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10 Takeaways from the 2018 Big Survey

We set an ambitious goal for this year’s Big Survey: sort the independent jewelry stores that were thriving from those that were struggling. Here are some of the more noteworthy findings:

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1 For many jewelers times have never been better. Thirty-eight percent of the 730-plus jewelers who answered the 2018 Big Survey said one of the last two years had been their best ever. At the same time, a not insignificant 17% said one of those years had been their worst. Note that these were not recently opened stores. Ninety percent had been in business more than 10 years.

2 Many stores in country towns are doing it tough. While they made up 22 percent of survey-takers, they accounted for 29 percent of those stores that said business had never been worse. The healthiest stores were in large and medium-sized cities.

3 Gabriel is still king, and Stuller still snapping at its heels. For a second year, jewelers ranked these two brands as their best-performing lines. Hearts On Fire moved up to No. 3 while Pandora dropped to No. 6. Among watches there was also no change at the top – Citizen, Seiko and Bulova were again rated as the best-performing watch brands.

4 For all the talk that millennials don’t buy jewelry, thriving stores stood out with their clear focus on a younger cohort: 44 percent of the thrivers said jewelry buyers in their 30s were their “target demographic” while more than half of them (51%) agreed with the statement that “the rise of millennials had been good for business.” In contrast, the struggling stores tended to target older consumers and only 18% viewed the emergence of Gen Y as a good thing for business.

5 Illinois is a great place to sell jewelry. In the past, jewelers from the Midwest have noted their customers are often a season or two behind the fashion trends being seen in New York or LA, but that doesn’t seem to have made them any less enthusiastic buyers. Of the 33 store-owners from the Prairie state who answered the survey, 19 said they were doing better than ever, compared to just one who reported being in a bad slump.

6 Sell to your customers. Buy from your customers. The better performing stores were much more active purchasers of “second-hand” goods in every category (gold, loose diamonds, diamond jewelry, vintage jewelry, etc) than their weaker peers except for silver.

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7 Custom is a cool point of distinction. Only 23% of struggling jewelers listed custom as their point of distinction in the marketplace compared to 38% for thriving jewelers.

8 Turn and earn. Statistical support for probably the most repeated piece of advice in the magazine: Re-order your best sellers quickly. Nearly half the stores that reported great numbers in 2016 or 2017 re-order on a weekly basis. That compares to only 30% of struggling stores.

9 You can make a lot of many in jewelry, but most people don’t. Just over half, or 51%, of our reporting jewelers earn less than $75,000. Seventeen percent make more than $150,000, and 18% less than $40,000. In comparison, the median household income in the US was $61,372 in 2017.

10 Carrots work. This question yielded one of the more significant differences between the thriving stores and the rest, with 57% of the better-performing stores paying some level of commission. In contrast only 35% of the strugglers paid commission while the overall average was 42%.

Final thought:

We found no direct correlation between hours worked and performance. While the strugglers tended to be over-represented at the shorter-workweek end of the band, they were also among the jewelers putting in the longest hours (16% of the strugglers were laboring more than 60 hours a week compared to 12% for the thrivers). Overall, just about everyone was working hard: 58% of the survey respondents reported working more than 45 hours a week. As we head into 2019, keep that in mind — working hard is often not enough. You need to work smart too. We hope the data Big Survey helps you to do that. You can find the full results here.

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