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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cover Stories

You Deserve Better or Best

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The success of thoughtfully implemented “Good-Better-Best” (G-B-B) pricing strategies has been proven beyond dispute. Look around. Airlines offer coach class seats with variable options. Allstate offers auto batteries with warranties ranging from 12-48 months at prices that vary disproportionately. Heating oil suppliers sell plans based on a monthly fluctuating rate as well as a “premium” package in which the rate is fixed for the season.

I read a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (“The Good-Better-Best Approach to Pricing,” by Rafi Mohammed) that made me wonder why retail jewelers were not taking full advantage of this strategy in their stores.

Twenty years ago, Allstate conducted research to determine just how much price really mattered to their insurance customers. They learned that drivers are very concerned that if they are involved in an auto accident, their rates will go up. They introduced three new policy levels to add to their “Standard” level policy. They have a “Basic” policy at 5 percent below “Standard,” a “Gold” policy (6 percent higher price), and a “Platinum” level policy (15 percent higher price). Last year, only 10 percent of their customers downgraded to “Basic,” while a whopping 23 percent upgraded from “Standard” to “Gold” or “Platinum.”

So what can we do in a retail jewelry store to take advantage of this tendency of consumers to move up in price when given attractive options?

Implementing a “Good-Better-Best” plan in your store has three benefits. One, it can entice new and existing customers to spend more. Two, it allows you to compete directly with lower-priced competitors, including Internet shops. And three, a G-B-B strategy will change your customers’ actions through consumer psychology.

Successfully offering a G-B-B option depends on the following considerations:

  1. The price level of the “Good” option should be no more than 25 percent below the price of the “Better” option. The “Best” option should be no more than 50 percent higher than the “Better” option. For example, if we have a $1,000 “Better” item, the “Good” option should be about $800, and the “Best” option about $1,400.
  2. There should be a perceived important difference between the “Good” and “Better” options that motivate the customer to opt up for the “Better” selection. Limit the number of features in your “Good” option to improve the perceived value of the “Better” option.
  3. Each option should be explained in four attributes that differentiate it from the lower-priced option.
  4. Signage should clearly explain the differences and costs of each option. Name each option intelligently. Don’t use descriptions that confuse the merchandise. There is nothing wrong with simply using “Good, Better, Best.”

When you are determining the price points for your G-B-B offerings, consult your “inventory performance by category” report in your inventory management software. This will tell you the average selling price of your current sales for each different category and style of merchandise. Your goal is obviously to sell more at higher prices, so consider a price about 10 percent higher than your current average sale as your “Better” option. For example, if your average diamond stud earring sale is $1,000 now, make your price points $899, $1,099 and $1,399.
Retail jewelers should benefit from the thoughtful implementation of the G-B-B principles. Here are some display suggestions for your store.

Diamond stud earrings and anniversary bands

ffer three grades of earrings in the most popular styles. The differences in stud earring prices are obviously predicated by diamond size and quality as well as mounting material.
Start with 14K white gold mountings with round diamonds in sizes ranging from one-eighth, one-quarter, one-third, one-half, three-quarters and one-carat sizes. Develop a source (internally or externally) that can provide three different qualities in all six sizes. Obtain a display arrangement that allows the three qualities and sizes to be shown with descriptions, as well as prices and monthly payment options. Add signage that explains each of the four differentiating points between the qualities offered. Put in place a reorder procedure that quickly refills the empty space when sales occur.

Bridal

ake your most popular styles of engagement rings (halos, solitaires, sets, three-stone, etc.) and create a display with a G-B-B variation of each in a single tray. If you can, include several of these in each showcase. If you can direct your customer to those trays, you stand a better chance of easily up-selling the customer to a bigger size. Feature payment amounts to make it easier for your staff to sell up.

I am a big believer in organizing your bridal showcase by style, not by vendor brand (unless it is a very recognizable national brand) or diamond size. That is how your customer shops. With all your halo choices collected together in a single part of the showcase, you’ll find it much easier to move up in price and keep your customer from having to visit several showcases in order to see your selection.

Other merchandise

ollow this same strategy. Choose your most popular designs and identify what you can do to that item to be able to sell it at 25 percent less. Maybe it is a smaller stone or a metal change to silver. Make that new item your “Good” selection. Now revisit the original piece and ask what you can add to the design to make it worth 25 percent more. Make that your “Best” choice, and display them all together with prices and payments.

If you are successful with such a strategy, it could make both your customer and you very happy. Your store would be easier for your customer to shop, and your inventory could shrink to fewer pieces offered since your sales are more concentrated in your G-B-B offerings.

Give it a try and see what happens to your average sale. If it works, expand it. If it doesn’t, try something else. Be sure you track the results of your efforts to know what has worked and what has not.

Retail jewelry is hard enough without leaving money on the table when the customer is already in your store and poised to buy. Implementing this strategy might just move your results from “Good” to “Better” to “Best.”

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E-commerce for Everyone: Let Your Customers Buy Something Where & When They Want To

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E-commerce has been vilified by many independent retail jewelers as an under-cutting, price-conscious evil entity intent on stealing hard-earned business from brick-and-mortar stores while ripping their profit margins to shreds.

At this point, though, it’s more or less a matter of if you can’t beat them the way you’ve been operating, you’d better consider joining them.

It’s time to rethink e-commerce as a viable option for you, the independent brick-and-mortar-based jeweler, but also to understand what it takes in dollars and time to drive traffic to a website, says Ben Smithee, digital-marketing expert and CEO of The Smithee Group. The big online players didn’t get where they are without investing considerable time and money into marketing, social media and search-engine optimization.

In other words, simply enabling e-commerce is not like flipping a switch and watching the money pour in. Instead, imagine you’re opening a second store. How much planning and preparation would you put into that? You’d work with a store designer. You’d hire more staff. You’d invest in advertising.

“Most people grossly underestimate what it takes for advertising to send people to the site,” Smithee says. “A lot of them expect to have overnight sales. Start with realistic expectations — they should be thinking about selling one, two, three things a week or a month to start and ramping up from there. Without realistic expectations, they will decide it doesn’t work and will quit,” Smithee says.

Independent jewelers like Tim Wright of Simply Unique Jewelry Designs in Yorktown, VA, have been reluctant converts in recent years. Wright says he realized in the past year that his company has to be searchable and sell its wares online. If not, he says, “We will go away like other independents in our area.”

It took time for Wright to wrap his head around the idea. “I cannot imagine people ordering jewelry, especially our one-of-a-kind pieces, off the Internet, but we are working on a new website to be more searchable and to be able to sell off of it. The basics we all have survived on over the years are not selling in the store anymore because of the Internet.”
Shane O’Neill, vice-president of Fruchtman Marketing, advises independent jewelers to temper their expectations when they turn to e-commerce.

Most jewelers are not going to see significant amounts of e-commerce, he says, because the marketing perspective is much different between traditional stores and online stores. “If they are marketing around a 20-mile radius, we still know that people want to touch and feel the jewelry,” says O’Neill. Plus the data that millennials don’t shop in stores isn’t necessarily true. They shop in bigger numbers than Gen X or baby boomers do. But they shop online with the idea of browsing and checking out pricing, and so they expect a shopping experience with all of the details revealed, O’Neill says.

The preparation it takes to be ready for e-commerce almost certainly will result in increased sales in the store.

“They probably have checked all the boxes in terms of a good user experience, descriptions, photos, categories of metal type and have galleries of multiple products,” O’Neill says. “When someone comes to the website and they have the ability to have a great browsing experience, they make purchasing decisions based on that. When they stop in the store, you should have a higher closing rate. To me, that’s an e-commerce transaction, too.”

The website should be like your second store, O’Neill says, in terms of how you relate to the customer online: “How you flow people through your site is like what a sales associate does in the store.”

For Janne Etz of Contemporary Concepts in Cocoa, FL, e-commerce has grown steadily over the past two years from 35 percent of her business to a solid 50 percent. “You have to pay serious attention to it,” she says. “It is not a set-it-and-forget-it operation. What works with e-commerce this month will evolve into something else next month. It’s a constant learning process. I continue to study and learn and implement the newest techniques, so I can continue to grow!”

Stephenie Bjorkman of Sami Fine Jewelry in Fountain Hills, AZ, says an e-commerce-enabled website seems like a huge project, and it can be. But start somewhere, she says. “Just do it, or just do something,” she says. “Get ready to flip that switch. Take on little bits and pieces at a time and set goals. I am so far from anywhere near where I want to be, but my marketing department and I sat down and made a monthly calendar so that we could plan all of our marketing, social media, blogs etc.” Bjorkman’s team also worked on posting pieces for sale in groups of 24 at a time.

If even this seems like too much, start with making time for your own social media. Friend your top 100 clients and start from there.

“I think you need to make a plan, then work your plan,” Bjorkman says. “You can begin by doing this in the evening when you get home. Or have one of your employees spend an hour a day on it. The first step is that every day you should be posting on social media. Post real pictures and start creating your online image. Connect your posts to your website and tell them how to buy.”

Borsheims

E-commerce continues to evolve in an omni-channel world

Borsheims of Omaha, NE, has been selling online since 1998 and today has seven associates dedicated to e-commerce.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth in the channel,” says Adrienne Fay, director of marketing and business sales — a 40 percent increase year over year in online sales for the past two years. This year that trend continued with a huge lift in January and February. The e-commerce staff is involved in navigation, digital photography, answering questions and virtually holding hands as needed. They also fulfill the orders — 99.9 percent of the inventory is in the store already.

In March 2018, the company introduced a new website that made online purchases easier on all devices, while updating their ring-builder tool to make it both more user-friendly and more luxurious-looking, says Andrew Brabec, director of e-commerce. “A lot of our customers will utilize their mobile device first and then make a purchase on their desktop. They prefer the process on the mobile device; it’s easier, faster.” Chat is used more than ever by customers looking for a promo code or to ask a quick question, but few purchases take much hand-holding.
One reason for that is that the new website is designed to anticipate questions that shoppers might have. Photographing jewelry items next to coins, for example, allows customers to gauge the size of the piece quickly and easily. “The main questions we get are: What size is this? And how does it look on someone?” Brabec says. One goal is to provide more views of each product.

“We try to replicate our customer service online,” says Fay. “It’s a strategic investment. We look at shoppers in an omni-channel fashion. Not as an e-commerce customer, not as a store customer. Simply a customer. We want to be able to knock their socks off in all channels.”

Shoppers who convert to online sales represent a wide demographic — established customers, gift shoppers, fine jewelry shoppers. Average order fluctuates, but recently it was $263. “We definitely have sold items that retail in the tens of thousands. Not every day, but it’s not unusual,” Fay says. Customers log in from all over the U.S. and the world; international checkout is available with exact pricing.

What’s next? Borsheims is testing out products to provide shoppers with 360-degree views of products, a technology that is increasingly common in other industries. Another huge goal is to get 97 percent of their products visible online; currently that number is about 74 percent. “We want to see more items in the cart, too, so we’re working on ways to up-sell in the cart by showing related products,” Brabec says. “In addition, we are going to evaluate pages to make them faster and more effective.”

The year 2020 represents Borsheims 150th anniversary. “And you don’t survive that long if you don’t evolve and grow and roll with the punches,” Fay says. “We used to say we at Borsheims are going to tell you as customers what you need to buy. Now we respond to what they are looking for with content and expertise and education.”

Ringcrush

Growing fast on Etsy

Bailey Lehrer founded Ringcrush, a start-up online jewelry store, selling $30 to $60 jewelry items on Etsy. She started the business with $700 and turned a profit immediately.
“We were able to grow in two years really quickly,” Lehrer says. “I did a little under $1 million on Etsy and another $300,000 on Amazon. It made sense for me to start up online. Etsy is really friendly to people who want to experiment.”

Lehrer says that while high-end diamond solitaires aren’t the norm on Etsy, moissanite rings are moving fast, as are other non-traditional types of diamond engagement rings, usually with an artisan design or a unique setting. “Etsy is primarily for 25- to 35-year-old women,” she says. “A lot of them still want that look and they can swap out the stone later. One of the most popular rings looks like a hand-carved band with a diamond solitaire in the center.”

Bailey Lehrer, founder of Ringcrush

The process of opening a shop on Etsy is easy, Lehrer says, because they hold your hand through the whole process. Still, there’s more to it than just opening. “You have to understand your competition and price point. It can be cutthroat with common items, and there are people from other countries selling items with razor-thin margins. You need something unique. That way you can raise your price.”

Her point of differentiation is pieces of raw gemstones. “So I still focus on precious stones like emerald and sapphire, but I’m able to sell them at $60 because I get them uncut. They’re still blue if it’s a sapphire; still green if it’s emerald. It’s kind of a unique aesthetic, so it’s easy to stand out.”

Another thing to keep in mind, Lehrer says, is that there is clear evidence shoppers will convert to making a purchase if the product is photographed on a white background. “Know how to take great pictures,” she says.

Mullen Bros.

They want to be your local jeweler, no matter where you are

Bob Mullen is owner and founder of Digital Jewelers Academy, as well as an owner of the family business, Mullen Bros. Jewelers in Swansea, MA.

For several years, Mullen and his family pondered the “what ifs” and the concerns they imagined would come with e-commerce while they experimented with product catalogs on their website. “What about stock? What about if we sell things that are sold out? What about fraud? But it’s like having children: If you wait till you’re ready, you’re never going to do it.” In 2014, they began selling online through Shopify and realized $100,000 in revenue the first year.

“In terms of problems, the same things that I thought in my mind would be problems DID happen, but it was not that big of a deal to overcome them. In terms of inventory, it was about keeping things on the site that would be accessible and in stock, unless it’s something like bridal. We only work with designers who have products available that we can get quickly.
“Like anything else, there is no one thing that made it happen. It’s like Jim Collins wrote in the book Good To Great. You build momentum, and it gets easier and easier. It’s the trial and error of learning our audience, learning what they respond to, and looking at Google Analytics.”

Now Mullen, a marketing major in college, is working with other retailers on e-commerce goals. Digital Jewelers Academy, in partnership with Gemsone, administers a private Facebook group with instructional videos and an online posting service. “It’s about e-commerce, creating engaging content, Facebook ads, email strategy, website conversion.”
How much time does e-commerce take? “If you’re budgeting 10 to 15 hours a week of someone’s time, you can make a lot of progress if you know what you’re doing. You can be much more efficient in three hours knowing what you’re doing than 10 hours wandering around.”

Bob Mullen, owner and founder of Digital Jewelers Academy

“The No. 1 question I’m asked is regarding differences in inventory and pricing between the website and physical store. A lot of jewelers feel like they should treat the website like a separate store with lower prices to attract business. But unless you’re trying to build a nine-figure company, you should target a customer most like your own.

Mullen’s average ticket online is around $600, which is higher than in his store. “Our biggest sale was $17,000 and it goes down to $99 here and there. The sweet spot, like anything in jewelry sales, is $200 or $300. But the idea that people are just going online and plunking down 10 grand is a myth.”

The key to success is to provide the same level of service you do in your store. “In my opinion, I can service people a lot better than whoever is manning the call center at Blue Nile,” says Mullen. “You can sell an engagement ring in 10 minutes or have multiple visits over four hours in the store; online, it might take three to six emails. It’s about being proactive and being prompt about responding when people email.”

Local limits mean little when it comes to e-commerce, Mullen contends. “People respond nationally to the same things people respond to locally. Our industry loses 1,000 stores a year. When their jeweler closes, people have to go online or find another local store. More and more people are going online as a result, and are happy to work with a local jeweler, wherever you are. Meet them where they are.”

Sami’s Fine Jewelry

We are definitely on our way to our goal

Last year, Stephenie Bjorkman of Sami’s Fine Jewelry decided that her website and online sales needed to be a priority. But she also knew it was tough, if not impossible, to find time to own the store, work with vendors, manage employees, pay bills, oversee marketing and launch e-commerce.
So she hired one person and then a second person to make it happen.

Stephenie Bjorkman of Sami’s Fine Jewelry

“The only way I could do this was to have a dedicated person to take pics, write descriptions, update events, blogs, social media and more. What is really scary is that I see such an importance in this job, I have already hired her an assistant.”

It hasn’t necessarily “worked” just yet, says Bjorkman. But it is working. “Since I hired devoted staff members, I have seen a 30 percent increase in online sales, along with tons of daily mentions in the store. All of this proves that in the end, having a marketing person is well worth it.”

Online, Bjorkman sells branded items, including her own Animal Rockz line, a custom sterling-silver line of jewelry available in 38 different pet breed varieties. “My store is full of animal lovers, so this is easy for us to be passionate about. We seem to sell at least one of these a day. Prices range from $35-$60 plus shipping. The magic numbers seem to be in the $250-$500 average range. But, with that said, I sold a $30,000 diamond off my website and a $25,000 estate diamond from my e-blast.”

Sales are considered and tracked as “online sales” if everything is done online.

“If you do sell it 100 percent online, you need to handle them like any other client. Answer quickly, make them feel special. We do chat by phone, by social media messengers, text them, and even send them videos. It is a lot of work, but the good news is that it works.

“Our e-commerce actual sales do not currently represent a large amount of my overall business. A two-year goal for me is to sell as much as having a second store. E-commerce also represents the best type of marketing you can do for your business. Long before you advertise in a newspaper, magazine, etc., you should take time to do your online marketing, social media, e-blasts and blogs.”

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Cover Stories

Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution

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What’s the value of a good idea?

In the rapidly changing landscape of jewelry retail, your good idea could revitalize your business, if you have the vision and courage to put it into action.

In 1998, it was a commonly held belief that by 2019 we’d be driving flying cars. Little did we know that the cars wouldn’t (yet) be flying, but rather that we wouldn’t be driving them. Autonomous cars — highlighted in recent Consumer Electronics Shows — are poised to disrupt an industry that hasn’t changed much since the first combustion engine was added to a push cart in 1808.

Our point is this: progress is inevitable. Change is a part of life, and our industry, much like the automobile industry, is on the verge of an evolution. The independent retail jeweler has the opportunity to be a self-driving car… or a horse-drawn buggy.

On the following pages, you’ll find examples of how innovators with a variety of different backgrounds are experimenting with their own good ideas to embrace change in jewelry retail. Read up. Be inspired. The (r)evolution is now.

CUSTOMERS COMMIT TO CATBIRD

Catbird — the Brooklyn, NY, jewelry boutique with the reputation for appealing to the coolest of celebrities (Meghan Markle, for one) and blowing up trends like stackable rings, multi-stud earrings and delicately layered necklaces — introduced an idea last year that appeals to its most loyal of followers: jewelry you can’t take off. Really.

The retailer is selling a Forever Bracelet, a barely there 14K gold chain bracelet for $94, that solders directly onto the wrist. The custom-size chains are available at Catbird’s Welding Annex in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood.

It’s inspired by the idea that many women have favorite pieces they never want to remove. Rony Vardi, Catbird founder and creative director, told Elle Magazine that she never takes off her Catbird Greco Lariat, for example.

“For years, we had been playing with the concept of permanent jewelry,” says Sriya Karumanchi, manager of marketing and communications for Catbird. “Once we acquired a set of welders for our studio, we started to experiment. In the beginning, it was just our jewelers zapping each other and the rest of our staff. Now, almost all of us have a permanent chain on our wrist.”

The idea of offering the jewelry to Catbird’s customers was brewing for some time, Karumanchi says. “We tested it with a ‘one night only’ event a year ago — and that had a really big turnout. Seeing that this was something people wanted from us, we were able to build out a welding annex space that’s open Friday through Sunday.” During the soft opening, they welded about 30 bracelets within a few hours.

“The jewelers who weld the bracelets are also in-house bench jewelers, so they really merge that piece for us: a behind-the-scenes process that is now part of a customer-facing experience.”

Catbird is ethically minded, and boasts cool brick-and-mortar locations and seamless online shopping. Everything a millennial (and her younger sister, too) dreams of.

PROFIT SHARING SPARKS JEWELRY REVOLUTION JEWELRY WORKS

Jennifer Farnes, founder of Revolution Jewelry Works in Colorado Springs, CO, is an innovator across the board — in operations, marketing and customer service. But she points to profit-sharing as the best idea she’s implemented. “It’s shocking to me that businesses (of any kind) are still operating on a commission basis. Profit sharing makes the dynamic of my business completely about the end-goal for everyone under my roof. We celebrate wins together, joke about weird situations, feel loss, and work as a complete unit for each client that comes through the door. If we make the clients happy, and make money, then at the end of the year we all reap the benefit of doing good work.”

“Other business owners look at me like I have a third eye when I explain our profit-sharing structure, except one local restauranteur who adopted my model exactly. He is opening his third restaurant in five years, solely with the profits from the businesses he already is running under my model.”

Revolution Jewelry Works specializes in custom design with an average sale of $1,200. Farnes believes strongly in spending 15 percent of gross income on advertising — with a priority on movie theater advertising as well as radio and TV, but only stations her team listens to. She also runs a business that is completely transparent to her staff, and treats them well — offering paid time off, a 401K plan and competitive salaries, which, not too surprisingly, keeps them around. “We have lost only one employee to a job change,” she says.

Those strategies are working for Farnes, who reports that in 2016, 2017 and 2018, Revolution Jewelry Works was recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in Colorado. While only six years old, the company has exceeded $1 million annually in revenue and so far is realizing sales that are 45 percent up over last year. ”My opinion is; if you’re not succeeding, you’re doing it wrong,” she says.

SOHA IS A DIFFERENT WAY TO DIAMOND

Retailers Soha and Aubree Javaherian are not working in a huge market in Madison, WI. On the other hand, Madison’s residents tend to be young and open to new ideas, such as the ideas that propel Soha Diamond Co., a self-funded startup with no employees.

Soha Diamond Co. is a click-and-mortar design studio that sells only laboratory-grown diamonds. It’s opposite, Soha says, from what most other jewelers do: “Usually they build a beautiful store and take a lot of pride in it — and the website is an afterthought.”

To build their company, though, Soha and Aubree launched their website first. Although it was up and running by the fall of 2017, it took 18 months to build their e-commerce site to the point that they considered it to be polished, presentable and functional enough to begin building credibility.

Then came the appointment-only design studio, which they opened in an office building. “We find about 50 percent of sales comes from each — half from the design studio and half from online sales. The biggest challenge we have in Madison is that it’s not very common to find a jeweler in an office building. It’s a brand-new building in a nice new part of downtown, but our name is not on the outside of the building. So we are really reliant on the web.”

Soha is a graduate gemologist and a 10th-generation jeweler whose last name means “family of jewelers.” Aubree has a background in wedding planning. They’ve also found success getting out of the office to meet potential clients at wedding trade shows and expos.

When they meet customers in their office, Soha and Aubree can tell from their body language if they are a little hesitant. “We don’t put any pressure on them,” Soha says. “There are no physical products they can buy and walk away with. Everything we do, no matter how nominal, we are making it to order. Generally, our clients are relieved.”

An integral part of their strategy was to sell only lab-grown diamonds, moissanite and lab-grown colored gems. “For us, it’s a very technical sale. We have to go out of our way to describe what these items are, and what their value is. We didn’t want to be a jack-of-all-trades.”

THIRD-GEN JEWELER MODERNIZES APPRAISAL PROCESS

Dustin Lemick is a third-generation jeweler who became frustrated by what he sees as a lack of in-store technology in the jewelry business. After he earned his graduate gemologist certification, he found himself in charge of appraisals and claim replacements for insurance companies. “I realized there are some serious issues here. Communication between the insurance companies and customers was horrible.”

After talking with other jewelers, he came to believe it was an industry-wide problem. “Appraisals haven’t changed in forever, and retail jewelers are getting left behind on the technology front,” Lemick says.

So, together with partners, he launched Briteco, a business concept wherein a new type of personal-jewelry insurance is tied to a user-friendly appraisal software program. He began his efforts by moonlighting after hours, but after a few months, it became clear he had to either make it a full-time enterprise or let it go. He considers his decision to go for it to be one of the best he’s made in his career. “We built a full-fledged insurance company with notable investors and an incredible insurance partner in 48 states and D.C. I hope to launch with approval in every single state.”

The software is intuitive, fast, and it really works, he says. “It’s designed by jewelers, so we completely understand how this needs to function.”

It’s free to qualified jewelers. Algorithms will give jewelers guides for what the pricing of the appraisal should be. Once jewelers complete the appraisal with an easy-to-use online form, the consumer is sent a text message and an email saying, “Don’t forget you need insurance.” They click on a link to get insurance, go through four short screens answering questions that take two to three minutes, and they then have A-rated insurance.

“I believe that millennials and gen Zs still want to go into stores,” Lemick says. “They just want technology to help assist in the process.”

MARKETTE SIX CREATES ONLINE STORE FOR DESIGNERS

Justin and Heather Knapp worked for Apple for years, traveling to launch iPhones in 60 countries. That globe-hopping led them to begin a treasure hunting habit, bringing home collectible souvenirs, which often took the form of gems and jewelry.

Inspired, they decided to strike out on their own to create an online treasure-hunting experience of their own, and recently launched Markette Six, a secure marketplace to sell one-of-a-kind pieces, including jewelry, watches and gemstones. The platform aims to support jewelry designers in telling their brand stories, while being supported by the Knapps, who bring their branding knowledge to the jewelry industry. The site is clean, structured and replete with layered storytelling. “Jewelry is a personal reflection of who you are, whereas online is impersonal. It’s hard to have people trust you,” Justin says. “Storytelling can make all the difference.”

The goal is to let the pieces speak for themselves. Navigation and design are inspired by the aesthetic of sites like Design Within Reach and Lonely Planet.
Markette Six is targeting small- to medium-sized designers for its platform. “We’re looking for originality,” Justin says. “They’ve created a brand and stories about why they have designed what they have designed. Sometimes, they are one of a kind, but always they are things that have stories and will speak in an online setting. You become more emotionally invested when you know the designer and the story behind the piece itself.”

Markette Six holds the funds on behalf of the buyer, notifies the designer of the purchase, and the designer sends the piece to Markette Six. Every piece is received by Markette Six and evaluated by an independent lab in Portland, OR, for authenticity. “That’s a very important step for us to make sure they feel comfortable buying online,” Heather says. “Designers can decide if they allow for returns, and if a client does return it, it is sent back to the lab to make sure it is still authentic and not damaged. We’re never going to hand a customer over to the designer to deal with or vice versa.”

They launched in November 2018, about 19 months after devising a business plan. “Our biggest focus is building the relationships, finding the right partners and building those partnerships that will grow with us,” Heather says.

COOL STORE WINNER PACKS HIS BAG AND GOES HOME

In 2018, Thomas Mann sold his Magazine Street buildings, closing the New Orleans location that landed him on the cover of INSTORE with a 2016 America’s Coolest Stores win. The next step in his revolutionary jewelry career was to regroup into his own home, which contains his shop, gallery and party space. He even shares his kitchen with gallery guests.

He has created an interactive experience where jewelry display and artwork are integrated into living and dining areas. “Because the gallery space is tiny, we’re going to turn every space into exhibition space. Even the decor is for sale,” he says. Every detail of his gallery is an expression of his design aesthetic, from the jewelry furniture and displays he designed and built himself, to the work of other jewelry artists he selectively curates.

His staff comes and goes, often arriving while Mann is still asleep. “People bring their dogs. It has a homey feel. This is where we live and work. There’s no curtain between the two.”

Angele Seiley, who runs the business and marketing side of the operation, says visitors are delighted when Mann comes out of his workshop, meets them in the gallery and then shows them around the space.

Before he moved, he had watched foot traffic decline in his former Magazine Street location. Now, an estimated 10,000 cars a day pass by on busy Tchoupitoulas Street, which connects the Central Business District with Uptown New Orleans.

Mann, a jewelry artist, sculptor and painter, has operated on the cutting edge of art-jewelry design for decades, inventing a distinctive style that initially incorporated found objects into his designs. “I came up with a peculiar look at the right time and the right place for an audience that was ready to receive it,” Mann says. “I wanted to make it as technically fulfilling as possible at a price that most people could afford.”

MORE REVOLUTIONARY IDEAS FROM RETAILERS ON THE CUTTING EDGE

Clicks, bricks and custom keep Green Lake growing

Green Lake Jewelry Works’ entire business model represents a retail revolution. Owner Jim Tuttle replaced traditional sales staff with artists who consult with clients to create custom engagement rings in colorful stores with bench jewelers visible behind walls of glass. That design conversation sometimes begins and often continues online, where shoppers are invited to use a personal design page with a collection of notes, quotes, inspiration ideas and contact information for the designer with whom they worked. They can pick up where they left off the following week or even in the next year. They incorporate live chat, reviews, engagement stories, video-sharing services and a thorough explanation of the custom process into a digital presentation optimized for mobile display. The next step is to engage the customer through a design blog staffed by artists. Both locations, in Seattle and Bellevue, WA, also employ full-time photographers to shoot finished goods, loose gems, wax models, sketches and stages of work, which can be shown to online and in-store clients. Whether online or in-store, design is a carefully considered process. Most in-store customers visit five times.

For D&H Jewelers, seeing is believing

Partners Shawn Higgins and Lindsay Daunell founded D&H Jewelers in San Francisco in 2011 on a commitment to sustainability and responsible sourcing. For the building, they used LED lighting, bamboo walls and recycled doors, restored the wood floors and made displays from discarded material. The sycamore bar top was salvaged from a construction site. Sourcing presented more of a challenge. Higgins and Daunell personally verify every source of jewelry, gold or gemstones. They have traveled to mines in Botswana and Sri Lanka and manufacturers in Canada to verify ethical claims. Ninety percent of their gold is reclaimed from consumer electronics.

At Cut Fine,the emphasis is on quality and yes, cut

Matthew Patton and his wife, Evan, set out to appeal to the youthful bridal market of Baton Rouge, LA. Their goal from the beginning was to sell the best-cut diamonds and gemstones they could find and showcase them in the highest quality settings they could buy or manufacture. The name of the store offers the opportunity to educate customers about the importance of cut when assessing a diamond’s quality. About 80 percent of the business is custom engagement rings. Now Matthew, a pocket knife collector, has started a second brand, a business called Slice, to sell high-end custom pocket knives almost entirely online. They sell for $1,500 to $16,000 and are made to order by expert knife makers all around the world. “There are only a few countries we haven’t shipped knives to,” Matthew says.

Marks Jewelers turns store design upside down

Marks Jewelers in Montgomeryville, PA, completely reimagined the layout of the traditional large jewelry store with the location it designed and debuted in 2016. Each unusual feature of the 15,000 square foot store is designed with a practical reason behind it. The Diamond Diner, for example, affords couples a comfortable, intimate way of choosing a ring at the same time it creates a more effective selling environment. Shoppers are seated in booths, and diamonds are both safe and easily accessible for showing. The gem lab is on a “stage” that is three steps taller than the booths, so the diamond manager can keep tabs on what’s happening in the booths, keep an eye on the movement of diamonds and assist in the sale as needed. It’s resulted in a higher closing ratio, say owners Jim and Dareen Brusilovsky. Also innovative are the spacious fashion lounge, where shoppers can relax and enjoy a drink, and multi-purpose modular cases that can be reconfigured for trunk shows and other events.

Embedded consultant shares what he learned at Mucklow’s

Rod Worley manages Peachtree City, GA’s Mucklow’s Fine Jewelry as a successful business for owner Robert Mucklow, who has retired from the day-to-day business. But Mucklow’s is also a laboratory for Worley, who has used the store to test innovations in marketing, merchandising and management and now shares his insights with other retailers on a contract basis.

Worley is president of consulting company Four Grainer LLC and host of “Inside the Jewelry Trade Radio Show”.

Worley developed a community-outreach program based on charitable giving, through which all marketing funds are channeled with the goal of getting people in the door. It’s worked so well that Worley wrote a book about it — A Reason To Chant — and created a portfolio of marketing and management options that he shares with other retailers on a contract basis. Four Grainer sets up the program, trains the staff and contacts local 501(c)3 charities. Worley’s company also drives traffic to clients’ websites by establishing retailers as the thought leader for jewelry, bridal planning, women’s health, fashion and beauty. The ultimate service is total store management, which allows the owner to retire within 90 days while retaining complete ownership and drawing their salary. “We put a leader in place that has the skill set needed to grow the business and support that leader through continued training and supervision,” Worley says.

Bitcoin on the bayou

David’s Antiques & Jewelry, owned and managed by Sharona Edly and her mother, Ester, in New Orleans, decided to start accepting Bitcoin as a means of payment in 2013. “We think it’s a revolution,” Ester says. “It’s a new, global currency, there’s no government behind it; it’s run by the people. We believe in the system and the idea behind it.” The store deals with people from all over the world, adds Sharona. “It’s pretty much like accepting cash, but even better because it cannot be counterfeited. It has low transaction fees and we enjoy the playfulness of it. Our first Bitcoin purchase was by someone who traveled from Austin, TX, specifically to buy his wife something using Bitcoin, an amber necklace for his wife.”

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