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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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What To Do With That Sales Person Who Bombed Over Christmas, The Secret To Generating Terrific New Ideas and More of Your Questions Answered

Plus, what’s a fair repair warranty.

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After reviewing my sales team’s performance over the holidays, I found I have one who underperformed. She’s a lovely person and tries to implement the training we give her, but her numbers just don’t improve. Do we just persist with training?

It sounds like she has the right attitude and work ethic to succeed, just not in sales. Almost anyone can learn how to describe a product’s features (the knowledge), they can even learn how to ask the right open-ended questions to elicit a customer’s exact needs (a skill), but they’ll never learn how to push that prospect to get excited about jewelry and to commit at exactly the right moment. That is a talent some people just seem to be born with, says Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the play-to-people’s strengths school of business management. “In the minds of great managers, consistent poor performance is not primarily a matter of weakness, stupidity, disobedience, or disrespect. It is a matter of miscasting,” he says. You’ll be doing both your store and this woman a possibly life-changing service by forcing her to apply her talents and strengths in some other field.

Any thoughts on how to breathe some fresh air into our business? We need to shake things up.

Every good idea requires not only a fresh catalyst, but also a new way of looking at things. In the words of design consultant Tom Kelley, you want to achieve “the sense of seeing something for the first time, even if you have actually witnessed it many times before.” That explains the success of asking new employees (about a month after they’ve been added to payroll) what changes they would make to the way your store is managed. Constraints, such as radically slashing a budget for a certain department, are another well-proven way of generating new ideas and inspiring creativity. Reconsidering an issue in a different physical context seems to help, as does picking some specific type of person — a doctor, an astronaut or a historical figure — and imagining what they’d do in your situation. The key is to shift perspective as randomly as possible.

What is an acceptable warranty on a customer’s repair?

A one-year warranty on repairs from defect is the norm, according to Blaine Lewis, a master diamond setter and metalsmith. “For example, to replace a Tiffany head in four or six prongs, your store would guarantee the setting and the stone for replacement up to one year from service if, with normal wear, a problem occurs. The warranty should state that the guarantee is not applicable if abuse beyond normal wear is at fault.” Lewis says to make sure your repair prices are high enough to let you provide a strong guarantee, which can give you a competitive edge. Keep in mind that while you do offer a strong warranty, you’ll find that you seldom have to honor it (and maybe never if you’re really, really good).

Should I encourage my sales staff to use mimicry to build rapport with customers? It seems too obvious and manipulative.

If you’re worried about getting caught, take comfort in studies that show that most shoppers are actually really bad at noticing it. In his book Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World, Alex Pentland cites research showing subjects identified mirroring of their words and body movements only about 10 percent of the time and mostly only when it was a really unusual gesture. The students also liked the mimicking agent more than a neutral one, and rated him or her as being friendlier as well as more interesting, honest, and persuasive. Just adding mimicry, the research found, made a sales pitch 20 percent more effective. We humans like people who are like us, and whether it’s social background or word choice, emphasizing this similarity improves social relations. Besides, if your salespeople are paying such close attention to everything a customer is saying, they may just discover exactly what it is that customer is after and provide excellent service, which can’t be a bad thing.

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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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