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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 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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Commentary: The Business

Million-Dollar Seller Achieves Jewelry Dreams

Aly Martinez builds on success.

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IT STARTED WITH beads and a spool of fishing line. I had always been creative and loved anything artistic, but nothing grabbed my attention quite like jewelry.

Beading in my bedroom on the weekends quickly led to jewelry-fabrication classes in high school, and by the time I graduated a hobby had turned into a passion and a dream of a life-long career.

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In college, I majored in retail merchandising, but knew I wanted to keep my focus on jewelry. I became connected with my local Art Guild, and when I wasn’t in class I was in the studio taking every jewelry fabrication class I could get my hands on. In 2007, I began working at Kevin Kelly Jewelers, a local family-operated jewelry store. There they taught me the basics of repair work, custom work and selling. I was a sponge and wanted to learn everything they were willing to teach me.

Upon graduating college in 2009, I knew I wanted to keep going and to learn more, and found myself asking “What next?”

I quickly discovered GIA and started on my Graduate Gemology degree. By the beginning of 2010 I started working at Jones Bros. Jewelers part-time changing watch batteries and cleaning jewelry. Again, I said yes to anything they were willing to teach me. Now, fast forward nine years later, and I’m a full-time sales associate with a million dollars sold in 2018.

So what exactly happened throughout those nine years? A lot.

Selling full-time was not necessarily something I thought I’d ever do, but I quickly fell in love with the personal connections I was able to make with clients. Once I started, selling a million dollars in a year became a professional and personal goal. A goal that I added to my other goals that I never forgot about and slowly kept working toward.

With the help of GIA’s Distance Education Program, I was able to continue taking classes while working, and travel to Wisconsin for lab courses. And I’ll admit I put it on the back burner for a while, but creating my own jewelry line was something I’d dreamt about for years, and so I made sure to never lose sight of the initial driving force for my passion for this industry.

Year after year I came close, but never quite hit that million dollar mark. By 2018 I wasn’t ready to give up, but knew it was time to broaden my focus.

I dove headfirst into the rest of my Graduate Gemology training, became a brand ambassador for Tacori, and finally created Emerald May, my own jewelry line. I traveled more than ever before – Wisconsin for labs, Vegas for trade shows, and California for Tacori and had my hands in more and more projects.

Ironically, with my focus on other things I had wanted for so long, my sales continued to grow, and by the end of 2018 I was one class away from becoming a Graduate Gemologist, my own line was officially started with several pieces sold, and I had reached my goal of selling a million dollars in a year.

It’s a surreal feeling to look back on everything that’s happened over the years to get to where I am now. Something that started as a hobby has turned into a career, a career that drives me to do better every day. The million dollars became so much more than a sales goal. It was something to strive for, something to push me, and once achieved served as a symbol that with enough determination and pursuit anything is possible. It’s given me the courage to keep pursuing other goals and dreams I’ve set for myself.

Looking back on all of the hard work, education, and incredible amount of support I know that dreams don’t always have to stay dreams, they truly can become your reality.

So if you’ve taken the time to read this, I hope above anything else you feel inspired. It doesn’t matter if your dreams or aspirations are the same. It’s about finding that thing that drives you day after day that leaves you wanting more. It’s about pushing yourself to go after the things you’ve always dreamed of. It’s about starting somewhere, anywhere, and never giving up or losing sight of what you want and what you’ve worked so hard for. Start at the bottom if you must, just start.

Be open to every opportunity thrown your way, because you never know where that may lead you. I could have said no to selling because it wasn’t something I thought I’d want to do, but years later it’s become one of my absolute favorite things to do. You never know where something may lead, so take it all in, learn as much as you can, and never lose sight of your dreams – they could be your reality someday.

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Commentary: The Business

Sometimes Firing a Jewelry Customer Is For the Best … And Here’s a Perfect Example

This client’s phone manners left something to be desired.

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Laurelle Giesbrecht of French’s Jewellery says her daughter Heidi, now 15, is not afraid to answer the phone despite what happened and calls it “a learning experience.”

WHILE VISITING A great friend and store owner, Laurelle Giesbrecht of French’s Jewellery in Alberta, Canada, we were commiserating over coffee. I have always loved hearing her stories about community involvement or win/win sales interactions. This time, she had a real doozy.

A customer had recently purchased a $300 ring for her daughter and had sent her back to the store for a free sizing. The young girl had decided it was not going to be on her third finger but the much larger first. That meant the ring needed to be sized from 5 to 10. For this, there would be a charge. The girl left the ring.

Laurelle’s daughter, Heidi, was answering phones as her mom finished closing the store. It was the last call before locking up. Heidi asked how she could re-direct the caller and then, holding the phone to her chest, asked her mom if she wanted to take the call. Mom assured her she was doing fine. It brought a smile to her face when she heard her daughter tell the caller that she would pass the message along to their HR manager.

But later at home, the true story emerged. The call had been from the original purchaser of the size 5 ring, and using a long string of vulgarities, she had demanded a full refund. The next day, typically affable Laurelle left a message requesting a return call. When the return call came, Laurelle informed the customer that the swearing she had done over the phone had been directed at her 13-year-old daughter. She added that she would not allow that treatment of any of her staff. After informing the customer that she would process a full refund, she asked for her mailing address so she could mail it. Laurelle calmly informed the customer that she was not to come back to her store.

But the story was not over. The customer ignored the request to not return to the store and instead brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers with a neatly written card. She wanted to personally deliver them to the 13-year-old child who had listened so intently to her vulgar language. This customer knew that the depth of her apology could only be appreciated by a face-to-face meeting between an embarrassed adult and precocious child!

If there are lessons here, they are written between the lines.

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