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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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