she plans. We certainly hope so. But the sad truth is that too many jewelers buy simply with the hope of selling, not with a well-thought-out plan.

Part of the problem is that selling jewelry is such an unbalanced business. When you know that up to one third of your year’s total dollar volume may come between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it seems reasonable to load up the cases and shelves in anticipation. It’s natural to set your sights high, especially if the year to date hasn’t been all that spectacular. The best retailers are risk takers as well as merchants.

Yet there’s also need for a reality check. Just ask yourself the question: “How many times in the last five years have December sales been as good as I expected?” If the answer is five out of five, you’re a buying and marketing whiz. If the answer is only two or three times in five, then it’s time to ask: “Did I buy too much? Were my expectations unrealistic?”

With the holiday season at its peak, this isn’t the time to indulge in a lot of self-questioning. But think about tearing out this page and sticking it in your to-be-read file for sometime in January. That’s a good month to plan for the year to come.

I recommend that part of your plan should be how to reduce dependence on the last few months of the year to ensure success and profit. This isn’t a new thought. Over the years we’ve heard pleas, notably from Jewelers of America, for jewelers to pay more attention to their so-called second season – the period that includes Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the graduation season. Yet no matter who suggests that jewelers, as sensible businesspeople, work to even out their flow of business throughout the year, everything still seems to come back to the pre-Christmas rush.

To see how the evening-out process might work, let’s look at a few statistics. And let’s start with marriages, from the time of the proposal to the moment when the newly-weds take off on their honeymoon and even beyond, to the anniversary.

First of all, note that weddings are a year-around affair. About 46% take place in the first half of the year, the other 54% in the second half. Six in ten take place from May through October. In all, about 2.4 million couples say “I do” each year and they pay for the privilege – or at least some one does. The National Bridal Service reports that almost a third of the $16,500 spent on a typical wedding goes for engagement and wedding rings and bridal gifts, often jewelry. On an annual basis, you’re talking about a jewelry-store market worth several billions of dollars.

And how about anniversaries? Even if you consider that about a third of all marriages end in divorce, that still leaves a lot of people with a once-a-year occasion to remember. And, if you want to look on the bright side of divorce from a merchant’s point of view, an awful lot of the people who divorce remarry. They tend to exchange even more expensive gifts the second time around.

Weddings are by no means the only major family event spread from January to December. Birthdays occur throughout the year and a U.S. population of around 260 million means an amazing number of gift-giving occasions.

It would be easy to go on and on about the business opportunities that exist. The main point is that all too often they’re ignored or overlooked because our industry stays so glued to the idea that the final quarter is really the only one that matters. Consider how many jewelers write off the first quarter of the year as a loser, a time when making a profit is impossible.

That’s true only if you want it to be true or are too short-sighted to want to change.