Columnists Chuck Koehler The Retailer’s Perspective: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

The Retailer’s Perspective: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

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Well, here we go again.  It’s Christmas in the jewelry business.  If you’re keeping score, this will be the 6th Christmas season since the Great American Recession.  What will this Christmas season hold for all of the independent jewelry retailers out there?  Beats me, but I’m not as worried about it as I was the last several years.  That got me to thinking about how the Christmas season has changed since my first Christmas season - 36 years ago.

The year was 1978. I was working for Best Products in Dallas, TX in their jewelry department.  Other than the fact I didn’t know anything about jewelry, it was eye opening.  For the entire month of December, we handled thousands of shoppers a week.  Quartz watches had just hit the market and we couldn’t keep them in stock.  We sold thousands and thousands of them.  It was total chaos, but I enjoyed it.  And, at the time, I could set any digital watch on the planet, something I can’t do anymore.

In 1979, gold started the year at $225 and then started climbing.  By Christmas it had doubled in price and we had to retag a thousand pieces of jewelry every couple of days… at the busiest time of the year.  It was a nightmare, but Christmas in the jewelry business was alive and well - and profitable!

Then, in 1980 (my senior year in high school), I had left Best Products and went to work for Fuller’s Jewelry in my hometown of Carrollton, TX (hey Jim).  That was my first time to actually work in a Mom and Pop (or Grandma, Son, Grandson) store.  Back then, we had two bench jewelers, a watchmaker, and a bookkeeper that wrote lots of tiny numbers in big thick books with green paper and lots of columns and lines in them.  We also had big telephones on the desks with rows of buttons across the top with all of the ‘back lines’ that we used to call the 1-800 number of the credit card companies.  Every time we made a sale by credit card, we’d have to actually call the company and give all of the info to someone looking in a big book of names and numbers of their customers to see if they would approve the charge.  That also reminds me of the old days of calling a jewelry supplier that you’d never used before and you could hear them flipping through their JBT book looking you up to see if you were legit.

After that, I spent a few years in jewelry school at the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology, but came home during the holidays and worked at Fuller’s while I was home.  For the most part, nothing much changed for several years.  Christmas was as predictable as you could hope for.  No real gold spikes and no real technology changes.  Looking back, it was a dream situation.  Until around 1986.

In 1986, I don’t remember exactly what happened, but something weird happened with the oil business and it tanked.  Living in Texas, we were hit pretty hard by this.  There were entire subdivisions, hundreds and hundreds of homes in the Houston area, that construction stopped and they just boarded them up and walked away.  Needless to say, that was a bad Christmas for a lot of us.

In 1987, I moved to Nashville, TN seeking fame and fortune in the entertainment industry and took a break from the jewelry industry for the first time in a decade.  It was kinda nice actually.  For the next couple of years I worked in and around the entertainment business, but always had a shop set up to keep my chops up.  Then in 1993, I stumbled into a jewelry store that was for sale and I bought it the next day.  On June 1st of this year, I celebrated my 20th anniversary of owning my own retail jewelry store.

In the early ‘90s, the Christmas season started right after Thanksgiving and lasted for about 6 weeks.  People had to actually walk into jewelry stores to shop and compare.  They would actually look at a diamond or a piece of jewelry ‘in the flesh,’ so to speak.  It was a fun time to be in the jewelry business.  Lots of traffic in and out of the stores, and lots of sales being made in the stores.  In the early and mid ‘90s, the internet hadn’t been invented yet and  Blue Nile and Amazon were just rivers somewhere out there in the world.  Heck, back then, FedEx and UPS weren’t even the preferred methods of shipping.  During this era we used Registered Mail from the Post Office. 

If you’re old enough to remember that, then you remember we had to spend about 30 minutes taping and sealing your packages with the approved paper tape, sealing every single surface.  Then, you’d wait about 20 minutes for the package to get dry enough to write on it.  Then, you had to fill out about 3 or 4 forms and take them to the post office and write a check for about $60 per package while the postman stamped it about 150 times over every seam. 

I used to sell a lot of big diamonds out of my store during this time, and before I committed to all of the shipping charges, I made damned sure that it was a solid sale before I jumped on board.  Then, the late ‘90s came around and everything changed… forever.

(As a side note, as I’m writing this, the news is on the TV and the two anchors are talking about Christmas shopping and the guy says; “I spend less than 15 minutes doing my Christmas shopping… it’s all online.”)  Now, where was I?  Oh yeah, everything changing forever.

For a decade, from the late ‘90s through the late 2000s, Christmas was a crap shoot and an incredibly stressful period.  For decades and decades, the Christmas season was pretty predictable with the exception of minor or major economic glitches, but... Christmas always happened.  Then, for about a 10 year period, the season started happening later and later and later.  It was extremely aggravating to get to December 15th, and nothing had really happened yet.  Then, Boom!… here they came. 

What was happening wasn’t really about jewelry either.  My customers were always going to come buy something from me, but they just didn’t get out and do lots of shopping because they bought all of their other gifts online and only got out once or twice to do some local shopping.  The only thing they weren’t buying online was jewelry and they waited until the last minute.  Whew!  But through several Christmas seasons since, even my best customers are buying online too.  It’s just how it’s done now.

Then, in 2008, the worst thing that could happen happened - the recession.  Christmas was cancelled and nobody sent me the memo.  Jewelers all over the country were in the same boat I was in.  People weren’t buying jewelry; people were selling jewelry, just to keep the mortgage paid.  Man, Christmas of 2008 was brutal, as was 2009 and 2010. 

By around 2011, even though Christmas wasn’t great, it wasn’t the dismal failure of the previous several years.  I think that’s because by this time we’d started wrapping our minds around the situation.  So, here we are at the beginning of the 2013 Christmas season.  What will it bring for us all this year?  Hell if I know, but I do know this; I’m now actively engaging my customers on social media and the internet where they are doing their shopping.  That’s something I haven’t done in the past. 

Even though the internet is a part of our daily lives now, remember this, the internet didn’t exist 15 years ago, YouTube is only 6 years old, Facebook is only 5 years old, and I didn’t even own a computer that could go online until the year 2000.  So in the grand scheme of things, it’s still a new thing that we all have to figure out.  Some of us are slower than others, I suppose.

At the moment, I’m having pretty good success with Facebook advertising.  Everybody has a Facebook page nowadays so it’s time you set one up as well, and it’s free.  Here’s what’s working for me:

From your personal Facebook page, along the left side is an option for ‘Pages.’  Click that, and then on the top of the page you’ll see ‘Create a Page.’  Hit that and set up a page for your store (or better yet, get a teenager to do it for you). 

Once its set up, go back to your personal page and look again along the left hand side and click on ‘Ads Manager.’  Look on the top right of that page and click the button that says ‘Create an Ad.’  You’re limited on the amount of text you can put in a Facebook ad, but it’s enough to get your message out there.  Then, it’ll ask you who you want to target.  Just target your immediate city or town, and set a budget of $5 per day.  We’re getting 60-80 new ‘likes’ a week with this.  And, almost every single new like we get is someone I don’t know.  And if I don’t know them, then they didn’t know me or my business.  It’s really making the phone ring… for $5 per day.  That’s a pretty good return on investment. 

For me, spending more money per day didn’t equate to more activity, so I just keep the $5 ad running all the time.  Throughout this entire Christmas season I’ll be featuring my goods and services on my store’s Facebook page on a daily basis (once or twice a day, not a thousand times a day and making people block me).  I’ve never done this before. 

I’ve been writing a lot recently about jumping on the internet bandwagon at the local level because that’s where the customers are.  And this Christmas, I know that’s where they are and I’m gonna find them.  Good luck to everyone this December and go get your Facebook ad set up and find those new customers.  They’re still out there; they’re just not where they were in Christmas’s past if you’re an old timer like me. 

Merry Christmas everyone, and I’ll see ya in 2014!


Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. If you would like to contact Chuck or need a speaker or instructor for your next conference/event he can be reached at 615-354-6361, www.CMKcompany.com or send e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
 
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