For Buying Wedding Rings, Small Shops Can Help
Brides-to-be and their betrothed are expected to spend more than $62 billion this year on their wedding budgets, and small businesses are poised to participate.
Engagement ring spending alone is expected to total $6.1 billion in the United States for 2008 with an additional $2 billion spent on wedding bands, according to Wedding Report, a market researcher firm.
Smaller and specialty jewelers are forging ahead while larger chains are sluggish, according to data from retail association Jewelers of America. Although across the board, 2007 wasn't as strong as 2006 for jewelers, designer and custom retailers saw a more than 6 percent increase from 2006 to 2007 while independent high-end retailers grew 3.5 percent and saw greater profitability.
There's always a story behind the data, especially when it comes to weddings. Some couples spend months agonizing about where to purchase their rings while others take a more spontaneous approach, like what happened to me.
The car was overheating as my fiancé and I were stuck in beach traffic coming back from North Carolina. We were bickering about our wedding plans during the nine hour drive back home to Virginia. The one thing, however, we agreed upon was that we needed to get our wedding bands pronto.
The car idled in the hot summer sun and suddenly, the needle on the temperature gauge flew up, the car started steaming and I yelled "Just pull over, get off the highway, anywhere."
My fiancé (now husband) stepped on the gas and we lurched into a strip mall and parked the car.
After a conversation that started with whether my fiancé could fix the steaming car because "you're supposed to be an engineer" and devolved into an argument as to whether or not I can change a tire, we looked up and there before our eyes was a small jewelry store. And so we went in.
With the help of a very patient owner, we picked out our wedding rings, learned about metals and passed the time at the store, warily eyeing the car. We eventually got up the courage to turn the ignition. The temperature had returned to normal and the car begrudgingly took us home.
Buying wedding or engagement rings is always an experience. Small jewelers like to tout their customer service and deep historical knowledge of metals, diamonds and other gems. Here are a few small shops that are working to help couples navigate this marriage rite of passsage.
The Tiny Jewel Box, a Washington, D.C., institution, has been aiding men and women in their ring choices for more than 75 years.
"I think the key is taking the customer - who typically comes through the door armed with information and making that information simple and digestible," said Matthew Rosenheim, the president of the store and the grandson of its founder. Today the store has 40 employees. "Whether they want to spend less than $3,000 or more than $30,000, they all have the same issues with balancing the size of the stone with quality and the price of the stone."
Although his store is in downtown D.C., he has been seeing a lot of customers from the suburbs on Saturdays. "We've attempted to create a destination shopping experience," he said. "And just this morning I delivered wedding bands to a young man whose grandmother did business with my grandfather. It's wonderful to have generations return."
This type of repeat business has helped the store stay in business, said Rosenheim, even during poor a economy. "We were bracing for business to be tougher than it's turned out to be, but this isn"t the first time we've seen an economic shift and having a solid customer base that's been built up over generations helps."
Stop by Mystique Jewelers, an 18-year-old store in Alexandria's Old Town neighborhood and it's likely owner Liz Miller or one of her three employees will ask you to sit down for a glass of wine. It's one of the ways the small business feels it can differentiate itself from larger, mall-based jewelry store chains.
Stella Lowery, diamond director of Mystique, said Henry Hager, the husband of first daughter Jenna Bush, worked with the store's goldsmith to create a tiny diamond bracelet for Jenna before they were engaged.
"What makes us different is that most people want to sell what they have. We want to sell what they want," she said.
Share your ring-buying stories in the comments below. For more wedding related stories and tips, visit washingtonpost.com's Wedding Week 2008 special report.
By Sharon McLoone |
September 11, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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