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Real Deal

Real Deal: The Case of the Cupid Complication

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BY KATE PETERSON

Editor’s Note: Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.

Some choices are harder to make than others. For the moment, Jeff Santoro was feeling more like a dispirited King Solomon than the owner of a vibrant fine-jewelry store. Jeff looked out his office door onto his sales floor and watched Tom Anthony, his good friend and top salesman, working with a difficult client as he considered his options.

Village Diamonds and Fine Jewelry was a dream come true for Jeff and his wife, Lori. They started dating while in college, both working part-time in the mall for a large national jewelry chain and developing a passion for the jewelry industry in the process.

When they got engaged after graduating, they vowed they would someday have their own store. For the next five years, they saved every dime while continuing to live the simple life they’d grown to love in their Midwest town. The birth of their first child further sharpened their focus, as the thought of a real family business that would live on through the next generation came closer to reality.

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In 2002 their dream became a reality. While visiting a downtown coffee shop, Lori noticed a “going out of business sign” in the window of the Village Jewelers store. She made a note of the details and called Jeff.
That afternoon, Jeff made his way to the store and talked with the owner — a man he had known since childhood. After lengthy conversation, the owner agreed to sell the store — name, building, inventory, fixtures and equipment, to Jeff and Lori.
They knew that the business itself had died a slow death, but they saw the opportunity to recreate something great out of the ashes.

Within a year, Jeff and Lori had closed the deal, renovated the showroom, sold off the old inventory and found the right vendor partners to supply the contemporary product lines they wanted.
With the addition of one salesperson and the contracting of a trade shop to handle repairs, they were ready to open the new Village Jewelers.

Tom Anthony, their new sales associate, came to them with extensive retail background, but no jewelry experience. He had worked for 12 years selling high-end sporting goods in a local store. When the sporting goods store was bought out by a large corporation, he gave Jeff a call.

Tom quickly became a highly valuable asset to the store, and as business grew, so did his skill and ability. Over 10 years, through the building of just under $6 million in sales volume and the addition of eight permanent staff positions, Tom remained the stabilizing force on the sales floor, and a great friend to Jeff and Lori.

The Santoros were supportive when Tom announced that he and his wife of 20 years were separating. Jeff even lent Tom his truck the day that Tom moved into his own apartment across town.

Gina Anthony had also become a close friend of the family, making the situation more than a little tense at times, but the Anthonys seemed to be keeping things amicable, and Jeff and Lori did their best to stand by their employee without taking sides or allowing things to get personal.

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Several months after the separation, Lori noticed that Tom seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time with Megan Windsor, the generally competent, very attractive and much younger office manager who had been with them for nearly two years.

Jeff asked Tom directly what was happening, and Tom confirmed that he and Megan had, in fact, recently begun dating. He confirmed that his interest in Megan was part of the reason for his separation from Gina. He indicated that he and Megan were not at all serious, and that he was still hoping to reconcile with his wife.

Jeff and Lori were troubled by the revelation but had no reason to question the performance of either of their employees and felt uncomfortable questioning their judgment.

About a month later, Lori noticed a marked difference in Megan’s demeanor in the store. In talking to Megan, Lori learned that she was no longer seeing Tom — that Tom had decided to make a solid effort to repair his marriage.

The next day, Tom asked for a meeting with Jeff and Lori. He told them he and Gina had made the decision to get back together and were doing everything possible to work on their marriage. He was hoping to move back into their home the following weekend, but before that could happen, he had to see to Gina’s one non-negotiable demand: She would not take him back as long as he continued to work with Megan.

Tom made it clear that if Megan continued to work at Village Jewelers, he would have to resign. He asked the Santoros for a few days off while they thought about what would be best for their business, and asked them to get back to him when they were ready to talk.

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The BIG Questions
Should the Santoros give up a top salesperson who has consistently produced in excess of 30 percent of the store’s sales volume? Should they give up a competent (but not extraordinary) office manager?
If they decide that Tom’s contribution is too significant to lose, is there a way to dismiss Megan without crossing a legal line?
Is there any way to create a compromise that would work for everyone?

Comment below (please leave your name and store) or at [email protected]

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