Tips for Sparkling Sales
Selling More Jewels and Gems

By Hilary Danailova

Jewelry may look shiny on a website, but nothing compares to the sparkle in person. So in order to sell more jewelry, jewelers and hospital gift shop retailers play up the glitter factor with strategic displays.

“We like to put the big stuff in the windows,” said Batric Megalla, a manager at Way In Jewelry in the bustling Journal Square neighborhood of Jersey City, N.J. “The big crosses, the big 18-karat gold necklaces. We’re in the heart of Jersey City, so what catches the eye is what we go for.”

Once those windows catch the eyes of passers-by, Megalla said, customers wander in “and even if they don’t buy, they know where to go,” he explained. “Plus, we can let them know about promotions.” Inside, diamonds and gold are on view inside glass cases, where the staff encourages try-ons and picture-taking “with no obligation to buy,” said Megalla.

Judy Jacobs, right, and Lisa Maloney, of the Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach Auxillary Gift Shop in Long Beach, Calif. The entirely volunteer-run store has been in business for 71 years.

That personal touch, combined with enticing display, is also what keeps sales strong at Lou’s Jewelry in Mobile, Ala., a family-owned institution for fine jewelry. Owner Tim Sherrer greets each customer with a handshake and a cup of coffee, encouraging conversation and building relationships to go with a reputation for service.

To convert that interest into actual sales, Sherrer takes a page from jewelry websites and showcases his wares  “with a little more individual attention to each piece,” he explained, noting that online shoppers can focus in on a single item. “It used to be, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we’d group everything together. Now, if we have a nice pendant, we’ll put it on a pad. We put each pair of earrings on its own display.”

Like many fine jewelry retailers, Sherrer also emphasizes the kind of quality and detail that’s missing from mass-produced online jewelry. “With more people buying on the internet, there’s a lot of lower end, cheaper priced items, and so we try to focus on a little better quality piece,” said Sherrer, whose 2,000-square-foot store earns about $2.5 million annually. He and his daughter are both gemologists, creating custom items and doing repairs and alterations in-house.

At fashion boutiques like The Pink Turtle in Wilmington, Del., pretty displays are what lure shoppers in search of inspiration. “We mount a dozen rectangular and square shelf boxes on the wall, right at eye level,” said Owner Christine Kendle of her 1,000-square-foot store, which boasts a youthful, preppy-pink aesthetic. “It creates a focal point where it’s all jewelry.” 

Since her wares are inexpensive, Kendle leaves the shelf boxes open so that customers can try on her classic metal monogram necklaces, silvertone lockets and beaded tassel bracelets. But Kendle and many of her retail colleagues struggle to display today’s trendy necklaces, which skew either very long — “you’ve got to get to high T bars, or the mannequins with longer necks” — or very short, in the form of ‘90s-style chokers. “My Achilles heel,” sighed Kendle of the chokers, which look unnatural when hanging, chain-style. “They’re really cute and they’re really, really big this year, but they’re very hard to display.” 

One solution might be to stick with the classics, which require little effort on the part of either seller or buyer. That’s the strategy for Kathy Milich and many of her peers in volunteer-staffed hospital gift shops. “We only sell something that sells itself,” said Milich, manager at the Miller Children’s Hospital gift shop in Long Beach, Calif., where the 65-strong Auxiliary membership take turns at the cash register. “For us, in a gift shop that’s all-volunteer, we need something that doesn’t require explanation.” 

Like many hospital gift shops, the 1,500-square-foot retail outlet at Miller displays necklaces, bracelets and earrings in cases and countertop fixtures. Accessorized mannequins are also popular for hospital stores, which typically sell clothing as well. “When we dress the mannequins, we always put jewelry on to match the outfit,” said Linda Burgess, the gift shop manager at Chesapeake Regional Healthcare Center in Chesapeake, Va. Alongside mannequins, lighted display cases make jewelry sparkle — and minimize shrinkage.

Kathy Milich, right, with Lois Flleischauer, photographed in front of a jewelry case at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach Auxillary Gift Shop. All of the proceeds from the store are donated to the hospital, and $15 million has been generated over the years.

All that glitter won’t sell if the price isn’t right, however. While fine jewelry customers expect to pay a premium for gold and diamonds, shoppers at fashion outlets and hospital stores are more price-conscious. “Our pricing is very fair and reasonable, so you can walk out with a couple of pieces and have spent $30 or $40,” said Kendle, whose boutique sold $500,000 in merchandise last year.

In a city where many families struggle to pay bills, Milich prices most of her costume jewelry at $20-30, a 50 percent markup typical of non-profit hospitals, she said. “But we manage to carry very nice things,” she added, noting with pride that the Auxiliary raises between $150,000 and $200,000 annually to benefit the hospital and its pediatric programs. About $100,000 of that comes from store revenue; the rest is generated by fairs and other fundraising events.

Within the world of fine jewelry, price is a selling point in crowded markets like Jersey City, just across the river from Manhattan. “There’s a lot of competition; we always try to have the lowest price,” said Megalla of Way In Jewelry. “We’re always looking for dealers that give us better prices.”

Even with price tags of just $5 to $40, Burgess racks up sales of $75,000 annually at the Chesapeake Healthcare Center gift shop. “Jewelry is popular with everybody,” Burgess explained. “My volunteers buy it, my employees buy it, people visiting patients in the hospital buy it. Everybody likes jewelry.” 

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