Diamonds, as 007 would have it, may be forever. But diamond sales are a different matter: As has been the case at many luxury companies, Tiffany has seen sales drop precipitously during the current economic downturn, with same store sales down a whopping 24 percent during the 2008 holiday season.
But in a kind of Bizarro World twist on Reaganomics, the bad financial news for luxury firms has trickled down to be mostly good news for lower end purveyors, as many web wholesalers of jewelry and watches attest. "We're seeing a sort of cascading effect in terms of what people are buying," says Roger Stephenson, owner of Decatur, AL based Judson & Co., which sells both jewelry and watches. "People who would normally buy more expensive items are now going for the less costly items. They're going one or two tiers down from what they would normally spend, to find something that's more affordable." In fact, Stephenson says, to date, Judson's sales are up about 20 percent over last year.
Wholesalers such as Judson are also benefiting from a pervasive sense of confusion at high end dealers. Those companies are faced not only with questions of whether they should cut prices, but also by how much, while simultaneously trying to avoid such pitfalls as cheapening their brand name and slashing prices so deeply that, once the economy rebounds, they won't be able to quickly restore pre-recession pricing levels.
Still, it hasn't been all smooth sailing. Maxine Smith, owner of Fredericksburg, VA based 123fashionjewelry.com, says business was a "disaster" in January and February, "but they tend to be slow months anyway. Sales are starting to pick up now. "It was slow during the holidays, but it's becoming more stable now," agrees Josef Nahum, president of Van Nuys, CA based Bico Pacific, which specializes in next generation jewelry for the young and the hip. "Sales are now about the same as they were last year."
Tony Gach, director of sales at York, PA based Acacia Creations, which sells handmade beaded jewelry from Kenya, says that although the company is relatively new, they're starting to see business pick up a little bit. Gach credits Acacia's handmade aspect as being beneficial in the current climate. "Everyone's always looking for something that's a little special," he says, "and we feel that's what we have here. Our Acacia Beads are made from recycled magazines, and at least five percent of our sales each month goes to charities in Kenya or Uganda, which speaks to customers concerned about the environment and giving back."
Acacia's line of necklaces, bracelets and earrings are available in numerous colors and mostly priced in the $10 to $15 range. Since the company is only a little over a year old, Gach says there hasn't been one particular best selling item or design, but he adds that Acacia will be adding about a dozen new pieces around mid April.
Acacia's website is also fairly new, though Gach says plans are afoot to update some of its product photos. Beyond that, he says, the company is hoping to somehow glean stronger communications with its founder, York native, Maura Kroh, who now resides in Nairobi. "Phone calls there are very expensive, and Internet service in Kenya is spotty," he laughs. "That can make communications a little tricky, but for the most part it all works."
In the meantime, while jewelry isn't often considered in terms of topicality, Blake Brothers International's sales manager, Russell Matthews, says he's noticed inventory featuring peace signs, including pendants, rings and earrings, have been strong sellers for the past 18 months or so. "It started, really, with us being in Iraq," he says. As support for the war has dwindled, and in the face of President Barack Obama's pledge to bring the conflict to an end, sales of peace sign adorned items have become evermore brisk.
Blake Brothers, Amherst, NH, has also done well with its lines of stone jewelry, especially with larger pieces such as necklaces. Opals set in sterling silver have been notably popular, Matthews says, and the company's mainstay, sterling silver fashion accessories such as rings, pendants and bracelets, remain strong. Matthews says improvements are underway for the company's website, which currently requires new customers to dial a toll free number and receive a password to access. "We want to make the whole thing more user friendly and provide better functionality," he remarks. "It's something we've been looking at for some time, and we're working on it now."
Similarly, Bico Pacific's Nahum says his company is reworking its website, and plans to launch a new site in April. "We'd like it to be more trendy, as well as more advertising oriented," he says. "In addition, we're looking to increase our advertising on other sites."
Bico Pacific's best selling items at the moment are its line of cross pendants; 12 unique designs which will soon increase in number, he says. "Bico is also known as a pioneer in everything to do with pewter," he adds, "which sometimes means you pay a little more, but if you appreciate higher quality, that's the way to go." Nahum notes that all of Bico's pendants and most of its metal elements are made of fine grade pewter and plated with various layers of silver, brass, or copper, then hand finished. Other materials used in Bico jewelry include authentic Swarovski crystals, fine leather hide, PVC, rubber, carbon fiber, New Guinea Rosewood and resin.
Also seeking to maintain its position on the cutting edge is Houston, TX based watch wholesaler, Time Factory, Inc., which specializes in hip-hop inspired timepieces and jewelry. Its watches range in price from $4.95 for leather banded watches with Our Lady of Guadeloupe on the face, to $16.95 for "diamond look" designs, to $59.99 for diamond watches.
Time Factory president, Bob Charania, says the company also does well with its line of cuff bangles watches, most priced around $5, with designs incorporating hearts and flashy colors, to one striking watch whose face is shaped like a cross. "We're constantly updating our inventory and our website," Charania says. "With the market we're catering to, we have to make sure we're always cutting down on what's old, and keeping up with what's new."
At 123fashionjewelry.com, Smith reports that her line of crown set watches are strong sellers. "We try to offer stuff that's beyond the usual - the metal, stretchy-band stuff." The line of watches, priced at around $35, combines 123's crown stretch and crystal stretch bracelets to form the band, tied together with a delicate ribbon bow. The watch's face features a row of crystals around the circumference to add sparkle. The company also offers a number of other unusual designs, including the "This & That" style, which combines a variety of knick-knack baubles to create a singular looking timepiece.
Smith notes that the company is in the midst of adding three new watch styles, featuring plaid bands that variously present oval, circle, or heart shaped designs. "We're always adding more stuff," she says. While no solid plans for sales are in the offing, Smith says 123 will probably offer up a percentage based discount in time for Mother's Day.
In the meantime, Stephenson at Judson & Co. says he is constantly updating his watch inventory. "We don't really have one outstanding seller as far as style is concerned," he says. "We have a category of watches that has been very solid for the last few years, offering affordability and fashion. We only sell ladies' watches, and we've found that many of them view watches as they do shoes. They want a different watch for every outfit." Most of Judson's watches fall in the $16 to $24 range, though Stephenson notes that further discounts are available. Designs range from antique styles and stretch and leather bands to more unique pearl, sequin and ribbon bands. "Our spring loaded cuff bangles do pretty well," he says. "Women like watches that are easy to put on and off." Judson currently offers between 400 and 500 watches, and has carried nearly 1,400 since it launched in 1989.
"We're constantly tweaking our website, but there aren't any wholesale changes we're looking to make right now," Stephenson continues. "We are proud of our feature that allows buyers to add items to their cart and continue shopping, rather than have their cart pop up with each addition and having to navigate back to the shopping page." Judson is still in the planning stages of its sales and marketing plans for the rest of 2009, he adds.
The following were interviewed for this article:
Russell Matthews, sales manager
Blake Brothers International
7 Northern Blvd.
Amherst, NH 03031
Toll Free: 800-825-2538
Josef Nahum, president
16525 Sherman Way Unit #C4
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Maxine Smith, owner
3601 Plank Road #389
Fredericksburg, VA 22407
Toll Free: 800-915-0075
Roger Stephenson, owner
Judson & Co.
3440 Valley Dr., Suite D
Decatur, AL 35603
Tony Gach, director of sales
2576 Eastern Boulevard
York, PA 17402
Bob Charania, president
Time Factory Inc.
6855 Harwin Dr., Suite F
Houston, TX 77036
Toll Free: 877-375-3786
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