Signet Group plc (NYSE: SIG) is the world's largest specialty jewelry retailer with over $3.3 billion in sales in fiscal 2010. The company operates in the United Kingdom and the United States, where it owns jewelry chains such as Kay Jewelers and JB Robins Jewelers. The US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) estimates that Signet has approximately 4.4% of the $58.8 billion total jewelry market.
Despite being the world's largest specialty jeweler, Signet only earned a 8.3% operating margin, considerably lower than some of its competitors, including Tiffany's. This is because of the relatively low price points Signet sets for its jewelry, placing it in the "affordable luxury" space. The company's goal is to provide value and pass along cost savings to shoppers, which appeals to the middle-income consumer. Signet's low gross margin is also partially because the company buys polished diamonds directly, rather than finishing rough diamonds in-house.
Signet's sales are split geographically roughly 75% and 25% between the U.S. and the U.K., respectively. This gives the company a small source of revenue from abroad, but not enough to effectively protect it from downturns in the U.S. economy. Additionally, the company is especially vulnerable in weak global economic times as consumers cut back spending on luxury items. As a result of the sluggish global economy, the company's net sales fell by 1.6% and same-store sales fell by 0.4% in 2010.
Signet Group is a U.K. based specialty jeweler operating multiple chains of jewelry retail stores in the United Kingdom and the United States. In the U.S. Signet operates Kay Jewelers and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry as well as other regional chains such as JB Robinson Jewelers, Marks & Morgan Jewelers and Belden Jewelers. In the U.K. Signet operates H. Samuel The Jeweller, Ernest Jones The Diamond & Watch Specialist, as well as a few other regional stores. Signet is an "affordable luxury" retailer as it targets middle-income consumers by providing jewelry at lower price points than jewelers like Tiffany. Although these lower prices open up Signet's stores to a wider range of customers, it keeps Signet's profit margins low and leaves the company exposed in times of economic distress when middle-income consumers cut back on unnecessary spending.
Because three-quarters of Signet's sales come from their U.S. operations, the company is heavily dependent upon the health of the U.S. economy and global economy. Jewelry is a luxury that consumers will avoid in times when disposable income is low, such as in times of recessions or shorter economic downturns. This is especially true of "affordable luxury" retailers such as Signet which appeal to consumers with sensitive budgets by offering jewelry at lower price points than some of their competitors (Signet's most expensive chain, Jared, has an average unit price of $747 compared with prices above $3,000 for nearly half of the jewelry sold by Tiffany). In 2010, the sluggish economy weakened the demand for Signet's products and as a result, the company's net sales fell by 1.6%.
As an "affordable luxury" jewelry retailer who delivers value to middle-income consumers with mid-range prices, Signet's profit margins are slim. These margins can be seriously diminished by rising prices in commodities that are inputs in jewelry such as gold, silver and other precious metals. Recent trends in the global economy, spurred by rising oil prices and the falling dollar have led to increasing prices in these precious metals which may seriously hurt Signet's gross margin.
As a quarter of its sales are derived from abroad, exchange rates can play a major role in Signet's performance. As the company doesn't engage in any significant hedging activity against exchange rate risk, the final amount of its sales and profits are greatly exposed to fluctuations in the value of the U.S. dollar. When the dollar falls against the British pound, Signet's U.K. sales become more valuable when translated back into dollars.
The jewelry market is split between a range of companies of different sizes, because jewelry-shoppers are less price sensitive than other goods and thus price is not a major factor in a purchase decision, rather important points of differentiation are quality, service and image. Thus, smaller specialized jewelers are able to compete on a store-to-store basis against larger companies such as Signet. As such Signet's competition comes from a variety of sources, including other specialty jewelry retail chains, as well as department stores with jewelry operations and small jewelry shops. Signet's largest direct competitors include Tiffany (TIF) , Zale (ZLC), and Blue Nile (NILE). Tiffany (TIF) is a leading jewelry retailer based in the U.S. but over half of its stores are located outside the United States, with strong presences in Europe and Japan. Zales specializes in diamond jewelry and operates mostly mall-based stores as well as mall kiosks only in North America. Blue Nile (NILE) is the largest online-only retailer of certified diamonds and fine jewelry. In addition to these specialty retailers Signet also faces competition from upscale and exclusive retailers such as Bulgari and Cartier.
Speciality Jewelry Retailers: