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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Shop Local or Bricks and Mortar vs. Internet

This past weekend my wife and I took another trip to our favorite shopping mecca, New York City. It was my birthday and it gave us a chance to visit with our older son, my parents and my sister and my new niece. This is a picture of my niece and I on this trip. But this isn't really about how cute she is (although she is) but about part of the trip and what some of it means in the grand scheme of things.

I believe in a prior post I mentioned another trip to New York and a store we happened to particularly like there: Takashimaya. This is a sort of Japanese department store although it is a fairly limited chain (I believe there is only one in the States). My wife and I have always loved to go there because they have a great little restaurant in the basement and it was always a little like walking through a museum when you would walk through the store. They also managed to cover just about everything you would see in a normal department store (clothes, jewelry, furnishings, bedding, florist, perfumes, etc.) but in a relatively small amount of space. It was seven floors but each floor was fairly small. They always had a heavy bent toward Japanese products but also managed to carry clothing and jewelry designers that were more localized. Their prices were always fairly high, but they also offered a unique product, always flawlessly displayed (read: attention to detail) and their staff was always quite helpful (and over the years we consistently saw many of the same people). One of the comments I always heard from people who had been there when I would talk about the store is how much they loved looking at everything but because it was expensive they wouldn't actually buy anything.

So it was much to our dismay that when we eating in their restaurant on this trip that we overheard a waitress (who remembered that I always drank coffee when we came, by the way) tell another customer that the store was closing (in June probably). It turns out that the employees had just been told this on the Thursday before we arrived in New York. The company was closing the store and selling the building. We were told that it was because sales just simply hadn't been good enough during the latest recession and that they were losing money. Mind you, my wife and I can't be blamed for this because we always spent money there when we went on our trips to New York. But apparently there were just too many of those lookers and not enough who would actually buy.

So what does all of this have to do with Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers? Allow me to reprint an email I recently got here:

"Hi Daniel,

I am not a "diamond person." Or at least that's what I thought until I saw one of your ads, months ago, in the Boston Globe. The rings pictured there were so beautiful that I cut out the picture, just to save. Today, I happened upon the picture again and finally visited your website. I am in awe. Your work is the most beautiful, fanciful, and creative jewelry I've ever seen.

I'm an aged hippie, turning 60 later this month, and never thought about diamonds until my son shopped for an engagement ring for his girlfriend, out in LA. The ring he settled on is beautiful, but I feel sad that he didn't find your site first.

At any rate, while I'm not in a financial position to actually own one of your rings, I wanted to let you know how impressed I am, and how their beauty, just viewed online, has affected me."

Trust me I love to get accolades from people who love what I do, BUT the reality is that I don't stay in business because of accolades. I stay in business because people buy my product. My product is unique, like Takashimaya's (in some ways more so because they are all my designs), but it is also more expensive than many other jewelry stores. I get many couples in who are looking for wedding bands and the women are looking for something unique but the gents are often looking for something simple. I offer an extensive line of basic wedding bands and they are generally better made than most others, usually made from recycled metals and they are actually hand made by ME. However they are routinely more expensive than something commercially made by machine (or overseas) that you could find on the Internet or at some mall chain jewelry store.

So the question then becomes, why should you buy it from me or another small local jeweler? Well, in my mind, the first and foremost reason is that if you want people like me to be around for a long time then you need to help support us. When you buy from a small local vendor you are supporting your neighborhood and you are helping them to stay in business. You are also keeping your hard earned dollars working in your community and not having it all go overseas to some other country. How would you really feel if you woke up one day and there was no more jeweler, hardware store, gift shop, etc. in your neighborhood? If there was no way that you could actually touch and feel the product you wanted to buy? If there was no way to try on a dozen different outfits to see which one truly looked better on you?

One of the things a lot of people are doing now is going into their local shops, being educated about what they want by the people in these shops and then going on line and buying whatever it is they have decided on and learned about from their local shop. Sooner or later though, those local shops won't be there anymore to help you with this if you don't actually shop there.

The other thing you will never get online is the personalized service that you can get from a local store. I routinely get people in with rings they have just purchased online that are the wrong size. Because of how hard it is to ship everything back and forth they end up paying me (a service I provide to my customers for free at any time) to have rings resized that they shouldn't have to.

Or they bring in the stuff and it's falling apart, because online you can never truly see if the merchandise is well made, and they have to spend a lot of money with me (sometimes as much as they paid for the pieces to begin with) to have it fixed. They are often forced to do this because jewelry is not really just about the actual metal and stones---it's about what it means. If you've been given an engagement ring by your intended, you usually don't want to give it up even if it was poorly made to begin with, because it's all about the meaning behind it.

Unfortunately, in this country, it is too often about the price and not much else. I was amused by the fact that as soon as the economy nosedived suddenly most people didn't actually care so much about environmental concerns. And suddenly WalMart wasn't the evil demon that it had been before. The problem however is that often some of the economic downturn is a self actualized event. Because everyone suddenly thought they should spend less, they did, which actually made the economy worse than it would have been. Now I'm not advocating that everyone go out and spend money they don't have wantonly. But I think everyone should take more into consideration than just simply the price. If you save a hundred dollars but in the process you end up driving a local shop out of business (which you may need later for those repairs!) what are you really saving?

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