The State of the Business

The only way to describe the state of the business at this point is to use words like worry, concern, and yet hopeful.

It seems there is nothing on the industry scoreboard that provides much of anything positive. The Whitehall story, rumors of other Chapter 11s to come, and activity at trade fairs showing reduced results from prior years have everyone concerned.

If there is any bright light in the jewelry business now it’s the better stores group. These seem to be doing well compared with national chains and department stores. Over the past few weeks, in New York at the JA Show and in Philadelphia at the IJO Show, the better stores are reporting decent sales activity. They admit they’re not setting sales records or gaining significant increases, but they are meeting last year’s numbers plus some.

The obvious answer to this segment’s success is that they deal with upscale consumers who have not—at least not yet—been affected by high gasoline prices and the trickle-down effect high energy prices have on a whole raft of consumer necessities.

You can attribute the success of these stores to other factors. Focus is one. These jewelers have a firm idea of who they are and who their customers are. They gear everything to presenting a consistent message to their customers in every way. This message is reflected a hundred different ways. From the store itself, to the lines carried and how they’re presented, to the training of the sales staff and their commitment to providing a nice experience to anyone who shops in their stores, these jewelers are committed.

They are also aggressive in their marketing efforts. They’ve invested in their Web sites to make sure there’s sufficient information avail-able to the computer-savvy who do research online before buying. They back that up with the old-school printed materials that summarize the features and benefits of shopping at their store. And they use media selectively to keep their name and brand in front of existing and potential clients.

None of this is rocket science. It’s fundamental good retailing applied to the jewelry product category.

There will be a holiday season again this year. You can plan for it by aggressively pursuing it or let some other retail category take the business.

At one time Kodak was the dominant player in the film and photography market. It advertised the benefits of having photographs of special moments. It had an effective television commercial tied to a popular song of the day, “The Times of Your Life.” Like the photographs in the Kodak commercial, jewelry has always been a product tied to the special times in people’s lives. Those moments do not go away. And they won’t this Christmas season.

Your job is to remind your customers that your store is where those special moments can be celebrated with jewelry.

And to the cynics who are thinking you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, I say it’s not your job to make him drink. It’s your job to make him thirsty!

frankdallahan@comcast.net