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A Client Wants a Refund and Their Trade-In Back — But It’s Already Sold. What Should the Owner Do?

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JEFF MILTON, OWNER of Infinity Jewelers, loved his new location. Just eight months ago, he and his brother Andrew moved their third-generation store from its 25-year home in a dying mall to a great corner spot in their town’s newest outdoor lifestyle center. Though a number of their longtime customers flatly refused to make the move with them, the new location came complete with great visibility, walk-by traffic and exposure to a whole new clientele.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

Jeff and Andrew worked hard to make the most of their new visibility and took care to create attractive vignettes in the display windows that dotted their storefront. Since the move, they’d actually made several significant sales to first-time customers whose interest was drawn to Infinity’s windows on their way to the coffee shop on their left or the women’s fashion clothing store on their right.

One morning in early July, Joel Greer, a prominent local attorney, stopped at one of the windows as he was walking past the store and looked at the magnificent ruby and diamond ring Andrew had just put on display. Mr. Greer had never shopped with Infinity before, but he was impressed by the bright, rich color of the ruby and he thought the ring would make a perfect 25th anniversary gift for his wife. When he went inside to take a closer look, Jeff explained that the ring was 18K white gold, and that it contained a 2.10-carat Burmese ruby accented by two oval cut diamonds, both G color and VS2 clarity, weighing 0.75 carats each.

The price on the ring, $27,700, didn’t seem to bother Mr. Greer, but he did ask if Jeff would consider taking an 8.00-carat diamond bracelet his wife no longer enjoyed wearing as a trade-in. Jeff agreed to look at the bracelet, and Mr. Greer brought it in the next day. The bracelet had been purchased at a reputable local competitor and was in keeping with Infinity’s quality standards, so Jeff agreed to take it in trade for a $6,000 credit toward the ruby ring.

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A bit concerned about his wife’s track record of not liking his jewelry gift choices, Mr. Greer asked about Infinity’s return policy. Jeff explained that it was Infinity’s policy to take the best possible care of their customers — and that if Mrs. Greer were unhappy with the ring for any reason, he could bring it back for a refund or exchange. Satisfied that he was making a good choice, Mr. Greer left the bracelet, paid the difference and took the ring home.

Nearly five months passed, and it was just before Christmas when Mr. Greer and his wife came back into Infinity, complaining that Mrs. Greer was not at all happy with her ring. The diamonds looked dull to her and the white gold mounting had begun to yellow. She had taken it to another local jeweler (the one who had sold her the bracelet that Infinity had accepted in trade), where she was told that “good quality white gold” should not be changing color, especially so soon after purchase. She was also told that the reason for the diamonds’ dull appearance was that they were inferior in color, and the manufacturer failed to polish the setting under the diamonds. In addition to all of that, Mrs. Greer really did miss the diamond bracelet her husband had traded in. It was a present for their tenth anniversary, and though it was much smaller than the jewelry she typically wore lately, it still held a good deal of sentimental value for her. Though she and Joel had discussed the possibility of trading it in before he bought the ring, she really wasn’t ready to give it up. She wanted her bracelet back.

When Jeff explained that the Infinity return policy covered the purchase for 30 days, Mr. Greer reminded him of his stipulation during his sales presentation that if Mrs. Greer was not happy with the ring, he could bring it back for a refund. He noted that there was no mention of a specific time period associated with the refund policy, and since he was given nothing in writing to spell it out, his request was well within the bounds of reason.

Jeff felt that he needed to defend the quality of his merchandise, especially after learning in conversation that Mrs. Greer did wear the ring daily, including during the two hours she spent each morning swimming in the health club pool. In addition to discussing the impact of chlorine on gold, he also had to explain that Mrs. Greer’s bracelet had been sold out of Infinity’s estate showcase several weeks ago.

In an attempt to resolve the already dicey situation, Jeff offered to take the ring back and refund the Greers the full purchase price by check.

The Greers were not at all interested in Jeff’s explanations or his offer. All they wanted was to return the “inferior quality” ring and to get their money — and Mrs. Greer’s old bracelet — back. Mr. Greer stated emphatically that Jeff had no right to re-sell the bracelet, as his offer of a refund was left wide open. He demanded that Jeff contact the customer who purchased the bracelet and get it back, threatening to marshal his resources in legal action and in community influence if Jeff did not comply.

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Stew B.
Natick, MA

And this is why I have my return policy on an 8 x 11 engraved plaque, clearly printed on my receipts and printed under the signature line on the credit card slip. Had the store done this, they’d be able to point to the agreement the client signed. Now it’s “he said-she said.” But, the scenario got me thinking. I have to develop a written policy to reflect the disposition of trade-ins used as tender and print that on store receipts as well.

Barbara W.
San Diego, CA

I am so sorry, Mrs. Greer, that you are not happy with the purchase and trade-in deal your husband worked out five months ago. I wish you had brought it to my attention sooner.

Let us make a new setting in platinum. The metal will not yellow and we will let you look at the mounting before setting the stones to ensure it is up to your standards. Please feel free to come in at your convenience for inspection and cleaning of the ring whenever you feel like it, as diamonds are natural oil and dirt catchers. Even hand lotion can dull a stone. I was not aware you were a swimmer. What a great way to exercise.

Secondly, as there is nothing we can do about the bracelet since it has been sold, I would love to get similar bracelets in to look at, so you and your husband can pick one together. I will work out the financial aspect with your husband. We both want you to be happy.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

The sale is gone.

Joel and his wife are unreasonable to think that the trade-in will sit in a vault forever, and Jeff’s offer for a full refund is as good as it will ever get. In fact, it’s more than he had to do.
In the future, when buying off the street (and yes, trade-ins are considered a buy by the police), the owner signs off the rights of ownership when the jeweler fills out the proper paperwork.

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Stan G.
Charlotte, NC

No obligation of a refund here. One bad “customer” isn’t going to ruin their reputation. As far as a repeat situation goes, I wouldn’t do anything differently to avoid that. Touchy situation with the trade-in (and resold) bracelet, but:

1) If someone threatens legal action, I would say “see you in court, now please leave my store.”

2) Five months passed … what do the Greers expect? If she really loved the bracelet, the idea of a trade would never have happened or she would have been in the store to recover it immediately if he had acted without her knowledge.

If the Greers were decent people, I’d bend over backwards to “rewind” the deal and offer a premium credit or refund to the buyer of the bracelet and get it back. Since they are not decent people, anyone they know probably already realizes that and I’d let three generations of happy customers stand up for my reputation versus one miserable couple.

Drue S.
Albany, NY

First and foremost, they must have the return policy printed on their receipts. We do and that eliminates any customer coming in after 30 days. If a client is being very difficult, we may allow an exchange after 30 days, but only if the piece truly was not worn. We stipulate that on our receipts also.

In this case, I think it’s unreasonable for the purchaser to expect the store to hold the bracelet indefinitely, and unfortunately, since it’s been sold, now what? The owners put together another bracelet and give the money back? Also, since the ring shows wear and tear, the clients are being unreasonable.

This one is a puzzler! And one that may require a lawyer. Do any of us get to borrow a car or any other large purchase for six months?

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

This issue pivots around the sales receipt provided to Joel Greer at the finalization of the original sale. It should have indicated the two distinct parts of payment, cash and credit for the bracelet, with the latter succinctly covered by stating that it was now the property of Infinity Jewelers. Jeff is being more than reasonable with his offer of a full refund, well over what his state may require under their consumer laws. Worrying about defending the quality of his merchandise is a battle not worth fighting; however, battling this unreasonable customer is! If it means a day in front of a judge, Jeff should step up to that plate. If it is the Better Business Bureau, his very reasonable offer will stand him in good stead, as will a social media response if the Greers choose to go that direction. He needs only to tell his incredible offer in the same reasonable tone that he has employed thus far.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

Jeff is not obligated to refund these animals and there is no way he can save the sale, but he can definitely save his reputation. This clown “Mr. Greer” is an unreasonable bully who is using his attorney power to intimidate Jeff. Jeff should stay firm in his return/exchange policy and with the sale of the bracelet to another customer. This jerk is trying to get him to cave and Jeff needs to show some backbone and stay strong. FIRE THE CUSTOMER! Mr. Greer might threaten a lawsuit, but I really don’t see how he has much ground to stand on. From now on, though, Jeff and Andrew are unfortunately going to have to put everything in writing. It stinks that this is what business has come to, but it’s because of bullies like Mr. Greer.

Barbara P.
Conroe, TX

Oh, how many scavengers are out there today. In my opinion, Jeff has no obligation whatsoever to refund anything to this man who touts that he is an “attorney.” The ring has been worn for five months, whether she swam in it or stuck it in a box in her closet. It can no longer be sold as new. And as far as the bracelet, he had no obligation to sit on merchandise that was traded in, as he has to replenish his merchandise as well.

I would not accept the ring back. I would not offer to try to sell it for him because it’s a losing situation. If he knew his wife loved the bracelet so much, he should have just bought her the ring and left the bracelet at home.

I would tell the guy, “I’m so sorry you made the decision to bring in your wife’s bracelet to trade. I was not required to hold the bracelet, and that was not in writing, either.”

Alan P.
Wilmington, NC

He messed up by not explaining the return policy. He will never forget it again. He should make a new bracelet and offer to give that to her or try to buy back the old one ASAP.

Joe D.
Columbus, OH

Unfortunately, the retailer sounds like he’s going to eat this one. He made an exception to the standard return policy as a condition of the sale. So he is right to take the ring back. As far as the bracelet is concerned, however, I think you could easily argue that they accepted the bracelet’s value as part of the sale as well, and there was no promise of returning it as part of the return. So writing them a check for the full sale amount (including the trade-in value of the bracelet) is correct. They might want to contact the buyer of the bracelet and offer to replace it with a new one of comparable quality at no charge to get out of this mess, but depending on what they sold it for, that could be an expensive remedy, just to save themselves from the bad reviews.

Buddy B.
Merion, PA

The customer is always right. However, in this case, the client is dead wrong. There is no jury that would find the jewelry store liable; I would defend to the end.

Gregory I.
Johnson City, TN

The receipt must have in writing the return policy. Also, a clear dialog with the customer about how long they will hold the trade-in piece in case the purchase is returned; usually the length of the return timeframe.

Gabi M.
Tewksbury, MA

If there isn’t a return policy and no customer signature on said return policy, then there is no argument. Even when a business has a perfectly clear policy list, customers still try to find loopholes. There’s no excuse to not have one in this day and age. If I was in Jeff’s position, I would do my best to get that bracelet back, issue a refund, and take the loss. After that, I would create a thorough policy list and make sure it gets printed and signed with every future transaction.

Dennis F.
Poughkeepsie, NY

Jeff cannot go back to the purchaser of the bracelet. Did he refund the original price of the ring less the $6,000 credit for the bracelet or the full amount? Jeff should request the matter go into mediation. If that fails, he should get a good attorney. This is a classic example of balancing giving a customer too much information versus not. He definitely should have discussed and written his return policy and made it clear that the bracelet was going to be resold.

Tim W.
Yorktown, VA

I believe that the store owner was well within his legal rights to sell the traded bracelet. It was obviously held long enough to cover any normal return and sold to recoup the money that was not paid for the ring. We would have returned the entire purchase price and this was right thing to do.

Now, he could find a diamond bracelet that was equivalent to the quality that was sold and offer it for a price that would not generate much profit to try to satisfy the new client and try to keep it close to the traded value. The customer could use the traded money received to buy it back. In the end, he was refunded more than what was paid, so there is not any loss on the customer’s behalf. We would never contact the estate customer and ask to buy it back.

Steve W.
Clearwater, FL

Obviously, the jeweler in this case did nothing wrong and the client is being totally unreasonable. For him to expect the jeweler not to sell the trade-in bracelet is unreasonable, and furthermore, no one would ever contact the client that you’ve already sold the bracelet to and ask for it back. I think he went above and beyond just to refund the ring after six months. On his receipts, he should have his return policy clearly printed out.

Ralph H.
Connersville, IN

The key word here is “attorney”. Hire this bozo to file a major libel suit against your competitor and make that part of the deal. He’s already given you all the evidence you need to prove financial loss and loss to your reputation (and the competitor lied). Whether or not you are required to comply with these ridiculous demands depends on the law in your state and how much of a fight you want. The bigger the sale, the more important the “notice of policies.” Better put up signage, and add your “policies” to stationery, sales slips, repair envelopes, etc. and have customers sign them, especially on a big sale. Of course, this is not “right,” but we all screw this up sometimes; hindsight’s 20/20. Oh, and can this customer mess you up in court? You better believe it. Good luck; maybe this is not such a friendly town after all.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net.

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Real Deal

A Jeweler is Forced to Fire His Peer’s Son, Who Then Threatens to Sue. How Should He Handle It?

He made the mistake of calling his friend to let him know before he fired the son.

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FIVE YEARS AGO, Jim Leland, owner of James, Ltd., an upscale, suburban store in the Southeast, got a call from Scott Gordon, his longtime best friend and fellow jewelry store owner. Scott said that his 30 year-old son Evan — an entry-level bench jeweler — was struggling and was in need of a fresh start. He knew that Jim had been looking to replace his soon-to-retire bench guy, and asked if he would consider Evan for the job. Jim had some concerns about hiring his friend’s son, but he’d known Evan since he was born, and was reasonably confident that between them, he and Scott could handle any challenges that might arise. Once Evan was on board, Jim could see that basic training and four years of bench experience had rendered him moderately competent, and that, as his father described, he had a lot of potential. He seemed to take well to the idea of a fresh start in a different part of the country and was grateful for the opportunity.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

Evan started off pretty well, and over the first two years, his skills improved as Jim provided ongoing training and continued to challenge him with more complex jobs. As the second year came to a close, however, Evan’s reliability started to become an issue. Work was still getting done well and generally on schedule, but Evan was frequently late and out sick more than normal. He said that he was just going through an especially tough time, with everything from his car dying to dealing with allergies and a series of other minor health issues, but that things were heading in a positive direction, and he would definitely get it all under control.

Evan was paid well, but with old debt, was still struggling for cash. In an effort to help (and hopefully, to minimize punctuality and attendance issues), Jim offered him the option of living in the small studio apartment above the store at no cost in lieu of a pay increase as he entered his third year with the company. Evan accepted Jim’s generous offer, but his reliability did not improve much. He was still late several days each week, spent increasing amounts of time behind the building smoking e-cigarettes, and began disappearing to his apartment for periods of time during the day.

Jim suspected a return to the excessive alcohol and/or drug use issues his friend’s son had battled before a stay in rehab and his move south, but when confronted, Evan angrily denied the suspicions. Unable to prove anything, Jim felt that his hands were tied. He told Evan that being at the bench on time was a condition of employment, that he was no longer permitted to leave the store without direct permission, and that all breaks and lunches must be approved. Once again, Evan apologized and promised improvement.

Another year went by with what appeared to be moderate progress. There were still issues, including even more frequent “smoke breaks,” but the number of late arrivals had diminished, and the sick time had tapered off a bit, as did Evan’s visits to his upstairs apartment during business hours. There were a few staff complaints about “surly, temperamental behavior,” but Jim thought they were pretty routine. Evan’s skill level didn’t seem to improve much that year, but work was getting done. With business on the increase, Jim had little available time to babysit.

At the end of last year, Evan took two weeks off after the holidays to visit his dad back home. While he was away, one female employee made what she referred to as an “official complaint” accusing Evan of sexual harassment. She also described multiple instances of seeing Evan pouring vodka into his water bottle in the store. Another told Jim that Evan had actually been vaping weed behind the store during work hours. She knew because he had invited her to join him, and because he also offered to sell weed (still illegal in the state) to her and to other employees.

It was clear to Jim at that point that Evan had to go. The James, Ltd. Employee Manual made it very clear that harassment of any kind would not be tolerated and that drug or alcohol use on the job was cause for immediate termination. He chose to have the conversation by phone rather than wait for him to get back, so Evan could take the time to decide if he wanted to stay with his dad. Jim then decided he owed it to Scott to give him a heads-up before talking to Evan to explain why he felt he had to fire his son. Jim was firmly convinced that Evan needed help, and believed he owed it to his friend to fill him in.

The day after the termination call, Evan sent Jim an email demanding that he deposit a $25,000 “severance payment” into his bank account. He threatened that if Jim refused, he would sue for wrongful termination and violation of employee confidentiality since Jim had spoken to his father about his employment situation. Jim knew that his actions were based on genuine concern for his business and for Evan’s well-being. He also understood Evan’s anger and need to lash out, but he was caught totally off guard by what he perceived as a clear-cut extortion attempt.

The Big Questions

  • Was terminating Evan the right call without further investigation of the harassment complaint or direct proof of drug or alcohol use?
  • Did Jim violate employment law by talking with Scott about the situation with his son?
  • Should he reach out to his friend again with a request for help in getting Evan to back off — or should he retain an employment attorney?
Brian W.
Greensboro, NC

Document, document, document. Have a store policy and follow it. First offense, verbal warning, document it. Second offense, written warning, have the associate sign and date it, make copies. Third offense, termination. You can always make exceptions, give multiple written warnings, give the guy a chance, but you want it all written down. Failure to follow through may be harmful to not only your business, but more importantly to your other associates. Yes, it was right to fire him. Yes, hire an employment attorney, and document who (which associate) said what, when and where. He might need it if the former associate actually follows through with his threats.

Christine H.
Lemoyne, PA

Even though positive intent was there, Evan’s father should not have been contacted nor his son’s employment discussed. Evan is an adult and deserves confidentiality about his employment. The owner should have had an exploratory conversation with Evan first to determine if the accusations were true. My opinion is it would have been best to wait for Evan to come back to discuss face to face. The owner should have also talked to the other employees mentioned in the complaints to see if there were witnesses or other interactions with Evan that should have been considered prior to his discussion with Evan, so he had a full scope view of his team’s observations. The owner should then have asked Evan questions to gain clarity about why he was late, taking multiple breaks, etc. Then an educated decision could have been made about his employment.

Susan O.
Kirkland, WA

The termination of Evan was way past due and not worth risking the well-being of the business and employees. In Washington, a person can be terminated with no reason given, but in this case, a “This is not working out” is all that is needed. I do not feel there is any need for concern about a lawsuit considering the egregious behavior that has gone on and that you have been condoning by letting it go on for several years. Any suspicion of drugs or alcohol in our business is dealt with immediately. Again, the welfare of the business is the priority, and Evan is lashing out and needs an intervention. The tenancy is another issue altogether, and Evan may have tenant rights in your state that you need to adhere to.

Kent C.
St. Simon’s Island, GA

Is it permissible in this state to spank Evan? It appears he is an irresponsible child. I would send him back to his father with out any supper. Dismiss the threat of blackmail as simply another attempt of Evan’s self-centered thinking. If proper records were kept prior to firing, I wouldn’t be concerned. How many times has this spoiled boy failed at rehab, other jobs, and at school? The father should have been open with his friend, the store owner, about how dysfunctional the boy’s bad habits were. Somewhere along the line, the store owner must accept his enabling behavior. Allowing Evan to screw up is the perfect lesson to the rest of Jim’s staff. Talk about a bad apple ruining the rest. His father should be asked to come pick up any possessions and Evan should be banned from the store.

Marc F.
Houston, TX

I think the owner tried his best to help the friend’s son out. Five years of employment is a long time. How much was invested in him? I don’t allow “trial by ambush.” The owner should have instructed the employee making the allegations to put it in writing. When Evan comes back, have a private meeting and show him the letter, see which way he reacts. Based on that, have your attorney mediator sit down with Evan, the accuser, and the owner, and come to an agreement. All this was hearsay, you must remember. Bringing in Evan’s dad as a pal to pal isn’t doing anyone any good. Whatever happens, he will understand. Take things step by step cautiously and with prudence.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

Terminating Evan was definitely the right call. Jim had his concerns, and those were cemented with the complaints from his employees. Evan is a bad apple, and his behavior is spot-on with that of an addict. He needs help and hopefully he’ll get it. But if I were Jim, I would tell him he can take his severance demand and threats and shove them. Jim gave him more than his fair share of chances, and Evan took advantage of him. Maybe once Evan settles down, Scott can talk sense into him, then he’ll realize he’s in the wrong and drop the threats. I would definitely hire an employment attorney, though, just in case this guy gets real crazy.

Stacey H.
Lincolnwood, IL

Hire an employment attorney. There should have been a series of warnings, write-ups, and a serious conversation about standards each time with a signed “I understand that I have been put on notice about my behavior” note for his personnel file. Once he hired his friend’s kid, all bets were off with the father. He never should have discussed personnel matters with anyone but the employee(s) involved. The matter of the offer of drug dealing might be the way to deflect a lawsuit, but this was bungled.

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

Regardless of Jim’s compassion, he has left himself open for potential litigation. His first course of action should have been a discussion with his own lawyer on the legal (and proper) handling of employee termination. The regulations vary from various countries and between states and provinces. But all regulations share similar and basic employee protections. By Jim ignoring his own availability to legal council, he has entered the gladiator ring with nary a sword nor a shield!

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

Continue Reading

Real Deal

An Employee’s Spouse Demands Another Employee Be Fired. How Should These Owners React?

If they don’t do it, they risk losing their top salesperson.

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SOME CHOICES ARE just harder to make than others. For the moment, Michael Rodriguez was feeling more like a dispirited King Solomon than the owner of a young, vibrant and growing fine jewelry store! Michael looked out his office door onto his sales floor and watched Ken Bishop, his good friend and top salesman, working with a difficult client as he considered his options.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

Village Diamonds and Fine Jewelry was a dream come true for Michael and his wife Megan. They started dating while in college, both working part-time in the mall for a large national jewelry chain. By the time they graduated — Michael with his degree in business management and Megan with hers in marketing — they had both developed a genuine passion for the jewelry industry.

When they got engaged the following year, they promised each other that they would someday have their own store. For the next five years, they saved every dime they could, banking their wedding gift money, Megan’s part-time paychecks and Michael’s bonuses while continuing to live the simple life they’d grown to love in their Midwest town.

In 2007, with the help of a sizeable inheritance from Michael’s grandmother, their dream became a reality. While visiting a downtown coffee shop, Megan noticed a Going Out of Business sign in the window of the Village Jewelers store. She snapped a picture of the sign and texted it to Michael. That afternoon, Michael made his way to the store and talked with the owner, who agreed to sell the store. They knew that the business itself had died a slow death, but they saw the opportunity to recreate something great out of the ashes. Michael left his position with the national chain and within a year, he and Megan had closed the deal, renovated the showroom, sold off the old inventory, and found the right vendor partners to supply the contemporary product lines they wanted. With the addition of one salesperson and the contracting of a trade shop to handle repairs, they were ready to open the new Village Jewelers.

Ken Bishop, their new sales associate, came to them with extensive retail background, but no jewelry experience. He had worked for over 12 years selling high-end sporting goods in a local store that was a client of Megan’s former marketing firm. Ken had heard about the Rodriguezes’ new venture, and when the sporting goods store was bought out by a large corporation, he gave Michael a call. Ken quickly became a highly valuable asset to the store, and as business grew, so did his skill and ability. Over ten years, through the building of just under $6 million in sales volume and the addition of eight permanent staff positions, Ken remained the stabilizing force on the sales floor and a great friend to Michael and Megan.

The Rodriguezes were supportive when Ken announced that he and his wife of 20 years were separating. Michael even loaned Ken his truck the day that Ken moved into his own apartment across town. Susan Bishop had also become a close friend of the family, making the situation more than a little tense at times, but the Bishops seemed to be keeping things amicable, and Michael and Megan did their best to stand by their employee without taking sides or allowing things to get personal.

Several months after the separation, Megan noticed that Ken seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time with Amanda Davis, the generally competent, very attractive and much younger office manager who had been with them for nearly two years. Michael asked Ken directly what was happening, and Ken confirmed that he and Amanda had, in fact, recently begun dating. He confirmed that his interest in Amanda was part of the reason for his separation from Susan. He indicated that he and Amanda were not at all serious, and that he was still hoping to reconcile with his wife. Michael and Megan were troubled by the revelation, but had no reason to question the performance of either of their employees and felt uncomfortable questioning their judgment.

About a month later, Megan noticed a marked difference in Amanda’s demeanor in the store. In talking to Amanda, Megan learned that she was no longer seeing Ken — that Ken had decided to make a solid effort to repair his marriage. The next day, Ken asked for a meeting with Michael and Megan. He told them that he and Susan had made the decision to get back together and were doing everything possible to work on their marriage. He was hoping to move back into their home the following weekend, but before that could happen, he had to see to Susan’s one non-negotiable demand: Susan would not take him back as long as he continued to work with Amanda. Ken made it clear that if Amanda continued to work at Village Jewelers, he would have to resign. He asked the Rodriguezes for a few days off while they thought about what would be best for their business, and asked them to get back to him when they were ready to talk.

The Big Questions

  • Should the Rodriguezes give up a top salesperson who has consistently produced in excess of 30 percent of the store’s sales volume, or should they give up a competent (but not extraordinary) office manager?
  • If they decide that Ken’s contribution is too significant to lose, is there a way to dismiss Amanda without crossing a legal line?
  • Is there any way to create a compromise that would work for everyone?
John M.
Seattle, WA

The Rodríguezes should recommend that Ken move on to a new career. They made two fatal mistakes in their employment of Ken. First, they mixed business relationship with personal relationship, and second, they allowed an employee other than themselves to control the success of their business. Allowing Ken to stay on puts them and their business in a compromising position. Their current dilemma clearly demonstrates this. Ken’s sales productivity and “friendship” with the Rodríguezes is controlling the success or failure of their business and confusing their ability to make a candid business decision. Moreover, this situation with Amanda will likely not end here. Most importantly, the Rodríguezes cannot allow any person other than themselves to control the long-term success of their business. There are many great salespeople to take Ken’s place, and the Rodriguezes will be better off for setting an example to all their employees that their interest is in protecting the business they worked so hard to grow.

Creighton W.
Yuba City, CA

While in an ideal world you could keep your top salesman and let go of a solid but seemingly replaceable office manager without hard feelings, the reality is you couldn’t do so without crossing moral, ethical, and legal lines. Both individuals chose to partake in an office romance, so both are responsible for any awkward atmosphere in the workplace, along with the right to be let go because of it. However, the manager should not lose her job because of the insecurities involved in Ken’s relationship, which is outside of the workplace, and what would be needed to mend it. It would also be difficult to justify her firing and would very likely lead to a lawsuit. With a business that’s still relatively new, it could bring bad publicity. The solution? If the owners are as close with Ken and his wife as they say, I say they bring her in and explain the logistics of firing Amanda and see if any other compromises could be met. If not, Ken unfortunately will have to resign.

Jim S.
Kapaa, HI

Goodbye Ken! Ultimatums are a deal breaker in any negotiation.

Karen M.
Oneonta, NY

An employee’s spouse does not make the hiring and firing decisions for the Rodriguezes’ business — only they do! So with all due respect to Ken as a friend and major contributor to the business, Michael and Megan need to let him resign. He has proven himself as a capable salesperson in more than one area and will land on his feet financially. And if he is sincere about saving his marriage, he needs to make a life change that shows this commitment. This will be the only long-term solution. Amanda, meanwhile, may perform better and more loyally in Ken’s absence. It is entirely possibly that working in his shadow has hindered Amanda’s performance up until now, and she will come into her own with his departure. In the meantime, this is a great illustration of why workplace romances are problematic! Mike and Megan may want to consider formalizing a policy about this to avoid headaches down the road.

Daniel S.
Cambridge, MA

Oh man, this is all on the owners. The in-store relationship should never have happened. When I had employees, we had a work manual everyone had to sign off on and it clearly stated that no sexual relationships were allowed between employees or between employees and suppliers. As soon as the owners found out about the relationship, they should have told them that one or the other had to go immediately. No option on ending the relationship because then they would just lie about it. One had to leave and then the two of them could decide which one. If it meant the top salesperson left, so be it, because it never should have gotten as far as it did.

Steve J.
Carefree, AZ

Ken created this situation by leaving Susan for a fling with a co-worker. Ken ditched the co-worker, causing a change of dynamic on the sales floor. Ken then pulls out the “I’m the most valuable employee” card. I’d call his bluff and let him go. The marriage is doomed for failure; better to cut off that wart now before it grows.

Marc F.
Houston, TX

This is where the regular reviews of performance take over and make the decision. In Texas, an employer can fire an employee for “cause”. The cause here would be “general reasons”. Of course, the office manager has to go. Salespeople make things happen, and it would be a big mistake to let your one-third producer go. However, I would not let the wife know the reason for termination.

Tina S.
Chicago, IL

They should fire both employees. What’s to keep them from doing it again, especially Mr. Bishop, who should have known better? Not good to mix your social life with work on that level; how dare him even ask them to choose.

Tim S.
Fairbanks, AK

First of all, Ken cannot be allowed to call the shots. I would let him know that he would have to make a decision to continue or stay, but that in no way would I make a choice between them. It sucks you right into their drama. As a matter of fact, I would lean towards letting him go. He needs to take care of his family, but not at the expense of someone else’s job. Second option is to let them both go.

Stacey H.
Lincolnwood, IL

It’s not Amanda’s fault, and sales staff does not get to decide who works at the store. Amanda stays, and if Ken has to go to save his marriage, so be it. You can’t reward an ultimatum, and while Ken has been a good salesperson, he himself is the one with the decision to make, not the Rodriguezes. He should not cost the store unemployment insurance upcharges because of his marital situation, and Amanda could sue the snot out of them for firing her with literally no reason. Ken needs to do what he needs to do, fine, but that isn’t a reason to deprive Amanda of her job!

Kevin L.
Naperville, IL

He finds a new job. He used his senior position to court the office girl. So she gets fired because he wants to try and get back. It most likely won’t work. Then what? They break up and he hits on another girl? If he loves his wife, he quits.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

Michael and Megan should have a meeting with both Ken and Susan (outside of the store) and remind them it is Michael and Megan’s store and not theirs. They cannot dictate who is hired or fired. If Ken decides to leave, so be it. In any event, Amanda should not be fired. I lost my best-selling employee many years ago — yes, it hurt — but not for as long as feared. I found out through the years that a store should never rely too heavily on one salesperson, unless it’s you.

Maya C.
Madison, WI

I think it’s absolutely wrong of Ken to basically ask his bosses to consider firing another employee because of the results of his lapse of judgment. If it was work-related, that would be one thing. But this is a personal issue. If Ken wasn’t prepared to face the consequences of his actions, then that’s on him and should not cause the other employee to lose her job just because of bad personal choices.

Mitsuko H.
Watsonville, CA

With my past forty years of running my jewelry company, having a good policy from day one, I expect each employee to always be a professional representing my company. No personal matters are to be brought in while on duty. Have a good store policy and make them sign it before employing them.

David C.
Traverse City, MI

Ken brought this whole situation on of his own choice. It is hard to let a valued employee go, but it was his choice to start the inappropriate relationship and his choice to end it. I commend Ken for ending the relationship and to work on his marriage, but I would personally have to allow Ken to walk. His leaving might actually inspire another salesperson to come from behind his shadow and step up into Ken’s shoes.

Andy M.
Williamsville, NY

Both employees must be let go. Neither employee used any common sense, and while doing so, put the business in danger.

David B.
Calgary, AB

For those that would say this is an ownership problem for not having a policy or protocol in place to prevent office romance, get real. Most of us probably spend as much time with our workmates as our partners. Always best to be truthful with Amanda. Tell her the demands made by Ken and that he is too integral to the company to lose. Then discuss a termination agreement. Typically, one month per year worked is generous, but in this case, offer her six months or even more with a nice recommendation and see where that heads. Most likely, Amanda is not comfortable in the current situation and would like a reasonable way out.

Nick F.
Woodstock, VT

This is business, it’s not personal! For the good of the company, and for Ken’s marriage, Amanda must go. To soften it, try to find her an opportunity with a fellow jewelry store. This decision keeps a marriage together and an indebted manager. Being young and with the owners’ help, it’s probable she will find a job in the industry and be happy.

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

There is nothing here that requires Michael and Megan to involve themselves. They dodged a potential bullet when their top salesperson started dating their office manager, something that would have left them vulnerable to internal theft. Ken made his bed (sorry for the pun), and his ultimatum means that it is his decision to leave Village Jewelers.

Drue S.
Albany, NY

I have had experience with this situation, and it did not come out great. For me personally, it was two great jewelers. One had a nervous breakdown, and the other ended up leaving anyway.

So since there is no reason to fire the office manager and no reason to fire the salesman, they should try having a conversation with the two of them. Having said that, you cannot allow an employee to dictate who does or does not get fired. I am sure there would be legal ramifications from doing so.

They were two adults deciding to start a relationship, and they should be adult enough to still work together. It’s totally out of place and unreasonable for Ken’s wife to place that demand on the business.

I say it’s up to the owners to have a conversation with the two employees involved and ask them what result they see as the best solution, asking them if there is a way for them to work in the same environment.

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Real Deal

When a Once-Happy Client Sends Back a Damaged Ring and Demands a Refund, What Should the Store Owner Do?

The ring is scuffed and dented after just a year’s worth of wear.

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JOSH WELLMAN AND Brooke Kerney were best friends back in high school. When they both moved back to their Midwest hometown and reconnected after 12 years of living on opposite sides of the country, their friends and family — most notably Josh’s mother — were convinced that a wedding was inevitable. With that in mind, she gave Josh, her eldest son, her engagement ring — a family heirloom that had been passed down through generations. The ring, a late Victorian design, was a 1.50-ct. old European cut diamond in a platinum filigree setting, with milgrain detailing and several accent sapphires.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

Josh finally proposed while on a trip to visit one of Brooke’s friends just after Valentine’s Day. Brooke had been close to Josh’s mom when they were younger and was more than honored to serve as the next generation’s custodian of the heirloom ring. It was just a touch too big, though, so Brooke suggested they take it to a custom jeweler in the city who had done some work for her the year before. The couple made an appointment to see John Anford, owner of Anford and Company Fine Jewelry.

Brooke knew John Anford to be a knowledgeable professional who delivered quality work at a fair price. She was referred to John by a friend when she lost an earring and needed to have a replacement made. The work was done perfectly and well within the time frame expected. Brooke was confident that John would take good care of her new treasure as well.

At the Anford office, John measured Brooke’s finger, then examined the ring carefully. He told the couple that while beautifully made and still wearable, the heirloom was showing the signs of its 100 years of experience. He pointed out areas of weakness and structural issues that he believed made the ring unsuitable for everyday wear, and he recommended that Josh and Brooke consider having the ring restored by a vintage expert. They left the ring for sizing and said they would think about it.

By the time they returned to pick the ring up the next day, Josh and Brooke had come up with another plan. They were both uncomfortable with the idea of restoring or altering the ring in any way and agreed that keeping it in original condition was more important to them than Brooke being able to wear it every day. With that in mind, they asked John to design a companion piece for the ring — a band that would be in keeping with the original ring’s design — in platinum filigree with milgrain trim and sapphire accents. Brooke said that her work as an executive for a technology company didn’t require any activity that would be especially rough on a ring, and she didn’t have any “heavy-duty” hobbies. They worked with John on initial concepts and agreed to stay in touch via email. Brooke made an appointment to come back in three weeks to look at the model and make a final decision.

Brooke and Josh loved the design of her new ring, and over the three-week period, signed off on the CAD rendering as well as various detail decisions and price. When she next visited John’s office and saw the resin model of her ring, she was delighted and confirmed the order. She and Josh returned in mid-April to see the finished product — and after a minor adjustment to a milgrain edge, were happy. Per his policy, John verified that his clients were completely satisfied with the ring, reminding them that they still had the option to cancel before taking delivery if the ring failed to meet their expectations in any way. They agreed that the ring was exactly as they had envisioned, and paid the $3,000 balance by credit card. The ring was shipped to Josh and Brooke’s Midwest home and was received on April 20, 2018.

About a year later, John received an email from Brooke containing pictures of the ring, significantly damaged with bends and dents in the metal and several broken sapphires. In her message, she said,

“Earlier today, I put my ring in an overnight package coming to your office. When I came to you last February, we discussed that my heirloom family ring was not suitable for daily wear, so we agreed to commission a custom ring that could be worn regularly. I approved the design for this ring, but relied on you to ensure proper materials and craftsmanship. You assured me that the problem with the milgrain edge we originally saw was a minor cosmetic issue and not a structural concern. Yet, less than a year later, the structural integrity of the ring has been severely damaged through nothing more than the ordinary use we discussed.

We’ve consulted with two reputable jewelers in our town. They both said that platinum was not the right metal for this ring — that white gold should have been used, given the design. Based on their opinions, and the significant damage that has occurred in just 11 months, I’d like you to honor the cancellation offer you made initially and issue a full refund for the piece so that I can use the money to get a ring I can actually wear every day.”

John noticed that the pictures were taken by one of the jewelers Brooke had consulted. He was tempted to contact the store to find out how they could have suggested that the choice of platinum was the issue here, but instead, chose to review his notes and talk with his craftsman as well as other trusted metals experts. He came away from his research with the thought that while there might have been a sturdier metal choice for the ring design, even 14K white gold would not have held up to the obvious abuse the ring had suffered.

John didn’t think he could afford — financially or philosophically — to send a check for the full $4,750 sale price of the ring, since what he received from Brooke was essentially scrap platinum. On the other hand, as a small custom shop in a highly competitive city, he also couldn’t afford scathing reviews across social media.

The Big Questions

  • Who is responsible for the situation and who should absorb the cost?
  • Should John have known that white gold might have been a better option, despite her heirloom platinum ring having lasted over 100 years? Should the contract craftsman who made the ring have been more proactive in presenting the right design characteristics?
  • What should John do?
John M.
Grand Haven, MI

Ouch. Hard to convince a customer it wasn’t a problem with your year-old band when her similar engagement ring lasted 100 years. And maybe with good reason. Did you make the band solid enough, or was it a flimsy shell because you cheaped out? Was it wide enough to keep its shape for everyday wear? You’re the expert who’s supposed to know platinum keeps its color, is tough, and chemical resistant, but scuffs, mars and bends easily. And hers is likely a hard die-struck piece, whereas your band is a softer casting. If your band was too lightweight, it’s not going to do the job she specifically tasked you with, and you need to take care of it. If the ring was beaten regardless of the metal or who made it, then point out the specific indicators, while also assuring her you want to help her resolve her situation. Your fault, offer to make a new ring in 14K white gold for free. Her fault, offer to make her one at cost.

Richard S.
Seattle, WA

She obviously abused the ring, but it sounds like between the client and jeweler, they did not resolve the original concern about daily wear durability. Regardless of metal choice, it does not sound like a good design choice. The jeweler needs to either recreate it, making the ring a little heavier and using a ruthenium alloy, iridium being much too soft for platinum casting, or make a new design that both parties can be happy with. But to simply give a refund is unreasonable, assuming he has had a conversation about her lifestyle and what could have caused heavy damage.

Jack Van D.
Wellington, FL

Offer to fix the ring the best way he can, at no charge. We’re not responsible for abusive wear to a piece we design and sell. They’re just trying to get something for nothing.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

These people are trying to take advantage of John, and shame on them. Platinum was a fine choice for a ring like this and should be more than durable enough to handle her said lifestyle. She obviously started working out with it on or it slipped down the disposal and took a spin (I’ve seen both be very destructive). Either way, something has happened and rings like this don’t self-destruct. I would offer to repair or remake it at my cost, but I would NOT give a refund. Stand your ground, John. You can treat her with respect and understanding and still keep your integrity. Letting them walk all over you is not the answer, especially when you and they know that this ring destruction was user error.

Sandi B.
Ocala, FL

Almost the exact thing happened in our store about two years ago. The couple had purchased a platinum radiant three-stone for a right-hand anniversary ring and was quite happy with it. A year later, they wanted to reset her wedding set into platinum with a bigger center diamond. It was made, loved and within one month, they did not like the “scratches” and dents on the bottom of the shank. It was an existing design that was just tweaked, so not completely custom. I talked with the manufacturer extensively about the platinum content, had it refinished, and the couple was still not satisfied.

I refunded the whole set and got a credit from the manufacturer, so it wasn’t a complete loss. Probably a little buyer’s remorse along with the softer metal performance. I would love to say they have purchased other things after that and it was a win-win situation; however, that is not the case. You win some, you lose some. Our reputation is still intact.

Daniel U.
Hamilton, ON

I think that the dealer got “played” by a person who abused her ring and then wanted a free ride to make up for her negligence. If she wanted to wear the ring “hard,” she should have said so at the beginning. My impression is that she got a suitable ring for her lifestyle, which she abused not just once, but several times. I believe that she knew she abused it, that she was morally wrong but that she did not want to accept responsibility for her actions.

The reason I believe these things is we have had clients who misrepresented their lifestyles and tried exactly the same type of scenario: to get a refund after they damaged something they could not afford. It is a measure of the solidarity of our clients that they stood together and denounced that individual as a liar and a fraud.

June M.
Aberdeen, MD

Since the customer indicated before authorizing the band that she did not do any heavy duty work in her employment or have any heavy duty hobbies, she could wear the ring every day. And she had worn it for a year or so. What DID she do that could have possibly caused that ring to end up in such a condition? I also don’t feel the store is responsible for the whole outcome of the finished ring. The craftsman is also responsible. Possibly also the customer.

Instead of a refund, the store could offer to replace the ring in a sturdier ring, possibly a heavier gauge for the filigree and the base plus a thicker band. That way, the cost for the store would be less than a refund.

Saro A.
Chevy Chase, MD

In the custom business, there are always cases when things go wrong either in design/manufacturing or by customer. I think Josh and Brooke should have at least given John a chance to make a new ring instead of asking for a refund. As bad as making a new ring would be for John, he should take the loss and never promise to give a refund on a custom made piece once the customer has seen and approved the wax model.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

I think that John should refuse to accept the package. Make the brute that beat up the ring come to the store to discuss any concessions to be made. And while she’s there, explain the abuse of the jewelry. I would NOT refund under any circumstances.

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