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AS A REPUTABLE INDEPENDENT jewelry store owner, you likely have a love/hate relationship with the concept of “clearance.” Cathy Calhoun of Calhoun Jewelers in Royersford, PA, never even utters the word. “To me, it gives the appearance that nobody ever wanted that jewelry,” she says. “The one promotion that worked was I sent direct mail to my customers that said if they spend $350 or more, they receive one free CZ and silver bar necklace,” Calhoun says. “This way, they get an extra gift for somebody and they seem to like that. But I did not mention clearance merchandise.”

Tim Bodis of Diamond Designs by Bodis in Rice Lake, WI, has tried different types of sales with mixed results and mixed emotions. “I hate the big discounts, but usually they have the best results,” he says. “All take planning and a lot of prep time.”

Denise Oros of Linnea Jewelers in La Grange, IL, organizes several each year, and isn’t afraid to try something new. But she admits there is a downside. “The biggest problem is sale mentality,” she says. Customers say they’d rather wait to buy until the annual Ladies Night Out sale in April. “I am thrilled it is so well received, but occasionally there are times when having an annual sale comes back to bite you, especially for women who can’t make up their minds.” Pros outweigh cons, though, for Oros. “The buying frenzy of Ladies Night Out certainly makes up for it,” she says.

Have a sale too often, and shoppers will ignore it, or think of you as “that discount place.” But if, like Nordstrom, you discount once or twice a year, the sale will be more credible and take on more significance.

When Cory Schifter took over family business Casale Jewelers in Staten Island, NY, seven years ago, sales were taboo. Casale had established its brand largely through philanthropy and community involvement. But Bottom Line Marketing convinced Schifter that sales events can boost business if done properly and creatively. Now he usually holds four a year, including a Santa Surplus sale, a half-off half the store and a wedding band weekend. To promote events, Schifter uses digital marketing, advertising and a blog. “We weren’t really a sales store, but we found success in doing that,” he says. 

Ira Bergman, president of the Gordon Co., cautions that DIY, quick-hit sales are fine for what they are, but if jewelry store owners want to clear out hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of inventory over a longer period, they should consult a professional. “It’s like comparing apples and oranges. If a retailer does $1 million in a year, when we or another professional run the sale, we will in 60 days come very close to that million dollars in sales. If you’re really serious about moving your inventory and talking about substantial numbers, you shouldn’t try to do it yourself. We understand how to maintain momentum in a sale so that it will far exceed what the retailer will do on their own and will mitigate the cost of hiring a professional.”

Ready to fall in love with a sale? Here is a round-up of possibilities.

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1. The GOB Sale

Wilkerson & Associates specializes in going out of business, moving and retirement sales. “The general public has grown immune to everyday promotional events,” says Josh Hayes, Wilkerson business analyst. “We focus on sales that we can get an incredible response on, because they can’t be done every day.” Sometimes additional inventory is brought in for a GOB sale, depending in part on what state law allows. GOB sales generally last six to eight weeks and generate about 1.2 years’ worth in sales. “When we get halfway through the sale, the owner may have major categories that they run out of inventory in,” Hayes says, so it’s better to supplement inventory in that case than send a shopper somewhere else to look for diamond studs or another item. Wilkerson tracks how advertising is working throughout the sale and makes adjustments as they go along. Hayes cautions that there is no “do-over” in this kind of sale. “After a GOB sale, by law your store is going to close, and you WILL be selling your inventory to a wholesaler.” 

Customers throng Gold Mine Fine Jewelry, where doorbuster deals make Black Friday extra-special.

2. The Black Friday Doorbuster

Bill Warren, owner of the Gold Mine Fine Jewelry and Gifts in Hudson, NC, has people lining up to get into his store on Black Friday morning by promoting doorbuster specials.

Warren sends postcards at a cost of $250 plus postage to approximately 5,000 clients with special offers/doorbusters for the first two hours of the morning. Warren chooses items with price points at three low levels that have a high perceived value (usually $9.99, $19.99 and $29.99 freshwater pearl studs, bracelets and necklaces) and includes photos of the items on the postcards.

“After careful testing, I have found that this is the price point that creates an absolute frenzy,” Warren says.

Warren also programs a telephone blast to go out a few days before the event. He records the call and delivers it directly to voicemail. The cost is 8 cents per successful call. He follows up with email blasts to his mailing list of about 3,500, along with Facebook posts.

Before the event, Warren displays the doorbuster items in a special showcase to amp up interest, but doesn’t allow them to be purchased in advance.

Warren says he usually makes double to triple keystone on the special items. Within the first two hours of business, he normally sees gross sales of between $15,000 and $20,000. “We sell other things as well,” Warren says. “I sold a Rolex President one year, so don’t think this is just a lowball event, but hey, I’d take $20,000 for the first two hours of the event at key to triple keystone any day.”

The 2016 Black Friday event was his largest to date, Warren says. “We were packed for a solid two hours.”

3. The Holiday Wine and Whiskey Soiree

At David Jay Jewelers in Warrington, PA, the store discounts its inventory by 20 percent throughout December, but those who attended the Holiday Wine and Whiskey Evening Soiree received an additional 5 percent markdown. 

Over three hours on a Thursday evening, guests were treated to hors d’oeuvre, samples from a local whiskey distillery and four different wines. Guests also received Christmas gifts — branded whiskey glasses for the guys and soap and bath oils for the women. Customers were introduced to the work of four new jewelry designers, too.

It might have been risky to invite 5,000 people, but attendance turned out to be perfect. More than 100 people flowed in and out before and after dinner at nearby restaurants in the outdoor shopping center. Says marketing associate Jenna Shikoff: “People have returned to the store because they came to that event and liked it.”

A 60 Minutes 60 Percent Off Sale creates a stir at Peter & Co. Jewelers, which cleared $70,000 in old inventory.

4. The 60/60 Sale

James Porte of Porte Marketing has copyrighted his 60 Minutes 60 Percent Off Sale, which has yielded impressive results for many of the hundreds of stores he’s worked with over the past four years. One store in Long Island sold $800,000 of inventory in November 2016. “They wanted to hold the event on Black Friday and I figured they’d be competing with every retailer in America,” Porte says. “So, I thought, why not move it ahead six days and give them a head start to gain access to shoppers’ disposable income before Black Friday.” They called 500 to 700 people and booked appointments for four days straight for pre-sales, and then they had a huge Saturday.

Porte considers it to be the perfect storm of urgency and value. The limited time period creates a sense of urgency while the discount amount is significant enough to get people’s attention. “It’s about converting old inventory into cash in the shortest period of time,” Porte says. 

Theresia Oreskovic of Peter & Co. Jewelers in Avon Lake, OH, has tried the sale twice, clearing as much as $70,000 of inventory. Last August, during the preview week, five customers became fixated on a 2-carat diamond tennis bracelet. The morning of the sale, one of them came in as soon as the store opened and hung around until the sale began. “We had a few people that were after the same thing, but we made sure nobody left unhappy,” Oreskovic says.

In most cases, the sale is on a Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon. But the jeweler can also invite their best customers to make an appointment in the days leading up to the event to shop early and avoid waiting in line.

Each person who does wait in line on a Saturday receives a wristband with the time they arrived and their number in line so that they don’t necessarily have to stand in line.

“We’ve done this in 30 below zero weather and 105 degree weather,” Porte says. He suggests retailers anticipating weather extremes collaborate with a nearby coffee house to shelter people who are waiting.

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5. The Flash Sale

Denise Oros of Linnea Jewelers in La Grange, IL, hosted a two-day flash sale in November 2016. She emailed $100-off coupons on any jewelry item $250 or over for use on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday to her top 400 customers. She spent $35 for a Constant Contact email blast.

“It was terrific! It increased our traffic and brought in nosy customers from the street because our store was so busy,” Oros reports. It led to a record-breaking November, up 28 percent month to month from 2015, which was also a banner year. “I created a holiday buzz and got in a ton of wish-listers for future sales.”

6. The Facebook Promotion Sale

Chuck Jacobson of International Diamond in Adrian, MI, discounts everything in the store and markets it only on Facebook by posting pictures and descriptions and boosting that post. Every few days, he adds pictures and descriptions in the comments area. 

“It keeps them coming back to my post,” he says. “I also ask people to share my post and offer a $200 gift certificate in a drawing for everyone who does. I spent $1,000 on the ad and more than doubled my business for the month. I was able to reach over 150,000 people and had almost 28,000 post clicks.”

7. The Professional 60-Day Sale

The Gordon Co. focuses on 60-day sales for upscale retailers, who, under normal circumstances, would never expect to run a sale. “Every retailer has a lot of aged inventory,” says Ira Bergman, president of the Gordon Co. “That is what is hurting them. If you don’t keep the inventory to the barest minimum, you’re stuck with these pieces that have been in your showcase for years. If they have a million dollars worth of inventory, we ask them what portion they would like to sell off in this sale.” This kind of sale shouldn’t be done very often and certainly shouldn’t happen more than every three to five years. “You can’t fool the public,” Bergman says. “You can’t run this kind of sale and then a year and a half later try to run another one.” The Gordon Co. assigns someone to manage the sale, but they defer to the retailer at all times, Bergman says. They are trained to act as if they are guests in someone’s home.

8.The Estate Spooktacular

For Eileen Eichhorn of Eichhorn Jewelry in Decatur, IN, the Estate Spooktacular, an estate clearance sale, began as a way to participate in the city’s Halloween-themed Callithumpian Festival. Most of the store’s estate jewelry is acquired in large lots from individuals, attorneys and banks. “Because we bid the lots, including entry-level costume style to high-end, we needed a way to move it in quantity,” she explains. So she sets up tables of $10, $25, $50 and $100 items and half-price silver.

Better items, such as diamond jewelry, move well with a half-price tag. Recent acquisitions are tagged with a smaller discount but are quick to sell to loyal shoppers. The tables are refilled daily as an enticement for shoppers to return repeatedly.

She buys newspaper and radio ads, but the direct mail postcard gets the biggest bang for the buck. The store has added Facebook ads in recent years, encouraging shoppers to check the website to view better estate items throughout the year.

Clients pack the store for a “divorce sale” at Alara Jewelry.

9. The Divorce Sale

In 2015, Babs Noelle of Alara Jewelry in Bozeman, MT, advertised her clearance event as a divorce liquidation sale, which, in truth, it was. She had decided to liquidate her assets to reach a divorce settlement.

She worked with Marsden liquidation sale service company and made sure that all the ads associated with the event expressed her trademark sense of humor. Catch phrases included: “Help me wash that man right outta my hair!” and “We’re liquidating the assets and splitting the sheets!” She also sent out a mailer to existing clients, explaining that their purchases would ensure the business would stay open. 

Noelle found that being honest opened up a dialogue and forged deeper relationships with clients as she planned to start over with her business post-liquidation. “The support was incredibly meaningful,” she says. “Five different women brought gifts of shampoo!”

The sale exceeded expectations by a wide margin. “We restocked the entire store and had plenty of time to make considered decisions as we did so,” she says. Also important was making sure there were additional funds to pay for post-sale advertising. “Even though all the ads and signage said ‘Divorce Liquidation,’ people swore that we had held a ‘going out of business’ sale,” Noelle says.

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10. The New Year’s Detox Sale

Shetler-Wade Jewelers in San Antonio hosts an annual January sale that targets inventory older than four months. It’s important in the market to refresh merchandise often, says Michelle Shetler.

One year, the three-day customer appreciation sale had a “detox” theme featuring a juice bar, chair massages and daily live drawings for spa treatments. The “detox” theme subtly referenced the fact they wanted to move out old inventory, while also tying in a focus on health and well-being resolutions in the new year. On the evening before the sale began, they also hosted a private VIP viewing party.

11. The Ides of March Half-Off Half the Store

Mark Kasuba of M. Edward Jewelers in Pittsfield, MA, takes half off one half of the store’s inventory for two days every year around the Ides of March. This month will mark the 10th year for his Ides of March sale.

“Something about death and the Ides of March go hand in hand, so we thought we’d add our dead inventory to the mix,” he says. “It’s also a good distance from Christmas and Valentine’s Day so as to not interfere with those occasions.”

They typically remove inventory that is less than 18 months old from the sale. “We do leave our more important inventory on display, which represents the other half of the store that is not on sale.”

They promote the sale via newspaper and radio, but the most effective means has been in-store posters, counter cards and staff reminders to customers.

“We tend to advertise with less frequency and spend considerably less than we did in the past. Our Facebook page and online posts seem to be generating plenty of interest, but we also do print, radio and personal reminder phone calls the week of. This year we will be putting ‘Born On’ dates for select items that might be more anxious to find a new home.”

The sale takes place for two days only, Friday and Saturday. 

For the sales team, the store holds a competition to see who can sell the oldest piece. Last year’s winner sold an 18K emerald and moonstone ring “born” in 1988.

12. The Panic Sale

Cory Schifter, owner of Casale Jewelers on Staten Island, NY, recently tried a Christmas “Panic Sale,” which helped clear out inventory and brought up December sales numbers. The sale was five days only; buy one gift and get the second 50 percent off. 

If guests RSVP’d, they’d receive a $50 gift card to be used one weekend only.

During the panic sale, the store also gave away keys to customers who spent $100 or more. They were invited to return to try their keys to open a treasure chest that contained 10 pieces of jewelry.

Most sales require extra staff and extra security, Schifter says. “At our half-off half the store sale, we did so well that I had to call my entire family to come and help. We were extremely busy.”

13. The Temperature Incentive

Kim Hatchell of Galloway & Moseley Fine Jewelers in Sumter, SC, attracts people to an August sale with this pitch: “Shop with us from Aug. 1-Aug. 10, and if the temperature reaches 101 degrees on Aug. 31, your purchases could be free!” Customers sign in if they’d like to participate and agree not to return anything they purchase during that time. Says Hatchell: “Most people love the chance that they could get something free! Who doesn’t, really?”

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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VIDEO HIGHLIGHT

Wilkerson Testimonials

New York Jeweler Picks Wilkerson for Their GOB Sale

Jan Rose of Rose Jewelers, located in Long Island's famous Hamptons beach district, explains how she chose Wilkerson for her closing sale. Jan's suggestions: reach out to jewelers who have been in similar situations to find out what worked for them, and look for a company with experience in going-out-of-business sales. Once you've done that, the final step is to move ahead and trust the process.

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Cover Stories

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

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Cover Stories

The 19 Contrarian Rules of Business

Don’t promise excellent service? Run annoying ads? Business leaders insist these counterintuitive principles work.

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TO MAKE A POINT about how our brains operate, the American neuroscientist Gregory Berns likes to encourage people to close their eyes and imagine the sun setting on a beach. If you just tried it, odds are the image that arose was the clichéd one — a warm tropical island scene, most likely framed by the frond of a coconut tree, awash in orange, as opposed to, say, a dark, wind-whipped pebble beach off the coast of northern Scotland.

The brain “is fundamentally a lazy piece of meat,” Berns writes in his book Iconoclast. It needs energy to operate and has evolved to use it as efficiently as possible. As a result, it defaults to shortcuts as it can — past experience, other people’s opinions, common practice — to avoid the taxing effort of perceiving or imagining afresh.

There are, of course, people who make it a habit to buck convention, who have a knack of seeing something no one else does. Berns refers to these disruptive original thinkers as “iconoclasts.” Generally, they are probably better known as contrarians. These are the brave and often odd souls whose questioning of the conventions of society or their professional field have repeatedly caused history to change course or leap forward.

In business, entrepreneurs are often contrarian by definition — they see value and opportunity where others do not. The contrarian investor Bill Gurley notes that “you can only make money by being right about something that most people think is wrong.”

The idea of being an independent spirit appeals to many. In a recent Brain Squad survey, 58 percent of our readers identified themselves as contrarians compared to 30 percent who said they were conformists and 12 percent who said they were neither. Of course, by definition, it’s not possible for the majority to be contrarian, even more so in a tradition-bound industry like jewelry. We suspect the result reflects most jewelers’ thoughts of themselves as independent operators charting their own destinies in a world where most of their fellow citizens opt for the security of more regular employment.

It is not easy being a true contrarian. There is the risk of ridicule, having to live with constant uncertainty. Being contrarian for the sake of contrarianism is pointless.

There is, unromantically, much to be said for doing things the timeworn “best practice” way. We thus begin our exploration of contrarianism with a caveat — doing something differently is exciting, possibly liberating, often far more lucrative than the conventional way … and often dangerous. Go charging away from the herd with care. Ultimately, you want to choose the ideas — new or old, intuitive or rational, bizarre or conventional — that serve you best.

The customer is not always right

1It’s actually irrelevant if a customer is right or wrong. This is, after all, a commercial transaction, not a debate. Just because a customer wants, needs, or expects something does not mean that delivering it is the best thing for your business. Indeed, “keeping certain customers happy can be a horribly inefficient and downright distracting way to run a business,” note Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman in an article in the Harvard Business Review. It’s also not much fun.

As a business owner, you need to make decisions that best apply your company’s capital, intellectual energy, and product capabilities. Rather than customer satisfaction, the ultimate goal should be running a sustainable business. Have a written, legally defensible terms of service statement, warranties, guarantees, and a simple process to determine which clients or customers deliver the strongest ROI and which are actually costing you money. In some cases, it’s better for long-term growth (not to mention store morale) to jettison a high-maintenance client and focus on improving the quality of your customer base.

Ignore terrific opportunities

2One of the dangers of business success is that it leads to more opportunities. Pursue them at your peril. In business, there is always a trade-off. Doing one thing well invariably means you can’t do another at a high level as you spread yourself too thin. The result is a damaging mediocrity.

In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less, Greg McKeown cites studies that show the loss of focus is a key reason companies fail. The antidote? Spurning good opportunities. “Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well,” he says. “Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.”

Don’t give your staff the resources they need to fix a problem

3Constraints breed resourcefulness. This is an idea that has been gaining influence in business circles for the last few years. “Is there something in the nature of constraints that brings out the best creativity?” writes Scott Berkun, the author of Mindfire: Big Ideas For Curious Minds. Consider a good haiku or sonnet, and the answer is obviously yes: it’s precisely the limits of the form that inspire new ways of working inside them. In the workplace, that means no more “blue sky” brainstorming: if you want the best answers to a question, focus it narrowly; consider a time limit, too. Google sometimes puts fewer engineers on a problem than it needs; it inspires ingenuity. Behind all this is the counterintuitive insight that discipline and structure are often the path to freedom, not its enemy. See constraints as a game. Not only are games about fun, but they are distinguished by the rules that govern them.

Forget trying to fix your weaknesses

4In a series of bestselling books, the Gallup consultant Marcus Buckingham has made a persuasive case for a strengths-based approach to life and business: it’s both more effective and more enjoyable, he argues, than struggling to fix your weak spots. According to Buckingham, most people try to “plug” their weaknesses, while the really successful focus on exploiting strengths. You’ll rarely improve a weakness beyond mediocrity, argues Buckingham, not least because it’s hard to invest sustained energy in something you don’t enjoy. If you truly know what you’re bad at, you’re already ahead of the pack. Don’t throw that away by wasting your time getting slightly less bad.

Don’t believe in long work

5Few things are as American as the belief in the merit of hard work. The problem is too many small business people confuse work and progress. A day when lots of things get done, when you arrive home exhausted after holding six meetings with staff and vendors, clearing 300 emails from your inbox, and finally straightening those old files in the backroom, sort of feels like a productive day, but it’s unlikely to have helped your business take the next step forward. Marketer Seth Godin calls this bias for efficiency over effectiveness “the trap of long work.”
“Long work is what the lawyer who bills 14 hours a day filling in forms does.
Hard work is what the insightful litigator does when she synthesizes four disparate ideas and comes up with an argument that wins the case—in less than five minutes.

“Hard work is frightening because you might fail. You can’t fail at long work, you merely show up.”

The management guru Peter Drucker suggested the best way to address this issue was by constantly asking yourself the question, “What’s the most important thing for me to be doing right now?”

Think small

6In his 1994 book Built To Last, Jim Collins introduced the world to Big Hairy Audacious Goals, or BHAGs, his term for the ambitious long-term goals that he argued galvanized successful companies. And it seems the term is rolled out in every discussion of good business practice. But the problem is that the excitement, energy, and envelope-pushing boldness stirred up by such endeavors often dissipates quickly in the face of the day-to-day running of business. Worse, such big-picture thinking, telling yourself something is epic and of crucial importance, often leads to fear, resistance and ultimately inertia and disappointment. As the psychologist John Eliot writes in his book Overachievement, “Nothing discourages the concentration necessary to perform well … more than worrying about the outcome.” The marathon runner who’s reached a state of “flow” isn’t visualizing the finish line, but looking through a narrower lens, focusing on one stride, then another, then another. Like the formula for contentment (happiness = reality – expectations), it’s often better to forget the end goal, aim low and just focus on the process if you really want to get things done. This can apply to everything from setting low targets for salespeople (spurred on by achieving the goal, they will often break through and hit a higher number) to big projects. The young Jerry Seinfeld’s scriptwriting technique involved marking an X on a calendar for every day he sat and typed. His goal was an unbroken chain of Xs. If he’d aimed instead to write masterful jokes, he’d have been distracted and intimidated.

Forget audacious. Just go do it.

Get rid of the rules

7Too often, managers assume the key to improvement must be clearer procedures, more exactingly enforced. But the result is organizational structures that permit zero autonomy — and extremely annoying customer service (“Sorry, sir, our policy doesn’t allow you to …”). Perhaps even worse is that such management fails to capitalize on the talents of those lower down the hierarchy. Zappos’ contrarian founder Tony Hsieh made headlines a few years back when he said he was rolling out “Management by Holacracy,” which eliminates the traditional oversight role of the manager and instead relies on the employees themselves to decide how to get their day-to-day responsibilities completed on the basis that they probably know best. That may be too much for most business owners, but according to Harvard Business School research, “loose monitoring” of employees makes for higher profits as well as happier workplaces. Striking the right balance between autonomy and control is very likely the essence of being a good manager.

Give away your time

8Overwhelmed by work? Feel you are in a constant race against the clock to get things done? Try making some time for others. “While it might seem counterintuitive to sacrifice some of the very thing you think you don’t have enough of, our research shows that giving a bit of time away may, in fact, make people feel less pressed for time,” Cassie Mogilner Holmes, an associate professor at UCLA and Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard told the Wall Street Journal. Another hack to deal with time scarcity — erase a day from your schedule. Busy? Don’t schedule anything for Fridays. The work you didn’t get done will flow over, and you’ll finally knock off those to-do list items.

Hire more introverts

9On the surface, introverts don’t seem to have the makings of great salespeople or even managers. Social interaction tires them, they have trouble with insincere flattery, they don’t like to push people, and they don’t tend to contribute vocally to meetings or brainstorming sessions. But there are positive flipsides to all this: introverts tend to demonstrate a higher degree of sensitivity in emotional interactions, they are more likely to be experts in their field, they are less likely to be yes-men or women, and as for managing people, they do better than extroverts when the staff itself is full of self-directed go-getters. “Although extroverted leadership enhances group performance when employees are passive, this effect reverses when employees are proactive, because extroverted leaders are less receptive to proactivity,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Be last to market

10Among business gurus, few things are as unquestioned as the notion that innovation is the path to success. “Innovate or die!” goes one mantra. Yet if innovation were a surefire way for companies to achieve dominance, the world might look very different. White Castle, RC Cola, and Diners Club were all innovators, but think of fast-food, soft drinks and credit cards, and those are unlikely to be the first names that come to mind. The upsides of unoriginality are clear: imitators let others make the costly mistakes, and then incorporate the lessons learned into a far better product. (Exhibit A: the iPhone.) In his book Copycats, the management theorist Oded Shenkar argues we need “to change the mindset that imitation is an embarrassing nuisance.” Rather, it’s a “rare and complex” capability, one we could all do with cultivating, he says. In his book Zero To One, Peter Thiel argues that “it’s much better to make the last great development in a specific market and enjoy years or even decades of monopoly profits.”

Run annoying ads … often

11There’s a reason that grating TV ads work: the more they grate, the more you’ll notice them, and noticing — thanks to what psychologists call the “mere exposure effect” — leads to liking.

Depressingly, whatever we’re repeatedly exposed to, and regardless of any other reason to like or dislike it, we’ll end up growing fond of. According to Roy H. Williams, author of The Wizard Of Ads, there’s actually no way for successful advertising to avoid being irritating to some degree. “Ads that twist our attention away from what we’d been doing are always a bit annoying,” he says. But if you fail to get your audience’s attention, your ad has failed at the first hurdle. “Consequently, most ads aren’t written to persuade; they’re written not to offend. But the kinds of ads that produce results make us answer yes to these three questions: Did it get my attention? Was it relevant? Did I believe it?” Williams claims 98.9 percent of all the customers who hate your ads will still come to your store and buy from you when they need what you sell. “These customers don’t cost you money; they just complain to the cashier as they’re handing over their cash.”

Stop holding meetings

12Jim Buckmaster, chief executive of Craigslist, has a simple policy: “No meetings, ever.” There are several reasons why meetings don’t work. They move, in the words of the career coach Dale Dauten, “at the pace of the slowest mind in the room,” so that “all but one participant will be bored, all but one mind underused.” A key purpose of meetings is information transfer, but they’re based on the assumption that people absorb information best by hearing it, when only a minority of us are “auditory learners.” The key question for distinguishing a worthwhile meeting from a worthless one is this: is it a “status-report” meeting, designed for employees to tell each other things? If so, it’s probably better handled on email or paper. That leaves a minority of “good” meetings, whose value lies in the meeting of minds itself — for example, a well-run brainstorming session.

Drop some F-bombs

13The jewelry world is one of refinement, education and professionalism, not the place for profanity. Yet swearing, when done judiciously, according to various psychologists, boosts endorphins, promotes social bonding and makes people more persuasive. Periodically, let your staff and customers know you’re human.

Stop asking, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”

14Hiring employees who will challenge management is another staple of business advice, but everyone has probably worked with “yes, but” employees who basically oppose every new idea and approach. To find true contrarians, Thiel in his book Zero To One recommends asking the following question when interviewing employees: “Tell me something that’s true that nobody believes in.” (God, global warming and aliens don’t cut it.)

Don’t ask for the sale

15The traditional approach to selling says tout the benefits, close throughout, close with an assumption and then push for the add-on followed by another. You’re just efficiently taking the customer in a direction she wanted to go anyway. In contrast, the “slow sales” movement, which has been gaining ground for a few years, argues that there are intelligent, deliberate customers who prefer an almost “do-it-your self” zero-pressure environment. Granted, getting them to the cash register may take longer. But according to INC magazine, this technique alleviates the extra costs of post-purchase dissonance from returns, customer service time, negative feedback, and customer churn.

Look for mentors and staff who do it the “wrong way”

16Tim Ferriss has an interesting approach to considering contrarians: Be on the lookout for the anomalies, like the wispy girl who can deadlift 405 pounds. They’re performing with techniques rather than genes. “These iconoclasts show the differences in techniques and attributes,” he says. “If someone has become really good at doing something in a very nonstandard way, you can infer that the standard path isn’t necessarily the best methodology for learning a skill.”

Don’t promise excellent customer service

17Ask independent jewelers what is their point of competitive advantage and they’ll overwhelmingly say excellent customer service. But, something big corporations know (but never publicly say) is that delivering excellent customer service ultimately results in unhappy customers. Thus the field of “expectations management.” “If you want satisfied customers, it’s certainly wise to act in ways that will satisfy them. But it’s also wise to pay attention to (and, if possible, influence) their criteria for feeling satisfied,” writes Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian. Training customers, employees, and partners not to expect a “yes” in response to every single request might be crucial for preserving sanity. Far better to have a reputation as a jeweler who, for example, turns around a repair within three days than one who does it overnight — because in the latter case, as soon as you fail to deliver on that tight deadline, you’ll be seen as underperforming.

Ask customers for favors

18The “Ben Franklin effect” states that if you want to get someone to like you, you should ask him or her to do you a favor. The strategy, named for the founding father’s habit of borrowing books from opposing politicians to win them over, works because humans hate cognitive dissonance: we can’t stand a mismatch between our actions and thoughts. So if we find ourselves helping someone out, we’ll unconsciously adjust our feelings for them. The implications are striking. Don’t suck up to your customers — ask for favors or even just their opinions (“Where do you think the economy is headed?”).

Don’t be so professional

19We live in an era with more opportunity than ever to burnish the image we’re projecting, and more pressure than ever to do so. But in her new book, Cringeworthy: A Theory Of Awkwardness, Melissa Dahl makes a persuasive case for celebrating those times when “someone’s presentation of themselves … is shown to be incompatible with reality in a way that can’t be smoothed over.” Awkwardness pierces that facade, exposing the imperfect life behind it. Quoting the words of the philosopher Adam Kotsko, she says it creates “a weird kind of social bond” — a solidarity arising from seeing that behind the fakery, we’re all just trying our best to seem competent. The awkward you, then, is the real you, the one without the defensive performance. And people will like you for it.

Click here for 8 more Contrarian Rules, as well as the exclusive online article, “12 Contrarian Rules of Jewelry Retail.”

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Cover Stories

Holiday True Tales

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on

Any random day in the life of a jeweler provides plenty of stories to tell – whether those tales are heartwarming, infuriating, funny or odd. But once the holidays are on the horizon, those stories become more and more, shall we say, interesting. Here is a compilation of some of our favorites, culled from reports from the front lines of fine-jewelry retail. Go forth bravely this season, and bring your sense of humor!

THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS

1 During the 2016 holiday season, we were down two employees (one on maternity leave, one on medical leave). It was chaos and those of us who were working don’t remember much about it … except for meltdown lady. A client came in the week before Christmas to have us refurbish a chemically damaged ring (cracked and missing metal). We told her because of our schedule we couldn’t guarantee a Christmas delivery, and she yelled at me that she thought we were professionals. I said we would try, but again reiterated there were no guarantees. She came in two days later to pick it up (Christmas was still five days away) and we told her we hadn’t even had a chance to look at it yet. She crossed her arms, stomped her feet, and proceeded to have a toddler-style meltdown in the middle of our packed showroom. My lead jeweler volunteered to stay late to do the work if she would just pay and leave. I offered to ship it to her so I wouldn’t have to see her again. Of course, the day after Christmas she was in with the daughter because the ring was four sizes too small (we were only repairing the breaks). It was clearly our fault the ring was the wrong size and she demanded we size it up for free while she waited. I promptly told her our only guarantee was on the ring repair and not on the size — and she could pay for the sizing, pay the rush fee if she wanted it while she waited, or find the door. She left the ring, we sized it, and when she came to pick it up, she got in a few jabs about how we should have known it needed to be sized (we had never met her daughter). I told her after her behavior in our studio three times that she was no longer welcome to return. It was my first client “firing” and it felt good!!! jennifer farnes, revolution jewelry works, colorado springs, co

SOMETHING BORROWED

2 We had a customer who wanted to purchase three or four high-end rings, let his wife wear them through New Year’s and then let her keep one and bring back the others. I told him we would not take back anything that was worn. He said fine, he would shop elsewhere. I thanked him. rosanne kroen, rosanne’s diamonds & gold, south bend, in

CHARMED, I’M SURE

3 We had a client tell us they needed eight ugly-sweater charms for Christmas, and it was the 21st of December. All custom made. It was an unusual request since we never saw an ugly-sweater charm before and only had three days to make up the charms. The client offered to pay more than the usual asking price because of the short notice. We made the charms, the customer came back in and was ecstatic. He ended up sending us a gift card to our local Brazilian steakhouse and a picture of everyone wearing their ugly sweater with their matching ugly-sweater charm. lyla ismael, lyla jewelers, oak lawn, il

THAT TAKES THE CAKE

4 A customer in her 80s is downsizing and found a gold-plated cake knife in our box, in mint condition, engraved with her in-laws’ names and 50th anniversary date. She wants to return it! cathy graves, ellis jewelers, frankfort, in

WRAPPER’S DELIGHT

5 One Christmas season, I was wrapping an item that a female customer had just purchased. She said, “Wow, I can’t believe you still wrap!” I replied, “Yes, we will always offer to wrap for you, no problem.” She returned later that afternoon with the presents she had purchased at the mall the same day for us to also wrap! nancy carbonetti, stephen’s jewelers, wilmington, de

THE MOONSHOT

6 The Christmas hot seller a few years back was the Bulova Accutron watch. A man comes in looking for the “Astronaut.” I show it to him, but he just can’t pull the trigger and leaves. Next day he comes in, looks again but can’t decide. I introduce him to the assistant manager. He leaves to think about it. The man comes in several more times and finally says he will be back on Christmas Eve to purchase the watch. Fast forward to Christmas Eve, and we are closed and pulling the merchandise for the night, nearly ready to have a toast and call it a season. The man comes to the entrance and rattles the door, trying desperately to get in. The manager says, “Who the #!*# is that?” I tell him the man has come back to purchase the Accutron Astronaut. Manager lets him in and after trying it on he says … “I’ll be back after Christmas!” don delano, jl jewelers, tampa, fl

THE TICKING CLOCK

7 I was working with a customer last Christmas on an engagement ring. He wanted it for New Year’s Eve, but because we close the week after Christmas, it had to be completed Christmas Eve. It was Dec. 21 and he needed to decide on which diamond he wanted. He was running late and I told him I did not mind staying late. We closed at 7 and he arrived at 7:30. He kept going back and forth between diamonds for four hours. Finally, at 11:45, I told him he had 15 minutes to make up his mind because I was going home at midnight. Plus, I still had to make a custom setting for the ring! I will go the extra mile for a customer, but he almost went too far. It was a $24,000 sale, so I guess it was worth it. rick sanders, sanders jewelers, gainesville, fl

CELEBRITY APPEARANCE

8

We kept the store open after closing on Christmas Eve for a huge, internationally known celebrity thinking he was going to make a very large purchase. After the long season, everyone was looking forward to getting to their families and a little R&R, but we stayed (the whole crew) more than an hour in hopes that this guy was going to make it all worthwhile. In the end, he purchased a $64 pair of pearl studs. Well, at least we can say he shops with us at Christmas. Maybe next time!!? jon walp, long jewelers, virginia beach, va

PREGNANT WITH ANTICIPATION

9

09 When I lived and had my workshop on a small farm, there was a loud knock on the front door on a wild and windy night. I open the door to find a bedraggled elderly lady holding a very fat Chihuahua. She said that her dog was about to give birth and she immediately thought of me as I had a few sheep and was used to working with small things. gordon laurie, eidos, santa fe, nm

TIME FLIES

10
One fellow came in late afternoon on Christmas Eve with a complicated custom ring design. I priced it out, he agreed, then he said, “I can pick this up tomorrow, right?” When I regained my composure to answer, no, it would take us two weeks to make, he responded, “But it’s all she wants for Christmas! She gave me the design in October!” russell criswell, vulcan’s forge, kansas city, mo

THE CONNOISSEUR

11I once had a customer whom I would consider a Mr. Know It All. He was shopping for an engagement ring, and after showing him multiple diamonds, I decided to have a little fun and test his knowledge of diamonds. I showed him a larger cubic zirconia, and after examining the stone, he gave me his thoughts and pointed out what he liked and didn’t like about the stone. I then told him it was in fact a cubic zirconia. We had a good laugh and I gained his trust. He is actually now one of my best customers and a good friend. james stinson, diamond classics, mcminnville, tn

THE MARATHON LOSER

12 It’s Christmas 2011. A young man comes into the store looking at jewelry. He asks to see an $1,800 gold chain. The sales associate shows him and he decides to run out the front door with the chain without paying for it. The sales associate screams, “He has our chain!” Dress shoes and all, I go running after the bandit. Little does he know that I have been training for the past two years for a major ski trip and an upcoming 10K race. Our mailman sees what is going on as I am screaming at the chain bandit and begins to run with me. The UPS guy sees what’s going on and parks his truck in the middle of the road and helps us. After a few hundred yards or so, two young men on their bikes see what’s happening, ride in front of the chain burglar, drop their bikes and tackle the idiot. Cops show up and the rest is history. We get the chain back, he goes to jail and no one is hurt. Just another day in retail! greg raskin, raskin’s jewelers, prescott, az

RIGHT OUT OF MY MOUTH

13 One Christmas season, I snuck out of the shop just to run down a few doors for a soda. When I left, my associate was helping a college student pick out a gift. In the meantime, an older gentleman came in to find something, too. (Yes, I know that I left her alone while already tied up with one client … argh… I should be embarrassed, but whatever!) Anyway, the old guy that came in was upset he had to wait, yelled at her and started walking out the door. The college kid says to him as sweetly as possible, “Merry Christmas, ya A$$hole!” Sometimes those things that would feel so good to say in retail actually get said (thankfully, by someone else)! erika godfrey, hawthorne jewelry, kearney, ne

HIS FINAL MISTAKE

14 A customer bought his wife a Christmas gift and then bought one for his girlfriend as well. After he mixed up the packages, his wife came in, stating that he must have switched the package and given his girlfriend her gift because she would never wear the present he gave her. She ended up exchanging the gift for another piece on a slight up-charge of about $12,000. I don’t know if these people are still married, but instincts would tell me no. marc majors, sam l. majors, midland, tx

TURNS OUT, SANTA JUST ISN’T FUNNY

15 One Christmas Eve, a gentleman came in the front door dressed as Santa Claus. Within seconds of entering the store, he announced, “This is a stick up.” We had already called 911 before we realized that it was our local hardware store owner who had been enjoying too much holiday cheer wanting to spread a little of his cheer and trying to making a joke. No one else found his joke amusing. james sickinger, sickinger’s jewelry, lowell, in

CHRISTMAS EVE ON ICE

16 The goofiest Christmas customer request I got came a few years ago when cellphones were the size of large lunch boxes. This customer called me from the center of Mille Lacs Lake while ice fishing at about 4 p.m. and said he forgot that this was Christmas Eve and would I wait for him to get to town in about an hour and a half. Needless to say, I agreed and showed no mercy when he came in. I sold him the second-highest priced item in the store (I couldn’t quite get him to buy the highest priced item). I always felt that this was fair because he published most of the phone directories in Minnesota and we all know how pushy they used to be. ed menk, e.l. menk jewelers, brainerd, mn

DECIMALS MATTER

17 We had a customer come in at the last minute on Christmas Eve wanting to look at the prettiest pair of diamond earrings we had in the store. My staff showed him a gorgeous pair of earrings with a cost of $4,295. The customer was thrilled, had us wrap them up and proceeded to write us a check for $42.95! andrew russakoff, russakoff jewelers, skowhegen, me

GOD KNOWS HE TRIED

18 I had a gentleman buy a ring and then marry himself to God in front of one of our mirrors. He came back the following week requesting a refund of the ring. Oh my. jill keith, enchanted jewelry, danielson, ct

A TALE OF TWO RINGS

19 Our favorite story from any holiday happened probably 25 years ago. Dad and I were discussing the sales of a busy December day. After a crazy discussion, we realized he and I had sold an engagement ring to two different guys within an hour apart. Each was asking the same girl to marry them. The girl was the daughter of one of my dad’s friends. She had been dating one of the young men for six years, the other for six months. She told them both no. She is still a customer, and married to a different guy. hugh harby, harby jewelers, jacksonville, fl

DESIGNATED DRIVER

20 An extremely nervous groom-to-be “celebrated” his purchase with so many celebratory shots that I had to drive him home! I made a customer for life! dennis petimezas, watchmakers diamonds & jewelry, johnstown, pa

LIGHTS, CAMERAS, ACTION!

21 We had a customer who wanted to create an amazing Christmas experience for his wife here in our store. He purchased an amazing piece of jewelry then gave us directions on the special day. We have a large showroom with a staircase at the south end that leads to offices and the staff break room. He explained he wanted Santa at the top of the stairs with a bell. On his cue, Santa was to appear on the stairs ringing his Christmas bell and carrying the wrapped gift. He took his wife to lunch and let us know they would be in around 1:30. We rented a Santa costume and our jeweler became Santa. Two female associates stood at the bottom of the stairs to give Santa the cue to come down. Our customer was to let us know when Santa was to make his entrance. At the last minute he decided he wanted the girls at the bottom of the stairs to sing Jingle Bells. They were a bit panicked but agreed. The customer gave the word, the singing began and Santa came down the stairs ringing his bell. The customer’s wife was surprised and delighted. The store was very busy with Christmas shoppers. We still have customers that remind of us this amazing memory. georgena kincaid, gold casters fine jewelry, bloomington, in

JUST LOOKING FOR TROUBLE

22 At 4:55 p.m. on Christmas Eve, a gentleman strode in and did a power look. My friend D walked up to him at the counter with a freshly applied smile. He said, “I’m just looking.” To my surprise, D said: “No you’re not. You’re in deep trouble. Now what can I help you with?” He walked out with a box! steven wardle, forest beach design, chatham, ma

AT LAST, SOMETHING SWEET

23 I was waiting on a family. The grandma really loved a pair of earrings, but they just didn’t have the $99 to buy them. We continued talking, and a few minutes later, one of our sales associates came over. She had a wrapped Christmas gift for the grandma. She unwrapped the gift and it was the earrings she wanted! Seems another client decided to be our “Christmas Angel!” She created a joyous time that touched all of us. debbie fox, fox fine jewelry, ventura, ca

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