The last few months have been tough on the mall-based jewelry stores of the world, leaving room for digital-first brands, like newcomer Rowan, to break through.
In early July, Charming Charlie announced plans to close all 261 of its stores, filing for bankruptcy for the second time in two years. Francesca’s, which sells clothes but has a large jewelry offering, has been closing stores left and right as sales have been in decline, while Claire’s has been working to bounce back after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2018.
“There’s definitely an engagement problem within the category. The nature of the way people have shifted their shopping, it just doesn’t play in the favor of a mall-based retailer like Claire’s or Charming Charlie,” said Alexis DeSalva, senior research analyst at Mintel. In a recent report published by Mintel, the global market research firm found that almost half of the consumers it surveyed had not made a fashion jewelry purchase in the last year, DeSalva said, and that most were making more high-end purchases to treat themselves.
Even in the online space, jewelry brands have struggled in recent years as online jewelry sales have continued to decline. It has led subscription boxes like Rocksbox to shift their focus to private-label products. But as mall brands falter, opportunity has grown for new digital-first brands, and subscription boxes like Pura Vida’s bracelet club for teens and tweens to swoop in and fill holes in the market — especially as shoppers increasingly shift from shopping malls to buying online.
Take Rowan, a new subscription-based earring company for tweens. Along with offering subscription boxes, the brand partners with registered nurses across the country to make booking at-home ear piercings easy and safe. Rowan founder, Louisa Schneider, got the idea for the brand when she was working for a hedge fund, studying why brands like Claire’s were failing. Her idea was to make an ear-piercing service for the digital age.
Beyond giving tweens a new ear-piercing option, the brand offers a monthly subscription box. It comes with one hypoallergenic pair of earrings and a collectible post card (created in partnership with design agency Red Antler) each month. The card features information on topics from mental to physical health to relationships, and are meant to fuel conversation between parents and their tweens. The very first box also comes with an earring stand, an earring pouch, a journal and a pen.
At this point in time, the earrings are not sold individually and must be purchased through the subscription service. Prices vary depending on the material (options include sterling silver, gold vermeil or 14-karat solid gold), and the length of the subscription, which can be three, six or 12 months. The sterling silver box, for example, costs $22.95 a month for three boxes, $21.50 a month for six and $19.95 per month for 12 months.
“We are not focused on one-time purchases, and there are a lot of reasons for that. From a content standpoint, we think that having boxes sent for several months is a great way to start building some better communication. Also, most girls want several pairs, and they like to change their earrings out after getting their ears pierced,” said Louisa Schneider, founder and CEO at Rowan.
Where Claire’s and other jewelry brands like Charming Charlie have focused on bright colors and over-the-top designs, Rowan is focused on creating simple, timeless earrings that younger girls will want to keep long after their teen years.
“We’ve done a lot of focus groups and worked with a lot of girls to understand what symbols inspire happiness and excitement, and that appeal to a very broad group. There is certainly room for us to move into Rowan earring-of-the-month clubs that have certain affiliations, but for now, it’s more about universal symbols,” said Schneider.
For now, Rowan isn’t necessarily targeting tweens, but more parents, even grandparents, who hold the purchasing power. After building more brand awareness among an older demographic, Schneider said the brand will likely start thinking about more channels where it can engage with tweens, like TikTok and YouTube, and will possibly work with young influencers in the near future.
“We are currently going through the classic channels of paid social, speaking to the purchaser. But as I think about this company, I see it being culturally a brand that will grow and ideally provide a better experience with products and education to tweens and also to their grownup,” she said.