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Ask INSTORE: March 2010

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Dealing with extra credit-card charges, getting return on redesign investment, and malls on the brink.

[h3]Charged up over Surcharges [/h3]

[dropcap cap=Q.][h4][b]A well-known mountings company charged me 3 percent of my total order for using a credit card. Is that legal?[/b][/h4][/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=A.] Legal? Yes — technically. It doesn’t violate civil or criminal law. However, it is very likely a violation of the standard merchant agreement, so they are probably in breach of their contract, says Jason Beahm, a San Francisco-based attorney who writes for Consumerist.com. “Merchant agreements generally state that a surcharge is not allowed,” he says, adding that it might be a good idea to remind the company that you believe they are in violation of their contract. One thing to note is that the vendor is doing nothing wrong by his card issuer if he offers you a discount if you pay by cash instead. It’s effectively the same thing, but the semantics matter, says Beahm.[/dropcap]

[componentheading]RENOVATIONS[/componentheading]

[h4][b]Is there a rule of thumb on the return from an investment in a redesign? Can I expect a certain increase in sales?[/b][/h4]

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We have seen a range of figures, with a 10 to 30 percent gain in sales quite often quoted. Ruth Mellergaard, a principal of design company GRID/3, said she has seen increases of 5 to 30 percent after a renovation, although the key is the quality of the job. “This is not tied as much to the amount of dollars spent so much as to the way these dollars are spent. If jewelers improve their operations in the way they lay out their cases, adding work stations or upgrading their POS to make operations more efficient for staff; if they change the storefront to make it more friendly and noticeable, or light the merchandise to better highlight their product, in addition to making the whole store look more beautiful and feel fresher, their renovations will result in increased sales,” she says. Contractor Robert Dykman of RAD Construction Consultants Inc. adds that you can also view a rebuild as part of an ongoing marketing budget: “Building your image is your advertising. Instead of investing on billboards and ads, you add value when you invest in the building and operations of your store.”

[componentheading]CLOSING DANGER[/componentheading]

[h4][b]Quite a few stores have closed up in my mall. How can I tell if the mall itself is in danger of closing?[/b][/h4]

Vacancies are always going to be higher during an economic downturn but the loss of an anchor store is usually the biggest yellow flag indicating the future is less than brilliant. Another is when a mall loses mainline tenants like the Gap. If a big chain says it’s going to close a number of stores in a big city area and chooses the outlet in your mall, that usually indicates the numbers have fallen below a critical level. There is a bright side of course to downturns. Space at good malls, which often strengthen their market positions during a slump, will open up. If your mall really does look like it’s in a terminal decline, start looking now.

[componentheading]SIZINGS[/componentheading]

[h4][b]How do you help a customer with a size 6 knuckle and a size 5 or even a 4-1/2 finger?[/b][/h4]

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First thing is to make the customer aware of the “problem” so as to avoid constant resizings that still leave her with twisting rings. David Geller suggests using top-heavy and hollow ring sizers that make it clear to the customer that she just might have to live with a twisting ring because of her knuckle size. “These rings show there’s no happy medium. It helps to reduce sizing over and over again just to come to the conclusion of “Oh well …” he says. There is a technical solution to twisting rings, but it comes at a price: expandable shanks made by companies such as FingerMate and SuperFit. Geller says he used to sell them mostly for rings that were priced over $1,000. The key to selling them is to remind the customer of the comfort, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, he says.

[componentheading]UPSTARTS[/componentheading]

[h4][b]One of my salespeople recently resigned and opened his own jewelry store up the street. What should I do?[/b][/h4]

Unless he did something that was in violation of his work contract, you should forget about it. There’s always going to be competition and the only way to keep a stop ahead is to stay focused on building your business. People waste a lot of time and energy worrying about ex-employees who become competitors. Just concentrate on being the best you can be and he’ll either need to find his own niche or he’ll face some tough market realities.

[span class=note]This story is from the March 2010 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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