Bob Mitchell, copresident of Mitchells Family of Stores, thinks of his jewelry business as a hidden gem.
“Approximately 55 percent of the people who shop our stores aren’t buying jewelry with us because they still think of us as a clothing store. That means jewelry is a great opportunity,” Mitchell said.
Industry sources said Mitchells jewelry business, which offers precious, fine, designer, contemporary and vintage styles, has grown to more than $30 million in revenues. That represents between 20 and 21 percent of Mitchells’ total revenues, whereas men’s wear accounts for 44 percent of revenues, and women’s 35 percent. That’s a high percentage in jewelry, considering other specialty stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue would be roughly half that level.
“We think that the 21 percent in jewelry is the right balance. Twenty to 25 percent is a range we’d consider healthy,” Mitchell said. “At our West Coast stores, jewelry now represents 15 percent of the revenues. We’d like to get it up a little further.”
“One of our biggest messages is filling our customers’ closets with all the jewelry essentials,” said Jennifer Farrington, senior buyer of jewelry. “Every woman needs diamond studs, diamond hoops, a Cartier watch, a great gold link bracelet or bangle, a Temple St. Clair rock crystal amulet on a gold chain and a Renee Lewis Shake necklace, to name a few.”
Earlier this year, Mitchells distributed a diamond book with the header, “Our diamonds, a guide to our best-kept secret.” It makes the claim that Mitchells has become the largest jeweler in upper Fairfield County, and points out that the store’s diamond specialists are educated by the Gemological Institute of America and several are GIA certified with advanced degrees. The Mitchells Family of Stores consists of Mitchells in Westport, Conn.; Richards in Greenwich, Conn.; Marshs in Huntington, Long Island, and Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco and Palo Alto, Calif. The Westport store has the biggest jewelry presentation, with 36 four-foot-long display cases.
In the following Q&A, Mitchell talks jewelry, its challenges and rewards.
WWD: Mitchells was founded 57 years ago as a men’s store and expanded into women’s. When did you start to regard jewelry as an important component?
MITCHELL: When we did the first renovation here in Westport in 2003, we decided strategically to go really strong into the fine jewelry business. At Richards, it’s the same. We’ve had a conscientious effort from the mid-2000s time period. When we came to Greenwich [through the acquisition of Richards in 1995] every salesperson we hired said we would never be successful in the jewelry business. We had four cases upstairs when we opened, but we moved jewelry down to the first floor in 2004, put in 20 cases and we have three upstairs. It’s all about trust. Buying jewelry is like buying a car. Customers don’t know much about it, but they put their trust in you. With each of our acquisitions, we’ve designed jewelry departments in high traffic areas. It’s a conscious part of our strategy.
WWD: What’s been the response to your jewelry offering, which many of your shoppers are unaware of still?
MITCHELL: Every one of our top customers buys jewelry. As well as we have done with them buying designer jewelry, it takes a lot longer time for them to consider buying a big piece of [precious] jewelry. That comes with trust and being more competitive on pricing.
WWD: The women’s business, industry-wide, has been tough. Does jewelry compensate for the shortfall?
MITCHELL: It’s just a separate budget that high-end people have for buying jewelry. Our women’s designer business over the last 16 months has been up consistently. We don’t see the jewelry business as something we need to make up for lost dollars in clothing. It’s an opportunity to generate tremendous dollars per square foot.
WWD: Is jewelry more profitable than ready-to-wear?
MITCHELL: The margins are lower in jewelry than in designer, yet it generates the highest gross profit dollars. We are just willing to work on lower margins than a normal department store or specialty store works on.
WWD: Who are your top vendors?
MITCHELL: Kwiat, Oscar Heyman, Temple St. Clair, Sylva & Cie, Fred Leighton, Mattia Cielo, Caroline Ellen, Morelli, Nam Cho and Cartier. Over half of our jewelry business is in diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, rubies and custom design pieces. We search for jewelry collectors with the finest stones in the world.
WWD: Your company is known for customer service. How have you sustained the reputation in jewelry?
MITCHELL: People working in our jewelry department must have long-term jewelry backgrounds. In most cases, they come from jewelry stores. Someone who really has a fine jewelry background, that experience adds credibility to the sale. Most importantly, we have been able to offer every service, from appraisals and resetting, to upgrading old estate pieces with redesigns. We work together with our jewelry specialists and designers such as Temple St. Clair, Oscar Heyman or Sylva & Cie to create bespoke projects. Regarding our bridal business, we can literally do anything, working with a one-carat to a 10-carat stone. There are not a lot of 20somethings who live in this market so we focus on three carats and up. We can service someone in the lower end, but that isn’t really our specialty.
WWD: What are some bestsellers?
MITCHELL: Items we are having success with are Mattia Cielo’s innovative jewelry collection, specifically his Rugiada collection; bespoke projects with designers such as Temple St. Clair, Oscar Heyman, Caroline Ellen and Sylva & Cie, and jewelry that works with the luxe lifestyle clothing trend, such as Sylva & Cie beaded chains with one-of-a-kind unique pendants, sterling silver and 18-karat gold cuffs from Todd Reed and one-of-a-kind diamond slices from Kimberly McDonald. Temple St. Clair’s rock crystal amulet on a long gold chain is also a classic style we sell well to our clients for everyday wear.
WWD: What’s ahead for the jewelry department in the near future?
MITCHELL: At the beginning of 2016 or the summer of 2016, we are planning a big renovation of the Westport store. We will definitely redesign the look and feel of the jewelry department. Whether it stays in the middle of the floor, I’m not sure. We will upgrade the jewelry department with new cases. In terms of the look and feel, we will add a little more privacy. We will dramatically expand shoes and handbags and add more space to women’s, and shrink some customer service areas. Men’s suits and sport coats will shrink. With jewelry, it will be more about the look.
WWD: Over the last couple of decades, Mitchells has expanded by purchasing Richards, Marshs and Wilkes Bashford. What about buying a jewelry store?
MITCHELL: At least at this moment, it’s not on the horizon.