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Best Catering Practices, How to Deal with Impatient Repair Clients and More of Your Questions for November

Hire a food truck to feed attendees at your next store event.

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How often should I be looking to change my window display?

There is no hard and fast rule. Rather, the decision to change windows should be more about the flow of traffic in front of the store. The purpose of a window is to capture a customer’s attention and to keep him or her engaged. That means that if a store is in a location where many of the same people pass by every day, it is in your best interest to change the look of the window as often as possible — in some cases, every week or two. The change can be as simple as keeping a display theme for a month at a time, while changing only one eye-catching element and rotating through various product samples, says Kate Peterson. “For other stores, where foot traffic is not as significant an issue, changing less frequently might be acceptable — but nonetheless, keeping a fresh look — for theme and for product, should be at minimum, a monthly goal.” She adds that successful stores also know that keeping a consistent theme or look — between windows and between windows and interior displays, is a very important part of getting the customer to focus on the product and not on the prop. “The decor should set the scene, but the merchandise should tell the story.”

For a fun, easy store event, hire a local food truck.

What’s a quick and easy way to cater an event?

We’re going to recommend an idea we saw employed by a small, independent optical practice in Minneapolis, MN: Bring in a local food truck. “We hire a food truck for our trunk show guests, serve wine and beer, turn up the music, and give out a promotional item to the first 100 guests,” says Sarah Jerome, the owner of Look and See Eyecare. “Our events are packed, our patients ask when the next event will be, and they bring their friends. We make it a party, and every event generates our new biggest sales day to date.”

What’s the best way to deal with a waiting repair customer who interrupts a sales presentation because he doesn’t want to wait?

Denise Oros, owner of Linnea Jewelers in La Grange, IL, knows your frustration and is convinced impatient customers are getting worse. But, she notes, it is the duty of a business owner to adapt. Her brainstorm: A self-service drop-off bin. For the customer who can’t wait, Linnea provides inner-store repair bags on its counters, pens, and instructions to write a detailed description of the item and fill out personal information. “We will photo log (the item) and call if further estimates or repairs are needed,” she explains. “It’s mostly watch batteries, but we had to do something to curb the constant interruptions.”

I’ve used my free email address for work for years and don’t really want to change it, but does it look unprofessional?

True, a lot of people don’t care, but a not insignificant portion of your customer base will make a judgment of some sort. And these aren’t completely unfounded impressions. Numerous marketing studies have found Gmail users to be predominantly younger city dwellers with more liberal views. Hotmail and AOL users are more likely to be found in the suburbs, while rural inhabitants are more likely to use Yahoo! Only two months ago, The Times newspaper in Britain reported that a major insurer, Admiral, was quoting a higher rate to car owners who provided a Hotmail address. The firm argued some domain names were “associated with more accidents” than others, raising applicants’ risk profile. Given the way people make irrational mental assessments, and given how important it is for a jeweler to be viewed as professional, technologically savvy and trustworthy, we’d recommend you make the change. It doesn’t cost much and doesn’t even have to involve a platform change. For $3 a month, Gmail, for example, allows you to upgrade your account to get your own domain name and have more control in managing your account as well as the emails of your staff.

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I’ve discovered a shrinkage problem at my store, but when I contacted the local police, they didn’t seem that interested.

When it comes to offenses that spur urgent police action, retail crime lags a long way behind murder, drug dealing or even car theft. This means you’re going to have to show the police you have a good case and that, as Detective Richard Milburn of the Mesa, AZ, police department said at a recent NRF event, you understand the difference between “Probable Cause” versus “Probably Cuz.” First, be sure you contact the right agency, and that you have anticipated the need to establish evidence (What will be needed to pursue a case? Do you have video or other evidence?), Milburn said. Be aware too that you may have to “re-sell” the case to another law enforcement agency if the first one declines. The key takeaway from all this? Never forget that safeguarding your goods starts with you and the processes you use to track merchandise.

Have a question? We’ve got the answer. Email: ask@instoremag.com.

Over the years, INSTORE has won 76 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at editor@instoremag.com.

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A customer leaves a valuable strand of pearls with Gene ... and Gene and team aren't quite as careful as they needed to be with the customer's treasure. See more Gene the Jeweler videos here.

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What To Do When a Large Chain Competitor Opens Nearby, and More of Your Questions Answered

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We’ve had a large corporate jeweler open up in our area that does a huge amount of advertising, offers five years to pay and lifetime guarantees on diamonds. How do we respond?

Don’t panic. The future might require you to make some difficult adjustments, but there should still be enough air to breathe for a smart small independent. First, grab a pen and paper. Visit the store and make two lists: where your products and services overlap, and where you do things differently. From that, a picture should begin to emerge of areas you can emphasize and areas you can improve to keep your customers loyal. Merchandising expert Tom Crossman also recommends you review the look of your store. All chain stores look alike, he says, and even though you may sell some of the same brands, your products will be more appealing with better, different fixtures that reflect your independent spirit. “Light wood fixtures, for example, create a warmer environment while still being neutral. And stay away from vendor displays so you can reinforce your own brand,” he says. Finally, try not to view the big store as an unalloyed enemy. Instead, try to get to know the staff and managers. More than a few stores have told us they get a steady flow of referrals from the local Walmart for repair work. There’s a good chance they might be able to send work your way, too.

How can we add some Halloween spirit without dressing up?

Yes, traipsing around the store in red underpants and a cape can get inconvenient fast. Accents in the form of nail art, hair clips and maybe some extra makeup (liquid liner is a great way to add a cobweb effect) can send the right message at the right volume for a jeweler. Also, this is the right time to get staff to model your onyx and red agate bracelets and gothic charms.

I’ve created a funky new ring design I’m hoping will sell well this holiday season. Should I seek copyright protection? 

Although a copyright is automatically secured when “an original work of artistic expression is created and fixed in a tangible medium,” it’s better to go ahead and register, advises Sarah Yood, senior counsel for the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, as filing for registration with the copyright office will help you prove you had the design at a certain date. Done electronically, it’s a straightforward process and fairly inexpensive, with registration costing just $35. To help you better understand copyright law and the implications of filing, the JVC has published a guide titled, “JVC’s Guide to Intellectual Property Law.” See jvclegal.org for more information.

I’ve been summoned to meet an IRS auditor. Any last-minute tips?

Accept that the fresh-faced inquisitor across the desk is the boss and show him the due respect. Don’t argue if you disagree with something. If the auditor wants to disallow a deduction, state once why you don’t agree. If he’s not swayed, hold your tongue. Antagonizing an auditor will only encourage him or her to search for other areas of potential tax liability. Remember that you can plead your case with several layers of people above your auditor, and ultimately all the way to tax court if you feel you’ve been wronged. Surprisingly, most IRS auditors aren’t tax experts. Most are fairly recent graduates whose major was in an unrelated field, so don’t feel intimidated, and don’t underestimate your own tax knowledge.

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How to Sell Millennials, Handling Big Returns and More of Your Bridal Questions Answered

Remind them that they should be looking to buy diamonds, not paper.

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What’s the best way to deal with those millennial customers who show up with a photo of the diamond on their cellphone?

Welcome them warmly, praise their choice of diamond and advise them in your sagest, reassuring voice that they should be looking to buy diamonds, not paper. The truth is they already know that. It’s why they are in your store. It’s why Warby Parker, Amazon, Blue Nile, Indochina, Bonobos, and so many other online retailers are snapping up brick-and-mortar space. There are some items people need to try on or see in person. And once you’ve got their attention, take a lead from the playbook of Phil Pancer, owner of Ring Leader Fine Jewellers, in Pickering, ON: “I let them know that I can get diamonds on consignment and I’ll pick three of them to show them. One is the one they want with the specs that they picked out, and the other two are ones that I picked out that have slightly different specs but are considerably less money. Nine time out of 10, they pick what I have brought in.”

A client bought a $10,000 engagement ring six months ago, but he decided not to go through with the wedding and wants his money back. What should we do?

Consult your store’s policy manual … and if you find a blank entry under “Returns,” give yourself a kick. This is one of those issues all jewelers will face in their careers and should be prepared for. If it’s a client with whom you want to stay on their good side, offer them a store credit for the same value. The other non-money-losing options are to offer to take it on consignment, offer to take just the diamond back (and brace for the tough talk over value), or, if it’s a custom job, commiserate. Six months?  Really, is there any other product in the world people will wear close to their body and expect to get a full refund after such a long period of time? His demand is unreasonable. Stick to your guns. 

I just lost my third huge diamond sale in a matter of months. Should I be worried about my sales techniques?

When you lose a big sale, especially one you’ve possibly worked weeks on, it can be tempting to try to immediately banish it from your mind. But a better strategy, says sales trainer Dave Richardson, is to heave its offending carcass onto the cold slab of the morgue and call a sales inquest. “You want to examine what mistakes were made, what possibly could have been avoided, what you could have done differently, and how you could have reacted to certain comments and objections brought forth by the buyer,” says Richardson. Perhaps there was absolutely nothing you could have done to save the sale. But if you review it with advisors or other staff, you may well learn one of those lessons that only failure seems to teach.

I am going to redo my bridal showcases for this upcoming season. How do I proceed to get it right and not waste my limited remodel funds?

Put the job up for bid. Contact several display firms and give them the challenge of accomplishing your display goals within your budget. “Quality firms are usually happy to help. But ask them what they suggest, don’t just tell them you want to order some trays,” advises Larry Johnson, owner of Larry Johnson Consulting  and author of The Complete Guide To Effective Jewelry Display. “Take advantage of their expertise,” he advises.

I’m trying to bring a little heat on a one-stop chain store whose “fine jewelry” is always on sale. Its diamond earrings are not $1,000 studs marked down by 70 percent; they are really  $300 earrings selling for full price. Am I wasting my time trying to get the state attorney general to take action? 

Our view, which is shared by the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, is to go for it — you’ll be doing all independent jewelers a favor if you do. In most cases, price advertising is governed by local and state laws, which require the merchant to have offered the “on sale” goods for a set number of days at the regular price before they can be described as “on sale.” The challenge for regulators in establishing a violation of these local and state laws is to prove that the item was in fact offered for the requisite number of days at the regular price. Of course, an advertiser who daily claims these items are on sale would be hard-pressed to establish that they were ever offered at the regular price. Legal compliance is always a worthy effort.

With more expensive goods, is it smarter to be focused on gross margin dollars or to try to maintain a target profit margin?

It is true that as you head up the price curve, you have more flexibility to give in a little on a request for a price break; as the old adage says, “you can’t bank percentages; you can only bank dollars.” And trade groups like Platinum Guild International include such thinking in their standard advice for retailers. That said, the real issue for most retailers is that they give in too easily on requests for discounts, cautions David Brown, president of the Edge Retail Academy. “Most salespeople capitulate far too easily and too quickly,” he says, adding that his group works with sales associates to teach an array of tactics to fend off bargain hunters’ initial forays and to provide alternatives to discounts such as value-added offers. There are also other factors at play that could affect your decision on whether to accept a lower profit margin, such as your store’s location or the level of local competition, Brown says. “But when a storeowner has exhausted all of our negotiating strategies, we tell them not to let the client leave and take their money to the opposition,” he says.

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How to Manage Stress, Deal With a Perpetually Late Employee, And More of Your Questions Answered

Remember that stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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How can I make my professional life less stressful? But don’t tell me to work less; that’s not going to happen.

OK, but maybe you can work smarter — and take a more benevolent view of stress. Reframe it as “happiness-neutral.” Sometimes stress is a cause of suffering, sometimes a sign of a challenge or importance, and sometimes it’s something that will make you stronger.

In her book, The Upside of Stress, the psychologist Kelly McGonigal refers to a 2011 study of 30,000 Americans that linked high stress to a 43 percent increased risk of death, but — get this — only among those who already believed that stress is bad for your health. In another study, she cites, hotel housekeepers grew physically healthier when encouraged to think of their hard work as good exercise; those who saw it as arduous labor didn’t.

Stress is typically caused by things that seem out of your control. Ironically, they are things you CAN control, if you’d just make a few psychological tweaks:

  • 1) Release the belief that you’re responsible for everyone and everything.
  • 2) Let go of perfectionism. There’s nothing perfect in the world. It’s an unnatural state and as Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz has written: “Good enough is almost always good enough.”
  • 3) Stop trying to do it all yourself. Delegate. Ask for and accept help from others.
  • 4) Create a list — that will give you a sense of control — but then ignore everything but the top five items. Focus on what’s important and the rest will take care of itself.
  • 5) Learn some breathing exercises. It doesn’t have to be transcendental meditation — but it could be. Deep breathing is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.
  • 6) Start every day with something you’re good at. That will set you up for a positive day.
  • 7.) Stop and do something nice for someone.
  • 8) Exercise.
  • 9) Finally, join a choir. Singing in a group is proven to be one of the best stress relievers around.
After more than 20 years of solid production, my best salesperson’s performance is falling. What can I do?

It could be she needs to update her selling style. The ways in which people want to be sold have changed, and salespeople who follow the old power-selling school of salesmanship won’t find consumers as responsive, especially the younger ones. Get her (and yourself) an update on state-of-the-art selling skills so that she sells smart and not so hard. That usually means asking more questions, listening more, and essentially letting the customer close the sale herself. Give real thought to bringing in a sales coach; implemented correctly, training will make your fading star feel valued and will restore some of the confidence she’s no doubt lost. (The improvement in sales should repay the cost pretty quickly.) You may also want to reconsider the metrics you’re using. Closing rates are good, but to ensure your whole business is looking more forward, track some other areas as well, like new contacts initiated with potential customers, how contacts are followed up, and the amount of face-to-face or phone-to-phone time your salespeople are putting in. There’s a fairly direct correlation between these factors and selling success.

I’ve been summoned to meet an IRS auditor. Any last-minute tips?

Accept that the fresh-faced inquisitor across the desk is the boss and show him the due respect. Don’t argue if you disagree with something. If the auditor wants to disallow a deduction, state once why you don’t agree. If he’s not swayed, hold your tongue. Antagonizing an auditor will only encourage him or her to search for other areas of potential tax liability. Remember that you can plead your case with several layers of people above your auditor, and ultimately all the way to tax court if you feel you’ve been wronged. Surprisingly, most IRS auditors aren’t tax experts. Most are fairly recent graduates whose major was in an unrelated field, so don’t feel intimidated, and don’t underestimate your own tax knowledge. At the same time, while it’s not bad to be congenial, this is not a social event. You’re there to discuss only the sections of your tax return in question. The more you talk about other areas or things that you’re doing, the more likely the auditor will probe into other items.

If an employee is consistently late for work, can I dock his pay? Are there legal ramifications I should be aware of?

From a legal standpoint, it typically depends whether he is a salaried or an hourly employee. If it’s the latter, he should be punching a clock, which will automatically deduct his time. If he is a salaried employee, you have to pay him, late or not, says Suzanne DeVries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions. However, she adds that you should have the issue — and the consequences — covered in your employee manual. “If the employee’s tardiness is as constant as you say, you may need to make some tough and important decisions — such as ‘three strikes and you are out,’” DeVries says. “It is never a good idea to let any one employee get away with such behavior. It sets a very bad example for those who are always on time — and you are setting yourself up to be accused of favoritism.”

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