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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 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at editor@instoremag.com.

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How To Decide Between Equal Job Candidates, Splitting Staff Chores and More of Your Questions Answered

Plus how to market your engraving capabilities.

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I have two good candidates for the position of sales associate, but I can’t decide between them. Can you suggest a tie-breaker?

Toss a coin and let fate be your arbiter. If they’re both equally appealing candidates and you can’t reduce the uncertainty by doing further research or interviews or trial runs, then your decision doesn’t much matter. That likely sounds like rash advice, but this paralysis you’re experiencing has a name: Fredkin’s Paradox. The computer scientist Edward Fredkin summed it up as, “The more equally attractive two alternatives seem, the harder it can be to choose between them — no matter that, to the same degree, the choice can only matter less.” To be sure, it will probably turn out to have mattered in hindsight, but by then it’ll be too late. Given that you’re unable to know how things will turn out, overthinking this one — or any similar tough choice — is futile.

How do you share the chores among sales staff fairly and in a way that is easy to enforce?

Store consultant David Geller suggests breaking your staff into groups and rotating the responsibilities. “Put some easy chores with some bad ones like vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom,” he recommends. The people whose names are under the different groups of chores (see table) do them for only one week, and then they move onto the next group of tasks. This shares around the bad and light chores and also makes it easy for the store owner to raise the issue when a job needs doing. “After doing this, I no longer complained to a person; I complained to a group,” Geller says. “If I go out and see the glass in a showcase is dirty, I don’t expect everyone to clean it, just Group 2.’”

I recently purchased an engraving machine. Any ideas on how I can market it?

One of the biggest mistakes jewelers make is keeping their engraving machine in the back room, says Annette Peloquin, marketing manager of Signature Engraving. Putting the engraving machine in the front of your store, even if it’s just for special events like Mother’s Day and Christmas sales, has a “curiosity” factor that will attract new clients into your store. Also, regular direct-mail pieces with coupons or discounts on engraving services are another way to promote your services. “Be sure to aggressively promote the wide range of engraving possibilities,” such as logos and photos engraved on charms, she says. Hand out flyers to bridal shops and bridal planners that may wish to engrave picture frames or champagne glass or guest book foiling. Also, says Peloquin, engraving corporate gift items for small-to-medium-sized businesses can be another lucrative sideline.

I found a honey of a deal at an estate sale, but I’m worried about paying so little for a piece worth far more. Are there any state or federal laws regarding the purchase of jewelry that is marked at a grossly understated value?

While laws vary widely between different states and municipalities, Elly Rosen of the AINetWork’s Gems & Jewelry Trade Reference says, “We may seek guidance from the general principles involved.” For Rosen, the simplest answer is that “we can buy as low as we wish and make as much profit as we can … so long as we do nothing to deceive or take advantage of the seller.” Estate sale buying is the easiest to answer as it’s a free and open public sale with the seller in control. In such a situation, Rosen says, “We can offer as low as we wish and it’s their option to accept. If it’s an auction and our low bid gets the hammer — it’s ours to resell at whatever profit we can fairly obtain. If we’re on the street and someone offers to sell an item far below its value, we can accept their offer. We don’t know each other, so there’s nothing leading them to believe we have special knowledge they might otherwise rely on.” However, when buying over the counter in your store, things change. “[Customers] may believe they can rely on our knowledge, so greater care is needed not to say or do anything implying low value. They ask for $50 for a $1,000 item, we can accept their offer.”

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Your Holiday Questions Answered, Including Security, Aged Inventory and Sales Presentation

Plus a tip for making shoppers feel comfortable in your ‘decompression zone.’

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What should I do to reinforce security measures at this time of year?

Here’s some advice from Jewelers UnBLOCKed:

  • Create obstacles. Use display cases and holiday décor to block thieves from running straight in and/or out of your store. All areas that contain valuable merchandise should be visible to both customers and staff. Avoid any blind spots.
  • Stay under the radar. If you’re planning a vacation, don’t advertise your absence; refrain from posting vacation pictures until after you return. Posting while traveling makes your store, employees and even your home susceptible to invasions, crimes and thefts.
  • Double and triple check seasonal employees. Even if they’re temporary, you need to ensure that all employees are trustworthy. Don’t forget to perform background and reference checks.
  • Limit the number of pieces that can be presented to a customer to between one and three pieces of jewelry or watches at a time, and post signage of this policy. If a customer complains, sales associates can point to the sign and mention its store policy. Deter potential thieves from trying to take off with a stockpile of jewels.
  • Keep store windows clear. A cluttered window blocks criminal activity from being seen outside.

We’re expecting to see a lot of old faces over the next few weeks. What should we do about aging inventory our customers may have seen before?

Stop fretting. Start polishing. “The majority of your customers don’t remember your stock,” says Dick Abbott, owner of the Edge POS software. “They may recognize a specific piece they have looked at previously, but the majority of it will look new to them, as long as it looks new.” Make sure each item is clean and sparkling and has a fresh ticket on it to adjust the retail to reflect today’s prices. Add a different chain to a pendant. Rearranging your cases makes everything “new” in the eyes of your customers. Identify the items you wish to clear and give your sales team a sense of ownership by brainstorming ways to clear old stock and then review your results and strategies every day.

What last-minute things can I do to sharpen my sales presentations?

Sales and display consultant Larry Johnson recommends enriching your vocabulary. There are adjectives that carry more emotion than the usual ones salespeople tend to use, he says, suggesting words like stunning, glowing, bold, brilliant, glistening, radiant, elegant, natural, fabulous, attention-grabbing, sparkle, romance, edgy, and timeless. “Upgrade your sales presentation to include these descriptive words that add impact. Start out today using one or two until you are more comfortable with adding more.”

How can I get shoppers thinking about buying as soon as they cross the threshold?

Pay attention to your store’s decompression zone, according to VEND, the global cloud-based POS and retail management provider. The decompression zone is the first few feet of your shop. Shoppers who are in this part of your store are prone to distractions, which is why most experts agree that retailers should keep the decompression zone simple and uncluttered. In addition, having greeters in your store makes people more aware of their surroundings and helps them focus.

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How to Be Safe at Company Parties, the Best Interview Question for a Prospective Hire, and More of Your Questions Answered

Plus how to avoid becoming a mediocre business.

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How do I lift my store out of the rut of mediocrity?

According to work by the Brigham Young business school on high-performing teams, peers manage the bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to maintaining standards. But how to get to that almost mythical land of self-enforced high standards?

Joseph Grenny, a social scientist and author of Crucial Accountability, says there are four leadership practices that can help:

1. Start by showing the consequences of mediocrity to connect people with the experiences, feelings and impact of bad performance. Keep the issue alive by telling stories that illustrate work well done and the real human cost of shoddy work, such as lost diamonds, ruined weddings and upset customers.

2. Set clear goals and explain why they are important. “Use concrete measures to make poor performance painfully apparent,” says Grenny.

3. Establish peer accountability so that people feel comfortable challenging one another when they see mediocrity. Regular weekly reviews can provide opportunities for mutual feedback and establish peer-accountability as a norm, Grenny says. It’s key that your store becomes an environment where everyone feels entitled to challenge anyone if it is in the best interest of the business.

4. Be quick to defend the high standards. A chronic poor performer is a clear impediment to the goals you’ve set. How you handle this situation will let your team know whether your highest value is keeping the peace or pursuing performance.

“When you ask a group to step up to high performance, you are inviting them to a place of stress — one where they must stretch, where failure is possible, where interpersonal conflicts must be addressed,” says Grenny. “If you shrink from or delay in addressing this issue, you don’t just lose that person’s contribution — you send a message to everyone else about your values.”

I’m planning my company party, but one concern is that somebody might get drunk and have a car accident. Got any advice on protecting myself?

Concerns about liability for alcohol-related incidents, sexual harassment, and workers’ compensation claims have led many companies to forgo holiday galas entirely. You don’t have to. But if you’re really afraid, lawyer Anil Khosla, writing in Inc. Magazine, suggests the following steps to reduce your liability: “1. To distance the business from the party, make it an entirely social event, don’t invite clients or vendors, and make sure employees know that attendance is voluntary. 2. Plan accordingly. Hold your gathering off-site, if possible. That may shift some of the potential liability to the hotel, restaurant, or caterer. If you must have an on-site party, hire an independent caterer. Don’t permit anyone from the company to serve alcohol, and instruct bartenders to stop serving anyone who seems inebriated. Lawyers advise avoiding an open bar— or, at the very least, limiting it to the first hour. Also, close the bar at least one hour before the party ends. 3. Consider providing transportation to and from the event. Make sure that cabs will be available, and appoint someone to suggest cab rides home for people who have had a few too many.”

How do I tease out a prospective hire’s innate strengths during the interview process?

The indirect method is often best when it comes to getting at a prospect’s true strengths. Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the strengths-based school of business management, suggests asking this question: What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months? “Find out what the person was doing and why he or she enjoyed it so much,” he says, adding it’s key to keep in mind that a strength is not merely something someone is good at. “It might be something they aren’t good at yet. It might be just a predilection, something they find so intrinsically satisfying that they look forward to doing it again and again and getting better at it over time.” The theory is that the best businesses are those that fully leverage the strengths of their employees as opposed to trying to fix up their weaknesses.

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