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Eileen McClelland

How and Why to Hug Your Customers

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LAS VEGAS — Retailer and author Jack Mitchell was in college in 1958 when his parents, Ed and Norma Mitchell, both 55 at the time, opened the first Mitchell’s men’s clothing store, an 800-square-foot space in Westport, CT, where his mom brought in the coffee pot from home and took it home every night to wash it.

He joined his parents and his brother in the business in 1969, after earning a master’s degree in Chinese history. The store grew rapidly and his dad lived to be almost 99 years old.

Over the years, the family business thrived, based on a simple philosophy of treating clients as friends. Now the Westport location sprawls over 27,000 square feet and the family has eight stores and sells jewelry, as well as men’s and women’s clothing. Nearly every member of the third generation is active in the business now.

“Customers are the center of the universe,” Mitchell says. “We have great respect for the product but the driving force in our business is personal customer service. We are all about hiring great people, and then, by the way, we sell clothes, and by the way, we sell jewelry.”

Mitchell wrote the 2003 Wall Street Journal bestseller “Hug Your Customers: The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results,” after listening to experts at a CEO summit for the clothing business announce that the era of brick-and-mortar was over and that e-commerce would prevail.

As one of the panelists, he had a response to that.

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“I knew that not only would we survive but we would thrive,” he says, “because we do everything to make a personal connection.”

Someone who heard him speak said, “I suppose you’re going to tell us that you hug your customers!”

“I said, `Doesn’t everybody hug their customers? Why else would they come back?’”

Hugging isn’t always literal, though it can be, but as a metaphor it’s the perfect description of how the Mitchell family makes customers feel. Personal touches make customers feel that “they are nice people,” and they want to come back often.

Mitchell is also the author of “Hug Your People: The Proven Way to Hire, Inspire and Recognize Your Employees, Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results.” When Mitchell’s son suggested the family explore the jewelry business, they were able to make it work because the trust had already been built.

“We are one of the largest jewelry stores in Connecticut because our customers trust us,” Mitchell says. “It just works. That’s what we are all about.”

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How to begin to hug everyone

Know your customers’ nicknames and use them.

Pay attention to the details. Deliver purchases. Walk customers to the car.

Find out their important dates and keep track of all details in a POS system. Send hand-written cards and gift certificates for birthdays and anniversaries. At Mitchell’s, 80 percent of big sales are for occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.

Don’t hesitate to open your store up after hours if someone needs something in a hurry.

Identify the top 20 percent of your customers. Mitchell calls this group its “clients” and makes sure everyone knows them by name and reaches out to them regularly. “We try to hug everyone but we focus on the clients – the top 20 percent – and we have a program to turn customers into those clients.”

Really get to know your customers. Start with a goal of getting to know the top 25 and then increase that number incrementally over time.

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Hire for life. At Mitchell’s they’re looking for honest, positive, competent and nice people who have a passion to listen and learn and grow. How do you hire for nice? Usually, you can just tell, Mitchell says. Ask job candidates, “What’s the nicest thing you’ve done for someone lately?”

Get to know your vendors as families, too. Many of them are in family businesses. Know their birthdays. Take them out to dinner when they visit you.

Mitchell’s stopped paying sales staff on commission in an effort to encourage teamwork and discourage barracudas. It worked. Now sales staff is paid generously and is eligible for end of the fiscal year bonuses, too, based on performance reviews. “We pay well, but they sell a lot,” Mitchell says.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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Eileen McClelland

9 Things We Learned How To Do From 2018 America’s Coolest Stores

Store owners share their creative ideas.

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How to Create Privacy

At Marks Jewelers in Montgomeryville, PA, owners Jim and Dareen Brusilovsky, created a Diamond Diner, with diner-like booths. The Diamond Diner concept affords couples a comfortable, intimate way of choosing a ring at the same time it creates a more effective and private selling environment.

How to Encourage Browsing

Fakier Jewelers in Houma, LA, implemented a cell-phone audio tour for clients who like to explore on their own. The app is accessed from the store’s website and customers use their own phones, listening to descriptions associated with each display. It’s also a novel way to acknowledge the importance of mobile window shopping. “The consumer now comes in with their phones in their hands, usually with something they saw on our website,” says owner Greg Fakier.

How to Put Customers At Ease

At Marisa Perry Atelier, clients collaborate with the sales staff and with designer and co-owner Douglass Elliott, around a long, custom-made community table, where everyone can be comfortable and relaxed while creating their dream engagement rings. Elliott and his team made 725 pieces of jewelry by hand last year.
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How to Entertain Kids

At Bell Brooke Studio and Gallery in Santa Fe, NM, Belle Brooke Barer set up an art station in the courtyard she shares with neighboring galleries to encourage children (and others) to explore their creativity. “There’s absolutely nothing for kids on Canyon Road, and people come to Santa Fe with their families and drag their kids through the galleries. The kids are bored and the parents want to look around.” People of all ages are invited to make art there with paper, glue, scissors, crayons and markers. Some of the artists leave their work behind and Barer often displays it in the store.

How to Throw a Party

On the second floor of Stephen Webster’s Beverly Hills Boutique, there’s an art gallery, lounge and event area with a bar and banquet tables, where Webster and friends can easily accommodate dozens of guests for catered dinners. “We made a bar, we made a lounge, it felt a bit like coming to a club,” he says. “And you can come up here and see the things that I enjoy. I’ve done many, many shows with artists, photographers, musicians, fashion designers. The first floor is always Stephen Webster. The second floor is what Stephen Webster likes.”

How to Engage the Community

Viviana Langhoff, owner of Adornment + Theory in Chicago, offers monthly workshops where attendees learn hands-on techniques that help them create and appreciate the art of metalsmithing and other accessory-based techniques. She’s hosted workshops on ‘How to Make a Silver Ring’, ‘Shibori Dying: Make Your Own Scarf’, as well as ‘How to Read Diamonds’. “These workshops have helped cultivate community and further the customer experience. Not to mention, everyone has a great time. I love hearing the store filled with laughter,” Langhoff says.

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How to Be Dog-Friendly

Hillary Randolph, owner of Wear Your Grace in Santa Fe, NM, created a dog bar near the entrance to her store, complete with treats tucked inside a mailbox over a tromp l’oeil of splashing water from a faux-spigot. There’s also a real water bowl there. Inside, Randolph displays a line of candy-colored leather dog leashes and collars engraved with “Walk with GRACE.” Sales help support animal rescue organizations.

How to Sell Laboratory-Grown Diamonds

McCoy Jewelers in Dubuque, IA, began selling lab-grown diamonds three years ago, not expecting they would dominate their market. Now 84 percent of center diamonds they sell are lab-created, even though they do talk about the rarity of mined diamonds. The whole presentation is about offering up options and showing the stones next to each other, says owner Jonathan McCoy. Nearly 80 percent of sales at McCoy Jewelers are bridal-related, much of it custom.

How to Get Noticed

In 2017 Northeastern Fine Jewelry in Albany, NY, sponsored a contest to win the opportunity to propose in a live commercial aired during halftime of the Super Bowl on FOX. The winner was featured in People Magazine, the Daily Mail in the UK and the New York Times. They also sponsored a half-court shot during a Siena College basketball game; the contestant made the shot and walked away with $25,000, leading to intensive coverage from ESPN.

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Eileen McClelland

Gem Adventure Tours Support East African Mining Communities

Group’s leader sought “to leave almost every individual that he interacted with better than when he started.”

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The 70 children of the Luzi Children’s Orphanage near Lilongwe, Malawi have all been orphaned by different circumstance and are cared for by the Orphanage, which provides shelter, food, and school fees. They are currently seeking to sustain themselves through gem rough sales.

Since 2010 Roger Dery has led retailers and other jewelry industry professionals on dozens of trips to East Africa to visit mines, lapidary schools and orphanages.

Amid the adventures, education and elephant spotting, his guests couldn’t help but notice that Dery, president of Roger Dery Gem Design, reached out to help everyone he encountered along the way.

Chrysa Cohen of Continental Jewelers in Wilmington, DE, joined him in June.

“Roger gives back wherever he goes, whether it’s visiting the miners and bringing them food and water, whether it’s tipping the drivers, bringing resources to gem-cutting areas,” she says. “If there is a need for knowledge as well as for resources, he finds a way to provide that.”

David McConnell of The King’s Jewelers in Walnut Creek, CA, joined Dery on trips in 2011 and 2014.

“One of the things that struck me the most was that he always strove to leave almost every individual that he interacted with better than when he started,” McConnell says. “If it was someone selling rough and there was nothing Roger wanted to buy, he would try to give the guy something, even if it was a new baggie to hold the rough. Supplies of any kind are hard to get and expensive.

“And that endears people to him. That certainly helps in his business, but that’s not why he does it. He really cares about these people.”

McConnell is one of many jewelers who urged Dery and his wife, Ginger, to set up a non-profit organization so that other people can help, too. “When you’re THERE, there are opportunities to give, to throw in some cash for the school. But when you go back to the U.S. and you’re doing gem roundtables and talking about gemstones and all the good they do, it’s hard to NOT have an organization set up for people to contribute to.”

“Over the years, that’s something I’ve been whispering in his year,” McConnell says.

In 2017, a group he led got together, contributed some money and again encouraged the Derys to start a fund.

“They wanted us to have ready funds and also something they could easily contribute to,” says Ginger. “It wasn’t our idea and we probably wouldn’t have thought of it. We were humbled and overwhelmed. It’s pretty amazing that people who came from all different walks of the retail industry would come together and want to make such an incredible difference in East Africa. Only in retrospect can we say that we were showing them how a small amount of money can make a big difference in people’s lives.”

As a result, Roger, Ginger, and their daughter Rachel launched Gem Legacy in August, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to education, vocational training and local economies in East African mining communities.

“Gem Legacy is dedicated to what we’ve been doing in Africa for over 20 years,” says Roger, “In our 57 combined trips to Africa, we have met thousands of people in East Africa’s remote villages and bush mines where gems have had a remarkable influence on their lives. Gems bring hope, make a difference, and leave a lasting change, a timeless legacy.”

The organization has several initiatives, including Gem Faceting Training, Kitarini Primary School, and Gemological Training. One hundred percent of every donation will return directly to the communities where gems are mined.

Dery was featured in SHARING THE ROUGH, a 2014 documentary about the journey of gems from mine to market, directed by filmmaker and jeweler Orin Mazzoni. The film traces the path through the supply chain of a single gemstone and touches on the potential of the gem industry in Tanzania and Kenya and the importance of gemological education there.

“The first time I went in September 2011 it changed my perception of the industry, my ability to talk about it, my heart for the people, the miners, the kids,” Ginger Dery says. “And so that’s what we want to share with retail jewelers. If it can do that for me, and I live colored stones, what can it do for them, to be able to say `Yeah, I was there. Let me tell you about it. Let me tell you about this school in Africa that we support.”

Roger encourages retail jewelers to travel to Africa, or if not Africa, then to Oregon sunstone mines or Maine tourmaline mines or gem shows in Tucson. “If clients know you just order something from New York or LA, that’s not very exciting. You would like to be able to say, `I traveled to this particular mine in Kenya, bought the miners a couple cases of water and a 5 kilo bag of corn, sat and talked to the guys and had a pretty good feel about what they were going through that day.”

McConnell says his visit to the school in northern Tanzania, in a ruby mine area, made a deep impression on him. “A school has been put together by the local mine owner to benefit the miners’ children. It’s a direct result of having ruby in the area, and there’s Western money coming in. There are hundreds of kids there, who have enthusiasm for life and for interacting with us. That was one of the absolute highlights of my trip.”

McConnell says his African experience also added to his credibility and confidence when he’s selling gemstones in his store. Now he has a first-person story to tell about where the gems come from and how they can change people’s lives.

Gemologist Meredith Schlessinger of Byard F. Brogan in Pennsylvania made the trip in 2016. “Just the little bit we donate goes a long way. A couple hundred dollars can feed children at an orphanage for close to a year. I was so moved by what they do that that was why I decided to go on that trip.  I’m excited for the people of Eastern Africa because they are the ones who are going to benefit.”

Just the little bit we donate goes a long way.

Maggie Szekely-Lusso, president and jewelry designer for Servis & Taylor in Los Angeles, says her socially conscious California customers are impressed knowing their jeweler has gone to the source. “We bought rough and had Roger cut it. People just love it. Customers have adopted foster elephants in Africa, and if they haven’t been to a gem roundtable yet, they ask to be put on the list for next time.”

Szekely-Lusso’s trip was in 2017. “For us, being independent jewelers, having the challenges with the diamond world, we were already interested in color. But recently we made a huge turn toward color. There’s more happiness in it and better margins. Selling loose gems, we create a lot of custom work.

Cohen of Continental Jewelers met Dery three years ago when she hosted a viewing of “Sharing the Rough” in her store. “Roger has developed a relationship with people to understand what they need and what he can do to help.”

The story that most resonated with Cohen was that of Esther, widow of miner Gichuchu OKeno (featured in Sharing the Rough), who had to work hard to support her children when her husband died. A single mom, Esther founded Precious Women Mining and now spends her days crawling in holes with a hammer and chisel searching for tsavorite. Cohen is working on raising funds for Esther, whose most immediate need is a new $5,000 compressor to push more air into the mine. Cohen is donating a percentage of her colored-gem sales to Esther’s endeavor.

For more information about Gem Legacy Inc. or to donate, email info@gemlegacy.org or visit gemlegacy.org. To learn more, follow Gem Legacy on Instagram @thegemlegacy and on Facebook @thegemlegacy.


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Eileen McClelland

What Jewelers Must Understand About Millennials, and 8 Other Takeaways from AGS Conclave

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After a few days immersed in education at the 2018 AGS Conclave, I’m eager to share some highlights from sessions I attended.  One theme is the fact that as demographics and lifestyles are changing, opportunities for growth and new directions arise along with all of the well-known challenges.

MILLENNIALS MEAN OPPORTUNITY. Retailers convinced that millennials don’t buy diamonds may not have all the information. In fact, millennials, who are now 24 to 38 years old, are much more likely to buy diamonds than any older generation, according to research from the Diamond Producers Association. Millennials spent $16 billion on diamonds last year, of which 50 percent was wedding and engagement jewelry. There are big numbers there, and big opportunity. By 2020, the generation’s disposable income will exceed $1.4 trillion. DPA focus groups reveal that millennials especially find value in the authenticity and rarity and individuality of diamonds. — From “Focus Group Confidential: Surprising Things We Learned From Millennials,” presented by Sarah Gorvitz, strategic communications and insights lead for the Diamond Producers Association.

CATER TO SELF-PURCHASING WOMEN. Women’s roles, attitudes and empowerment are affecting all consumer purchases. When it comes to jewelry, women are celebrating myriad moments in their lives, which can be unrelated to family or relationship milestones. A 2017 diamond acquisition study revealed that bridal represented 24 percent of diamond purchase value in the U.S; gifting, 47 percent, and self purchasing, 29 percent, which reflects a 50 percent increase over the past decade. Women’s spending power has increased, and they are buying more diamond jewelry for themselves. – From “De Beers Group Insights to Influence Your Marketing and Selling Strategies,” by Charles Stanley, president of Forevermark U.S.

CUSTOM IS KEY. Jewelry sales are growing ($91 billion in 2017) but jewelry sold by “other sellers” is rising much more rapidly than independent jewelry store sales. There are 91,000 places to buy jewelry but just over 23,000 jewelry stores. Today, 15 percent of engagement ring sales are custom; a decade ago, it was just 5 percent. So the ability to customize your offerings is key to increasing your sales. – From “State of the Jewelry Industry: Facts, Figures and the Future,” by Harold Dupuy, VP of strategic analytics at Stuller.

RECOGNIZE CASUAL TRENDS. Dress has become more casual and jewelry needs to reflect that trend, too. Remember that business casual is now the norm for office workers, while those working at home are likely to be wearing yoga pants and T-shirts. Make sure you can offer casual, wearable jewelry styles that fit today’s culture.  “Very heavy gem-set jewelry is the equivalent of Queen Anne dining sets or heirloom silver they have to polish. But it doesn’t mean they don’t want expensive jewelry. They just don’t want it to look like their parents’ jewelry. They value story, authenticity and individuality. You can’t count on younger customers growing into the taste for traditional fine jewelry.” – From “Too Old To Start Over But Too Young to Retire? Strategies to Balance Risk and Reward Amid Constant Change,” by Hedda Schupak, industry analyst and editor of the Centurion Newsletter.

HIRE CAREERISTS. It’s possible to shape millennial hires into serious sales people, but you’ve got to take hiring seriously yourself, first. That means no shortcuts or impulse decisions made to quickly fill a staff gap. Figure out who the job candidate is before he or she shows up for the first interview.  Joshua Pruschen, manager of Maxon Fine Jewelry in Springfield, MO, interviews each candidate three times. But before the first interview occurs, he asks each candidate to take a personality and skills assessment. If they’re joining the staff, he wants to make sure they’re interested in and capable of committing to a career. – From “Management 101.5, Managing Effectively, Efficiently and With Confidence.”

EDUCATE SHOPPERS ON DIAMOND SHAPES. The appeal of a diamond shape to an individual seems instinctive, says jewelry designer Jade Lustig. Lustig is founder and creative director of Jade Trau, and a fifth generation diamantaire. If you’re selling a diamond ring, figure out which shape your customer is naturally attracted to. “A girl who wants an emerald cut doesn’t even see the other shapes,” Lustig says. “Her eyes glaze over.” Diamond shape should be a basic of everyone’s education, she says. – From “The Majesty, Mystery and Miracle of Diamonds: Why Jewelry Designers Love Working With Them,” moderated by Deborah Marquardt, chief marketing officer of the Diamond Producers Association.

MAKE EYE CONTACT. Studies show that 75 percent of the time the client is making eye contact with the seller – trying to assess their honesty — while the seller is looking at the client only 40 percent of the time.  If you were to increase your eye contact 50 percent or more, your credibility automatically goes up. But don’t do it 100 percent of the time – that’s just weird. – From “Sales Influence: Find the Why in (How People) Buy,” by Victor Antonio.

SLOW ‘EM DOWN. How can you get repair clients to look at jewelry while they’re popping in and out of your store to pick up or drop off repairs? In some strip center stores, it’s tough; a customer can literally walk down the middle and zing — right to the service desk. Consider adding an island, to create more of a flow around the cases. “You can’t make people look at things, but you can slow them down on their rush to pick up whatever the are there for. There may be a way to reuse your existing cases to create more of a meandering path, or maybe buying one new case would make it work.” – Interior designer Ruth Mellergaard of Grid 3 International, from “How a Store Renovation Improves the Customer Experience,” moderated by Trace Shelton, editor in chief of INSTORE.

PROTECT YOUR WORK. Any original work of artistic expression qualifies for copyright protection.  If a jewelry designer creates earrings in the shape of a bumblebee, for example, the designer can’t stop someone else from creating their own interpretation of bumblebee earrings. But a copyright can protect the specific design. The copyright is automatically secured when the work is created and fixed in a tangible medium. Notice of copyright is not required in the U.S., but filing for registration with the copyright office will help you prove you had the design at a certain date. To apply electronically, registration costs $35. JVC has published a guide titled “I Have An Idea! JVC’s Guide to Intellectual Property Law.” – From “Intellectual Property Laws for Jewelers,” by Sarah Yood, senior counsel for the Jewelers Vigilance Committee.

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