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Commentary: The Business

Million Dollar Seller Achieves Jewelry Dreams

Aly Martinez builds on success.

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IT STARTED WITH beads and a spool of fishing line. I had always been creative and loved anything artistic, but nothing grabbed my attention quite like jewelry. Beading in my bedroom on the weekends quickly led to jewelry-fabrication classes in high school, and by the time I graduated a hobby had turned into a passion and a dream of a life-long career. In college I majored in retail merchandising, but knew I wanted to keep my focus on jewelry. I became connected with my local Art Guild, and when I wasn’t in class I was in the studio taking every jewelry fabrication class I could get my hands on. In 2007 I began working at Kevin Kelly Jewelers, a local family operated jewelry store. There they taught me the basics of repair work, custom work and selling. I was a sponge and wanted to learn everything they were willing to teach me. Upon graduating college in 2009 I knew I wanted to keep going and to learn more, and found myself asking “What next?” I quickly discovered GIA and started on my Graduate Gemology degree. By the beginning of 2010 I started working at Jones Bros. Jewelers part-time changing watch batteries and cleaning jewelry. Again, I said yes to anything they were willing to teach me. Now fast forward nine years later, and I’m a full-time sales associate with a million dollars sold in 2018.

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So what exactly happened throughout those nine years? A lot. Selling full-time was not necessarily something I thought I’d ever do, but I quickly fell in love with the personal connections I was able to make with clients. Once I started, selling a million dollars in a year became a professional and personal goal. A goal that I added to my other goals that I never forgot about and slowly kept working toward. With the help of GIA’s Distance Education Program I was able to continue taking classes while working, and travel to Wisconsin for lab courses. And I’ll admit I put it on the back burner for a while, but creating my own jewelry line was something I’d dreamt about for years, and so I made sure to never lose sight of the initial driving force for my passion for this industry.

Year after year I came close, but never quite hit that million dollar mark. By 2018 I wasn’t ready to give up, but knew it was time to broaden my focus. I dove headfirst into the rest of my Graduate Gemology training, became a brand ambassador for Tacori, and finally created Emerald May, my own jewelry line. I traveled more than ever before – Wisconsin for labs, Vegas for trade shows, and California for Tacori and had my hands in more and more projects. Ironically, with my focus on other things I had wanted for so long, my sales continued to grow, and by the end of 2018 I was one class away from becoming a Graduate Gemologist, my own line was officially started with several pieces sold, and I had reached my goal of selling a million dollars in a year.

It’s a surreal feeling to look back on everything that’s happened over the years to get to where I am now. Something that started as a hobby has turned into a career, a career that drives me to do better every day. The million dollars became so much more than a sales goal. It was something to strive for, something to push me, and once achieved served as a symbol that with enough determination and pursuit anything is possible. It’s given me the courage to keep pursuing other goals and dreams I’ve set for myself. Looking back on all of the hard work, education, and incredible amount of support I know that dreams don’t always have to stay dreams, they truly can become your reality.

So if you’ve taken the time to read this, I hope above anything else you feel inspired. It doesn’t matter if your dreams or aspirations are the same. It’s about finding that thing that drives you day after day that leaves you wanting more. It’s about pushing yourself to go after the things you’ve always dreamed of. It’s about starting somewhere, anywhere, and never giving up or losing sight of what you want and what you’ve worked so hard for. Start at the bottom if you must, just start Be open to every opportunity thrown your way, because you never know where that may lead you. I could have said no to selling because it wasn’t something I thought I’d want to do, but years later it’s become one of my absolute favorite things to do. You never know where something may lead, so take it all in, learn as much as you can, and never lose sight of your dreams – they could be your reality someday.

Aly Martinez works at Jones Bros. Jewelers in Peoria, IL, and can be contacted at alyson@jonesbros.com or (309) 692-3228.

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Commentary: The Business

Customer Fired for Cause

Her phone manners left something to be desired.

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Laurelle Giesbrecht of French’s Jewellery says her daughter Heidi, now 15, is not afraid to answer the phone despite what happened and calls it “a learning experience.”

WHILE VISITING A great friend and store owner, Laurelle Giesbrecht of French’s Jewellery in Alberta, Canada, we were commiserating over coffee. I have always loved hearing her stories about community involvement or win/win sales interactions. This time, she had a real doozy.

A customer had recently purchased a $300 ring for her daughter and had sent her back to the store for a free sizing. The young girl had decided it was not going to be on her third finger but the much larger first. That meant the ring needed to be sized from 5 to 10. For this, there would be a charge. The girl left the ring.

Laurelle’s daughter, Heidi, was answering phones as her mom finished closing the store. It was the last call before locking up. Heidi asked how she could re-direct the caller and then, holding the phone to her chest, asked her mom if she wanted to take the call. Mom assured her she was doing fine. It brought a smile to her face when she heard her daughter tell the caller that she would pass the message along to their HR manager.

But later at home, the true story emerged. The call had been from the original purchaser of the size 5 ring, and using a long string of vulgarities, she had demanded a full refund. The next day, typically affable Laurelle left a message requesting a return call. When the return call came, Laurelle informed the customer that the swearing she had done over the phone had been directed at her 13-year-old daughter. She added that she would not allow that treatment of any of her staff. After informing the customer that she would process a full refund, she asked for her mailing address so she could mail it. Laurelle calmly informed the customer that she was not to come back to her store.

But the story was not over. The customer ignored the request to not return to the store and instead brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers with a neatly written card. She wanted to personally deliver them to the 13-year-old child who had listened so intently to her vulgar language. This customer knew that the depth of her apology could only be appreciated by a face-to-face meeting between an embarrassed adult and precocious child!

If there are lessons here, they are written between the lines.

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Commentary: The Business

How to Make Big Money on Lab-Grown Diamonds ⁠— Whether You Sell Them or Not

Take a stand and make some noise about it.

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SOME JEWELERS WILL make millions from lab-grown diamonds. Some by going all-in, some by refusing to sell them at all.

It’s the very brouhaha that spells opportunity for aggressive jewelers who take a stand early, one way or the other, to exploit the dispute and cash in.

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If you want to make a boatload of money, be a catalyst for the debate. Go public in a big way for whichever position you advocate. If you sit on the sideline and “wait for the market to demand the product,” the parade will pass you by, and you’ll miss the windfall that could have come.

You can actually win by adopting any of three positions:

1. Become the lab-grown specialist in your market. Go all in and shout it from the rooftops and go public with all of the benefits of buying lab-grown diamonds that the average consumer knows little or nothing about at this point. Do that and you’ll have a torrent of intrigued customers flocking to your doors.

2. On the other hand, you may be able to do just as well by scorning lab-growns altogether. “We’ll never stoop to selling those assembly-line diamonds,” would be your cry, and you raise the alarm just as loudly about all the challenges they present the consumer. The pro-lab-grown consumers will desert you, but your high-brow, purist clients and prospects will reward you with their loyalty, their money and their referrals.

3. The third position is that of the fair broker. You take the middle ground but are just as aggressive in your advocacy. “Yes there are advantages and disadvantages of both lab-grown and natural diamonds. We’ll give you the straight scoop, and respect your adult ability to make the right decision for you.” This position probably doesn’t have quite the same “bigness” to its sales-generating potential. Middle of the road is mediocre. Extreme positions tend to render extreme results. But it is nonetheless a credible, reasonable and profitable position to take that can bring extraordinary results, if you market your position hot and heavy.

There will be jewelers in the same city who win by taking any of these positions. They’ll battle each other like crazy, head-to-head, and all three of them can win at the cash register.

Remember, some jewelers were scolded when they started buying gold, and warned that they’d be perceived as pawn shops. But many got rich doing it.

Same with Pandora. The sparkle is obviously off that bead now, but while it lasted, many jewelers who went all-in got rich.

I can’t predict how long either the controversy or the public’s appetite for lab-grown diamonds will last. Could be a blip; could be forever. But I can say that those who get in early and make the most noise will also make the most millions the soonest.

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Commentary: The Business

Building Something Cool Means Having No Regrets, Says Stephen Webster

The designer pulled out all the stops to stand out with his Beverly Hills boutique.

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PRIOR TO PENNING this column, I looked back at some of the columns written by previous winners of the INSTORE Small Cool and Big Cool jewelry stores in America. Each is a story of passion, dedication and determination (or blood, sweat and tears) to build and maintain stores that never stop compelling and engaging with their clients and communities.

As we all know, building a successful or indeed a “cool” store, no matter what the size, has never been about doing just one thing well. It may start with great product, but that is only the beginning. As jewelers, we have to build trust, offer not only outstanding service but develop almost telepathic relationships with clients, create unique and welcoming environments, and as if that weren’t enough, a brick-and-mortar store owner also has to be as tech-savvy as a 14 year-old, able to navigate the plethora of digital platforms and social channels, apparently without which no one any longer crosses your threshold.

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Despite all the above, we love it and continue to strive to be the best and the coolest.

My home is not America; I have, though, traveled across the pond on average every month for the past 25 years, growing not only millions of air miles but also my brand through an incredible network of independent and larger groups of retail jewelers across the USA, witnessing firsthand what it takes to stand out as a store.

When it finally became time to open my own boutique, I wasn’t attached to any one community, so I did what most domestic brands do and blindfolded, stuck a pin in a map of North America, at least I think that’s what other brands do, I might be wrong. My pin landed as far away from my home as it’s possible to get, the “City of Angels”: LA, right bang on the set of Pretty Woman, opposite the Beverly Wiltshire hotel on Rodeo Drive.

I believe there were 25-plus jewelers already on that famous drive, and unlike them, this was my first Rodeo. To stand a chance, the Stephen Webster store had to be different. Our jewelry was already different, so we wanted the environment to look as though the product belonged there.

I’m proud to say that if it was anything, it was different. The etched concrete floor, the crocodile skin (effect) leather covered showcases, graffiti artwork and neons by famous street artists, and up the sweeping staircase on the second floor, the now-legendary NoRegrets lounge, where we showcased everything that makes up the extended world of Webster: chefs, sculptures, conventional and graffiti artists, photographers, a milliner, too many DJs and even a classical trumpet player. The NoRegrets lounge has earned its title.

Just like every neighborhood store, we earned every one of our clients. Due to the nature of local employment, we never knew who was going to walk through the door, and even though our policy is that everyone gets treated the same, I’m sure one can imagine that some of those Hollywood types do demand that extra mile and a half. Living exactly 6,000 miles away, we like to think we give it. It would be fun to know if any other store owners have such a ridiculous commute; I hope not, for their sakes.

Having our flagship store recognized as “cool” by peers from an industry I love and feel very much part of in a country I really should call home has been such an honor. You have no idea how cool it feels for my team in the US and also back in London, where to say we were voted the coolest big jewelry store in America is massive.

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