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Ask INSTORE: September 2008

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Answering customer discount requests, is “no jewelry experience” a problem?, what to do when you get a nasty online review, and more.

[h3]Stick to your guns in the face of discount requests[/h3]

[dropcap cap=Q.][h4][b]How should you deal with customers asking for discounts, especially foreign tourists who consider it the normal way to do business?[/b][/h4][/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=A.]Most tourists know how it works in the United States, so treat them the way you would any other customers and stand by your prices. Simply say that you’re sorry, you don’t/can’t offer discounts to anyone. If you like, make a joke (“Sorry, my kids need their shoes”). Explain that you provide very good value and that if this particular piece is too expensive they may like to see something similar at a lower price point. Of course, if you can get people to think about the benefits of your services rather than the costs, you’ll be ahead of the price game.

That goes as much for the way you present pieces, your store and your prices, says Sandy Hequin, president of Morays Jewelers in Miami, FL. “We all pay more for a 100 percent cotton T-shirt we buy at Bloomingdales than at Wal-Mart. They are both T-shirts, but the experience and confidence you feel by purchasing at Bloomingdales must be worth the extra dollars since they are selling plenty,” says Hequin, adding that in Miami “foreign tourists are nothing compared to the locals.” She adds that if the customer is insistent, “we simply explain that this may not be the right place for them to make their purchase. They see that they have gone too far and change their attitude.” Instead of giving discounts, William Barthman Jewelers, which is on the corner of Broadway in New York, keeps on hand a string of gifts such as teddy bears, little travel jewelry boxes, day passes to the gym, and vendor giveaways such as caps, T-shirts and pens as a way of saying “thank you” to tourists, says Renee Rosales-Kopel, the store’s director of sales and marketing. You could try that too.[/dropcap]

[componentheading]HIRING[/componentheading]

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[contentheading]Beyond Jewelry[/contentheading]

[h4][b]I’m thinking of hiring as my new store manager a guy I met at a local networking event. He has retail but no jewelry experience. My gut tells me I’m right. What do you think?[/b][/h4]

We think hiring outside of the box can have payoffs, especially if the person can bring fresh perspectives. But you should still go through the formal interview process — the fact you hit it off with someone doesn’t always produce results. Invite the candidate in for a sit-down session and ask how he’d respond to different scenarios (Maybe even pose to him some situations from our Real Deal column.) Second, introduce him to key employees or business advisers. It’s important to get their perspective and an inkling of how they would work together.

[componentheading]CRITICISM[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Online Reviews[/contentheading]

[h4][b]An unsatisfied and anonymous customer has disparaged us on a consumer website. How should I respond[/b][/h4]

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This is a tough one. You can post a rebuttal in line with the theory that no charge should go unchallenged, but the problem is that every time you make a post on the original comment you drive up its ranking on search engines. (Although if the post is factually incorrect, you should e-mail the blogger and seek a retraction.)

A better strategy might be to concentrate on generating positive content. This can be done in two ways — the modern: Start a blog or build a subdomain loaded with testimonials to suppress the negative comments in search-engine results rankings. Or second, the traditional: Focus on creating relationships with your customers that will prevent this kind of public show of displeasure in the first place. Encourage customers to call or e-mail you with their responses to your products and services so that you can tackle potential trouble spots before they become serious. Finally, sign up for Google Alerts (google.com/alerts), which will e-mail you when your store name or products are referred to in Google search results. There are also other services that monitor more than Google results, including forum posts, such as Trackur.com.

[componentheading]DISCLOSURE[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Premeditated Ignorance[/contentheading]

[h4][b]When it comes to gemstone disclosure rules, I’m safe if I basically parrot what the manufacturer told me, right?[/b][/h4]

Premeditated ignorance isn’t a particularly effective legal ploy. “The rules are, if the treatment exists it must be disclosed,” says Cecilia Gardner, executive director and legal counsel of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee. Gardner suggests you get yourself educated in all the kinds of treatments that might be applied to the stones you’re buying and demand that suppliers provide you the information you need. If you can’t get that information, change suppliers, she says. “After all, if the retailer is selling the goods to the public, they are on the line for the liability associated with the failure to make the disclosure,” she warns. An informative video discussion on disclosure and retailers’ obligations can be found at jvclegal.org.

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[componentheading]LOCATION[/componentheading]

[contentheading]DIY Demographics[/contentheading]

[h4][b]We’re thinking of opening a second store but don’t have the money to hire a location research firm. How else can I find demographic information[/b][/h4]

Start your search using terms like “business demographics” and the name of the area you’re looking at. We typed in “Springfield, MO” into Google and immediately found out that 31 percent of the population had never been married and that the average male earned a little over $30,000 a year. If you don’t have much luck online, go straight to the source — town councils, planning agencies, business bureaus, city development offices, even non-competing retailers in the area, should be able to give you some of the data you’re seeking.

[span class=note]This story is from the September 2008 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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