How can I ensure a prospective custom client doesn’t steal my ideas?

For many jewelers, CAD has changed the game and they don’t release any designs or sketches until the customer has paid a deposit or a sitting fee that can be put toward the final purchase price. Still, if there were a consensus view when we put this question to our 700-strong Brain Squad, it is that successful custom necessitates a free exchange of ideas and developing a close relationship with the customer. And that requires trust. “I give away all my ideas. On our note paper. With a quote. If they choose us (because we’re awesome), more power to them. If not, they probably aren’t our ideal client! If you win them over with fresh ideas and honesty, you will have a customer for life,” says Jennifer Farnes, the owner of Revolution Jewelry Works in Colorado Springs, CO.

How do I not bug my best customers with follow up?

We applaud your thinking. Existing customers are your best prospects and likely to be your greatest source of additional sales, but too few jewelers have a follow-up system in place. The secret is to make them feel special. Let your best customers know when new merchandise will be coming in, and especially, if you decide to put it on sale. Second, offer them special services such as a free regular cleaning service, free appraisals, and keep notes about the little things in their lives that you can bring up in conversation later. Final point: Don’t worry so much. Most times customer will be happy to hear from you. Effective follow-up doesn’t have to be more than a customized handwritten note, postcard or phone call once every six months with some personal detail.

I suspect a rival is trying to poach one of my best sales associates. Should I try to pre-empt them with a pay raise?

Happy employees don’t leave for a small amount of additional money, so the first thing to do is sit down with your associate and see if there are things you can do to remove any frustrations from her current work life or if there are perks (more flex time?) or professional challenges (responsibility for a big marketing campaign?) that could tempt her to stay. Throwing money at them is unlikely to help if you don’t remove what’s unsettled them in the first place. Staff churn is a natural part of business life, especially in a strong economy like today’s, and non-compete agreements are a blunt tool that workers resent. A better approach is to foster a great culture. Check in with your team periodically to make sure employees feel challenged, engaged and appreciated.

Lately, my father seems to be working less and taking more cash out. There has always been an understanding that I’d eventually buy the store. I want to grow it, but I can’t unless we start reinvesting our profits.

Well, it is your father’s store. He built it. He’s at a different stage of life and wants something different than you do. That’s the joy of being the founder, and the curse of being the successor. Still, you don’t necessarily have to buy it. In fact, you may decide your future lies elsewhere (spend some time with something like David Brown’s gap analysis to see if the store can deliver the lifestyle you want). If separate paths looks like the best option, you obviously want to leave on good terms. Bring in a mediator. Sit down with your father (and mother) and lay out your plans. Reassure him you want to come up with a plan that allows both of you to achieve your goals. And do it soon. Otherwise, you’ll be 10 years older; your father will still be alive, hopefully; and you’ll be in the same position you’re in today.

What are some good innocuous questions to determine someone’s budget?

We asked this question in our 2015 Big Survey and a not-insignificant proportion of jewelers — more than 20 percent — said it’s simply wasting people’s time if you’re less than direct. Their approach: just straight up ask how much they want to spend with an inquiry such as “Did you have a budget in mind?” There were also some lighter-hearted variations of this that we liked, such as:

  • Did you want to be closer to $10 or $100,000?
  • Are you looking for something that will make your friends wonder if you won the lottery, or just if you got a promotion?
  • Is this a big bling event or a little bling event?
  • Or ask about their jewelry buying history:
  • Tell me about some of the other jewelry you have bought.
  • Or the reason for the purchase:
  • Are you shopping for a special occasion? 
  • What are you celebrating?
  • Who are you celebrating?
  • Finally, there’s the “goods first” approach:
  • What do you think about this? (And then watch their reaction.) 
  • How do you like this one? Is it too big, too small?

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 edition of INSTORE.

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