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Ask INSTORE: July 2006

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Being a good listener, tips for displaying men’s jewelry, and selling without discounting.

[h3]Listen Up! Test your listening skills[/h3]

[dropcap cap=Q.][h4][b]I fancy myself as a good listener but perhaps a second opinion is needed.[/b][/h4][/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=A.]Just about everybody thinks he’s a good listener. But if you’re in sales and basing this quality purely on anatomical terms, networking expert Andrea Nierenberg suggests taking this quick test. Ask yourself the following nine question and rate your listening skills from 1-5. Be honest! 1.) Do I make sufficient eye contact? 2.) Do I ask for clarification? 3.) Do I show concern by acknowledging feelings? 4.) Do I try to understand the speaker’s point of view before giving mine? 5.) Am I poised and emotionally controlled. 6.) Do I react nonverbally with a smile or nod? 7.) Do I pay close attention and not let my mind wander? 8.) Do I avoid interrupting the speaker? 9.) Do I avoid abrupt subject changes? If you scored yourself honestly then here are the results. If you scored 35 to 45, you’re an “exceptional” listener, 25 to 34 is “very good”, 20 to 24 gets you an “average” score and 15 to 19 merits a “keep working, you’ll improve” score. And, if you scored below 15, INSTORE suggests a career change. [/dropcap]

[componentheading]DISPLAY[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Man’s World[/contentheading]

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[h4][b]Men’s jewelry is getting to be a big category, but it’s very new to many jewelers. What are some tips for displaying men’s jewelry?[/b][/h4]

Men make up roughly half the US population, but the mix of men’s jewelry in jewelry stores is typically 5% of their merchandise. But that may be changing as men are wearing more jewelry. According to Larry Johnson’s new book “The Complete Guide to Effective Jewelry Display”, on the average, men’s jewelry should be displayed in cases that are less than 6 feet in length with no less than 3 feet of space allocated for displaying merchandise. Given the infrequent nature of jewelry self-purchases by men, men’s jewelry should be out of the store’s normal traffic area.

Men tend to not like shopping near ladies’ goods. “Position your store’s men’s jewelry case next to the watch counter or the cash register area where they’ll be better attended,” suggests Johnson. For the display itself use larger elements (ring fingers, bracelet ramps and risers) in more “masculine” fabrics such as gray herringbone or other “suit” fabrics. Regarding the display of the jewelry itself, showcase items that facilitate a man’s infrequent self-purchases. This means dispense with price-point displays and group men’s jewelry with like items, such as tie-tacs with cufflinks.

Men’s jewelry is pretty much “no fuss no muss”, so use signage that enhances the appeal of the jewelry such as “14K” (gold) or “hand inlay”. For case trimmings avoid the sports and sports car clichés. Opt for more timeless display-case trimmings such as antique fly-fishing reels, old toy cars, or old sports items.

[componentheading]STORE DESIGN[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Sitting Pretty[/contentheading]

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[h4][b]Our staff is getting older. How can we develop an attractive, efficient area for them to take a seat on the sales floor?[/b][/h4]

Interior design expert Bruce Brigham, president of Retail Clarity Consulting, suggests that you look to Asia and Europe for inspiration. “Both of these regions have a long tradition of selling jewelry sitting down — both the customer and the sales person,” says Brigham. “It adds tremendous style and elegance to any store, and elevates you beyond the usual mass-
merchandising retail environment.” The addition of club seating or small sofas with coffee tables is a luxurious way to sell jewelry in a more personal way, says Brigham.

Also, a “work desk” introduced into the design can function as a great place to make calls and do paperwork, and yet easily accommodate a guest for more personal transactions. “If the work desk is carefully located for sightlines, you can still maintain control over your selling floor,” says Brigham. “And it is still very stylish to see a sales person sitting at an elegantly appointed work desk, taking care of business.” Make sure the design allows for easy-access storage, so when a customer comes in, paperwork can be whisked away to transform it back into an elegant selling location.

[componentheading]SELLING[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Control Your Customer[/contentheading]

[h4][b]I want to teach my salespeople that they don’t have to give away the farm to close the sale. What are some good techniques to help them stay in charge throughout their presentation?[/b][/h4]

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Hal Becker, co-author of Get What You Want!, says that “selling is first cousin to negotiating.” He offers these tips:
• Know your customer before you talk. Knowledge is power. If you have good intelligence, you can execute a better attack.
• Listen to the customer and do not interrupt. People love a good listener. Besides, what you blurt out could hurt you.
• Ask questions. Any question. Why? It puts you in control of the negotiation.
• Have great eye contact and smile. A pleasant demeanor shows sincerity, and people like to deal with people they like. Direct eye contact shows you have an interest in the customer.
• Learn to love silence. Sometimes you say more when you don’t talk, and you give the customer a chance to say “yes.”
• Learn to paraphrase. Restate what the customer has said. This shows you’re listening to them, and gives you an extra moment to think before you reply.
• Speak clearly and slow down your speech. It’s human nature to distrust a fast talker.

[componentheading]STORE DESIGN[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Outside Chance[/contentheading]

[h4][b]I want to freshen up my store’s exterior look with new landscaping. Any suggestions?[/b][/h4]

It’s absolutely possible to create a beautiful look on a budget, if you plan wisely. Start by choosing perennial flowers whenever possible, which give your store a consistent look along with reduced costs, says Ed LaFlamme, president of LaFlamme Landscape Management Co. Another great option is ornamental grasses, due to their variety and low maintenance needs. Grasses may be allowed to grow tall and can be used as screens and backdrops on their own or in conjunction with trees and shrubbery, LaFlamme says. “Different types used for variety in color and height can really add dimension to a center’s landscape,” he explains. In addition to pedestrian traffic, consider vehicular traffic, soil types and climate when choosing the foliage for your landscape.  

Finally, there are security considerations. Rather than planting large bushes that create concealed areas and hidden doorways, many stores are choosing upright trees with higher branches that contribute to open spaces.

[span class=note]This story is from the July 2006 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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What to Do with a Conservative Business Partner, How to Set Goals You Can Achieve and More of Your Questions Answered

Plus, how to get your staff to actually listen more.

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Apart from telling them to talk less, how do I actually get my staff to be become better listeners?

Robin Dreeke, a former head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program, says the secret lies in an appreciation that good listening is more than simply shutting up. “Listening is having nothing to say. There’s a difference there. If you just shut up, it means you’re still thinking about what you want to say. You’re just not saying it,” he writes in It’s Not All About Me: The Top Ten Techniques For Building Quick Rapport With Anyone. The reason is that customers can tell you’re not focused on what they are saying. Instead, Dreeke suggests, do this: “[A]s soon as you have that story or thought you want to share, toss it. Consciously tell yourself, ‘I am not going to say it.’ All you should be doing is asking yourself, ‘What idea or thought that they mentioned do I find fascinating and want to explore?’” Get your sales staff or jewelry designers to take such an approach in their interactions with customers, and the results could potentially be revolutionary. No sales pitches. Just responding to what customers are telling them. That’s listening.

Year after year, I’ve carefully plotted SMART goals for my staff, but we never attain them. Any idea what we’re doing wrong?

To the rational mind, it’s hard to argue with the SMART mnemonic — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely — when it comes to goals. At the heart of it is “achievable,” after all. Except, of course, when it comes to managing humans, it’s best to be wary of anything that gives off the clinical odor of rationality. In the place of SMART goals, we thus propose an experiment for you: This year, try some Vague and Seemingly Irrelevant goals (yep, the sort of targets that can’t even be counted on to form a clever acronym). Clear goals such as “Increase sales by 20 percent” can be motivating, but also set extra hurdles to fail at, which can throw the human mind into a tizzy (like a yellow Post-it sticker on your mirror that says “Don’t eat a cream bun today!”) Vague goals, on the other hand, can be liberating. As for “seemingly irrelevant,” the key word is the first: “seemingly.” This is management at a higher level. Identify the secret drivers to business success, be it the cheery baristas at Starbucks or actions in your store that result in a positive review on social media, and you may actually get the specific financial results you desire. In his book The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman recounts the story of a Formula One pit crew whose members were told that they would no longer be assessed on the basis of speed targets; they would be rated on style instead. Instructed to focus on acting “smoothly,” rather than on beating their current record time, they wound up performing faster. It’s a seductive story. Could you do the same with your staff?

What’s a good rate of growth to aim for?

Some growth is necessary for any business to keep up with competitors, benefit from economies of scale and provide new opportunities for its people, but there are more important things you should probably be focusing on. As Brazilian businessman Ricardo Semler noted in his book Maverick, the only things in the world that grow for the sake of growth are businesses and tumors. “Growth needs to be balanced with margin, operating expenses and inventory levels, otherwise it can result in working harder but having nothing to show for it,” notes David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy. Worry about cash flow, profit, taking care of your staff and customers, and basically just doing a good job. Growth should then take care of itself.

I had an embarrassing encounter with a customer earlier this week, and now I can’t get it out of my mind. It’s tormenting me. Help!

The old-school psychoanalyst would say we need to revisit this in punishing detail (these thoughts of perfection, where do they come from?), but it doesn’t sound like you want to go there. In place of that approach, we recommend substitution (come up with a funny version of the story) or distraction. The latter gets a bad rap, but recent studies have shown it’s actually pretty effective. Want to forget that screw-up at work? Do what Gary Gordon of Samuel Gordon Jewelers used to recommend after a sale went badly and go polish silverware for 30 minutes. Or start plotting a complex dinner tonight. Your brain has trouble focusing on more than one thing at a time, so a new action interferes nicely with recollection. And running the same movie reel over and over in your head really helps no one.

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Handling the Salesperson Who Bombed at Christmas and More of Your Questions Answered

Plus, what’s a fair repair warranty?

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After reviewing my sales team’s performance over the holidays, I found I have one who underperformed. She’s a lovely person and tries to implement the training we give her, but her numbers just don’t improve. Do we just persist with training?

It sounds like she has the right attitude and work ethic to succeed, just not in sales. Almost anyone can learn how to describe a product’s features (the knowledge), they can even learn how to ask the right open-ended questions to elicit a customer’s exact needs (a skill), but they’ll never learn how to push that prospect to get excited about jewelry and to commit at exactly the right moment. That is a talent some people just seem to be born with, says Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the play-to-people’s strengths school of business management. “In the minds of great managers, consistent poor performance is not primarily a matter of weakness, stupidity, disobedience, or disrespect. It is a matter of miscasting,” he says. You’ll be doing both your store and this woman a possibly life-changing service by forcing her to apply her talents and strengths in some other field.

Any thoughts on how to breathe some fresh air into our business? We need to shake things up.

Every good idea requires not only a fresh catalyst, but also a new way of looking at things. In the words of design consultant Tom Kelley, you want to achieve “the sense of seeing something for the first time, even if you have actually witnessed it many times before.” That explains the success of asking new employees (about a month after they’ve been added to payroll) what changes they would make to the way your store is managed. Constraints, such as radically slashing a budget for a certain department, are another well-proven way of generating new ideas and inspiring creativity. Reconsidering an issue in a different physical context seems to help, as does picking some specific type of person — a doctor, an astronaut or a historical figure — and imagining what they’d do in your situation. The key is to shift perspective as randomly as possible.

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What is an acceptable warranty on a customer’s repair?

A one-year warranty on repairs from defect is the norm, according to Blaine Lewis, a master diamond setter and metalsmith. “For example, to replace a Tiffany head in four or six prongs, your store would guarantee the setting and the stone for replacement up to one year from service if, with normal wear, a problem occurs. The warranty should state that the guarantee is not applicable if abuse beyond normal wear is at fault.” Lewis says to make sure your repair prices are high enough to let you provide a strong guarantee, which can give you a competitive edge. Keep in mind that while you do offer a strong warranty, you’ll find that you seldom have to honor it (and maybe never if you’re really, really good).

Should I encourage my sales staff to use mimicry to build rapport with customers? It seems too obvious and manipulative.

If you’re worried about getting caught, take comfort in studies that show that most shoppers are actually really bad at noticing it. In his book Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World, Alex Pentland cites research showing subjects identified mirroring of their words and body movements only about 10 percent of the time and mostly only when it was a really unusual gesture. The students also liked the mimicking agent more than a neutral one, and rated him or her as being friendlier as well as more interesting, honest, and persuasive. Just adding mimicry, the research found, made a sales pitch 20 percent more effective. We humans like people who are like us, and whether it’s social background or word choice, emphasizing this similarity improves social relations. Besides, if your salespeople are paying such close attention to everything a customer is saying, they may just discover exactly what it is that customer is after and provide excellent service, which can’t be a bad thing.

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How To Decide Between Equal Job Candidates, Splitting Staff Chores and More of Your Questions Answered

Plus how to market your engraving capabilities.

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I have two good candidates for the position of sales associate, but I can’t decide between them. Can you suggest a tie-breaker?

Toss a coin and let fate be your arbiter. If they’re both equally appealing candidates and you can’t reduce the uncertainty by doing further research or interviews or trial runs, then your decision doesn’t much matter. That likely sounds like rash advice, but this paralysis you’re experiencing has a name: Fredkin’s Paradox. The computer scientist Edward Fredkin summed it up as, “The more equally attractive two alternatives seem, the harder it can be to choose between them — no matter that, to the same degree, the choice can only matter less.” To be sure, it will probably turn out to have mattered in hindsight, but by then it’ll be too late. Given that you’re unable to know how things will turn out, overthinking this one — or any similar tough choice — is futile.

How do you share the chores among sales staff fairly and in a way that is easy to enforce?

Store consultant David Geller suggests breaking your staff into groups and rotating the responsibilities. “Put some easy chores with some bad ones like vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom,” he recommends. The people whose names are under the different groups of chores (see table) do them for only one week, and then they move onto the next group of tasks. This shares around the bad and light chores and also makes it easy for the store owner to raise the issue when a job needs doing. “After doing this, I no longer complained to a person; I complained to a group,” Geller says. “If I go out and see the glass in a showcase is dirty, I don’t expect everyone to clean it, just Group 2.’”

I recently purchased an engraving machine. Any ideas on how I can market it?

One of the biggest mistakes jewelers make is keeping their engraving machine in the back room, says Annette Peloquin, marketing manager of Signature Engraving. Putting the engraving machine in the front of your store, even if it’s just for special events like Mother’s Day and Christmas sales, has a “curiosity” factor that will attract new clients into your store. Also, regular direct-mail pieces with coupons or discounts on engraving services are another way to promote your services. “Be sure to aggressively promote the wide range of engraving possibilities,” such as logos and photos engraved on charms, she says. Hand out flyers to bridal shops and bridal planners that may wish to engrave picture frames or champagne glass or guest book foiling. Also, says Peloquin, engraving corporate gift items for small-to-medium-sized businesses can be another lucrative sideline.

I found a honey of a deal at an estate sale, but I’m worried about paying so little for a piece worth far more. Are there any state or federal laws regarding the purchase of jewelry that is marked at a grossly understated value?

While laws vary widely between different states and municipalities, Elly Rosen of the AINetWork’s Gems & Jewelry Trade Reference says, “We may seek guidance from the general principles involved.” For Rosen, the simplest answer is that “we can buy as low as we wish and make as much profit as we can … so long as we do nothing to deceive or take advantage of the seller.” Estate sale buying is the easiest to answer as it’s a free and open public sale with the seller in control. In such a situation, Rosen says, “We can offer as low as we wish and it’s their option to accept. If it’s an auction and our low bid gets the hammer — it’s ours to resell at whatever profit we can fairly obtain. If we’re on the street and someone offers to sell an item far below its value, we can accept their offer. We don’t know each other, so there’s nothing leading them to believe we have special knowledge they might otherwise rely on.” However, when buying over the counter in your store, things change. “[Customers] may believe they can rely on our knowledge, so greater care is needed not to say or do anything implying low value. They ask for $50 for a $1,000 item, we can accept their offer.”

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