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How to Find Good Employees, Reward Customers and Answer Phones — Plus More Reader Questions

There are no shortcuts made to quickly fill a staff gap.

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How can I find millennials who will take the job seriously?

It is possible to shape millennial hires into serious salespeople, but, as Joshua Pruschen, manager of Maxon Fine Jewelry in Springfield, MO, notes, you’ve got to take hiring seriously yourself, first. That means no shortcuts made to quickly fill a staff gap. Figure out who the job candidate is before he or she shows up for the first interview. Before the interview, ask each candidate to take a personality and skills assessment; then, interview them two or three times. Make sure they’re interested in and capable of committing to a career.

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An employee keeps telling me she is frustrated with different aspects of her sales job. How do I respond?

Start with her. Ask her what she thinks the answer is. If that doesn’t yield anything helpful or realistic, ask her to come up with three lists made up of:

The good stuff. The part of the job that makes her feel worthy, satisfied or accomplished.

The everyday parts of the job — those things that don’t suck and are part of pulling a pay check.

The “Ugh, I hate this!” stuff that is frustrating her. Put these into three buckets and then find ways, together, to spend 10 percent less time on the “ugh” stuff in Bucket C and increase by 10 percent time spent on the engaging activities in Bucket A. Of course, sometimes she’s just going to have to suck it up and do the ugh jobs but at least you’ve gone the extra yard. The point of this exercise isn’t to pander to your staff. People do better jobs when they’re doing what energizes them. And you may be surprised what excites an individual: some people get a kick out of filling in spreadsheets. Others enjoy the challenge of a cold call.

I have a small store. What’s the protocol when you’re busy and the phone rings? Answer the call and put it on hold, or let it go to voicemail?

This is really about personal preference. But Pauline Blachford of Pauline Blachford Consulting prefers the latter for two reasons: the customer you are serving at the time the phone rings (or even the job you are working on at the bench) deserves your undivided attention. And often, the caller who just has a “quick” question usually takes time. This can be frustrating for both you and the customer in the store. “This also breaks the train of thought of the service provider and causes a disconnect between the two,” she adds.

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However, Blachford says that if you do choose to always pick up and put the caller on hold, then be sure to ask their permission to be put on hold. When it comes to voicemail, the greatest fear for incoming callers is that they never know when their call will be returned. For this reason, Blachford recommends the recording say something like: “Thank you for calling ABC Jewelers. We are presently taking care of another client. Your call is important to us. Please leave your name and number, and we will get back to you within the hour.” In committing to the hour, it sets the precedent that every team member knows that accessing those messages and responding ASAP is the top priority. Lastly, she offers this bit of advice: “The phone should always be answered by the third ring whether picked up in person or the answering service.”

The banker who has always handled our account and knows our business is moving to a larger lender. Should we follow him or stay with our existing bank?

It’s never just about the bank or just about the banker. Smaller banks are usually set up to allow you to develop more personal relationships with their officers, while a larger bank will have a wider range of products, be more secure (in theory) and will be able to offer nationwide or even international services should you need them. The most important thing is that your banker has influence within his or her institution. He or she needs to be able to get things done, either through his professional credibility, knowledge or connections. Talk to the banker. Ask him if he feels his new bank will be the right fit for you.

Is it absolutely necessary to reconcile our books to the last penny?

There are some areas where you can disregard small discrepancies, but when it comes to reconciling the bank account to the general ledger, you need to be “bang on all the time,” says David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy. It primarily has to do with security: a common embezzlement technique is to skim small, seemingly random amounts of cash from revenue. Over the years, these mysterious discrepancies can add up to tens of thousands of dollars. Keeping everything in order shouldn’t be that hard if you’ve computerized your accounting and your checking account reconciliation.

Over the years, INSTORE has won 76 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at editor@instoremag.com.

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Jimmy DeGroot

Be Ready for ‘What Do You Have for $100?’ and Other Holiday Questions

As Christmas approaches, the queries you’ll hear from customers are actually pretty predictable, says jewelry store training expert Jimmy DeGroot. Here's how to make sure your team is prepared for the more common ones.

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Best Catering Practices, How to Deal with Impatient Repair Clients and More of Your Questions for November

Hire a food truck to feed attendees at your next store event.

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How often should I be looking to change my window display?

There is no hard and fast rule. Rather, the decision to change windows should be more about the flow of traffic in front of the store. The purpose of a window is to capture a customer’s attention and to keep him or her engaged. That means that if a store is in a location where many of the same people pass by every day, it is in your best interest to change the look of the window as often as possible — in some cases, every week or two. The change can be as simple as keeping a display theme for a month at a time, while changing only one eye-catching element and rotating through various product samples, says Kate Peterson. “For other stores, where foot traffic is not as significant an issue, changing less frequently might be acceptable — but nonetheless, keeping a fresh look — for theme and for product, should be at minimum, a monthly goal.” She adds that successful stores also know that keeping a consistent theme or look — between windows and between windows and interior displays, is a very important part of getting the customer to focus on the product and not on the prop. “The decor should set the scene, but the merchandise should tell the story.”

For a fun, easy store event, hire a local food truck.

What’s a quick and easy way to cater an event?

We’re going to recommend an idea we saw employed by a small, independent optical practice in Minneapolis, MN: Bring in a local food truck. “We hire a food truck for our trunk show guests, serve wine and beer, turn up the music, and give out a promotional item to the first 100 guests,” says Sarah Jerome, the owner of Look and See Eyecare. “Our events are packed, our patients ask when the next event will be, and they bring their friends. We make it a party, and every event generates our new biggest sales day to date.”

What’s the best way to deal with a waiting repair customer who interrupts a sales presentation because he doesn’t want to wait?

Denise Oros, owner of Linnea Jewelers in La Grange, IL, knows your frustration and is convinced impatient customers are getting worse. But, she notes, it is the duty of a business owner to adapt. Her brainstorm: A self-service drop-off bin. For the customer who can’t wait, Linnea provides inner-store repair bags on its counters, pens, and instructions to write a detailed description of the item and fill out personal information. “We will photo log (the item) and call if further estimates or repairs are needed,” she explains. “It’s mostly watch batteries, but we had to do something to curb the constant interruptions.”

I’ve used my free email address for work for years and don’t really want to change it, but does it look unprofessional?

True, a lot of people don’t care, but a not insignificant portion of your customer base will make a judgment of some sort. And these aren’t completely unfounded impressions. Numerous marketing studies have found Gmail users to be predominantly younger city dwellers with more liberal views. Hotmail and AOL users are more likely to be found in the suburbs, while rural inhabitants are more likely to use Yahoo! Only two months ago, The Times newspaper in Britain reported that a major insurer, Admiral, was quoting a higher rate to car owners who provided a Hotmail address. The firm argued some domain names were “associated with more accidents” than others, raising applicants’ risk profile. Given the way people make irrational mental assessments, and given how important it is for a jeweler to be viewed as professional, technologically savvy and trustworthy, we’d recommend you make the change. It doesn’t cost much and doesn’t even have to involve a platform change. For $3 a month, Gmail, for example, allows you to upgrade your account to get your own domain name and have more control in managing your account as well as the emails of your staff.

I’ve discovered a shrinkage problem at my store, but when I contacted the local police, they didn’t seem that interested.

When it comes to offenses that spur urgent police action, retail crime lags a long way behind murder, drug dealing or even car theft. This means you’re going to have to show the police you have a good case and that, as Detective Richard Milburn of the Mesa, AZ, police department said at a recent NRF event, you understand the difference between “Probable Cause” versus “Probably Cuz.” First, be sure you contact the right agency, and that you have anticipated the need to establish evidence (What will be needed to pursue a case? Do you have video or other evidence?), Milburn said. Be aware too that you may have to “re-sell” the case to another law enforcement agency if the first one declines. The key takeaway from all this? Never forget that safeguarding your goods starts with you and the processes you use to track merchandise.

Have a question? We’ve got the answer. Email: ask@instoremag.com.

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What To Do When a Large Chain Competitor Opens Nearby, and More of Your Questions Answered

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We’ve had a large corporate jeweler open up in our area that does a huge amount of advertising, offers five years to pay and lifetime guarantees on diamonds. How do we respond?

Don’t panic. The future might require you to make some difficult adjustments, but there should still be enough air to breathe for a smart small independent. First, grab a pen and paper. Visit the store and make two lists: where your products and services overlap, and where you do things differently. From that, a picture should begin to emerge of areas you can emphasize and areas you can improve to keep your customers loyal. Merchandising expert Tom Crossman also recommends you review the look of your store. All chain stores look alike, he says, and even though you may sell some of the same brands, your products will be more appealing with better, different fixtures that reflect your independent spirit. “Light wood fixtures, for example, create a warmer environment while still being neutral. And stay away from vendor displays so you can reinforce your own brand,” he says. Finally, try not to view the big store as an unalloyed enemy. Instead, try to get to know the staff and managers. More than a few stores have told us they get a steady flow of referrals from the local Walmart for repair work. There’s a good chance they might be able to send work your way, too.

How can we add some Halloween spirit without dressing up?

Yes, traipsing around the store in red underpants and a cape can get inconvenient fast. Accents in the form of nail art, hair clips and maybe some extra makeup (liquid liner is a great way to add a cobweb effect) can send the right message at the right volume for a jeweler. Also, this is the right time to get staff to model your onyx and red agate bracelets and gothic charms.

I’ve created a funky new ring design I’m hoping will sell well this holiday season. Should I seek copyright protection? 

Although a copyright is automatically secured when “an original work of artistic expression is created and fixed in a tangible medium,” it’s better to go ahead and register, advises Sarah Yood, senior counsel for the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, as filing for registration with the copyright office will help you prove you had the design at a certain date. Done electronically, it’s a straightforward process and fairly inexpensive, with registration costing just $35. To help you better understand copyright law and the implications of filing, the JVC has published a guide titled, “JVC’s Guide to Intellectual Property Law.” See jvclegal.org for more information.

I’ve been summoned to meet an IRS auditor. Any last-minute tips?

Accept that the fresh-faced inquisitor across the desk is the boss and show him the due respect. Don’t argue if you disagree with something. If the auditor wants to disallow a deduction, state once why you don’t agree. If he’s not swayed, hold your tongue. Antagonizing an auditor will only encourage him or her to search for other areas of potential tax liability. Remember that you can plead your case with several layers of people above your auditor, and ultimately all the way to tax court if you feel you’ve been wronged. Surprisingly, most IRS auditors aren’t tax experts. Most are fairly recent graduates whose major was in an unrelated field, so don’t feel intimidated, and don’t underestimate your own tax knowledge.

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How to Sell Millennials, Handling Big Returns and More of Your Bridal Questions Answered

Remind them that they should be looking to buy diamonds, not paper.

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What’s the best way to deal with those millennial customers who show up with a photo of the diamond on their cellphone?

Welcome them warmly, praise their choice of diamond and advise them in your sagest, reassuring voice that they should be looking to buy diamonds, not paper. The truth is they already know that. It’s why they are in your store. It’s why Warby Parker, Amazon, Blue Nile, Indochina, Bonobos, and so many other online retailers are snapping up brick-and-mortar space. There are some items people need to try on or see in person. And once you’ve got their attention, take a lead from the playbook of Phil Pancer, owner of Ring Leader Fine Jewellers, in Pickering, ON: “I let them know that I can get diamonds on consignment and I’ll pick three of them to show them. One is the one they want with the specs that they picked out, and the other two are ones that I picked out that have slightly different specs but are considerably less money. Nine time out of 10, they pick what I have brought in.”

A client bought a $10,000 engagement ring six months ago, but he decided not to go through with the wedding and wants his money back. What should we do?

Consult your store’s policy manual … and if you find a blank entry under “Returns,” give yourself a kick. This is one of those issues all jewelers will face in their careers and should be prepared for. If it’s a client with whom you want to stay on their good side, offer them a store credit for the same value. The other non-money-losing options are to offer to take it on consignment, offer to take just the diamond back (and brace for the tough talk over value), or, if it’s a custom job, commiserate. Six months?  Really, is there any other product in the world people will wear close to their body and expect to get a full refund after such a long period of time? His demand is unreasonable. Stick to your guns. 

I just lost my third huge diamond sale in a matter of months. Should I be worried about my sales techniques?

When you lose a big sale, especially one you’ve possibly worked weeks on, it can be tempting to try to immediately banish it from your mind. But a better strategy, says sales trainer Dave Richardson, is to heave its offending carcass onto the cold slab of the morgue and call a sales inquest. “You want to examine what mistakes were made, what possibly could have been avoided, what you could have done differently, and how you could have reacted to certain comments and objections brought forth by the buyer,” says Richardson. Perhaps there was absolutely nothing you could have done to save the sale. But if you review it with advisors or other staff, you may well learn one of those lessons that only failure seems to teach.

I am going to redo my bridal showcases for this upcoming season. How do I proceed to get it right and not waste my limited remodel funds?

Put the job up for bid. Contact several display firms and give them the challenge of accomplishing your display goals within your budget. “Quality firms are usually happy to help. But ask them what they suggest, don’t just tell them you want to order some trays,” advises Larry Johnson, owner of Larry Johnson Consulting  and author of The Complete Guide To Effective Jewelry Display. “Take advantage of their expertise,” he advises.

I’m trying to bring a little heat on a one-stop chain store whose “fine jewelry” is always on sale. Its diamond earrings are not $1,000 studs marked down by 70 percent; they are really  $300 earrings selling for full price. Am I wasting my time trying to get the state attorney general to take action? 

Our view, which is shared by the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, is to go for it — you’ll be doing all independent jewelers a favor if you do. In most cases, price advertising is governed by local and state laws, which require the merchant to have offered the “on sale” goods for a set number of days at the regular price before they can be described as “on sale.” The challenge for regulators in establishing a violation of these local and state laws is to prove that the item was in fact offered for the requisite number of days at the regular price. Of course, an advertiser who daily claims these items are on sale would be hard-pressed to establish that they were ever offered at the regular price. Legal compliance is always a worthy effort.

With more expensive goods, is it smarter to be focused on gross margin dollars or to try to maintain a target profit margin?

It is true that as you head up the price curve, you have more flexibility to give in a little on a request for a price break; as the old adage says, “you can’t bank percentages; you can only bank dollars.” And trade groups like Platinum Guild International include such thinking in their standard advice for retailers. That said, the real issue for most retailers is that they give in too easily on requests for discounts, cautions David Brown, president of the Edge Retail Academy. “Most salespeople capitulate far too easily and too quickly,” he says, adding that his group works with sales associates to teach an array of tactics to fend off bargain hunters’ initial forays and to provide alternatives to discounts such as value-added offers. There are also other factors at play that could affect your decision on whether to accept a lower profit margin, such as your store’s location or the level of local competition, Brown says. “But when a storeowner has exhausted all of our negotiating strategies, we tell them not to let the client leave and take their money to the opposition,” he says.

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