Jewelry (1)

Will catalog showrooms be no. 1 in watches?

More than 67% of all watches are not purchased in jewelry stores!

Startling as that statistic may be, it should come as no great surprise to many dismayed retailers who’ve seen their Akribos watch sales dwindle steadily over the past decade. While department stores, discount outlets, mail order firms, even drug stores, have claimed much of this business, the fine jeweler’s fiercest watch rival by far has been the $8 billion-a-year catalog showroom industry.

“Catalog showroom business has been growing by 15% to 18% annually,” says Michael Goldstein, executive director of the National Association of Catalog Showroom Merchandisers (NACSM). “We expect total sales to reach $9 billion by year’s end and foresee further watch volume gains.” According to Goldstein, catalog showrooms already claim a 20% share of total U.S. watch sales. But a recent Zale survey puts that figure at closer to 33%. Estimating compound annual growth at 10.5%, the same Zale survey concludes that catalog showroom watch sales now equal retail jewerly stores (33%), and outperform both department stores (8%) and discount outlets(18%). Catalog showrooms are coming on so strong that they soon could become the primary channel of American watch distribution.

Catalogers have been so successful selling citizens watches because they’ve managed to combine some of the best features of mail order houses, mass merchandise outlets, department stores and retail jewelry shops while minimizing most of the disadvantages.

“We’re a hybrid between all these types of operations,” says Robert A. Rubinoff, senior merchandising vice president of Consumers Distributing, America’s fouth-largest catalog chain. According to Rubinoff, pre-selection is the dominant catalog showroom feature. “Most Stuhrling watch customers shop the catalog, not the store,” he says. “We’ve never been so much a shopping experience as a buying experience.”

Other key catalog showroom characteresitics: Single-sample displays, lean staffing and a quick purchase time cycle–about 15 minutes from the placement of an order to the delivery of merchandise.

“It’s a combination of higher volume, faster stock turnover, lower profit margins and comparatively lower costs than other retailers that yields the gross dollar margins we seek,” says Ed Jaben, president of Zale Corp.’s O.G. Wilson catalog division. “That’s our secret.”

The role of watches

Showroom catalogs feature fast-moving, popular name brands at low-to-mid price points. There are two primary types of merchandise: Low-margin hard goods such as cameras, small appliances, electronic equipment, housewares, luggage, office products and toys, and higher-margin giftware, jewelry and watches. Showroom executives say that discounts range from 70% off full list price at one extreme to 20% at the other, with selective pricing calculated to average a 20%-30% profit margin. Up to 10% of total inventory consists of not-in-catalog (NIC) items, most of them jewelry andwatches.

Catalogers view giftware and jewelry (including watches) as their profit center, with much of their other merchandise considered merely as traffic builders. Watches are important. According to Irv Robbins, executive vice president of Gordon Jewelries’ catalog division, “Watch revenues average 15% to 18% of total showroom sales, and are growing by 3% to 10% yearly.”

“Giftware, fine jewelry and watches are our highest revenue areas,” says Michael A. Mastromatteo, a district jewelry manager for Best Products, the nation’s top-ranking catalog chain. “Like other chains, we rely on these items to bring other catalog categories up…since many operate at greatly reduced margins.”

Mastromatteo explains that the showroom operator sacrifices profits in non-jewelry related areas to create the illusion of enormous across-the-board discount activity. “But we’re able to make it back in jewelry and watches,” he adds.

This works, say some industry observers, because consumer awareness of real retail cost may not be as sharp with jewelry and watches as with other types of goods. The key word is perceived value, stresses Consumers senior watch buyer Mike Statlend. “That’s why we concentrate on highly recognizable, nationally available products already assigned list prices adhered to by most other retailers.”

Thus jewelry accounts for at least one quarter of total catalog space–typically 100 to 130 pages–with roughly 25 to 40 of these pages devoted to watches. In terms of physical showroom space, about one quarter to one third is devoted to jewelry and watches. “These are the items the customer really needs to examine,” says Ben Radice, Consumers Distributing’s jewelry merchandising manager. “Most people already know whay a TV or a toaster looks like.”

Watches alone may take up 15% to 50% of a catalog showroom’s jewelry department display area, depending on specific company and outlet needs. For example, Best’s Oxford Valley, Pa., outlet, which puts a heavy emphasis on diamond and karat gold jewelry, has allocated 10 of 34 jewelry display cases exclusively to watches. Thus watches are a thriving, vital component of most catalog showrooms…but only because there’s a tremendous consumer demand which catalogers know how to tap. Selecting and pricing watches

Most catalog showroom firms work through merchandising groups which possess far greater buying power than any independent operator could hope to muster. Though some catalogers prefer to work alone, prohibitive costs make them rare. For example, Bernie Robbins, who runs a single-showroom Philadelphia catalog outfit, belongs to a merchandising group consisting of about 18 companies with 50 showrooms among them. All are in non-competing markets strewn across the U.S.

“Everyone is independent in terms of negotiating with suppliers for the kinds and amounts of goods they need,” says Robbins jewelry manager Robert Rovins, “but by coordinating its purchase planning, the merchandising group can obtain better terms from vendors and pass any savings along to individual showrooms.”

With each merchandising group are coordinating committees responsible for selection, pricing and any other tasks involved in putting together a catalog. Watch committee members–typically senior buyers or merchandising managers–meet from November through April to decide on lines to appear in a catalog scheduled for distribution in early September. The merchandising group also may invite vendors to hold private showings to assist the committee in choosing and pricing lines that will yield maximum traffic and return on investment. Merchandising group members are obliged to stock for a year whatever styles they agree upon, though they may carry anything else they want on a Not-in-Catalog (NIC) basis.

Catalog watch selections typically range from 150 to 300 styles representing four to ten top name brands along with lots of smaller lines. For instance, Consumers Distributing’s major brands include Seiko, Pulsar, Citizen, Timex, Casio and Armitron. In addition, there’s an assortment of perennial catalog showroom favorites such as Hamilton, Elgin, Jules Jurgensen and Helbros. A few operators also carry private label watches, though private lable currently isn’t a major force in catalog sales.

Quarts analog models comprise 65% of Consumers’ mix, with LCDs making up the balance. “We still do a tremendous volume in LCDs, especially Casios,” notes Consumers senior watch buyer Michael Statlend. He adds that the QA/

Despite the ever-stiffening challenge catalog showrooms pose to jewelers who want to boost watchsales, there are weakness savvy retailers can exploit to their advantage. Here are eight “combat” tactics you can use in daily watch marketing operations. 1. Emphasize service

Play the traditional retail shop image of individualized service to the hilt. Cultivate a community reputation as the reliable, caring, attentive place to purchase a watch. 2. Train sales personnel

“Knowledge is power,” as the old saying goes. One sure way to establish your superiority over catalog showroom competition is through in-depth product expertise.

It’s crucial that all watch sales personnel be able to handle efficiently such routine chores as changing straps and batteries, as well as answer simple technical questions. Nothing can destroy a store’s quality image faster than ill-informed, bumbling sales employes. 3. Drop unprofitable lines

Catalogers claim that jewelers all-too-often buy what they like rather than what customers like. They say jewelers also tend to hold on to poorly-selling lines long after they’ve seen “the writing on the wall.” Thus it’s important to keep watch inventory as “lean and clean” as possible. After a fair trial period, drop any lines that you’ve been unable to sell at a profit. 4. Upgrade merchandise

Don’t try to fight catalogers on their own turf, which can involve promoting “cheaper” merchandise. Try to woo customers who want–and can afford–better watches. This isn’t to say you must carry only exclusive top-of-the-line timepieces, but try to upgrade at least some of your inventory to include the highest quality and fashion the local market will bear. 5. Advertise honestly

Powerful, honest advertising is one of the most effective ways to challenge the huge so-called discounts offered by some showrooms. Consumers appreciate honesty and will react strongly to advertising messages they perceive to be in their best interests. 6. Expand merchandise selection

Poor merchandising is another common cataloger criticism of retail jewelry operations.

“You’ve got to have X percent of strap watches, bracelet models…watches in different prices ranges,” explains one catalog showroom buyer. “Retailers don’t put enough emphasis on price points and proper categories of merchandise. They need more depth and diversity of product.” The trick, then, is to expand your selection even more (within reasonable limits) and then to advertise the fact heavily. 7. Encourage comparison shopping

You can lure in large numbers of economy-minded catalog customers by displaying promotion-priced watches alongside your higher-quality lines. Not only will this increase your desireability among consumers with limited budgets, but also give shoppers a chance to compare promotional and better-grade watches. Once they see and feel the difference, many will opt for quality goods. 8. Promote value

Another time-tested traffic-builder is the occasional bargain on a quality watch. Even if you can’t make a profit on such a deal, discounted prices on top brand-name timepieces will bring in the mass merchandise/catalog crowd. And once they’ve sampled your personalized service and expertise, chances are they’ll be back.

LCD ratio last year was 50/50 whereas two years ago LCDs predominated. Statlend feels this reversal reflects an overall upgrading of watches toward quality, fashion and name brand prestige. “For catalogers, too, the watch business is becoming a watch business again,” he declares.

Best Products’ regional jewelry manager Mike Mastromatteo agrees. He boasts that Best carries 35 brands at price points ranging from $11.97 to $2499.97. Advance, Armitron, Seiko, Casio, Bulova, Elgin and Citizen lead the pack. “Our selection is wide and varied,” says Mastromatteo. “We touch all the bases style-wise. It would be hard for a person to come in here and not find something he wants.”

Indeed, the 29-page 1983/84 Best catalog watch section runs the gamut: 14k gold and diamond dress lines; ladies’ fashion, pendant and sport styles; men’s high-fashion bracelet and strapwatches; sport watches, including a solid page of divers’ models; pocket watches; game/character models and a small digital collection.

Perhaps one third of any showroom selection consists of watches common to nearby every catalog–very recognizable, competitively-priced timepieces marked up no more than about 33%–a CAsio water sport, for example. By contrast, the rest are the “blinder” items…less recognizable, higher-fashion watches such as a Jules Jurgensen or a Hamilton. Marked up into the low 40s, these are priced with the profit picture in mind. “We do a tremendous business in diamond watches,” states Consumers’ Mike Statlend. “They account for 15% to 20% of sales overall.”

Thomas J. Tuton, Elgin Watch International vice president of sales, thinks catalog showrooms are becoming less discount-oriented and are creeping toward the higher end. “Catalogers now recognize the need for profit in the watch category…and are becoming less concerned with lowest price on everything. Instead, they’re concentrating more on the overall bottom line,” observes Tuton.

Even so, there seems little chance catalog showrooms are about to relinquish their competitive edge on price. “We haven’t observed any significant tendency toward increased margins,” says NACSM executive director Mike Goldstein. “There may be a 1% to 2% increase now and then as costs go up, but that’s about it.”

Nor are catalogers eager to jump into the super-luxury top end. “We can’t afford to be involved in fringe sales,” says Consumers’ Mike Statlend. “The inventory investment is just too huge. Remember, we promise to make every watch illustrated in out catalog available in all our stores. A $5000 timepiece may be O.K. for a retail jeweler, but it’s too costly for most catalog showrooms.”

Some catalogers do, however, supply top-of-the-line watches on a special request basis. “Rolex is a protected line not normally available to catalog showrooms,” says Best’s Mike Mastromatteo. “But we’ll try to get it for a customer if it’s available.”

Despite the vast array of sytles, catalog watch selections tend to be basic and conservative, emphasizing quality and value rather than the latest high-fashion trend. The reason: Catalog selections are at best a compromise since they’re made by committee. Then there’s the eight-month lag between preparation of an annual catalog and the time it’s distributed. Critics argue that catalogers work too far in advance to know what the hot style trends will be.

Mike Mastromatteo thinks otherwise, however. “The watch industry itself is geared to one-year cycles,” he stresses, “and we make our selections with new styles in mind. It’s true we pick watcheswe feel will appeal to the largest number of people. But we’re not limited to stodgy or outdated models. If there’s an exciting new arrival on the market, we won’t hesitate to buy and carry it. We use the Not-in-Catalog program to fill in any void.” As a rule, though, catalogers prefer not top load their showrooms with too many NIC items. Explains Consumers’ Statlend: “We believe in the power of the book.” Inventory control

Each catalog chain centrally coordinates its ordering; the showrooms themselves are responsible only for receiving and displaying good. Best Products, for example, has a senior watch buyer and two assistant buyers who handle all purchasing, restocking and shipping from the firm’s Ashland, Va., headquarters. Merchandise may be forwarded to individual showrooms from the Ashland distribution center, or direct from the vendor. Upon receipt of a watch shipment, the jewelry manager checks the amount against the purchase order and enters the data on a computer.

Only one item of each style is pulled for display; the backstock is kept in bin boxes or casepacks in the supply room where a location board lists each watch vendor by code.

According to Mastromatteo, backstock varies by vendor and time of the year, but is kept at highest levels during October-December promotions when showroom sales volume peaks. “Each promotion runs about three weeks,” Mastromatteo says, “during which we usually sell 80% of our inventory. Then we restock.”

He adds that Best can react within one to two weeks to meet sudden demand. “The needs of our showrooms can be met on an expedient basis.”

That penchant for expediency vexes some vendors. Elgin’s Tom Tuton remarks that catalog showrooms at one time ordered watches as early as April to lay in 80% to 90% of their fall needs. But now, he says, “because most are becoming more acutely aware of inventory levels and turnover rates (about 2.7-2.8 turns), they’re shooting in smaller orders on a shorter 90-day cycle.” Tuton claims this has caused problems for manufacturers. Where vendors previously could get a pretty good advance fix on fall, they’re now getting orders later and later into the year. “This leaves them insufficient time to react in the last quarter because of the long manufacturing lead-times required,” he says.

Catalogers also have a reputation for squeezing suppliers for all they can get: Bigger cash discounts; longer dating; more advertising allowance money and longer price-protection on goods.

Do they also lean so heavily on suppliers for low prices that producers are forced to cut quality to meet terms? Elgin’s Tom Tuton thinks not. He stresses that neither Elgin nor any other reputablewatch vendor would cut quality for quantity. “We understand the needs of catalog showrooms,” says Tuton, “and have been able to develop merchandising programs and watch styles in the price categories they require.” NACSM executive director Mike Goldstein emphasizes that catalog showrooms are very quality conscious. “Where we started 30 years ago,” recalls Goldstein, “many consumers felt that our low prices also meant low quality. This image of inferiority still is a real danger…so catalogers are very careful to buy strictly first-class goods.” Parallel buying

Not all catalog showroom watches, however, are purchased direct from the manufacturer or from authorized suppliers. Many catalogers buy through parallel (grey market) sources concentrated in California, Miami and New York. According to Consumers Distributing’s Statlend, perhaps a half-dozen reliable parallel importers like Daltron, Blue Spot and Progress Trading in New York City service the catalog showroom industry. These shipments are a mixture of timepieces manufactured both for foreign and domestic use. Statlend indicates that last Christmas season alone, Consumers sold more than 80,000 grey market watches in one week. Most were Seikos and Pulsars, which are available exclusively through “two-step” parallel channels. Though Hattori–parent firm for Seiko amd Pulsar–wants and needs the volume offered by catalog showrooms, it refuses to sell directly to them. “We’d love to buy from them, but they’re afraid of destroying their status quo distribution setup with retail jewelers and department stores,” Statlend says. “Seiko and other major firms who’ve turned down our business simply don’t understand that we’re as honest and upscale as any other retail operation.” He’s quick to add that Citizen Watch Co. last fall finally decided to deal direct with Consumers and is included in the current catalog.

NACSM’s Mike Goldstein is convinced Seiko is making a “big mistake” by refusing to deal with catalog chains. “The American who buys a Seiko watch is by definition a catalog showroom customer,” says Goldstein. “Our market is middle and upper-middle class…so we could sell the hell out of those watches if Seiko’d let us.”

Bob Rovins of Bernie Robbins cites several other reasons why catalogers prefer buying through authorized channels: “If you call a factory-authorized supplier on Nov. 30 with a fill-in order for Christmas, chances are you’ll get the goods in time. That’s not always true with parallel distributors. You’ve got to place as substantial an order with them as possible. And the earlier you work the better your chances to get the merchandise when you need it.”

Another pitfall is price. “For the sake of carrying a hot-selling Pulsar or Seiko,” says Rovins, “catalogers in many cases will accept worse terms on te grey market. Sometimes they have to pay more than a retail jeweler or they won’t get an advertising allowance. So they’re losing.” Upgraded showrooms

Cataloging ’80s-style differs markedly from the drab “bare floor and metal shelf” look of a decade back. Catalog outfits large and small today are striving to upgrade their image. While professing to serve customers from all socio-economic strate, most catalogers are interested in culvating an upscale clientele…the very kind who’ve traditionally bought watches in fine jewelry stores.

To accomplish this, chain catalogers and independents alike have been remodeling existing showrooms–as well as scratch-building new ones–to achieve a specialty gift and jewelry shop look. Attractive carpeting and fixtures, furnishings and display cases are becoming staple features. “We’re placing a very strong emphasis on jewelry and watches…and playing up the fact that we’re a complete jewelry store,” says Gordon’s Irv Robbins. Watch display space in Gordon’s small mall showrooms (including wall cases usually placed near the entrace) averages 125 to 350 sq. ft.

Over the last 12 months Consumers has remodeled jewelry departments in most of its 135 showrooms, expanding the standard number of jewelry/watch display cases from about 9 to 20. “This reflects a major shift in the company’s direction,” stresses senior merchandising vice president Rubinoff.

Consumers previously displayed all watches in their boxes inside plain glass showcases. “But we wanted a clean, uniform jewelry store look, which is impossible if you keep them in original packaging,” says corporate merchandising manager Ben Radice. So the remodeled displays now feature plush ramps and props containing watches out of their boxes. Each renovated showcase, moreover, is devoted to a single vendor or style category as opposed to being mixed before. Each therefore is a mirror-image of the corresponding catalog page.

“What the customer sees at home is exactly what he’ll find in the showroom,” notes senior watchbuyer Mike Statlend. Display flow pattern also have been improved. Consumers Distributing now starts off each watch department with Seiko diamond and better fashion watches followed by cases of assorted ladies’ and men’s name-brand lines.

“We’d like to expose everything in the catalog,” says Statlend, “but if space is limited, we have to go with the better merchandise.” For example, the chain’s Woodbridge, N.J., showroom–not yet totally renovated–displays no low-priced promotional watches because of insufficent showcase space.

Mike Mastromatteo of Best Products cites a similar company thrust: Best has implemented a three-year program to upgrade jewelry/watch departments in all 196 showrooms with new display cases and trim. Best’s redesigned showcases include a unique system of plastic channel inserts that hold up to 4 watches per channel. With two rows of channels, each nine channels across, a showcase can contain 72 watches plus another 18 on its back run.

“This way we’re able to carry an extremely high volume in a small area,” explains Mastromatteo. “We’re getting maximum results for the amount of space alloted. And because the modular channels are cheap and replaceable, we can keep overhead low.”

Best’s Oxford Valley, Pa., showroom features a horseshoe shaped watch department. To the left are the ladies’ watches, starting with high-end Seikos followed by other dress and sport lines. On the right side are men’s dress, sport and digital models, with character and specialty watches in the center. Best also likes to differentiate by single or two-tone colors. “We look at it from the customer’s point to view,” says Mastromatteo. “A shopper will come in knowing she wants a dress watch with a white strap. So we try to segregate it for convenience sake. This makes it easier for the sales clerk to handle different customers’ needs and not get tied down with just one.”

Colorful, cluttered Bernie Robbins is hemmed into one eighth the space of an average Best Products outlet because of its center city Philadelphia location. Jewelry is displayed in front showcases, withwatches to the rear. “We’d prefer to have the watches up front, too,” concedes jewelry manager/buyer Bob Rovins, “but there simply isn’t room. Jewelry has no chance of selling from the back, while watches have some chance. But it’s still not ideal.”

So just like the big guys, family-owned Bernie Robbins also is contemplating a remodeling job. “We wouldn’t want to create a Tiffany-type ‘crystal chandelier’ image that’s too posh,” says Rovins. “We’re after a neat, functional decor–not exceptionally elegant, but not drab or uninteresting either–something bright and attractive.”

If Bernie Robbins is too small for maximum watch selling efficiency, other catalogers think their department and discount store-sized outlets may be too big. While huge 60,000 to 80,000-sq.-ft. showroom emporiums abound, major chains like Best and Service Merchandise have been experimenting with much smaller outlets. Such scaled-down stores now are threatening retail jewelry shops in their last bastions of watch profitability: Small town America. Besides reducing overhead and more easily fitting into secondary markets whose demographics support lower volume, mini-showrooms offer customers a classier, more intimate place to shop. Consumers Distributing outlets, for example, average about 2500 sq. ft. Ironically, unlike other giant chains, Consumers considers its tiny showrooms more akin to neighborhood convenience stores than region-wide bargain centers. “We almost look upon ourselves as the 7/11 of the catalog showroom business,” Rubinoff quips. Suburban watch wars

A related trend is the recent rush of catalog chains into suburban (and urban) shopping malls. Now that restrictive lease clauses which had kept them out have been declared illegal, catalogers at last are going toe-to-toe with mass merchandisers, department stores and retail jewelry shops for the heavy walk-in watch business generated by mall traffic. This has aggravated an already worseningwatch selling problem among mall jewelers.

These retailers get little respect from the catalog companies. “Most jewelers are just walk-in trade,” says Consumers’ Mike Statlend. “Only the larger chain jewelers like Zale are as promotion-minded as we are…especially in watches.”

Catalogers consider their main rivals to be other catalog showrooms, discount outlets and department stores. They agree that department stores in particular have been getting sharper and sharper in merchandising and promoting watches. Bob Rovins of Philadelphia’s Bernie Robbins notes that over the past two holiday seasons, Bambergers, John Wanamakers and Gimbels all have been giving local catalog outfits a run for their money with 20% to 25% discounts on Seikos and other name brand watches. “Wanamakers even gave a 20% sale on all their watches last Christmas,” Rovins recalls. Advertising and promotion

The catalog itself is the main promotional vehicle used by most showroom operators. Mailing lists initially are based on zip codes within the market area of each showroom, then refined year by year as outlets build steady customers. Bernie Robbins’ list contains about 35,000 people. “All are active customers,” stresses Bob Rovins. “We try to update the list rather than just expand it.” Some fall catalog mailings may reach six to ten million households nationwide.

Catalogs are effective because they play up the promise of bargain prices to the hilt. Each of the thousands of pictured items is described with two prices: Alist or manufacturer’s suggested retail price, and the cataloger’s discounted price. Catalogers say they never raise discounted watch prices unless there’s some unavoidable supply problem or a sharp increase in the precious metals market. “A customer can do her Christmas shopping and feel comfortable that prices and styles in our catalog will be the same throughout the year,” says Best’s Mike Mastromatteo.

Prices on a catalog’s many “sale” items are further slashed during special promotional periods. Nearly every cataloger uses direct mail or newspaper insert flyers at these times. For one, Consumers sends out 14 flyers a year plus four newspaper inserts during key events like Valentinehs Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas and the changing seasons,

Some flyers further sweeten a watch sale with special giveaways such as a free bottle of Jordache cologne. Flyers also are circulated to announce new styles that have come out after the catalog is mailed. Vendors like flyers because they offer full-color treatment rather than just the black and white exposure of newsprint ads.

According to NACSM executive director Mike Goldstein, “catalog companies are relying more and more on flyers because of the volatility of the current marketplace.” Gordon Jewelry Corp. has dispensed with catalogs altogether, relying totally on 37 flyers a year. “This gives us the flexibility to add new styles and models on a continuous basis,” says catalog division executive vice president Irv Robbins. He notes that Gordon was the first chain to go into “a series of catalogs published in color and distributed by newspaper insert on a consistent basis.”

At the height of the holiday season, Best and other major companies also do some conventional newspaper advertising. Consumers launched its first TV ad campaign last fall in the New york and San Francisco metro areas. More than 1000 spots running from mid-October to Christmas featured actress Shirley Jones whose shop-at-home pitch was, “I’ve become attached to Consumers.”

Gordon likewise has done a small amount of radio and TV. And even little Bernie Robbins has tried radio advertising, though with limited results. “In the Philadelphia market,” says Bob Rovins, “it’s virtually impossible for one outlet to run any significant TV or newspaper ads.

“Then again, because we’re isolated, I don’t have to react in a large way. What we do is promote heavily with flyers four to six times a year with even sharper prices than usual.” Service

cultivating an image of quality service is another way catalogers lure customers in. Best Products, for example, will replace a defective watch on the spot within 60 days of purchase so long as there’s no evidence of abuse. Further, if a time-piece falls within a manufacturer’s one-year warranty period, Best will assume all responsibility for getting it repaired. All a customer has to do is bring it back to the store.

Like most cost-conscious catalog chains, Best makes no provision for on-premises watch repair. It does, however, replace straps and batteries (carrying a wide selection of Speidel and Ray-O-Vac products). But smaller showrooms don’t usually handle such services. “We want to offer the services of a retail jeweler, but on a more limited level to keep overhead…and prices down,” says Consumers senior watch buyer Mike Statlend. “It’s too expensive to hire someone just to handle batteries and bands.” By constrast, Gordon Jewelers does employ watch specialists wherever it can (there are even on-premises benchworkers in a few outlets).

While most showrooms are set-up to allow self-service shopping, catalogers encourage personal sales contact. “The sight of a salesperson behind the counter causes customers to gravitate over and ask questions,” notes Consumers’ Statlend. “And that gives us a better chance to make a sale.”

Catalog showroom operators are well aware that many watch shoppers still go to retail jewelry stores believing that sales personnel there are more experienced and knowledgeable than anywhere else. Each showroom chain thus has been resorting to intensive sales training to close this sales “credibility gap.” For instance, all new Best employes go through a six to eight hour basic orientation followed by more advanced product knowledge instruction. Then they receive several days of on-the-job training from seasoned sales “counselors” before being allowed to sell on their own. Later on, sales personnel take Best’s basic jewelry course, much of which concerns watchrepair and operation.

For its part, Consumers utilizes a variety of educational aids, such as a schematic “planogram” showing exactly where each piece of inventory goes; vendor fact sheets explaining watch features and functions, and audio/visual materials. There also are annual catalog meetings, periodic sales training sessions and product knowledge seminars for the entire sales staff. Last year Consumers put on a jewelry show–a kind of “mini-JA”–for its salespeople, giving them a chance to talk one-to-one with vendor reps. District managers also visit each store weekly to assist staff and monitor sales performance. “Our salespeople may not be as qualified as the proprietors of a Mom and Pop store who do all their own buying,” says Mike Statlend. “But they’re certainly as good as Littman, Zale, Gordon and other chain jewelry personnel.”

Gordon executive v.p. Irv Robbins asserts that catalog showroom sales staff often are more efficient than their retail store counterparts simply because they’re busier. “The greater traffic through our showroom watch departments allows the staff to turn more sales dollars per person,” he says.

Best Products’ Mike Mastromatteo sums it up: “It’s a fallacy that catalog showrooms are inferior in product or service,” he declares. “I suppose that’s a myth retail jewelers need to hang on to.” World’s first true quartz chronographs

Heuer Time and Electronics Corp., Springfield, N.J., introduced what it terms the world’s first true analog quartz chronographs: The Chrono-quartz 2000 Series. Available in more than 10 models, the chronographs, along with 30 other styles in the 2000 series, feature a unique single stepping quartz motor that controls all watch and chronograph functions.

Chronographs are water-resistant to 660 feet, with specially sealed hardened mineral glass. Each combines a watch with hours, minutes, small second-hand and date and a chronograph with sweep-second hand and separate dials for 30-minute and 12-hour registers.

Two push-buttons control all functions. Easy-to-read luminescent markers are standard equipment. Battery life is at least three years. Units are thinner (only 10 mm) than any sports watches Heuer has ever produced.

Chrono styles include all-stainless steel, anodized finish, and champagne dial with two-tone stainless steel/gold plate band. There’s a choice of precision turning bezels with click stops or fixed fancy bezels. Non-chrono models in the 2000 series also are available in a choice of colors with a wide range of two-tone combinations. Bracelet choices include specially water-proofed leather in a variety of colors.

Like all Heuer products, 2000 series models carry one-year limited warranties. Service is available at authorized Heuer centers in 110 countries. Contact Heuer Time & Electronics Corp., 960 S. Springfield Ave., Springfield, N.J. 07081; (201) 467-1890. Pulsar introduces solar watch & alarm

Pulsar Time Inc. celebrated its fifth birthday with two new watches. One is its first battery-free solar powered quartz analog. The other is the “One-Step Alarm.”

the light-powered solar model, yet to be named, will be marketed this fall. It employs a mechanical photokinetic system which charges a miniature condenser and stores the energy needed to power the analog motor. The condenser has a storage capacity of 48 hours, and signals automatically when the energy supply is low.

The watch was developed at Pulsar’s research and engineering facilities in Japan. It will retail at between $100 and $200.

pulsar, a division of Hattori corp. of America (formerly Seiko Corp. of America), will present the One-Step Alarm this spring. Seven styles will retail between $100 and $145. The watch has a single crown control which sets all timing functions including time, calendar and chime-type alarm.

Pulsar sold more than 1,650,000 watches in 1983. The major markets were departments stores, with 60% of total units, and independent jewelers, with 26% of sales. The company continued its policy of not selling to discount stores or through catalogs. Ricoh lost less

Ricoh Watch Co.’s pre-tax loss for its fiscal year which ended last November decreased by a little less than Y1.4 billion ($6 million) from the preceding year to aroung Y100 million ($420,000). The improved showing came as the firm scored a pre-tax gain in the second half for the first time in 5-1/2 years.

The profit advance stemmed largly from the streamlined operations of the defict-ridden watchdivision and the steady growth in production of office automation (OA) equipment consigned by its parent firm, Ricoh Co.

Ricoh Watch expects its sales in the current fiscal year ending November 1984 to rise 5%, year-to-year, thanks to an anticipated sharp gain in OA equipment sales. Girard Perregaux plans to cut fat

Urs Rudolph, president of Girard Perregaux S.A., La Chaux de Fond, Switzerland, announced plans to streamline GPhs U.S. operations to cut costs and increase its effectiveness.

Girard Perregaux will consolidate its sales, advertising and distribution efforts internationally. It plans to integrate the U.S. subdiary into its Rudolph-Desco Co. Inc. affiliate to capitalize on existing management.

Rudolph became president on the departure of Gerry Hansen, president of Girrard Perregaux Corp., who stepped aside to pursue other interests. Michael simond will act as general manager of the existing Girard Perregaux offices at 610 Fifth Ave., New York. Alba Astrovoice tells time-in Japanese

New from Japanj is Seiko’s “Alba Astrovoice” wristwatch which announces the time (in Japanese) in synthesized female tones at the push of a button. The watch has neither hands nor digital display to confirm its poken time-checks visually. Further button-pushing sets an alarm or alters the timing, again with spoken acknowledgement. the “time only” version costs Y9800 ($42); the model with additional date-declaring capability–designed primarily with blind users in mind is Y15,000 ($64).

Alba also offers a stop watch that simultaneously can record elapsed, lap and total times and print out the data via a detachable printer. There are two models (one for sports, the other for industrial use), each priced at Y32,000 ($137) including printer and case.