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Real Deal: The Case of the Diamond Debacle

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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=K]athy Lind and her long time friend and business partner Judy Elsom always believed that hard work and a little creative thinking could get them through almost any challenge. It seemed that even when things were especially tough over the 20 years they’ve owned their higher-end store in a Southwestern resort town, fate managed to help them out – often in the least expected way. That certainly seemed to be the case with their staffing issues.[/dropcap]

As the front-end manager of Nature’s Gifts, Kathy was the one responsible for hiring, training and directing a long-tenured group of talented salespeople. Although she and Judy took great care to create a caring, comfortable and professional environment, they were nonetheless surprised at the level of loyalty and experience within their ranks. Of the six full- and part-time salespeople on staff, three had been with them for more than 10 years. Other businesses in their downtown area seemed to be in constant “desperate-search mode” when it came to employees — but whenever openings came up at Nature’s Gift, the right person just somehow seemed to appear in the right place at the right time.

Kathy learned early on that recognizing that a right fit for her business often meant overlooking lack of knowledge or experience – and even accepting unique and occasionally quirky appearance or personality details. She and Judy both trusted their instincts with people, and worked hard to build a culture of acceptance, where everyone could grow and thrive. Unique and quirky were just two of the many adjectives that came to mind on an early spring morning four years ago when Abby Klein stopped by the store in search of a job. She told Kathy that her husband had recently retired, and that they had just moved to the area from a major West Coast city. In their conversation, Abby made it clear that both the added income and the opportunity for a focus of her own (apart from her husband’s retirement-inspired obsession with his golf game) were important to her. She indicated that while she had absolutely no experience with diamonds or fine jewelry in general, she had an extensive background in women’s fashion, having worked on the sales floor for a major designer’s company store for more than 15 years. Abby also mentioned that her sister had shopped at Nature’s Gift during a visit to town the month before and thought the store might be a great fit.

During their interview, Kathy was impressed with Abby’s high-energy style. At first, she found it a little disconcerting, sitting across from a woman her own age (50-ish) clad in lime green with strawberry blonde, spiked and hair — but her discomfort was quickly overcome by Abby’s enthusiasm and engaging personality. The real coincidence, she remembered thinking, was that fate had delivered Abby that particular day — the day she had planned to begin her search for a replacement for one of their more experienced salespeople who had chosen not to return from an extended medical leave. Judy, who typically handled the store’s administrative and buying responsibilities, worried a bit about what she saw as Abby’s flighty manner and “space cadet” tendencies, but agreed that her sense of style and flair would be a welcome addition to the store team. Reference checks confirmed their initial impressions and Abby was hired to start the following week.

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During her four years with Nature’s Gifts, Abby’s performance was less consistent than Kathy would have preferred. She was generally reliable, her sales were good, and for the most part, customers really liked her — but her dramatic personality and her absent-mindedness often caused tension with other associates. Her apparent inability to handle even the simplest administrative tasks was very frustrating to both Kathy and Judy as well. Kathy was convinced that Abby’s ability to focus had clearly deteriorated over the years, to the point where she was reluctant to leave Abby alone with a diamond sale. She even discussed the situation with Judy’s husband, Mark, a physician, who suggested that Kathy find a tactful way to suggest that Abby visit her own doctor for a thorough checkup. Kathy had several performance-based conversations with Abby during which she addressed Abby’s diminishing attention span and continuous mistakes. Each time, Abby would insist she was fine, apologize profusely, and would promise to be more careful and to do better.

One busy Monday, Kathy watched carefully from her desk as Abby waited on the son of a friend who had come in for an engagement ring. She could see that the process was taking far too long and that Abby was having a hard time staying focused. She offered to step in and help, but Abby insisted that she could handle it. She said she promised her friend that she would take care of his son personally. Kathy agreed to let her continue, but nonetheless kept a cautious eye on things from across the store, until the sale was concluded a short time later.

Abby took the customer’s selection, a .82, F, SI2 round diamond and a platinum solitaire mounting, back to the shop for setting while she completed the customer’s paperwork. He picked the ring up an hour later and was very happy with his purchase and with the service he received.

The following Friday, a panicked Judy called Kathy back to her office. During a routine diamond inventory, she noticed that one of the diamonds in the loose wallet, a .98, G, SI1 round, had apparently been switched. The diamond in the paper she held was clearly smaller than the 6.4 mm diameter written on the paper — and the quality looked suspiciously off as well. Kathy remembered the .98 diamond as one of those shown to Abby’s customer from several days before. Further investigation confirmed her suspicions. Abby had shown and sold her friend’s son a .82 F, SI2 diamond, but had accidentally put another of the stones he’d looked at (and rejected, primarily because of the $1,800 higher price tag) into the job bag for the jeweler to set. The customer had presented his fiancé with a beautiful ring, containing a diamond larger and more valuable than the one he’d paid for.

Kathy was furious — with Abby for making the mistake, and with herself for not doing more to deal with Abby’s issues before it happened. Further, she was not all sure about how to handle the problem with the customer. Abby was devastated when she was told of the mistake, and claimed she had no idea how it could have happened.

[h3][b]The BIG questions:[/b] Can Kathy and Judy recoup any of the cost of the bigger diamond — either from Abby or from the customer? Should Kathy contact the customer to tell him about the mistake, or should she let it go, since it was clearly to his advantage? What should she do about Abby’s deteriorating mental capacity? The store had a history of “corrective tolerance” when mistakes were made in the past, though none had ever been quite this serious.[/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 January 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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