Consumers typically have flocked to malls because they’re a one-stop shop for everything from socks to sofa sets. Now, one of the biggest mall jewelers in the United States is giving some folks the chance to cross another item off their shopping lists.
Signet Jewelers (SIG), owner of Zales, Kay Jewelers and Jared, is betting on facial piercings becoming popular during and after the pandemic. The company operates more than 500 Piercing Pagoda “kiosk”-type stores in malls nationwide that sell gold and silver chains, bracelets, rings, and earrings.
Until recently, customers could only get their ears pierced at the kiosks. Signet is currently in the process of expanding beyond ears to piercings involving the nose, eyebrow and lips, said Barry Gresky, Piercing Pagoda’s vice president of operations, administration and piercing services. The service costs $35 to $55, depending on the type of piercing and jewelry.
Gresky said the retailer was already getting plenty of inquiries pre-pandemic from shoppers asking about facial piercings and that the volume of inquiries has steadily escalated through last year “thanks to more people wanting to showcase their individuality on Instagram or on Zoom calls.”
“We’re learning that when people are more secluded, there’s a greater desire for self expression,” he said.
The market for piercings is dominated by independent businesses with no major player, according to the most recent industry report from market research firm IBISWorld. In 2019, there were about 11,729 piercing shops in the US, the report said.
While mall traffic may be down overall, Signet thinks the new service will pull in both existing and new customers. “We see our [mall] locations as an advantage. Our stores have a family-friendly environment that many people find more accessible than, say, a tattoo parlor, which some may find intimidating,” said Gresky.
Expanding into facial piercings could help Signet bring people into malls at a time when the pandemic has walloped foot traffic.
While Signet’s preliminary same store sales in North America were up nearly 8% for the nine weeks ending January 2, the company said sales were slightly down at its mall locations.
Pandemic-time pick up in piercings
To roll out the service, Signet has to beef up its staff of professional needle piercers. Gresky said Signet hopes to employ as many as 200 by the end of the year, up from fewer than 20 so far.
To sweeten the pot, Signet is dangling incentives like a $1,000 signing bonus and relocation fees.
Piercers say they’re seeing strong demand.
Mishawn Neva Zengota, 27, said nose, dimples, eyebrows and “bridge” piercings – those done through the skin on the bridge of the nose between the eyes – have been particularly popular lately with her Piercing Pagoda customers at the Tacoma Mall, in Tacoma, Washington.
Zengota joined Piercing Pagoda last fall as a piercing specialist with 10 years of experience. Her recent client mix has included moms, lawyers and some “older” clients.
“The other day I had a guest celebrating her 60th birthday. The pandemic convinced her that now was the time to finally do it,” she said. “Another guest wanted new facial piercings to mark a new chapter in her life commemorating her divorce.”
Some clients told her that wearing a mask has given them the confidence to finally get their nose pierced because they can get away with it at work. “On some days I’ve done a dozen nostril piercings,” said Zengota.
Gresky said the company is following cleanliness and new Covid-related safety protocols such as temperature checks before a piercing and requiring employees to wear a face shield. It also requires masks for customers and is spacing appointments 30 minutes apart.
Five months ago, Hailey Cote moved from Oregon to work at the Piercing Pagoda at the Vancouver Mall in Vancouver, Washington.
Cote, 23, was recently hired as both a store manager and a piercing professional who honed her skill working for a few years in her father’s tattoo shop in Texas.
She has noticed that nose piercings have been particularly popular as of late – even among those who work in more traditional work environments.
“I was at the bank the other day, and a few girls who work there said they wanted to come in to get their nose pierced,” she said.