This Company in the 'Breakup Industry' Gears Up for Valentine's Day

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Valentine's Day may be a time to express love and devotion to your significant other, but it's also a time for breakups.

According to a 2011 survey by Avvo.com, a free ratings and profile service for attorneys and doctors in the U.S., the number of Americans seeking divorce lawyers and divorce-related information "skyrockets" around Valentine's Day.

The reasons could be several: people delaying divorce until after the holidays, waiting for bonuses to come in or even seeing if a relationship can be reconciled based on what's planned for Valentine's Day, the survey found.

Six years ago, Josh Opperman saw an opportunity in the "break-up" industry after experiencing his own broken engagement.

Opperman, now 35, was looking to get reimbursed for the more than $10,000 he shelled out for an engagement ring, only to find that most places were only willing to give him a fraction (in some cases just 35%) of what he paid, he says. Opperman decided to create the marketplace so that others wouldn't have to go through what he did.

He launched I Do ... Now I Don't in February 2007.

The site has become a popular place for sellers to get rid of unwanted jewelry at better prices than in the retail market, and for buyers, especially in this cost-conscious economy, to potentially get an engagement ring of their dreams for less than the retail cost.

Last year, about $2.5 million worth of items were sold through the site, according to Opperman.

So far the most expensive was a $75,000 engagement ring, he says.

The idea takes the pawn and consignment industries to a whole new level. It also threatens the $30 billion retail jewelry market, which has been struggling since the recession, according to IBISWorld.

"Price-conscious consumers have found new ways to get deals on jewelry," as the December report says. "Department stores, warehouse retailers and online outlets threaten traditional jewelry retailers by offering consumers a low-priced one-stop shop for their jewelry needs. When consumers shop at these stores more often than traditional jewelry stores, industry revenue will decline."

And while the report focused specifically on new jewelry purchases, one can't help but add a site like I Do ... Now I Don't to the mix of competitors for retail sales.

But it wasn't easy getting consumers to use the site at first. In the beginning, the company's biggest challenge was solidifying its reputation and getting customers to trust that the site was not a scam, Opperman says.

"When someone is sending in a $10,000 diamond ring without getting paid for it, it takes a lot of trust for someone to do that. That was the biggest hurdle in the very beginning that we had to overcome," Opperman says.

Considering the high-ticket items sold on the site, Opperman says using the website is safer than buying through eBay ( EBAY) or Craigslist.

"It's a process which makes it impossible to get scammed," Opperman says. "We're controlling the sale."

I Do ... Now I Don't allows sellers to list their jewelry at a price of their choice. The process acts more like a negotiation between buyer and seller, with a typical agreed-upon price between 40% and 60% of the original retail price.

Once an offer is agreed upon, both the money and the jewelry is sent to the I Do ... Now I Don't offices, where staff ensures that the item is the correct one and that the money was sent. The company ultimately takes a 15% cut of the final price.

Now the company is expanding its offerings.

"We started off with engagement rings and wedding bands and that's still a majority of sales on the website, but we sell other stuff. We started adding other categories," like necklaces, bracelets and wedding dresses, Opperman says.

Yes, even wedding dresses.

I Do ... Now I Don't has also begun experimenting with buying back "unsellable" jewelry directly. The website doesn't have a storefront, but since its offices are located in the heart of Manhattan's Diamond District, it can resell the jewelry quickly in the wholesale market.

The business is "recession-proof," Opperman says. "No matter how bad the economy is or how good, it always does well and that's because there's always going to be divorces no matter what and always people getting married no matter what."

The reasons people sell their rings aren't only because of breakups. "People are selling the rings to upgrade or just selling the rings because they need the money. There's a lot of different scenarios," he says. "On the other end, people are getting great deals. We've had emails from customers who were able to afford a ring of their dreams because of the discount."

And do people care that the jewelry was worn before?

Opperman says that most customers reset the diamond.

"The main money is basically in the diamond," he says.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to: Laurie.Kulikowski@thestreet.com.

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