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Deck the halls? In October?

Do these things to super-charge your performance in the busy season ahead.

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If you can’t quite wrap your head around the fact that the holidays are around the corner, take this advice from retailers we surveyed, who suggest taking a long weekend break now to regroup and watch Hallmark Channel holiday-themed movies. Then come back and stock up on vitamin C.“Sometimes it’s hard to garner the necessary enthusiasm,” says one INSTORE Brain Squad tipster who recommends movies as inspiration. “Most of it is mental preparation. Watching Hallmark Channel movies can help you remember the simple things first, and love above all.”So get in the right frame of mind — whatever it takes.Then get serious. Says Nicole Shannon of Keir Fine Jewelry, Whistler, British Columbia: “Our year end is Oct. 31, so we are prepped and in control of what we need and what we have. Then we hold our breath and jump!” Before you take that leap, make a to-do list for the next four weeks and start spreading that all-important holiday cheer.

WEEK 1

ENVIRONMENT

BUY SUPPLIES  // “Stocking boxes, bags, ink, paper and supplies for no-hassle holiday bliss for my crew during the Christmas crush rush” is where Denise Oros, owner of Linnea Jewelers in La Grange, IL, begins.

CONSIDER CURB APPEAL // “Sit outside your store and think, ‘How does this look to me?’” says Keely Grice of Grice Showcase and Display. Have a good customer join you in your scrutiny. Then, spruce up the exterior by rolling out some plants, and, if possible, adding seating, such as a bench to the exterior scene. Paint the curbs, if you can, and stencil your store’s name on them.

PAINT THE WALLS // You still have time for a new coat of paint, says Grice: “Change the tone and hue of the store in the early fall, before the Christmas rush.” Tone your bland white walls with a softer color. Maybe there’s a place on one of your walls that looks kind of dead. Take a 10-by-10 foot section of your store wall and paint it a different color. Add wall art or a light box. Christine Matlack of E.G. Landis Jewelers in Boyertown, PA, keeps the store looking fresh by making one large improvement each fall. This year it’s new carpeting.

MARKETING & PROMOTION

DESIGN HOLIDAY BROCHURES // For Mark Snyder, owner of Snyder Jewelers in Weymouth, MA, his full-color, eight-page brochure is the key to holiday success. “Our annual gift guide is huge,” he says. “Men come in with items circled in the book.” First, he gets the gift guide printed with images of new items and gets it out in the mail, as well as by email. Then he makes sure every single item is in stock by Dec. 1 and that fast sellers are reordered immediately. Social media posts revolve around gifts and emotions of the holidays. He also extends his normal, 30-day return policy to Jan. 30, so early shoppers aren’t penalized.

CLEAN UP YOUR DIGITAL FOOTPRINT // “Most independents are still struggling with digital footprints. Their websites are antiquated, their content is static, and social media engagement is very poor,” says Marty Hurwitz of MVI Marketing. “Digital is the front porch of your business now. If a consumer is shopping this year, especially a 25 to 40 year old, the first place they’re going to go is digital; if you’re not there or you look like crap, you’ll lose them and you’ll never get them back.” Start with your website. Blog. Change the content frequently to keep it fresh and it’ll rise to the top of search engines.

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PLACE AD BUYS // “We purchase our TV ad time in advance to get the best deal,” says Elizabeth Kittell of Pretty In Patina in Omaha, NE. Because Black Friday sales have been lackluster in the past, Kittell is planning a sales event around the 40-block downtown tree lighting ceremony. She’ll also host several small events serving hot chocolate and Bailey’s.

STAFFING & TRAINING

KEEP FOCUSED // It’s not only your books you need to keep balanced through December, it’s your blood sugar as well. “Research studies say that low blood sugar levels are associated with lower overall blood flow to the brain, which means bad decisions,” says Dr. Mark Hyman, author of The Blood Sugar Solution. To keep your blood sugar stable, he suggests eating a nutritious breakfast with some protein like eggs, protein shake or nut butters. Then have smaller meals throughout the day. Eat every three to four hours, being sure to include protein with each snack or meal (lean animal protein, nuts, seeds or beans).

ADD HOLIDAY STAFF // Begin plans for hiring extra help. Says Tonia Ulsh of Mountz Jewelers in Camp Hill, PA: “We make sure we have enough team members so everyone can stay healthy and happy during the busy time. We provide food and games to ensure our team stays motivated, which results in a happy environment, which creates more sales.”

Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts says the most sensible and cost effective approach to seasonal hiring is to begin the process in early- to mid-October, with new hires brought on board no later than Nov. 1. An early start gives employers a wider range of options for quality people, and allows for reasonable training time as well as team assimilation. The additional payroll up front (paying new hires to work before they are needed) is a small investment when compared with the potential sales gain brought by well-trained associates functioning as part of a high functioning team.

Before you hire anyone — at any time — take an inventory of the skills and abilities you have and determine what you really need. Ask yourself what your best people do best. Set up a schedule that puts them in position to do those things and hire help for the rest.

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Background and reference checks are essential for every hire, every time.

Be creative. What can you do through the holidays to enhance the consumer experience in your store — and who do you need to hire to help you do those things?

DISPLAY & INVENTORY

ORDER INVENTORY // Find the right balance between basics and trends. Make sure you’re well supplied with core pieces like stud earrings, solitaire pendants and diamond bands, while also leaving room for trending fashion. Mark Clodius of Clodius & Co. places calls to well-connected vendors to find out what they think will be hot this year, while Pamela Hecht of Pamations in Calumet, MI, works to create as much new jewelry as possible so she won’t have to “work like a crazy elf” at the last minute, when she should be selling and not making jewelry.

USE SIGNAGE // Providing select information inside the showcases can help sell jewelry, says Larry Johnson, display consultant and author of The Complete Guide To Effective Jewelry Display. For example, don’t just post a sign indicating financing is available. Use signs in your showcase to spell out monthly payments for select pieces. Use signage to indicate that a particular piece is a staff member’s favorite. As for pricing, select half a dozen pieces in each case that represent “bang for the buck” and use signage to indicate the price. That way, the case won’t be cluttered with price tags, but customers can get an idea of what they can expect without having to ask.

WEEK 2

ENVIRONMENT

CLEAN CASES // Make sure all the cases in the store are cleaned thoroughly inside and out. Sound daunting? It doesn’t have to be. Take one case each day starting today, totally empty the display area and remove the built-up clutter in the storage area. Make the display area shine. “As you are cleaning the cases thoroughly, move all of your inventory around the store to new locations. Your regular customers will notice the change and think you have new inventory,” Grice says. Larry Johnson recommends using Simple Green, a biodegradable organic cleaner developed for coffee pots. Let it sit for 30 seconds, then wipe gently. “It’ll take out everything except ballpoint pen,” he says.

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SET THE SCENE WITH WINDOW DISPLAYS // Morgan Bartel of Susann’s Custom Jewelers in Corpus Christi, TX, uses window displays to create buzz. “We take great effort and care to map out our holiday window displays. It’s critical to have something captivating and memorable.” Once the windows are in place, Bartel has been able to attract the attention of local media outlets by sending press releases about them. “You’d be surprised how many will respond,” she says.

ADD A COFFEE BAR // It’s not too late to introduce a coffee bar and integrate pleasing scents in the form of chocolate chip cookies, vanilla or cinnamon. “A scent like that stirs up memories and can make you crazy happy,” says Grice.

SHED SOME LIGHT // Get rid of old, improper and misdirected lighting in and over your showcases, says Johnson. The price of LED lights is coming down and proper lighting is critical. Consider a mix of 4000 Kelvin lights for gold and silver jewelry and 5000 K lights in bridal. “You want bridal to look brighter and more alive than other areas of the store,” he says. “Use only true commercial grade lights and insist on a five-year warranty. Lighting the store correctly can pay for itself in one or two sales.”

MARKETING & PROMOTION

REACH OUT TO CUSTOMERS // Send gifts to your best customers. Says Elysia Demers of Barnhardt Jewelers, Spencer, NC: “Send gifts, even small ones to your big purchasers from the year. For us, it’s mostly men, so come Christmas they are surprised to get a gift box — one year we did three months of the Dollar Shave Club, a hand made wooden shaving brush and custom-blended shaving cream bar — and they were super-excited and thankful.”

Denise Oros starts her outreach with ordering Christmas cards in September, handwriting and loading them in October and including $100, $250 or $500 off coupons. “Give out Christmas coupons to your best customers. It’s the single best piece of traffic building advice I ever put to use. I was sweating bullets when I sent my best 200 customers $100 off coupons in their Christmas cards, but that year my Christmas sales were up by 30 percent.”

Tom Ozment Jr. of Fincher & Ozment Jewelers in Tuscaloosa, AL, sends a direct mail upgrade offer to customers who’ve purchased diamond studs. He also offers a discount on earring jackets for customers who do upgrade.

Ragnar Bertelsen of Ragnar Jewellers, Vancouver, British Columbia, used to feature items for less than $200 on the back of the Christmas brochure. Five years ago, he decided to feature items up to $500 instead. “And what happened? Instead of selling $195 items, we sold the same amount of $495 items — a nice change!” Bertelsen says.

DISPLAY & INVENTORY

DISPLAY POPULAR HOLIDAY ITEMS // Rethink your store’s space allocation for two months, says Larry Johnson. So during the regular part of the year, if, for example, your store has 6 feet of case space devoted to pearls, but you know pearls do not sell well for you during the holidays, shrink the space allocated to your pearls to 18 inches. Convert the majority of that formerly pearl-centric case to more popular holiday items until Jan. 1.

CHANGE FOCUS FROM REPAIR TO CUSTOM // Linda McEathron, Design House, Waco, TX, begins to slow repair intake to have time for custom work and focuses advertising and social media on the category.

DUMP YOUR DOGS // Otherwise, you’re hiding all the good, salable merchandise among the proven non-sellers. “If you have had it that long, it just isn’t going to sell. If it doesn’t sell in 12 months, it has a 90 percent chance of not selling at all, even if you give it five years,” Johnson says.

STAFFING & TRAINING

DEPLOY STAFF // Remember that there is always more than one way to get things done, says luxury-brand consultant Andrea Hill of Hill Management Group. It takes time to train an effective salesperson. But it takes very little time to train someone to set up cases properly in the morning, tear them down in the evening, write beautiful thank-you notes, and cover a variety of administrative tasks that salespeople do. If you need to hire in a pinch, hire someone who can take the less-skilled tasks off your salespeople, so your salespeople can stay on the floor (or online chats, online video, etc.) interacting with customers. “You may even find that some of the things you always wish would get done actually get done,” says Hill.

James Degroot offers 300 10-minute training videos to help your staff get quickly up to holiday speed.

WEEK 3

ENVIRONMENT

DEPLOY YOUR MONITORS

// Use the store’s wall-mounted monitors to build sales, says Johnson. “Turn it into a selling aid with pictures of custom pieces, lists of services, facts and photos of customers.” (Johnson offers to handle this service for you at mystoremonitor.com.)

MARKETING & PROMOTION

CALL CUSTOMERS // “We always call our favorite customers when the new inventory hits the floor for first pick and Christmas layaway options,” says Oros.

TRY A PROMOTION // Erica Tague of Michael & Sons in Reno, NV, says their holiday tradition is a spin-the-wheel sale. “We are in a gambling town and thought this idea would fit well. We have a large, Jeopardy-like wheel in the store that has discounts from 30 to 70 percent off in 5 percent increments. The only rule is that the wheel has to complete at least one full rotation. Whatever the customer lands on is their discount for their entire purchase. We run this sale for an entire week, and we have customers practically lined up at the door to spin the wheel.”

ARE YOU MOBILE FRIENDLY? // Ensure that your website is truly mobile friendly, without having to squint or pinch to zoom in. “What you produce on the mobile website needs to be fast; you need to be able to navigate using the edge of your thumb. New advances in technology allow your website to be tablet friendly as well,” says Matthew Perosi, mobile marketing expert. “You’ve got to have three different, workable versions of your website.”

STAFFING & TRAINING

TRY 10-MINUTE TRAINING // James Degroot, the Jewelry Marketing Guy, has launched a video production company that provides regular access to 300 10-minute training videos that can be viewed as needed. Most of his clients plan a regular weekly meeting to watch a video and discuss it. Others ask staff to watch it on their phones. Beginning Nov. 1, new releases are holiday-themed. There’s also a six-video basic-training series that’s a good resource for new hires that includes such topics as how to take in a repair, how to dress properly, and how to show up for work on time. “The old modality of people sitting in a conference room for hours and getting a tsunami of information just does not work,” Degroot says.

ENSURE CONSISTENCY  // In eight out of 10 businesses, says Andrea Hill, people are doing one task multiple ways. This doesn’t just ring alarm bells for quality; it also means you’re spending more time and money training new people. “Make sure your staff agrees on the one way to do things and does each task that one way,” says Hill. “Don’t confuse new people by exposing them to two or three different ways to do each task.”

INVENTORY & DISPLAY

SIMPLIFY SHOPPING // Pre-choose 12 jewelry items you’d like to designate as holiday gift suggestions and place them in your showcases with gift-wrapped boxes, says Johnson. Be sure the suggested items cover all merchandise categories and range in price from high to low. You’ll sell more of these items, so price them at full margin. Obviously, restock them quickly when they sell.

Arrange your entrance to include a decompression zone that allows visitors to adjust to the lighting and refocus their attention, as illustrated by this elegant example from Dianna Rae Jewelry in Lafayette, LA.

WEEK 4

ENVIRONMENT

CHECK YOUR ENTRY // Pay attention to your store’s decompression zone, according to VEND, the global cloud-based POS and retail management provider. The decompression zone is the first few feet of your shop. Shoppers who are in this part of your store are prone to distractions, which is why most experts agree that retailers should keep the decompression zone simple and uncluttered. In addition, having greeters in your store makes people more aware of their surroundings and helps them focus.

CLEAR OUT THE CLUTTER  // Make sure the glass tops of your showcases are completely clear of clutter, says Grice. “You want them to focus on jewelry and not something blocking their view.” Clear the entire store of “visual clutter,” such as plastic flowers and excessive window coverings.

DECORATE WITH DECORUM  // Decorate the store for the holidays, but not the inside of the showcases, says Johnson. Placing holiday décor inside the showcases has a tendency to make the case appear cluttered and confusing. The negative impact is even worse if the décor inside the case is shinier than the merchandise. Never use shiny trim inside the case. If you can’t resist, use matte spray on any in-case props to avoid a conflict with the merchandise.

MARKETING & PROMOTION

TUNE UP YOUR WEBSITE // Shane O’Neill, VP of Fruchtman Marketing, suggests curating a selection of holiday gifts to populate your website. “Focus on products that are for the most part under $500 gift items and push those hard on your social channels. Allow for purchase on your website.”

SOCIALIZE // Go to as many parties and events as you’re invited to in order to get your store’s name out there and remind people of the gift solutions you offer. But be sure to get lots of sleep, too. Cutting back on your Zs is a false trade-off if you’re trying to be more productive.

SEND REMINDERS // “I email forgetful spouses to remind them that the holidays are getting close and they need to think about the gifts they want to give,” says James Doggett, Doggett Jewelry, Kingston, NH.

BOOST POSTS // “Money talks,” says Amanda Gizzi, director of public relations and special events for Jewelers of America, “and a little bit of money can still go a long way when it comes to social media advertising.” Boost your social-media posts for as little as $3. But target your audience, rather than just agreeing to an audience suggested by the platform. Consider who within your company you can build up to do the posting and what you’re trying to accomplish. Do you want to boost sales, drive discovery, generate leads, increase engagement?

GO LIVE! // Next step, go Live on Facebook or Instagram. It can be a two-minute announcement or an hour for an in-store event. People can comment directly and you can answer questions. If you’re running a contest, you can go live to reveal the winner. There’s little room for error when you’re live, so practice. Make sure you know what you want to say and have someone read the questions to you as they appear online. If you’re not comfortable live, of course, you can use videos.

INVENTORY & DISPLAY

CALL ATTENTION TO THE BEST // Place the “best” items on individual displays near the back center of each case, says Johnson. Do not display them in a tray with 11 other rings. After you place the “best” items on individual displays, use trays that hold three or five pieces for “better” pieces and trays that hold seven, nine, or 12 for the (least expensive) “good” items.

STAFFING & TRAINING

MAKE THE MOST OF DOWNTIME // When you start getting busy, it’s easy to let the floor take over and dictate your behavior throughout the day, says Hill. Even though salespeople have considerable downtime between clients, they still fall into the mode of waiting for the next guest. But there are many other things to be attentive to during the busy season, such as follow-ups, clienteling, and product research for specific customers. Posting visual reminders attached to goals in the sales area (away from customers) is a good way to promote focus on the “non-floor” activities during the busy season.

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

Gene the Jeweler

Gene Shows His Competitive Spirit ... and It's Not Pretty

In this episode of Jimmy DeGroot’s satirical Gene the Jeweler series, Gene answers a viewer question: “It looks like you have a laser welder in your shop. Should I get one?” Gene suspects he knows who sent the query. He’s not pleased. In fact, the situation brings out the worst of Gene’s competitive spirit.

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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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Cover Stories

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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Cover Stories

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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