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The Case of the High-Talent Turf War

An in-house designer lays down an ultimatum: 
It’s me or the jeweler.

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CLARKE & MAIN WAS a well-run, high-end store in a midsized Northeast town. The original owners sold the store when they retired eight years ago to Richard Kindley, the owner of a similar store two towns away. Will Parkend had been Clarke & Main’s in-house jeweler for seven years and had handled everything from carving waxes to hand-fabrication for custom pieces, as well as repairs from simple chain soldering to the most complex restorations, and he agreed to stay on. Richard knew from a variety of sources that Will was very talented but had always been temperamental and was not much of a team player.

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]

In mid-2019, with both repair/restoration and custom design becoming bigger and bigger parts of the business, Richard decided to build a large addition onto the Clarke & Main building to house a greatly expanded shop that would service both stores. The new shop included five benches, a fully equipped casting facility, two laser welders, a CAD station outfitted with the latest in design software and two top of-the-line 3-D printers. Will and the two jewelers and full-time CAD designer from the original Kindley store moved in, and Richard planned to fill the two additional open benches as the workload demanded. Though Richard didn’t see the need for a shop manager with his experienced crew, he asked Will, as the most senior of the group, to assume the lead role.

Amy Walter, a CAD designer, was hired in early 2017 and had proven to be a huge asset to the Kindley store. She was great with customers and wildly creative, and she had developed quite a following in town. With a bit of social media promotion and a well-developed referral network, it wasn’t long before Amy became the go-to for custom design among engagement ring buyers in the Clarke & Maine market as well.

While Amy was comfortable working with the two jewelers who had come over with her, she struggled with Will. By the fall of 2021, differences of opinion between the two seemed to become more frequent and more virulent, often involving any number of additional employees. Amy found Will to be very “old school” and inflexible, unwilling to consider her ideas or opinions with regard to how pieces should be made. Will, on the other hand, considered CAD overall to be an affront to the art of jewelry making, and saw Amy as an inexperienced kid who couldn’t possibly know what she was doing since she spent her time on a computer, not on the bench.

About a month ago, Amy walked into Richard’s office at the end of an especially busy Friday with a letter of resignation. She said she really loved her work and her customers and genuinely hated to leave, but that Will’s behavior had made things untenable for her. She was tired of his constant criticism and of seeing in-production changes made to almost all of her designs, convinced that the only reason for the changes was Will’s need to be in control and to demonstrate his superiority. She felt that he had also undermined her expertise with a number of the company’s salespeople, making her uncomfortable and making her job much harder than it needed to be. Richard listened to Amy’s concerns, then asked her what it would take to make her happy and keep her with the company. When she didn’t have an immediate answer, he asked her to take the weekend to think about it before making a final decision.

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For his part, with everything else he had to do running a high-volume company, Richard had just been happy to have two highly competent people on board. While he knew the working relationship wasn’t ideal and he’d wished things could have been less contentious, he had no idea that the tension between them had gotten so serious.

When they met the following Monday, Richard opened the conversation by offering to move Amy back to the Kindley store, where he would create a new “Design Studio” for her. Amy thanked him for the thought, but reminded him that prior to the move, Kindley’s used an outside contractor to make the pieces she designed (while the in-house jewelers handled simple fabrications and repairs), and that unless Richard was willing to go back to that model, his proposal wouldn’t solve the problem. She said that she could not continue working for the company as long as Will — and his immature and subversive behavior — was tolerated there.

Richard knew that Will would not be open to any conversation, and that no matter what, he wouldn’t change. He realized that he was left to choose between losing Will — whose high-quality work was an integral part of Clarke & Main’s reputation — or losing Amy, whose creativity and talent had become an important differentiating factor for both Clarke & Main and Kindley’s.

The Big Questions

  • What should Richard do?
  • Is there any option that might serve to save both of his valued employees?
  • If he has to make a call, should it be in favor of an up and coming, high-talent designer with a bright future, or a high-talent (but much closer to retirement) craftsman whose work is amazing, but who is not likely to adapt to any tech advances or to work well with anyone in the CAD design role?
Jo G.
Oconomowoc, WI

I usually read these and walk away shaking my head, but this one is easy-peasy. Let her go. Thank her for her service, give her a letter of recommendation if you like, but then kiss her goodbye. Keep and value your true talent. A jewelry designer designs, but then it is up to the true craftsman to make it come to life. I know — I am a jewelry designer, and have never spent one minute at the bench. My designs would never work without the knowledge base in my shop that I rely on. CAD students graduate every day. Dedicated bench jewelers are worth their weight in gold.

Amy C.
Grove, OK

This is actually a pretty easy problem to solve. I would move Amy to her design studio in the other store and allow her to have whichever company or person she prefers to do each job. Every jeweler has their strong skill set or talent, and each piece of art (jewelry) should be done by the person best for the job. The customer (and the store’s high level of product) is job No. 1. Amy is bringing in the jobs (money) and needs to have the support of the owner. Bottom line: You can’t farm out her skill set — she needs to stay.

Drue S.
Albany, NY

Richard should first try to mediate a conversation with the two employees. If that conversation is not fruitful, then I think Richard must choose the up-and-coming designer and find another talented craftsman to finish her jewelry designs. If Amy was on my staff, I would have her interview and hire the jeweler that she could work with well. And Richard should consider moving a good craftsman to his area. With Zoom, you can interview anywhere.

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Paula H.
Concord, NH

Both Amy and Will are important to Richard’s business. Richard needs a new plan for the studio where Will has his area and can oversee the bench workers who are involved with completing the work he is involved with, and Amy has her bench people to complete her CAD designs. A meeting with the new studio layout is Richard’s responsibility as he let it run wild for far too long. Two separate areas. Both areas should report only to Richard.

Jack L.
Lake Forest, CA

With all the “investing” Richard is doing to grow his business, I’d invest in a new jeweler for bench No. 4 who can do everything Will does and set up a partnership between that new jeweler and Amy. I might also go back to Will and relieve him of his “oversight” duties in the shop, telling him I’d made a mistake giving him that added responsibility and preferring that he focus on his quality benchwork as in the past.

David B.
Calgary, AB

The way the characters are framed means no reconciliation. And frankly, I get exhausted trying to reconcile differences when they happen. Regardless of age and point in their careers, keep Amy. A good front counter person that has the skill to design and work with the client is invaluable. Yes, having a great tradesman is a unicorn, but with the designs, Richard can farm out the actual work until a replacement is found. Great bench workers have a ton to offer, but revenue can still be made with outside contractors. Getting that revenue at the counter is very difficult. I would still try to convince Will by maybe setting him up outside the store as an independent contractor and perhaps not telling Amy to see if that might work.

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 [email protected].

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