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Real Deal

Real Deal: The Case of the Experienced Mismatch



[dropcap cap=J]im Engle knew he was taking on a major challenge when he agreed to buy Greer’s, the 70-year-old downtown store he’d worked in since starting as a stock boy at age 16. As the store’s vice president of operations, he knew all the problems the business was facing – low margins, high payroll, significant debt, aged inventory …  but  he also saw the tremendous potential associated with a high-volume destination store and   a brand name that stood for fine quality, impeccable service and home town values.  Jim was anxious for a chance to put all he’d learned about running a successful jewelry business into action. He expected it would take a solid plan and a good deal of time to get things on track, but he was ready. …Or so he thought.[/dropcap]

In the first five years after buying the store, Jim found that his focus was directed completely at dealing with the staff he had in place – most of whom had been with the store for 20 years or more, and all of whom had received annual salary bumps over those years “just because.” Incentive-based pay was a totally foreign concept to the Greer’s team, and Jim’s gradual shift to a “pay for performance” system created the right retirement opportunities for many in the original group. One or two new additions to the team seemed to blend into the service-focused environment nicely. Even with incentives for both individual and team performance in place, the atmosphere in the store remained as laid back and comfortable as Greer’s long-term clients expected.

Pricing policies were the next item on Jim’s “hit list.” Greer’s had a history of offering “great deals,” courtesy of friendly Ed Greer, to whom no customer was ever a stranger. It often seemed to Jim that just about every visitor to the store referenced their entitlement to “Ed’s Price,” and salespeople were quick to oblige. Shifting to a one-price strategy was a decision not easily made, and it clearly cost the store a few of their old guard customers – but in the long run, the skill improvement in the sales team combined with the gains in margin (both from better initial mark-ons and the elimination of across-the-board discounts) paid off in a big way.

After nearly 8 years of hard work, margins were up, payroll and other expenses were down, and Jim felt that the company’s finances were beginning to fall into the ‘healthy’ category. When an opportunity to move the store from its out-of-the-way downtown location into a hot new suburban lifestyle center came along, Jim was both confident and excited. He saw the move as a chance to reposition Greer’s as the fashion and bridal spot in town, and after much thought, advice and consideration, decided to take the leap. A Moving Sale helped to finance the build out and allowed the store to open with a great new selection. The staff and the customers loved the beautiful new building. In the first few months after the grand opening, traffic counts were well beyond anyone’s expectations.

About 6 months after the move, Jim began to notice sales dropping off. He decided to spend as much time as possible on the floor and was surprised to see that traffic was steady and brisk. As he assessed the situation, he noticed that a good number of customers visiting the store were leaving with little more than a smile and a business card – his staff content that they would “be back.” It occurred to Jim that the laidback, comfortable approach that his team had learned in their downtown destination was proving counter-productive in the new, highly competitive spot with his new, younger, more educated customers. Jim began a sales training blitz – focusing on the skills needed to sell to the unconvinced rather than to clerk to the loyalists. At each training meeting, his team would listen and respond — but would quickly revert to old habits as they pointed to their discomfort with what they perceived as a pushy approach.


A sales training consultant suggested that Jim consider replacing one of his newer, underperforming associates with a “shark” – a top producer who could set a new tone for the Greer team. Jim set out in search of an experienced, high-powered jewelry salesperson with a proven track record and a much more assertive approach to the business. An ad in a popular trade publication brought Seth Ames to the store. Seth was a local who had been working for a large national chain for six years. He was one of the company’s top salespeople, and was moved from his home to a West Coast store with the promise of a management position that never materialized. He left the company and had just gotten back in town when he saw the ad for Greer’s position.

Jim was very clear with Seth from the start. He explained that Greer’s was not an extreme pressure environment – that what the store needed was a real professional who knew how to be a little more aggressive in asking for the sale. It was apparent from the first week that Seth could sell, but his style was far more pushy than anything Jim or the other staff members had been accustomed to. Jim had a conversation with Seth at the end of his second week on the job, telling him that while he didn’t want to squash his enthusiasm, he needed Seth to tone it down a bit and learn to close without being obnoxious. Even after the conversation, within the next three weeks, Jim received 2 emails from very disappointed customers who had been referred to Greer’s by friends. Both emails cited complaints about Seth’s aggressive nature, and his insistence that the customers “put something aside with a deposit.”

Jim hired Seth to help increase sales and to bring a more assertive element to his team. As he sat at his desk reading the most recent email complaint, he was reminded of one of Ed Greer’s favorite sayings: “Be careful what you wish for, Jimmy. You’ll probably get it – and then what will you do?”

[h3][b]The BIG questions:[/h3] What IS the right balance between “not pushy” and assertive enough to ask for – and close sales?  Should Jim minimize his losses and cut Seth loose? Is it possible for a strong, experienced salesperson to change his style? If Seth stays, how can Jim assure that the Greer brand standards are exceeded every time? [/b]

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.



[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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