Across The Counter
By Martha Williams, El Paso, Texas
Reprinted from March 1990
What is happening to our world? Where have our customers gone? There once was a day when a jeweler learned his trade at the bench and when the children came along they were integrated into the store’s operation and taught the business from the floor up. Where have the customers gone? What are we doing wrong?
There is no doubt independent jewelers still make up the bulk of retail jewelers in America, but also a fact we are dwindling. As older jewelers retire, their children often leave the business to go into other occupations, often in big cities across America. Why has the change come about? There are many theories and I have mine.
There is a changing market out there. At one time we did a lively business with cigarette lighters and cases, but that business is all but dead and we have removed our tobacco related goods and put them on the top shelf only getting them out to see on request. It is argued people still get married but we see our bridal business virtually dead and wedding goods slow in moving. Couples obviously have available for them the privilege of living together for years without a stigma and now often opt for a plain band if and when they marry, or they break up before they marry.
If they look at sets it is often months before the planned affair and a growing number cannot afford to spend more than $500 and they want to choose from a large selection and finance it. If a ring set goes in layaway, it often dies there as the couple breaks up or forgets about payments.
The once lively prestige watch business is fading rapidly. Where just a few short years ago it was considered ‘in’ to buy a $10,000 watch, it is now considered ostentatious. Where a few short months ago it was considered stylish to wear diamonds, it is now ostentatious.
If you look at the reasons why, it is easy to see a variety of reasons, none of which may make sense to someone selling these items. A couple cannot go to the movies without seeing a variety of street people so they are tending to reason why they should have so many luxuries when these people do not even have a home. People who have bought diamonds and fine watches have often met with muggings, robberies and losses, high insurance and are plain fed up with it all.
In the jewelry business we tend to see those who still want to wear jewelry and do not let such things bother them, but ‘out there’ is a growing trend just as there is a growing trend against wearing fur. Many of us, especially from Texas where beef is a main item of production, cannot reconcile the fur stigma with the continued use of meat and leather products worn by most animal rights activists who picket about fur. Some of us feel it may be one thing to boycott wild animal fur but another to boycott domestic fur. It does not matter what your theories are, fur is definitely out.
Who is our competition? Some jewelers blame the big malls. Its tempting to lay the blame there but they are not the only problem. There is one fact etched in stone about mall jewelers. They may be ‘there’ and ‘available’ but whatever they sell they must certainly charge for because their overhead is enormous. It is unlikely to encounter a true discounter in the malls.
I personally feel the self-proclaimer of large discounts, such as the 50% to 80% off store, is a real thorn in the side because a legitimately priced item in your case seems high because it does not carry the untrue discount claim.
Another culprit is the television sales marketing program. Without paying local taxes and often not even charging sales tax, this merchandiser enters your territory and snatches the customer in the privacy of his home. In this respect he is no different from the television evangelists who snatched viewers attention and took much needed monies from the local economy and put it in their operation.
What can a jeweler do about this? We have been told to increase our expertise. Do this in order to survive. Become an expert. I can tell you from experience it is great to have knowledge and expertise and we are literally spilling over in this area and people know we are experts and respect us so much they most often bring in their jewelry for us to admire after they’ve purchased it on a cruise ship, off TV, in the mall or at a discount store. What’s more they really expect our opinion rendered cheerfully and without cost. It is not unusual for them to purchase their watches by mail or from a strange source and come directly to us for band shortening.
I would submit to those who suggest expertise that we independents cannot compete against such attitudes. Who is to blame and who can do something? It is my opinion all the trade organizations had better get on the ball and think about stopping the claims of untrue discounts.
The manufacturers who might enjoy selling a bunch to one chain or another today should consider what will happen when that chain cuts them off and the independents they used to deal with have closed. They should be stopping the claims made by unscrupulous sellers no matter who they are. If the independents go under, who will buy the items purchased by such stores today? The showcases, the tickets, supplies, merchandise? A few mall chain stores can handle all the sales out there very nicely and build more mall stores to boot. Those who now cater to the independent should be waking up. People who study marketing should be helping create a new image and better image for the independent. The independent cannot do this alone.
Where is Jewelers of America? Where are national ads to help the independent and where are the companies the independent has literally ‘made’ over the year? They are busy selling to the discounter. You have created the interest in a specific item Mr. Independent and the discounter made the sale. If you carry any item in your store available at a discount readily in your area you have to be some kind of nut.
Where is your congressperson? Write a letter complaining about discount claims. This trade publication you are reading cannot survive without independent jewelers. Learn how important you are and get together with anyone willing to work on your behalf and change these silly laws that permit untrue claims.
It is likely true if you are a craftsman you have a chance in business today, but it is just a chance, it is not an assurance. It is fine to be an expert on gems and such today, but it is going to be imperative to become an expert on how to get the laws changed and teeth inserted in laws we have. Many will be disappointed this article lacks humor. If we don’t change some things out there, we will all be laughing all the way to the OUT OF BUSINESS sales.