Bridal is a big part of any retail jeweler’s business. And, it’s about to get even larger if projections by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) are accurate. Millennials born during the 1980s and early 1990s are coming of age and will soon be getting married in greater numbers. By the middle of this decade, the NCHS predicts that the number of marriages in the US could reach upwards of 2.4 million.Before jumping in to how retailers are preparing for the projected increase in weddings by 2016, it’s worth looking back in marital history as to why jewelry store owners are so anxious to capitalize on a return to the bridal glory days. In the early 1990s, many retail jewelers were experiencing a thriving bridal business with more than 2.4 million marriages in 1990, according to historical data from the NCHS.
Although the number of couples getting married each year averaged more than 2.3 million throughout the 1990s (with the exception of 1998, with a drop down to just over 2.2 million couples), the trend didn’t start to decline until just after the recession of 2001.
Actual marriages fluctuated as the 2000s ushered in the new millennium, but the number of couples getting married was on a definite downward trend, reaching its lowest point in 2009, with a noticeable drop to less than 2.1 million marriages.
“In addition to the downward trend, young couples postponed their wedding plans for personal budgetary reasons [post 2008 recession],” says Ken Gassman, president and founder of the Jewelry Industry Research Institute.
As the country currently finds itself slowly coming out of the Great Recession, and millennials are nearing the optimal marrying years (26.1 for women and 28.2 for men), marriages are on a steady upward trajectory for the next four to five years, with a projected peak of 2.4 million marriages coming in 2016, according to NCHS forecasts.
Not all wedding projection news, however, is good. When the marriage numbers hit their high point in 2016, NCHS projections indicate that the number of marriages will experience a slow and steady decline starting in 2017, and reaching a 2020-decade low of less than 2.2 million marriages in 2026. (The number of marriages will slowly tick upward toward 2030.)
Also, further analysis of NCHS historical data shows marriage rates have been dropping steadily since the 1960s, when couples began opting to live together over exchanging wedding vows. In the 1950s 11.1 people per 1,000 Americans married. And, in 2009 (the most current data available), marriage rates were recorded at 6.8 people per 1,000 Americans married that year.
Also, given recent quantitative easing policies, coupled with low lending rates from the Federal Reserve, inflation is bringing up the costs of commodities and consumer goods, which is adding to the economic realities already at work that are forcing lower-income couples to delay wedding plans. Current food and gas prices, for example, on average consume upwards of 16 to 17 percent of most US household incomes each month.
But not all economic and socioeconomic news is bad. “Young disadvantaged couples may be delaying their wedding ceremonies, but still have a positive attitude toward marriage, which could create a bubble of marriages in the years leading up to the 2016 peak,” says Gassman.
Another upbeat note: “Ninety-three percent of all adults say making a lifelong commitment and companionship are very important reasons to get married, while 31 percent say financial stability is a reason to get married. So, love trumps money,” says Gassman, quoting recent polling data from Pew Research.With bridal jewelry and associated accessories making up 25 percent of the total US jewelry market, jewelry store owners have always made bridal their primary focus, but more so in recent years. Bringing in new bridal customers to sustain jewelry sales for generations to come has prepared many jewelry store owners to better position their business as a bridal destination for the boon years ahead.
But with so many jewelers chasing after the same bridal demographic (characterized as being one of the most difficult generations to market to), having a unique product or service that feeds in to this age group’s insatiable need for customization is paramount.
Chalmers Jewelers has an ambitious goal of making 100 percent of their fine jewelry in-house. With a solid jewelry-making infrastructure in place, store owner Scott Chalmers and his son Garrett are using their shop’s wax growing machine to produce jewelry that can incorporate a couple’s actual fingerprints into the inside shank of custom bridal jewelry designs.
The patented “Forever Print” is just in its infancy for the Middleton, Wisconsin-based store, but is showing great promise with couples opting for custom-made bridal jewelry, according to general manager John Bumann.
“Beyond the bridal market, we’re also looking to launch our own Forever Print fashion jewelry and jewelry accessories that’ll be appropriate for any number of gift-giving occasions, such as giving dad a dog tag pendant with the kids’ fingerprints on it for Father’s Day or a birthday,” says John.
Meeting the immediate and future goals of capturing greater shares of the bridal market for Rasmussen Diamonds includes adding 40 linear feet of sit-down cases to a 500-square-foot bridal-only boutique. “We currently have the showroom space to accommodate such an expansion,” says store owner Joel Hassler.
Joel is looking to complete three large bridal dedicated, uniquely designed display cases, equipped with the latest in LED lighting, by September for his Racine, Wisconsin, store. “Our goal is to have a larger, set-apart bridal section to make our bridal section easier to identify and shop,” says Joel.
No one can deny the importance of being where young bridal customers spend their time: online. That’s why some retail jewelers, such as Josephs Jewelers, have created bridal customer-dedicated websites that are also mobile-device friendly. Last year, Josephs launched GoldBoxMoments.com, in part to celebrate the Iowa-based retailer’s 140th anniversary.
Just as important as celebrating the store’s milestone anniversary was giving young bridal customers a destination to share their love stories and marriage proposals centering on the retailer’s signature gold paper-wrapped gift boxes. Like other bridal-dedicated websites, GoldBoxMoments.com has a heavy social media component to it with customer stories driving much of the content. The blog-like format allows for comments to be posted as well as Facebook “like” and “share” capabilities.
Micro-blogging on Twitter is also encouraged on the homepage and GoldBoxMoments.com also has an all-in-one wedding planning resource center for couples getting married in central Iowa. The feedback from customers and fans has been a big success, allowing the company to connect with this key demographic in a unique way while still maintaining a strong marketing presence.
“Our goal was to create a website and provide a fun forum for couples to share their unique stories,” says Toby Joseph, president of Josephs Jewelers. “We love how well it’s been received and the stories that have been shared. It’s exciting for us to see this forum grow and it certainly makes sense with our approach to connecting with each unique customer.”
At Montica Jewelry, located in Coral Gables, Florida, store owner John O’Rourke gets an estimated 70 percent of bridal jewelry customers to return to the store for their wedding bands. John and his staff offer bridal jewelry customers spending $5,000 or more a savings package valued at $1,000 free. The package includes a $200 gift certificate for a wedding band, the first year’s insurance, annual in-house appraisal, annual ring sizing (up or down one ring size), annual refurbishment, in-house safety checks, engraving service, and unlimited cleanings.
Although many couples wait about a year to buy their wedding bands, the $200 gift card included in the savings package actually brings couples back sooner. “Our Savings Program enables us to put our best foot forward right off the bat with everyone that visits with us,” says John. “I’m looking to establish long-term relationships, not a here today – gone tomorrow transaction.”