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Who's Thriving in 2018?

Our mass data dig finds what’s separating the best from the rest.

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MUCH OF THIS YEAR’S Big Survey reflects a simple question: Are you thriving or struggling in the current economy? Over the last few years, we’ve noticed in our contacts with readers a pattern that is being seen elsewhere in society: Two Americas, one doing well, the other doing it tough. For some jewelers, the economy is booming; there is lively demand from both a new generation of jewelry buyers and recently affluent customers for what they stock and what they make. Meanwhile, new online technology is allowing them to expand their reach. For another group, everything is the opposite. The local economy is stagnant, consumers are aging and the young don’t seem interested in jewelry. Technological change is increasing competition, healthcare costs and rent are squeezing profitability, and what once worked, no longer seems to. Our goal with this year’s survey was to first identify the Thrivers (those who said they were enjoying their best year ever) and the Strugglers (those who said business had never been so bad) and compare both their experiences and also how they operate. The results were fascinating, sometimes predictable but ultimately very instructive. Please enjoy.

1. A land of contrasting fortunes

COMMENT: A total of 728 jewelers answered this year’s Big Survey with contributions from every state except Delaware, and D.C. To map this divided state of affairs, we designated states as Thriving, Struggling or Unchanged based on how they responded to our key question. In blue California, for example, 26 jewelers said they’d recently enjoyed their best year ever, while 5 said it had been their worst and 9 said not much had changed. Meanwhile, in red New Jersey, 6 jewelers said they were going through their worst-ever period, 4 said it was the best and 4 said it was little changed. In the great white of Canada, things were decidedly gray with 8 of 17 jewelers saying they were basically muddling along. The most thriving state in the land was Illinois, where 19 jewelers said times were great compared to just one who was struggling.

 

2. Looking at the last two years, would you rate either of them as the “best” or “worst” ever in terms of your store’s financial performance?

NOTE: Given that a store that had only been in business a couple of years would likely report their most recent year as their best, we excluded from our Best/Worst comparisons jewelers that joined the trade after 2015. There were only 10 such stores.

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10 Things That Set Strugglers Apart

1. They operate in smaller markets (page 38)
2. They are more likely to be pure retailers who offer no shop services (page 38)
3. Their customer base is mostly working
class (page 44)
4. They’ve hitched their wagons to Baby
Boomers (page 45)
5. They buy lots of silver off the street (page 45)
6. They earn less (page 50)
7. They pay their staff hourly (page 60)
8. It’s been 5 years since their last remodel (page 64)
9. Their time is consumed with admin (page 60)
10. They work long hours (page 54)

10 Things That Set Thrivers Apart

1. They offer on-site repairs (page 38)
2. They target affluent customers (page 44)
3. Millennials excite them (page 45)
4. They buy at trade shows (page 46)
5. They buy off the street (page 46)
6. They reorder quickly (page 48)
7. They rate their mental attributes highly
(page 55)
8. They motivate staff with financial
incentives (page 60)
9. They are likely to focus on strategy and customer relations (page 60)
10. They work long hours (page 54)

 

This year’s Big Survey was conducted between July and August via an online service, SurveyMonkey. With 728 readers responding, it represents one of the biggest-ever analyses of the lives and business habits of American jewelers. Thanks to all who took the time to fill in the survey. If you would like to participate in more INSTORE surveys, sign up for the Brain Squad at instoremag.com/brain-squad.

Over the years, INSTORE has won 76 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at editor@instoremag.com.

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Gene the Jeweler

Gene Shows His Competitive Spirit ... and It's Not Pretty

In this episode of Jimmy DeGroot’s satirical Gene the Jeweler series, Gene answers a viewer question: “It looks like you have a laser welder in your shop. Should I get one?” Gene suspects he knows who sent the query. He’s not pleased. In fact, the situation brings out the worst of Gene’s competitive spirit.

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Big Survey

Big Survey: How Many Women Make More Than $150,000 in Retail Jewelry?

For the most part, men are the higher earners.

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FOUR IN 10 independent jewelry stores in America are now run by women according to the 2018 Big Survey. However, for the most part, it is the men who continue to be the highest earners, with 80 percent of the jewelers making $150,000 or more a year being male.

A part of this discrepancy can be explained by the fact that many of the women owners and managers are relatively new to the industry and their stores have yet to reach the scale that rewards their owners so handsomely. In 2009, the first time we specifically asked about gender, the split between male and female owners was 65/35.

It’s also undeniable that women face bigger hurdles in business, whether it’s accessing credit, being accepted in business networks or just operating in a still male-dominated field.

Having said that, the women jewelers in our survey are doing well. Forty-three percent of the jewelers who said they’d had their best year ever since 2016 were women, suggesting they are outperforming their male counterparts.

As the Store Owner, What Did You Earn (Salary + Share of Profit) Last Year?

What Is It Your Gender?

COMMENT: The number of women owners or managers has been steadily rising since we started doing these surveys more than a decade ago. The first time we specifically asked about gender, in 2009, the split was 65/35. For the record, 43% of the thriving jewelers were women, suggesting they are outperforming their male counterparts. That said, it should be noted that male-owned stores overall tend to be older and thus the owners are often comparing those last two years against a historical record that goes back decades.

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Big Survey

Manmade Diamond Legal Quiz: Can You Do Better Than the Jewelers in the 2018 Big Survey?

Test your knowledge.

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ON JULY 24, the Federal Trade Commission’s jewelry guidelines were revised to include laboratory-grown diamonds in the commission’s definition of diamonds.

The FTC’s previous definition of a diamond was: “A natural mineral consisting essentially of pure carbon crystallized in the isometric system.”

The new listing does not include the word “natural.” “When the commission first used this definition in 1956, there was only one type of diamond product on the market — natural stones mined from the earth,” the FTC said. “Since then, technological advances have made it possible to create diamonds in a laboratory. These stones have essentially the same optical, physical and chemical properties as mined diamonds. Thus, they are diamonds.”

Which of the following terms are you allowed to use to describe laboratory-grown diamonds, according to the FTC. (The figures in parentheses reflect the answers of your fellow jewelers who took the Big Survey)

Laboratory-grown
94%
Manmade
56%
Laboratory-created
47%
Synthetic
35%
(Manufacturer-name)-created
34%
Cultured
20%
Simulant
7%
Imitation
6%

 

The descriptions in orange are fine, based on the FTC guidelines, while those in red are not. How did you do?

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Big Survey

Big Survey: How Many Hours Do Jewelers Work Per Week?

More time at work doesn’t always spell success.

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CONVENTIONAL WISDOM SAYS there should be a direct correlation between hours worked and performance. But the 2018 Big Survey failed to find such a clear link. The takeaway? Working smart and other variables like being in an economically strong part of the economy matter more, because when you look at the numbers, just about all jewelers work hard.

To be sure, the strugglers in our survey (defined by those who said one of the last two years had been their worst in business) tended to be over-represented at the “fewer hours” end of the band, but they were also among the jewelers putting in the longest hours at the other end of the spectrum (16 percent of the strugglers were working more than 60 hours a week compared to 12 percent for the thrivers). Overall, just about everyone was working hard: 58 percent of the respondents to the 2018 Big Survey, which attracted the participation of more than 700 independent jewelers, reported working more than 45 hours a week.

Average / Thrivers / Strugglers

Less than 30 3% / 3% / 5%

30­-39 15% / 15% / 22%

40­-45 23% / 25% / 12%

46­-50 23% / 20% / 22%

51­-60 22% / 24% /22%

61­-70 9% / 8% /12%

More than 70 3% / 4% /4%

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