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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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She Wanted to Spend More Time with Her Kids. She Called Wilkerson.

Your children are precious. More precious than gold? Absolutely! Just ask Lesley Ann Davis, owner of Lesley Ann Jewels, an independent jewelry store that — until the end of 2023 — had quite a following in Houston, Texas. To spend more time with her four sons, all in high school, she decided to close her store. Luckily, she was familiar with Wilkerson and called them as soon as she knew she wanted to move on to bigger, better and more family-focused things. Was she happy with her decision? Yes, she was. Says Davis, “Any owner looking to make that life change, looking to retire, looking to close, looking for a pause in their career, I would recommend Wilkerson. Hands down!”

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