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12 Contrarian Rules of Jewelry Retail

Buy jewelry you hate? Talk people out of repairs? Jewelers insist these crazy business practices work.

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While it’s often wise to follow best practices in business, there are times to throw caution to the wind and break new ground in search of greater profits, more productivity or even less stress on the job. For 27 Contrarian Rules of Business, click here. But for contrarian rules that may apply exclusively to jewelry retail, check out the examples below, submitted by your peers.

1. Don’t hire jewelry experience

Stop worrying about “jewelry experience” when hiring. After working as a manager in the industry for a decade, I have realized that not only is industry experience often not important, a lot of the time it is detrimental because you have to un-train someone. — Emily and Matthew Clark, Spath Jewelers, Bartow, FL

2. Be open about your political beliefs

We are unapologetic about using our business and our platform to stand up for our beliefs, specifically in support of human rights, diversity and inclusion. We believe this is an investment in our community and the future. Some people may feel like a business should stay out of politics; we don’t. We won’t compromise our beliefs and don’t put a price tag on standing up for what is right. There is not a metric for doing business this way. — Bob Goodman, Robert Goodman Jewelers, Zionsville, IN

3. Stop producing bags or boxes

We don’t print our bags or boxes. They’re distinctive as we keep them the same and we encourage people to recycle them for gift giving. It makes us all feel good. — Sandra Locken, Sarini Fine Jewellery, Vulcan, AB

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4. Be closed more often

Two and a half years ago, we were drowning in work, always behind the 8-ball and under pressure. After studying daily sales records, I proved that the studio could be closed on Tuesdays to give us a day to just work. The shop catches up. I have a day to do business paperwork and running errands. We are available by appointment only, which gives us a great day to do design work. I promised my partner that if my assessment was not correct, and sales fell, I would change the plan. People are funny. The harder something it is to get, the more they want it. Sales held steady. No one freaked out. The shop no longer operates under stress. We are open 10 to 6 Wednesday through Friday and 9:30 to 3 on Saturdays. — Jo Goralski, The Jewelry Mechanic, Oconomowoc, WI

5. Don’t collect full payment up front

For custom design orders we do NOT collect full payment up front. We feel it is an added benefit for the client to have a little breathing room to not have to come up with a large payment all at once. The clients tell us they really appreciate it. — Joseph Villarreal, Villarreal Fine Jewelers, Austin, TX

6. Don’t buy the hot sellers

If a salesman tells me something is “hot,” I don’t buy it. Following the crowd is very bad for this store. Our customers are different. — Donald Killelea, Killelea Jewelers, Midlothian, IL

7. Talk people out of repairs

We talk people out of repairs every day, from suggestions on how to make their rings work in their present form to postponing expensive repairs until they are absolutely needed. We have gained restyling business and referrals from these customers as we are seen, and known, for doing what is needed, when it is needed, not over-selling repairs, but servicing our clients in what we feel is the best method. — Jonathan McCoy, McCoy Jewelers, Dubuque, IA

8. Let your employees make the rules

My employees make the rules, I am transparent about the numbers, we have a beer fridge … there’s a lot of non-traditional practices we have! — Jennifer Farnes, Revolution Jewelry Works, Colorado Springs, CO

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9. Buy jewelry you hate

We have three of us often in the buying decisions, and we always buy something that all three of us “hate.” Inevitably, it’s one of the first items to sell. We happened on this by accident and have run with it for years now! — Nicole Shannon, Keir Fine Jewelry, Whistler, BC

10. Hold onto old jewelry

I have an 80 year-old business. Some of the “treasures” I have held on to for one reason or another are now on display and selling rather well. It seems people are regularly checking to see what’s new in the old and estate jewelry. — Karen Schmitt, Straith’s Jewelers, Centralia, IL

11. Get behind on custom orders

I think by default, I have created a business advantage by being behind. I am so far out on custom order deliveries that it must be giving the impression that my services are really in demand. It’s like Groucho Marx once declared, “The only club I want to join is the one that won’t let me in.” The further in the hole my custom orders become, the more clients seek me out, mostly all by referral. — Murphy McMahon, Murphy McMahon & Co., Kalispell, MT

12. Show up late to work

I come in late every damn day. It works because I make my staff pick up the slack and I can hit the ground running when I get here. Seriously though, my staff is awesome and they know they have to be on the ball first thing in the morning because I am not. Don’t feel like changing that up at all. — Erika Godfrey, Hawthorne Jewelry, Kearney, NE

Chris Burslem is Group Managing Editor at SmartWork Media.

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At Komara Jewelers in Canfield, Ohio, Wilkerson handled all the aspects of its retirement sale just as owner Bob Komara’s children took over day-to-day operations of the business. They’d used other companies before, says Brianna Komara-Pridon, but they didn’t compare. “If we had used Wilkerson then, it would have been so much better.”

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Cover Stories

100 Things a Jewelry Salesperson Should Never Do

Don’t ask a customer their budget … and 99 more sales no-nos.

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EVERY STORE and every salesperson is different, but some aspects of the jewelry business are universal. We suspect most INSTORE readers will agree with the bulk of the suggestions on this list (especially since the bulk of them came from INSTORE readers). No single salesperson will avoid all 100 of these “don’ts” every single day, but what matters is that they give you something to strive for. So read them, post them in the break room, breathe them, live them. Your customers — not to mention your coworkers and boss — will thank you.

1. Do not take longer than 5-10 seconds to greet a customer when they enter the store.

2. Do not greet the customer with “May I help you?” They’ll say, “I’m just looking.”

3. Do not greet the customer with “Are you looking for something special today?” They are. That’s why they’re in a jewelry store. Use an open-ended question: “What brings you in here today?”; “Where would you like to get started?”

4. Never write off a customer based on how they’re dressed.

5. Never ask a customer what their budget is.

6. Do not ask if you can show them something. Just show them.

7. Do not point or say, “Over there” when a customer asks where the engagement rings/pearls/designer cufflinks are. Walk them over to the case and take something out.

8. Do not ask a customer if they’re looking for white or yellow gold. That eliminates a chunk of inventory before they’ve even seen it.

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9. Do not show them a lower-priced item first.

10. Do not ignore either half of a couple.

11. Do not treat customers differently from day to day. If you offered them coffee yesterday, offer them coffee today and tomorrow.

12. Don’t be pushy. Never give up immediately, but don’t make the customer uncomfortable either.

13. Do not go into a “selling” mode that is different from your normal personality. Have a natural conversation.

14. Never criticize a person’s taste in jewelry.

15. Never refer to a stone as “small” or of “poor” quality. You don’t know if the customer has a stone like that at home.

16. Do not interrupt a customer.

17. Do not one-up a customer’s story.

18. Never use profanity on the sales floor, regardless of the customer’s own language.

19. Don’t expect the jewelry to sell itself. Justify your existence.

20. Don’t tell a customer to “Take a look around” and leave them on their own.

21. But do not hover over a customer who has asked or signaled clearly that they wish to be left alone to browse.

22. Do not walk away from a customer you’ve started working with. Have a free coworker bring you anything you need.

23. Do not leave a piece of jewelry in the case when someone asks about it.

26. Do not start talking about a piece of jewelry and leave it in the case.

27. Do not show a piece of jewelry until you’ve learned a customer’s name and a little bit about why they’re in your store.

28. Do not put your fingers all over a piece of jewelry before handing it to a client.

29. Never take out more than one or two pieces at a time.

30. Do not guess a woman’s ring size. When you hand her the sizer, go a little larger than you suspect. She’ll feel better having to go down than having to go up.

31. Do not make a customer feel uncomfortable asking for the price.

33. Never steer a customer away from what they’re asking for just because you’d like to sell something else. Show them what they want to see.

34. Never inflate the price just so you can discount it later.

35. Do not rely on discounts to make sales. It’s lazy.

36. Do not offer a discount after another sales associate has already quoted a price.

38. Never let the price be the last thing you mention. Try something like: “It’s $395. Isn’t that oxidized silver such a striking look?”

39. Do not misrepresent a piece of jewelry, or exaggerate to make it sound more impressive.

40. Do not stop selling before the customer is ready to stop buying.

41. But do not keep offering suggestions when a customer has made up their mind. If they’ve found a ring they’re ready to buy, don’t keep showing more rings.

42. In the course of conversation, never bring up other, non-jewelry gift possibilities or expenses that could compete with your sale.

43. Do not talk a customer out of buying a more expensive piece of jewelry.

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44. Never assume a customer is after only what they came in for. Simple battery replacements have turned into five-digit sales because the salesperson took a shot instead of letting the client aimlessly stand around waiting.

45. Don’t give up. If nothing you have in the case is what the customer wants, bring out some catalogs or get a quote from a supplier for a special order.

46. If you really can’t get what a customer wants, don’t give up then either. If they’re set on a certain line you don’t carry, advise them on where to go, and even call that store to see if they’ve got the item. The client will remember you.

47. Don’t forget to ask for a cellphone number, email address or other contact info. Ask for it in a natural way: “Can I email you, so you’ve got my information handy in case you have questions?”

48. Do not talk too much. The customer did not come in to hear about your kids or your mom or whatever. Shut up and listen.

49. Do not ever ask, “When are you due?” unless a woman has made it clear she is pregnant.

50. Never bring up a customer’s ex, especially when you’re selling something for their new partner.

51. Never text while you’re on the sales floor. Leave your cell phone on your desk or in your coat.

52. Do not use the phone in front of a customer if the call isn’t business-related.

54. Never, ever answer the phone while you’re already waiting on someone in person. People hate that. If you’re on the phone when someone walks in, end the call within 15 seconds.

55. If you are in the middle of another task when a customer comes in, do not complete it while they stand there twiddling their thumbs.

56. Do not start an unrelated conversation with a coworker while a customer is waiting. It makes the customer feel like a third wheel.

57. Never chew gum on the sales floor. Don’t use a toothpick either. And never pick your nose (especially with a toothpick).

61. Never bad-mouth another customer.

62. Do not neglect your personal appearance. You sell luxury goods. Also remember: In this business, people look at your hands — hands and nails matter for men and women.

63. Do not wear a piece of jewelry on the sales floor if the store doesn’t carry that line. That’s like hanging up an ad for something you don’t sell.

64. Unless you already have a relationship, don’t call a customer at home or work to make a sale.

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65. Do not lean on anything. Stand up straight.

66. Do not yell across the showroom.

67. Do not refer to customers as “you guys.” Just plain “you” is sufficiently plural.

68. Never guess. If you don’t know something about a stone or metal, a store policy, or a repair, admit it. Then find out the answer.

69. Don’t get too technical when selling. Few customers are fascinated by the mechanics of jewelry design. Focus on the benefits that technical features convey.

71. Never say, “No problem.” The phrase you’re looking for is “You’re welcome.”

72. Never complain about anything. When you’re on the floor, Life is Perfect.

73. Do not tell customers that sales have been slow, even if they have.

74. Never bad-mouth a competing jeweler, even if the customer is complaining about them.

75. Do not turn a customer over to another associate just because a “better” prospect has walked in.

76. Never underestimate how long it will take to finish a job or get something in. Pad your timeline; when it comes in sooner, they’ll be thrilled.

77. Never sell jewelry as an investment. You’re making a promise you can’t keep.

78. Do not take in a repair without making clear, in writing — and with a picture if possible — exactly what is to be done. If additional charges pop up, call before proceeding.

79. Do not hand back a completed repair without looking it over in the customer’s presence. If there are still issues to address, both of you want to know before they walk out the door.

80. Do not ignore younger customers. The 12-year-old spending $25 today might be back for an engagement ring in 10 years.

81. Do not give customers paying cash 96 cents in change. What is this, a gas station? Round up.

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82. Do not suddenly turn on the charm when you’re closing a sale. People will notice, and it will offend them.

83. Never tell a customer the store will be closing, to hint that they should hurry up and leave.

84. Never leave the sales floor if you’re the only one on it.

85. Never leave a showcase unsecured when you’re finished with it. And don’t leave your keys out.

86. Do not abide fingerprints or smudges on the showcases. If you’re free, wipe them down immediately.

88. Do not ask a woman if she likes the jewelry her husband bought her. It might not have been for her.

89. In fact, don’t bring up purchases with anyone except the purchaser. You don’t know whom it’s really for, or if it’s supposed to be a surprise.

90. To that end, do not leave voice or email messages that could spoil a surprise. Simply leave your name and number, and ask for a call back.

91. Do not forget to thank customers with a note or call. It’s not just polite; it’s your chance to do damage control if something went wrong.

92. Do not fail to keep good records. There are husbands and boyfriends out there who will love you for knowing what their ladies want.

93. Never forget to offer to gift-wrap a purchase.

94. Don’t be afraid to hop in the car and hand-deliver an item. That’s something customers tell their friends about.

95. Do not inconvenience a customer. If there’s a way to make their life easier, don’t dismiss it just because it’s not usually done.

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96. Do not place blame. It doesn’t matter if it’s the goldsmith’s fault, or the supplier’s, or yours. Just fix it.

97. Never forget that some things are more important than money. Where death or other serious grief is involved, don’t be a stickler over store policy.

98. Never insult a customer or act as if they don’t belong in your store.

99. Never, ever, ever lie to a customer. Or to your boss or fellow employees, for that matter.

100. Do not read while you’re on the sales floor. Not even high-quality literature like In Search of Lost Time or Anna Karenina or INSTORE. (Oops! OK, put it down beginning … now!)

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20 Ways You Can Deliver Jaw-Dropping Customer Service

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JEWELERS DELIVER CHRISTMAS GIFTS in blizzards without the convenience of sleigh and flying reindeer. They whip up custom orders faster than the speed of a laser. They leap headlong into the role of emergency ring bearer. These tales are the stuff of company legend for independent retailers. But the Henderson family of Bend, OR, has a story that really stands out.

Annette Henderson had gone into labor in December at the same time that her husband, Ron Henderson, needed a finished piece of jewelry delivered to a customer.
“So he asked my mom to deliver it (the jewelry) on the way to the hospital and that he would meet her there,” says their daughter Natasha Henderson, manager of Saxon’s Fine Jewelers. Jewelry delivery made, Annette was driving over the railroad tracks on the way to the hospital when her water broke.

All was well, though, because the second “delivery” took place in the hospital. And the baby — Natasha — joined the family business and works with both of her parents at Saxon’s. “We even get along for the most part,” Natasha says. “And my mom didn’t kill my dad over that. She hasn’t yet, anyway.”
OK, they win, right!?

Beyond the heroics, though, what are you doing to deliver extreme customer service every day? And why is that so important in 2019?

Sometimes it seems there are not enough hours in the day to keep customers happy. Fifty seven percent of respondents to INSTORE’s 2018 Big Survey work more than 45 hours per week. Eric Ohanian of Eric Ohanian & Sons Co. in Boston is one of them. “I am meeting two customers on the way home tonight after working 11 hours,” he says. “We go the extra mile almost daily. I do believe it is the only reason we are still in business. Giving that extra level of service is all that sets us apart from the big box stores or the Internet.”

Besides devoting time to it, other keys to offering extreme customer service include making it personal, building relationships and developing a company culture focused on the customer.

Author and retail business strategist Bob Phibbs says simply that people who feel they matter buy more. If someone has made the effort to drive to your store, they expect to find something new and personal for them. Selling has to meet those needs and not be just about clerking or showing products.

Natasha Henderson with her parents, Ron and Annette of Bend, OR.

“To compete in 2019, you’ve got to make an emotional brand connection in your stores,” Phibbs explains. “If you have a ruthless attention to that, you’ll be fine. It’s time now to get sales training, to keep role-playing and to keep trying to figure out how to create an exceptional experience in your store.”
That means training for consistency.

“Most retailers think training is something you did already — like you changed your socks this morning. But training has to be a culture. When I work with great sales groups every day, there’s a focus; they’re looking at new products and role-playing. Instead of letting people sit behind the counter and talk about what happened on Game Of Thrones last night, keep a dialog going.”

The stakes are high because the customer experience — great or disappointing — has wider repercussions than ever before. “As soon as I walk out of your store, I can rave or rant about you,” Phibbs says. “Nobody had a microphone before like they do now.”

How to Make Someone’s Day

Consultant Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts says it’s the customer’s definition of extreme that matters — not yours. “Often,” she says, “the things we think of as over the top are really little more than what today’s experienced luxury consumer expects … and there’s nothing ‘extreme’ about simply meeting expectations.”

The standard for extreme service is most often set outside of the jewelry industry, she says. The consistency provided by high-end coffee brands or the experience of taking delivery of a new luxury car, for example, are good places to start looking for ways to surprise and delight your customer.

In other words, pay attention to good service you receive in all aspects of your life and let it inform what you do in your store.

Consultant Andrea Hill of Hill Management Group recently experienced amazing customer service at a restaurant in Tezza sul Brenta, Italy.

“I have some vendors visiting from London, and we all went out to dinner at a little local pizzeria. We got to talking and solving the problems of the world, and suddenly we realized that we were the only people left in the restaurant. For how long? Who knows! I went up front to pay, and the owner and his wife were sitting behind the counter looking very tired, but patient. I looked over at the door, and saw they had closed an hour and a half prior! They had cheerfully served more wine and checked in on us without once suggesting it was time for us to pack up and leave. Needless to say, I will be going back to that restaurant and bringing all my friends!”

Hill, in a recent blog post, outlined how important building a strong positive business culture is in providing that kind of exceptional service. Excellent customer service can be very difficult to find, even in the luxury sector, she says. In fact, it is one of the hardest things to do.

“You can’t automate it. You can’t script it or cookie-cutter it. You can’t ensure it with policy or rules. Excellent customer service is about people, and people run on motivation.”

To create a company culture that will nurture and serve customers, you must have a culture that nurtures and serves employees. That doesn’t mean coddling. Employees want to be treated as professionals, with dignity and respect. Study after study demonstrates that employees who are trusted and expected to perform admirably will rise to the occasion.

Andrea Riso of Talisman Collection, El Dorado Hills, CA, says her culture is to do everything possible to satisfy customers, including firing staff who don’t get it. “I’ve driven for hours, shown up at weddings, loaned jewelry when something is not done in time (rarely do I ever miss a deadline), give the jewelry for free if the customer had a bad experience with our staff, fired staff, taken calls and texts 24/7/365 (and I do mean 365), fixed things for free pre-wedding for people who are not my customers!”

 

20 TIPS FOR OUTSTANDING
CUSTOMER SERVICE

 

MAKE IT PERSONAL

Barry Moltz, small-business consultant, speaker and author, says online retailers are offering a kind of “faux personalization” that has become an expectation. When he signs on to Amazon.com, for example, the site greets him by name and knows what he’s bought in the past and what he might like to buy in the future. So, if you can’t remember all of your customers’ names and everything they might like or have ever wished for or purchased, collect all the information you can from your customers and get your POS system up to speed to do the work for you. “Amazon always remembers who you are, but does your local retail store?” Moltz asks.

LET THEM TOUCH THE STUFF

John Carter, CEO of Jack Lewis Jewelers in Bloomington, IL, installed a “wedding-ring playground” — a custom-made bar-height table to display bridal sample lines from vendors. It allows engagement-ring shoppers to try out many different styles in a relaxed setting. “It’s helping start the conversation with the client,” Carter says. “It’s become a way to break the ice, hear about their likes and preferences, and then we can delve into all the options.”

At Jack Lewis Jewelers, shoppers are invited to play with sample rings at the wedding-ring playground.

OFFER OMNI-CHANNEL SUPPORT

Ensure the customer has a seamless experience no matter the channel they use. If you’re cultivating e-commerce and you have a full-time social-media or marketing associate, consider chatting — offering customers online help in real time. (This can also be outsourced to a larger company.) Helping a customer on your website used to mean providing an e-mail address or listing the company phone number, says Moltz, author of Bam: Delivering Customer Service In A Self-Service World. “Real-time chat is quickly becoming a requirement to help your online clients. Can video chat be far behind, for an even more personal touch?” If you offer live-chat support, list the hours on your website so that users know when they can and can’t contact you.

SET UP A GENIUS JEWELER BAR

Daniel Pink, author of Drive, suggests a jewelry store version of the Apple Store Genius Bar. “Clueless customers — guys like me who don’t know their amethyst from their elbow — would flock to ask questions of your jewelry genius,” Pink says.

OFFER APPOINTMENTS

Some retailers have found a niche with appointment-only businesses, but it’s a nice thing to offer your favorite customers whatever your business model. Once you’ve established a relationship with a busy client, don’t leave your future availability to the chance your schedules happen to mesh. Let them make an appointment when it’s convenient to them and set aside time on your calendar to make the shopping experience special.

OFFER PRIVACY

Martin Shanker, professional trainer and president of Shanker Inc. in New York City, says that many luxury buyers would purchase more if they could be less visible when making those high-end choices. But retailers often don’t factor in the need for discretion in the sales process. “Consequently, clients are making purchases online or in cities other than where they live,” Shanker says. “Luxury sales teams need to be extra sensitive in identifying these types of buyers and take steps to offer them increased privacy.” Consider inviting them to a more private room or viewing area, away from the selling floor. “The trend to be less conspicuous has not stopped the luxury customer from making large purchases. Therefore, sales professionals need to be cautious about misinterpreting a desire for privacy as a lack of interest in buying and unintentionally trading the business down.”

MONITOR COMPLAINTS

Take a close look at customer feedback and identify the main three to five recurring complaints, whether they’re delivered in person, by phone or in an online review. Then take steps to make sure they stop recurring. Consider the feedback you receive from your customers “free customer service consulting.” This is info of great value, not an interruption of your day, says Forbes.com. What could be better than to get information directly from your customers? And yet, responding to it, reviewing it, acting on it can feel like an interruption of our work if we don’t carefully check our attitude.

HIRE THE BEST

It’s very important to have a qualified person with the right “diamond DNA” to make create a positive impression, says David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy. Research has shown the best diamond sales associates share similar traits: They are neither submissive nor aggressive, but tend toward slight extroversion, and their patience levels are in the median range (they can wait to close a sale without coming across as pushy). Once you have the right people out there, offer sales training, product knowledge and support, and make sure they are not spending their time changing batteries when they should be using their skills to greet customers and close sales

UNLOCK THEIR IMAGINATION

Chuck Kuba of Iowa Diamond in Des Moines, IA, came from a background in the performing arts before returning to the family’s traditional line of work and opening his own jewelry store. The two really aren’t so different: one is played out on the boards, the other in the imagination, says Kuba, who is a big advocate of using the “theater of the mind” to unlock a customer’s dreams, desires and aspirations. “Nothing can compare with asking a woman to close her eyes and imagine the perfect engagement ring and then describe it to you,” says Kuba. “It’s magic.”

PRACTICE EMPATHY

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Try out the role of counselor when selling or handling returns, if the situation calls for it. Say, “Tell me more.” It puts customers at ease, suggests author Harry Friedman in No Thanks, I’m Just Looking. And if they’re unhappy with a situation, it defuses the tension. If they’re not sure what they want, it will help them reach a conclusion.

REALLY LISTEN TO WHAT THEY WANT

“I want the client to dream his or her best dream, then I want to know the budget,” says Jo Goralski of the Jewelry Mechanic in Oconomowoc, WI. “I learned early on that if I design based on budget, no one wins. A young couple came into the studio. She wanted a yellow emerald-cut diamond in a split shank covered with diamonds, and a wedding band for him, and he had a $1,500 budget. Knowing the look she was going for, I found a semi-mount with melee diamonds. I found a killer soft yellow emerald-cut sapphire, and my shop hand-forged him a wedding band. With the sales tax, it came in at just under $1,500. They have been married over 10 years and have three kids, and they have always remembered we treated their dream with respect.”

BE VERY GOOD AT GETTING THEM TO TALK

“If they’re shopping together for an engagement ring, you need to ask her a lot of questions about style, fashion, what she’s seen, what she liked, if she has a photo on her phone,” says Shane Decker. “Too many people get defensive when they bring in a lab report from Blue Nile or James Allen or another online retailer. Say, ‘I’m so glad you did some research!’ If they bring that in, it means they haven’t bought it yet. The Internet doesn’t deliver an experience. So give them an incredible experience, get them talking about their engagement, their lives. This is something that’s among the top 10 most incredible memories of a woman’s life.”

DON’T JUDGE

It’s tough even to tell anymore who has money to spend. “They don’t just come in and say I’ve got 20 grand to spend on my wife,” says Bob Phibbs. “And they don’t dress like they did in the ‘60s to buy jewelry; they may come in in flip flops and shorts. Judging has to stop.”

MANAGE EVERY FACET OF THE EXPERIENCE

“This is my favorite exercise to do with stores,” says consultant Joel Hassler of VonHasle Jewelry Advisers. “At a staff meeting, give each associate a piece of paper and have them write down as many things as they can about your store where your customer interacts with your business. Then, similar to the game Scattergories, go around the room and get a point for each thing you have on your list that no one else had. Put a $20 gift card on the line for the winner. The point you’re trying to make is that there are way more things than you might think of, almost an unending list. The door handles, the pens, the cases, the displays, the volume of your hold music, the fonts/colors in your advertising, the ceiling tiles, the burned out light bulb, the string on your bags, etc. It’s not so much about micromanaging, but over-managing everything that leaves an impression on your customer, subtle or not.”

INVITE COLLABORATION

The fact that customers want to be intimately involved in the creation of a piece of jewelry can be considered either an annoyance or an opportunity. Collins Jewelers in Dallas, GA, opts for the latter view, starting with taking the customer out to lunch to go over their renderings and then involving them in every step of production. “One customer wanted to pour his own gold, so we took care of all the details and made that possible, and he was ecstatic,” says owner Marty Collins.

SUPPORT THEIR CHARITIES

“We open our doors to any of our customers who are involved with a charity and host a fundraising event at the store,” says Tracy Lewis of Glennpeter Jewelers Diamond Centre in Albany, NY. “We hire a caterer, bartender and cleaning crew. They bring their supporters, charge at the door and make money on raffle items.” They’ve helped raise $3 million for charity that way while establishing valuable relationships with clients and prospective clients.

At Von Bargen Jewelers, each location recruits a customer advisory board that provides valuable feedback.

GREET & GUIDE

At the Diamond Vault in Sarasota, FL, a concierge greets guests upon arriving, offers a beverage (beer, wine, champagne, coffee, etc.) and helps direct them to the appropriate person or area in the store — i.e. service/repair, vintage/estate jewelry, engagement rings, fine jewelry, etc. This approach can cut down on the “just looking” response since the concierge isn’t directly trying to sell them something. At the Diamond Vault, the concierge, who is a graduate gemologist, is also equipped with a computer and a phone and can easily answer customer-service questions, no matter how technical they may be.

PULL UP A CHAIR

Treat your customers as if you’re opening your home to them, says Elle Hill of Hill & Co., or as if you’ve invited them to a party. That means providing comfortable seating and offering them a drink, at least, along with a sincere welcoming smile and acknowledgment of their presence. Consider your level of hospitality. Would you offer your guests a glass of Champagne? Brownies on a silver tray? Wine and cheese? And consider the overall impression: Is the scent of your store inviting (cinnamon, cookies)? Or is it overpowering?

START A CLUB

Shoppers feel special if they are included in a special sub-set of customers. Invite your best customers to join a VIP club, then invite them to exclusive trunk shows and offer special deals. Or put together an advisory board of well-connected customers who offer suggestions on what they’d like to see in your cases. For example, in Vermont, each Von Bargen Jewelers location has its own customer advisory board, made up of savvy, fashionable women, who meet quarterly to discuss inventory, merchandising and marketing. The store serves food and beverages, and participants receive gift bags, including $100 gift certificates to the store.

THEY ARE NOT JUST FINE

“No one should ever ask customers any question that will result in the answer, ‘Fine.’ That’s an acronym for Feelings I’m Not Expressing,” says Scott Ginsberg, author of How To Be That Guy And The Approachable Salesperson. “Instead, employees should ask only open-ended, passion-finding questions like, ‘What keeps you busy outside of work?’ and ‘What was the best part about your week?’ The question, ‘So, what do you do?’ should be outlawed completely. Because your job isn’t to learn what people do — it’s to learn who they are. Only then can you suggest the right jewelry to fit their individual truth.”

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How to Know When It’s Time to Go

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Author Seth Godin says strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations, while reactive quitting is the bane of those who strive and fail to get what they want. “And most people do just that, they quit when it’s painful and stick when they can’t be bothered to quit,” he writes in his book, The Dip.

In the case of retail jewelers, consultants say, some simply don’t have enough time to collect their thoughts, let alone devise a plan. Others may fear change.

If you’ve had enough, it may be time to call it quits and do something else. “Quitting is better than coping because quitting frees you up to excel at something else. All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy,” Godin writes.

Whether that something else turns out to be beach-combing in retirement, pursuing a hobby or reimagining a new way to do business, having a plan is a prerequisite to success. Jewelry store owners who do plan for the next phase of their lives express a strong sense of freedom, both before and after they activate that plan.

Consultant Bill Boyajian of Bill Boyajian & Associates has not run into any long-term jewelers who, deep down, don’t love what they do.

“That’s part of the problem,” he says. “They can’t envision what they will do if they leave their business. They haven’t had any free time to develop any hobbies. I encourage them to think about becoming a private jeweler, but being involved to a lesser extent.”

Josh Hayes, business analyst for Wilkerson, says retailers he’s worked with on retirement sales do want to stay involved with the industry. Many set up offices with a few display cases of sample lines and work by appointment. “It works out perfectly because you still have your customer lists from your store, so after your closing event, you can transition your old customers to your new endeavor. Then you have the flexibility to work as much as you choose.”

But even semi-retirement requires planning. According to David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy, 37 percent of jewelry store owners have no retirement plan at all; many just hope their exit works itself out. The key is to be in a position to retire — financially, physically, and mentally.

“Knowing that you can gives you answers,” Brown says. “Knowing that you can’t gives you stress.”
“Ask yourself, what options do I have: I can sell the business, close the business down, or I can groom the business so it runs without me, become an absentee owner and get a good income out of it,” Brown says.

On occasion, the millennial successor wants to speed up their parents’ exit, or in other ways would be an unpleasant or unsuitable business partner during a lengthy transition. In these cases, Boyajian advises the parents to liquidate most of their inventory in a sale to ensure they have money for retirement, and then simply let their kids take over the lease and the business and build up the inventory again.

Closing and retirement sales are regulated by law, and they can only be done once. Most of the store owners’ retirement income rests on the return from the sale event, so it’s incredibly important that the event is conducted properly. While Wilkerson can put together a closing event in about three weeks in an emergency situation, a year of planning will improve results, perhaps dramatically.

“Once the sale is complete, the new owner has lower inventory, minimal debt and can usually get some consignment inventory from vendors they know, and build up the store in the direction they intend to take it,” Hayes says.

Here are some examples of transition tales that show every indication they’ll be success stories.

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