Fall 2010
Jewelry Jazzes up Sales By Heather Johnson Durocher

Your customers are increasingly using jewelry to update their wardrobes. Find out why this old staple continues to dazzle retailers and consumers alike.

There’s an interesting experiment in frugality out there called The Six Items or Less project. Essentially a participant interchanges six basic pieces of clothing
from her wardrobe and wears them for an entire month. The project, of course, needs a lot of dedication to make it work but as participants have found out, what really makes it fun are the accessories.

The take-home message is this: Your customers might be tightening their belts on bigger ticket items but there’s plenty of room to throw in add-ons.

When it comes to wardrobe updates, almost nothing works better than investing in the right accessories—and by far the leader in accessories is jewelry.

Sales stats

The numbers speak for themselves. Overall jewelry sales continue to climb, says Jeff Prine, editor-at-large for Accessories Magazine, who worked on a study earlier this year of U.S. accessories sales. Jewelry represented an estimated $9.7 billion in U.S. retail sales in 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available, according to the report which was published in the March issue of Accessories Magazine.

“Jewelry is approximately 30 percent of all accessory sales—it’s the largest category, with the second one being handbags,” Prine says, adding that 2010 accessories sales figures are expected to be even greater. “Basically what is going on is accessories have increasingly become a way to update or buy something that’s not expensive, relatively speaking, and jewelry is one of the areas that is really important to that. Shoppers feel good about jewelry purchases because they perceive a true value to their buy,” Prine adds.

Brian Miller, co-founder of the Minnetonka, MN-based jewelry maker The Good Bead, also has seen this product category do “incredibly well” during the recession.

“You might not go out and buy a new outfit or sweater, but you want to freshen up your look and you do that with accessories,” Miller says. “You use jewelry to feel like you’re in style without changing your whole wardrobe.”

Interest in interchangeables

Helping people “express their personal style” is a big part of what The Good Bead is all about, Miller says. “Our biggest focus is allowing people to create their own jewelry,” says Miller, whose Bauble Lulu is the company’s most popular collection. It includes bracelets, necklaces, earrings and rings, which feature interchangeable hand-blown glass beads.

“The beads retail for $6.99 each, and they fit on all the popular brand name chains, too” he says. “We have over 900 styles, and it’s a product line that’s addicting. What’s great about them is once someone gets started, they keep coming back for more.”

Kameleon Jewelry is another maker of interchangeable pieces, giving customers multiple ways to update their style without spending a lot, says Allison Smith, director of media and communications for the Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada -based company. “The thing that they like is the ability to buy one base piece and be able to change it when they’re in a different outfit or mood. They can just add a new ‘JewelPop,'” she says of the various circular stones that can be used in Kameleon’s sterling silver necklaces, rings, pendants, pins and earrings.

The JewelPops retail between $29 and $49 each, with Kameleon’s sterling silver pieces starting at $15.

Message jewelry

You’ve no doubt seen your customers wearing a range of jewelry pieces, and if you look closely, you’ll notice their rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces likely follow a theme that you’d be smart to buy for your own shop.

So-called “message” jewelry—baubles featuring charms engraved with words such as ‘believe’ and ‘journey’ matched with a flower or heart symbol, for example—
continue to be hot sellers, say both jewelry vendors and retailers. Shoppers are seeking pieces that are beautiful as well as meaningful, says Prine. What’s more, vendors are creating these pieces that retail at what he believes are attractive price points.

Something that is customized, such as initial jewelry and things with spiritual meanings—both eastern and western—the zodiac, obvious things like hearts and sentimental meanings, these all are important,” Prine says.

Even in tough economic times, shoppers seem comfortable purchasing these items, either for themselves or as gifts, he says. “They justify in their minds that they can buy something like this because they’ve been frugal and they say, ‘This has significance,'” he says. “It’s something personal they wear and something everyone sees. So it’s showing whatever sentiment or connection it may be to the world.”

April McCrumb, owner of Catching Fireflies in Berkley and Rochester, MI, carries several lines of jewelry in her gift shop and agrees a personalized touch to these items is essential to strong sales.

“The customer can customize the jewelry to their liking,” McCrumb says, citing the line of “word jewelry” she carries that’s made by Amy Peters’ Studio of San Luis Obispo, CA. Customers choose different charms to come up with their own sayings, stringing together statements like ‘bloom, grow, flower’ or ‘seek, believe, journey.’ “It can really speak to the person,” McCrumb adds.

Messages and memories

Amy Peters, owner of Amy Peters’ Studio, says her pewter charm collections are hits with retailers because these give their customers an array of items from which to choose. For $150 wholesale, you have a collection of 100 charms, 75 chains that are 20 inches in length with a snap-on clasp, 25 key rings and 100 gift organza bags.

“A necklace would retail for $7.50 and would include the chain and two charms,” Peters says. “It also can be worn as a bracelet.” Customers can sift through these items, matching up words and sayings on the charms to their liking, Peters says. Her Treasures collection, for example, has 23 different word charms and four different shapes—heart, star, flower and peace sign—which can be combined with the words. She sells a display with the collections.

“It’s been extremely popular in the marketplace,” she says, adding that the key rings are proving to be good sellers for men, particularly for high school or college graduates.

Commemorating life’s milestones, whether large or small, is Dogeared Jewelry, a Culver City, CA-based company. “We are a jeweler, but we are very much about gifts and moments in people’s lives,” says Elizabeth Dinette, national sales director for Dogeared Jewelry. “We’ve never been a trend-focused company; it’s always about the sentiments we feel are needed.”

“I think people respond very well to our products because we help them express and celebrate things. It’s why we have continued to see a strong presence in this strange economy—people still celebrate the birth of a baby, graduations, a new job, ” she says.

The Silver Maple, a Marshall, MO company that specializes in “hand-stamped, vintage-inspired pieces that channel happy thoughts,” also offers ways for customers to commemorate a special date or place. A necklace bearing the mantra “keep calm and carry on” is especially popular, as are Silver Maple’s jewelry made specifically for runners. The latter includes the best-selling sterling silver pendant featuring the words “running makes me happy.” Silver Maple also creates bracelets and earrings that can be stamped with sentiments and dates.

Earth-friendly practices also are integral to many jewelry makers’ lines. For Dogeared Jewelry, this includes using recycled silver in creating their pieces as well as buying local materials as much as possible. “We’re constantly watching to make sure not only are we making this great handmade product with sentiment and feeling, but that it is really earth-friendly,” Dinette says.

The company’s sterling silver beaded Karma necklace continually sells well. These necklaces retail for $54 for the classic silver Karma and $68 for the gold version. Karma bracelets and earrings are also available. “It’s about what goes around, comes around and you wear your necklace as a reminder to keep the circle peaceful, positive and loving,” Dinette says. “It comes with a card and it’s really how we believe.”

Other trends

Aside from personalized jewelry, other big sellers now are “statement” necklaces, Prine says. He describes these pieces as “dramatic, oversized, sometimes even messy looking.”

“A lot of celebrities are wearing them, it’s a trend that’s come from the runways and it’s hit the streets,” he says.

“Shoulder-duster” earrings, which dangle and hit the shoulder, also are expected to be popular this year through the holiday shopping season, as are rings known as “knuckle-busters.” These are worn on two or more fingers and give a vertical look across the knuckles, Prine says. Stackable rings continue to be strong-selling items because they’re a way for consumers to continually update their look with additional “layers” of rings.

Heather Dadmanesh, co-founder and president of FireJewel, a micro-illuminated jewelry maker based in Rockville, MD, says the company’s crystal necklaces are conversation starters. “It stops people in their tracks—they’re not quite sure what it is,” she says of the lit-from-within crystals hanging from 17-inch, 24-woven strand sterling silver chains. “People are very intrigued by it.”

The necklaces, featuring Swarovski crystals in either cube or ball shapes in an array of colors, use a patented, battery-operated process to light up the crystals.

They can be worn either lit up or not, Dadmanesh says.

To keep up with the latest jewelry trends, Prine says you may want to consider keeping inventory at levels that allow for rapid turnover. This allows you to bring in new product more frequently and keep your counters and shelves fresh. “Consumers then keep checking back,” he says. “You do need to have good partnerships with your vendors who bring in new merchandise for you quickly.”

In fact, jewelry retailers are finding different ways of keeping things fresh. Eliana Noboa, director of the online retailer JustGano.com, says the business’ membership-based jewelry club is attractive to jewelry lovers for that very reason. “We’re a monthly membership club that offers three membership plans,” Noboa says. “A member signs on, gets to create a wish list and receives chosen items on a monthly basis.” The membership is risk-free, she says, because there’s no cancellation fee and, should a customer opt out, cancellation is effective immediately. Based in New York City, the business has an in-house designer. Memberships range in price from $9.95 to $39.95 per month.

Jewelry placement

Like Amy Peters’ Studio, some jewelry makers provide displays for your store. Also important to sales is good store placement. Counter-top displays spur sales as does placement in areas specially targeted at teens.

Some jewelry, however, may call for more interaction on your part. That’s what Smith, of Kameleon Jewelry, recommends to retailers who carry the company’s line. Showing your customers how the jewelry works helps sell the product, she says. “When a retailer buys from us, we send all the display material,” says Smith. This includes a multi-tiered stand that showcases the JewelPops by color. “The pricing makes it a little more than an impulse buy, so it’s something where retailers work with the customer. Our retailers who really work the line have been extremely successful with it.”

Allowing your customers to touch and feel jewelry is important, says Prine, of Accessories Magazine. “Ideally you want them to be visible or available for impulse sales,” he says. “They’re not necessarily shopping for them, but because it’s their zodiac sign or favorite animal or reminds them of their child or someone in their family, [customers will buy] it.”

Future trends

Amy Peters doesn’t see jewelry sales slowing anytime soon, and thinks the trend of personalized jewelry is here to stay. “I think it’s going to continue to be strong,” she says. “People love having personal connections with their jewelry instead of having something just to wear.”

Miller, of The Good Bead, couldn’t agree more. “I think it’s going to find new ways to grow,” he says of this product category. “I think you’re going to find even more styles of jewelry that build in interchangeable components and allow for that personal expression.”

“It spans from middle-aged women to grandmas who are buying them for their granddaughters… the [category] really spans all age groups,” Miller adds.

Mouse over images below to view.

Heather Johnson Durocher

Durocher is a northern Michigan-based journalist who writes frequently about business for newspapers and magazines. She has contributed to USA Weekend, Woman’s Day, Parents and American Baby. Visit her website at HeatherDurocher.com

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