Jewelry stores are closing at an alarming rate even though the category is growing. Who’s selling the bling? Meet a competitor that’s gaining momentum: the lifestyle store.
Ray Griffiths has a secret for selling jewelry: Do business with stores where jewelry isn’t the main attraction. Like the time he did a trunk show in New Orleans in early December 2014 and sold out of nearly every karat gold item he had made for the holiday season. The show took place at Saint Germain, a shoe store that also carries handbags, hair accessories, and fine jewelry—in short, a lifestyle store.
“Shoes and jewels make sense because they’re both beautiful luxury items,” Griffiths says. “You have to think about the purchase of a piece of gold the same way you need to think about a purchase of a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes. And if you’re buying expensive shoes and jewelry, you’re probably going to wear them together.”
Lifestyle stores are nothing new—department stores debuted in the United States in the 1870s—but newer independently owned boutiques are taking fine jewelry sales a lot more seriously. Bejeweled accessories are the last stop to completing an outfit once the clothes, shoes, and handbags have been purchased, and fine jewelry (not costume) is an obvious choice for someone who’s already spending big bucks on couture.
Plus, lifestyle boutiques tend to lack the intimidation factor inherent to so many jewelry stores. It’s important to remember that it can be off-putting to shop in a space where the bulk of the inventory is locked up behind a counter and clients have to ask permission to try it on.
These are just some of the reasons why lifestyle stores are picking up fine jewelry clients at the expense of traditional jewelry-only stores—whose ranks contracted by 12.5 percent last year, according to the Jewelers Board of Trade. And this despite the fact that U.S. jewelry sales continue to rise. According to Edahn Golan Diamond Research & Data, fine jewelry and watch sales rose 1.5 percent in 2014, the latest year for which data are available.
“My customer comes to us for a reason—we know fashion and style,” says Hud Hudson, manager of Jamie in Nashville, a purveyor of Tory Burch flats, salon-style haircuts, and Kimberly McDonald earrings. “The major portion of my sales comes from jewelry purchased with an outfit.”
Music City’s fashion elite are besotted with upscale clothing, footwear, and fine jewelry retailer Jamie.
Consumers who frequent high-end lifestyle stores are realizing the perks of shopping for jewelry in nontraditional environments.
For starters, there’s a convenience factor to picking up a head-to-toe ensemble in a one-stop shop. In that scenario, jewelry is always the grand finale. “If you are going to a great party and you get the full outfit, you have to come out of the dressing room and look at the jewelry,” Hudson says.
Julie Roberts, aka Miss Missouri 1982, started her Houston business, Elizabeth Anthony, as a pageant and image consultant helping beauty queens dress for competition. Not surprisingly, her shop debuted as a place to buy special-occasion gowns. She added jewelry in the fall of 2014. Now she’s able to help her customers pull together a complete look.
“Fine jewelry blended with the right assortment of ready-to-wear can be a dynamic combination,” Roberts says. “Our customers want convenience, to work with someone they can trust, and someone who makes the experience easy for them.”
Recently, one of Roberts’ clients stopped by to pick up her order from an Escada trunk show. When Roberts realized the customer was trying on her new ivory and white dress in the dressing room, she remembered the $12,000 18k gold tassel necklace with baroque pearls and gemstones by designer Jordan Alexander that the store had recently acquired. “I had my assistant grab the necklace and put it on a tray for her,” Roberts recalls. The shopper’s reply: “Oh Julie, that is so gorgeous, but I just bought a $22,000 Patek Philippe yesterday. If I had seen this first, I would have bought it.”
Missed opportunities notwithstanding, Alexander is one of a handful of under-the-radar designers whose lines retailers like Roberts carry to stand out from the competition. Other designers popular with the lifestyle crowd include Laurie Kaiser, stocked at Jamie; Ray Griffiths, who has a strong business with Choices in Pittsburgh; and Chris Davies, carried by Elizabeth Anthony.
“I am minutes from the Galleria, with Neiman Marcus and Saks, and five other top-notch jewelry stores are within 10 minutes of us,” Roberts says. “Rather than go toe-to-toe with them, I would rather we focus on designers that are very special and pair beautifully with our apparel.”
Above and below: A’maree’s in Newport Beach, Calif., boasts a jewelry-friendly waterfront locale.
The Perfect Mix
Offering couture ready-to-wear fashion is just one of the factors that distinguish jewelry-only stores and lifestyle boutiques.
Shopping patterns are another major difference. Lifestyle patrons largely come to buy gifts or small items, such as T-shirts. Once inside, the layout of a store can strategically steer them to the jewelry cases. “There are so many drivers to get them into the store that we have better sales opportunities because of the traffic,” Hudson says.
Ana Byrne, owner of The Little Green Store in Huntsville, Ala., says much the same thing. Byrne sells candles, perfume, pottery, and art glass as well as jewelry from Sydney Lynch and Jamie Joseph. “People don’t necessarily come in for jewelry—someone may come in for something else, see the jewelry, and then come back.”
Meanwhile, Lisa Spain’s clients at The Cotton Club in Houston don’t limit their buying trips to special occasions; clients regularly want to see what’s new from Bella Dahl, Joe’s Jeans, and Todd Reed, among other brands. “I have the same people coming in once or twice a week,” she says, by way of explaining why she has to physically move inventory every week and change up displays—highlighting a shortcoming of traditional jewelers, whose visual merchandising can easily look stale.
This sameness and stilted atmosphere leads to jewelers’ biggest problem—intimidating environments that drive buyers away. Fashion boutiques, on the other hand, tend to offer open displays and a wide mix of merchandise, which creates a fun, no-pressure-to-buy atmosphere for buyers. “Clothing stores are multifunctional—you go to buy jeans or pajamas or jewelry, whereas in a jewelry store, there’s only one purpose: to buy jewelry,” adds Spain.
Hudson agrees. “Men go to jewelry stores to buy their wives a diamond engagement ring or a Valentine’s Day gift—there’s always a reason to go,” he notes. “But my customer has to walk past the jewelry, whether it’s for jeans or gowns or the salon.”
Above and below: Houston’s The Cotton Club relies on rotating its store displays and merchandise mix.
Lessons to Learn
While lifestyle stores present more competition for jewelry stores, there are insights to be gained from studying them. The most compelling lesson: Give shoppers reasons to keep coming back.
Denise Schaefer, vice president of A’maree’s, a clothing boutique in Newport Beach, Calif., has an enticing waterfront location—complete with a glass-bottom window in the floor of the jewelry department that provides shoppers with a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean—but she draws even more attention to the store by staging art installations and offering an enchanting selection of jewelry.
One recent show paired pieces by Parisian jewelry designer Marie-Hélène de Taillac with colorful art glass and vintage glass purchased in Paris last year. “It all flows together really well,” Schaefer says.
And even when the jewelry isn’t selling, Spain knows the effort is worth it. Take the ear crawlers she offered recently. “You have to keep things new and fresh,” she says. “You have to offer a reason to buy.”
Top: Houston’s Elizabeth Anthony added fine jewelry to its mix nearly two years ago.
Inset: Nashville’s Jamie