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David Geller

David Geller: In Defense of Custom Design




The recession may have passed, but don’t think we’re headed back to the  good old days.

[dropcap cap=I]N MY TIME talking with bench jewelers or corresponding with them through trade websites, I’ve noticed three common themes among those who say: “I hate custom”:[/dropcap]


[li]They don’t have the skills to do custom.[/li]
[li]They don’t have the patience or selling skills to take in custom work.[/li]
[li] They under-price it and therefore think to themselves: “OMG! From this minute on, I’m losing money, or working for free, or working for a really small hourly wage!”[/li]

Here’s my take on overcoming these common objections to doing custom work:

SKILLS  The only things you can do to alleviate this is:


[li]Take classes and learn the areas of custom you need to complete your skill set.[/li]
[li]Hire others who have skills you don’t (I did this as I’m not a good wax carver).[/li]
[li]Job out the work to others who can do the things you can’t do. There is absolutely no reason to want to say, “Oh, we don’t send anything out, it’s all done in-house.” That’s silly. The customer has said, “I want what I want.” Your job is “Get ’r done.”[/li]

PATIENCE/SELLING SKILLS Bench people typically are not good salespeople. But, remember: Showcase closing ratios are about 30 percent to 40 percent, while custom closing ratios are easily double that. Why? Because people buying custom are as passionate about buying it as you are about selling it.

Your figures aren’t so high? I’ve had many people tell me how they sell, what they say, and mostly what I’ve heard was “me, me, me.” They mention price as if it’s the main reason customers shop.

Have friends, family and co-workers critique you honestly. Have them tell you after listening to you sell if they would buy from you.

I taught my staff to sell after learning proper techniques from Harry Friedman. Go to his website and buy No Thanks, I’m Just Looking (

Or, hire someone else to sell, and you stay at the bench.


PRICING Almost anything is worth doing in our industry if it pays well. Most of you know the one thing that would make being a jeweler a truly wonderful event: Twice the Money.

In our store, if we fixed or made something, it had to meet these three criteria:

[li]It had to be priced so we’d make a profit, and it had to be the same percentage profit margin or hourly rate no matter if it was gold, silver or platinum.[/li]
[li]The customer knew what it would look like at pickup.[/li]
[li] If it we were not able to guarantee the work, the customer would be informed about this up front.[/li]

We paid all five jewelers on a 100-percent commission basis. They demanded (rightfully so) that a silver job or platinum job pay them their same hourly rate (on the average), no matter what. They didn’t want to get job “A” and get paid $25 an hour and get job “B” and get paid $16 an hour because I didn’t have the courage to charge correctly.

When I went to our commission system, it completely reversed our company’s poor cash position because commission guaranteed the company a profit. But then I had to start thinking about paying the jewelers correctly.

So I started thinking of my jewelers’ welfare first when I priced jobs and when I made our price book. If they were paid well and fairly, then the company always made money.


It didn’t turn off customers, and having more money come in allowed us to:

[li]Have a nicer place, which impressed customers and made them feel confident.[/li]
[li] Hire better people or provide training, both in the shop and on the sales floor.[/li]

STILL NOT CONVINCED? Custom has a higher average sale, easily double to quadruple that of showcase sales. Typical sales from the showcase are $150 to $400, while custom sales are $700 to $3,000. Custom has a higher closing ratio. Showcase closing ratios typically are 30 percent to 40 percent; custom is 65 percent to 80 percent. (Repairs are 90 percent.)

All of this means making more money with fewer hours and fewer staff to bring in the same dollars as repairs.

It also takes much less investment in inventory as most custom jobs can use “just in time” material shipping. Custom inventory for a store can be as little as $5,000 to $25,000. Typical inventory investment for the showcase is hundreds of thousands — or even millions — of dollars.

Don’t hate custom. Embrace it. It will set you free.

David Geller is a consultant to jewelry-store owners on store management and profitability. E-mail him at [email protected]

[span class=note]This story is from the June 2011 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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