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David Geller

David Geller: $100,000 Question

If you’re not recording values when taking in a customer’s jewelry, you could be in for an expensive lesson, says David Geller.

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COULD YOU AFFORD to write a check for $100,000? Yep, a check for $100,000 … right now, direct from your pocket, for no return.

If you’re not, then read this column.

In my business, there are only a few things I always tussle with when speaking to store owners — and one of them concerns putting values on customers’ jewelry while it’s in your store in a job envelope.

I’d say over 75% of you do not give the customer a receipt with a stated value and description. You think it’s too much work and you don’t want to give out “free appraisals.” Many of you think you’re saving yourself by writing on the receipt “yellow metal, white stone” and either “no value” or “value is $75 or less”. And then you forget about it, thinking “Hey, they signed it!.” Dumb move!

Now’s the part where I jump into your head and tell you what you’re thinking. Look here, David. We can’t be expected to know what every customer’s jewelry is, whether it’s real or not. We’re busy. Funny, you wouldn’t let a supplier sell you goods that you didn’t inspect first, would you? You’re supposed to be an expert in the jewelry business … so be one.

The reason I asked if you could write a check for $100,000 for no return is that I just spoke to a jeweler who did exactly that.

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He was burglarized. Despite the fact that he had a dial-up burglar alarm, a backup cellular phone, TL-30 safe and insurance. They came in from the roof, cut a hole, disarmed the phone lines and cellular backup. In addition, they destroyed the alarm bell so that when it did go off, it didn’t make any noise.

Obviously, these guys were professionals.

Then, without any fear of getting caught, they used a laser torch and opened the safe. Removed $325,000 in inventory from his safe. And took all 100 job envelopes — jewelry from the store’s customers that had been sent in for repair.

After the investigation, the jeweler was reimbursed for the stolen inventory — every cent. That’s because he had a point-of-sale program which had each piece listed.

But he was was under-covered for his customers’ jewelry. Why? Because he never asked his customers the value of their jewelry.

That mistake ended up costing him 100,000 hard-earned dollars.

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In his words: “Thank goodness we are a strong company, otherwise it would have put me out of business.”

Here’s how this jeweler handled take-ins in the past. (See if this sounds like you.) He used the coin envelopes with the numbered stub on top that is given to the customer. No description at all, and of course, no value. Phew! That approach makes take-in a breeze, doesn’t it? Sure, it does … but watch out, it might cost you $100,000.

And guess what? He was lucky … lucky it was only 100 job envelopes.

Now he does exactly what I have been preaching for years.

  1. He bought three-part job envelopes from Impact Specialties (call 800-543-4264 or go to www.isiprint.com).
  2. He fills in the description of every item in the envelope..
  3. He gets a value from the customer, or corrects the one the customer states if it’s too crazy, or he tells the customer what it’s worth.
  4. The customer gets one copy.
  5. The second copy is removed for safe-keeping at an outside location.
  6. That leaves the envelope, with the third copy and jewelry inside.

Now he knows the values of all items in his store, periodically adding them up to tell the insurance company how much insurance he needs to cover his customers’ jewelry while it’s in his possession.

That’s the safe approach. So start training your staff to start getting values. Do it now… please, don’t wait until it’s too late.

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Here’s how. After writing up a take-in form, ask: “What value shall I put on your jewelry while we have it in our store?”

Notice I didn’t ask the customer what their jewelry was worth. (The inevitable comeback from the customer would be “I don’t know, what do you think?”) If they answer that they don’t know, then ask if it’s covered under their homeowner’s policy or if they have an appraisal. Or ask if they remember what they paid for it.

If there’s still no answer, and they persist in trying to get you to tell them what you think, just say: “We’re not trying to do an appraisal, just having appropriate values for our insurance coverage.”

Finally, if all else fails and no input is forthcoming, say “Well, in our store, this type of item is tagged for around $900. I’ll put that down if it’s OK.” Most times it will be.

But what if the customer has a 3/4-carat round, J, SI2 and tells you the value is $15,000? No, don’t laugh into your fist and try to disguise it as a cough. Instead, briefly educate the customer as to what such an item would sell for in your store. If the customer won’t accept your value, you might have to (politely) tell them: “We are responsible for theft while in our possession but that amount is way beyond what we deem necessary. We’ll have to decline working on your ring. I’m so sorry.” That usually solves it.

Back in the day, my store did almost 9,000 jobs a year. And we never more than a half-dozen problems a year using this method.

So start now: get descriptions and values, keep receipts separate from job envelopes, and add values four times a year. And while you do it, repeat the mantra, “This will save me $100,000 … This will save me …”

This story is from the January 2005 edition of INSTORE.

David Geller is a 14th-generation bench jeweler who produces The Geller Blue Book To Jewelry Repair Pricing. David is the “go-to guy” for setting up QuickBooks for a jewelry store. Reach him at [email protected].

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