Connect with us

Why failing spectacularly can be the best thing that’s ever happened to your business.

mm

Published

on

WHERE ONCE FAILURE WAS the domain of losers, it’s now a cause célèbre, a hard-earned badge of redemption and authenticity. In ads for sports shoes, athletes relish recalling how many times they missed the winning shot; in magazine articles, CEOs take pride in recalling their blunders, politicians and celebrities their lowest moments, even their disgraces. The benefits of failure shouldn’t be news to us. Toddlers develop into autonomous, well-functioning selves by testing boundaries. Fall over, pick yourself up, fall over with a little less pain the next time.

The wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible, and the benefits manifold. From preventing recurring mistakes, to spurring innovation, to helping you find your true course, to uncovering opportunities, it often begins with failure. Yet for most of us mortals, this advice is still hard to take: failure is painful, disappointment cuts deep, and we stake so much psychologically on being right that denial and blame-shifting remain our default responses when things go wrong.

Failure also involves some very real costs — it wastes money and can destroy morale, infuriate customers, damage reputations, and sometimes lead to legal trouble and even tragedy. For small business owners, there is the legitimate risk that a major failure — choosing a wrong location, expanding to a new market, or opting not to adopt a new technology — could mean the end of their business.

As a result, despite all the good talk about failure, most businesses continue to do the opposite. They punish mistakes, shoot the messenger bearing cautionary news, deny errors, blame others, make no systematic effort to study it and basically ignore whatever messages failure has to teach them.

And in doing so, they double down on their errant course of action, stifle risk-taking and take a step toward creating the very thing they are trying to avoid — a terminal misstep.

Advertisement

As the business world becomes more complex and uncertain, the issue is becoming more critical. In 2019, leading a business organization is not so much about good management. It’s about how you respond to new threats, new trends, new technologies. Nobody gets it right the first time anymore.

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure by Tim Harford


“It’s not about effective planning. It’s about trial and error,” Tim Harford, a Financial Times columnist writes in his book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure. “Those who can afford to fail more times will succeed in the long run,” he says, echoing the famous quote of IBM’s Thomas Watson, Sr: “The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.”

There is a quote often attributed to the German statesman Otto von Bismarck that “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” But recent research indicates it actually helps to know the hurt firsthand.

“All the advice tells you not to dwell on your mistakes, to not feel bad,” says Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and a professor of marketing at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “But we found the opposite. When people concentrate on how bad they feel and how they don’t want to experience these feelings again, they are more likely to try harder the next time.”

In the following pages, we provide some tips to help you prepare for when things go wrong and to get the best out of situations when they do go awry.

Advertisement

There is, however, no way to take the pain out of failure. At times like that, it helps to take a philosophical view. On top of trying to tell yourself the feeling of disappointment is salutary, keep in mind that in some mysterious way, the possibility of failure is what makes games worth playing, business pursuing, and ultimately life worth living. When there is no challenge, the joy evaporates (try playing a video game designed for four-year-olds and see how long that stays fun!).

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke summed it up nicely: “The purpose of life is to be defeated by ever greater things.”

In business, those challenges are waiting every day. Go down valiantly.

20 Ways to Make the Most of Failure

“Failure is like laying a rotten egg,” notes James Gattas, owner of James Gattas Jewelers in Memphis, TN. “The smell never goes away, but you are a lot more careful not to lay another one.” Too true. Here are 20 tips to help you navigate those foul-smelling waters.

Contain the downside

1There is a key caveat underlying all failure literature, and that is to be able to enjoy the benefits, you’ve got to be able to survive the experience, thus the advice to fail small and cheaply. Always ask, “What is the minimum viable experiment?” says Roy H. Williams, author of The Wizard Of Ads. It also helps to stick to “adjacencies,” or areas where you have some related business experience. The business world is littered with the dead projects of companies that strayed too far from their core competence. Even a small failure can be expensive, but in the long run, ignorance tends to be even more costly.

Fail fast

2Joel Wiland, owner of J. David’s Jewelry in Broken Arrow, OK, says that after 25 years in the business, he has learned that one of the most valuable skills one can possess is how to fail efficiently. “Most people wait too long, and hang on too long, which is the worst part of failure. When you learn how to fail faster, it is not nearly as costly and at that point (the experience) can actually be profitable from the knowledge gained.” Launch quickly, measure the data, view all feedback — both negative and positive — as a gift. Revise, evolve.

Advertisement

Have Plan B, C and D ready

3“Expose yourself to lots of different ideas and try lots of different approaches on the grounds that failure is common,” says Tim Harford in his book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure. “This approach is far less intimidating than trying to come up with the best idea ever. You need Plan B, Plan C, Plan D. You need a full quiver of arrows.” Not only does a fallback position make it easier psychologically to be wrong, but it enables you to take away a wider range of lessons from each mistake, he says. Ideally, you want to try a mix of off-the-wall ideas and by-the-book practices.

Debrief

Rebel Talent: Why It Pays To Break The Rules At Work And In Life by Francesca Gino

4When a business venture fails, sure, it sucks. But when a military expedition fails, people die. The life-or-death nature explains the military’s relentless review system, known as “after-action reviews” (AARs) of each combat encounter and combat-training exercise. “As in business, the reasons for success or failure in combat often are not clear,” writes behavioral scientist Francesca Gino, author of Rebel Talent: Why It Pays To Break The Rules At Work And In Life. “AAR participants discuss four key questions: What did we set out to do? What actually happened? Why did it happen? What are we going to do next time?” To be sure, failure reviews aren’t much fun. Most people would rather sweep the little disaster under the carpet and look forward. But then the learning opportunity is lost. Such “reviews work best when they are fast and to the point; take place frequently, through good times and bad; and are forward-looking, with an emphasis on learning, not assigning blame,” write Julian Birkinshaw and Martine Haas in Increase Your Return On Failure.

Dig deep

5When Amy Edmondson, a professor in leadership and management at Harvard Business School, discusses failure with executives, she often asks them to consider her Spectrum of Reasons for Failure, which lists causes ranging from deliberate deviation to thoughtful experimentation. “When I ask executives to estimate how many of the failures in their organizations are truly blameworthy, their answers are usually in single digits—perhaps 2 percent to 5 percent. But when I ask how many are treated as blameworthy, they say (after a pause or a laugh) 70 to 90 percent. The unfortunate consequence is that many failures go unreported and their lessons are lost.” To be sure, managers need to make a distinction between excusable and inexcusable mistakes, but often by probing deeper, one can discover underlying causes that are more important. Was the cause of an error carelessness, lack of training, fatigue or some other issue?

Donnie Blanton recalls such an instance at his store, Brittany’s Fine Jewelry in Gainesville, FL: “Many, many years ago, we ran a vendor flyer in November. We were hoping to encourage our customers to shop early and put Christmas gifts on layaway. It was a complete failure. We have never attempted to promote a flyer since. Looking back on it, the merchandise eventually sold, so our real mistake was in thinking that we were going to change our clients’ buying patterns.” As the line goes, good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

Fail differently each time

6A crucial question to ask yourself about your mistakes is, “Am I failing differently each time?” says Steven Levitt, author of the business bestseller Freakonomics. For all our talk here about failure, what we are actually talking about is learning. Fail the same way over and over, and you’re clearly not learning.

Keep a Failure Résumé

7A failure résumé — or Anti-Portfolio or CV of Failures or whatever name you give it — is a simple idea: when you fail, write it down. But instead of focusing on how that failure makes you feel, take the time to step back and analyze the practical, operational reasons that you failed. What’s the point of such self-flagellation, asks Tim Herrera in his Smarter Living column for the New York Times? “Because honestly analyzing one’s failures can lead to the type of introspection that helps us grow — as well as show that the path to success isn’t a straight line.” It can also be a good reminder of how much you’ve tried, said Melanie Stefan, a lecturer at Edinburgh Medical School. “Sometimes I look back on them and see how much I’ve actually struggled to be where I am. That’s a powerful reminder that I deserve to be here,” she said.

Beware your biases

8The human capacity for self-deception is profound. It thus helps to be aware of the kinds of biases that can undermine a proper evaluation of a project. Among the most common psychological blind spots related to failure are the “God complex” (feelings of infallibility), chasing your losses (taking bigger risks to win back lost money), or hedonic editing (when we try to convince ourselves that a mistake doesn’t matter, or finding some way to reinterpret our failures as successes). Few of us can make purely rational decisions. Beware of your biases.

Know what failure looks like

9Recognizing failure can be surprisingly difficult. We’ve been trained that “persistence pays off,” so it feels wrong to cut our losses and label an idea a failure. “Decide what success and failure would look like before you launch an initiative, “ says Columbia Business School’s Rita Gunther McGrath, noting that some big corporations build exit strategies into their projects to ensure that doomed or resource-sucking efforts do not drag on. “Being able to recognize a failure just means that you’ll be able to re-cast it into something more likely to succeed,” adds Harford. In such instances, feedback — either in the form of data or third-party reviews — is essential for determining which experiments have succeeded and which have failed. “Get advice, not just from one person, but from several,” he says.

Use symbolic rituals

10Heroic Failure Awards, Failure Walls (a space in your back room where you and staff can share your “growth lessons”), or a Failure Hour (a weekly meeting devoted to things that went wrong and can be improved) can help create an environment in which failures are openly and seriously discussed. “Something magical happens to failure when it’s openly acknowledged,” writes business author Jeff Stibel in a column for Bizjournals.com. “Paradoxically, it becomes less of a big deal.”

Celebrate intelligent failure

11As 3M’s legendary chairman William McKnight once said, “The best and hardest work is done in the spirit of adventure and challenge … Mistakes will be made.” A risk-averse culture, on the other hand, is dangerous. Once you quit innovating and become guardians of the status quo, the end is only a matter of time away. “One division head I worked with would say to his team members during their performance reviews, ‘Show me your scrap heap,’” recalls Columbia’s Gunther McGrath. “The request perfectly conveys the idea that high achievers will, of necessity, try some things that don’t work out.” Tom Peters sums it up another way: “Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes.”

Fail from the front

Whoever Makes The Most Mistakes Wins by Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes

12The example set by owners and management is crucial. Far from revealing weakness, admitting mistakes shows a leader’s self-confidence and helps forge closer ties with employees. “A blunder admitted is empathy earned,” write Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes in Whoever Makes The Most Mistakes Wins. “Leaders who don’t cover up their errors reveal themselves as human—they become people whom others can admire and identify with.” Adds Edmonson: “Only leaders can create and reinforce a culture that counteracts the blame game and makes people feel both comfortable with and responsible for exposing and learning from failures.”

Share what you learn

13While it’s useful to reflect on individual failures, the real payoff comes when the lessons are shared across the organization or even better, they become part of institutional memory. At Coca-Cola, stories about the failure of New Coke are still told 30 years on. Former CEO Roberto Goizueta got years of one-liners from the fiasco. “Admitting his mistake conveyed to his employees better than a hundred speeches or a thousand memos that ‘learning failures,’ even on a grand scale, were tolerated,” says Farson. Today, traditional soft drinks now account for less than two-thirds of Coke’s business. “They saw the handwriting on the wall, and they evolved into ready-to-drink teas and coffees and juices and dairy products. Coca-Cola knew it was time to reinvent themselves; to transform from one thing into another. This is why — after a continuing series of mistakes, failures, and course corrections — they will continue to thrive,” says Roy Williams.

Hail the bad-news messenger

14“The biggest mistake you can make as a leader is to shoot the messenger and bury the bad news,” write Birkinshaw and Haas. “Big, painful, expensive failures are easy to spot. But in many organizations, any failure that can be hidden is hidden as long as it’s unlikely to cause immediate or obvious harm.” The goal should be to identify it early, before it has mushroomed into disaster. Among the ways to do this: creating a shared understanding around the types of failures that employees can expect to happen at work, being accessible as a leader both in terms of personality and physically, and rewarding the messenger who brings up bad news.

Use checklists

The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande

15In his book The Checklist Manifesto, Dr. Atul Gawande argues that in our complex modern world, failure results not so much from ignorance (not knowing enough about what works) as from ineptitude (not properly applying what we know works). His solution — checklists. In medicine, a field where the available well of learning expands exponentially every year, the problem is “making sure we apply the knowledge we have consistently and correctly,” says Gawande. A recent study in UK hospitals suggested that wider use of checklists might prevent a staggering 40 percent of deaths during treatment. If surgeons can fill out checklists, the rest of us should probably be willing to run our expertise by the numbers as well.

Give back the pen

16It’s not just at the organizational level that failure can be “a gift.” Individuals, likely including your employees, can benefit from its didactic embrace. The problem is that many managers are what psychologists call “over-functioners” — faced with a challenge in the store, they spring into fixing mode, taking control, attacking the issue, offering instructions and dealing with it. As with raising kids, it often helps to let your underlings fail to allow them to develop, even if it creates some short-term anxiety or uncertainty. When a person is stuck or struggling, ask them, “What do you think you should do? Go try it and I’ll give you some ideas and then you see how it goes.”

Revisit and reboot

17Jill Keith, owner of Enchanted Jewelry, Danielson, CT, says she felt like a failure when she closed the family store and then tried to resurrect it in a new location. “Fast forward a year later and we see nothing but blessings,” she says. The episode gave her an understanding that failure is complicated. “Ultimately, it’s just a dot on a timeline. Perspective on it varies with time and distance.” Revisit your old ideas regularly. Not only will the lessons still be relevant, but their time may have arrived.

You are not your failure

18A lot of us look to athletes for inspiration, especially when it comes to taking on a daunting challenge. But according to British sports psychologist James Hamilton, many elite athletes have a pretty unhealthy view of success and failure, associating defeat with an all-round failure of the self. To be sure, it can fuel a heightened drive, leading them to put up with huge levels of discomfort and deprivation, but it can also result in risk-avoidance and self-blame when things don’t pan out as they had hoped. A much healthier view, he says, is to remember that any failure “stands separate” from you.

Educate your subconscious

19The pioneering behavioral psychologist Daniel Kahneman changed the standard view that humans are rational economic actors. The Soviet Union proved something similar for economies — what looks to be efficient rationalization is often a system that can’t learn or adapt. It’s the same for just about any business. British advertising great David Ogilvy had an interesting take on this: “The beginning of greatness is to be different. And the beginning of failure is to be orthodox. Big ideas come from the unconscious. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process.” Go expose yourself to ideas and experiences.

Share your failures

20Look for opportunities to share your mistakes, be it at a lunch, an industry peer group or some other professional gathering. “If you’re having lunch with some of your peers, then revealing failure is a great strategy to induce levels of liking by reducing malicious envy,” Amy Edmondson says. Adds Roy Williams: “When people share their experiences in an atmosphere of respect and mutual trust, a special kind of magic occurs: smart people become wise and their businesses begin to grow.”

FAILURE TEACHES THE BEST LESSONS

By Bruce Goodheart, co-owner, Goodheart’s Jewelry, Overland Park, KS

Say the word “failure” to a group of people and watch their expressions. Most will cringe. Some will say, “Everyone fails at one point in their life.” Among the group will be one person who will smile and not say anything. He knows what failure is, because he has been through it, maybe more than once.
Personally, I believe failure is not having an honest working plan.

October 15th, 1988. Los Angeles Dodgers: 3, Oakland A’s: 4. Bottom of the ninth inning, one man on second. An injured Kirk Gibson limps to the plate. Dennis Eckersley throws a fastball, Gibson hits a home run, and the Dodgers win, 5-4. That one pitch, that one fastball changed the next evening, October 16th, for me.

My brother and I had planned a jewelry fashion show with a high-end women’s dress shop. 12 people showed up. Thanks to Kirk Gibson’s home run, everyone stayed home to watch the next World Series game. Vin Scully, the announcer for the LA Dodgers, said, “Kirk Gibson made the impossible happen.” He sure did, and I learned a big lesson.

I don’t consider my fashion show a failure; I do call it poor planning.

Bill Gates said it best: “I failed my exam in some subjects, but my friend passed. Now he’s an engineer at Microsoft, and I am the owner.”

As a jeweler, if you work diligently, ask many questions when you don’t know the answers, and read as much as you can about the jewelry industry, you will succeed.

And don’t be afraid to fail; just be sure to get back up out of the dirt. Remember, you’re one swing away from making the impossible happen.

Chris Burslem is Group Managing Editor at SmartWork Media.

Advertisement

SPONSORED VIDEO

Wilkerson Testimonials

Having a Moving Sale? Let Wilkerson Do the Heavy Lifting

For Jim Woodard, owner of Woodard’s Diamonds & Design in Tullahoma, Tenn., when it was time for a moving sale, there was only one company to help with the event: Wilkerson. “They brought in the right team for us,” he says, remarking about the sale’s extraordinary results, including a nearly 500% monthly sales increase compared to the previous year. “I wanted to have the best in the industry. And that’s the main reason why I contacted Wilkerson.”

Promoted Headlines

Best Stores

All In The Family

Published

on

At INSTORE, we often refer to family-owned jewelry stores as being the heart of the independent retail jewelry business. So, for our December issue, we’ve collected photos of some of the faces behind those family businesses. Whether they represent second- or fifth-generation jewelry families, they’ve learned something about how to navigate these close relationships and achieve a balance between their personal and work lives that transcend time and generational differences.

Brothers Gale and Flint Carpenter, from left, and Gale’s son, Chance.

An Unexpected Succession
Big Island Jewelers, Hawaii | Founded: 1983

When Chance Carpenter, already an entrepreneur in his own right, told his dad, Gale Carpenter, that he wanted to join the family jewelry business, Gale said it blew his mind. “He had never spoken to me about any interest in the business whatsoever,” Gale says. “I would have started grooming him much earlier.” Gale founded the business with his brother Flint, a goldsmith. When Chance joined the business in his mid-20s, he apprenticed with Flint, and when Flint wanted to retire at age 70, Gale bought him out through a stock-reduction plan. “Chance learned from a master working a foot away,” Gale says. “It was invaluable. Because you can’t learn 35 years of technique in a classroom. It just doesn’t work.” In another four to five years, Gale says, Chance will take over and begin buying his father out of the business.

1. Heather Wahl with her parents Bob and Barba Wahl. 2. Four generations, circa 1945. From left: F.X Wahl, F.C. (Frederick Charles) Wahl with baby R.C. (Robert Charles) Wahl, and F.F. Wahl. 3. A 1989 photo in front of the store’s original location 4. Barba in a 1970s era newspaper ad for the store.

125 years, five generations
R.C. Wahl Jewelers, Des Plaines, IL | Founded: 1894

“I am so proud of my family’s longevity in the jewelry industry!” says fifth-generation family member Heather Wahl, who is the first woman to own the business. “This year we are celebrating one family, five generations, 125 years!” Her parents, Bob and Barba Wahl, met at an Illinois Jewelers Association event in Springfield, IL, in the late ‘60s. “Mom worked at another jewelry store in Illinois and they were seated at the dinner together and the rest is history,” Heather says. Heather’s parents are retired from day-to-day operations but make special guest appearances and step in to help as needed. “They are fabulous sounding boards and have a wealth of background and knowledge to share,” she says.

Harold, Cathy & Hunter

A QUALITY TRADITION
Tivol, Kansas City | Founded: 1910

Charlie & Mollie Tivol

Immigrant Charles Tivol opened a jewelry shop in downtown Kansas City in 1910, meticulously crafting each piece of jewelry by hand and launching a family tradition that would continue through generations. His son Harold began working in the store as a boy, studied at the GIA and joined Tivol in 1946. In 2003, Tivol was recognized by the American Gem Society as top retail jeweler of the year. Harold’s daughter Cathy, representing the third generation, has worked in the family business for three decades. In 2010, Tivol celebrated a century in business, and a year later, Cathy’s son, Hunter Tivol McGrath, joined the company as a salesperson at the Hawthorne Plaza location, making him the fourth generation of the Tivol family to work for the company. Harold Tivol remained chairman until his death at the age of 92 on July 6, 2016.

A STRONG WORK ETHIC
Josephs Jewelers, Des Moines, IA | Founded: 1871

Toby Joseph, Trisha Joseph, Jake Joseph and Deb Joseph.

Jake and Trisha Joseph represent the fifth generation of the company founded by watchmaker Solomon Joseph in 1871 as a repair shop that also was officially in charge of timing the trains for the railroad. By the turn of the century, Josephs had expanded into fine jewelry and giftware. In 1934, Josephs was a founding member and investor in the American Gem Society. They attribute their success to respect, teamwork and a strong work ethic. “The Joseph family has always lived a modest life,” Deb Joseph says. “No one has ever had a second home or taken any more vacation than what their employees have. Toby is almost always the first one here in the morning and Jake, Trisha and I are usually in the group that is the last to leave the store.”

FAMILY COMES FIRST
Tapper’s, Troy, MI / Founded: 1977

Founder Howard Tapper is the company’s CEO, brother Steven is vice-president, son Mark is president, daughter Marla Tapper Young is a director and Mark’s wife Leora is heavily involved in the store’s merchandising and runs its estate department. Mark ascribes the company’s success in part to the tight family bond they all share. “We hired a family business consultant who asked each of us individually, ‘There’s no wrong answer, but is it family first or business first?’ And each of us answered ‘family first.’ We don’t always agree, but once a final decision is made, we all get on the bus and start driving in one direction.”

Founder William Croghan’s granddaughters and great-granddaughters form the current management team.

LAUGHTER IS A CURE-ALL
Croghan’s Jewel Box, Charleston, SC | Founded: 1907

Mini and Kathleen Hay; Rhett Ramsay Outten, Mariana Ramsay Hay and their mother Mary Croghan Ramsay.

Founder William Croghan’s granddaughters and great-granddaughters watch over the store that William opened around 1930 at 308 King Street. By 2000, granddaughters Mariana Ramsay Hay and Rhett Ramsay Outten, the third generation, began to knock out walls and expand the jewelry business in that original building. They’ve since been joined by fourth-generation Mini Hay and Kathleen Hay. Says Rhett: “Too many retail jewelers hang onto the image or idea of who they’ve been in the past. Our survival has been based on ‘Let’s try it; let’s see what happens.’ We also believe that laughter is a cure for just about anything, so we laugh a lot. And probably most importantly, we are always counting our blessings and looking for ways to give back in a meaningful way to this community that has given us so much.”

Robert and Jonathan McCoy

Old Place, New Course
Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, MO | Founded: 1965

Jonathan and Jennifer McCoy, left, with Robert McCoy and Samantha Smith, head of operations.

“When I was growing up, it was more like a routine,” says Randy Mitchum of the family store. “My dad, a watchmaker, went to work during the day, then he came home and we ate dinner and watched Wheel of Fortune.” Although he’d been assigned chores in the store, he never really thought of it as his life’s work. Randy graduated high school in 2000, but after a year in technical college, he lacked direction. “I asked my Dad, ‘Why don’t you let me work in the store part time?’ At first he told me, ‘No, I don’t think we’d get along very well.’ Then he needed someone after my first year in college and I started working in the store. The next semester came along and I wanted to work full time in the business.” Although he was trained on the bench, his dad told him, “You’re a hell of a better salesperson than you are a bench person. Why don’t you stay on the sales floor and make some money?” Randy never did go back to college. “Once I got into the store and started working, I saw some potential and started taking some ownership,” he says.

John Mitchum (right), shown with his son, Randy, purchased Trantham Jewelry in 1965. It came with a prominent, double-sided clock on the town square that now has a new name and a place of honor in their current location.

JEWELERS IN RESIDENCE
McCoy Jewelers, Dubuque, IA | Founded: 1973

The McCoys not only work together but also live above their business. Founder Robert McCoy, a master gemologist, jeweler and designer, lives on the third floor, and his son Jonathan and daughter-in-law Jennifer live on the second floor. Although semi-retired, Robert still works a couple of days a week on design and repairs. Jonathan is the head of bench operations, custom design, CAD/CAM and repairs; Jennifer oversees bridal and sales. “It’s hard to play hooky,” Jonathan admits. “My wife and I converse about the shop almost daily. Once you get in that mindset, it’s difficult to get out of it.”

Julia, Jeff and Daniel White

REBEL, REBEL
Jeff White Custom Jewelry, Las Vegas | Founded: 1995

When Jeff White opened Jeff White Custom Jewelry with 300 square feet in an office building, he received a stipulation from his wife, Michelle White. “My mom’s one condition was that he not be allowed to hire any of the kids,” says their son, Daniel White. Michelle came from a family business and knew the stresses associated with that kind of operation. Despite that warning, Daniel and his sister Julia both landed in the business (“I guess there are worse ways to rebel,” Daniel says). “My dad has cut back from his 60-80 hour work weeks — he has given me the ability to run and manage operations in the event he does decide to take off for a while. My sister, Julia, keeps our books clean and our staff happy. She is pregnant with her fourth child right now, but insists on coming in one day a week to manage the books and schedule, and when the holidays come around, she is our top salesperson. My brother, Joseph, got out of the business and became a hospital administrator; he still has an opinion on the direction of the business, but none of us listen. I have an older sister and a younger sister who are also not in the business, but they love jewelry and my dad loves giving it to them, so no one is complaining.” In total there are 11 grandchildren in the third generation.

Michael Kanoff and his father, Lenny Kanoff, became partners in 1996.

LIVING THE DREAM
Michael’s Jewelers, Yardley and Fairless Hills, PA | Founded: 1976

Michael’s Jewelers was founded by Lenny and Karen Kanoff in 1976, but the family’s jewelry roots run deeper than that. In 1918, Daniel Kanoff, a watchmaker and silversmith, emigrated from Russia to the U.S. and got a job working for a watch repair house in Philadelphia. A decade later, he opened his own business, Philadelphia Case & Repair. Daniel’s son Irving became a watchmaker, and his grandson Lenny became a retailer. Their son, Michael, fell in love with the business. “I knew I wanted to be in the jewelry business since I was 2 years old,” Michael says. After he earned his GG from the GIA, he worked at a variety of jobs in the industry. “In 1996, I was working as a jewelry rep in Atlanta, and I got a call from my father,” Michael recalls. “He said they were building a shopping center in Yardley and asked if I would like to partner with him and open a store in my hometown. So in 1997, we closed our Richboro store and we opened Michael’s Jewelers Yardley.” Michael says he is living his dream by owning a jewelry store and raising his three children, ages 9 to 13, in his hometown. “At this point, my children don’t have any interest in the jewelry business, but that might change,” Michael says.

Fourth-generation jeweler Sarah Hurwitz Robey, her parents, Jeff and Patty Hurwitz, and her sons, Tucker and Lincoln.

ALL AGES WELCOME
Colonial Jewelers, Frederick, MD | Founded: 1920

Fourth-generation jeweler Sarah Hurwitz Robey has brought her sons Tucker and Lincoln with her to work since they were 6 weeks old, with the help of her mom, Patty Hurwitz, and a babysitter. “We have an awesome staff who are like family to us and are very understanding of all of the nuances of working for a family business, whether it is Lincoln learning to crawl on the sales floor or Tucker running in from preschool excited to show everyone what he made that day. I feel like I have a dream situation. I get to work at the store, which I have always been very passionate about, as well as have my babies close to me.” The business was founded in 1920 by Sarah’s great-grandfather, Benjamin Hurwitz. Sarah’s father Jeff Hurwitz, president of Colonial, learned the business from his own parents, Will and Marilyn. They’ve had a recent surprise addition to the family lineup at work: “My 94-year-old great-uncle, who worked in the business with my grandfather, recently came out of retirement and is our official Saturday greeter. He’s a huge hit with our customers, may of whom remember him from years ago,” Sarah says. “I don’t ever want to put any pressure on my boys (the way I was never pressured) but I am hoping that having them here so young may instill in them the same love of the business that I have,” she says.

A JACK OF ALL TRADES
Spath Jewelers, Bartow, FL | Founded: 1986

Tina and Gene Spath, from left, work with their daughter Emily and son-in-law Matthew Clark.

Spath Jewelers founders and owners Tina and Gene Spath work with their daughter, Emily Clark, and her husband, Matthew Clark, who both have the title VP of operations. Tina handles community relations and marketing. Gene works as a liaison between their two locations and oversees jewelry and watch repair. Emily is custom design manager and oversees diamond sales, HR, scheduling and marketing. Matthew handles inventory, staff training and development, marketing and sales. “In a small business, there is a lot of overlap in job responsibilities, and you eventually become a jack-of-all-trades,” Matthew says. “The way to succeed in a family business is to help and advise other family members in their areas of focus when they request the advice, and stay in your lane when advice is not needed or requested. A wise man one said, ‘You never want too many cooks in the kitchen or the food will come out tasting like you know what … ‘”

Continue Reading

Best Stores

Getting Along in the Family Business

Published

on

Mark Tapper wasn’t sure, as a young man, whether he wanted to join the family business in Michigan. He was motivated to work on Wall Street, first, which he did, but still realized he felt a pull to be an owner operator, to chart his own destiny. That idea kept him coming back to considering the family business.

“During summers, when I had the opportunity to come home, I worked in the business,” Tapper says. A turning point came when he worked with a customer to repair the watch their son had been wearing when he was killed in a car crash. “I created an emotional bond over that repair and felt more of a connection with the business. I realized that we see our guests at the best times of their lives and at the lowest times of their lives, and we can develop long-term relationships with them.”

When Mark did join Tapper’s, his father and uncle were ready to slow down a little bit. “My dad realized he wasn’t connecting with younger generations, and my sister and I were young and ambitious; little by little, he gave us more responsibility and opportunity. My dad coached us, but he handed over the reins and allowed us to make mistakes and have successes.” 

David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy says such openness is key to family harmony. While the younger family member needs to be open to learning from the older generation, the older generation benefits from being receptive to new business methods and opportunities. “We live in dynamic times, and what got you there won’t keep you there,” Brown says.

Outside experience, whether in or out of the jewelry business, can be invaluable. Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts says that ideally, family members should spend a year or more working with another, similar jeweler in another part of the country, learning sales and operations as an employee rather than as an heir.

Peterson also advises owners to be sensitive to their existing associates when bringing new family members into the fold. “Communicate honestly with staff members about your hopes and expectations for your son or daughter, about the steps you’ve taken to ensure his or her value and contribution to the team, and about how you see the chain of command evolving — both in the short and long term.”

Peterson says it’s important, although challenging, for the owner of the company to separate their roles as business owner and parent.

“Talk to your son or daughter as you would to any person applying for an eventual management position with your company,” she says. “You’ll want to make sure that your objectives, as well as your understanding of career path and process, are compatible. Now is the time to discuss timelines, expectations and performance standards.”

Mike Kanoff of Michael’s Jewelers in Yardley, PA, says he started at the bottom of the family business, an experience which, looking back as an adult, he recognizes as formative. “This is what made me the person I am,” he says. He advises patience on everyone’s part, because despite the best of intentions, parents will inevitably view their offspring as children, no matter their age or experience. “Don’t take it personally; it happens to all of us,” he says. “They will appreciate you more as they and you both get older and grow together.”

When a family member joins the firm, says Toby Joseph of Josephs Jewelers in Des Moines, IA, they will benefit from exposure to different areas of business to figure out what they enjoy. Discuss among family members and key members of the team how you can find someone to take on areas in which no one is strong or interested.

Sarah Hurwitz Robey credits a clear division of labor for ease of operation at her family’s store, Colonial Jewelers in Frederick, MD. Everyone plays to their strengths. “It’s not always perfect, but having different areas that we are responsible for, which happen to be the ones we enjoy the most, helps to give us all our own space to do things our own way.

“For example, my dad is responsible for diamond buying and inventory controls. He is really great at keeping our inventory lean and turning well to leverage our buying to make it as profitable as possible. So when a question comes up about bringing in more merchandise, I would defer to him on the purchasing budget, but we would pick out styles together. One of my areas is marketing, and while we will collaborate on the marketing budget for the year, the details of the way we spend it and the creative aspects are up to me. My mom, whose pre-jewelry store background was in social work, is our master of dealing with staff, customer relations and community philanthropy.”

Rhett Ramsay Outten, who owns Croghan’s in Charleston, SC, with her sister Mariana Ramsay Hay, says her third and fourth-generation family management team would all agree that working together is one of the thrills of their lives. “Our relationships have evolved and matured, and honestly, we really just like each other. The interesting thing about our situation is that we all bring very different strengths and weaknesses to the table. We know our lane and we have allowed each other to lead and excel in the area in which we each thrive.”

The Tapper family has been open to innovation and new ideas as younger family members come aboard.

Outten is the creative one, while her sister is a problem solver and planner. “Next generation Mini and Kathleen are similarly opposites. Kathleen has a love of spreadsheets and data and enjoys the analysis of numbers. Mini is an artist and designer, our style director. They work beautifully together.”

Although they have very different skill sets, they all share the values handed down from their grandfather and mother, she says, which include a deep faith, a belief in ethics and honesty and putting family first. “On challenging days, sometimes you just have to wake up and decide that the most important thing is to get along,” she says. “Our mother would expect that of us.”

MAKE SURE EVERYONE IS ON THE SAME PAGE

W hen Mark Tapper moved into the business, the Tapper family met individually with a family business consultant, who asked each of them if the family or the business came first for them and told them there was no right answer. “We all answered family first,” Tapper says. “So we had that as our foundation that the decisions we are going to make are for the family. That really helps drive the family culture, the business culture and the business performance.

“When things aren’t at their best, it’s because we aren’t communicating,” Tapper says. “The more you can talk and plan and be open and honest with one another, it benefits the family and it benefits the business.”

Brown says that effective, regular (timely), structured communication and meetings are vital, but only if they have context. If people don’t know what the goals and objectives are and where they all fit in, there isn’t much to discuss.  With those things in place, family members should meet weekly for an hour to review what’s working and what’s not.

Third and fourth generation owners of Croghan’s Jewel Box say that working together is one of the thrills of their lives, but on challenging days, they make the decision to “just get along.”

At Croghan’s, Outten says the family meets once a week with their CFO, their head of HR and their store manager. “This is where we discuss all of our plans, problems and triumphs,” Outten says. “It is a crucial part of our success and allows us to be on the same page as well as to be intentional in both short and long-term planning.”

Brown notes that multiple generations working together must know and agree on the short-term (one year), medium-term (five years) and long-term (five years and beyond) goals and objectives of the business and the family members involved. It’s important to discuss expectations upfront, including who will be running the business in the future. “There are few things more destabilizing than surprises, such as one of the younger generation thinking they will be taking over the business only to find someone else is earmarked for that role,” Brown says.

Other important topics are: How do the current owners get paid? How do they make it equitable? “There is nothing worse than close family members falling out due to a lack of understanding about where they fit in and how it is all going to work,” Brown says.

ADDRESS QUALITY OF LIFE ISSUES

O wners may discover that family and quality of life issues are at the forefront of expectations when it comes to millennial and Gen Z employees. “Expect to hear ‘I can’t put in the kind of hours you did’ and avoid the temptation to utter the dreaded phrase, ‘Pay your dues,’” Peterson says.

Robey is grateful that her parents recognized how important it was to her to bring her young sons to work, ever since they were six weeks old. “If someone just needs a hug from Mommy, I am right here,” she says.

Matthew Clark joined his wife’s family’s business, Spath Jewelers, in Bartow, FL. Emily works there, too, and they both have the title of vice president of operations. For them, working together is quality of life. “People are amazed that I work 10 hour days with my wife and say they could never do it,” Clark says. “But I could not imagine working 10-hour days away from her and coming home to see her just a couple hours before having to go to bed. I know it would not work for everyone, but we are very blessed to make it work and I would not have it any other way. ”

Continue Reading

Big Survey

The Big Survey 2019: Big Data

mm

Published

on

THE BIG SURVEY 2019

Big Data

Gabriel & Co. is king. Earnings for many jewelers have flat-lined. And customers — and almost as often staff — are still confounding. Those are some of the broad takeaways of the 2019 Big Survey. Dig in and enjoy our analysis of data provided by 802 North American jewelers.

Utah’s jewelers were most concerned about the impact of social media on their personal lives: 75% said it had been negative. In a possible related finding, Utah’s jewelers also checked review sites most regularly, doing it daily or every few days. Jewelers in Maine were the least likely to check what people were saying about them online.
California had the highest number of multiple-store owners: 23% had two stores and 3% had three or more.
Arizona led the way in e-ccommerce with 71% saying it contributed a moderate or substantial portion of their sales (meaning more than 10%).
Texas contributed the highest portion of big city stores to our survey (23%) among U.S. stores. (Canada actually had the most in North America at 29%.)
Wisconsin could possibly change its moniker to the Surprise State: Only 15% of its jewelers said their performance this year was in line with expectations. The rest were either doing better or worse than expected.
Jewelers in Iowa were most excited about lab-grown diamonds (63%), while jewelers in New York were most alarmed by their emergence (48%).
Canadian jewelers are most likely to be asked about a diamond’s origins (83% say it happens regularly) while in the U.S. it was California that holds that distinction (70%).
Advertisement

1. How well is your business performing in 2019 compared to your expectations going into the year?

Far below expectations
2%
Below expectations
23%
In line with expectations
46%
Above expectations
24%
Way above expectations
5%

2. How many stores do you operate?

3. Where is your store located by region?

Northeast
17%
Mid Atlantic

 

5%
Midwest
31%
Southeast
21%
Southwest
9%
Mountain (Rocky Mountains)
4%
Northwest
(including Alaska)
3%
West (including Hawaii)
5%
Canada
5%
Advertisement

4. Is your (main) store located:

On a downtown street
33%
In its own free-standing building

 

27%
In a strip mall
24%
In a lifestyle center
5%
Office building/Business park
5%
In a mall
3%
Home studio
2%
On the Internet
1%
Other
1%
Continue Reading

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Subscribe


BULLETINS

INSTORE helps you become a better jeweler
with the biggest daily news headlines and useful tips.
(Mailed 5x per week.)

Latest Comments

Most Popular