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Real Deal

Real Deal: The Case of the Family Feud



David Behrens is caught between the conflicting demands of his niece, her ex-boyfriend and his understanding of what is the right thing to do. Which path should he take?


This article originally appeared in the November 2015 edition of INSTORE.


Behrens’ is a third generation, family-run business in the Northeast. “Family-run” takes on a bigger meaning to the Behrens clan, as Stuart and David Behrens, grandsons of the original founders, run the business today with the help of numerous siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. Some members of the extended family work full time, while others come in to help only during promotions and the holiday season.

Family feud causes controversy in a jewelry store


Amy Behrens is David and Stuart’s niece. She’s a graduate student at a local university, and works part-time in the store, primarily during the holiday season. Last December, Amy’s live-in boyfriend, Adam, came into the store and ordered a pair of 1.5 TCW, ideal-cut diamond earrings in platinum mountings for Amy, intending to give them to her for her birthday in June. The regular retail price on the earrings was $9,965, but with Amy’s “family/employee discount,” Adam was able to buy them for just over $6,500. He left a deposit of $2,500, and the earrings were ordered from Behrens’ top diamond supplier. When they came in, Adam made another $500 payment, and left the earrings in layaway (under Amy’s name), intending to pay them off over the five months before her birthday.

In early April, Amy came into the store to talk with her Uncle David. She told him that she and Adam had broken up. He had accepted a new job in California and already moved away, leaving Amy to either support their apartment by herself, or to find another place to live. Amy asked her uncle to cancel the layaway on the earrings, so she could take the money and apply it to the deposit she needed for a new apartment.

David’s immediate reaction was to remind Amy that it was Adam who had put the money down for the payments on the merchandise, and that ethically, he couldn’t release anything to her. Amy pointed out that the layaway was in her name — not Adam’s — and that technically, Adam had given her the money by putting it in her name. She mentioned that Adam didn’t want the money back. The fact that he left the area without collecting it was a clear indication in her mind that he wanted her to have it. She stated that her mother, David’s sister Sharon, was also certain that, since the account was in Amy’s name, she was entitled to the refund — and that since Amy was family, the 20 percent restocking fee Behrens’ normally put on layaway cancellations should not apply.




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.

David asked for some time to think it over, and Amy agreed — but grudgingly. She was very upset that her Uncle David would even think about giving her a hard time over this issue. The next day, David called Adam. When he reminded him about the earrings and explained Amy’s request, Adam clearly stated that he did, in fact, want his money back. He was not concerned about the 20 percent re-stocking fee, as long as the balance of his payments was returned to him at his new address.

After hanging up the phone, David paused to consider the mess he was in. He was holding $3,000 in deposits that he knew had been paid by Adam, obligating him ethically to return the money to Adam. The money was held in an account in Amy’s name, obligating him legally (he assumed) to return the money to Amy. In the middle of all of this, he had to deal with his sister who was, in his opinion, encouraging her daughter to do something he saw as outright nasty.



How should David handle the situation?

Is Amy correct that she is the legal owner of the deposit?

What’s the best way to handle family conflicts?


Marcus M.

Midland, TX

This is very simple. The money goes back to Adam. Who cares if her name is on it? The ethical thing to do is send the money to Adam and if you don’t, that’s stealing. If Amy and her mother can’t understand or get over it then so what! They are horrible people and I wouldn’t want to be associated with them even if they were my family.

Olivia S.

Lexington, KY

Adam should receive the refund. It is his money and he wants it back. Future layaway should follow a different procedure, namely that the person paying the money be on the receipt. An employee discount policy should also be drafted. Does it extend to people dating family members? If so, then that should be in writing.

Laura P.

St. Robert, MO

There’s no question, in my mind, as to the correct thing to do. Uncle Dave should refund the money to the payer: Adam, less the restocking fee. The only reason they are under Amy’s name is for the discount. Amy should understand any other path is unethical and against store policy. Family-run businesses are businesses, not families. If they were run like a family, they’d never make a profit.

Dennis P.

Johnstown, PA

In my store, special orders, if cancelled, forfeit entire amount paid in. With so much family involved I would have specific rules that apply to all with no exceptions. And, I’d have a big bottle of aspirin always around. Happy headaches!

Candice M.

Schaumburg, IL

What’s the saying? When you assume … Amy is emotionally charged from being jilted and left with financial burden. Her mother will protect her in any way she can. Other family members will take sides. Before anyone says any more that they will regret, Uncle David would be wise to stop guessing and contact his legal counsel.

Elysia D.

Historic Spencer, NC

I think David calling the boyfriend before making any decision was the right thing to do. Amy needs to put her big girl pants on and suck it up. A little money is not going to ease her heartbreak like she thinks it will. She’ll get over it, we all do.

David I.

Portland, OR

Legally, the layaway receipt is a contract. The name on the contract is the beneficiary. Unfortunately Adam is out of luck. Amy gets the refund minus the 20 percent stocking fee. Any more questions?

Don U.

Wethersfield, CT

I would return the money to the male client minus the 20 percent fee. I would then give the female relative the restocking fee to mend the family fence. The lesson is the sale should have been put in the male’s name for legal reasons (his money) and then the store would not have been responsible for sorting out the mess that occurred.

Kate Peterso is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected].

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