As a reputable independent jewelry store owner, you likely have a love/hate relationship with the concept of “clearance.” Cathy Calhoun of Calhoun Jewelers in Royersford, PA, never even utters the word. “To me, it gives the appearance that nobody ever wanted that jewelry,” she says. “The one promotion that worked was I sent direct mail to my customers that said if they spend $350 or more, they receive one free CZ and silver bar necklace,” Calhoun says. “This way, they get an extra gift for somebody and they seem to like that. But I did not mention clearance merchandise.”
Tim Bodis of Diamond Designs by Bodis in Rice Lake, WI, has tried different types of sales with mixed results and mixed emotions. “I hate the big discounts, but usually they have the best results,” he says. “All take planning and a lot of prep time.”
Denise Oros of Linnea Jewelers in La Grange, IL, organizes several each year, and isn’t afraid to try something new. But she admits there is a downside. “The biggest problem is sale mentality,” she says. Customers say they’d rather wait to buy until the annual Ladies Night Out sale in April. “I am thrilled it is so well received, but occasionally there are times when having an annual sale comes back to bite you, especially for women who can’t make up their minds.” Pros outweigh cons, though, for Oros. “The buying frenzy of Ladies Night Out certainly makes up for it,” she says.
Have a sale too often, and shoppers will ignore it, or think of you as “that discount place.” But if, like Nordstrom, you discount once or twice a year, the sale will be more credible and take on more significance.
When Cory Schifter took over family business Casale Jewelers in Staten Island, NY, seven years ago, sales were taboo. Casale had established its brand largely through philanthropy and community involvement. But Bottom Line Marketing convinced Schifter that sales events can boost business if done properly and creatively. Now he usually holds four a year, including a Santa Surplus sale, a half-off half the store and a wedding band weekend. To promote events, Schifter uses digital marketing, advertising and a blog. “We weren’t really a sales store, but we found success in doing that,” he says.
Ira Bergman, president of the Gordon Co., cautions that DIY, quick-hit sales are fine for what they are, but if jewelry store owners want to clear out hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of inventory over a longer period, they should consult a professional. “It’s like comparing apples and oranges. If a retailer does $1 million in a year, when we or another professional run the sale, we will in 60 days come very close to that million dollars in sales. If you’re really serious about moving your inventory and talking about substantial numbers, you shouldn’t try to do it yourself. We understand how to maintain momentum in a sale so that it will far exceed what the retailer will do on their own and will mitigate the cost of hiring a professional.”
Ready to fall in love with a sale? Here is a round-up of possibilities.
1. THE GOB SALE
Wilkerson & Associates specializes in going out of business, moving and retirement sales. “The general public has grown immune to everyday promotional events,” says Josh Hayes, Wilkerson business analyst. “We focus on sales that we can get an incredible response on, because they can’t be done every day.” Sometimes additional inventory is brought in for a GOB sale, depending in part on what state law allows. GOB sales generally last six to eight weeks and generate about 1.2 years’ worth in sales. “When we get halfway through the sale, the owner may have major categories that they run out of inventory in,” Hayes says, so it’s better to supplement inventory in that case than send a shopper somewhere else to look for diamond studs or another item. Wilkerson tracks how advertising is working throughout the sale and makes adjustments as they go along. Hayes cautions that there is no “do-over” in this kind of sale. “After a GOB sale, by law your store is going to close, and you WILL be selling your inventory to a wholesaler.”
2. THE BLACK FRIDAY DOORBUSTER
Bill Warren, owner of the Gold Mine Fine Jewelry and Gifts in Hudson, NC, has people lining up to get into his store on Black Friday morning by promoting doorbuster specials.
Warren sends postcards at a cost of $250 plus postage to approximately 5,000 clients with special offers/doorbusters for the first two hours of the morning. Warren chooses items with price points at three low levels that have a high perceived value (usually $9.99, $19.99 and $29.99 freshwater pearl studs, bracelets and necklaces) and includes photos of the items on the postcards.
“After careful testing, I have found that this is the price point that creates an absolute frenzy,” Warren says.
Warren also programs a telephone blast to go out a few days before the event. He records the call and delivers it directly to voicemail. The cost is 8 cents per successful call. He follows up with email blasts to his mailing list of about 3,500, along with Facebook posts.
Before the event, Warren displays the doorbuster items in a special showcase to amp up interest, but doesn’t allow them to be purchased in advance.
Warren says he usually makes double to triple keystone on the special items. Within the first two hours of business, he normally sees gross sales of between $15,000 and $20,000. “We sell other things as well,” Warren says. “I sold a Rolex President one year, so don’t think this is just a lowball event, but hey, I’d take $20,000 for the first two hours of the event at key to triple keystone any day.”
The 2016 Black Friday event was his largest to date, Warren says. “We were packed for a solid two hours.”
3. THE HOLIDAY WINE AND WHISKEY SOIREE
At David Jay Jewelers in Warrington, PA, the store discounts its inventory by 20 percent throughout December, but those who attended the Holiday Wine and Whiskey Evening Soiree received an additional 5 percent markdown.
Over three hours on a Thursday evening, guests were treated to hors d’oeuvre, samples from a local whiskey distillery and four different wines. Guests also received Christmas gifts — branded whiskey glasses for the guys and soap and bath oils for the women. Customers were introduced to the work of four new jewelry designers, too.
It might have been risky to invite 5,000 people, but attendance turned out to be perfect. More than 100 people flowed in and out before and after dinner at nearby restaurants in the outdoor shopping center. Says marketing associate Jenna Shikoff: “People have returned to the store because they came to that event and liked it.”
4. THE 60/60 SALE
James Porte of Porte Marketing has copyrighted his 60 Minutes 60 Percent Off Sale, which has yielded impressive results for many of the hundreds of stores he’s worked with over the past four years. One store in Long Island sold $800,000 of inventory in November 2016. “They wanted to hold the event on Black Friday and I figured they’d be competing with every retailer in America,” Porte says. “So, I thought, why not move it ahead six days and give them a head start to gain access to shoppers’ disposable income before Black Friday.” They called 500 to 700 people and booked appointments for four days straight for pre-sales, and then they had a huge Saturday.
Porte considers it to be the perfect storm of urgency and value. The limited time period creates a sense of urgency while the discount amount is significant enough to get people’s attention. “It’s about converting old inventory into cash in the shortest period of time,” Porte says.
Theresia Oreskovic of Peter & Co. Jewelers in Avon Lake, OH, has tried the sale twice, clearing as much as $70,000 of inventory. Last August, during the preview week, five customers became fixated on a 2-carat diamond tennis bracelet. The morning of the sale, one of them came in as soon as the store opened and hung around until the sale began. “We had a few people that were after the same thing, but we made sure nobody left unhappy,” Oreskovic says.
In most cases, the sale is on a Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon. But the jeweler can also invite their best customers to make an appointment in the days leading up to the event to shop early and avoid waiting in line.
Each person who does wait in line on a Saturday receives a wristband with the time they arrived and their number in line so that they don’t necessarily have to stand in line.
“We’ve done this in 30 below zero weather and 105 degree weather,” Porte says. He suggests retailers anticipating weather extremes collaborate with a nearby coffee house to shelter people who are waiting.
5. THE FLASH SALE
Denise Oros of Linnea Jewelers in La Grange, IL, hosted a two-day flash sale in November 2016. She emailed $100-off coupons on any jewelry item $250 or over for use on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday to her top 400 customers. She spent $35 for a Constant Contact email blast.
“It was terrific! It increased our traffic and brought in nosy customers from the street because our store was so busy,” Oros reports. It led to a record-breaking November, up 28 percent month to month from 2015, which was also a banner year. “I created a holiday buzz and got in a ton of wish-listers for future sales.”
6. THE FACEBOOK PROMOTION SALE
Chuck Jacobson of International Diamond in Adrian, MI, discounts everything in the store and markets it only on Facebook by posting pictures and descriptions and boosting that post. Every few days, he adds pictures and descriptions in the comments area.
“It keeps them coming back to my post,” he says. “I also ask people to share my post and offer a $200 gift certificate in a drawing for everyone who does. I spent $1,000 on the ad and more than doubled my business for the month. I was able to reach over 150,000 people and had almost 28,000 post clicks.”
7. THE PROFESSIONAL 60-DAY SALE
The Gordon Co. focuses on 60-day sales for upscale retailers, who, under normal circumstances, would never expect to run a sale. “Every retailer has a lot of aged inventory,” says Ira Bergman, president of the Gordon Co. “That is what is hurting them. If you don’t keep the inventory to the barest minimum, you’re stuck with these pieces that have been in your showcase for years. If they have a million dollars worth of inventory, we ask them what portion they would like to sell off in this sale.” This kind of sale shouldn’t be done very often and certainly shouldn’t happen more than every three to five years. “You can’t fool the public,” Bergman says. “You can’t run this kind of sale and then a year and a half later try to run another one.” The Gordon Co. assigns someone to manage the sale, but they defer to the retailer at all times, Bergman says. They are trained to act as if they are guests in someone’s home.
8. THE ESTATE SPOOKTACULAR
For Eileen Eichhorn of Eichhorn Jewelry in Decatur, IN, the Estate Spooktacular, an estate clearance sale, began as a way to participate in the city’s Halloween-themed Callithumpian Festival. Most of the store’s estate jewelry is acquired in large lots from individuals, attorneys and banks. “Because we bid the lots, including entry-level costume style to high-end, we needed a way to move it in quantity,” she explains. So she sets up tables of $10, $25, $50 and $100 items and half-price silver.
Better items, such as diamond jewelry, move well with a half-price tag. Recent acquisitions are tagged with a smaller discount but are quick to sell to loyal shoppers. The tables are refilled daily as an enticement for shoppers to return repeatedly.
She buys newspaper and radio ads, but the direct mail postcard gets the biggest bang for the buck. The store has added Facebook ads in recent years, encouraging shoppers to check the website to view better estate items throughout the year.
9. THE DIVORCE SALE
In 2015, Babs Noelle of Alara Jewelry in Bozeman, MT, advertised her clearance event as a divorce liquidation sale, which, in truth, it was. She had decided to liquidate her assets to reach a divorce settlement.
She worked with Marsden liquidation sale service company and made sure that all the ads associated with the event expressed her trademark sense of humor. Catch phrases included: “Help me wash that man right outta my hair!” and “We’re liquidating the assets and splitting the sheets!” She also sent out a mailer to existing clients, explaining that their purchases would ensure the business would stay open.
Noelle found that being honest opened up a dialogue and forged deeper relationships with clients as she planned to start over with her business post-liquidation. “The support was incredibly meaningful,” she says. “Five different women brought gifts of shampoo!”
The sale exceeded expectations by a wide margin. “We restocked the entire store and had plenty of time to make considered decisions as we did so,” she says. Also important was making sure there were additional funds to pay for post-sale advertising. “Even though all the ads and signage said ‘Divorce Liquidation,’ people swore that we had held a ‘going out of business’ sale,” Noelle says.
10. THE NEW YEAR’S DETOX SALE
Shetler-Wade Jewelers in San Antonio hosts an annual January sale that targets inventory older than four months. It’s important in the market to refresh merchandise often, says Michelle Shetler.
One year, the three-day customer appreciation sale had a “detox” theme featuring a juice bar, chair massages and daily live drawings for spa treatments. The “detox” theme subtly referenced the fact they wanted to move out old inventory, while also tying in a focus on health and well-being resolutions in the new year. On the evening before the sale began, they also hosted a private VIP viewing party.
11. THE IDES OF MARCH HALF-OFF HALF THE STORE
Mark Kasuba of M. Edward Jewelers in Pittsfield, MA, takes half off one half of the store’s inventory for two days every year around the Ides of March. This month will mark the 10th year for his Ides of March sale.
“Something about death and the Ides of March go hand in hand, so we thought we’d add our dead inventory to the mix,” he says. “It’s also a good distance from Christmas and Valentine’s Day so as to not interfere with those occasions.”
They typically remove inventory that is less than 18 months old from the sale. “We do leave our more important inventory on display, which represents the other half of the store that is not on sale.”
They promote the sale via newspaper and radio, but the most effective means has been in-store posters, counter cards and staff reminders to customers.
“We tend to advertise with less frequency and spend considerably less than we did in the past. Our Facebook page and online posts seem to be generating plenty of interest, but we also do print, radio and personal reminder phone calls the week of. This year we will be putting ‘Born On’ dates for select items that might be more anxious to find a new home.”
The sale takes place for two days only, Friday and Saturday.
For the sales team, the store holds a competition to see who can sell the oldest piece. Last year’s winner sold an 18K emerald and moonstone ring “born” in 1988.
12. THE PANIC SALE
Cory Schifter, owner of Casale Jewelers on Staten Island, NY, recently tried a Christmas “Panic Sale,” which helped clear out inventory and brought up December sales numbers. The sale was five days only; buy one gift and get the second 50 percent off.
If guests RSVP’d, they’d receive a $50 gift card to be used one weekend only.
During the panic sale, the store also gave away keys to customers who spent $100 or more. They were invited to return to try their keys to open a treasure chest that contained 10 pieces of jewelry.
Most sales require extra staff and extra security, Schifter says. “At our half-off half the store sale, we did so well that I had to call my entire family to come and help. We were extremely busy.”
13. THE TEMPERATURE INCENTIVE
Kim Hatchell of Galloway & Moseley Fine Jewelers in Sumter, SC, attracts people to an August sale with this pitch: “Shop with us from Aug. 1-Aug. 10, and if the temperature reaches 101 degrees on Aug. 31, your purchases could be free!” Customers sign in if they’d like to participate and agree not to return anything they purchase during that time. Says Hatchell: “Most people love the chance that they could get something free! Who doesn’t, really?”
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 edition of INSTORE.
The Wilkerson Way
See how one jeweler's inventory sale turned unsold merchandise into cold, hard cash.