Jck’s Exclusive Salary Survey: Surprising Changes Since 1990

What a difference a decade makes! JCK has been doing its annual salary survey of the retail jewelry industry for more than 15 years, but the last 10 have seen some surprising—even dramatic—changes in salaries and benefits. Here’s what we found:

  • The median base pay and median total pay (which includes commissions, bonuses, and fringe benefits) for most job titles have increased between 30% and 100% since 1990. That compares favorably with the national growth rate (about 32%) in median earnings in the same period.
    The median total compensation paid to managers, for example, increased 50% since 1990. The median increase was 61% for assistant managers, 48% for gemologist/appraisers, 82% for watchmakers, almost 43% for bench workers, 57% for bookkeepers, and almost 67% for office workers. In some cases, much of those gains occurred within the past five years, a reflection of the prosperity enjoyed by the industry at the end of the decade and century.

  • Women have made significant gains as administrators and trained technical personnel, especially gemologists and watchmakers, with some salary growth well above 60%—again, in large part, since 1995.

  • Administrators and personnel with specialized technical expertise saw significant gains in salary, indicating the importance of operational efficiencies and customer services.

  • The job of watchmaker, written off in the early ’90s, is again in demand, commanding some of the highest in-store salaries after owners, vice presidents, and managers.

But the news isn’t all upbeat.

The difficulties facing smaller jewelers competing with larger ones for valuable personnel have increased over the past 10 years. The advantages of size and market dominance—and the financial pressures on smaller independent jewelers—are more apparent today, after years of mergers and consolidation, than they were a decade ago.

  • Although the types of employee benefits offered by jewelers haven’t changed much since 1990, the availability of some crucial ones—including education assistance, pensions, and medical insurance—has dwindled significantly, especially among smaller businesses.

  • Some workers—especially male salespersons and female bench workers—have seen their salaries decline in recent years, with some falling below the current national median.

  • Gaps in salaries and benefits between stores doing less than $1 million in annual revenue and those doing more than $1 million have widened.

Following is a closer look at the JCK 2001 Salary Survey as well as comparisons with the results of previous surveys.

You’ve Come a Long Way … Boss

One thing that hasn’t changed in 10 years is the gender gap in salary. In general, men still get paid more than women and often—but not always—have had larger pay gains.

In recent years, however, the gap has been closing. Most women in the job categories JCK surveyed have seen their median salaries grow 15%-30% in the past five years, with base salaries (minus perks, bonuses, or commissions) often rising at even faster rates. Female salespersons, for example, saw their base pay increase 28% since 1995. For managers the increase was 38%, for assistant managers, 44%.

Women in some job categories have made even more significant gains. Female owners, presidents, and CEOs, for example, have enjoyed an 83% gain in median total compensation since 1995—double the increase of their male counterparts—while office staff (excluding bookkeepers) saw their salaries increase 60%.

Most impressive, however, are the gains of women gemologist/appraisers, who have seen their total salaries more than double (+105%) since 1995. That’s almost four times the growth rate of their male counterparts, whose median and base salaries currently are slightly lower than women’s. Women also are making important strides in another area of technical expertise—watch repair.

Many of these salary gains are in the larger stores and are certainly influenced by the federal mandate of “equal pay for equal work.” But the gain in pay for female CEOs, managers, and gemologist/appraisers indicates women’s growing importance and influence. And particularly in the case of gemologist/appraisers and watchmakers, it demonstrates the demand for—and willingness to pay—trained professionals, whatever their gender.

But not everyone’s lot has improved. Female bench workers, according to JCK‘s survey, have seen virtually no change in their base pay (about $30,000) since 1995, and total median salary today ($30,000) is actually less than it was in 1995 ($32,050). During that same time frame, male bench workers increased their base salary from $25,083 to $35,000, and median pay from $30,215 to $36,200.

Also, a sizable percentage increase doesn’t necessarily equal a satisfactory paycheck. Though female sales associates have seen their pay increase 26% since 1995, their median pay is still only $22,000—even less than female office workers in jewelry stores, whose median pay is $24,000. Both fall below the national medians for such jobs.

The Changing Benefits Package

The employee benefits offered by the most jewelers in 1990 were still at the top of the list in 2000: merchandise discounts and paid vacations. The two have vied for the top spot over the decade, as stores of all sizes have added them to benefits packages. Today, all jewelers surveyed who do more $700,000 in business offer both benefits, while most of those in the under-$700,000 category put merchandise discounts first, with vacations several points behind. Seven out of 10 offer staff discounts of 40% or more.

Also unchanged in ranking over the past decade (based on the percentage of jewelers offering these benefits) are medical insurance (3), paid sick leave (4), educational support (5), maternity leave (6), and life insurance (7).

However, appearances can be deceiving. While the type of benefits offered hasn’t changed, the number of jewelers offering them has—and that should be cause for concern.

  • The number of retail jewelers who subsidize their employees’ education—more important than ever in today’s competitive jewelry market—has dropped significantly in the past decade. This is especially disturbing considering the increased importance to jewelers of trained technical personnel such as gemologists, appraisers, and watchmakers.
    In 1990, nearly two-thirds (64%) of jewelers in the JCK salary survey offered educational support. In 2000, fewer than half (47%) did.
    The decline is apparent across the board in all store sizes, regardless of revenue volume, but it is most evident among those that can least afford to lose the competitive edge provided by skilled employees—the smaller independent jewelers. Between 1992 (the first year JCK began breaking down such data by store volume) and 2000, the share of jewelers doing less than $300,000 annually who offered educational support went from 33% to 19%. Of those who do between $300,000 and $700,000, that figure dropped from 50% to 32%. Even stores doing up to $2.5 million reduced their educational support slightly.
    While educational support shows the biggest decline, it isn’t the only jewelry employee benefit to take a hit in recent years.
    Recession in the first half of the past decade—along with rising costs—led many retailers, especially smaller ones, to reduce or eliminate the most expensive benefits: medical and life insurance.
    In the early ’90s, more than half of the under-$300,000 jewelers surveyed offered medical insurance, and one in five included life insurance. Last year, those numbers dropped to 24% offering medical and only 5% offering life insurance. Of those with revenues $300,000 to $699,999, 71% offered medical insurance almost a decade ago; now less than half (48%) do so.
    Also in the past decade, a number of stores doing less than $700,000 have removed paid sick leave from their benefits packages.
    While it’s no surprise that large jewelers can more easily afford these expenses, it is surprising that they, too, have cut back. Even successful jewelers are finding it too expensive to include life insurance in their benefits packages. In 1992, well over half of all the jewelers doing up to $2.5 million in annual business provided life insurance to employees; last year, only about a third (32%) of all jewelers did so.

  • Company pension plans also have dwindled in number within the jewelry industry. A decade ago, one in three jewelers (33%) polled offered a pension plan; in 2000, just one in five (21%) did so.

During that same time, the number of jewelers offering a 401(k) plan (a retirement savings plan funded by employee contributions and often—but not always—matching contributions from the employer) has increased from one in seven (14%) to one in three (31.6%).

These changes in benefits are not only a concession to the pressures of rising expenses but also indicate greater reliance over the past decade on part-time workers. For example, one Michigan jeweler doing under $700,000 reported that he has a staff of 10—”all part-timers.” As a result, he pays “no benefits of any kind, except for merchandise discounts.” Another Midwestern company has three full-time employees (owner, wife/partner, and manager) and five to 10 part-timers (all women earning $5.50 to $9 per hour), “depending on the season,” he noted. “The only one [receiving] benefits is the manager.”

There’s a certain irony in these changes: In today’s competitive market, experienced, high-caliber employees—from salespeople to managers to appraisers to bench workers—are essential components of a successful jewelry business. And one way to attract and hold such people, say JCK panelists and other jewelers, is with solid benefits.

Obviously, this is one area in which the industry (specifically trade associations) needs to develop programs—such as group health insurance—to assist the independent jeweler.

Commissions, Bonuses, and Perks

According to JCK‘s annual salary surveys, the use of commissions as a sales incentive has grown over the past 15 years. In 1985, only 29% of jewelers surveyed paid commissions, while 71%—mainly those with one to four stores—did not. In 2000, 62% of the jewelers polled (both small and large) said commission is a useful sales incentive. The change in attitude probably reflects not only the growing dominance in recent years of larger retail jewelers (who are more likely to pay commissions) but also the pressures on all jewelers of increased competition for customers.

Interestingly, however, the rate paid hasn’t changed much in recent years. In 1985, it was between 1% and 3%. In 2000, the median was 3% (in a range of 1% to 20%). Also unchanged is the gender gap: Men still get more. That gap is widest in the top executive jobs but narrows in the lower job categories.

Among stores using commissions, there is no single favored method. Some limit commissions to specific categories or types of merchandise. Others pay on sales over a specific dollar amount or on gross sales or gross profits. Still others use a scale based on profitability or store goals. For example, Golden Renaissance Jewelers, a Waldorf, Md., store with an eight-member staff, uses “a sliding scale of 2% to 3% on personal and store goals, connected with base salary,” says owner Randall Heim. “It is an excellent incentive.” Ballew Jewelers, with three stores and 21 employees in Freehold, Maine, pays storewide commissions in a two-tiered setup. “Up to the first level, there is a certain percentage, and over that goal, it is more,” says owner John Ballew.

These days, however, there is much less emphasis on individual sales commissions and more on group or team commissions and bonuses. Many jewelers who say they endorse the use of commissions referred to group or team commissions rather than individual rewards. Sharon Munro of Munro’s Jewelry in Marietta, Wis., bases her commission plan on “monthly goals for the store. If they’re surpassed, everyone gets a bonus. We work as a team.” Another Midwest jeweler said commissions are effective only “if goals are set and reached as a team effort, rather than as straight commission.” He gives $100 to $300 per person depending on the goals reached by the team and each individual’s contribution.

But Pat Gilmore of Dunbar Jewelers believes “the customer loses with commission-based salespeople.” Like Munro, he pays a bonus to everyone on his staff when the store passes a monthly goal, based on $5,000 increments. Thus, in March of this year, all full-time employees received a $500 bonus, part-timers received $300, and the store’s mailperson—who works two hours per day—received $75.

“Our philosophy is that it takes the entire team—goldsmiths, appraisers, bookkeeper, salespeople—to achieve our goals,” Gilmore says. “We feel we have built a great team that works together well and supports each other.”

Like Gilmore, many jewelers make sure their technical people do as well in commissions and incentives as do their salespeople. Dalquist’s Fine Jewelry, a Poulsboro, Wash., store with three employees and one part-timer, gives 10% on sales and 28% on repairs and custom design. Johannes Hunter Jewelers, a Colorado Springs, Colo., store with a staff of 11, gives its senior bench worker 50% of production after expenses, and 25% of production after expenses to the other bench worker.

Not everyone surveyed endorsed commissions. One in three (31%) say use of sales commissions is a bad idea. “We don’t believe in pressure sales,” declared Jon Allison of Allison’s Custom Jewelry in Sidney, Ohio. Allison is convinced that using commissions leads to that type of salesmanship.

Even some store employees agree. In one western two-store company doing close to $1 million, the employees themselves chose to draw straight salary plus group bonuses rather than rely on commissions. “This keeps all employees friendly and helpful to each other, and customers prefer that, too,” said the owner.

Michael Genovese of Michael Genovese Jeweler in St. Louis is convinced that commissions “cause jealousy and resentment, not team workmanship.” He offers his employees non-cash incentives such as merchandise, trips, time off, and dinners and “bounties” of $25 to $500 on sales of older or hard-to-sell inventory. Such incentives “cause no hard feelings and give them something to discuss and enjoy with each other,” he says.

Both those who favor commissions and those who don’t use other work incentives or rewards, too. Reed Jewelers, the 115-store company whose chains include Carlyle and J.E. Caldwell, offers 1% to 2% on category or sales items, plus various added incentives. Seven out of 10 (72%) jewelers surveyed pay employees some kind of bonus based on performance, and one in four pay bonuses in cash only. The rest mix cash and non-cash extras, the latter most often including merchandise, trips, time off, dinner, or theater tickets.

Median Total Annual Compensation, All Stores (1995-2000)

Job Title Base Pay 1995 / 2000 Total Pay 1995 / 2000 Total Pay Range 1995 Total Pay Range 2000
(a) Sample size in this category was too small to warrant a breakdown
Sources: JCK Annual Salary Surveys for the years 1995 and 2000
Owner, President, CEO
Men $49,993 / $58,500 $50,045 / $69,000 $15,600 – $346,500 $14,560 – $420,000
Women $25,000 / $45,000 $30,000 / $55,000 $10,400 – $229,999 $12,000 – $260,000
VP, Treasurer, Controller
Men $38,000 / $47,125 $38,000 / $55,000 $20,600 – $100,909 $21,400 – $512,000
Women $38,978 / $44,000 $42,078 / $50,000 $28,000 – $ 54,000 $24,000 – $250,000
Men $34,652 / $41,600 $40,617 / $49,500 $22,000 – $ 60,000 $28,970 – $286,959
Women $25,399 / $35,000 $31,298 / $40,000 $12,000 – $ 68,000 $19,946 – $214,927
Assistant Manager
Men $18,000 / $30,600 $26,000 / $36,100 $15,000 – $ 40,000 $22,000 – $87,871
Women $20,500 / $29,627 $26,938 / $31,556 $17,000 – $ 33,000 $15,500 – $86,000
Gemologist/Appraiser, Sales
Men $29,875 / $32,760 $30,333 / $38,661 $16,000 – $38,000 $26,000 – $82,000
Women $16,640 / $35,000 $19,000 / $39,000 $16,000 – $56,515 $22,400 – $76,042
Bench Worker
Men $25,083 / $35,000 $30,215 / $36,200 $4,788 – $46,000 $16,000 – $75,153
Women $30,950 / $30,000 $32,050 / $30,000 $10,930 – $36,500 $18,668 – $75,000
General Sales
Men $26,750 / $25,000 $30,096 / $30,000 $15,770 – $42,000 $10,875 – $147,980
Women $15,600 / $20,000 $17,380 / $22,000 $15,770 – $42,000 $9,120 – $100,000
Watch Repair
Men $31,684 / $38,750 $31,684 / $40,840 $18,299 – $51,000 $21,800 – $75,000
Women (a) / $31,549 (a) / $35,749 (a) $30,000 – $75,000
Men (a) / $32,613 (a) / $33,113 (a) $27,500 – $49,030
Office Staff
Men $14,876 / $26,000 $14,876 / $27,500 $8,000 – $39,000 $12,000 – $60,000
Women (a) / $23,000 $15,000 / $24,000 $10,500 – $31,000 $8,021 – $60,000

2000 Median Salaries (by Region)

Owner, Pres., CEO $52,000 $36,400 $25,000-$385,000
Vice president $31,200 $16,750 $30,000-$160,000
Manager $41,600 $5,000 $31,000-$122,000
Assistant manager $32,200 $3,850 $22,000-$86,000
Gemologist/sales $33,000 $2,000 $30,000-$43,600
Bench worker $30,000 $2,500 $17,560-$65,000
General sales $21,700 $4,440 $9,600-$100,000
Watch repair $43,250 $2,500 $44,000-$70,000
Bookkeeper $25,650 $1,000 $17,000-$37,900
Office $24,500 $1,000 $16,640-$45,097
Owner, Pres., CEO $50,000 $20,000 $12,000-$360,000
Vice president $47,125 $8,000 $21,400-$250,000
Manager $35,500 $5,270 $28,000-$286,959
Assistant manager $30,000 $3,000 $22,000-$87,871
Gemologist/sales $32,760 $10,000 $24,720-$76,042
Bench worker $33,280 $2,275 $16,000-$75,153
General sales $22,025 $3,500 $9,120-$147,980
Watch repair $39,000 $1,500 $21,800-$50,000
Bookkeeper/accountant $32,225 $1,760 $15,600-$60,498
Office staff $23,000 $1,500 $8,021-$56,849
Owner, Pres., CEO $52,000 $1,500 $18,200-$420,000
Vice president $45,900 $30,040 $43,000-$512,020
Manager $40,000 $9,000 $19,946-$214,927
Assistant manager $27,000 $8,500 $25,000-$85,346
Gemologist/sales $31,975 $2,500 $22,400-$73,585
Bench worker $33,800 $2,250 $18,000-$60,022
General sales $22,500 $5,000 $10,196-$95,492
Watch repair $35,500 $4,200 $31,000-$53,335
Bookkeeper/accountant $25,765 $4,200 $15,000-$67,793
Office staff $29,550 $4,675 $10,626-$47,663
Owner, Pres., CEO $55,000 $17,500 $14,560-$230,000
Vice president $45,000 $10,000 $25,000-$120,000
Manager $35,000 $5,000 $20,520-$105,440
Assistant manager $24,800 $6,500 $15,500-$80,000
Gemologist/sales $36,500 $2,500 $34,000-$82,000
Bench worker $35,360 $2,750 $18,500-$75,000
General sales $20,800 $3,660 $12,480-$100,000
Watch repair $35,000 $5,365 $27,000-$75,000
Bookkeeper/accountant $28,000 $1,750 $13,372-$49,030
Office staff $24,000 $1,000 $13,300-$60,000

2000 Median Salaries
(by Sales Volume)

*Sample size yielded insignificant figures.
Owner, Pres., CEO $32,500 $20,000 $21,880-$45,000
Vice president*
Manager $33,800 $5,760 $20,520-$49,000
Assistant manager*
Bench worker $20,800 $4,000 $20,000-$45,000
General sales $18,600 $3,250 $9,600-$33,000
Watch repair*
Office staff $19,000 $1,500 $13,300-$32,500
Owner, Pres., CEO $40,000 $10,000 $12,000-$75,000
Vice president $28,500 $10,000 $24,000-$61,740
Manager $40,000 $4,500 $20,000-$50,000
Assistant manager*
Bench worker $25,000 $1,000 $17,680-$40,000
General sales $17,340 $3,000 $12,000-$30,000
Watch repair*
Bookkeeper/accountant $21,600 $500 $17,000-$32,000
Office staff*
Owner, Pres., CEO $40,000 $12,500 $15,000-$101,983
Vice president $30,000 $14,500 $30,000-$56,992
Manager $33,000 $5,000 $21,000-$85,000
Assistant manager $27,600 $6,000 $15,500-$38,000
Bench worker $30,000 $2,300 $17,560-$58,872
General sales $18,720 $2,500 $13,500-$50,000
Watch repair*
Bookkeeper/accountant $25,765 $1,200 $15,600-$36,560
Office staff $18,000 $1,500 $12,000-$30,000
$1 Million-$2,499,999
Owner, Pres., CEO $52,000 $20,000 $14,560-$300,000
Vice president $42,000 $9,000 $21,400-$120,000
Manager $36,000 $5,000 $19,946-$90,703
Assistant manager $28,000 $5,000 $22,000-$47,404
Gemologist/sales $31,450 $5,000 $26,000-$63,000
Bench worker $32,000 $2,100 $18,000-$60,000
General sales $19,000 $3,500 $9,120-$65,000
Watch repair $33,650 $1,500 $27,000-$41,600
Bookkeeper/accountant $25,500 $3,000 $15,000-$42,000
Office staff $20,800 $1,510 $8,021-$37,000
$2.5 Million or More
Owner, Pres., CEO $100,000 $50,000 $50,000-$420,000
Vice president $60,000 $12,675 $36,240-$512,020
Manager $45,000 $6,500 $28,000-$286,959
Assistant manager $43,400 $3,000 $22,000-$87,871
Gemologist/sales $38,000 $2,750 $24,720-$82,000
Bench worker $36,000 $2,575 $16,000-$75,153
General sales $26,700 $5,000 $10,875-$147,980
Watch repair $40,000 $4,200 $30,000-$75,000
Bookkeeper/accountant $31,300 $2,000 $13,372-$67,793
Office staff $24,520 $2,000 $10,626-$60,000

Median Total Compensation

Job 1985 1990 2000
a) No survey made that year of this job category
b) No survey of generic job category that year, only of men and women jobholders in that category.
Sources: JCK Annual Salary Surveys for the years 1995, 1990, 2000
Owner, President, CEO $41,000 $45,000 $60,000
Vice president — a) $42,000 $50,000