Building a Pearl Profit Center

Major publications from WWD and InStyle to Forbes and the NY Post have been writing about pearls’ comeback as the perfect, malleable medium for today’s ever-changing fashions. While pearl basics are at the core of the market, demand for fashionable, well-designed jewelry has taken this niche mainstream.

“The pearl category has done what most dream of doing in gaining acceptance in all areas of fashion from casual to couture,” describes Cora-Lee Colaizzi, director of marketing and catalogs and senior merchandiser Quality Gold, Fairfield, Ohio. “Fashion influencers and celebrities have popularized pearls as perfect with every outfit, as they post photos of themselves via social media, on the Red Carpet or in the coffee shop. There are no longer rules for when pearls should be worn and with what clothing they’re appropriate.”

Colaizzi credits big fashion houses like Dior and Chanel for contributing to the popularity of pearls worldwide by incorporating them in their apparel and accessories. “This visibility has inspired others to utilize more pearls in silver and 14K gold executions that appeal to and can be within reach of the masses. Over the last few years, more trendy fashion forward collections have featured styles with pearls or pearl accents that have influenced the products consumers want.”

“Pearls are a great profit center with great margins” cites jeweler Rakhi Singadia Narwani, about the pearl department at Barron’s Fine Jewelry, Snellville, Georgia. There’s so much to choose from, you just have to find the right mix for your customers.” You also have to find the right brand partners with well-developed marketing support that can help you captivate and close sales.

Pearls are probably one of the easiest gems to get involved with and put together a case for a relatively inexpensive investment and the opportunity to turn a healthy profit, says Ray Mastoloni for Mastoloni Pearls, New York City.

Understand Your Customers
To determine how to build a profitable pearl department, know your customers, says Kathy Grenier, marketing director Imperial Pearl, Providence, Rhode Island. “If your average sale across the board is $300, you’re not going to put in a $300,000 piece. Identify whom you want to attract. What are your expectations? What do you have and what can’t you do without?” She suggests looking to the competition to see what they’re doing as you strategize your approach.

Stock the Basics
Stock basics like traditional pearl studs and strands that never go out of style, advises Colaizzi. She advocates stocking multiple levels of product within your price points. Grenier says it’s all about fresh takes on classic styles, citing strong demand for modern designs with finer pearls and more gold. Mastoloni notes that “conservative fashion” designs that are different but not too far out are popular, like its Sorrento Collection, mixing pearls with geometric shapes like square and triangle in gold and diamonds. Eve Chiles of Breuning, Lawrenceville, Georgia cites greater demand for rose gold that updates classics.

Fashion Statement
Include a selection of fashion forward styles and statement pieces with diamonds and gems. The earring category is especially exciting, cites Colaizzi, like the front-back style, with smaller pearl connected to larger one to create a two-piece stud. “We offer it in multiple colors of freshwater and shell pearls in silver and gold. We also offer a two-part earring with stud and dangle combined.” She says demand is up for pearl hair accessories introducing this fashion-forward gem to a younger generation. Baroque pearl strands are trending too, like its 64-inch long Endless Necklace. Designer Sara Blaine, a Benchmark brand partner in Atlanta, Georgia hails pearls the perfect accessory to layer with because they’re easy to wear.” Her latest Serenity collection mixes freshwater pearls with aquamarine and rose quartz beads in long lariat style that can be wrapped, layered and tied.

Designs mixing pearls with gems—sliced, faceted and bead—are trending among top pearl houses like Imperial, Mastoloni and Honora. “We’re expanding our collections with new color schemes like black pearls with rutilated quartz and golden pearls with Botswana agate; and South Sea pearls with blue topaz and amethyst or smoky quartz, madeira citrine and rhodolite garnet in 14K gold,” cites Wendy Fox, senior director of sales independent division for Honora, a Richline brand in New York City. Imperial, too, is launching designs that mix flat baroque freshwater pearls with London Blue Topaz, and Mastoloni couples Tahitian and South Sea pearls with black diamond beads in long dangle and tassel styles.

Gift Sets
Pearls remain the ideal gift for many occasions—from important birthdays and anniversaries to graduation, new job or promotion to milestone celebration and wedding day. Birthstone for June, pearls evoke a radiant personality that is polished and poised, playful and pioneering. “Almost everyone has a emotional connection to pearls and that has never changed,” says Grenier. “They’re an iconic gift that’s always appropriate.” Colaizzi suggests stocking box sets of pearl jewelry in combinations like studs and bracelet and/or pendant or studs with earring jackets as conversation starters and easy gift sales.

Girls & Pearls
Two powerful categories to promote pearls are the bridal and youth markets. Jewelers often miss the opportunity to sell pearls as gifts and accessories for the wedding day, says Fox, who notes that jewelers need to identify products they can sell for the occasion. Grenier reports that half the pearls sold for bridal are classics like high luster Akoya, the other half is fashion forward and embracing color.

Pearls are a staple for all girls and starting them young offers jewelers a profitable gift center that can build customers. Colaizzi encourages jewelers stock a well-balanced children’s line in multiple colors of pearls. “We do a big business in pearls in both gold and silver,” says Audrey Robbins, Marathon Company, Attleboro, Massachusetts, and its Kiddie Kraft brand. “We hear from our retailers that this category is not only an attraction that gets people into the store, but also an impulse buy.” Fox believes there’s a disconnect in family gifting of jewelry to kids and teens, but sees pearls as a great category to keep the tradition going.

Brand Partners
Consider partnering with strong brands that can deliver well-developed marketing support, advocates Fox. “Brands can really help jewelers make a statement. We offer our retailers and prospective customers a complete product kit with all our branded assets, product shots, everything they need to market our merchandise.” Grenier, who cites great traction for Imperial’s latest ad campaign featuring Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo of Rhode from Island, where the brand is based. Barron’s has large artwork of Culpo draped in Imperial pearls in its front window and in-store that Narwani says has been an attention grabber. Grenier encourages trunk shows that not only subsidize inventory for events, but also provide a way to test styles. Mastoloni hails sales training key to a jeweler’s success. “Sales associates need to understand how to show and tell pearls.”

Pearl Presence
Become a destination for pearls. “Create a cohesive pearl department and promote it,” encourages Grenier. “It’s all about presentation and placing positive attention on your offerings. Be dramatic, take chances, and shift perspective to captivate customers. Jewelers create their own boundaries and miss opportunities to excite and engage consumers. I challenge jewelers to change one thing in their store and see what happens.” Blaine advocates jewelers show customers how they can wear pearls. Create a neck fixture where you can style pearls with other jewelry in your store and change it everyday.