PROVIDENCE: WHERE'S THE NEW STUFF

Byline: Wendy Hessen

PROVIDENCE, R.I.--As costume jewelry sales continue to languish at retail, optimism was in short supply at the holiday editions of the Jewelry Manufacturers Association and United Jewelry Shows here.
The exhibitions wound uptheir five-day stands on June 11.
When vendors came up with new product--such as interpretations of fine jewelry looks --they created some excitement. They also got some bookings as well.
However, many buyers visiting both venues grumbled about a general lack of newness from manufacturers.
Many of the exhibitors have been showing the same lines for as long as a year, the buyers griped. Exhibitors, on the other hand, had their list of complaints as well. They cited the ongoing drought in marketable trends, the absence of jewelry on designer runways and in fashion magazines and the expense of offering new merchandise to dwindling numbers of buyers.
The two events did share a common show book, registration system and free shuttle buses this time around.
The hope was that this cooperative effort would spur business, but organizers acknowledged that traffic was down by about 25 percent compared to this time last year.
About 300 companies checked in to see a total of 290 firms exhibiting at the Omni Biltmore Hotel and Davol Square locations.
On the bright side, both shows reported increased attendance from overseas companies, including buyers from South America, Japan, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Romania.
Here, what buyers and exhibitors had to say at the shows.

JMA
Most buyers shopping the JMA show at the Omni Biltmore reported little change in their budgets compared to last year, and many were frustrated by what they termed "the same old merchandise" in many showrooms.
Mike Martin, an owner of Diane's Accessories, a Mobile, Ala.-based wholesaler, whose business was up slightly from last year, was searching for novelty looks to fill in his summer assortments. The wholesaler said found this to be a difficult task.
Although he did come across some colorful nautical and beach theme merchandise, he lamented the "lack of new interpretations or materials of these traditional summer themes."
Martha Levine and Audrey Frank, owners of Jule, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based wholesale jewelry firm, agreed.
"Newness is key for our accounts. We came here to find new resources and some new takes on the fine jewelry look, which has sold well for us, but we've been disappointed," said Frank.
She attributed the firm's nearly 30 percent drop in sales this year to a lack of great product and fewer retailers to sell to.
Those exhibitors that did report respectable business were often the same firms that offered new items or diversified product lines.
Joel Wishengrad, a director of D. Gioielli, which focuses on costume jewelry with a fine jewelry look, conceded that both traffic and sales were down by roughly 20 percent compared to this time last year.
However, he said that the buyers that did make it to his showroom were ordering what was new.
"We feel it is very important to invest in new product all the time, and we offer new groups at each show," Wishengrad said.
He said the firm's classic interpretations of gold jewelry with imported glass stones, rings and sterling silver looks had come on stronger this show.
Jerry Keckler, sales manager for American Ring Co., also acknowledged the downward traffic spiral.
He said he did considerable business with foreign firms and with party planners--a growing segment of Providence show attendees, who wholesale jewelry to single individuals, who then sell jewelry through events that are similar to the parties used to sell Tupperware.
Keckler noted that real looks with cubic zirconia in either gold or silver were especially strong.
Items from the company's new division, International Concepts Unlimited, were also getting an active play. This new division merchandises better quality fine jewelry looks, and it scored especially well withmatching sets of earrings and necklaces.
Several exhibitors, speaking on condition of anonymity, said their traffic at each show has steadily declined over the last year, culminating this spring when they said sales at the March show were down by as much as 50 percent.
A few vendors admitted that as of Friday afternoon--over halfway through the show, they had yet to write any orders. Many of these exhibitors said they will close their permanent showrooms and only participate on a per-show basis in the future.
Sean Reidy, administrator for the JMA, confirmed that beginning with the next show in September, the organization's three floors of permanent show space will be reduced to two, with the third floor rented on a per-show basis.
He added that the hotel has been sold to Grand Heritage, a Maryland-based hotel restoration firm, which will reclaim one of the JMA's three show floors for hotel rooms next year.United Jewelry Show
A similar outlook prevailed at the Davol Square venue. Some of the retailers and wholesalers said their business had increased slightly versus last year, but there were also complaints about the lack of newness in vendor assortments.
"With costume jewelry business being so tough, new products are one of the few ways we have of attracting customers," said one wholesaler, who echoed the sentiments of most shopping the show.
Retailer Cyril Walsh, owner of Dynasty Accessories, a 17-store chain based in Cork, Ireland, said his business was flat compared to a year ago, but he still planned to expand through the opening of several in-store boutiques in Irish department stores next year.
Walsh was focusing on real- looking ear studs and box goods for the holidays, most of which featured clear cubic zirconia.
Jeannie Kelley, owner of Kel-Save, a six-store retail and catalog operation based near Asheville, N.C., said her business was up by "close to 20 percent" this year, which she attributed to focusing on promotional items and holiday-motif pins and earrings.
Kelley was shopping for items through Valentine's Day and although she said she found some interesting patina metals, she felt other trends being shown, like angel themes, were getting too old to keep buying.
Kristy Kelley, owner of three stores near Myrtle Beach, N.C., echoed her mother's sentiments, saying that she found some glitzy looks and was able to order personalized rhinestone items.
However, she noted, "There wasn't enough newness to make the trip as worthwhile as when we shop the New York accessories trade shows."
Exhibitors said that novelty items were the focus of much of the ordering that did take place, with Christmas and versatile, fine jewelry looks leading the way.
"The lines of ours that have performed best are the ones that reacted to what customers wanted--new things," said Dennis Paul, co-owner of the sales rep company Dennis and Judy Paul. "Buyers are cherrypicking lines now."
Christmas crystal and sequin novelty items like ties and coin purses and junior lines featuring shot chain pendants, bead rings and mood necklaces were his key items.
Paul, who also maintains a showroom in New York, said despite the decrease in the traffic in Providence, he had managed to pick up a few new accounts and still considers it important to take part in the show.
Robert D'Alessio, vice president at Robert Enterprises, Cranston, R.I., noted that "show business has been poor, but our business for the year is up by almost 50 percent."
He attributed the strong growth to the addition of new product categories, the company's deep stocking position and the ability to meet fast delivery requests.
His company also happens to offer a wide assortment of cubic zirconia jewelry, which fits in well with the trend for glamour, shine and the look of real jewelry.
For this show, he noted that the company added much larger scale stones--as big as six and eight carats.
He also noted that he had expanded into real gemstones, and this strategy, he said was well received.

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