Connect with us

Real Deal

Real Deal: The Case of the eBay Mogul




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.

As the owner of a successful fine jewelry store in a largely military market, Terry Craig knows better than most how tough it is to find and keep good people. That’s why he was delighted with the commitment, dedication and interest he saw in Kelly O’Brien.

Kelly responded to the online ad Terry posted in search of a salesperson for Craig’s Fine Jewelry shortly after moving to the area with her husband, an army staff sergeant who had been assigned to the local base. She had no jewelry experience, but had held several different retail sales positions over the years, and all of her references were glowing. Her last boss described Kelly as “smart, conscientious, and a very quick learner.” He said he was sorry to lose her, and that he would hire her back without hesitation.

Terry knew that the likelihood of keeping Kelly more than a few years was pretty slim, but he decided to bring her on anyway, in the hope of adding a much needed shot of maturity, energy and enthusiasm to his team.


Kelly progressed through Craig’s training program quickly, completing a thorough, mentor-led orientation and self-study courses in diamonds and colored gemstones from the Diamond Council of America. She was also an active participant in the weekly team training meetings that were a mandatory part of the Craig’s employee experience.

Within six months of hire, Kelly was exceeding her sales goals on a regular basis. As time went on, she continued to expand her knowledge base, looking for every opportunity to keep up with the trade press, seek out new information on designers and products in the store and mostly, ask questions – lots of questions.

Terry noticed that Kelly seemed to take a special interest in the store’s gold buying operation and was fascinated by watches — both brands the store carried and even higher-end brands that they did not. Her interest ranged from feature and quality differences between brands to pricing and markup, to long term and resale values. On more than one occasion, she’d showed Terry eBay watch listings and asked for his opinion, focusing on what she might tell a customer who might see something like it, compared to an item they had in the store. She told Terry she’d even been visiting pawn shops, auctions and swap meets, just to see what was out there and to learn more about different selling techniques.

Over time, Kelly had even brought in several pieces of her own – both jewelry and watches – asking Terry to look at them and to give her an idea of value. Terry was more than happy to oblige. It had been a long time since he’d had a new employee come into her own so quickly.

A little over a year after Kelly started at Craig’s, a local antique dealer and regular customer came into the store to meet with Terry and to sell him a number of jewelry items she’d acquired through her estate liquidation business. The dealer recognized Kelly immediately, and said she was quite surprised to see that Kelly was working at the store. When Terry asked the dealer how she knew Kelly, the dealer told him that she and Kelly had done a fair amount of business together, and that Kelly had been operating a very active eBay store, selling old jewelry and watches – specializing in used Rolex.

Terry was shocked. Thinking back over all the months of training and questions, of long discussions and the access he provided to a wide variety of information, Terry felt foolish and used. He confronted Kelly the next day, pointing out that her side business represented a conflict of interest, and that she, like all Craig’s employees, signed an agreement that prohibited her from working at any business in competition with Craig’s during her employment and for a period of one year after termination. Kelly refused to give up her eBay store, telling Terry that the business was not, in fact a competitor – that she sold to people all over the world, and that her inventory was acquired from sources far outside of Terry’s range of suppliers.


Terry was certain that there was no security issue in the store, and that none of the store’s inventory was missing. Nonetheless, he felt as though he had to fire Kelly, as she was clearly in violation of both his conflict of interest and his non-compete policies. On the other hand, he questioned whether he was being fair to Kelly or to his business. After all, Kelly had become one of his top salespeople – and even if her motives were not entirely selfless, she was by far one of his most knowledgeable.

The BIG Questions
Did Kelly abuse her position in the store and did she take advantage of the ready availability of training material at Craig’s to further her own goals? Is operating a used jewelry store on eBay that has nothing to do with Craig’s really a conflict of interest? Is there a way to salvage the relationship and to keep Kelly as an employee of the store? How can a store owner keep any employee from using quality training for their own benefit?
Comment below (please leave your name and store) or at [email protected]




Wilkerson Testimonials

Wilkerson Helped This Jeweler to Navigate His Retirement Sale Despite a Pandemic

Hosting a going-out-of-business sale when the coronavirus pandemic hit wasn’t a part of Bob Smith’s game plan for his retirement. Smith, the owner of E.M. Smith Jewelers in Chillicothe, Ohio, says the governor closed the state mid-way through. But Smith chose Wilkerson, and Wilkerson handled it like a champ, says Smith. And when it was time for the state to reopen, the sale continued like nothing had ever happened. “I’d recommend Wilkerson,” he says. “They do business the way we do business.”

Promoted Headlines

Most Popular