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Real Deal

When a Client Asked to Swap Her Diamond for a CZ, Did This Retailer Do The Right Thing?

When a jeweler acts according to her conscience, she is sued for breach of confidentiality.

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Tina Keller opened her studio more than 20 years ago. Over a relatively short period of time, the right combination of innovative marketing, great product instincts, a commitment to creating an extraordinary service experience and a superior talent for custom design made TK Creations the “go to” place for engagement rings and contemporary fashion jewelry in her town. Tina joked that she’d lost count of the number of engagement rings she’d personally sold over the years — and she thought she’d probably seen it all with the couples coming through her door.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

Several months ago, Tina took a call from the son of an old high school friend who had recently transferred back to the area to take a job with a growing tech firm. Derrick told Tina that he had met his soon-to-be fiancée Nicole while they were both in graduate school back east and that he was delighted she agreed to move back with him. He wanted an appointment to look at diamonds and to talk about designing a ring. He said that Nicole had some ideas about what she wanted, and that he needed to stay in the $20,000 range for the ring. The appointment was set for the next day.

The conversation began well enough, with Nicole showing Tina some pictures of rings she liked, and Tina showing a few models and sketching some concepts. When it came time to look at diamonds, keeping in mind the general type of setting Nicole liked and Derrick’s budget, Tina started with a mid-quality 1.50-carat. Nicole very quickly made it clear that the diamond was not at all what she had in mind, and insisted on looking at a minimum 2.50-carat. Tina could sense that Derrick was getting more and more uncomfortable as Nicole continued to make choices that raised the price of the ring well out of range. He made several references to expenses, budget and practicality, but Nicole went on with increasing her demands until she had settled on a diamond she could “live with” — right at 3 carats.

Tina agreed to hold the diamond for a week while she worked on finalizing design concepts for the couple to review. She prepared the designs with flexibility for diamond size, in the hope that Derrick might take the time to explain his budget concerns to Nicole and get her to make things a bit more reasonable for him.

When they came back in the following week, Nicole selected one of Tina’s designs and Derrick asked if they could see one of the diamonds they had looked at previously — just under 2 carats — to put into the ring. By the time Tina brought the diamond out, it was clear that Nicole was in full “persuasion mode,” explaining why she really did deserve the 3-carat. She looked at the smaller diamond, but after a lengthy (and miserably uncomfortable) discussion that included begging, pleading, smiles, thinly veiled innuendo and a commitment to contribute $5,000 toward the ring, Nicole talked Derrick into the 3-carat — and a $30,260 total tab.

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Tina felt less than great about having witnessed the whole process, but she also recognized that her job was to deliver what her client asked for. The dynamic of the relationship — and the depth of Derrick’s savings account – were none of her business. She wrote up the sale (in Derrick’s name), putting a $5,000 deposit on Nicole’s credit card. When the ring was finished several weeks later, Derrick picked it up and left her a cashier’s check for the balance. He loved the ring and told Tina all about how he planned to present it to Nicole at dinner that night.

About a month after the engagement dinner, Nicole came to Tina’s studio alone and asked Tina if she could remove the center diamond and replace it with a CZ. Tina said it could be done, but suggested that if travel or security were issues, Nicole might consider having her make a high-quality silver and CZ replica of the ring and not compromise the integrity of the original. Nicole politely disregarded the suggestion, saying that she just wanted the diamond loose and the ring with a CZ in it at that point. She offered no other explanation.

Tina agreed to take the ring in and do the job, giving Nicole a due date of a week. As soon as Nicole was gone, however, she took it upon herself to call Derrick. After a minute or two of chatting (which gave Tina the impression that Derrick was still very happy), she asked if he was aware of Nicole’s request to take the diamond out of the ring. He was unaware and totally shocked. He asked that Tina not do anything with the ring till he could find out what was going on. Derrick called back the next day to tell Tina that Nicole came clean — that she was planning to break off the engagement, give him back the ring, keep the diamond and move back east. He was obviously devastated and asked Tina if he could get a refund on the ring.

Tina decided to make an exception to her “no refunds” policy. She refunded Nicole’s credit card and Derrick’s check and assumed it would be the end of the story … until 3 weeks later when she got notice that she was being sued by Nicole for damages related to breach of client confidentiality.

The Big Questions

  • Does Nicole have a case?
  • Who owns the engagement ring when both parties have some stake in paying for it?
  • Did Tina do the right thing by contacting Derrick?
  • Is it ever OK to follow your gut and NOT make a sale when you know it’s just not right?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Robert L. New York, NY

Derrick gave Nicole the ring as “consideration” for her agreeing to marrying him. If she broke off the engagement she would have to return the ring to Derrick in any case and probably he would need to refund to her the $5000 she paid and take full ownership. If she had gone ahead and married him she would then own the ring.

Nicole has no case for client confidentiality. A jeweler is not a professional who has a personal responsibility toward clients to maintain other than ethically and honestly representing the products she sells. The fact that Nicole was going to perpetrate a fraud relieves Tina of any cause for concern for telling Derrick. In fact if she didn’t tell him she would be complicit in the fraud as it had to be obvious to a professional that she was up to no good. 

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Sandra R. West Chester, PA

I would have done the same thing! In some states the ring belongs to the person who gave it and must be returned if the engagement is broken. If it went to court I would want to believe a judge would see that this women had intentionally tried to deceive everyone.

But who wants to have to defend themselves for doing the morally correct thing, the guy is lucky he didn’t marry her a divorce would have cost him even more. 

Marcus M. Midland, TX

Nicole does not have a case. In fact the police should have a case against her for conspiracy to commit fraud. Nicole is shady and her actions are down right criminal. She got her 5k back and needs to walk away from this situation before she finds herself in hot water. Tina definitely did the right thing by contacting Derrick. Can you image what would happen if Nicole got away with this and Derrick found out that Tina knew what was happening? That’s a whole new can of worms! Tina did everything right here. Even though she was uneasy about the situation to begin with she still couldn’t reject the sale. At the end of the day she really didn’t know the dynamics of the relationship until Nicole revealed her true conniving self. 

Daniel R. Nashville, TN

Nicole does not have a case. There is no breach of confidentiality between the parties. Their relationship was that of consumer and business, no confidentiality exists at law. I would not have called, like Tina did. Nicole’s motivations were not of Tina’s concern. Nicole will not win. We don’t know what financial agreement the parties have as it relates to ownership. Looking at it on its face both parties have an interest in the ring. 

Bruce A. Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada

Tina handled this brilliantly and is a credit to our industry. She went miles beyond what was required when she refunded the full purchase to each of the two clients. No law has been broken unless Tina’s repair tag on the HOLD, tied her to a specified confidentiality agreement. I would never casually suggest a retailer use a court room to settle a dispute with a client but in this case, Tina needs to complete the journey under the umbrella of high professional standards by which she governs herself and her business. Tina should have her lawyer respond with an acknowledgment that TK Creations will defend this action by their client. 

Steve F. New York, NY

When doing the right thing becomes the wrong thing to do, the problems of our industry and our nation are far worse than i ever imagined. 

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Joseph C.Huntington, NY

First off we would not change out the Diamond with out both parties being aware & we would of told Nicole to please have Derrick call us & to let us know he was ok with this first, store owner should of put Nicole’s back to the wall & she most likely would not be in a position to be sued or liable for her actions. I believe Derrick still has some owner ship & doesn’t fraud on Nicole’s part stand for anything, she convinced the store owner to be deceitful as Nicole was. Good lesson for the store owner, two parties came in to purchase so two parties should be on board. 

Michael B. Graham, NC

Yes, I believe Tina would be a participant in a case of fraud. Derrick was the majority owner, and since Nicole was going to break the engagement, she would be the one to return the ring for not completing the marriage contract. If Derrick had found out and had the courage to file a fraud case Nicole would have a felony conviction for fraud. 

Pam S. Boston, MA

Good job Tina..I think she did the right thing and after Derrick heard the real story from the slimy ex that she was planning on scamming him I do not see her case! Derrick you are a lucky guy to have gotten away from this horror. 

Adrienne R. Los Angeles, CA

Nicole has no case. In most states, if not all, there is no legal concept of breach of confidentiality between a customer and a retailer. Unfortunately Tina will have the cost of defending the lawsuit, even though she will probably prevail. (By doing so, she can gain Derrick’s lifetime loyalty and that of his friends and family.) Nicole no longer has a stake in paying for the ring, since her deposit was refunded in full. She is a fraudster, and in all likelihood will be treated as one in court. Tina did the right thing by contacting Derrick before compromising the ring, as she needed to be sure that he, her primary customer and the son of a long time friend, was authorizing this request.

The question remains if the ring was a completed gift, or if accepting it was a promise to wed.

In my opinion it is always OK not to make a sale when you know it’s just not right. 

Ira K. Tallahassee, FL

1st—-If the sales slip has Derrick’s name on it, the ring belongs to him.

2nd—-Yes, Derrick is the buyer of record and; of course, the son of a friend.

3rd—-Always correct to believe in your gut feelings. It might cost you a sale or two, but you’ll feel better by doing the right thing. 

Aubrey M. Norfolk, VA

I would tell her no way unless both parties come into the store to have this done. Never go against your policy even for one person. Happy shopping days. 

Jake J. West Des Moines, IA

Tina was in the right to alert Derrick as this transaction smelled of fraud. It’s very suspect when the blushing bride comes in wanting to swap out the center for a fake. Nicole should be arrested for attempted fraud. I would fire back a letter stating the store policy in this situation that both parties must be contacted to make sure one isn’t trying to commit fraud against the other, which would make the store party to an illegal transaction. While it is technically her ring, depending on state laws, the intention of returning the ring with a fake center without Derricks knowledge is where the illegal action takes place. In the future, Tina should alert Nicole to the policy that she needs to contact Derrick to make sure he has knowledge and is agreeable to it.

Chuck K. West Des Moines, IA

First, I’m not an attorney but I have been in the business of selling engagement and wedding jewelry exclusively for over 25 years. The correct answer to your questions varies from state to state. In some states, the engagement ring is the consideration in the contract to marry. If the man breaks the engagement, the woman gets to keep the ring because he broke the contract. If she breaks the engagement, he gets the ring back. In other states, the ring is considered a gift so the woman gets to keep it either way. But If the ring was sold to him and she was trying to pull a fast one by taking the diamond out without telling him, then she might actually be breaking the law. It’s called “Fraud In The Inducement” I believe. Again, I’m not a lawyer, but my gut tells me she doesn’t have a leg to stand on. It’s an interesting case study though and I plan to ask our company attorney about it. 

James L. D. Kingston, NH

Tina followed due process and protected the rights of Derrick, the owner of the ring. An engagement ring is not the bride’s property until after she says “I do”. Had Tina done as Nichole requested it would have been business suicide… Tina could lose her sterling reputation as word spread that she sold a CZ as a diamond and the ensuing legal suit for fraud. If I were Tina I would be advising Derrick to have Nicole arrested for her actions. 

Sid S. Albany, OR

She has not a leg to stand on! The ring belonged to both of them. 

Herman G. Cedar Rapids, IA

If she paid 5-figures for an item she wasn’t budgeted for and for nothing she needs for stock, max she should do is give in-store credit for amount paid. 

Gabi M. Tewksbury, MA

Tina had no right to call Derrick, even if it was the “right” thing to do. Although he had more stake in the initial purchase, Nicole is now Tina’s sole customer in this new job take-in. That being said, there was probably no “customer confidentiality”, so Nicole probably doesn’t have a case. She should have gone to another jeweler! 

Mark B. Wausau, WI

First it is my understanding that the ring is a commitment to marry, and if she brakes up with him she has to give the ring back. She is only entitled to the 5,000.00 dollars she put down on the ring if the store takes the ring back. I would never remove one stone for a CZ with out both people knowing what is going on. I feel Nicole has no case, and I would have let Derrick know what is going on. 

Etienne P. Camden, ME

It seems pretty simple to me in that the ring was originally sold to Derrick any work done to alter the original ring that was sold would void the warranty. For this reason, Derrick had to be notified.

I doubt that the lawsuit will be taken seriously in the courts. 

Everardo C. Santa Barbara, CA

Tina absolutely did the right thing, Sales are great but we have to also have morals and trust our instincts. In my opinion, the engagement ring ownership would come down to majority owner like a tradable company, whoever holds the higher “stock” will be able to make the majority decision in favor of Derrick. So I feel that it was definitely his call on what to do. Nicole was basically going for a money grab and basically was going to finess her way back home and pocket cash. Moral of the story- Think with your brain not your heart. I hope that Derrick will make better selective decisions in the future. 

Daniel S. Cambridge, MA

My understanding is that engagement rings go back to the purchasers if the engagement is broken off. Admittedly the woman paid a small percentage of the cost but the bulk of it was paid for by the gentleman. The ring should have been returned to him by his fiancee and he should have given her the $5000 she put in for it . However I don’t think that’s what is going on here. I think she was taking him for a ride from the beginning. She obviously planned to screw him out of the diamond so he couldn’t get back the $25,000 and she figured she could go sell it and make a profit on his misery. She was a gold digger and what she was doing was stealing from him which is illegal. He should be bringing a suit against her for attempted theft of property, The jeweler should have an attorney tell hers this is what was going on and she has no role in it except to prevent a theft from happening. 

Kent C. St. Simon’s Island, GA

It’s Derrick’s property. The store was not involved with the gift to the gold digger.

A judge will rule, I don’t know how the store could do anything different.

It’s unfortunate the store will have to defend itself and unlikely recover court and attorney expense. 

Jay F. Apple Valley, MN

There is no confidentiality here. Instead it is solid good business and etiquette to be confidential until a crime is involved. Nicole was about to fraud Derrick, he could have called the police upon finding out she did not return the ring whole. He could also sue her.

There is implied confidentiality but it is not a legal one. I would counter sue Nicole for distress and her intent to involve Tina in a crime. 

Amy C. Grove, OK

Tina shouldn’t worry about this. Get a lawyer to fight first, then relax. The confidentiality seems to cover all three people in the situation together. I can’t picture a judge allowing her a privacy cover for what is essentially a deception. She did the right thing for all, especially that poor man who nearly married the wrong woman. He should be a customer forever! 

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net.

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Real Deal

An Employee’s Spouse Demands Another Employee Be Fired. How Should These Owners React?

If they don’t do it, they risk losing their top salesperson.

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SOME CHOICES ARE just harder to make than others. For the moment, Michael Rodriguez was feeling more like a dispirited King Solomon than the owner of a young, vibrant and growing fine jewelry store! Michael looked out his office door onto his sales floor and watched Ken Bishop, his good friend and top salesman, working with a difficult client as he considered his options.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

Village Diamonds and Fine Jewelry was a dream come true for Michael and his wife Megan. They started dating while in college, both working part-time in the mall for a large national jewelry chain. By the time they graduated — Michael with his degree in business management and Megan with hers in marketing — they had both developed a genuine passion for the jewelry industry.

When they got engaged the following year, they promised each other that they would someday have their own store. For the next five years, they saved every dime they could, banking their wedding gift money, Megan’s part-time paychecks and Michael’s bonuses while continuing to live the simple life they’d grown to love in their Midwest town.

In 2007, with the help of a sizeable inheritance from Michael’s grandmother, their dream became a reality. While visiting a downtown coffee shop, Megan noticed a Going Out of Business sign in the window of the Village Jewelers store. She snapped a picture of the sign and texted it to Michael. That afternoon, Michael made his way to the store and talked with the owner, who agreed to sell the store. They knew that the business itself had died a slow death, but they saw the opportunity to recreate something great out of the ashes. Michael left his position with the national chain and within a year, he and Megan had closed the deal, renovated the showroom, sold off the old inventory, and found the right vendor partners to supply the contemporary product lines they wanted. With the addition of one salesperson and the contracting of a trade shop to handle repairs, they were ready to open the new Village Jewelers.

Ken Bishop, their new sales associate, came to them with extensive retail background, but no jewelry experience. He had worked for over 12 years selling high-end sporting goods in a local store that was a client of Megan’s former marketing firm. Ken had heard about the Rodriguezes’ new venture, and when the sporting goods store was bought out by a large corporation, he gave Michael a call. Ken quickly became a highly valuable asset to the store, and as business grew, so did his skill and ability. Over ten years, through the building of just under $6 million in sales volume and the addition of eight permanent staff positions, Ken remained the stabilizing force on the sales floor and a great friend to Michael and Megan.

The Rodriguezes were supportive when Ken announced that he and his wife of 20 years were separating. Michael even loaned Ken his truck the day that Ken moved into his own apartment across town. Susan Bishop had also become a close friend of the family, making the situation more than a little tense at times, but the Bishops seemed to be keeping things amicable, and Michael and Megan did their best to stand by their employee without taking sides or allowing things to get personal.

Several months after the separation, Megan noticed that Ken seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time with Amanda Davis, the generally competent, very attractive and much younger office manager who had been with them for nearly two years. Michael asked Ken directly what was happening, and Ken confirmed that he and Amanda had, in fact, recently begun dating. He confirmed that his interest in Amanda was part of the reason for his separation from Susan. He indicated that he and Amanda were not at all serious, and that he was still hoping to reconcile with his wife. Michael and Megan were troubled by the revelation, but had no reason to question the performance of either of their employees and felt uncomfortable questioning their judgment.

About a month later, Megan noticed a marked difference in Amanda’s demeanor in the store. In talking to Amanda, Megan learned that she was no longer seeing Ken — that Ken had decided to make a solid effort to repair his marriage. The next day, Ken asked for a meeting with Michael and Megan. He told them that he and Susan had made the decision to get back together and were doing everything possible to work on their marriage. He was hoping to move back into their home the following weekend, but before that could happen, he had to see to Susan’s one non-negotiable demand: Susan would not take him back as long as he continued to work with Amanda. Ken made it clear that if Amanda continued to work at Village Jewelers, he would have to resign. He asked the Rodriguezes for a few days off while they thought about what would be best for their business, and asked them to get back to him when they were ready to talk.

The Big Questions

  • Should the Rodriguezes give up a top salesperson who has consistently produced in excess of 30 percent of the store’s sales volume, or should they give up a competent (but not extraordinary) office manager?
  • If they decide that Ken’s contribution is too significant to lose, is there a way to dismiss Amanda without crossing a legal line?
  • Is there any way to create a compromise that would work for everyone?
John M.
Seattle, WA

The Rodríguezes should recommend that Ken move on to a new career. They made two fatal mistakes in their employment of Ken. First, they mixed business relationship with personal relationship, and second, they allowed an employee other than themselves to control the success of their business. Allowing Ken to stay on puts them and their business in a compromising position. Their current dilemma clearly demonstrates this. Ken’s sales productivity and “friendship” with the Rodríguezes is controlling the success or failure of their business and confusing their ability to make a candid business decision. Moreover, this situation with Amanda will likely not end here. Most importantly, the Rodríguezes cannot allow any person other than themselves to control the long-term success of their business. There are many great salespeople to take Ken’s place, and the Rodriguezes will be better off for setting an example to all their employees that their interest is in protecting the business they worked so hard to grow.

Creighton W.
Yuba City, CA

While in an ideal world you could keep your top salesman and let go of a solid but seemingly replaceable office manager without hard feelings, the reality is you couldn’t do so without crossing moral, ethical, and legal lines. Both individuals chose to partake in an office romance, so both are responsible for any awkward atmosphere in the workplace, along with the right to be let go because of it. However, the manager should not lose her job because of the insecurities involved in Ken’s relationship, which is outside of the workplace, and what would be needed to mend it. It would also be difficult to justify her firing and would very likely lead to a lawsuit. With a business that’s still relatively new, it could bring bad publicity. The solution? If the owners are as close with Ken and his wife as they say, I say they bring her in and explain the logistics of firing Amanda and see if any other compromises could be met. If not, Ken unfortunately will have to resign.

Jim S.
Kapaa, HI

Goodbye Ken! Ultimatums are a deal breaker in any negotiation.

Karen M.
Oneonta, NY

An employee’s spouse does not make the hiring and firing decisions for the Rodriguezes’ business — only they do! So with all due respect to Ken as a friend and major contributor to the business, Michael and Megan need to let him resign. He has proven himself as a capable salesperson in more than one area and will land on his feet financially. And if he is sincere about saving his marriage, he needs to make a life change that shows this commitment. This will be the only long-term solution. Amanda, meanwhile, may perform better and more loyally in Ken’s absence. It is entirely possibly that working in his shadow has hindered Amanda’s performance up until now, and she will come into her own with his departure. In the meantime, this is a great illustration of why workplace romances are problematic! Mike and Megan may want to consider formalizing a policy about this to avoid headaches down the road.

Daniel S.
Cambridge, MA

Oh man, this is all on the owners. The in-store relationship should never have happened. When I had employees, we had a work manual everyone had to sign off on and it clearly stated that no sexual relationships were allowed between employees or between employees and suppliers. As soon as the owners found out about the relationship, they should have told them that one or the other had to go immediately. No option on ending the relationship because then they would just lie about it. One had to leave and then the two of them could decide which one. If it meant the top salesperson left, so be it, because it never should have gotten as far as it did.

Steve J.
Carefree, AZ

Ken created this situation by leaving Susan for a fling with a co-worker. Ken ditched the co-worker, causing a change of dynamic on the sales floor. Ken then pulls out the “I’m the most valuable employee” card. I’d call his bluff and let him go. The marriage is doomed for failure; better to cut off that wart now before it grows.

Marc F.
Houston, TX

This is where the regular reviews of performance take over and make the decision. In Texas, an employer can fire an employee for “cause”. The cause here would be “general reasons”. Of course, the office manager has to go. Salespeople make things happen, and it would be a big mistake to let your one-third producer go. However, I would not let the wife know the reason for termination.

Tina S.
Chicago, IL

They should fire both employees. What’s to keep them from doing it again, especially Mr. Bishop, who should have known better? Not good to mix your social life with work on that level; how dare him even ask them to choose.

Tim S.
Fairbanks, AK

First of all, Ken cannot be allowed to call the shots. I would let him know that he would have to make a decision to continue or stay, but that in no way would I make a choice between them. It sucks you right into their drama. As a matter of fact, I would lean towards letting him go. He needs to take care of his family, but not at the expense of someone else’s job. Second option is to let them both go.

Stacey H.
Lincolnwood, IL

It’s not Amanda’s fault, and sales staff does not get to decide who works at the store. Amanda stays, and if Ken has to go to save his marriage, so be it. You can’t reward an ultimatum, and while Ken has been a good salesperson, he himself is the one with the decision to make, not the Rodriguezes. He should not cost the store unemployment insurance upcharges because of his marital situation, and Amanda could sue the snot out of them for firing her with literally no reason. Ken needs to do what he needs to do, fine, but that isn’t a reason to deprive Amanda of her job!

Kevin L.
Naperville, IL

He finds a new job. He used his senior position to court the office girl. So she gets fired because he wants to try and get back. It most likely won’t work. Then what? They break up and he hits on another girl? If he loves his wife, he quits.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

Michael and Megan should have a meeting with both Ken and Susan (outside of the store) and remind them it is Michael and Megan’s store and not theirs. They cannot dictate who is hired or fired. If Ken decides to leave, so be it. In any event, Amanda should not be fired. I lost my best-selling employee many years ago — yes, it hurt — but not for as long as feared. I found out through the years that a store should never rely too heavily on one salesperson, unless it’s you.

Maya C.
Madison, WI

I think it’s absolutely wrong of Ken to basically ask his bosses to consider firing another employee because of the results of his lapse of judgment. If it was work-related, that would be one thing. But this is a personal issue. If Ken wasn’t prepared to face the consequences of his actions, then that’s on him and should not cause the other employee to lose her job just because of bad personal choices.

Mitsuko H.
Watsonville, CA

With my past forty years of running my jewelry company, having a good policy from day one, I expect each employee to always be a professional representing my company. No personal matters are to be brought in while on duty. Have a good store policy and make them sign it before employing them.

David C.
Traverse City, MI

Ken brought this whole situation on of his own choice. It is hard to let a valued employee go, but it was his choice to start the inappropriate relationship and his choice to end it. I commend Ken for ending the relationship and to work on his marriage, but I would personally have to allow Ken to walk. His leaving might actually inspire another salesperson to come from behind his shadow and step up into Ken’s shoes.

Andy M.
Williamsville, NY

Both employees must be let go. Neither employee used any common sense, and while doing so, put the business in danger.

David B.
Calgary, AB

For those that would say this is an ownership problem for not having a policy or protocol in place to prevent office romance, get real. Most of us probably spend as much time with our workmates as our partners. Always best to be truthful with Amanda. Tell her the demands made by Ken and that he is too integral to the company to lose. Then discuss a termination agreement. Typically, one month per year worked is generous, but in this case, offer her six months or even more with a nice recommendation and see where that heads. Most likely, Amanda is not comfortable in the current situation and would like a reasonable way out.

Nick F.
Woodstock, VT

This is business, it’s not personal! For the good of the company, and for Ken’s marriage, Amanda must go. To soften it, try to find her an opportunity with a fellow jewelry store. This decision keeps a marriage together and an indebted manager. Being young and with the owners’ help, it’s probable she will find a job in the industry and be happy.

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

There is nothing here that requires Michael and Megan to involve themselves. They dodged a potential bullet when their top salesperson started dating their office manager, something that would have left them vulnerable to internal theft. Ken made his bed (sorry for the pun), and his ultimatum means that it is his decision to leave Village Jewelers.

Drue S.
Albany, NY

I have had experience with this situation, and it did not come out great. For me personally, it was two great jewelers. One had a nervous breakdown, and the other ended up leaving anyway.

So since there is no reason to fire the office manager and no reason to fire the salesman, they should try having a conversation with the two of them. Having said that, you cannot allow an employee to dictate who does or does not get fired. I am sure there would be legal ramifications from doing so.

They were two adults deciding to start a relationship, and they should be adult enough to still work together. It’s totally out of place and unreasonable for Ken’s wife to place that demand on the business.

I say it’s up to the owners to have a conversation with the two employees involved and ask them what result they see as the best solution, asking them if there is a way for them to work in the same environment.

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Real Deal

When a Once-Happy Client Sends Back a Damaged Ring and Demands a Refund, What Should the Store Owner Do?

The ring is scuffed and dented after just a year’s worth of wear.

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JOSH WELLMAN AND Brooke Kerney were best friends back in high school. When they both moved back to their Midwest hometown and reconnected after 12 years of living on opposite sides of the country, their friends and family — most notably Josh’s mother — were convinced that a wedding was inevitable. With that in mind, she gave Josh, her eldest son, her engagement ring — a family heirloom that had been passed down through generations. The ring, a late Victorian design, was a 1.50-ct. old European cut diamond in a platinum filigree setting, with milgrain detailing and several accent sapphires.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

Josh finally proposed while on a trip to visit one of Brooke’s friends just after Valentine’s Day. Brooke had been close to Josh’s mom when they were younger and was more than honored to serve as the next generation’s custodian of the heirloom ring. It was just a touch too big, though, so Brooke suggested they take it to a custom jeweler in the city who had done some work for her the year before. The couple made an appointment to see John Anford, owner of Anford and Company Fine Jewelry.

Brooke knew John Anford to be a knowledgeable professional who delivered quality work at a fair price. She was referred to John by a friend when she lost an earring and needed to have a replacement made. The work was done perfectly and well within the time frame expected. Brooke was confident that John would take good care of her new treasure as well.

At the Anford office, John measured Brooke’s finger, then examined the ring carefully. He told the couple that while beautifully made and still wearable, the heirloom was showing the signs of its 100 years of experience. He pointed out areas of weakness and structural issues that he believed made the ring unsuitable for everyday wear, and he recommended that Josh and Brooke consider having the ring restored by a vintage expert. They left the ring for sizing and said they would think about it.

By the time they returned to pick the ring up the next day, Josh and Brooke had come up with another plan. They were both uncomfortable with the idea of restoring or altering the ring in any way and agreed that keeping it in original condition was more important to them than Brooke being able to wear it every day. With that in mind, they asked John to design a companion piece for the ring — a band that would be in keeping with the original ring’s design — in platinum filigree with milgrain trim and sapphire accents. Brooke said that her work as an executive for a technology company didn’t require any activity that would be especially rough on a ring, and she didn’t have any “heavy-duty” hobbies. They worked with John on initial concepts and agreed to stay in touch via email. Brooke made an appointment to come back in three weeks to look at the model and make a final decision.

Brooke and Josh loved the design of her new ring, and over the three-week period, signed off on the CAD rendering as well as various detail decisions and price. When she next visited John’s office and saw the resin model of her ring, she was delighted and confirmed the order. She and Josh returned in mid-April to see the finished product — and after a minor adjustment to a milgrain edge, were happy. Per his policy, John verified that his clients were completely satisfied with the ring, reminding them that they still had the option to cancel before taking delivery if the ring failed to meet their expectations in any way. They agreed that the ring was exactly as they had envisioned, and paid the $3,000 balance by credit card. The ring was shipped to Josh and Brooke’s Midwest home and was received on April 20, 2018.

About a year later, John received an email from Brooke containing pictures of the ring, significantly damaged with bends and dents in the metal and several broken sapphires. In her message, she said,

“Earlier today, I put my ring in an overnight package coming to your office. When I came to you last February, we discussed that my heirloom family ring was not suitable for daily wear, so we agreed to commission a custom ring that could be worn regularly. I approved the design for this ring, but relied on you to ensure proper materials and craftsmanship. You assured me that the problem with the milgrain edge we originally saw was a minor cosmetic issue and not a structural concern. Yet, less than a year later, the structural integrity of the ring has been severely damaged through nothing more than the ordinary use we discussed.

We’ve consulted with two reputable jewelers in our town. They both said that platinum was not the right metal for this ring — that white gold should have been used, given the design. Based on their opinions, and the significant damage that has occurred in just 11 months, I’d like you to honor the cancellation offer you made initially and issue a full refund for the piece so that I can use the money to get a ring I can actually wear every day.”

John noticed that the pictures were taken by one of the jewelers Brooke had consulted. He was tempted to contact the store to find out how they could have suggested that the choice of platinum was the issue here, but instead, chose to review his notes and talk with his craftsman as well as other trusted metals experts. He came away from his research with the thought that while there might have been a sturdier metal choice for the ring design, even 14K white gold would not have held up to the obvious abuse the ring had suffered.

John didn’t think he could afford — financially or philosophically — to send a check for the full $4,750 sale price of the ring, since what he received from Brooke was essentially scrap platinum. On the other hand, as a small custom shop in a highly competitive city, he also couldn’t afford scathing reviews across social media.

The Big Questions

  • Who is responsible for the situation and who should absorb the cost?
  • Should John have known that white gold might have been a better option, despite her heirloom platinum ring having lasted over 100 years? Should the contract craftsman who made the ring have been more proactive in presenting the right design characteristics?
  • What should John do?
John M.
Grand Haven, MI

Ouch. Hard to convince a customer it wasn’t a problem with your year-old band when her similar engagement ring lasted 100 years. And maybe with good reason. Did you make the band solid enough, or was it a flimsy shell because you cheaped out? Was it wide enough to keep its shape for everyday wear? You’re the expert who’s supposed to know platinum keeps its color, is tough, and chemical resistant, but scuffs, mars and bends easily. And hers is likely a hard die-struck piece, whereas your band is a softer casting. If your band was too lightweight, it’s not going to do the job she specifically tasked you with, and you need to take care of it. If the ring was beaten regardless of the metal or who made it, then point out the specific indicators, while also assuring her you want to help her resolve her situation. Your fault, offer to make a new ring in 14K white gold for free. Her fault, offer to make her one at cost.

Richard S.
Seattle, WA

She obviously abused the ring, but it sounds like between the client and jeweler, they did not resolve the original concern about daily wear durability. Regardless of metal choice, it does not sound like a good design choice. The jeweler needs to either recreate it, making the ring a little heavier and using a ruthenium alloy, iridium being much too soft for platinum casting, or make a new design that both parties can be happy with. But to simply give a refund is unreasonable, assuming he has had a conversation about her lifestyle and what could have caused heavy damage.

Jack Van D.
Wellington, FL

Offer to fix the ring the best way he can, at no charge. We’re not responsible for abusive wear to a piece we design and sell. They’re just trying to get something for nothing.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

These people are trying to take advantage of John, and shame on them. Platinum was a fine choice for a ring like this and should be more than durable enough to handle her said lifestyle. She obviously started working out with it on or it slipped down the disposal and took a spin (I’ve seen both be very destructive). Either way, something has happened and rings like this don’t self-destruct. I would offer to repair or remake it at my cost, but I would NOT give a refund. Stand your ground, John. You can treat her with respect and understanding and still keep your integrity. Letting them walk all over you is not the answer, especially when you and they know that this ring destruction was user error.

Sandi B.
Ocala, FL

Almost the exact thing happened in our store about two years ago. The couple had purchased a platinum radiant three-stone for a right-hand anniversary ring and was quite happy with it. A year later, they wanted to reset her wedding set into platinum with a bigger center diamond. It was made, loved and within one month, they did not like the “scratches” and dents on the bottom of the shank. It was an existing design that was just tweaked, so not completely custom. I talked with the manufacturer extensively about the platinum content, had it refinished, and the couple was still not satisfied.

I refunded the whole set and got a credit from the manufacturer, so it wasn’t a complete loss. Probably a little buyer’s remorse along with the softer metal performance. I would love to say they have purchased other things after that and it was a win-win situation; however, that is not the case. You win some, you lose some. Our reputation is still intact.

Daniel U.
Hamilton, ON

I think that the dealer got “played” by a person who abused her ring and then wanted a free ride to make up for her negligence. If she wanted to wear the ring “hard,” she should have said so at the beginning. My impression is that she got a suitable ring for her lifestyle, which she abused not just once, but several times. I believe that she knew she abused it, that she was morally wrong but that she did not want to accept responsibility for her actions.

The reason I believe these things is we have had clients who misrepresented their lifestyles and tried exactly the same type of scenario: to get a refund after they damaged something they could not afford. It is a measure of the solidarity of our clients that they stood together and denounced that individual as a liar and a fraud.

June M.
Aberdeen, MD

Since the customer indicated before authorizing the band that she did not do any heavy duty work in her employment or have any heavy duty hobbies, she could wear the ring every day. And she had worn it for a year or so. What DID she do that could have possibly caused that ring to end up in such a condition? I also don’t feel the store is responsible for the whole outcome of the finished ring. The craftsman is also responsible. Possibly also the customer.

Instead of a refund, the store could offer to replace the ring in a sturdier ring, possibly a heavier gauge for the filigree and the base plus a thicker band. That way, the cost for the store would be less than a refund.

Saro A.
Chevy Chase, MD

In the custom business, there are always cases when things go wrong either in design/manufacturing or by customer. I think Josh and Brooke should have at least given John a chance to make a new ring instead of asking for a refund. As bad as making a new ring would be for John, he should take the loss and never promise to give a refund on a custom made piece once the customer has seen and approved the wax model.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

I think that John should refuse to accept the package. Make the brute that beat up the ring come to the store to discuss any concessions to be made. And while she’s there, explain the abuse of the jewelry. I would NOT refund under any circumstances.

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Real Deal

A Vendor Raises an Item’s Memo Price After It Is Sold. What Should This Store Owner Do?

The ring was sold for less than the vendor now wants for it.

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GUILD AND STONE WAS a second-generation, high-end store in the Pacific Northwest. Store owner Dean Callen had used his 28 years as the company’s general manager to expand on the strong reputation his father built with an extensive vendor network and a local client base that included most of the town’s VIPs.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

Back in April, Sharon Sanderlund, president of a local construction company and one of Guild And Stone’s best customers, came in to talk with store manager Jennifer Lee about finding a pendant to match the fabulous Art Deco citrine earrings she had just inherited from her aunt. Since there was nothing workable in the store’s estate collection, Dean recommended that Jennifer contact Ed Ansell, one of the store’s regular estate vendors who specialized in vintage colored gemstone pieces. Jennifer spoke with Ed and he agreed to memo several pendants for her to show.

The day the package arrived, while it was sitting on Dean’s desk waiting to be opened, Jennifer received an email from Ed letting her know that in addition to three citrine pendants, he had also included a number of other pieces in the shipment, all from an estate he had recently purchased and all on memo to the store. Since the lot was very well priced, he thought she and Dean might want to keep a few of the pieces for stock.

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When Dean opened the package, he was surprised to see that it contained a total of 13 pieces. As he checked them in, he had to agree that the prices were great, but he was further surprised to see that there was one item in the package — a vintage aquamarine and diamond bracelet — that was not listed on the memo. He contacted Ed immediately to report the error. Ed apologized and emailed an updated memo within the hour.

Later that week, Sharon Sanderlund came in to look at the pendants. She chose a beautiful art deco citrine and diamond pendant from the memo and a vintage chain from the store’s collection for a total of $4,550. While she was still in the store, Jennifer remembered the additional items that Ed had sent and brought them out of the safe to show Sharon. Sharon was immediately drawn to a Victorian sapphire and diamond ring — a cushion-shaped sapphire surrounded by 13 Old European Cut diamonds in 18K gold. Jennifer checked the memo and saw that the store’s cost for the ring was $3,500. She checked with Dean, who assigned a retail price of $6,100 to the ring — then promptly sold it to Sharon.

The next day, Dean sent Ed an email reporting the sale of the two items, adding a list of three more pieces from the lot that he wanted to keep for stock and asking for an invoice. Ed called back an hour later to let Dean know that there had been a mistake on the memo. He said that he had mixed up two rings from the estate — that the sapphire in the ring Jennifer had sold was unheated and that the actual cost for the piece was $7,500, not $3,500. He told Dean that the invoice would reflect the $7,500 price. Dean struggled to remain calm and rational while he very clearly explained to Ed that the ring was sold based on the memo price, and that was the price he would pay. The conversation got rather loud as Ed suggested that Dean contact the customer to get the ring back — something Dean flatly refused to do. The call ended with Ed insisting that the ring would be invoiced at the $7,500 price and subtly suggesting the possibility of legal action if Dean chose not to pay.

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Dean remembered thinking that like the rest of the lot, the ring was a great value at $3,500 cost, but he did not believe that price to be unreasonably low for an estate item. In an effort to be fair and to preserve a vendor relationship, he called Ed back the following day and offered to split the difference — to pay $5,500 for the ring. In his view, since the ring didn’t need sizing, that would leave him with a small profit once he paid Jennifer’s commission. Unfortunately, Ed refused to move off of his demand that Dean pay the invoiced amount for the ring. Dean hung up when Ed mentioned that as a professional, Dean should have noticed that the price was not right for a ring of that caliber in the first place.

The Big Questions

  • What should Dean do?
  • Is it reasonable to think that Ed might be right — that someone at Guild And Stone should have noticed that the price was too low for the ring?
  • Should Dean contact Mrs. Sanderlund and explain the situation in an attempt to either recover the ring or to re-sell it at a higher price?
Kevin P.
Newark, OH

When you write down a price on paper or write it in an email and send it, that is your responsibility to be correct. Once a vendor or a retailer gives a price, it is a done deal. In 40 years, I have never backtracked on a sale. A few times, I made mistakes in my calculations, once using per carat instead of net price to figure my cost.

In this case, I would call back the vendor and reiterate your offer to pay the $5,500 for the ring, as well as the second item and buy the three additional items. Remind him of the business you have done and may do in the future and ask him if he is willing to forget that. If he does not agree, I would send the amount he is asking for the two items and return the rest, and ask that your account be closed. There are other vendors who will behave in an honest and straightforward way with integrity.

John T.
Atlanta, GA

It was the vendor’s mistake and the vendor’s responsibility to catch and correct it before the sale was completed. The offer to split the difference from the jeweler was more than fair. Pay the memo price, and not a penny more, then find a new estate dealer; this one is crackers.

Oscar V.
Chicago, IL

Pay what is on the memo.

Stuart T.
Bel Air, MD

I always try to be fair with my trade partners, BUT in this case Ed is being unreasonable. Dave made a very fair offer to split the loss, and Ed refused to bend at all. Dave could have kept the Aquamarine and diamond bracelet but he was too honest to do so. Ed doesn’t have a leg to stand on, so let him sue, and loose a customer as well.

Michael J.
Port Charlotte, FL

I know the fine print on most memos says items are not to be sold until invoiced, but this can be argued since virtually no company actually holds to these words, so precedents have been set. The fact that Dean offered to split the cost at all was more than fair to the vendor, and in my opinion, should have been accepted without hesitation, especially if he had any desire to salvage the business relationship. The fact that Ed vehemently declined the offer means it should be rescinded and a check mailed for the price on the memo.

Albert D.
Fords, NJ

This is cut and dry. The store would only be liable for the original invoiced price. The fact that they were willing to give more was a very generous. I think the original vendor should have accepted their offer, considering that they know the ring was sold.

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Colleen Z.
Hershey, PA

Ed is absolutely in the wrong here. It’s his duty to correctly identify and price his merchandise — and to eat the loss if he makes a mistake. If he ever wants Dean as a customer again, he needs to honor the original price on his memo. Dean should absolutely not let his client know what’s going on — it’s not at all her responsibility to deal with and it ruins the magic of the purchase. If he ends up having to pay the full cost so she can keep her ring and he can avoid legal action, then so be it. However, he should never work with Ed again. Dean went above and beyond to compromise, and Ed clearly doesn’t value the relationship in the same way. If his customer service is this poor, I wouldn’t trust Ed with other items. Dean should contact his lawyer for advice to handle the situation but above all else — keep Sharon out of it!

Jay S.
San Diego, CA

The retailer tried so hard to be fair. The supplier made the mistake and should live with it. When the supplier was not willing to work with his customer, I would have told him to sue me, and then I would have told him to pound sand!

David B.
Calgary, AB

When is a deal a deal? On both ends. Dean cannot go back to his client and ask for more. It makes him look unprofessional. It may even cost him a client. His offer to eat some cost was very fair. The consignor showed no professionalism. And getting an offer to split the difference was very fair. When I was a traveling salesman, this situation happened to me. I did not go back and ask my retailer for more money. I ate the loss and practiced better accounting. Further, the consignor making threats about court action is ridiculous. I know a fight is expensive, but where do you draw the line? Retailers get kicked in the backside at every turn, and even when it is a clear mistake, why are we expected to make it right? Dean needs to hold his ground.

Stewart P.
Lansing, MI

It is truly unfortunate that we all make mistakes in a variety of different ways. With 45 years in the trade under my belt, I can honestly say that I have paid a small fortune for the errors in judgment that I have made in an attempt to retain or strengthen the integrity of my business. I could have paid much less if I had chosen to place blame on others and refused to accept the responsibility. In the instance described, the error was clearly in the vendor’s corner. The retailer was completely blameless and should not be punished. We cannot function if we cannot rely on quotes and estimates from our vendors as written or stated.

Joe K.
Lantzville, BC

A deal’s a deal. The cost on the original invoice is all that should be paid. Looks like Ed is a little lackadaisical in his invoicing. Suck it up, Ed.

Jim G.
Champaign, IL

The ring as invoiced stands correct. If they had picked up the phone and told the new price before the ring was sold, then the new price would be in order. Too bad for the vendor.

Rex S.
Houston, TX

It is basic contract law. The items were sent out on consignment to be shown to a retail customer and allowed to be sold to retail customers based on the offer price listed on the memo. The retailer sold the item to the retail customer based on the price that the vendor sent to the retailer in good faith. It should also be noted that the vendor had previously told the retailer that this lot was an exceptionally well-priced estate lot; therefore, the retailer was reasonable in not questioning the pricing of the items. The retailer absolutely should not be asked, nor should they contact the retail customer, as that customer bought the item in good faith from the retailer and this has no duty to resend that sales contract. In short, the “memo” is in fact an offer to sell, and the retailer accepted that offer.

Norbert M.
Nairobi, Kenya

Especially in gem and jewelry trade, the customer is always right and therefore should not be bothered. Also, why should the initial seller want to unscrupulously transfer his error to his jewelry broker friend? This is wrong! He should accept the loss as his mistake and use the mishap as a future strength-point! Going to a court of law will only break their wonderful business association. Furthermore, 1) the untold truth is that estate jewelry is often bought at extremely lower price to exploit the owners and to sell off fast to make a quick buck! 2) the money involved is too low to cause the fuss considering the long-term business relationships. In a nutshell, for all the parties, let it be what has already been and move on. Hope I don’t sound too blunt!

Jim S.
Kauai, HI

Dean in good faith sold items based upon a written memo price. That the wholesaler made a mistake is not his fault. His offer of a compromise showed integrity and fairness. Ed’s response showed a lack of both.

Dianne H.
Eldon, MO

They must leave the satisfied customer out of the deal. That part is finished. The customer did nothing wrong. Neither did the jeweler. Carelessness by this supplier shows as the one bracelet was not even on the original invoice. Now the jeweler should prepare to get legal advice and not be bullied by the supplier! $10 payment per month FOREVER!

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

Dean should not pay a dime over $3,500. That is the price listed on his memo sheet, and if Ed tries to take any legal action, then Dean has the proof of the price Ed originally gave him. This is Ed’s mistake and should be his loss, not Dean’s. Also, Ed should probably realize how much money Dean was about to send him and be happy that he could probably recoup his mistake. If I was Dean, I wouldn’t do a bit of business with Ed again. There’s lot of estate dealers out there; go find another one who is more professional. And there is no chance I would call a great customer and ask her for the ring back or to pay more money. You would lose her for good if you did something like that.

Joel M.
New York, NY

Estate jewelry is tricky on value. We receive from our dealers and trust them to value the pieces. Thus, the store owner is not liable and his dealer should have taken the offer to split the profit.

Stuart S.
Egg Harbor City, NJ

This is an estate ring and could have just been an amazing value. Dean was very generous to split the difference. If the ring had not been sold, I’m sure Dean would have either returned the ring or agreed to the price. I feel bad for Ed that he made the mistake, but he has nobody to blame but himself. Ed no longer deserves the benefit of the split. Obviously Ed does not have the same respect for their business relationship as Dean!

Jon P.
St. George, UT

Ed’s mistake. Ed should eat the difference.

Tom C.
San Marcos, CA

You live with your mistakes. An error in pricing is the sender’s fault, not the buyer’s. It may affect any future dealings, but so what? If you can’t trust the sender’s memo pricing, what good is it to solicit goods from them?

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

Dean is required to pay the $3,500 plus applicable taxes. Anything greater than that requires a visit to his lawyer. When the dust settles, Dean should let Mrs. Sanderlund know the incredible deal she received and offer his services to appraise the item. Mistakes happen to all of us, and Dean’s offer of $5,500 was overly generous. Once rejected, I believe a judge would rule in Dean’s favor.

Valerie S.
Champaign, IL

If I’m not mistaken, this was fictionalized based off of my post on the Jewelers Helping Jewelers Facebook group. Fortunately, the wholesaler honored their memo price and we all moved on.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

Let me see if I understand this correctly … The memo said one price, the vendor changed it (doubled), and then Dean offered to meet Ed halfway. Dean is a mensch; and Ed is a _______! (fill in the blank as you deem appropriate). I would send a check for the memo price — I would not buy the other three pieces that looked good and probably not buy anything else from Ed.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

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