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If I Owned A Jewelry Store: Michael Abrashoff

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If I Owned A Jewelry Store: Michael Abrashoff

Former U.S. Navy commander and best-selling author describes strategies for making your team the best in its market.

BY THE INDESIGN TEAM

Published in the January/February 2013 issue

If I owned a jewelry store, I’d ask myself this question: How do I create an environment that acknowledges that customers are there for a happy occasion and an emotional experience? How do I make sure that I have salespeople who share in the customer’s joy and have the passion to help clients celebrate their commitment?

The worst thing in the world is to have salespeople who are only looking to fulfill a transaction. If it’s just a transaction, you may get one purchase but miss the next ten. If it’s an experience the customer remembers forever, you’ll get the next 10 purchases and recommendations for friends to purchase from you.

In order to explain how you develop that kind of sales team, let me tell you a story. At the age of 36, I became the most junior commanding officer in the Pacific Fleet when I was selected as the commander of USS Benfold. It was a brand new ship and cost taxpayers over a billion dollars to build. By all rights, it should have been one of the best performers in the Pacific Fleet, but it wasn’t. My predecessor had tried to do everything himself instead of engaging his people to have a sense of ownership and accountability.

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My first order of business, then, was to change the culture of the ship. When I arrived, if sailors saw me coming on the ship, most would turn the other way so they didn’t have to pass me, or if they did pass me, they would look down. I finally told them, “If you ever see someone walking on this ship, walk up to them, shake their hand, and say, ‘Welcome to the best damn ship in the Navy.’” We wanted people to have a top-notch experience when they came on our ship and to create an emotional attachment to us.

Within 18 months, personnel turnover decreased to an unprecedented one percent. The rate of military promotions tripled, and operating expenses were slashed by 25 percent. USS Benfold became regarded as the finest ship in the Pacific Fleet, winning the prestigious Spokane Trophy for having the highest degree of combat readiness.

How did we turn around the culture so quickly? By listening to the crew, I found out they weren’t being promoted at the same rate as their friends on other ships. Nobody cared about their training and helping them accomplish their goals. We revamped our training systems to give them a fighting chance to pass those exams and earn their own promotions. When they saw that we were more interested in helping them advance in their goals, they wanted to do well for us.

The quarter before I took command, only 8 percent of sailors who were up for reenlistment reenlisted. By the time I left, our retention rate was 99 percent. In the Navy or in jewelry retailing, it’s critical to keep the people you’ve paid to train.

The key to improving retention, like the key to building a strong company culture, is showing your people that you care about their future. Nine months before each sailor was eligible to leave the Navy, I interviewed them and asked if there was anything I could do to help them decide to make the Navy a career. By talking to them so far in advance, I got them thinking about what their goals were and how the Navy and I could help them achieve those goals. It was a simple strategy that paid huge dividends; the cumulative effect on our performance was astounding.

So how does all of this translate to jewelry retailing? Well, if you’re a retailer, ask yourself, how did you want to be treated when you first went to work in the jewelry industry? What would you have liked to see done differently? As a commanding officer, I got to know our sailors’ spouses’ names, their kids’ names, their favorite sports teams, everything about their personal stories that I could. It didn’t cost the taxpayers any more money for me to do that. I was a constant presence on the ship, catching our sailors doing something great and giving them recognition for going the extra mile. People respond to that. It did require more time from me out of the work day, but the rewards were overwhelming.

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As a jewelry store owner, you can’t be successful if you’re turning over personnel. You can’t generate profits when that young couple walks through the door and meets a salesperson who doesn’t listen to them and is only eager to take their money. Yes, it is about results. But the way you get there is employee engagement.

Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Michael Abrashoff is a leadership speaker, best-selling author, and co-founder of the consulting firm GLS Worldwide. Abrashoff’s books include It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques From the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, It’s Our Ship: The No-Nonsense Guide to Leadership, and Get Your Ship Together: How Great Leaders Inspire Ownership from the Keel. He will be a keynote speaker at this year’s Centurion Show in Scottsdale, AZ. For more on hiring Abrashoff or his firm, visit www.glsworld.com.

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