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INSTORE Design Awards 2018 – Cindy Edelstein Emerging Designer Award

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TAP by Todd Pownell

Todd Pownell first debuted the Cleveland-based jewelry collection he created with his wife, Debra Rosen, to the industry-at-large at the JA Show in 2014. Jewelryphiles were buzzing about the asymmetrical power and richness of the line, and it was no surprise to anyone when Cindy Edelstein presented him with the Mort Abelson New Designer of the Year Award.

It seems appropriate, then, that four years later, TAP by Todd Pownell has earned INSTORE’s award that honors the former curator of JA’s New Designer Gallery.

“We both have educations and backgrounds in jewelry that were very different, but have been very complimentary in creating our aesthetic,” says Rosen. “Romanticism primarily inspires our designs. We combine themes of order, chaos, light, dark, dusk, night and the vastness of landscape. The poetic unexpected juxtapositions of gems in settings and texture are all signature of our pieces.”

What’s next for Cleveland’s dynamic design duo? “We are currently exploring a series of oscillating fine line drawings in gold with diamonds in unique settings,” says Rosen. “So, you can expect the unexpected from us at TAP by Todd Pownell!”

 

14K white gold earrings backed with 18K yellow gold, pin set with black diamonds (11.60 TCW) that have had the crowns sawed off and bezel set white diamonds (0.45 TCW)

$13,580

 

Bracelet with a hammered 18K yellow gold layer over oxidized silver with the fissure set with scattered inverted diamonds (approx. 3.00-3.25 TCW)

$10,780

 

 

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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The Future Is Female

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Yes, women do buy jewelry for themselves. It seems like the most natural of assumptions, and there’s plenty of data to back it up. And yet, in some respects, the jewelry industry has been slow to recognize that behavior, even as statistics reveal just how much decision-making power (and cash) women have when it comes to discretionary spending on luxury items.

In fact, Andrea Hill of Hill Management Group says jewelry is the last luxury product still targeted to men. “The industry has built an entire paradigm around the engagement ring, 4Cs and selling by certificate,” she says. And that can be alienating to women, who are attracted to ideas and relationships, dialogue and stories.

“Let’s stop stereotyping,” Hill says. “No more breathless ‘She said YES!’ advertising, unless you are only selling engagement rings and only to men.”

The industry is taking notice. A year ago, the Diamond Producers Association announced the third wave of the Real is Rare, Real is a Diamond campaign. Titled “For Me, From Me,” the campaign is inspired by the natural diamond industry’s strongest growth engine, women self-purchase, a $43 billion market that grew by 4 percent in 2017, according to De Beers Group data.

Viviana Langhoff says the idea that jewelry needs to be tied to romance is outdated.

Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts devised the educational component of For Me, From Me. “The relevance to retailers is that more than 30 percent of diamond jewelry is being sold to women buying for themselves,” she says. “A lot of stores are not capitalizing on that. Most people have been blissfully unaware of how much business they are missing, not in percentages, but in raw dollars. And we’re not losing it to other jewelry stores. We are giving it away to other industries.”

In fact, says Stephanie Holland, founder of She-conomy, women control more than $20 trillion in worldwide spending and $7 trillion in the U.S. alone. Women will control two-thirds of consumer wealth in the U.S. over the next decade. A total of 81 percent of jewelry is purchased in some fashion by women, either on their own or in cooperation with a partner.

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Harold Dupuy of Stuller, who spoke during an American Gem Society Conclave session in 2019 on “Jewelry Industry Insights,” said that the average sales ticket in that self-purchase diamond jewelry category is $1,300. Generally, women buy on impulse or for a personal milestone, but nearly half buy fine diamond jewelry with no specific occasion in mind.
“Women today are not shy to buy things for themselves, and many women are not with someone and they still want to buy beautiful expensive jewelry,” says Maddy Rovinsky, co-owner of Bernie Robbins Jewelers, which has five locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. “There is no limit today. We have sold women six figures worth of jewelry. No woman should be underestimated, and they have a right to see the best of what we have.”

At Adornment & Theory in Chicago, women encourage one another to mark special occasions with gifts to themselves.

In another significant development, Jewelers of America is working with the jewelry industry as a whole to grab the interest of affluent young women and focus it on fashionable, fine jewelry. The goal is to launch a generic advertising campaign called “Another Piece of Your Story” to generate consumer awareness that would be on the level of the “Got Milk” ad campaign. JA has assembled a Consumer Marketing Committee to raise funds to support a multi-year, national campaign.

Why, then, are many retailers behind the curve? “I think there are two reasons,” Hill says. “The first is that our industry ‘personality’ is not particularly self-reflective. We don’t always recognize when we need to improve and change until very late in any given cycle. The second reason is that the industry still has a gender imbalance in both leadership and store ownership/management. It’s definitely improving, but we’re not there yet.

“We (humans in general) tend to approach the world through our own lens. So the preponderance of men in leadership and ownership positions reinforced merchandising and marketing in ways that work for men.”

That balance is shifting in some corners. At Adornment & Theory in Chicago, a business focused on millennials, about 85 percent of customers are women. “Our sales staff tries to readjust their values and tell them to ‘buy your own damn ring,’” says owner Viviana Langhoff.

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 ”If you like it, buy it, rather than thinking out loud, ‘I’ll get this ring one day if someone comes along,’” Langhoff says. “Be your own hero. We have women who come in when they get job promotions. We serve them drinks, high-five them and wrap their present to themselves as a gift. You hit a goal, and you should be celebrated. The idea that jewelry needs to be tied to romance is outdated.”

Peterson says one quick fix to sales strategy that could make a big difference in the bottom line is to rethink the approach to the tried and true wish-list concept. If a customer comes in to pick up a repair, peeks in a case and spots a diamond bracelet that she likes, the salesperson is likely to approach her not to close the sale, but to “make sure we get that on your wish list,” assuming she does not have the discretionary funds to buy it for herself. “And in most cases, that wish list goes nowhere,” Peterson says. “Then that customer might drive down the street and spend $1,200 on a Coach handbag. Instead of trying to close that sale, we fall back on the way people have traditionally behaved.”

Jewelers have been in the gift business, says Peterson, which has always been about selling to men who are buying for women. “So what we consider to be good service ends up costing us money. If that had been a man who stopped at the case, the salesperson would have tried to close the sale. And once we, as sales trainers, point that out, the light bulbs go on.”
Use your wish list after you have done everything you know to close the deal, Peterson says. And when you follow up on that wish list, follow up with her. Don’t assume someone else is going to buy that bracelet for her.

Cathy Calhoun says women are drawn to interesting displays such as this 1920s beaded purse and a silver antique curling iron.

Another assumption to avoid is that women don’t like discussing price with their guys when it comes to engagement rings. “When I see retailers addressing the man during the price discussion, I absolutely cringe,” says Hill, “because nine times out of 10, the woman is getting offended.”

If the man isn’t planning the proposal as a secret, encourage the couple to shop together. “They will both be much happier with the result,” Hill says. “Women are much more adventurous about design. A man is going to go for the safest thing he can find. She is looking to express her style.

“Ask what matters to her. Ask enough questions and you may be able to communicate value to her.”

One way to communicate value to women is to put jewelry in context. “The past few years, everyone is talking about how important stories are in selling and marketing jewelry. And it’s true. But it’s true mostly for women,” Hill says. “Men are less interested in the stories around things — they tend to fixate on the details and specific personal benefits. But women respond to stories. They also respond to connecting the thing you want them to buy to the things that are important to their lives and happiness.”

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For example, Subaru does a great job of grabbing women with contextual advertising. “They don’t even show the inside of the car,” Hill says. “They tell stories about how your dog might finally like your boyfriend if you take them both camping in your Subaru. They tell stories around family vacations and taking children to band practice. The context around jewelry is about life, love, fashion or personal accomplishment.”

Market researcher Pamela Danziger, who specializes in affluent shoppers, says that for retailers hoping to increase their market share among women, it helps to recognize that a woman is primarily shopping for fashion, while a man shopping for a woman looks at jewelry in a different light, as an heirloom or a symbol of his love. “Jewelry stores have favored the male approach to buying jewelry,” she says. “Having more women in management positions will translate their influence into operations to recognize that women are an important market.”

Danziger points to an Ad Age study that indicates only 13 percent of young, HENRY (High Earners Not Yet Rich) women say they are influenced by their partner when purchasing jewelry, while 63 percent are influenced primarily by themselves. That’s not far off from clothing, a category in which only 9 percent of women are influenced by a significant other.

Women buying their own jewelry is not news to Cathy Calhoun, founder of Calhoun Jewelers in Royersford, PA, who opened a second location in Carmel, CA, in 2019. Selling to women is all about attitude and mindset, she says. ”My business has always been about women buying for themselves, and I think it’s because I would never think of asking someone, a man, if I could buy anything. It would never occur to me. So, when I sell to women for themselves, I just assume they wouldn’t have to ask someone. And I rarely have anyone say anymore, ‘I have to ask my husband.’”
Calhoun has established the Carat Club for women who spend a certain amount of money in a year. She invites them to join her on a trip with a surprise location — diamond mining in Arkansas, gem hunting in Tucson, or private dance lessons in New York City with a Dancing With The Stars instructor.

Entrepreneurs who approach jewelry sales from a fashion perspective and create comfortable shopping environments don’t need to reinvent the wheel to sell to women. Sisters Rachel Lane Pfeiffer and Jessica Tate, who opened Lane & Kate in Cincinnati, had focused on costume jewelry at first, but were convinced they needed to add fine jewelry when they fell in love with the delicate 18K gold and diamond creations of jewelry designer Megan Thorne. Fine or fashion, a lot of their jewelry is everyday wear, and layering is a priority as women collect more pieces and build their jewelry wardrobes.

Rachel Lane Pfeiffer and Jessica Tate own Lane & Kate in Cincinnati, a store with a feminine presence.

“We have an all-female staff, which was not intentional, but women know what women want,” Pfeiffer says. “Our space is open with a very small footprint and we have lots of products — sterling silver and gold-filled — for people to try on. We have full-length mirrors throughout the whole store. Usually girls come in to try on the pieces together; they shop with friends. We have a strong sisterhood vibe. The majority of our designers are independent women designers, and I think our customer base takes notice.”

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The store itself exudes femininity. “Every part of it is light and delicate, but also minimalist. It’s easy to scan the store to see what’s there.” Adding to the experience is that they share space with a florist who has a DIY flower bar. Shoppers can stop in and create their own bouquets; it’s an inexpensive way to become introduced to the store. They’ve even offered hair-braiding in the store. “The reason we get guys in here at all is their girls tell them to come here,” Pfeiffer says.

When they sell engagement rings, women are always involved to one degree or another. “Sometimes women come in first; sometimes couples design the rings from start to finish; other times, she comes in first and then steps back to retain an element of surprise. Or sometimes she just tells him she likes the store.” In that situation, Lane & Kate personnel use all of their social-media resources and detective skills to determine what she would like.

Jennifer Farnes of Revolution Jewelry Works in Colorado Springs, CO, says women are a mainstay of her custom business.

“We’re finding out that a lot of women, once they figure out who they are, don’t want to leave it to their husbands to pick out their jewelry anymore,” she says. “A lot of women in their 40s and 50s are coming in with gifts they’ve received over the years, saying ‘He bought me all of this jewelry and I don’t like any of it.’ But it’s sentimental to them; they don’t want to get rid of it. They just want to remake it into their style.”

In Farnes’ market, when women come in with a budget in mind, they don’t want to be upsold. “They want a plan, they want to know what it’s going to cost, and the upsell will make you lose the sale,” Farnes says. “The most important part is just to listen. I really think when they are coming in to spend the money, it’s important to just slow down and listen to them.” It’s working for Farnes, who closed 2019 with 27 percent growth, a completely renovated and expanded location and plans to launch her own bridal line.

Karen Hollis, who owns K. Hollis Jewelers in Batavia, IL, a suburb of Chicago, has a personal selling style best described as catalyst. She creates communities among her customers. “I like to fix people up to hang out together,” she says.

“My goal when we opened was to make three new friends a day, and I do. And I network like a crazy person, so I have all these women coming to me for their custom work. I have a notebook that says ‘fun people,’ and it’s full of people to invite to events. A lot of clients are divorced women trading in their wedding rings, so I have a whole single ladies page and a whole widowed ladies page.”

Jennifer Farnes, third from left, celebrates the opening of her expanded store in Colorado Springs, CO.

Establishing authentic relationships with her clients is key. ”The self-purchasing woman isn’t going to come into a place she doesn’t feel comfortable and buy a $2,000 necklace,” Hollis says. “Our bar is a comfortable place to hang out. One lady comes here five days a week. She has more jewelry than our entire staff put together. She’ll come in, have a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, and look around.”

Hollis is adept at building excitement over new inventory. She’ll ask a customer to close her eyes and, when she opens them, she’ll be wearing a necklace she may not have chosen herself, but which she invariably loves. “It’s sometimes about getting women out of their comfort zone. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘If you’re not sure, maybe you should go home and think about it overnight because if you go home and can’t stop thinking about it, you’ll know it’s right.’ Usually they come back. I’m giving them permission to buy it. I’ll say, ‘Just try this on for giggles,’ even if they’re waiting for a watch battery.

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10 TIPS TO MORE SELF-PURCHASE SALES

Mirrors work magic. “Sales associates are used to looking at a piece of jewelry on a woman and saying how beautiful it looks on her,” says Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts. “But if you’re selling to a woman by herself, ask her how she thinks it looks. It’s a validation of her opinion. Also, most women, when we put a ring on our finger, the first thing we’ll say is, ‘Oh, my nails look terrible’ or ‘What a wrinkly hand!’ But when we look at it in a mirror, we’re likely to see what other people see and are less likely to be critical of ourselves.”

Target your events toward women. Bernie Robbins Jewelers hosted an engagement party in November for bridal gown designer and pop-culture celeb Hayley Paige, who also debuted a collection of designer jewelry for Hearts on Fire. Paige was on site to talk about her jewelry and forge a connection with shoppers. “We sold several of her rings that day to self-purchasers,” says owner Maddie Rovinsky.

Let them buy online. “Show every product and its price and enable them to put it in a shopping cart and buy it,” Hill says. “Over 90 percent will come to your store anyway, but they are turned off by websites that don’t allow immediate gratification.”

Let them play. Find a safe way to let customers interact with merchandise, such as rings on display attached to cables. “Remember that part of what you’re doing is getting the customer engaged,” Hill says. “They need to be able to touch some of the jewelry as they move through the store. Weigh the cost benefit of losing a couple pieces of lower cost jewelry against the benefit of keeping women in the store and making them more likely to buy something.”

Step out from behind the counter. “Make sure you’re not just the expert standing behind the scenes, doling out the pieces and information,” says Kathleen Cutler of Kathleen Cutler Strategy. “Women want to touch the jewelry, look in the mirror, think about where they would wear it. Ask them about their current collection. If they’ve bought from you before, what did they buy?”

Go to them. “Find out where millennial women are spending their time and show up there,” Cutler says. How? Collaborate with a high-end clothing boutique in town to offer jewelry makeover events. Or schedule such events in your store.

Wear the jewelry. Says Art Russakoff of Russakoff Jewelers, Skowhegan, ME: “In our store, our female staff members offer a more relaxed and less technical, but still knowledgeable sales approach. Self-purchasers love it when they see us wearing our own merchandise and can see that it will look great on them, too.”

Focus marketing on life stages. Stephanie Holland, founder of She-conomy, says it’s important that women see themselves in ads. “Don’t think about ages, think about life stages. A 40-year-old woman could have a toddler or a college kid, or could be single or not have children. Understand her needs.”

Use video on Instagram. ”It’s much more exciting to have somebody in the store pick up a piece of jewelry and talk about what they love about it,” says Hill. “Stories sell, they always have, they always will.”

Demonstrate versatility. Every woman needs wearable pieces that will take her from morning yoga to a client dinner, says the Platinum Guild. Showcase the versatility of pieces, how they can be worn in various ways for transcending looks. Easy examples? Stacking bracelets and lengthening necklaces will allow her to adapt to the many roles and occasions she will encounter on an average day.

Julie Romanenko, center, makes friends at a trunk show at The Jewel.

Hill suggests retailers watch and emulate their favorite jewelry designers interacting with customers at trunk shows. For example, designer Julie Romanenko of Just Jules does whatever she can to get the jewelry on the shopper. “Observe the pieces she reaches for,” Romanenko says. “I find that we sell really well what we love. So selling women’s jewelry to other women should be easier than trying to explain to a man why a certain piece just works. A woman will get it. If she tries it on, she has already connected with it. It is then a much easier sale. ”

Maddy Rovinsky says sales associates spend time with women who pre-shop engagement rings at Bernie Robbins stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. “They may very timidly say they are just looking to tell their boyfriend, but we treat that as a purchasing event. We answer their questions, make a list of potential styles they like and show them what kind of wedding band they can wear with that, things they wouldn’t have considered if they had sent in their significant other with a picture, like how the ring sits on their finger. By the end, there is a relationship that has developed.”

Karen Hollis, center, brings clients together at K. Hollis Jewelers.

Ellen Hertz, who created Max’s Jewelry in Minneapolis and also sells tempting, high-quality chocolate, says 95 percent of her customers from day one have been women buying for themselves.
“A lot of it has to do with the product mix in the store,” she says. “In terms of style, the jewelry industry has been lagging in recognizing how women want to dress and accessorize and instead, keep filling up the store with diamonds. I like diamonds, but that doesn’t mean you can just sell diamonds. In the world of the jewelry that we sell, which is made by artisans, people have a story to tell, and we can relay that story because we’ve met the designers.”

Hertz says those stories resonate with women now more than ever.

“We’re at a point in time where women are being extremely vocal about who they are, what they want, how they want to be represented, how they talk about and think about themselves. People want to scream out and say, ‘This is what I’m feeling!’ Jewelry helps you tell your story to the world.”

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Women Rule

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When Cathy Calhoun, “the queen” of the retail jewelry industry, declares that women are taking over the world, you might want to take note. Calhoun is the owner of the bi-coastal Calhoun Jewelers, president of the American Gem Society from 2010-2012 and the 2017 recipient of the Robert M. Shipley Award.

I Cathy Calhoun hosts her friend, Libby Good, during a beer tasting at the bar in her Royersford, PA, store. On tap? Yuengling’s Hershey Chocolate beer.

“When I first got into the business, I remember going to a jewelry show. The suppliers were all men at the time, and they wouldn’t even look at me,” Calhoun recalls. “They didn’t feel I was worthwhile to talk to. Sometimes, even today, if I take a manager to a show, they will direct the conversation to the man. I always have to laugh. It was such an old boys’ club for so long.”

Women bring to the industry a natural affinity for trends, fashion and detail, as well as a seemingly innate ability to multitask, Calhoun says. ”Women are taking over the world, not just the jewelry industry,” she says.

Still, there are signs that remnants of that old boys’ club lingers. A 2018 Women’s Jewelry Association Gender Equality survey, in which more than 90 percent of respondents were female, found that 30 percent of jewelry retail employees say they have been deprived of equal opportunities for advancement, 38 percent say they have been affected by pay disparity and 50 percent have witnessed discrimination or harassment in the workplace. As a response to the survey, the WJA in November debuted a new benefit for members called Negotiable. The learning program offers a collection of resources — videos, assessments, worksheets, and more — which can help its members build their ability to negotiate a promotion, a better vendor contract, or higher sales.

On the other hand, women’s leadership in jewelry companies and organizations such as AGS, as well as a burgeoning population of female jewelry designers, have had an inevitable, incremental impact on gender equality in the industry overall. And anecdotally, at the retail level, female store owners are taking the lead on selling directly to women, who represent a significant area of revenue growth.
Millennial Chae Carter is a case in point. Carter began working with her mom at Carter’s Jewelry when she was only 20 years old; not long after, she took over the business and began daydreaming about her ideal store. She began living her dream in Petal, MS, two years ago. “I dreamed of this store and I designed the whole thing,” she says. “It’s pretty, shiny and bright.”

Her new destination store hit the $4 million mark last year in a town of 10,000. Fans of her social media are driving four to six hours to visit her, and customers have left 467 Google reviews with an average 5-star rating. “They say they don’t know of anything else like this,” Carter says.

Carter’s sales staff is all female. She encourages an entrepreneurial attitude. “We do a lot of training. I like to promote women’s empowerment. I ask, what do you want to accomplish? We lift each other up.”

I For Chae Carter, second from right, every day is a celebration of female empowerment at Carter’s Jewelry of Petal, MS. Many customers stop by every week to join in the celebration.

One of her challenges is keeping the inventory and the store’s appearance fresh because many of her female customers stop in every week. “As women, we like to shop when we’re sad, happy; we’re emotional shoppers. So we’re like therapist jewelers: Come sit down, let’s gossip. We know everything about them when they leave.”

“Even when men shop for a woman, it makes sense to shop with a female sales associate,” she adds. “Because what we want as women is to have our guy come home with exactly what we want and blow our minds.”

One way Carter and her female associates make sure it’s the right thing for the woman who will be wearing it is by encouraging men to think in terms of storytelling. “If you have three kids, we’ll suggest looking at three-stone pieces and then tell her, this made me think of you and our children. It’s harder for men to show emotion and talk about that stuff, but we’ll force it out of them.”
Consultant Andrea Hill of Hill Management Co. says leaders, no matter their gender, are as individual as snowflakes, but studies of the ways men and women lead do reveal some clear differences. “Men tend to be slightly more willing to take risks, and women tend to be better at working out win/win solutions. So, how is the jewelry industry changing as women gain more control in management? I think it is becoming more balanced — both in how we manage and how we serve the customers. And this is a good thing.”

Some women say this balance of power has been a hard-fought achievement.

When jewelry designer Viviana Langhoff launched her career in the jewelry retail business 12 years ago, she would send her husband with a post-it note to do business with her manufacturers. He not only got more respect, but he got a better deal, she says, even though he had only a vague notion of what he was requesting.

But Langhoff, who owns a store in Chicago, says as more women become actively involved in the U.S. jewelry industry, the tide is turning, in large part because women are supporting one another. Her involvement in the Chicago chapter of the Women’s Jewelry Association made her realize how cooperative other women in the business can be.

In the past, Langhoff says, women could navigate the jewelry business with ease only if they were employees associated with a well-known company or they were part of a jewelry legacy. Otherwise, it took a long time as an independent entrepreneur to be taken seriously. 

To avoid a daily struggle, she has surrounded herself with people who are forward-thinking; the manufacturer she works with now is led by 30-something brothers who have a fresh vision. “You have to be savvy and you also have to have resilience, which I do now.”

Whether suppliers or manufacturers are being disrespectful because of gender or because they are disrespectful in general, Hill says, “Stop doing business with them. I’m serious about this. Anyone who is still behaving in these outmoded ways has made a choice — even if that choice is as simple as ‘I don’t want to change.’ There is more beautiful jewelry, excellent tools and equipment, packaging, and display products out there than any one retailer could possibly use, so eliminating one vendor and replacing them with a better partner will not hurt your bottom line.”

Even the legacy factor was not always a guarantee of ownership. Kate Peterson says store owners didn’t always want to pass along their business to a daughter. “There was a time in a family business when it was hard for women to take over, because what do you do with the kids?” Peterson says. Even now, some consumers walk in with the expectation that the jewelry store owner is “some guy,” Peterson says.

“Consumers have weird ideas about who should own a business. They can be standing right next to the owner and ask if they can talk to the owner. Women on the bench have the same issue. People walk in and say, ‘Let me talk to your guy back there,’ and the woman on the bench says, ‘I am your guy back there.’ I don’t believe they do it maliciously, but people operate from their own experience. But convincing them otherwise is not hard.”

Of course, there are plenty of notable exceptions. Borsheims has had female leadership for the past 25 years, with Karen Goracke at the helm for five years. Eighty percent of Borsheims employees are female, and leadership is predominantly female. “So for us,” she says, “it’s just business as usual.”

Business as usual, for Goracke, means a family-friendly work environment and more of a focus on work/life balance before that was even really a phrase.

Karen Goracke, president and CEO of Borsheims

“For instance, I worked here after college, then decided to stay home with my children when they were young. As my kids grew up, I was welcomed back at first part-time and then full-time, growing into my current position as president and CEO. It’s been a wonderful place to work with colleagues who embrace and lift up other women.”

Goracke says women can provide a unique approach to leadership. “We tend to have higher emotional intelligence, which can be a powerful strength. The mindset of running a business strategically but with an emotional approach has been instrumental to our success over the past three decades.”

In terms of running the business, Peterson says, “women are more likely to buy for fashion and personal taste than strictly by the numbers. I’ve watched the difference between how women and men buy diamonds in Antwerp. A man looks at a spectacular diamond and calculates how it will fit in the inventory. A woman looks at it and is literally jumping out of her seat about it and posting it on social media. It’s a level of emotion that drives an excitement that is different in a lot of stores now.”

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Close the Gap Between Knowing & Doing

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There’s a chance you’ve stood here before: on the cusp of a new year, pledging to yourself that this time, things will be different. You’ll implement those best practices you’ve read in business books or heard at trade show seminars. You’ll knock your inventory into shape, bring your marketing up to date and fire up your staff. Come the end of 2020, you’ll be sitting atop a thriving business practice that will not only ensure your future is financially secure but showcase your business acumen. Only the odds suggest it’s not going to happen. Numerous surveys done over the last three decades suggest that at best you’ve got about a 30 percent chance of succeeding in implementing such change. It’s much more likely that in 365 days, you’ll find yourself pretty much where you are now, doing things much the same way as you always have.

The inability of most businesses to effectively implement change — even when they know what needs to be done — is one of the more curious and frustrating aspects of business management. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, two Stanford Graduate School of Business professors, famously coined the term “the knowing-doing gap” to encapsulate the divergence between what corporate best practices and management science say managers should do, and what they actually do.

The knowing-doing gap afflicts businesses of all sizes and in all sectors. And despite increasing awareness of the issue, companies are getting no better at closing it.

Some businesses mistake talk for action; they perfect their plans and presentations, yet follow-up is feeble. Still other businesses get locked in the past, sometimes because their identities are too strong to adapt. A great many workplaces are cowed by an intolerance of mistakes that discourages feedback and paralyzes initiative. Conversely, some organizations are just too comfortable, creating a situation that no one genuinely wants to disrupt.

Many, if not most, enterprises rely on faulty yardsticks of performance, favoring financial benchmarks that are easy to track but that do not truly capture the drivers of transformation.

One thing that can torpedo even the best-laid plan is the unknowability of the future. As Mike Tyson succinctly put it, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” It’s impossible to know what lies ahead. Markets, staff, and customers don’t react the way you expect, and most change programs lack the agility to deal with the unexpected chain of events that may be set in motion.

To be sure, change is hard. It’s difficult to get other people, like your staff, to do you what you want. It’s often as tough to get yourself to follow through on a commitment you’ve made on Dec. 31. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

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Hollywood movies are often about change and redemption, and often the trigger is a rousing speech by a dying uncle, wounded comrade, or aging sports star. In the real world, influencing people’s behaviors requires a lot more than words. You need to make what is often perceived as undesirable desirable, you need to harness team spirit, and you need to offer rewards and make it structurally easy for the person to carry out the changes through routines and skills training. You need to hold people accountable to the new ways on a day-to-day basis, and you need to be prepared to pivot and change approaches when something is not working. Finally, you need to be ready to communicate your message over and over again.

In the pages that follow, we will provide tips and ideas to set you in motion on your year of change. There’s a good chance you will know many of them. That’s the thing about the knowing-doing gap. The secret is to invest in as many as possible, celebrate any progress that you make and keep moving forward.

18 tips on closing the knowing-doing gap

1. Get Buy In

To succeed, a change strategy must, at least in part, be shaped by the people who will execute it. They are the ones doing the work, so they need to be involved from the beginning. Moreover, they are best positioned to codify experience into usable rules, which they can phrase in a language that resonates for them (creating such in-house terminology is often one of the first steps in building a successful company culture). And besides, they may actually have some good ideas to share. “Often the best strategies don’t come from the top of the organization. The frontline can be a well of ideas. New ideas pop up from the pressure of trying to solve a problem for the customer,” says Robert Simons, author of Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach For Better Execution.

2. Play Planning Poker

One of the main drivers of resistance to a change program is when staff don’t feel they have been heard or the amount of additional work they may be asked to do is not acknowledged. A fun way to show you’re interested in your employees’ perspectives is Planning Poker. It goes like this: Each staff member gets a set of numbered cards and the manager describes the new task or role they will be asked to do under program revamp. The employees then choose the numbered card that represents the amount of effort that they believe will be required to achieve the outcome. As the cards are revealed — some with high values, others with lower values — it quickly becomes apparent who’s not on the same page. “Planning Poker sparks productive discussion and speeds up clarification of what’s expected,” says Dave Bailey, a business coach and tech entrepreneur.

3. Be a Little Less Positive

Positive thinking has its place, especially when it comes to conceiving goals, but when it comes to achieving them, it can actually be a hindrance, says Dr. Gabriele Oettigen, a New York University psychology professor who has been studying the effects of positive thinking for over 20 years. “When people only think about a positive future, they’ve already attained this future in their minds, so they have little motivation to actually act on it,” Oettigen recently told The Atlantic. In her book, Rethinking Positive Thinking, she recommends a procedure called mental contrasting — that is, examine the barriers that stand in the way of us actually attaining that goal and map out detailed strategies to deal with them. “Visualizing the desired future and then imagining the obstacles can actually help us be more successful than positive thinking alone,” she says.

4. Be Outright Negative

Postmortems are useful, but even better is if you can take action before your dear project dies. Hence, the increasing popularity of pre-mortems. The process is simple: Unlike a typical critiquing session, in which project team members are asked what might go wrong, the pre-mortem operates on the assumption that it’s already over. Everything went as badly as you could have feared. Now: why? Asking the question this way, explains the psychologist Gary Klein, has an almost magical effect. It removes the pressure from those who are worried about seeming disloyal by voicing concerns; indeed, it turns things into a competition to find ever more convincing reasons for failure. “It’s a sneaky way to get people to do contrarian, devil’s-advocate thinking without encountering resistance,” Klein says. According to Klein, using prospective hindsight can improve people’s ability to predict the reasons for future outcomes by 30 percent.

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5. Try a Brainwriting Session

Traditional brainstorming sessions have a rather spotty record. This is because only one person can speak at any one time and it is easy for some personalities — and their ideas — to dominate, so few good ideas are actually generated. A new study suggests something called “asynchronous brainwriting,” whereby participants rotate between eight-minute individual writing sessions and three-minute group sessions to read over each other’s ideas. The researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington found that participants using this method thought of an idea every two minutes on average, a much higher rate than more traditional brainstorming sessions.

6. Skin In the Game

There’s another reason you want to involve your staff: When people feel the ideas were partly theirs, they have skin in the game and feel accountable for the plan’s success. It wasn’t just the boss’s idea. “People do not change their minds through being told, however open and inclusive the communication may be. It is an oft-forgotten feature of human nature that if you want to influence someone, a good start is to show they have influenced you. If you are open to others, others tend to be open to you. Influence comes through interaction,” write Alison Reynolds and David Lewis in What Philosophy Can Teach You About Being A Better Leader.

7. Aim, Fire, Do

The traditional top-down approach to business strategy has been “Plan-then-Do”: The organization would invest heavily in creating a detailed plan that specified roles for all employees based on how the market was expected to react. Should the plan falter, employees would invariably be faulted for failing to execute, leading to demands that the plan be followed even more closely with ever greater micromanaging. The results were rarely pretty. An alternative approach popularized by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman in their bestseller In Search Of Excellence was a “ready-fire-aim” go-to-market strategy. This agile, test-and-learn approach, which has become the standard in Silicon Valley, is better suited to today’s volatile environment. Instead of thinking of strategy as a linear process, consider it as inherently iterative — a loop instead of a line, in which the situation is constantly reassessed: Plan, do, assess, replan-redo. “Success requires identifying the next few steps along a broadly defined strategic path and then learning and refining as you go. This approach makes execution easier and increases the odds of delivering great results,” says Michael Mankins, co-author of Time, Talent, Energy: Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power.

8. Identify Your WIGs

To win any war, you need to pick the right battles. In their book The 4 Disciplines Of Execution, Chris McChesney, Jim Huling and Sean Covey call these targets “WIGs”, short for Wildly Important Goals. A WIG can make all the difference, but will require you to commit a disproportionate amount of energy to it. “In determining your WIG, don’t ask ‘What’s most important?’ Instead, begin by asking ‘If every other area of our operation remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the greatest impact?’” they write.

The truth is that it is hard to do more than two or three big things at a time, no matter how large your organization. “Saying no to things that you really want to do is the telltale sign of a good planning process,” the investor Fred Wilson recently told a recent INC founder conference.

The final benefit of a WIG is clarity. According to some studies, only 15 percent of employees at corporations actually know their organization’s most important goals — either because there are no goals, or they have too many goals. A WIG will ensure everyone is clear on what critical activities provide the greatest leverage to achieving that goal.

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9. Create Small Steps

Set big, ambitious goals. Just be sure to add deadlines for the small concrete steps that will get you there. In his book One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, Robert Maurer suggests taking almost absurdly tiny steps, day after day. It enables you, in Maurer’s words, to “tiptoe past fear”: our monkey-brain, it seems, is fooled when we tell it we’re embarking only on something minuscule, and it stops putting up resistance. By making your steps too small to fail, you and your staff can make those initial, small changes on which to build a new way of working and doing business.

10. Be Clear About Everyone’s Role and Place

Gary Neilson, a consultant with Booz & Co., which over the last decade has surveyed over 1,000 companies for a strategy study, says failures can almost always be fixed by ensuring that employees truly understand what they are responsible for and who makes which decisions — and then giving them the information they need to fulfill their responsibilities. With these two building blocks in place, structural and motivational elements will follow.

11. Don’t Substitute Talk For Action

Substituting talk for action is perhaps the most common way businesses fall into the knowing-doing gap, say Pfeffer and Sutton. Many corporate teams spend so much time creating strategies and setting goals, they don’t actually implement anything. Systems can help. One system that’s currently popular online goes by the name “No Zero Days.” The idea is simply not to let a single day pass without doing something, however tiny, towards some important project.

12. Six-week Sprints

“Agile planning” should be viewed as a series of box sprints with the objective of moving forward, testing the waters, learning, and refining the strategy based on the results, says business coach Dave Bailey, who recommends six-week stretches. Brian Moran and Michael Lennington, authors of The 12-Week Year, recommend a longer period, as the title of their book suggests. The exact number isn’t important, just so long as the stretch is long enough to allow your team to make significant progress on a key front, yet short enough to stay focused. The problem with thinking of life in annualized 365-day units is that a year’s too big to get your head around, and there’s too much unpredictability involved in planning for 10 or 11 months in the future.

13. Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

People play differently when keeping score. “Great teams know, at every moment, whether or not they’re winning. They must know; otherwise, they don’t know what they have to do to win the game,” say McChesney, Huling and Covey in 4 Disciplines. The four characteristics of a well-designed scoreboard are that it be simple, easily visible by everyone, show lead and lag measures, and allow employees to tell within five seconds whether they’re winning or losing, they say.

14. Praise More

Want people to change? It takes a combination of personal, social and structural influences. The first step is to ensure that behaviors are connected to personal satisfaction, such as associating what we’re doing with a sense of greater purpose (“These are our customers’ most important moments”). Second is the social environment, such as making people accountable to the team, and finally come the rewards, such as bonuses. A big part in all of this feedback. Many managers act as if praise is a finite resource. It’s not, and lack of recognition is usually the No. 1 complaint among staff.

15. Use Fear Judiciously

Few industries are being “disrupted” as drastically as the retail industry, and that can make one fearful. Andy Grove, the former Intel chairman, liked to say that fear — fear of the competitor, fear of failure — is essential to fueling a desire to win in the marketplace. But fear is often counter-productive. In business, Pfeffer and Sutton report, managers who try to lead through fear cause paralysis more often than action. Trying to motivate yourself with fear is like screaming at a child, “Do something, dammit!” You’ll either freeze up or act in an impetuous way that makes things worse.

16. Take Care of the High and the Low

Humans typically don’t like change. And the two groups most resistant tend to be the lower performers and — surprisingly — high performers, says Neilson. The low performers because they fear they will struggle, and the high performers because they have found a way to succeed in the existing system, so they tend to see the problem as other people needing to get it together and be effective. As a result, change seems like unnecessary overhead that is liable to get in the way of their actual work. “Essentially, low performers need to know the ‘what’—what the expectations are in the new order of things—while high performers need the ‘why’ of the change explained,” Neilson says.

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“Before you try to introduce any kind of ‘performance management’ to a team, the first step is to bring in standards, support, and accountability. Once you have that, you can clearly communicate where people need to develop, give low performers the help they need, set them up to be successful, and if it still doesn’t work out … let them go,” he writes in Results: Keep What’s Good, Fix What’s Wrong, And Unlock Great Performance.

For high performers, it will be hard, but it will be extremely effective, so take the time, he counsels. Hone your explanations on them, hear them out, and work to earn their trust. They usually wield outsize influence in the workplace. Once you have their support, other employees will quickly get on board.

17. Deal with Dissent

It’s possible, and even likely, that some of your frontline employees will voice objections to your strategy. They may think the leaders have chosen the wrong approach or have decided to play in the wrong space. If this happens, listen carefully and sincerely. “Every failed strategy had people on the frontline who expressed concerns,” says Simons. It’s a manager’s job to allow bad news to bubble up to the top of the organization. Simons urges though that once those concerns have been heard and dealt with, then people need to fall into line with the agreed strategy, regardless of their opinion. For those who seem determined to play the game of “Yes, but” (offer a solution, and they’ll find a reason to reject it), the right response is to refuse to play along, because their real motive is to prove the situation is irresolvable. Break the cycle by agreeing sympathetically. Or ask: “What do you plan to do about it?” says the entrepreneur Trevor Blake in his book Three Simple Steps.

18. There is No Finish Line

Lurking behind most schemes for transformation is the unspoken notion that change is something you achieve. But it doesn’t work that way because a day when everything is “sorted out” never arrives. If you continuously stare at the gap between where you are and where you think we should be, you’ll exist in a space of debilitating discouragement. Instead, appreciate how far you’ve come. Sure, you aren’t where you want to be, but you aren’t where you were, either. “The best companies see strategy less as a plan and more as a direction and agenda of decisions,” says Michael Mankins in a paper titled “5 Ways the Best Companies Close the Strategy-Execution Gap” in the Harvard Business Review. Focus on getting better rather than being good. Not only does this encourage you to focus on developing and acquiring new skills, it allows you to take difficulties in stride and appreciate the journey as much as the destination.

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