Honoring Others on the Day for Mothers

Like it or not, the nuclear family structure is nearly an anomaly in today’s society. And like all institutions, Mother’s Day is assuming new significance as it evolves to meet the changing nature of society. Smart jewelers are accommodating customers who may have their own interpretation of this special day.

A single professional woman has a former college professor who has, through the years, become a mentor, guiding her professional development and personal growth into adulthood. A middle-aged man’s aunt-now in her 80s-never had children of her own but still carries his yellowed and dog-eared kindergarten photograph in her wallet. A young man whose father remarried just a few years earlier is attempting to establish ties with his new stepmother. A single father has a nanny who has worked for the family for more than a decade and, in the process, become an important and loving figure in his children’s lives.

No, these aren’t snippets of television programs found during a channel-surfing session. They’re examples of real-life situations of average Americans-your customers. While the majority of customers shopping for Mother’s Day gifts will be looking for traditional items, there’s a growing group of consumers who want to honor other women who have filled maternal roles in their lives. For proof, just check the greeting card section of your local Hallmark store as May approaches and note the number of “Special Aunt, ” “Special Godmother,” and “Special Woman In My Life” cards filling the racks.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 12 million children are being raised in so-called “nontraditional” families. Studies report that women increasingly are choosing not to marry or have children, and about a third of single women are raising children with the help of other parental influences. According to a 1998 University of Chicago study of families, the percentage of households with a traditional nuclear family-mom, dad, children-had dropped to just 28% in the United States. ABC News reports that society in general is becoming more tolerant and learning how to adapt to nontraditional families.

Uncovering a new market. Years ago, Mother’s Day was one of the most important holidays for jewelers. Today, though still a busy time of year, many retailers agree that the holiday has been eclipsed by Valentine’s Day-a holiday that allows a more fluid definition for gift giving than does Mother’s Day. Trends change with lifestyles, and it may be that “families” are no longer thought of in the same way.and Mother’s Day jewelry is simply not keeping up. Jewelers who market only traditional pieces-mother’s rings, pins, pendants-may be missing the boat on this important segment.

“In today’s society, there are so many nontraditional families [that] certainly a good percentage of our Mother’s Day sales are based on emotion for those people who may not be a mother or grandmother, but who care and nurture and do the things that are associated with a mother,” says Linda Hagan of Jewelry Creations in Dover, N.H.

Although there are some planned sales in this category, more often these items are sold as add-ons-pieces that the customer didn’t originally intend to buy. Hagan recounts a conversation with a customer buying a Mother’s Day gift who came across a certain piece and mentioned another woman who would like it. After more conversation, Hagan learned that the woman in question was an older mentor. Hagan suggested, “Wouldn’t that be a neat thing to give her around Mother’s Day?”

“I always say, it’s always appropriate to show love,” Hagan says. “And if it’s a Mother’s Day gift for someone in a nontraditional role, sometimes it means even more.”

Merchandising strategies. The key is to think outside the Mother’s Day box. Customers who might buy a Mother’s Day gift for someone other than their mother or grandmother probably won’t be inspired by the classic rings and pendants that have come to be standard fare for May sales.

“I would steer customers buying for people who aren’t mothers away from the traditional mother’s rings or mother-and-child pendants,” says Laura Reilly of the Jewelry Exchange of Maryland in Gaithersburg, Md. “I suggest something more generic-just a pretty piece that the woman would enjoy.”

One good bet for gifts for these “special women” is message jewelry. While often associated with romantic love, this jewelry is perfect for expressing other sentiments of affection. Also, it’s wise to keep the price points lower. While customers may be willing to open their wallets for a mother or wife, they’re likely to spend more prudently on gifts for others.

For the woman with a special mentor, you might suggest a bracelet with a simple charm that carries a personal message. The man with the elderly aunt may take to the idea of giving something with a subtle heart motif or customized engraving. For the customer just establishing bonds with his stepmother, a simple piece featuring her birthstone may convey the right amount of sentimentality without appearing overly familiar. For the special nurse or nanny, perhaps a beautiful frame from the gift department or a subtle locket with a picture of the children would be just right.

According to Reilly, lockets and charms fit into various categories for “non-mother” Mother’s Day purchases. Simple yet popular Mother’s Day fare-such as “No. 1 Mom” pendants-can easily be translated into gifts for other women.

These “other” sales may never equal your store’s Mother’s Day sales, but they can add up to a significant sales gain-or loss, for those who don’t recognize the potential of this largely untapped market.

“If [jewelers] aren’t automatically making those sales, they’re missing out,” Hagan says. “Everything is not what it used to be, and the ‘traditional family’ isn’t even the norm anymore. All the time, regardless of the holiday, we talk to [the customer] and try to get to the heart of the matter.”