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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 We Can Level The Playing Field For Women In The Jewelry Industry

The Women’s Jewelry Association empowers women to lead and succeed.

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THE FUTURE SUCCESS of the jewelry industry calls for empowering more female leaders and connecting with the women who wear our products. As executive director of the Women’s Jewelry Association, the premier empowerment organization for women in the jewelry and watch industries over the past three decades, I see women striving for opportunities to lead each day.

Next month, the Women’s Jewelry Association is launching the March is Me Month campaign, a consumer-marketing initiative developed by over 30 women executives in the industry to empower female consumers to self-purchase. Women designing for women and women marketing to women makes sense. We are bringing together retailers, manufacturers and brands across many segments of our industry to participate in an industry-wide self-purchase campaign.

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At its core, the Women’s Jewelry Association’s mission is to grow and cultivate women leaders. We believe education is the most powerful tool to boost confidence and professional success, and we have robust programming that caters to our members’ needs coast to coast. In 2020, we will launch a new strategic plan focused on building a pipeline of diverse talent, enabling more women to become successful in business and continuing our strong mentorship program. We also offer training to our chapter leaders on how to run effective boards and provide members the opportunity to take ownership of complex projects.

Our members are present and future leaders. Some members are already tasked with making critical decisions in their professional lives that affect hundreds, if not thousands, of employees, suppliers, miners, manufacturers and consumers. Other members are students and recent graduates preparing to embark on their careers in jewelry design, gemology and retail. Still others are trying to maintain a work-life balance while managing high-performing teams inside corporate companies and brands. The industry needs to continue cultivating a culture of opportunity and inclusion for women.

The Women’s Jewelry Association is proud to welcome both men and women into its membership. We embrace our male members because connecting with them means we are building stronger bonds and business relationships. Working toward equality in the workplace in our industry is no small feat. It cannot be done without the mentorship and advocacy of our male colleagues. We need to continue harnessing their support so that we can level the field when it comes to more women in the boardroom, more money in our paychecks, and greater access to capital to grow our businesses.

There’s still much to be done, but the Women’s Jewelry Association is excited to work with our sponsors, our partners and other associations in 2020 to continue advancing women and creating more opportunities for them to lead and succeed.

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Commentary: The Business

The First America’s Coolest Stores Winner Reflects on What It Means

Cool stores encourage customers to hang out, says owner Brett Weiler.

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TWENTY YEARS AGO, as I was in the process of building out my second store, I remember my plumber saying: “I see what you are fixin’ to do here — you want people to relax, so’s you can get at their wallet.”

Well, kind of.

Thankfully, my introduction to the jewelry industry started at a small store during my college years in Gainesville, FL, called The Quarry. It was located in a charming old cottage. I would have to describe it as upscale-hippie with a low-key vibe, the kind of place where you just wanted to hang out, which the owners were kind enough to let me do. Interestingly, I was never monetarily compensated, nor did I ever set out to be a jeweler, but this little store evidently had a big impact on what I would do.

After that, however, every store that I was employed in felt stiff and uncomfortable. These were not environments I enjoyed, much less places I would want to spend most of my waking hours. I wanted a store that not only suited my sensibilities, but one that made all feel welcome. Somehow, I wanted my store to communicate my dedication when it comes to execution.  Let’s face it, in this industry, the devil is in the details.

I remember how excited I was when I won INSTORE’s first America’s Coolest Stores Award in 2002. But I also got to thinking, the magazine was pretty thin with hardly any advertising. I was kind of afraid that it would go the way of so many publications and leave me with a meaningless award. That was certainly not the case, as INSTORE became the powerhouse of the industry and the award quite highly regarded. I like to say that having a “Cool Store” is something you can never take away from me.

There are evidently many takes on what makes a “Cool Store” cool. Cool stores exude an ambience that makes it obvious that the customer’s experience is of key importance. The one thing they all seem to have in common is the ability to represent to the customer that this is not going to be just a typical retail transaction. A store does not have to be lavish; however, it should be able to demonstrate a commitment to your standards.

At the end of the day (pun intended), nobody spends more time in my store than I do, and I love it here. However, it is always very gratifying to me when someone comments on the vibe my store emanates. It is not lost on me how fortunate I am to be able to serve my time here. How lucky am I?  Imagine, having a job where you just want to go hang out.

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Commentary: The Business

Here’s How to Stay Customer-Focused During the Holiday Rush

No matter how many people on the sales floor, you must stick to the basics of customer service.

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LET’S TALK ABOUT the basics. Pure and simple, that means providing kind customer service while keeping your ego in check when it threatens to walk all over your common sense.

How do you react when a customer expects you to just drop everything to fix her costume pendant that she bought somewhere else when you have a store full of bonafide customers who want real jewelry? Every one of those customers will notice how you treat the simplest of us. You must learn that you are on a stage of sorts — so smile, be patient, be kind, be genuine and, if not, at least fake it ‘til you make it through the day.

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People come to us with misinformation, stupid requests, etc., but they come to us, the professionals of the industry. Each of you holds a place of power. I often preach that we have to be sensitive to what it is like to approach us. How do you feel when you aren’t waited on promptly and recognized, but rather talked over or ignored? Or worse, pounced on the moment you enter the door? Now imagine a recent widow, divorcee or survivor coming into your store and not being waited on promptly or even recognized, but instead ignored. It’s intimidating.

Translate that thought into your greeting protocol. Your customers should be greeted inside the door within 15 seconds of arrival. Have your staff close their eyes and count 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, until 15 one thousand. It’s a long time, isn’t it? Are you greeting them promptly and in an engaging manner? If not, why not? Are you practicing active listening and asking open-ended questions?

People stop buying when you stop selling! Are you doing add-on sales? Are you requesting return visits for jewelry check-ups, positive reviews or recommendations to friends?

Of course my favorite topic for ABC sales is The Yes Train. You wanted white gold, yes. You wanted a halo with vintage accents, yes. You wanted a size 6 with euro shank, yes. You were looking for larger diamonds in the shoulders and some sparkles in the gallery, big smile, yes. This will make a sensational ring all of your friends will envy, yes. Let’s get your deposit taken care of so I can get started on this beauty right away! That active listening “yes” train is headed straight to the bank.

You must build confidence, inspire cooperation and invite rapport with each customer, every time. Check your ego at the door, Fancy Jewelry Store Owner. How you treat customers, how you respond to challenges, how you handle a serious crisis is reflected in how you treat your employees and how they will treat your customers.

What will you change tomorrow and the next day? Because it is a process to become an owner (meaning manager, goldsmith, appraiser, bookkeeper, psychiatrist, repairman, event manager, cupid and of course, housekeeper).

Fundamentals can never be underrated, especially headed into the holiday season. Now go dazzle them!

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