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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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Commentary: The Business

Here’s How To Get Millennials’ Attention

Tell them your story, says fast-growing retailer.

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MANY ARTICLES HITTING newsstands today are pushing blame on millennials for everything from the decline in sales of paper napkins, to poor numbers at movie theaters, to even the decrease in market share for Budweiser and Coors.

As jewelers, we are very familiar with the decline in jewelry sales — most notably diamonds. It seems that every month, there is a new report blaming millennials for the number of failing jewelry stores, the shrinkage of diamond districts, and even the shift in the trend away from “two months’ salary.”

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Follow market history trends and you will start to see a pattern. When a “generation” of people begin to reach their 30s, they go from being cautious savers to consumers and spenders. Baby boomers hit that apex in the 1980s, and the country was hog-wild with money. Generation X hit their apex in the early 2000s, and housing markets and retail sales were booming. Now we are approaching the apex for millennials (2020 is the tipping point) — and they are a bigger generation than baby boomers and gen-Xers combined. Are you on the precipice for success when they hit the age of consumerism?

Being on the threshold between gen-X and millennials, I can tell you how offended I feel when millennials say it is everyone else’s fault they cannot afford to buy a house because they are up to their eyeballs in student loan debt. I am also offended when everyone else says millennials are a bunch of entitled babies who can’t toe the line. Blaming millennials clearly hasn’t been the answer because stores continue to close, diamond vendors are dropping like flies, and the millennials still aren’t walking into the jewelry stores that remain … except that they are! Many businesses just see them as the enemy rather than the opportunity.

Want to know how to sell to millennials? Get online and tell them your story. Take photos of your store, your team, your jewelry, your customers. Make the posts informational, fun, educational, and truthful. Put a few dollars into boosting your posts on Facebook and Instagram to people 23-35. Show them what makes you unique and how your expertise is worth the extra spend on a purchase. Stick with it, and they will start to come through your doors.

When they do walk in, be open-minded, then ask for (and respect) their budget. They will research what you tell them and probably not commit on the first visit. If you have patience, you will discover they are vehemently loyal when they make the decision to trust you as long as you give them a reason to. Take care of one millennial, and their friends will know in a heartbeat because social media works. Soon you will have a steady flow of the next generation of consumers breathing life back into your business.

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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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Commentary: The Business

How I Win Over Young People Who ‘Don’t Like Jewelry’

Learn to sell jewelry as the powerful talisman it always has been.

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WHY DO WE, HUMANS, have such a thing as jewelry?

I don’t think it was intended to mark status originally, back when we were walking around naked and hunting bears and living in caves. I think, on the contrary, it was because of the unforgettable experience of suddenly coming face to face with something amazing, a small thing that shimmered, so unlike anything else in your life, so special, that from that moment on, you knew your life was changed forever.

You held onto that gem, or pearl, or gold crystal, and knew you had to hold onto it, no matter what. But how? You had no pockets, you wore leaves, or maybe nothing! So you had to figure out some way of drilling it, or wrapping it, and, inevitably, hung it about your neck. In every culture, the first jewelry is always a pendant, one thing protected. When you have something around your neck, you are going to fondle it, and soon you become very attached to it; maybe it will protect you and become your secret power. And that, which I call Transcendence, is why we have such a thing as jewelry!

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So when your customer moans, “My daughter does not even like jewelry!” smile and resolve to bring back the magic. In a corner of my gallery, there is a partially enclosed space called the Gem Room with drawers of tourmalines, amethysts and colored sapphires and such, and I enjoy inviting people in to discuss custom work.

But when I see a young adult coming in, quick, before they whip out their electronics, I challenge them: “You look like someone who would like raw gems! Let me show you something unusual!” and I whisk them away to the Gem Room (while the parent goes about their business). I place in their hand a large raw lapis, full of pyrite stars, a piece of opal rough with a shimmering stripe in one corner, or a huge slice of watermelon tourmaline. A transformation! They are now alive.

Then you say “Wouldn’t this be right for Game Of Thrones (or a warrior in Wakanda)?” Then tell them where it came from, how hard it is to find and ask them, yes, to imagine themselves as a prehistoric human walking out of a cave, suddenly finding something amazing like this: wouldn’t they want to somehow keep it? But they have no pockets, they’d have to find a way to drill it, wrap it, maybe, and that is how jewelry comes into being. Then you walk away and let them play for a while.

You know that now they get it.

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