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Commentary: The Business

How Failure Leads to Growth

If you don’t try, nothing will change, says growth expert Elle Hill.

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WHY ISN’T SHE breathing?” my mom asked the doctor, her eyes darting back and forth between the syringe and me. An injection and a few moments later, my breathing returned to normal, but my childhood never did. Instead, I began my carefully curated asthma life.

Everything I was allowed to do was designed to avoid the risk of failing. I was swaddled tight and never allowed to push beyond what we knew I could safely do.

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After university, I sat in my first apartment in New York City and made a decision that changed everything: I would run the New York City Marathon.

I’d go out every night after work, in the yellow light of the street lamps, armed with my inhaler and my steroid pills. And I would run. I would run until I heard the first wheeze. And continue until my breath became too shallow and I couldn’t run anymore.

That first night, I ran for four minutes. I stopped. I took my inhaler. I walked back home.

I had an ache in the pit of my chest, not from the wheezing, but from the fear of failure: I might do this night after night, and still not be able to run. I had never done anything I wasn’t sure I could do before. But if I didn’t try, nothing would change.

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So, I repeated this for three weeks until I could run for 10 minutes. And five more weeks until I doubled that. In November of 1999, five months later, I ran the New York City Marathon in four hours and 35 minutes.

What I learned is how important failure is. It’s not a byproduct of success — it is the road to success. If you never fail, you’re playing it too safe. If you only act when you know you will succeed, you will never learn something new or reach your potential.

In the years after my marathon finish, I have had a new philosophy: I choose what I do next based on what intimidates me most. It’s why I started my own jewelry store, discovered it was a bad business model, and overhauled it. Each painful failure was a hard-won lesson that made me better, smarter, faster. And ultimately, I brought my company public in a $10 million IPO in less than five years.

Taking a leap when you can’t guarantee success is exactly what you must do to learn, to grow.

To succeed, you must first aim to fail.

Elle Hill is an award-winning entrepreneur and CEO of Hill & Co. Fine Jewelry Launch & Growth Experts. Reach her at elle@hillandco.co.

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It Was Hawaii Day at Gene the Jeweler’s Store … Or Was It?

In this episode of Jimmy DeGroot’s satirical Gene the Jeweler series, Gene learns that it was Hawaii Day at his store. At least that’s what his employee, Jeremy, says. But Jeremy’s answers aren’t quite adding up. It’s hard to say what this “Hawaii Day” was really all about.

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Commentary: The Business

To Stand Out From the Crowd, Build a Real Marketing Plan

A scattershot approach won’t work.

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WHO CARES ABOUT fine wine and nice cars? We should all be drinking two-buck-Chuck and driving a practical car, right? It would be cheaper, and cloth seats are the new leather. And while we’re at it, forget about the Jimmy Choo stilettos. You can match a sensible pair of shoes from Payless with that skirt … think of the money you’ll save. So, why don’t we? Because you would never bring two-buck-Chuck to a dinner party. Nice cars are reliable and fun to drive. And Jimmy Choo stilettos … come on. What do all these things have in common? Image, reliability and brand recognition.

It wasn’t that long ago that people were adamant about being different, building their brand and separating themselves from everyone else. But now a dark shadow of complacency has settled upon us, fueled by cheap services. Most of this comes from the fast growth of digital media and the slew of small companies that have popped up offering services from social media to paid search and email marketing. With most jewelers still not fully understanding this “new media,” it all comes down to cost.

There are a couple of reasons for this; first is a lack of buy-in. Many retailers don’t really believe in social or digital media. They just know everyone else seems to be getting involved, so they probably should, too. As a result, they seek out resources who will do the work cheaply and with minimal marketing dollars behind those efforts. That’s also the No. 1 reason their efforts fail. The second reason is believing these services are all the same. They’re not. Posting on Facebook or managing paid search in and of itself is not marketing. Without a sound strategy with objectives, you could actually be doing more harm than good. You don’t really think you get that for a couple hundred dollars a month, do you?

It’s sad but true: you get what you pay for. Most of the time, it’s templates, spitball marketing, below average results and a lot of time on the hamster wheel. What does that say about your store and your brand? When we all get over the cheap services, cheap websites, cheap everything, we’ll realize that there is something about being different, building the brand and separating ourselves from everyone else. That’s the day we’ll look back on the Age of the Cookie Cutters, open a bottle of Chateau Margaux and say, “Let’s build a marketing plan.”

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Commentary: The Business

This Jeweler Says Brands Are Competing With Brick and Mortar

Retailer says he’s heard this story before.

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IN THE MID-90’S to early 2000’s, I had a few brands that I felt were strongly changing how they did business. Even though they were built by the efforts of independent retailers, they decided they wanted a bigger share of the market and opened their own boutiques and brand stores. The rhetoric back then was how they would benefit my store by generating more brand awareness.

These brands further “helped me out” by making special styles or special gift-with-purchases available only in the company brand stores. To compete, I had to offer a level of service or prices that was not sustainable. My store became a showroom for people to look and then buy from the company boutique. The final nail in the coffin? These brands told me that due to a decrease in the volume I was selling, I was no longer able to order all of the items the brand offered.

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Fast forward 15 to 20 years, and brands are doing the same thing by moving direct to e-commerce. This year, two companies told me not to worry because there will be differences that make it more desirable to come to my store. I have heard this story before.

There are two truths I feel these brands display. One, they want a larger piece of the market. Two, they want to turn brick-and-mortar stores into showrooms for their virtual product. It happens all the time: a young guy comes into the store alone or with his fiancée and wants to see some rings. They take their time, ask us for our expertise and suggestions. We show them product, and then they end the visit with accolades of how helpful we are and friendly to deal with, and, “Can you size my finger?” and “I want to look around at some styles online.”

Speak to almost any supplier, manufacturer, brand, etc. in our business and ask them how the recent trade shows have been for them. I hear over and over how tough it is and how they are considering moving away from the trade show concept. Ask retailers about their buying habits, and there has been a shift to purchase less. Why? Because so many brands have carved up the pie to take a piece for themselves while still two-facedly saying they support the retailer.

Then to condescendingly tell me your stats and opinions on how these new “initiatives” will move the industry forward and increase my sales makes me just a tiny bit pissy.

To quote the English poet John Donne, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls — it tolls for thee.”

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Commentary: The Business

Here’s How One Retailer Makes the Most of the Vegas Shows

Step 1: Create a buying guide.

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I AM DUMBFOUNDED BY the sheer number of independent store owners who arrive at a jewelry show without a clue of what they need to purchase. Many come without a plan, a list of fast sellers, zero data for cost-pricing comparisons or any idea of their budget.

My success and the welfare of my employees depends on the fact that I never go to any show without doing my due diligence. Many contemporaries can relate to the research needed for trend forecasting, evaluating inventory turn and countless hours of chatting up my customers (noting major anniversaries, milestone events, collection additions, etc.) to create a buying guide to make a show worthwhile. My shows are monetized from start to finish with customer-requested wish-list items, stock reorders or new items that will fit nicely into our existing inventory.

It is impressive to observe the Gen X jewelers who are savvy about a different way of doing business. No longer content with buying by trial and error, they work from proven business metrics of historical sales, volume/cost statics and a buying plan to procure the stock needed to achieve financial goals. They seek innovative, transparent companies who are committed to providing profitable inventory turn, thus ensuring everyone’s continued success.

When I attend a show, the bonus is often the sunny locales, the outings, the keynote speakers and elective education. I search for new relationships that will bring more life to my cases and stretch my advertising dollar, as well as ideas that will improve my retail end game. There are so many veterans who understand our industry and are willing to share their success secrets, introduce you to a key supplier or help you flesh out a better business plan.

So, escape your four walls, go to the shows, and see the buffet of gems and aisles of suppliers these venues have to offer. Learn about a new line, meet the designer, then take those value-added stories back to your sales floor to energize your team, reinvigorate your merchandising and escalate more positive numbers into your revenue stream. Commit to making a buying plan, then go to the next show or empower someone else in your little universe who is worthy to seize the opportunity and grab that golden ring.

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