Learn From the Big Guys

jewelry sign
Tom Byelick MBA Tom is a national sales manager for Phillip Gavriel (A division of Royal Chain). In this recent article posted on LinkedIn, Tom shares some great insights that the Big Guys are doing from which Independent Jewelers can learn.

2016 is already shaping up to be a lackluster year for the retail jewelry sector, and the prognosticators are fueling the fire with predictions of continued store and vendor closings due to diminishing sales.

It can be challenging to maintain a positive attitude when the industry press reports 700 retailers closing their doors in the first quarter, with the loss of an additional 400 doors in the second quarter. This is coupled with a decline in diamond production and large retailers such as Tiffany and Nordstrom have lagging sales in a Presidential election year.

Signet recently reported its first quarterly decline, but Kay’s, Jared’s, and Zale’s are the only shining light being discussed in the industry. Year-on-year comps show same store sales are up 2.4%, and total sales of $1.6 Billion which is an increase of 3.2% for the total business. By the way, they are also opening new stores.

In my conversations with struggling independent retailers, Kay’s and Jared’s are readily dismissed as inferior mall stores in their eyes. They castigate these competitors as credit jewelers with poor quality, yet most have not set foot in a mall retailer in recent years if ever. They reluctantly own up to the struggles of the industry and their own business, but display an uneasy hubris in their words, tone of voice and body language. Most retailers do not realize that the Jared’s down the street is likely producing $5,000,000 annually, the Kay’s could be $2,000,000, but the average independent is under $1,000,000. The independent sector would be better served to learn what the Signet stores do best, and include it in the independent retail model. The independent store owners I visit today have become complacent, or worse, working off of a business model that has long been put out to pasture.

I have been fortunate to spend some time with Signet personnel including Retail Sales Associates, Managers, Regional Managers, and Executives from Akron. While I don’t qualify myself as an expert, I have clipped nuggets of information that separate the business model and behavior of Signet stores and the vast difference in the independent model. My argument is that for the independent retailer to survive, they will need to adopt some of the disciplines that keep Signet stores moving the right direction.

To begin, the traditional Jared store is 5,000 square feet unless it is a Jared 4 which is 4,000 square feet. This is no more than a nugget of knowledge, and not an endorsement to expand a floor-plan. Jared’s also sells at “The Jared Price” which is based off of an algorithm that provides a sustainable margin while keeping them competitive in the marketplace. The price on the ticket is the final price. There is no haggling.

Signet stores focus on diamonds and 75% of the floor-plan is dedicated to diamonds. From an industry standpoint, diamonds are the most important product dollar-wise and provide the greatest opportunity to generate meaningful cash-flow. Even if a retailer has not been able to garner the bridal business, diamond fashion should be a priority.

Colored stone sales are roughly 15% of the market according to the AGTA, and while Signet does carry color, their case allocation is commensurate with the size of the category. When I see an independent store with the obligatory cases dedicated to each of the colored gems, I see a problem. In August, I saw a parade of Peridot which I am confident did not earn its case-space and went back to the vault on September 1st.

Timepieces are included in the merchandising mix at each Signet location (except Piercing Pagoda), but managers do not have a budget from the home office for watch sales. Some locations even carry a selection of fine brands, but it is not a separate part of the store’s budget. If they sell watches, it helps the total store goal, but there are no incentives or bonuses for high watch sales. The worst case scenario is the store may lose a well-known brand which is watch vendor decision, but there is no mark against the manager. Having cut my teeth in this industry working for watch companies, I can’t recommend carrying more than one watch line considering the current state of the sector and the lack of margins. The most recent industry forecast is that Swatch Group brands are expected to be off 50% this year, and Richemont will be off 46%.

Signet does not hoard, collect or even embrace brands. They do have some brands (mostly bridal related) that are identifiable through their case-trim, but for the most part, they have become Signet exclusives because the independents are reluctant to carry products available at the mall even if they are a well-promoted brand. The exception to the rule is Pandora which is widely available at both Jared’s and the independent channel. Signet does not allow any vendor to become too important. Even when they carried Rolex, it was only 3% of their entire business.

When the Signet buyers attend the tradeshows, they have a schedule of vendors to see and don’t aimlessly walk the aisles looking for the next greatest product. Granted, the purchase order is rarely signed at a show, but their schedule is firm, they dress and present themselves professionally, and follow their plan diligently. The concept of not making appointments because they are not organized is not part of their culture.

Most of us know that mall stores must open on time or there is a fine. Jared’s, of course, are outparcels for the most part. Chain store opens at 10:00 without fail, and do not decide to close early. I have come to the point where I don’t walk into an independent retailer until 10:30AM because of the alarming amount of stores that are not prepared for business at on time. If the doors are open, the cases are often still in disarray, the sales staff is not mentally prepared to be a professional sales person, and the owner is certainly not ready to meet with me. I compare this to running in a 10K road race and starting 10 minutes late with the expectation of winning.

Kay’s and Jared’s advertise twelve months a year to instill the brand recognition and to trumpet the call to buy for whatever the season may be. Advertising is expensive and social media can be as well, but back-loading advertising to the fourth quarter puts the infrequent advertiser at a disadvantage to build local brand-recognition.

The most common request I receive from store owners is for quality Sales Associates. Chain stores and independents share the same challenge and are recruiting from the same pool of candidates. Signet stores live in a constant culture of training, and behaviors on the floor. However, I don’t always see the same preparation, discipline and training from the sales staff in an independent. The sales associates at Signet stores invariably call their customers to remind them of upcoming birthdays, anniversaries, or trunk shows in addition to sending thank you notes. They also are graded on how many appointments they have for trunk-shows, and close ratios. Unfortunately, I often find that independent retailers opt for the easy way out, and don’t train because they hire recycled sales people from their competitors making the assumption that because they have experience, they can bypass training and turn them loose on the floor.

I briefly covered nine behaviors found in the dominant jewelry chain in the country. With the exception of adjusting the inventory mix and possibly buttressing the advertising expenditure and sales force training, any retailer can implement the same habits at their location with little to no cost. The biggest challenge of the retail owner is to be unwavering in maintaining a sustainable margin, carrying meaningful inventory, and not succumbing to emotive purchases that will not yield turn and margin. There are several quality computer products that can assist in with inventory and margin, but still less than half of the industry chooses to purchase these products. The owner and staff also need to have 100% focus from the times the doors open until the end of business. Training and retraining the sales staff is imperative not only for product knowledge, but to also invoke the corporate culture.

The independent retailer can once again supplant the chain stores, but only if they are willing to make the necessary adjustments. They can no longer live in a world of indecision with the expectation that their customers are obligated to purchase from them annually. With a focused business model, employing the help from their competitor’s business model, they can turn their business around.

Leave a Reply