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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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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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