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If you believe your chances of owning a million dollar store are one in a million, you may need an attitude adjustment.

Laurelle Giesbrecht’s French’s Jewellery is located in Wetaskiwin, a small prairie town of 14,000 people in Alberta, Canada, but she’s never viewed the store as a small-town establishment.

That kind of thinking would limit its potential.

“I look to what high-end luxury stores do in major cities, not what my closest competitor is doing,” she explains. “Kind of like an ‘aim for the moon, you might hit the stars’ type of philosophy.”

As a result, her annual revenues are on track to hit $2 million.


“People often walk into our store and say that it looks like a store that should be in New York,” she says. “That’s exactly what I want. To have a place where people see that luxury is deserved and affordable.”

Arbitrary or not, hitting seven figures is something many business owners aspire to. “It’s that elusive barrier,” says David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy, “like the four minute mile.”

Growth is not to be feared, says Brown. So if you want to own a million-dollar store, you have to begin to think and even act as if you are already there. 

Likewise, Giesbrecht says that if you present your location as the million-dollar gem that it is, then it will be so. “If you are trying to achieve that next level, look and act like you are already there. Staff, clients and your operation as a whole will eventually fall into line with your vision.” 

There is more than one route to $1 million. So ask yourself, “What does my journey to $1 million look like?” Will you reinvent your business model, increase your average retail value, or appeal to a different sector of the market to get there?

Tom Duma, owner of Thom Duma Fine Jewelers in Warren, OH, says to break the $1 million mark, he built a better team and strengthened systems and policies after joining a performance group in 2009. His team includes a controller, an assistant controller, an inventory manager and a sales manager. He’s implemented a turnover system, a training and recruiting plan, an aged-inventory system and a fast-seller reorder system. His leadership team built advertising, operating and purchase budgets. He also weighed vendor performance against the amount of real estate the products occupied in case.


These are issues everyone should be addressing because, frankly, Brown says, a business is either growing or dying.

Brown says you’ve got to make the investment in payroll before you see the return. Yes, that can be nerve-wracking, even counter-intuitive. Don’t think of it as boosting your payroll $50,000 a year; think of it in terms of how much revenue you need to generate by the week or the month to meet the larger payroll.

A growing business attracts enthusiastic applicants, too, as opposed to a stagnant business, where people go along for the ride.

One thing owners in a growth mode have in common is that they begin making decisions strategically rather than emotionally, particularly in hiring and buying. They develop more awareness and curiosity about what other people are doing, and rather than saying `I would never do that!’ they are open to new ideas, Brown says.

“Good growth is a natural evolution of a business,” Brown says. “Some businesses get stuck at a certain level, a certain mindset. But they need to have a mindset that growth is a good thing, not something to be feared. We live in very dynamic times and business owners have to think more dynamically.”

“Complacency is one of the most frightening states of mind you can find. It means people aren’t looking for ways to be better, and when you see that, you see that they often lose by default.”



What’s So Special About $1 Million?

hy aim for $1 million? In many ways, that goal is more psychological than practical.

A true financial milestone occurs at about $800,000, Brown says. Settle for less than $800,000 in revenue and you’re settling for a job with a salary. After that, the true benefits of being a business owner kick in.

You can monitor labor productivity more closely when you’re smaller, says Greg Crabtree, author of Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits! When you’re growing, getting the required productivity for every dollar you spend on labor becomes your biggest challenge.

Vince Rath, owner of Optimum Retail Solutions, says that although there’s nothing wrong with being an owner-operator, it’s a trade-off. You can control your own hours, and working only with family can simplify some management issues. But there’s only so much money you can make when revenues hover around the $600,000 to $700,000 mark.

As your business grows, it is important to hire enough people to take responsibility for functional areas that you can no longer manage. A key talent is to know which tasks to reassign to new hires and which tasks to assign to current employees.

Structure is critical.

Define who is responsible for exactly what, Rath says. And create a consistent corporate culture. “Outline expectations and clearly define performance. Employees get confused when they are not able to interpret what expectations are.”

When you do reach $1 million, Rath says, guard against complacency, fatigue and adding too much expense or inventory too quickly.

Revolution Jewelry Works, which opened in 2014, will surpass $1 million in sales this year.


On the Way to $1 Million

ennifer Farnes of Revolution Jewelry Works in Colorado Springs, CO, expects to meet her goal of $1 million this year, far ahead of the schedule she initially set. She’s been on the fast track from the beginning. When she opened in 2014, she expected to do $200,000 in business, and instead hit $400,000.

Farnes, who has a background in the advertising business, attributes her success, at least in part, to allocating 18 percent of gross revenues to advertising. Of that budget, 95 percent is dedicated to traditional media including TV, radio, newspaper and movie theater, and only 5 percent to social media. “A lot of people would find that really intimidating, but if you’re not allocating money to advertising, the only way people will find you is word of mouth. I’ve found that’s not the most reliable way of staying in business.”

Farnes’ message is to “come in and get a feel for what handmade fine jewelry really is. A lot of people come in because they have heard our message enough that it piques their curiosity.”

Be consistent and think long-term, she suggests. Set an annual budget and begin advertising with a medium you know.

“We do some social media, but really social media should be there strictly to bolster a message you already have out there.”

Farnes has developed a niche in custom jewelry with a full-service shop. Still, she says, if she switched her business model tomorrow, she’d still thrive, through a combination of advertising and treating customers like gold.

“It doesn’t really matter what you’re selling, it’s how you’re selling it,” she says. “Business ethics go along with that. If a customer is just outside of warranty dates, do you flex the rules? Help them. Fix it. Don’t live by hard lines because there are a lot of gray areas in making people happy. Ask them, ‘How can I make this better for you?’”

Part of keeping people happy is keeping turn-around time on repairs at four days, a deadline she wants to maintain as she grows.

“We’re hitting the threshold of the work we can handle, and I still need to be at the bench,” she says.

Farnes is in the enviable position of going through growing pains now, just three years into her retail business. She thought she’d be in her current location for 10 or 15 years; instead, she has to decide whether she can make the space work for a couple more years or transition to a stand-alone store already.

“We’ve had to get creative with our workspace, our equipment and our people. We are going to have to take out a couple of walls here soon because it’s getting really tight.”

Hiring is also a challenge. Five people work for her now. Last spring she interviewed 25 people (one of whom showed up for the interview in swim trunks and a T-shirt) and bench-tested seven, with dismaying results. “It’s surprising how many people put down on paper that they have X numbers of years of experience who can’t do a simple sizing or a simple setting without breaking a stone or burning something,” she says.

Specific job descriptions, weekly training and monthly goal-checking have The Diamond Center headed toward $2 million.


Doing Even Better at What You Do Best

hen Ray Lantz joined his family’s business 10 years ago, staff turnover at The Diamond Center in Claremont, CA, was a significant problem.

To solve that, Lantz, who had taken over hiring and staff supervision duties from his parents, crafted job descriptions to ensure that 80 out of 100 people can succeed in any given job rather than the exceptional one in 100. Training is consistent now and Lantz meets with each staff member each week and just listens. Then once a month, he meets with each to say, “Here are the numbers and here are the expectations.”

To get to that point, Lantz and his parents had to get honest about what their strengths were.

For many years they’d been right around $1 million; now they’re at $1.5 million and Lantz has $2 million in his sights. Despite the growth, he’s maintained staff size to a tight group of four (outside of the family).

“The difference was choosing the right people and having those people stick around long enough to develop mastery and comfort and cultivate their own clients, and not just have performance that is so reliant on my sales or my mom’s sales.”

In the past year, they’ve also been reviewing how sales associates interact with customers, both when the sale is made and when it isn’t. “We ask, what did we do that could have gone smoother? Using case-by-case scenarios when it’s fresh, we are able to uncover something we could have improved on.”

To get to $1 million, they worked on having a stable, consistent and better-trained team, committed to education on a regular basis and practiced buying discipline when it came to understanding stock and replacing fast sellers, rather than falling in love with things that won’t move.

He’s gotten better at delegating, too.

A Valentine’s postcard from The Diamond Center features $125 necklaces and $1,150 designer stacking rings.

“What makes a lot of entrepreneurs good at what they do is the ability to adapt and put on whatever hat needs to be worn right now. But mixing in some discipline when it comes to training or buying or having procedures and protocols in place makes it easier to delegate.”

Lantz didn’t reinvent the business model to grow it. “The volume of repairs and percentage of diamond sales have stayed roughly the same. We’re trying to take the things we’ve done well through the years and better articulate what we can do to reach more people in our community.”

Lantz, at 38, has transitioned the business to a new, younger customer base he’s cultivated through community involvement. “You can’t overestimate the importance of looking people in the eye, of listening and connecting.”

On the journey to his $2 million goal, he’s been working harder on having great events and on networking. “I’m a golf nut and I was able to join a local golf club; over time, just by being myself and getting to know people, it’s turned into a place where I do a ton of business. There is almost never a day at the golf club when I’m not talking about an anniversary gift or a service on a Rolex.”

They make house calls, too, probably once every six weeks.

“We’re in a super-busy downtown. Parking is challenging for us because our customers will say they drove around for 30 minutes, couldn’t find a spot and so went home. So we routinely offer to deliver locally; also we will meet people at the crosswalk outside and deliver it to their car.

“Customers are impressed by our willingness to deliver a repair. It might be a $50 repair, but you never know when they will tell someone who needs a $10,000 ring how great we are.”

Another goal this year is to develop more discipline with buying and creating a better spread of price points. That includes cultivating relationships with vendors who can provide upscale merchandise. “That $50,000 sale can make a big difference,” Lantz says. “Of course, it’s equally important to be able to have something stylish and compelling for $150.” To that end, a Valentine’s Day postcard this year showed items for $125, along with $3,000 stacking bands and Hearts on Fire diamond studs, priced from $900 to $22,500 and beyond. “I like to highlight entry-level items and mix in the other stuff, too,” Lantz says.

Lantz has worked with Rath and embraces this piece of advice from his business mentor: “Success is good things repeated daily and failure is small mistakes repeated daily. Some of us are good at what we do because we can do a lot of different things. Identifying what only we can do and helping other people take other things on is a key for any business’s growth.”


Working Smarter

hahraz Kassam of Shamin Jewellers in Burnaby, British Columbia, CO, says his business is more profitable now, at $1 million in revenues, than it was when he was bringing in more than $2 million.

Initially, to grow from half a million to $1 million, he expanded the store from 1,500 to 2,200 square feet and fine-tuned the product selection. When he opened three additional stores, revenues hit $2.2 million, but expenses grew by almost 500 percent. With a 4,500 square foot mega-store in a major mall, rent soared from $25,000 to $60,000 per month.

Now, he’s backtracked, concentrating on what he does best: bridal diamonds in a 1,000-square-foot store. Last year, he bought a space that he’s renovating. “This ensures our rental cost will be controlled, and we are also investing in ourselves by paying ourselves rent.

“In the end, the biggest lesson we learned is that being a $1 million store or a $5 million store doesn’t matter; it’s the bottom line that matters. As a $1 million store now, I earn more than when I was a $2.1 million operation, and I work less, making a happier me!”


Growth Tips: Where to Begin?

Where to begin if you’re feeling stuck or just starting out? Vince Rath of Optimum Retail Solutions advises clients to consider location first. “All other things being equal, if I have a better location, I’m probably going to do more volume,” Rath says. When searching for a location, consider visibility, access and traffic, be it pedestrian or vehicular. Placement within a shopping center makes a big difference, as does signage. Says Rath: “If signage is mixed in with all the rest of the signs, it doesn’t provide the kind of visibility required. Ideally, people can see you, they have easy access and there’s enough traffic passing by.”

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.



Wilkerson Testimonials

Texas Jeweler Knew He'd Get Only One Shot at a GOB Sale, So He Wanted to Make It Count

Most retailers only have one GOB sale in their lifetimes. This was the case for Gary Zoet, owner of Shannon Fine Jewelry in Houston, Texas. “Wilkerson has done thousands of these sales,” says Zoet. “I’ve never done one, so it’s logical to have somebody with experience do it.” The result exceeded Zoet’s expectations. Wilkerson took care of everything from marketing to paperwork. When it’s time for you to consider the same, shouldn’t you trust the experts in liquidation?

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Cover Stories

How to Know When It’s Time to Go



Author Seth Godin says strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations, while reactive quitting is the bane of those who strive and fail to get what they want. “And most people do just that, they quit when it’s painful and stick when they can’t be bothered to quit,” he writes in his book, The Dip.

In the case of retail jewelers, consultants say, some simply don’t have enough time to collect their thoughts, let alone devise a plan. Others may fear change.

If you’ve had enough, it may be time to call it quits and do something else. “Quitting is better than coping because quitting frees you up to excel at something else. All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy,” Godin writes.

Whether that something else turns out to be beach-combing in retirement, pursuing a hobby or reimagining a new way to do business, having a plan is a prerequisite to success. Jewelry store owners who do plan for the next phase of their lives express a strong sense of freedom, both before and after they activate that plan.

Consultant Bill Boyajian of Bill Boyajian & Associates has not run into any long-term jewelers who, deep down, don’t love what they do.

“That’s part of the problem,” he says. “They can’t envision what they will do if they leave their business. They haven’t had any free time to develop any hobbies. I encourage them to think about becoming a private jeweler, but being involved to a lesser extent.”

Josh Hayes, business analyst for Wilkerson, says retailers he’s worked with on retirement sales do want to stay involved with the industry. Many set up offices with a few display cases of sample lines and work by appointment. “It works out perfectly because you still have your customer lists from your store, so after your closing event, you can transition your old customers to your new endeavor. Then you have the flexibility to work as much as you choose.”

But even semi-retirement requires planning. According to David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy, 37 percent of jewelry store owners have no retirement plan at all; many just hope their exit works itself out. The key is to be in a position to retire — financially, physically, and mentally.

“Knowing that you can gives you answers,” Brown says. “Knowing that you can’t gives you stress.”
“Ask yourself, what options do I have: I can sell the business, close the business down, or I can groom the business so it runs without me, become an absentee owner and get a good income out of it,” Brown says.

On occasion, the millennial successor wants to speed up their parents’ exit, or in other ways would be an unpleasant or unsuitable business partner during a lengthy transition. In these cases, Boyajian advises the parents to liquidate most of their inventory in a sale to ensure they have money for retirement, and then simply let their kids take over the lease and the business and build up the inventory again.

Closing and retirement sales are regulated by law, and they can only be done once. Most of the store owners’ retirement income rests on the return from the sale event, so it’s incredibly important that the event is conducted properly. While Wilkerson can put together a closing event in about three weeks in an emergency situation, a year of planning will improve results, perhaps dramatically.

“Once the sale is complete, the new owner has lower inventory, minimal debt and can usually get some consignment inventory from vendors they know, and build up the store in the direction they intend to take it,” Hayes says.

Here are some examples of transition tales that show every indication they’ll be success stories.

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Cover Stories

The 19 Contrarian Rules of Business

Don’t promise excellent service? Run annoying ads? Business leaders insist these counterintuitive principles work.




TO MAKE A POINT about how our brains operate, the American neuroscientist Gregory Berns likes to encourage people to close their eyes and imagine the sun setting on a beach. If you just tried it, odds are the image that arose was the clichéd one — a warm tropical island scene, most likely framed by the frond of a coconut tree, awash in orange, as opposed to, say, a dark, wind-whipped pebble beach off the coast of northern Scotland.

The brain “is fundamentally a lazy piece of meat,” Berns writes in his book Iconoclast. It needs energy to operate and has evolved to use it as efficiently as possible. As a result, it defaults to shortcuts as it can — past experience, other people’s opinions, common practice — to avoid the taxing effort of perceiving or imagining afresh.

There are, of course, people who make it a habit to buck convention, who have a knack of seeing something no one else does. Berns refers to these disruptive original thinkers as “iconoclasts.” Generally, they are probably better known as contrarians. These are the brave and often odd souls whose questioning of the conventions of society or their professional field have repeatedly caused history to change course or leap forward.

In business, entrepreneurs are often contrarian by definition — they see value and opportunity where others do not. The contrarian investor Bill Gurley notes that “you can only make money by being right about something that most people think is wrong.”

The idea of being an independent spirit appeals to many. In a recent Brain Squad survey, 58 percent of our readers identified themselves as contrarians compared to 30 percent who said they were conformists and 12 percent who said they were neither. Of course, by definition, it’s not possible for the majority to be contrarian, even more so in a tradition-bound industry like jewelry. We suspect the result reflects most jewelers’ thoughts of themselves as independent operators charting their own destinies in a world where most of their fellow citizens opt for the security of more regular employment.

It is not easy being a true contrarian. There is the risk of ridicule, having to live with constant uncertainty. Being contrarian for the sake of contrarianism is pointless.

There is, unromantically, much to be said for doing things the timeworn “best practice” way. We thus begin our exploration of contrarianism with a caveat — doing something differently is exciting, possibly liberating, often far more lucrative than the conventional way … and often dangerous. Go charging away from the herd with care. Ultimately, you want to choose the ideas — new or old, intuitive or rational, bizarre or conventional — that serve you best.

The customer is not always right

1It’s actually irrelevant if a customer is right or wrong. This is, after all, a commercial transaction, not a debate. Just because a customer wants, needs, or expects something does not mean that delivering it is the best thing for your business. Indeed, “keeping certain customers happy can be a horribly inefficient and downright distracting way to run a business,” note Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman in an article in the Harvard Business Review. It’s also not much fun.

As a business owner, you need to make decisions that best apply your company’s capital, intellectual energy, and product capabilities. Rather than customer satisfaction, the ultimate goal should be running a sustainable business. Have a written, legally defensible terms of service statement, warranties, guarantees, and a simple process to determine which clients or customers deliver the strongest ROI and which are actually costing you money. In some cases, it’s better for long-term growth (not to mention store morale) to jettison a high-maintenance client and focus on improving the quality of your customer base.

Ignore terrific opportunities

2One of the dangers of business success is that it leads to more opportunities. Pursue them at your peril. In business, there is always a trade-off. Doing one thing well invariably means you can’t do another at a high level as you spread yourself too thin. The result is a damaging mediocrity.

In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less, Greg McKeown cites studies that show the loss of focus is a key reason companies fail. The antidote? Spurning good opportunities. “Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well,” he says. “Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.”

Don’t give your staff the resources they need to fix a problem

3Constraints breed resourcefulness. This is an idea that has been gaining influence in business circles for the last few years. “Is there something in the nature of constraints that brings out the best creativity?” writes Scott Berkun, the author of Mindfire: Big Ideas For Curious Minds. Consider a good haiku or sonnet, and the answer is obviously yes: it’s precisely the limits of the form that inspire new ways of working inside them. In the workplace, that means no more “blue sky” brainstorming: if you want the best answers to a question, focus it narrowly; consider a time limit, too. Google sometimes puts fewer engineers on a problem than it needs; it inspires ingenuity. Behind all this is the counterintuitive insight that discipline and structure are often the path to freedom, not its enemy. See constraints as a game. Not only are games about fun, but they are distinguished by the rules that govern them.

Forget trying to fix your weaknesses

4In a series of bestselling books, the Gallup consultant Marcus Buckingham has made a persuasive case for a strengths-based approach to life and business: it’s both more effective and more enjoyable, he argues, than struggling to fix your weak spots. According to Buckingham, most people try to “plug” their weaknesses, while the really successful focus on exploiting strengths. You’ll rarely improve a weakness beyond mediocrity, argues Buckingham, not least because it’s hard to invest sustained energy in something you don’t enjoy. If you truly know what you’re bad at, you’re already ahead of the pack. Don’t throw that away by wasting your time getting slightly less bad.

Don’t believe in long work

5Few things are as American as the belief in the merit of hard work. The problem is too many small business people confuse work and progress. A day when lots of things get done, when you arrive home exhausted after holding six meetings with staff and vendors, clearing 300 emails from your inbox, and finally straightening those old files in the backroom, sort of feels like a productive day, but it’s unlikely to have helped your business take the next step forward. Marketer Seth Godin calls this bias for efficiency over effectiveness “the trap of long work.”
“Long work is what the lawyer who bills 14 hours a day filling in forms does.
Hard work is what the insightful litigator does when she synthesizes four disparate ideas and comes up with an argument that wins the case—in less than five minutes.

“Hard work is frightening because you might fail. You can’t fail at long work, you merely show up.”

The management guru Peter Drucker suggested the best way to address this issue was by constantly asking yourself the question, “What’s the most important thing for me to be doing right now?”

Think small

6In his 1994 book Built To Last, Jim Collins introduced the world to Big Hairy Audacious Goals, or BHAGs, his term for the ambitious long-term goals that he argued galvanized successful companies. And it seems the term is rolled out in every discussion of good business practice. But the problem is that the excitement, energy, and envelope-pushing boldness stirred up by such endeavors often dissipates quickly in the face of the day-to-day running of business. Worse, such big-picture thinking, telling yourself something is epic and of crucial importance, often leads to fear, resistance and ultimately inertia and disappointment. As the psychologist John Eliot writes in his book Overachievement, “Nothing discourages the concentration necessary to perform well … more than worrying about the outcome.” The marathon runner who’s reached a state of “flow” isn’t visualizing the finish line, but looking through a narrower lens, focusing on one stride, then another, then another. Like the formula for contentment (happiness = reality – expectations), it’s often better to forget the end goal, aim low and just focus on the process if you really want to get things done. This can apply to everything from setting low targets for salespeople (spurred on by achieving the goal, they will often break through and hit a higher number) to big projects. The young Jerry Seinfeld’s scriptwriting technique involved marking an X on a calendar for every day he sat and typed. His goal was an unbroken chain of Xs. If he’d aimed instead to write masterful jokes, he’d have been distracted and intimidated.

Forget audacious. Just go do it.

Get rid of the rules

7Too often, managers assume the key to improvement must be clearer procedures, more exactingly enforced. But the result is organizational structures that permit zero autonomy — and extremely annoying customer service (“Sorry, sir, our policy doesn’t allow you to …”). Perhaps even worse is that such management fails to capitalize on the talents of those lower down the hierarchy. Zappos’ contrarian founder Tony Hsieh made headlines a few years back when he said he was rolling out “Management by Holacracy,” which eliminates the traditional oversight role of the manager and instead relies on the employees themselves to decide how to get their day-to-day responsibilities completed on the basis that they probably know best. That may be too much for most business owners, but according to Harvard Business School research, “loose monitoring” of employees makes for higher profits as well as happier workplaces. Striking the right balance between autonomy and control is very likely the essence of being a good manager.

Give away your time

8Overwhelmed by work? Feel you are in a constant race against the clock to get things done? Try making some time for others. “While it might seem counterintuitive to sacrifice some of the very thing you think you don’t have enough of, our research shows that giving a bit of time away may, in fact, make people feel less pressed for time,” Cassie Mogilner Holmes, an associate professor at UCLA and Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard told the Wall Street Journal. Another hack to deal with time scarcity — erase a day from your schedule. Busy? Don’t schedule anything for Fridays. The work you didn’t get done will flow over, and you’ll finally knock off those to-do list items.

Hire more introverts

9On the surface, introverts don’t seem to have the makings of great salespeople or even managers. Social interaction tires them, they have trouble with insincere flattery, they don’t like to push people, and they don’t tend to contribute vocally to meetings or brainstorming sessions. But there are positive flipsides to all this: introverts tend to demonstrate a higher degree of sensitivity in emotional interactions, they are more likely to be experts in their field, they are less likely to be yes-men or women, and as for managing people, they do better than extroverts when the staff itself is full of self-directed go-getters. “Although extroverted leadership enhances group performance when employees are passive, this effect reverses when employees are proactive, because extroverted leaders are less receptive to proactivity,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Be last to market

10Among business gurus, few things are as unquestioned as the notion that innovation is the path to success. “Innovate or die!” goes one mantra. Yet if innovation were a surefire way for companies to achieve dominance, the world might look very different. White Castle, RC Cola, and Diners Club were all innovators, but think of fast-food, soft drinks and credit cards, and those are unlikely to be the first names that come to mind. The upsides of unoriginality are clear: imitators let others make the costly mistakes, and then incorporate the lessons learned into a far better product. (Exhibit A: the iPhone.) In his book Copycats, the management theorist Oded Shenkar argues we need “to change the mindset that imitation is an embarrassing nuisance.” Rather, it’s a “rare and complex” capability, one we could all do with cultivating, he says. In his book Zero To One, Peter Thiel argues that “it’s much better to make the last great development in a specific market and enjoy years or even decades of monopoly profits.”

Run annoying ads … often

11There’s a reason that grating TV ads work: the more they grate, the more you’ll notice them, and noticing — thanks to what psychologists call the “mere exposure effect” — leads to liking.

Depressingly, whatever we’re repeatedly exposed to, and regardless of any other reason to like or dislike it, we’ll end up growing fond of. According to Roy H. Williams, author of The Wizard Of Ads, there’s actually no way for successful advertising to avoid being irritating to some degree. “Ads that twist our attention away from what we’d been doing are always a bit annoying,” he says. But if you fail to get your audience’s attention, your ad has failed at the first hurdle. “Consequently, most ads aren’t written to persuade; they’re written not to offend. But the kinds of ads that produce results make us answer yes to these three questions: Did it get my attention? Was it relevant? Did I believe it?” Williams claims 98.9 percent of all the customers who hate your ads will still come to your store and buy from you when they need what you sell. “These customers don’t cost you money; they just complain to the cashier as they’re handing over their cash.”

Stop holding meetings

12Jim Buckmaster, chief executive of Craigslist, has a simple policy: “No meetings, ever.” There are several reasons why meetings don’t work. They move, in the words of the career coach Dale Dauten, “at the pace of the slowest mind in the room,” so that “all but one participant will be bored, all but one mind underused.” A key purpose of meetings is information transfer, but they’re based on the assumption that people absorb information best by hearing it, when only a minority of us are “auditory learners.” The key question for distinguishing a worthwhile meeting from a worthless one is this: is it a “status-report” meeting, designed for employees to tell each other things? If so, it’s probably better handled on email or paper. That leaves a minority of “good” meetings, whose value lies in the meeting of minds itself — for example, a well-run brainstorming session.

Drop some F-bombs

13The jewelry world is one of refinement, education and professionalism, not the place for profanity. Yet swearing, when done judiciously, according to various psychologists, boosts endorphins, promotes social bonding and makes people more persuasive. Periodically, let your staff and customers know you’re human.

Stop asking, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”

14Hiring employees who will challenge management is another staple of business advice, but everyone has probably worked with “yes, but” employees who basically oppose every new idea and approach. To find true contrarians, Thiel in his book Zero To One recommends asking the following question when interviewing employees: “Tell me something that’s true that nobody believes in.” (God, global warming and aliens don’t cut it.)

Don’t ask for the sale

15The traditional approach to selling says tout the benefits, close throughout, close with an assumption and then push for the add-on followed by another. You’re just efficiently taking the customer in a direction she wanted to go anyway. In contrast, the “slow sales” movement, which has been gaining ground for a few years, argues that there are intelligent, deliberate customers who prefer an almost “do-it-your self” zero-pressure environment. Granted, getting them to the cash register may take longer. But according to INC magazine, this technique alleviates the extra costs of post-purchase dissonance from returns, customer service time, negative feedback, and customer churn.

Look for mentors and staff who do it the “wrong way”

16Tim Ferriss has an interesting approach to considering contrarians: Be on the lookout for the anomalies, like the wispy girl who can deadlift 405 pounds. They’re performing with techniques rather than genes. “These iconoclasts show the differences in techniques and attributes,” he says. “If someone has become really good at doing something in a very nonstandard way, you can infer that the standard path isn’t necessarily the best methodology for learning a skill.”

Don’t promise excellent customer service

17Ask independent jewelers what is their point of competitive advantage and they’ll overwhelmingly say excellent customer service. But, something big corporations know (but never publicly say) is that delivering excellent customer service ultimately results in unhappy customers. Thus the field of “expectations management.” “If you want satisfied customers, it’s certainly wise to act in ways that will satisfy them. But it’s also wise to pay attention to (and, if possible, influence) their criteria for feeling satisfied,” writes Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian. Training customers, employees, and partners not to expect a “yes” in response to every single request might be crucial for preserving sanity. Far better to have a reputation as a jeweler who, for example, turns around a repair within three days than one who does it overnight — because in the latter case, as soon as you fail to deliver on that tight deadline, you’ll be seen as underperforming.

Ask customers for favors

18The “Ben Franklin effect” states that if you want to get someone to like you, you should ask him or her to do you a favor. The strategy, named for the founding father’s habit of borrowing books from opposing politicians to win them over, works because humans hate cognitive dissonance: we can’t stand a mismatch between our actions and thoughts. So if we find ourselves helping someone out, we’ll unconsciously adjust our feelings for them. The implications are striking. Don’t suck up to your customers — ask for favors or even just their opinions (“Where do you think the economy is headed?”).

Don’t be so professional

19We live in an era with more opportunity than ever to burnish the image we’re projecting, and more pressure than ever to do so. But in her new book, Cringeworthy: A Theory Of Awkwardness, Melissa Dahl makes a persuasive case for celebrating those times when “someone’s presentation of themselves … is shown to be incompatible with reality in a way that can’t be smoothed over.” Awkwardness pierces that facade, exposing the imperfect life behind it. Quoting the words of the philosopher Adam Kotsko, she says it creates “a weird kind of social bond” — a solidarity arising from seeing that behind the fakery, we’re all just trying our best to seem competent. The awkward you, then, is the real you, the one without the defensive performance. And people will like you for it.

Click here for 8 more Contrarian Rules, as well as the exclusive online article, “12 Contrarian Rules of Jewelry Retail.”

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Cover Stories

Next Generation Owners See Opportunity in Bozeman



When Jennifer Hornik Johnson was working in advertising in Atlanta, she might have had a hard time envisioning how she’d end up owning a jewelry store in Bozeman, MT. Born into a South Florida jewelry store family, Hornik decided to return there to work with her family, who sent her to the GIA to pursue a GG degree. While at the GIA, she met Cec Johnson, a former math teacher, who had also decided to work in his family business, Miller’s Jewelry of Bozeman, MT.

“It ended up being a marriage and a merger,” Jennifer says. For a while they commuted betweenSouth Florida and Montana, assuming a snowbird kind of schedule and working in both stores. But when their first baby came along, they realized they needed more stability and chose to settle down in Bozeman. Now they have two young children.

When Cec’s parents, Mark and Kay, turned 65 last year, it seemed like a natural time for them to transition into retirement. So on Jan. 1, Cec and Jennifer became the proud new owners of Miller’s Jewelry.

Miller’s Jewelry has been in the Johnson family for three decades, but it was established in 1882 — a year before Bozeman was incorporated — and had been owned by several local families before the Johnsons. The business has occupied one of the oldest buildings on Main Street for more than 70 years and is outfitted with wall cases built in the 1880s and safes from the turn of the 20th century. It’s a piece of history and a stop on city tours.

Cec and Jennifer Johnson are the new owners of his family’s store in Montana.

Cec and Jennifer see a lot of room for growth in Bozeman, which is both college town and tourist destination.

“We’re really excited about this chapter,” Jennifer says. “We knew what we were getting into. I do all the accounting and marketing; he does the inventory and he will have to take over more of the lab, which was his father’s domain. His mom was head of the sales floor, so we’re going to be doing more of that. We both did buying and inventory and merchandising and HR; we wear all the hats. It’s just going to be even more.”
Cec has two sisters who are not in the industry, so buying the business worked out best for their situation. “We did a big retirement sale and that was a way to touch more people and convey the message of the passing of the baton. And also sell a lot of inventory to lower our buy price and clean up older inventory.”

The new owners plan to ease out of the giftware business entirely to concentrate on fine jewelry. 

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