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Ask INSTORE: April 2016

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What makes a store a favorite place to shop? I’m wondering how to achieve a higher level of customer loyalty.

There are two parts to this answer — the soft and the hard. The first has to do with building a reputation so strong that people start to see themselves validated by your brand. You know the businesses that people rave about — journalists as much customers — Southwest, Starbucks, Apple, Zappos, Nordstrom … more than a billion words must have been written about what they do well and how they do it, but which we think can be best summed up in a headline for a Fast Company column back in 2012: “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch.” Having said that we’re not going down that path, because when it comes to customer loyalty, most small jewelers haven’t earned the right to be talking branding and culture; they haven’t even taken care of the most rudimentary basics yet. This is an area where smaller jewelers are really dropping the ball. For most jewelers, the majority of their revenue comes from repeat customers yet only 24 percent have any sort of loyalty program in place, according to our Brain Squad surveys. That’s shocking. If you don’t have one, establish a “preferred customer” program for anyone who makes a purchase, even a battery. Offer them first shot at sales, first viewing of new merchandise, or even the chance to swap loyalty points for a session with a jewelry expert or stylist (according to research by LoyaltyOne, a firm that runs corporate loyalty programs, 84 percent of millennials said such expert consultations would motivate them to shop more with that merchant.)

I’d really like to outsource the cleaning of my store. Good idea?

There are some things in life that would be great to be able to outsource — firing staff, telling a customer you’ve cracked her diamond, fronting up for an IRS audit — but which as the leader of your store you should do yourself. Cleaning almost fits that category. And most jewelry-store owners do keep the task in-house. According to a survey of our Brain Squad, 78 percent of jewelers take care of the cleaning themselves, even in stores as large as 8,000 square feet. Among those that outsourced the job, there were a couple who said they found their cleaner “at the Y,” but we’d recommend you take a more cautious approach, hiring a professional firm that runs background checks on its employees and that is bonded and insured. Even then, it’s a good idea to always have a staff member present when the cleaners are working and to set limits to the hours and areas they work. Van Horne & Co. in Granger, IN, hires a crew to come in on a weekly basis, but the inside of cases are off limits. “Staff does that. Outside cleaners clean outside of cases, floors, rest rooms, etc. Cases are closed and locked while cleaners are here once a week, prior to store opening,” explains owner Gary Richmond. Of course, if you do hire professional cleaners you’ll lose the opportunity to scrub the toilet bowl and all that that means. “I tell my help, I’ll never ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself,” says Richard Veader owner of Wakefield Jewelers in Wakefield, MA, who in addition to taking care of the bathrooms at his store, helps Windex the glass, and vacuum the floors.

I have several unclaimed repair jobs for which the money owed once you include interest charges and storage fees is now more than the value of the piece. Surely I am within my rights to scrap it and get my money back?

Hold off with that torch. Unless you’ve held the jewelry beyond the statutory time limit in your state, “you can’t arbitrarily decide that because of the cost of the piece or the amount owed you don’t have to contact the customer,” says the JVC’s Jo-Ann Sporano. In the case where there is no statutory time limit, before you can lawfully dispose of the piece you must be in possession of documentary evidence that shows you made a “diligent effort” to contact the person. That means copies of returned certified mail (for every piece), and records of phone calls including calls to directory assistance. It’s usually better business — and less time consuming — to stay on top of unclaimed repair jobs with regular phone reminders to customers while the jobs are still fresh.

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When do you know it’s time to dump the client?

It’s pretty easy to work out when a client is financially not worth the effort based on how many minutes, hours, and days they suck up asking for custom design re-dos, free appraisals, or to look at that silver chain one more time. The cost to your creative energy or staff morale is a little harder to determine, but basically if they’re never happy with what you’ve done or you find yourself constantly defending your work or your staff don’t want to deal with the person because they are so unpleasant, then you should suggest they take their business elsewhere. Life is too short.

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