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Real Deal

Real Deal: The Case of the Little White Lie

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[dropcap cap=A]fter all the years she spent working at a prestigious store in the mall, Denise McKinnon was probably more appreciative of her current environment than most. She had very much enjoyed the 6 years she’d spent as the sales manager of Greenleaf Jewelers’ flagship store in the quaint but vibrant downtown area of her hometown, and she looked forward to many more. She felt as though she had a very solid relationship with the Greenleaf family, and she knew that they were very pleased with her performance.[/dropcap]

Denise loved the Greenleaf store location. She loved the building’s original architecture and lovingly restored interior. She loved the brick sidewalks and benches that made up the downtown pedestrian mall, and the fine quality, distinctive shops that lined the streets. Mostly, though, she loved the customers. This was a different type of shopper than she knew in the mall. They seemed more sophisticated – more like the “classy” people she often looked up to as a kid. Denise was especially pleased with the number of other downtown merchants and shop owners who entrusted their “special occasion” purchases to Greenleaf – and to her. Many had started as business associates – colleagues on the downtown council or on the organizing boards of various charity events – before becoming customers and ultimately friends.

Such was the case with Blake and Alicia Glaston, owners of the contemporary fine art gallery in the next block. The Glastons were pillars of the downtown community, much like the Greenleafs, and members of their family had been customers of the store since the days of the previous generation. Alicia Glaston had taken a liking to Denise with their first interaction, and both she and Blake had quickly become regular, personal trade clients.

Denise knew that the Glastons were very well off, and that the gallery was a very successful enterprise for them. It came as no surprise then when Blake came to the store one day and asked Denise to find a special piece for Alicia. He explained that they had seen a stunning ring in a shop window during their last trip to Switzerland – a large, fancy yellow diamond with white diamond on each side. It was soon to be their 30th anniversary, and he thought it would be the perfect surprise gift. He knew that he wanted at least 2 carats in the center, and it had to be a bright, dazzling yellow – not one of those “mousy ones,” as he described it – and definitely no imperfections that she could see – even with one of “those little eyepiece things.” After bringing in several different diamonds for Blake to see, Denise finally found one that was, in her opinion, a real show stopper. It was a 2.07 carat, fancy intense yellow cushion cut with a VS2 clarity. Blake loved the diamond and Denise had no trouble matching one-carat G color cushions for the sides. Blake chose a simple platinum mounting for the ring – one that would be custom made to fit the diamonds. Denise brought John Greenleaf, the store owner, in on the negotiation and John agreed to sell the diamonds and the mounting to his friend for a total of $52,800. The diamonds were handed over to Greenleaf’s in-house craftsman and after three weeks, Alicia’s magnificent new ring was ready for delivery.

Needless to say, Blake came in to see the ring as soon as Denise called to let him know it was ready. He loved it, and told Denise that he would like to surprise Alicia by having the ring placed in the store’s front window – just like the one they saw in Switzerland – the following Saturday, when he planned to bring Alicia by on their way to an anniversary lunch at the restaurant next door.

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Saturday morning, Blake called Denise with an unusual request. He was certain that Alicia would want to know the price of the ring, and wanted Denise to agree to tell her it was a “steal at $25,000.” He insisted she would not know the difference, but that with things tighter than usual at the gallery lately, she would have an absolute fit if she knew that he had spent over $50,000 on a piece of jewelry. He promised to hand Denise a separate check (very discreetly, of course) for the difference before they left the store with the ring.

Denise was very uncomfortable with the request and after putting Blake off briefly, went to John Greenleaf for advice. John was no happier with the situation than Denise, and after thinking it over, decided that it was not his place – or Denise’s to lie to Alicia about the price of the ring – or about anything else. John called Blake back himself and told him that he would do his best not to discuss money in front of Alicia and could easily demonstrate the value of the ring, but that he would not tell a direct lie about the price – and neither would Denise.

Blake was very upset. He tried every persuasive tactic he knew, but John wouldn’t budge from his position. Finally, in a fit of anger over what he called his “high-minded inflexibility,” Blake told him that the deal was off – and that he’d never see him – or Alicia – as customers again.

The following Monday, as John and Denise revisited the situation in their weekly management team meeting, they wondered what they might have done differently.  Word of mouth was a powerful tool in a small town, and John wondered how much collateral damage he would suffer as a result of his decision.

[h3][b]The BIG questions:[/h3]  Could Denise or John have handled the situation differently? Is there any hope for Denise or John to save the sale, the customer or the valuable word of mouth advertising they’d enjoyed from the Glastons without compromising their own values?[/b]

[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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[span class=note]This story appeared in an abridged format in the July 2010 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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