Retailer News

SHAREHOLDERS SHOP ON ‘BERKSHIRE SUNDAY’

About 7,000 Berkshire Hathaway shareholders took a break during their annual May meeting for the special “Berkshire Sunday” shopping day at Borsheim’s Fine Jewelry and Gifts in Omaha, Neb.

Berkshire Hathaway, headed by chairman Warren Buffett, is the majority owner of Borsheim’s, and this annual shopping event is one of the most unique in the world. Borshiem president and CEO Susan Jacques says, “We have a rare opportunity to host several thousand of our owners, who also happen to hold the highest-priced stock in the world.” (At press time, Berkshire Hathaway Class A stock, ticker BRKA, was trading on the New York Stock Exchange at $73,100 per share.) Last year’s shareholder visit was featured in the New York Post and Money, broadcast on CNN and NBC’s “Nightly News with Tom Brokaw,” and mentioned in numerous U.S., European, and Asian newspapers and broadcasts, Jacques add.

Though Borsheim’s declines to release sales figures, the store’s volume on “Berkshire Sunday” last year yielded 2,501 transactions, or one every 11.5 seconds during the eight-hour event.

SIGNET RESTORES DIVIDEND AFTER A SIX-YEAR HIATUS

The Signet Group, the world’s largest retail jeweler, has posted its first dividend in six years. The dividend was suspended in the early ’90s, when the London-based retailer restructured itself to survive financially. The new dividend will be one pence (about 1.65 cents in U.S. currency) per share.

The retail company, which has 1,374 stores in the United States and the United Kingdom, also announced a 30% increase in pre-tax profits (about $146 million), a 6.8% sales gain (about $1.6 billion), and a 29% reduction in debt for fiscal 1999, ended Jan. 30. Signet’s board of directors released the preliminary report of results on March 30.

Strong performance. Signet is the parent firm of Sterling Inc., the second-largest U.S. jeweler, which accounts for two-thirds of Signet’s sales. Sterling, headquartered in Akron, Ohio, “again performed very strongly in an intensely competitive marketplace [and] more than compensated for … difficult trading conditions in the United Kingdom,” says Signet’s report.

During fiscal 1999, Sterling opened 18 Kay stores, five regional stores, and eight Jared superstores. As of March 30, it had a total of 768 stores.

Ironically, British newspapers reported in early April that some “activist shareholders” wanted Signet to sell its U.S. operation. Signet, however, intends to expand it.

Updating designs. Signet reported Sterling would update store designs for all its formats, and that its development of white gold and platinum jewelry was “particularly successful.”

Sterling continues to move to more television and radio advertising and away from catalogs. A marketing Web site is being updated and “could be developed for selling jewelry if justified by market growth,” says the Signet report.

Things weren’t so good in the United Kingdom, Signet’s home base, where “the general retailing environment deteriorated markedly” from mid-1998. Even so, it reported, Signet’s U.K. Group (426 H. Samuel stores and 180 Ernest Jones stores) “performed creditably.”—William George Shuster

HOLDING COMPANY FOR DUTY-FREE STORES

The Colombian Emeralds International Group has formed “dutyfree.com” to act as the holding company for the chain of 64 luxury duty-free stores located in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and Alaska. Included will be the retail divisions—Colombian Emeralds International, Diamonds in Paradise, Jeweler’s Warehouse, Island Galleria, Parfum de Paris, and Oasis—as well as the group’s developing e-commerce business.

In addition to the portal site dutyfree.com, the group operates colombianemeralds.com, diamonds- inparadise.com, and jewelerswarehouse.com. More sites are planned for launch this year. The sites receive more than 1.5 million visitors per year, according to president and CEO Stephen Crane.

The company has also introduced electronic customer-service kiosks into its smaller stores. It is continuing its traditional storefront locations and recently opened a Colombian Emeralds International store in Dominica. Its first on-board store on a luxury cruise ship is planned for launch later this year. The company also plans to provide duty-free services for Sandy Lane, a Barbados resort.

JEWELER, CLOCK TOWER MOVE TO NEW LOCATION

Roger Hunt & Son Fine Jewelry of Ocala, Fla., recently moved to a new location, taking with it a local landmark: a 140-year-old clock that had sat on top of its building since 1985.

The clock is made of steel and has a 13.5-ft. pendulum, 3-ft. hands, and a bronze bell that weighs 1,000 lbs. A 24-in. pit was required to accommodate the pendulum. It is housed in a tower that allows passersby to view the work at ground level.

The tower clock was manufactured in the 1850s by the E. Howard Co. of Boston and was originally installed in a high school in Andover, Mass. When the school was torn down in 1955, Hunt’s father, Josiah Hunt, bought the clock and had it installed in the family’s church, the United Baptist Church in Island Falls, Maine.

In 1985, the clock was in need of repair. Roger Hunt and his brother, Harmon, made a donation to the church in exchange for the clock, which they restored.

ELWAY KICKS OFF HYDE PARK CAMPAIGN

Former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, a two-time Super Bowl champion, has teamed up with Hyde Park Jewelers to be its spokesman for three years. Elway says he’s been asked to endorse “any number” of products but chooses only those he wholeheartedly believes in. A long-time friend of Hyde Park owners Steven Rosdal and Michael Pollak, Elway admires the firm’s commitment to being active community citizens in Denver.

His debut as the firm’s spokesman coincides with the grand opening of Hyde Park’s 10,000-sq.-ft. megastore in Denver’s Cherry Creek Mall. Two smaller stores, one previously existing in the mall and the other in Tamarac Square, have been closed. The new

$2 million store boasts a gem lab, an interactive media learning center, private showing rooms, and GemVision, a computer-based design system that allows customers to help design their own jewelry. Hyde Park also has stores in Las Vegas, Nev., and Aspen, Colo.

SHREVE, CRUMP & LOW TO RESTORE DAVIS CUP

Shreve, Crump & Low of Boston, the oldest luxury retailer in the United States, and Reed & Barton of Taunton, Mass., one of the country’s oldest silversmiths, have teamed up to restore and redesign portions of the Davis Cup tennis trophy. The new design, to be presented on July 16, will allow room for winners’ names to be listed into the 21st century.

Shreve commissioned Reed & Barton to design and manufacture a new base for the cup. The design holds 21 additional plaques and scroll ornamentations, allowing room for the engraving of 42 more years of Davis Cup winners.

In 1899, Shreve, Crump & Low was commissioned to design the first Davis Cup, given to the winner of the first international tennis tournament between the United States and Britain at Longwood Cricket Club in Boston. Since then, more than 122 countries have participated in the tournament.

On July 16-18, the match will be played at Longwood Cricket Club, marking the first time in more than 40 years that a Davis Cup match has been played in the United States.

N.D. FAMILY STORE CELEBRATES 80 YEARS

Wimmer’s Diamonds of Fargo, N.D., is celebrating its 80th year in business this year. The American Gem Society store, which has changed its name from Wimmer’s Jewelry, recently remodeled its mall location with the help of designer Ruth Mellergaard of Grid 3 International in New York.

Brad Wimmer operates the West Acres Mall location; brother Randy Wimmer operates the downtown store. The brothers are third-generation jewelers.

KING’S JEWELRY EXPANDS INTO NEW MARKETS

King’s Jewelry, founded in 1914 in Wheeling, W.Va., is planning to open four additional locations this year. Currently, there are 40 stores in the chain.

The new stores are in the Clearview Mall in Butler, Pa. (opened in March), Fairgrounds Mall in Reading, Pa. (March), Chambersburg Mall in Chambersburg, Pa. (July), and Hagerstown Mall in Hagerstown, W.Va. (September).

The company also plans to remodel two stores in 1999. Last year, it opened five new locations. It employs more than 300 people, with 50 at the corporate office in New Castle, Pa. Company president Dale Perelman is the grandson of founder Jacob Perelman.

OPENINGS AND CLOSINGS

Raymond Lee Jewelers, celebrating its 16th year in business in South Florida, has opened a new 1,700-sq.-ft. store in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The store is located in Oakbrook Square, 11670 U.S. Highway 1.

Sonne’s Jewelers of Utica, N.Y., a family business that dated to 1907, has closed. The former King Cole Plaza, where the store had been located, has been demolished.