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Real Deal: The Case of the Custom-Made Disaster

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[span class=alert]To be eligible for publication in INSTORE, responses must include your name, store name, and the city and state in which your store is located. [/span]

[dropcap cap=A]lice McDonald loved to tell all her friends about David Rae Fine Jewelers. They carried all the most fashionable lines and always had the newest designs in stock. She knew the store was a little pricey, maybe a bit of a stretch for some of the less “self-sufficient” of the girls — but it never hurt to look, did it? Alice smiled as she thought about how much she appreciated her own husband’s “laissez faire” nature when it came to her little indulgences. He hadn’t the time or the patience to shop for her — but he never challenged or questioned when she brought home a trinket or bauble she picked up for herself. In fact, he said he really liked it when she dressed up for their many social outings.[/dropcap]

Rae Fairborne and her husband David opened David Rae nearly 20 years ago, after leaving the large company where they both worked as top salespeople to follow their own dream. They had always imagined a store that would offer exquisite custom-made designs and brand name, high fashion product in a warm, fun, casual environment.

David spent the first seven years in the store working as the apprentice of one of the finest master craftsmen in the business, while Rae ran the front end with the help of two salespeople — one of whom was her mother! David joked that if he could be an apprentice employee in his own store while taking orders from his wife AND his mother-in-law, he was certain there wasn’t much he couldn’t do! It didn’t take long before the word about their unique style and cozy environment got out and the customers started to come in. Their initial investment paid off, and they haven’t stopped growing since.

Alice especially liked dealing with Rae. She loved her sense of style and the way she made everyone in the store feel at home, even when it was clear they wouldn’t make the top of the “big spender” list. After nearly 10 years as a regular customer, Rae knew exactly what Alice liked, and even went out of her way to bring in special pieces from Alice’s favorite designers when she thought Alice might like to see them. Alice appreciated that despite Rae’s ready attention and high-energy nature, she never came off as pushy or aggressive.

Rae was just putting out a new collection sent in by a fresh, young designer she’d met at a recent show when Alice walked into the store one Monday. She said she’d just been out at her weekly tennis clinic at the club, and decided to stop by for a little “retail therapy.” She had gotten rather depressed to hear two of her friends talking about how romantic and generous their husbands were and showing off pretty (though a little small for Alice’s taste) pieces they had both received as anniversary gifts the previous week. Alice couldn’t remember the last time her husband had surprised her — and the idea of “romantic” just didn’t fit anymore — unless she could consider the no-limit platinum card in her name a “romantic gesture.”

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Rae continued to provide a friendly ear as Alice browsed the new collection. At one point, she came across a ring that seemed to have been made just for her …  except maybe for the too-small diamond in the middle. It had been a while since Rae had seen Alice so animated and lively over a piece of jewelry — and it gave her an idea. The ring was designed as a semi-mount. Alice had just finished telling her about how the diamond in her original engagement was not much bigger than the 1-carat in the center of the new ring, and about how she never wore her original diamond these days because neither the style nor the ring size were right for her any more. When Alice said she wanted to take the new ring and asked to see a bigger diamond to put into the center, Rae thought quickly. She told Alice she would need to contact the designer about having the ring custom made to Alice’s specifications, and that she would get back to her within a few days. In the meantime, she added the style to Alice’s wish list and promised to e-mail a digital picture for show her husband.

The minute Alice was out of the store, Rae made a few calls and got a direct phone number for Tim McDonald, Alice’s husband and the CEO of the largest biotech firm in the state. She managed to get past Tim’s secretary and to his desk. When she introduced herself, she could almost hear the smile in Tim’s voice as he said, “Of course, I know you. You are the only one in this town who is truly expert at keeping Alice happy!” She explained about the new ring and relayed the conversation about Alice’s original engagement ring. She then pointed out to Tim that Alice’s 50th birthday was just three weeks away. Tim loved the idea and promised to drop by the store in the morning on his way to the airport.

Sure enough, Tim — in a much less “cheery” mood, ran into the store, handed Rae an envelope containing Alice’s original engagement ring and said to have it ready the Saturday before her birthday — when he was planning a huge surprise party for her at the club. He said he was headed out of the country till the afternoon of the party and would be out of touch till then, and he asked Rae to take care of everything for him. He was in and out of the store within two minutes. Rae ordered the ring from the designer, requesting that it be made to accommodate the side diamonds from Alice’s ring as well as the center. She then called Alice and told her the designer was going to work on coming up with a few new drawings for her — but that she wouldn’t get to for at least two weeks. Alice was fine with waiting.

The ring was ready and in hand at David Rae within a week of the order being placed, and in the opinions of both Fairbornes, it was stunning. On the Thursday before Tim was due in to pick it up, Alice stopped by the store to retrieve a watch she had left for repair. In the course of the conversation she remembered to tell Rae to cancel the sketches from the designer, since a friend of hers at the club was on a shopping junket to New York and managed to come back with the exact same ring — with a 3-carat diamond in the center. There was just no way she could have anything even close to that style now. On her way out, she said she’d be back in a few days to pick out her birthday present.

Rae was totally dumbstruck, and at a complete loss for what to do. The ring had been custom made with Alice’s diamonds in it. She had no way to reach Tim, so he wouldn’t know about all this till the afternoon of the party. She couldn’t very well tell Alice…

[h3][b]Big Question:[/b] What can Rae do to minimize the fallout?[/h3]

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Editor’s Note: Real Deal Scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The characters should not be confused with real people.

[span class=note]This story is from the September 2009 edition of INSTORE[/span]

[span class=alert]To be eligible for publication in INSTORE, responses must include your name, store name, and the city and state in which your store is located. [/span]

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