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A Vendor Raises an Item’s Memo Price After It Is Sold. What Should This Store Owner Do?

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GUILD AND STONE WAS a second-generation, high-end store in the Pacific Northwest. Store owner Dean Callen had used his 28 years as the company’s general manager to expand on the strong reputation his father built with an extensive vendor network and a local client base that included most of the town’s VIPs.

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 [email protected]

Back in April, Sharon Sanderlund, president of a local construction company and one of Guild And Stone’s best customers, came in to talk with store manager Jennifer Lee about finding a pendant to match the fabulous Art Deco citrine earrings she had just inherited from her aunt. Since there was nothing workable in the store’s estate collection, Dean recommended that Jennifer contact Ed Ansell, one of the store’s regular estate vendors who specialized in vintage colored gemstone pieces. Jennifer spoke with Ed and he agreed to memo several pendants for her to show.

The day the package arrived, while it was sitting on Dean’s desk waiting to be opened, Jennifer received an email from Ed letting her know that in addition to three citrine pendants, he had also included a number of other pieces in the shipment, all from an estate he had recently purchased and all on memo to the store. Since the lot was very well priced, he thought she and Dean might want to keep a few of the pieces for stock.

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When Dean opened the package, he was surprised to see that it contained a total of 13 pieces. As he checked them in, he had to agree that the prices were great, but he was further surprised to see that there was one item in the package — a vintage aquamarine and diamond bracelet — that was not listed on the memo. He contacted Ed immediately to report the error. Ed apologized and emailed an updated memo within the hour.

Later that week, Sharon Sanderlund came in to look at the pendants. She chose a beautiful art deco citrine and diamond pendant from the memo and a vintage chain from the store’s collection for a total of $4,550. While she was still in the store, Jennifer remembered the additional items that Ed had sent and brought them out of the safe to show Sharon. Sharon was immediately drawn to a Victorian sapphire and diamond ring — a cushion-shaped sapphire surrounded by 13 Old European Cut diamonds in 18K gold. Jennifer checked the memo and saw that the store’s cost for the ring was $3,500. She checked with Dean, who assigned a retail price of $6,100 to the ring — then promptly sold it to Sharon.

The next day, Dean sent Ed an email reporting the sale of the two items, adding a list of three more pieces from the lot that he wanted to keep for stock and asking for an invoice. Ed called back an hour later to let Dean know that there had been a mistake on the memo. He said that he had mixed up two rings from the estate — that the sapphire in the ring Jennifer had sold was unheated and that the actual cost for the piece was $7,500, not $3,500. He told Dean that the invoice would reflect the $7,500 price. Dean struggled to remain calm and rational while he very clearly explained to Ed that the ring was sold based on the memo price, and that was the price he would pay. The conversation got rather loud as Ed suggested that Dean contact the customer to get the ring back — something Dean flatly refused to do. The call ended with Ed insisting that the ring would be invoiced at the $7,500 price and subtly suggesting the possibility of legal action if Dean chose not to pay.

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Dean remembered thinking that like the rest of the lot, the ring was a great value at $3,500 cost, but he did not believe that price to be unreasonably low for an estate item. In an effort to be fair and to preserve a vendor relationship, he called Ed back the following day and offered to split the difference — to pay $5,500 for the ring. In his view, since the ring didn’t need sizing, that would leave him with a small profit once he paid Jennifer’s commission. Unfortunately, Ed refused to move off of his demand that Dean pay the invoiced amount for the ring. Dean hung up when Ed mentioned that as a professional, Dean should have noticed that the price was not right for a ring of that caliber in the first place.

The Big Questions

  • What should Dean do?
  • Is it reasonable to think that Ed might be right — that someone at Guild And Stone should have noticed that the price was too low for the ring?
  • Should Dean contact Mrs. Sanderlund and explain the situation in an attempt to either recover the ring or to re-sell it at a higher price?
Kevin P.
Newark, OH

When you write down a price on paper or write it in an email and send it, that is your responsibility to be correct. Once a vendor or a retailer gives a price, it is a done deal. In 40 years, I have never backtracked on a sale. A few times, I made mistakes in my calculations, once using per carat instead of net price to figure my cost.

In this case, I would call back the vendor and reiterate your offer to pay the $5,500 for the ring, as well as the second item and buy the three additional items. Remind him of the business you have done and may do in the future and ask him if he is willing to forget that. If he does not agree, I would send the amount he is asking for the two items and return the rest, and ask that your account be closed. There are other vendors who will behave in an honest and straightforward way with integrity.

John T.
Atlanta, GA

It was the vendor’s mistake and the vendor’s responsibility to catch and correct it before the sale was completed. The offer to split the difference from the jeweler was more than fair. Pay the memo price, and not a penny more, then find a new estate dealer; this one is crackers.

Oscar V.
Chicago, IL

Pay what is on the memo.

Stuart T.
Bel Air, MD

I always try to be fair with my trade partners, BUT in this case Ed is being unreasonable. Dave made a very fair offer to split the loss, and Ed refused to bend at all. Dave could have kept the Aquamarine and diamond bracelet but he was too honest to do so. Ed doesn’t have a leg to stand on, so let him sue, and loose a customer as well.

Michael J.
Port Charlotte, FL

I know the fine print on most memos says items are not to be sold until invoiced, but this can be argued since virtually no company actually holds to these words, so precedents have been set. The fact that Dean offered to split the cost at all was more than fair to the vendor, and in my opinion, should have been accepted without hesitation, especially if he had any desire to salvage the business relationship. The fact that Ed vehemently declined the offer means it should be rescinded and a check mailed for the price on the memo.

Albert D.
Fords, NJ

This is cut and dry. The store would only be liable for the original invoiced price. The fact that they were willing to give more was a very generous. I think the original vendor should have accepted their offer, considering that they know the ring was sold.

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Colleen Z.
Hershey, PA

Ed is absolutely in the wrong here. It’s his duty to correctly identify and price his merchandise — and to eat the loss if he makes a mistake. If he ever wants Dean as a customer again, he needs to honor the original price on his memo. Dean should absolutely not let his client know what’s going on — it’s not at all her responsibility to deal with and it ruins the magic of the purchase. If he ends up having to pay the full cost so she can keep her ring and he can avoid legal action, then so be it. However, he should never work with Ed again. Dean went above and beyond to compromise, and Ed clearly doesn’t value the relationship in the same way. If his customer service is this poor, I wouldn’t trust Ed with other items. Dean should contact his lawyer for advice to handle the situation but above all else — keep Sharon out of it!

Jay S.
San Diego, CA

The retailer tried so hard to be fair. The supplier made the mistake and should live with it. When the supplier was not willing to work with his customer, I would have told him to sue me, and then I would have told him to pound sand!

David B.
Calgary, AB

When is a deal a deal? On both ends. Dean cannot go back to his client and ask for more. It makes him look unprofessional. It may even cost him a client. His offer to eat some cost was very fair. The consignor showed no professionalism. And getting an offer to split the difference was very fair. When I was a traveling salesman, this situation happened to me. I did not go back and ask my retailer for more money. I ate the loss and practiced better accounting. Further, the consignor making threats about court action is ridiculous. I know a fight is expensive, but where do you draw the line? Retailers get kicked in the backside at every turn, and even when it is a clear mistake, why are we expected to make it right? Dean needs to hold his ground.

Stewart P.
Lansing, MI

It is truly unfortunate that we all make mistakes in a variety of different ways. With 45 years in the trade under my belt, I can honestly say that I have paid a small fortune for the errors in judgment that I have made in an attempt to retain or strengthen the integrity of my business. I could have paid much less if I had chosen to place blame on others and refused to accept the responsibility. In the instance described, the error was clearly in the vendor’s corner. The retailer was completely blameless and should not be punished. We cannot function if we cannot rely on quotes and estimates from our vendors as written or stated.

Joe K.
Lantzville, BC

A deal’s a deal. The cost on the original invoice is all that should be paid. Looks like Ed is a little lackadaisical in his invoicing. Suck it up, Ed.

Jim G.
Champaign, IL

The ring as invoiced stands correct. If they had picked up the phone and told the new price before the ring was sold, then the new price would be in order. Too bad for the vendor.

Rex S.
Houston, TX

It is basic contract law. The items were sent out on consignment to be shown to a retail customer and allowed to be sold to retail customers based on the offer price listed on the memo. The retailer sold the item to the retail customer based on the price that the vendor sent to the retailer in good faith. It should also be noted that the vendor had previously told the retailer that this lot was an exceptionally well-priced estate lot; therefore, the retailer was reasonable in not questioning the pricing of the items. The retailer absolutely should not be asked, nor should they contact the retail customer, as that customer bought the item in good faith from the retailer and this has no duty to resend that sales contract. In short, the “memo” is in fact an offer to sell, and the retailer accepted that offer.

Norbert M.
Nairobi, Kenya

Especially in gem and jewelry trade, the customer is always right and therefore should not be bothered. Also, why should the initial seller want to unscrupulously transfer his error to his jewelry broker friend? This is wrong! He should accept the loss as his mistake and use the mishap as a future strength-point! Going to a court of law will only break their wonderful business association. Furthermore, 1) the untold truth is that estate jewelry is often bought at extremely lower price to exploit the owners and to sell off fast to make a quick buck! 2) the money involved is too low to cause the fuss considering the long-term business relationships. In a nutshell, for all the parties, let it be what has already been and move on. Hope I don’t sound too blunt!

Jim S.
Kauai, HI

Dean in good faith sold items based upon a written memo price. That the wholesaler made a mistake is not his fault. His offer of a compromise showed integrity and fairness. Ed’s response showed a lack of both.

Dianne H.
Eldon, MO

They must leave the satisfied customer out of the deal. That part is finished. The customer did nothing wrong. Neither did the jeweler. Carelessness by this supplier shows as the one bracelet was not even on the original invoice. Now the jeweler should prepare to get legal advice and not be bullied by the supplier! $10 payment per month FOREVER!

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

Dean should not pay a dime over $3,500. That is the price listed on his memo sheet, and if Ed tries to take any legal action, then Dean has the proof of the price Ed originally gave him. This is Ed’s mistake and should be his loss, not Dean’s. Also, Ed should probably realize how much money Dean was about to send him and be happy that he could probably recoup his mistake. If I was Dean, I wouldn’t do a bit of business with Ed again. There’s lot of estate dealers out there; go find another one who is more professional. And there is no chance I would call a great customer and ask her for the ring back or to pay more money. You would lose her for good if you did something like that.

Joel M.
New York, NY

Estate jewelry is tricky on value. We receive from our dealers and trust them to value the pieces. Thus, the store owner is not liable and his dealer should have taken the offer to split the profit.

Stuart S.
Egg Harbor City, NJ

This is an estate ring and could have just been an amazing value. Dean was very generous to split the difference. If the ring had not been sold, I’m sure Dean would have either returned the ring or agreed to the price. I feel bad for Ed that he made the mistake, but he has nobody to blame but himself. Ed no longer deserves the benefit of the split. Obviously Ed does not have the same respect for their business relationship as Dean!

Jon P.
St. George, UT

Ed’s mistake. Ed should eat the difference.

Tom C.
San Marcos, CA

You live with your mistakes. An error in pricing is the sender’s fault, not the buyer’s. It may affect any future dealings, but so what? If you can’t trust the sender’s memo pricing, what good is it to solicit goods from them?

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

Dean is required to pay the $3,500 plus applicable taxes. Anything greater than that requires a visit to his lawyer. When the dust settles, Dean should let Mrs. Sanderlund know the incredible deal she received and offer his services to appraise the item. Mistakes happen to all of us, and Dean’s offer of $5,500 was overly generous. Once rejected, I believe a judge would rule in Dean’s favor.

Valerie S.
Champaign, IL

If I’m not mistaken, this was fictionalized based off of my post on the Jewelers Helping Jewelers Facebook group. Fortunately, the wholesaler honored their memo price and we all moved on.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

Let me see if I understand this correctly … The memo said one price, the vendor changed it (doubled), and then Dean offered to meet Ed halfway. Dean is a mensch; and Ed is a _______! (fill in the blank as you deem appropriate). I would send a check for the memo price — I would not buy the other three pieces that looked good and probably not buy anything else from Ed.

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Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected].

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