Demographics drive change in fine jewelry business

The baby boom generation changes things as it passes through life, and the latest impact is on the fine jewelry business.

Bart Marks, vice president of Reno-based Rogers Jewelry Co., says changing demographics is driving a shift to stand-alone superstores.

Rogers moved into its stand-alone South Virginia Street location in Reno in 1997.He's so pleased with the results, he is working to convert the rest of the family-owned chain of 10 stores.All except Reno are located in California's Central Valley.

Established in 1937, the family-owned business has shifted its focus before to match the changing residential patterns.

First,when retail shopping migrated from downtowns to suburban malls.

The new superstores have private viewing rooms, computer design centers, in-store jewelry manufacturing facilities and sophisticated diamond quality analysis equipment.

In addition, the superstores have plush sofas, satellite television, a fireplace and complimentary beverages for customers.

But it's not just about the added space for amenities.

Jewelry stores provide the highest profit return per square foot at a shopping mall, says Marks.Yet malls are offering the jewelry stores shrinking spaces and higher rents.And, they're playing hardball with lease renewals.

Such negotiations, he says, drove Rogers Jewelry from a Meadowood Mall location.

But Marks says he's now grateful for the shove, because it forced him to take a chance on the stand-alone super store concept.

Rogers Jewelry enjoys five times the space for the same price.

That translates into five times the inventory at its 4,500-square-foot Reno location.

So, when its lease at Shoppers Square came up for renewal last year,Rogers chose, rather, to consolidate into its new superstore, despite the fact that it was happy with that mall location.

The added space permits experimentation with new and unusual items.

That's not possible at mall stores, says Marks, because they need to maximize profit with fast-selling merchandise to pay the rent.

The result, says Marks, is that all the mall stores start to offer similar merchandise much of it at lower price points.

That's the wrong sales strategy, he says, at a time when middle-aged boomers have the cash and the inclination to buy higher-priced jewelry.

People are waiting longer to get engaged, says Marks.

The average age of engagement is now 26.

"Couples often wait to buy the ring until they've bought the home together,"he says.

But now the biggest market is the "second diamond, same girl" slice.

That's middle-aged men wanting to buy their wife of years a far pricier diamond than he could afford when they first wed.

"More money is spent by married couples than by any other demographic," says Marks.

To impress that mature shopper, the Rogers Jewelry stores have gone high tech with computerized displays dubbed Performance Technology.Digital Goldsmith, a computer program, facilitates custom design.

Digital Gem measures light refraction of two jewels and reports results on a scale of one to 10."What makes a diamond special is how it plays with light," says Marks.And, he notes, engineer and tech types love it.

But what is all this technology, posh seating and high-end jewels doing parked in the lot of Home Depot, another superstore stuffed with paint and screws? Rogers Jewelers did not choose to move in next to a lumberyard, but bought the property simply because it was available.

But the choice proved serendipitous."Who goes to Home Depot?"Marks asks.

"Homeowners." Now Rogers specifically looks to locate near Lowes or Home Depot type stores.

"Home Depot does research on growth locations," says Marks."If we're going to rent, we want the smell of fresh paint.

If we're going to buy,we want the smell of fresh dirt." "People like to go where it's fresh and exciting."


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