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A Client’s Daughter May Have Pocketed a Piece of Jewelry Without Paying. What Should the Store Owner Do?

She knows it could also cause problems for the client with his ex-wife.

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MICHELLE LUCAS HAD been a top salesperson at All That Glitters Fine Jewelry since shortly after she and her husband Dean moved to town 12 years ago. She enjoyed living in what she jokingly called their “sort-of small town” suburb of a small Midwest city.

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

Several months ago, Michelle and Dean ran into their neighbor, Paul Henry, while waiting for a table at a local restaurant. During their conversation, Paul mentioned that he was considering a surprise proposal to the woman he had been seeing for the past year and asked Michelle if she could help him select a ring.

Of course, Michelle was delighted, and they set up an appointment for the following Saturday.

Paul had bought the house next door to the Lucases several years ago after battling through a nasty divorce. Michelle had only met Paul’s ex-wife once when she was dropping their daughter Olivia off for a weekend visit. Much to Paul’s chagrin, however, she and Dean had also overheard several of the woman’s loud and nasty “driveway tirades” on other occasions when she wasn’t happy with some element of Paul’s more traditional parenting style.

Michelle was surprised that Saturday afternoon when Paul arrived at the store with Olivia in tow. He explained that his ex had needed to switch weekends at the last minute, and he didn’t want to cancel the appointment, so he had brought Olivia along to help him choose a ring. For the first 20 minutes while Paul looked at different versions of the designer setting his soon-to-be-fiancée had pointed out in the store’s window several weeks before, Olivia sat patiently beside him, engrossed in a game she was playing on her new iPhone. When the setting choice was made and the discussion turned to diamonds, Olivia asked Michelle if she could look around while her dad finished his shopping. With Paul’s nod of approval, Michelle gave the OK, and the child walked off into the busy store.

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The conversation quickly returned to diamonds, and after a half-hour spent looking at several options, Paul settled on a stunning 1.70-carat F VS1 emerald cut, bringing the total cost of his ring to $23,600. Paul retrieved Olivia from the store’s watch boutique while Michelle processed the paperwork and his credit card, then father and daughter left the store.

As the team was closing that afternoon, Jack Patel, Michelle’s newest coworker, asked if he could have a word with her. He told Michelle that while she had been working with Paul, he had seen Olivia take one of the new $65 sterling silver and gemstone bead bracelets off of the display. He thought he had seen her put it into the pocket of her hoodie but couldn’t be sure. He checked the display after Olivia had moved on to another area of the store and confirmed that the bracelet hadn’t been put back in its place. Jack said that he became busy with customers at that point, but while preparing for closing, he was able to confirm that the bracelet hadn’t been sold, and he was unable to find it when he took another look around the store. Because he really couldn’t be sure that Olivia had actually taken the bracelet, and he knew that Paul was a friend, he thought it best to tell Michelle before bringing the situation to the store owner’s attention.

The last thing Michelle wanted was to jeopardize her sale over a $65 bracelet, and she definitely didn’t want to be put in the middle of what was sure to be an awkward situation, but it was closing time on Saturday, and Linda Burke, the store owner, had already left for the day. Michelle and Jack agreed that they would take one more careful look around first thing Monday morning, and if the bracelet wasn’t found, they would talk with Linda.

After another futile search, Michelle and Jack explained the situation to Linda when she arrived Monday morning. Linda pulled up the security video from the area of the store that included the bracelet display. In the video, they could clearly see Olivia taking the bracelet off the display, but her position and the angle of the camera made it impossible to see exactly what she had done with it. Video of Olivia in other parts of the store during her 30-minute walk-around offered no clues. They knew for certain that the bracelet was nowhere in the store, and though all three believed they knew what had happened, they couldn’t prove that Olivia took it.

Linda was torn over what to do. As the parent of a young teen herself, she was certain that she would want to know if it had been her son in a similar situation.

As a business owner, however, while she believed that halting the development of a potential future felon was a good thing, she also recognized that there could be plenty of possible negatives attached to bringing the situation to Paul’s attention — especially knowing that any effort to address the issue with Olivia would have to involve her combative and over-indulgent mother.

The Big Questions

  • Should Linda reach out to Paul, or should she just ignore the whole episode?
  • Is there a way to bring the potential problem to Paul’s attention without directly accusing Olivia of stealing?
  • As the business owner, is it reasonable for Linda to ask Michelle to talk with Paul?
  • Is the loss of a $65 bracelet worth the potential hassle and negative PR that would likely be caused by the girl’s mother?

 

Jo G.
Oconomowoc, WI

If you can’t prove it, leave it alone. It is the cost of doing business. If there was clear theft on the video, absolutely call Paul, but that is not the situation in the story.

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

Assuming a keystone mark-up, at best this is a thirty-three-dollar write-off. Handle it the same way as any small jewelry items disappearing occasionally from a display with easy public access. That is the reason your accountant set you up with an ICR (Inventory Change Report). I would handle the situation this way whether there was a sale or not.

Jack L.
Lake Forest, CA

Sometimes, you have to bite the bullet and move on. The store owner is not going to convert Olivia’s behavior by floating this incident to her parent(s), especially since the video was inconclusive. Yes, the theft of a $65 item is as bad as the theft of a $650 item, but, weighing everything, forget it and move on to the next $20,000 sale.

Stuart T.
Reisterstown, MD

Ever heard the phrase, “They shoot the bearer of bad news?” If you inform the father who just gave you a huge sale that you think his daughter is a thief, how well do you think that will go over? Eat the $ 65 bracelet, chalk it up to good will and be happy for the sale.

Mary T.
Leavenworth, WA

Unfortunately, nothing can be done. If the camera had shown the theft, I would have approached Paul after the diamond sale had taken place. Now, the girl just needs to be watched each time she comes into the store. In a real situation, I would make sure that the camera focus would be better in that area.

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Leo A.
St. Louis, MO

The Aanswer is in the story itself: “In the video, they could clearly see Olivia taking the bracelet off the display, but her position and the angle of the camera made it impossible to see exactly what she had done with it.” Not going to make an accusation or mention anything without solid proof she took it. Now, if the video can show there was no other option, such as falling on the floor, I would bring it up to the dad as a “just so you know” type thing.

Tracy W.
San Gabriel, CA

Let it go. For a $23,000 sale, your cost on a $65 sterling bracelet isn’t much. If the girl didn’t take it, however unlikely, you have alienated a neighbor and future client. Not to mention the legality: You can’t prove by the video that she took it. If she did, she’ll get caught sooner or later. If she comes into the store again, have an associate shadow her.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

I know there is a nice sale riding with Paul here, but there is also a duty to call out a potential thief and the opportunity to change the course of a young girl heading for trouble. I think they just need to simply say someone saw Olivia take the bracelet but couldn’t see where she put it down, and now, they can’t find it. Then ask Paul if he’ll ask Olivia where she put the bracelet down, and hopefully, she’ll confess if she has any kind of decency. I know $65 isn’t much for a bracelet, but it’s the principle behind the theft. You play this delicately and gracefully, but I wouldn’t let it slide.

Drue S.
Albany, NY

If it was my client’s daughter, I would chalk this up to a very slight loss for not having a potential nightmare on my hands. It’s never a good idea to get in the middle of family drama. $65?? Well spent to keep serenity and peace in the store and without the ire of a helicopter mom!

Ellen L.
Seattle, WA

I would definitely have a conversation with Olivia’s father first. There may not be actual video of Olivia taking the bracelet, but it wasn’t in the inventory after she left. Hmmmm. This is a good opportunity for some enlightened parenting and a teaching moment. We live now in a society with too much permissiveness, so writing this off just feeds that tendency. And if Olivia were Black or Hispanic … Dad, get her to ‘fess up and then make her apologize to the store and make proper restitution.

Elisa R.
Ocala, FL

A few important things to note: 1) Small town, word travels fast; 2) Divorce, the daughter is the victim; 3) The customer is a neighbor; and 4) The actual loss, triple key? These are all factors in bringing an accusation regarding an individual’s child. A parent will immediately respond defensively and turn the anger to you. In a small town, that can be devastating to your business. I can conclude from Dad’s ring purchase that a $65 bracelet would not have been a big deal. The theft of the bracelet is the daughter is acting out. The owner should clip the security footage and have a private conversation with the father outside of the store setting. Perhaps on his home turf. Make it very clear that you are not accusing the daughter of anything, in fact the video is inconclusive. As a parent and a friend, you are providing the clip for his purview. The video is for his information and is the only copy. Confirm your support as a parent and a friend.

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Stan G.
Charlotte, NC

Because of the dollar amount and inconclusive video, I’d say let it go. The next time the girl comes in the store, have the entire staff stare a hole through her and she’ll know exactly why. Her hands will stay in her pockets! Paul knows what his daughter is capable of, so it won’t be a shock to him to find out she’s got sticky fingers. Her path of lawlessness will become exposed soon enough elsewhere and the local jewelry store won’t have to call out a juvenile for a petty theft. Keep selling diamonds, don’t worry about raising somebody else’s kid.

Megan C.
Poulsbo, WA

While this is a potentially uncomfortable situation, if handled with professionalism, it could be managed well. I’d contact Paul and ask to speak with him in person, possibly away from the store, in a neutral setting. I’d explain what happened in the store but clearly state that they have no proof that his daughter took the bracelet. I’d ask him how he would like to respond to his daughter’s possible action. I’d make it very clear that as the salesperson, I’m willing to absorb the loss of the bracelet. Because Paul has stated that there is a conflict between the two parents, out of respect for him, I am bringing up the possibility that Olivia took the bracelet to him directly so he can decide how to proceed. Be compassionate but not overly emotional. This could be more of a moment for Paul to teach Olivia about consequences instead of punishment, but the store would request Olivia not wander unaccompanied the next time Paul needs to bring her along for any visits.

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