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Ralph Vandenberg-Vandenberg’s Jewellers; Edmonton, AB

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The secrets of top salespeople

OWNER, VANDENBERG’S JEWELLERS (EDMONTON, AB)

2006 PERSONAL SALES: $1 MILLION+

Special occasions were always a part of Ralph Vandenberg’s greeting-card store, but ultimately, he and his parents decided they’d rather help their customers celebrate with jewelry. Originally, the shop carried costume jewelry, but as their reputation for service grew, they were asked to carry karat gold, then genuine stone rings, then diamonds. ?I can still remember sitting on my father’s organ bench looking at diamond rings that a salesman had brought over to our house, and how difficult it was for us to make the decision to spend $7,000 on our first ring order,? Vandenberg says. But the first weekend, they sold the biggest ring of the bunch. Suddenly, a store that usually did high volume but low margins ? 15 or 20 cents per card ? was raking in the profits. Eighteen-year-old Ralph dropped out of college and enrolled at the GIA. After earning his G.G., he got a job with the top jeweler in Edmonton at the time. There, he learned the most important lesson of his career: The secret to big-ticket sales is simply having confidence in yourself. Three decades later, Vandenberg’s Jewellers may do $3 million this year out of a 1,250-square-foot space. ? TRACE SHELTON 

Everything we do is intended to make someone happy. As long as we keep that foremost in our minds, we can’t go wrong.

My biggest sales day was a little over $250,000. I sold an ideal cut 10-carat round, a tennis bracelet and two pairs of diamond earrings. It was kind of surreal, to tell you the truth. When you’re in that frame of mind, it’s like you’re in the zone ? someone comes into the store, and you just know they have to buy. At the end of the day, you kind of sit down, stare into space and wonder, ?How did that happen?? 

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Most big-ticket sales are lost because the salesperson is nervous. If you treat the person who’s spending $100,000 the same as the person who’s spending $100, then he’s comfortable. The customer who’s there to spend that kind of money doesn’t know where to go because the people they’re dealing with are fumbling and falling all over themselves. The fact is, they want the transaction to go normally, like it’s no big deal. If you look at most super sellers, they’re just really comfortable, and that’s the secret to their success. 

It’s the confidence that knowledge brings that will make you into a great salesperson. 

A skeptic can be your best customer. He comes in thinking our industry is a sham. If you have the knowledge, the experience and the confidence, you tell him the truth. A lot of times, you may even agree with them ? like on the four Cs. I’ll tell them, the clarity scale is contrived, we hold no other gem to such astronomical standards. What’s so important in the difference between a flawless and a VVS1? It takes two gemologists half an hour, and if one finds a pinpoint in the 29th minute, it’s no longer flawless. But when you start talking about the beauty, the sparkle and all the things that go into getting the diamond, the generations of pleasure it will bring and the things that make our industry so special. They can’t help being drawn into it. 

The isee2 diamond symposiums in 2004 and 2005 had an enormous effect on me. Many of the speakers focused on the concept of making your own brand. Until then, I was really just selling other people’s jewelry, or custom making items for individual clients ? I never thought of my store as a brand. I knew that we were good at what we did, and that our clients were very happy with us, but surely not a brand! The symposium gave me the idea that I could set myself apart. 

I think a lot of times we’re afraid to sell the best. We think, ?Who’s going to spend that kind of money when there’s someone down the street selling a lower-priced item?? But we underestimate our customers. They want to spend the money if they can see the difference and appreciate the value. 

I’ve had my share of slumps. Early in my career, we had a devastating recession. We broke out of it in 1985 when I had the insane idea of taking what little cash we had left and flying to Brazil to buy colored stones. I bought a raft full of them and came back and set myself up as the local colored expert. We were able to get such good prices back then and no one had anything like it so we became known as the place to go for color. To this day, 70 percent of our displays are color. 

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Teamwork is critical in our shop. We are not commissioned, so we all get involved in each other’s sales. We have four bench workers, some of whom regularly speak with customers; we try and make each purchase a team event in some way. Clients love the fact (and have said so) that they can come in and talk to anyone at any time about their items. 

I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t wear much jewelry at all. I wear a narrow platinum wedding band, a medium sized platinum chain and my steel Rolex (which actually belonged to a very good friend of mine who died of cancer 20 years ago). On occasion I will put on a pair of cufflinks, but that’s all … all made here in our shop (except the watch). 

Favorite opening line: ?So, how many dozen would you like today?? 

To be honest, I don’t love jewelry. I love the stones. I love the colors and variety ? from the rich red of a fine ruby, the unique dispersion of a sphene, the sparkle of an ideal cut diamond, where they come from and how they get to me ? and I love fulfilling my clients’ dreams and wishes. Jewelry I can take or leave. 

When I first approach a customer, I guess I’m wondering what their story is. We all have a story and a reason for being where we are in life. It’s interesting to learn their story and why they’re in my store. 

My short-term goal? To make it home in time for supper. Long term? Retire to northern Italy. As for my store, I guess short term is to balance my inventory. Long term is to start reducing it with a view towards retirement in northern Italy. 

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The three most important characteristics of the ideal salesperson are being knowledgeable, interested and concerned.

I still get nervous when a client is coming in to pick up their custom piece. No matter how good a rendering or a wax is, there’s no way of knowing if the client will be thrilled until they first open the box and see the finished item. I want my client’s experience with us to be all that they hoped for and it’s the moment of truth when they slip the ring on or the pendant. I don’t worry about calming myself down, as it passes pretty quickly anyway.  

During the holidays, I love the festive feeling in the store and it becomes less of a ?will they buy or not?? and more of a ?what will they buy?? 

When the holidays are over, I feel relieved, because there is nothing else I can do. Everything that could be done is done and everyone is satisfied. I can take a big breath, a glass of wine and relax. 

My ritual every day is to help in setting up the store. It keeps me informed on the inventory and the daily happenings with my staff. I crank up some vintage Dean Martin on the stereo and away I go. 

If I met someone on their first day of jewelry sales, I’d tell them to learn something every day. It’s been over 30 years for me, and I’m still learning something every day. 

When I was a kid, I always wanted to be an archeologist, but I couldn’t stick it out in school. Fortunately, I’ve been able to take that love and transfer it to gem-hunting.  

Favorite closing line: ?We can do that.?

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