There's more in store at Sterling Jewelers than sterling silver. The jewelry firm sells gold, silver, diamond, and gemstone jewelry, watches, and gifts from more than 1,300 stores in all 50 US states. Sterling Jewelers operates Kay Jewelers, which has about 910 stores in shopping centers and malls nationwide, as well as the off-mall format Jared the Galleria of Jewelry, and some 230 regional jewelry stores under other names (Belden, JB Robinson, Marks & Morgan). Some 180 Jared stores sell diamond jewelry and loose diamonds, as well as luxury watches such as Rolex, Tag Heuer, and Raymond Weil. Sterling Jewelers is the US subsidiary of London-based Signet Jewelers, the world's largest jewelry retailer.
Sterling Jewelers accounts for about 80% of its parent company's sales, with Kay being the largest contributor. In fiscal 2011 (ends January) sales at Kay Jewelers rose more than 6%, despite a smaller store base, while off-mall Jared saw its sales jump 18%. Same-store sales in the US climbed nearly 9% in 2011. Driving sales at both chains is an increase in branded and exclusive merchandise. In 2011, such merchandise, including Charmed Memories, Neil Lane Bridal, and Open Hearts by Jane Seymour, accounted for 22% of merchandise sales in the US.
Signet is bullish on both chains and sees long-term potential to add more than 400 Kay stores and 300-plus Jared locations. (Jared is Signet's fastest growing brand.) Both Kay and Jared appear to be recovering from the twin effects of rising gold prices and the recent deep recession, which led to the closing of 15 Kay stores in fiscal 2010 and 2011. Hardest hit by economic hard times were the company's regional chains, which have closed more than 100 stores over the past three years. Regional chains account for less than 10% of the company's total sales.
The company's Jared chain is the exception, adding about a 45 locations since 2007. Jared stores are nearly four times the size of the company's mall stores and the average retail price of the diamond merchandise it sells is more than twice that of a Kay store. The number of Jared stores stocking luxury watch brands, including Baume & Mercier and Cartier, has been increased. Jared's target customer is older and more affluent than a Kay customer.
Sterling Jewelers has replaced its historical rapid-growth strategy with a revised plan to position itself as the strongest operator in the US middle market and capitalize on the decrease in competition (many jewelry chains, including Fortunoff, Whitehall Jewelers, and Friedman's have gone out of business in recent years) as the economy regains steam. Indeed, Kay Jewelers overtook its deeply troubled archrival Zale in sales in 2005. While Zale is still the largest chain in the US in terms of store count, it has been losing market share over the past several years. The downside of its competitors' woes is that prior to their demise they often hold massive going-out-of-business sales, which put pressure on Sterling to meet their fire-sale prices, and at least temporarily steal some sales from Sterling-owned chains.