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SURFING FOR SILVER

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SURFING FOR SILVER Powered By Docstoc
					A Newsletter Published by J.A. Wright & Co. for Buyers and Users of Fine Metal Polishes




   SURFING FOR SILVER
   The internet is red-hot for buyers and sellers of sterling flatware
    by Carol Connare




   W
                      HAT’S NOT TO LOVE
                      about shopping for sterling
                      flatware on the internet?
   Most sites have a far larger selection than
   any single department store. New silver
   patterns are readily in stock and can be
   shipped right away. Finding replacements
   is a matter of a few keystrokes on a search
   page instead of endless phone calls. On
   many sites, you correspond with a particular
   salesperson maintaining the human touch.
   Almost universally, you’ll pay less for silver bought
   on the web than in a retail store. Best of all, if
   thoughts of that Chippendale fish knife are
   keeping you up past bedtime, you can log on
   and shop in the middle of the night!
       From established jewelry stores that have ventured online
   to start-ups that operate out of backwoods warehouses, the
   silverware business is booming on the web. It’s no surprise
   sterling flatware sales have risen in the latter half of the
   1990s in consort with the growth of sterling flatware-specific
   shopping sites on the web.
                                    Surfing for Silver, continued on page 2


 J. A. WRIGHT & CO.                                                           1   SPRING 2001
              “ The best place to start is w
  Surfing for Silver, continued from page 1          flatware between 10-15% over what we pay,         finally getting a nice set of silver,” explains
                                                     whereas a department store typically works        Ryals. “But we do 50% of our business in
   With hundreds of websites at their fingertips,    down from a suggested retail price.”              November and December, so a lot of
   silver-surfers must narrow the field ––               Indeed, by shopping on the net, you can       sterling flatware is purchased as gifts, too.”
   finding those sites that suit their particular    usually save $50-$75 a place setting, on
   interests and purchasing styles. We ventured      average. Internet entrepreneurs like Ryals
                                                                                                       Something Old,
   beyond the computer screen to meet the            keep their costs down by buying sterling          Something New
   people behind some of the most successful         flatware in large quantities and controlling
   websites selling silver flatware today.           overhead; they don’t have to maintain a          V   enerable companies are seeing
                                                                                                          unprecedented growth on the internet,
                                                                                                    too. Littman’s of Norfolk, Virginia, has been
                                                                                                    selling sterling flatware and jewelry since
                                                                                                    1892, specializing in estate silver.
                                                                                                        “Two or three years ago, we started our
                                                                                                    web site,” says Don Hornstein, who runs the
                                                                                                    family-owned enterprise. Don’s grandfather,
   From the Ground Up                                department store in an expensive shopping      Leon Hornstein, started the company with
                                                     district. “I know of some silver shopping      his brother-in-law, Charles Littman. There’s
  R      yan Ryals, 29, of Auburn, Washington,
         personifies the dot.com revolution.
   After creating a successful silver website
                                                     sites that operate out of the owners’ house,
                                                     or are nothing more than a P.O. Box.” Home
                                                                                                    a fun photo (below) from 1923 on their web
                                                                                                    site, www.littmans.com, showing one of
                                                     to Silversuperstore.com, Auburn is a small     their earlier shops filled with ukuleles,
   for what’s now a competing company,
                                                     town of 35,000 people. “Real estate is         steamer trunks, and plated ware. “Already
   Ryals struck out on his own. In 1998 Ryals
                                                     inexpensive here,” says Ryals.                 the web has come to represent 10-15% of
   kick-started Silversuperstore.com out
                                                         Silversuperstore customers fit the profile our retail trade.”
   of an 800-square-foot warehouse with one
                                                     of most buyers who purchase new sterling           But unlike lots of other silver websites,
   computer and two phone lines. He was
                                                     on the web: they purchase whole sets of        visitors to Littmans.com can’t actually
   the only employee. Not quite three years
                                                     sterling flatware for their own use, spending, purchase their silver directly from the web.
   later, he employs 14 people, operates a
                                                     on average, between $2,000 and $3,000.         “I force them to call us, and listen to my
   3,500-square-foot facility, just opened a
                                                     “They’ve reached middle age and are                                  or one of my employees’
   small retail store. He’ll easily top $2 million
   in flatware sales this year. Ryals guesses                                                                             expertise,” says
   that figure puts him in the top five of                                                                                Hornstein “because
   silver flatware sellers on the web.                                                                                    much of our business
       “Just a few years ago, when I started out,                                                                         is in estate silver, and
   I didn’t know anything about silver. I didn’t                                                                          for that, I believe it’s
   even know the difference between sterling                                                                              better to talk one-on-
   and stainless,” admits Ryals. He and his                                                                               one. I fear connecting
   wife now have a set of Lion by Wallace,                                                                                our database live to
   “because my wife is a Leo,” admits Ryan.                                                                               the internet. Even
       “The web has taken off for a lot of                                                                                though many dealers
   reasons,” says Ryals. “Buyers are no longer                                                                            do it, I’m not sure I
   limited to local department stores carrying                                                                            ever will.”
   only the top 20 patterns. We can reach                                                                                     What the web does
   customers that were unserved before.                                                                                   for Littman’s business in
   And, buying from us is much cheaper. At                                                                                spades, says Hornstein,
   Silversuperstore, we work from a wholesale           Littman’s of Norfolk, Virginia, 1923                              is pre-screen customers.
   frame of mind. We mark up the cost of                                                                                  The most popular part of


J. A. WRIGHT & CO.                                                      2                                                              SPRING 2001
with professionals you trust.”
                                                    Multichannel Marketing                               Though it’s hard to track exactly who

                                                    F   or many sterling flatware retailers, the
                                                        web was a natural extension of their
                                                    previously existing business. In the case of
                                                                                                     its web customers are, they know that 6%
                                                                                                     of new internet buyers have set foot in one
                                                                                                     of Ross-Simons retail stores. “They see our
                                                    Ross-Simons, it has outperformed their           URL on the catalog or some other collateral
                                                    wildest expectations.                            –– it’s on everything –– and they choose
                                                        “We’ve had triple-digit expansion in our     that avenue to reach us,” says Driscoll.
                                                    web sales every year since launching late in         Ross-Simons’ experience mirrors findings
                                                    1996,” says Ann Driscoll, director of internet   by the Silver Information Center. Their
                                                    marketing for Ross-Simons of Providence,         annual study of the sterling flatware market
                                                    Rhode Island. Begun in 1952 as a jewelry         notes that “catalog, TV, and internet buyers
                                                    concern, Ross-Simons has morphed into a          have often viewed a pattern elsewhere (in
                                                    multi-million dollar company, selling table-     person) and then choose shopping from
                                                    ware, gifts and collectibles, and jewelry        home for convenience and/or price.”
                                                    through a national catalog, 11 retail stores,        “By far and away, the clearance section
                                                    and its web site, Ross-Simons.com.               is the most popular section of our site,”
                                                        “In the industry, what we do is a            says Driscoll. “Even I shop there!”
                                                    buzzword: we’re multi-channel marketers,”
  Flatware from Littman’s                           explains Driscoll. “Even we didn’t expect        Smart Surfing
                                                    the growth we’ve seen on the web.”
  his site is the search section –– visitors can
  virtually paw through Littman’s silverware
                                                    Internet sales account for 10% of
                                                    Ross-Simons annual gross. In 1999, they
                                                                                                     S   ilver surfers are getting great prices, fast
                                                                                                         service, and more selection than ever.
                                                                                                     But it’s wise to be cautious, too. There are
  drawer. Web shoppers access over 650              saw 400% growth in terms of website              no certification requirements, standards
  patterns of in-stock silver, and hopefully find   demand, and another 200% in 2000. “It            setting boards, or organizations governing
  what they’re looking for. When they do, all       will level out at some point,” says Driscoll,    who is qualified to sell silverware on –– or
  that’s left to do is pick up the phone and        “but while others are starting to slow down,     off –– the internet. The best place to start
  place an order. “For us, it’s a very efficient    we continue to grow.”                            is with professionals you trust. Visit websites
  sales presentation,” says Hornstein.                                                               of silversmiths who you recognize as
  “Practically all of our business from the                                                          reputable, and check out their links for
                                                                            Gifts &
  web is brand new business.”                                                                        recommended dealers. Most services should
      Littman’s specializes in estate and                                 Collectibles
                                                                                                     be free on the web, such as pattern
  replacement sterling flatware, but also offers                             from                    identification, pattern search, and bridal
  new patterns for sale. “The competition                                 Ross-Simons                registry. If there’s a charge involved, steer
  is stiff in the market for new silver,” says                                                       clear. Surfing the web for silver can turn
  Hornstein. “The customer really wins out.                                                          up specialty services such as knife reblading,
  But the way I see it, you don’t need a lot of                                                      silverware repairs, and garbage disposal
  service for new sterling. You get the pattern                                                      damage repair.
  the customer wants to their door for the                                                               Taking one’s silver appetite to the
  best price. With estate silver, the service                                                        net is a bit ironic. We can use the latest
  aspect is more important. There are a                                                              technology to find heirloom silver or
  variety of knowledge levels among dealers.                                                         purchase new classics that will last for
  What we’re saying is that when you come                                                            lifetimes. In many ways, this tool of the
  to us, you get the benefit of our experience                                                       future has given us greater access to
  –– about the history of the silver, what goes                                                      the past. W
  together, the care of it, etc.”


  J. A. WRIGHT & CO.                                                       3                                                            SPRING 2001
                                                                                                                           Printed on recycled paper.
       Here is a list of some of the sites
       we surfed for this story:
       www.alcoveantiques.com                         www.setyourtable.com
       www.asyoulikeitsilvershop.com                  www.silverinfo.com          J.A.WRIGHT & CO.
       www.bestbuysilver.com                          www.silversmart.com         America’s first family of
                                                                                  metal-care specialists,
       www.beverlybremer.com                          www.silversuperstore.com    since 1873
       www.dishesdirect.com                           www.silverwarehouse.com
                                                                                  Fine Metal-Care Products:
       www.lunt-silversmiths.com                      www.sterlingmatching.com
                                                                                  • Wright’s Silver Cream
       www.reedandbarton.com                          www.towlesilver.com         • Wright’s Anti-Tarnish
       www.replacements.com                           www.wallacesilver.com         Silver Polish
       www.ross-simons.com                            www.westernsilver.com       • Wright’s Brass Polish
       www.rsgoldberg.com                             www.yoursilver.com          • Wright’s Brass Cream
                                                                                  • Wright’s Copper Cream
                                                                                  • Wright’s Jewelry Care
      Resources from this newsletter:
                                                                                  We appreciate your questions
       SILVERSUPERSTORE                       ROSS-SIMONS                         and comments. Please contact us.
       204 East Main Street                   www.ross-simons.com                 Toll-Free Customer Support:
       Auburn, WA 98002                                                            800-922-2625
                                              SILVERWAREHOUSE
       800-426-3057
                                              4311 NE Vivion Road                 John B. Wright E-mail:
       www.Silversuperstore.com
                                              Kansas City, MO 64119-2890           jb@jawright.com
       LITTMAN’S INC.                         816-454-1990                        Website: www.jawright.com
       151 Granby Street                      www.Silverwarehouse.com
       Norfolk, VA 23510                                                          J.A. Wright & Co.
                                              STERLING INFORMATION CENTER          .O.
                                                                                  P Box 566
       1-800-FOUND-IT
                                              www.sterlinginfo.com                Keene, New Hampshire 03431
       or 757-622-6989
       www.littmans.com
                                                                                  Individuals and organizations
                                                                                  featured are not paid advertisers.


                                           Have YOU bought
                                           silver on the web?
                                           Write us and tell us about
                                                                                 Tip on Using Wright’s
                                           your experience.                      Silver Cream
       Photo courtesy of ross-simons.com
                                                                                 I use the Silver Cream to keep
                                                                                 my dog’s collar and tags clean.
       www.jawright.com                                                          A.M. Collins from Portland, OR



J. A. WRIGHT & CO.                                                  4                                        SPRING 2001