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Buyers of big-ticket items in festive mood


Despite talk of a slowing economy, several Des Moines retailers say sales of big-ticket items are brisk this holiday season. From cruises and football bowl game trips, to diamond rings and luxury cars, Iowans are opening their wallets to purchase the finer things in life.

John Joseph, vice president of Josephs Jewelry Stores, said the holiday season is the busiest time of the year for jewelers. He estimated that 40 percent of his company’s business takes place in the last fiscal quarter.

This year, Joseph said, young adults fresh out of college are buying diamond engagement rings. “People like to get engaged on Christmas and New Year’s Eve,” he said.

But the store has also sold high-priced items, like eight-carat diamond earrings for $85,000 and black pearl necklaces for $75,000. Joseph said items priced between $50,000 and $100,000 sell with regularity in December.

“Everything flies out of the store this time of the year,” he said.

The well-heeled are also buying outerwear to protect themselves from Iowa’s winter, said Frank Cownie, owner of Cownie Furs, a Des Moines fixture for nearly a century. Cownie said shoppers routinely spend between $2,500 and $3,750 for fine furs, shearlings and leathers made by Zuki, Ramosport and Dominic Bellisimo of Italy, among other brands.

“We sell the finest ones in the world,” he said. “They’re not cheap, but our customers are looking for quality and they respond to quality items.”

Iowans are also in search of warm weather cruises and trips to Miami to watch the Iowa Hawkeye football team play Jan. 2 in the Orange Bowl.

Sharon Browan, an agent for Continental Travel Associates in Des Moines, said cruises from Florida and trips to Hawaii continue to sell well. She said customers are also buying gift certificates starting at $3,000, the average price for a cruise for two, for future vacations.

“We’re already selling spring break packages,” Browan said. “Business is not as bad as some people think.”

Yen Stonehocker, an agent for Younkers Travel, agrees. Her company has nearly sold all of its 150 three-day packages for the Orange Bowl at an average cost of $1,200. “Some people have had to do some last-minute rescheduling, but bowl games are popular,” she said.

Mark McLemore, sales manager of Ultimate Electronics, said sales of big-screen digital televisions are brisk. From the store’s smallest, a 43-inch Samsung set costing $1,384, to its largest, a 73-inch projection model made by Sharp that retails for $7,440, customers are investing in digital technology.

“A lot of people are upgrading to digital, so we’re doing well in that department,” McLemore.

David Dean, sales manager of European Motorcars, said December is one of the best months of the year to sell cars. The dealership carries BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover, among others.

“Maybe it’s because we are clearing previous year models and getting new ones in, but December is a big month,” he said.

Kraig Kramme, Cadillac and Hummer sales manager for Betts Cadillac/Lexus in Clive, said it’s not uncommon for his dealership to deliver vehicles wrapped in a large red bow to buyers who want to surprise their spouses.

“It’s an exciting time for everybody,” he said. “People like to reward themselves for a good year and they buy something nice for themselves.”  

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