Connect with us

Lab Test

As consumer demand for laboratory-grown diamonds grows, retailers wrestle with how — or even whether — to sell and market this new product.



When Richard Kessler decided to sell laboratory-grown diamonds in his seven Kesslers Diamonds stores in Wisconsin and Michigan a couple of years ago, he jumped into the market with both feet. “We don’t do anything halfway,” he says. “We brought in a nice selection, trained our people how to explain the process and how they are the same as mined diamonds and how they are different.”hen richard kessler decided to sell laboratory-grown diamonds in his seven Kesslers Diamonds stores in Wisconsin and Michigan a couple of years ago, he jumped into the market with both feet. “We don’t do anything halfway,” he says. “We brought in a nice selection, trained our people how to explain the process and how they are the same as mined diamonds and how they are different.”

Within a month, Kesslers Newborn Created Diamonds outsold the company’s signature Kessler 81 diamond that debuted in 2005.

Now Kesslers cuts its Newborn Created Diamonds into the Kessler 81 faceting pattern, and three out of four customers choose the created version. “It’s amazing, absolutely amazing,” Kessler says. “We’re selling the living daylights out of these things and our competitors are telling everyone ‘You don’t want these ‘fake diamonds.’ The fact is they are taking hold.”
When De Beers announced on the eve of the JCK Las Vegas show in May that it would enter the laboratory-grown diamond market in September with Lightbox Jewelry — ungraded laboratory-grown diamonds set in 10K gold and sterling silver earrings and pendants — Kessler says many of his peers panicked, fearing prices on laboratory-grown center stones would plummet.

De Beers said it will sell its Lightbox diamonds by weight alone at $800 per carat, significantly lower than current market prices, which are generally about 30 percent below natural diamond prices. De Beers will market the line as a sparkly, stylish accessory that can complement an outfit, not a serious piece of jewelry to commemorate a momentous occasion.
“The guys I hang with were beside themselves,” Kessler says. “I wanted to take a wait-and-see attitude. But I don’t think De Beers is making a good business decision, and I think it’s a lose-lose for them. It can hurt the laboratory-grown diamond manufacturers, but it’s going to hurt De Beers at the same time on the mined diamond side. There’s little doubt that the price will come down. We’ve already seen some pressure. Prices were based on a percentage below mined diamonds. And mined diamonds have come down.”

These risks, however, are part of the business, he says. “We have the same business risk with the price of gold or platinum nose-diving,” Kessler says.


Kessler says he’s able to reassure customers that whatever they buy will retain its value, at least in his store. His 100 percent trade-in policy might be crazy, he says, but it offers clients the confidence they crave. “So if the created diamond industry crashed to the ground tomorrow and consumers come in and say, ‘This thing is worthless,’ I can say, ‘No it’s not; you can trade that in for $3,000 and not pay an extra penny.’”



Debbie Azar, president of GSI, which grades laboratory-grown diamonds, says despite the flurry of recent news coverage sparked by De Beers’ announcement, consumers remain confused about what laboratory-grown diamonds are and are not. “To clarify, laboratory-grown diamonds are not simulants (like CZ, moissanite, etc.). Laboratory-grown diamonds are, indeed, diamonds that share the same physical and chemical properties as natural diamonds.”

Richard Kessler: “It’s amazing, absolutely amazing. We’re selling the living daylights out of these things.”

Azar says both natural and laboratory-grown diamonds should carry grading reports from reputable gemological institutions in order to provide the consumer with the trust and confidence that their diamond is “what we say it is.” On July 24, the Federal Trade Commission’s jewelry guidelines were revised to include laboratory-grown diamonds in the commission’s definition of diamonds.

The FTC’s previous definition of a diamond was: “A natural mineral consisting essentially of pure carbon crystallized in the isometric system.” The new listing does not include the word “natural.” “When the commission first used this definition in 1956, there was only one type of diamond product on the market — natural stones mined from the earth,” the FTC said. “Since then, technological advances have made it possible to create diamonds in a laboratory. These stones have essentially the same optical, physical and chemical properties as mined diamonds. Thus, they are diamonds.”


Despite the groundbreaking feel of this announcement, not much has changed in how laboratory-grown diamonds can be marketed to the consumer, says Tiffany Stevens, president of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee. Marketers still cannot call a laboratory-grown diamond a “diamond” without a qualifier — laboratory created, laboratory grown or (manufacturer name)-created. The term “cultured” can be used, but only in conjunction with another approved description. The FTC removed “synthetic” from the recommended language, and while it still can be used, it should not be used by a competitor to disparage another seller’s laboratory-grown products.

The FTC has also specified that the words “real,” “natural” or “precious” cannot be used in laboratory-grown diamond marketing.

If the conversation turns to green issues, caution is required there, too. You can’t just claim that laboratory-grown is the green option. The FTC green guides inform how these conversations should be conducted. “It has to be green or not; it can’t just be greener than someone else,” Stevens says.

But Jean-Marc Lieberherr, CEO of the Diamond Producers Association, says the new FTC Guides fail to provide the clarity needed to avoid more consumer confusion and deception, instead introducing unnecessary ambiguity.

Lieberherr says the DPA appreciates that the FTC still requires marketers of man-made stones to differentiate their product from natural diamonds. But Lieberherr expressed “deep concern” that the FTC has approved the qualified use of the term “cultured diamonds.” He says the majority of consumers mistakenly interpret “cultured” as a description used for natural diamonds. Lieberherr expressed surprise, too, by the wide use of the expression “mined diamonds” throughout the FTC Guides in lieu of “natural diamond.” Lieberherr says that “mined diamonds refers to an extraction process and not to a creation process, and the vast majority of the world’s diamonds will never be mined, making this an incorrect qualification.”




Steve Coe, general manager of Lightbox, says De Beers recognizes laboratory-grown diamonds aren’t going away. “You can’t put it back in the box,” Coe says. So, De Beers took a pragmatic approach and developed a line of jewelry based on the company’s consumer research.

That research confirmed that consumers confuse laboratory-grown diamonds with simulants. Once they do know what they are and how they are made, they like them, but prefer them for “lesser” gift-giving occasions, such as a Sweet 16 birthday, for self-purchase and for travel jewelry. But, according to the research, consumers still express a strong preference for natural diamonds for important occasions. “The other thing we heard was that consumers expected it to be a significantly lower price than natural diamonds,” says Coe. They decided to offer jewelry in the $200 to $1,000 range with laboratory grown diamonds in three colors: white, blue and pink.

Beyond whatever effects it may or may not have on the market, Lightbox is “absolutely” expected to make a profit. Coe says De Beers has a huge advantage because its division, Element Six, has been manufacturing diamonds for more than 50 years for industrial applications and has invested more than $100 million in research and development, which has led to advanced technology and capacity, allowing them to produce high quality laboratory-grown diamonds relatively inexpensively.
 “My personal view is that’s where laboratory-grown diamonds would have ended up in a few years’ time, so we’re just doing it now instead of later,” Coe says. “To be honest, this is like any manufacturing technology,” Coe says, citing the trajectory in the sales price of flat-screen TVs. “As technology improves and volume increases, prices always come down.”

Lightbox will initially be sold online, beginning in September. “Once we’ve got that up and running, we will have discussions with retailers about selling it,” Coe says. In the future, Lightbox plans to introduce other shades of blue and pink, and is experimenting with yellow, green and violet, which could be available within a few years. They’re also investing in a new manufacturing plant outside of Portland, OR, intended to significantly increase the volume of product they can supply by 2020.

Robert Smith: “I’m good friends with several growers, and I don’t think they’re going to stand idly by and let De Beers destroy their businesses. If they start a war, it could get really ugly and everybody’s going to lose.”

Suraj Mehta, director of Pure Grown Diamonds, a laboratory-grown diamond manufacturer, says De Beers’ announcement has not affected his pricing as business continues to grow unabated, particularly in bridal. “Ultimately,” he says, “retailers are realizing that it is a choice that consumers would like to have.”

Mehta disagrees with De Beers about the value proposition. “It’s extremely difficult to grow diamonds,” Mehta says. “When the consumer is shown the growing process and it’s explained that each diamond is unique and some diamonds are great and some are not great, it really fascinates them.”

Amish Shah, founder and president of ALTR Created Diamonds, says education is at the core of his product, and he produced a documentary film that retailers can use to demonstrate how created diamonds are grown. “We want to help the retailers’ associates understand that they ARE diamonds. Ones grown above the earth.”

Laboratory-grown companies provide grading reports, but De Beers has said it will not. Lightbox will be priced by weight alone. Coe says DeBeers sees no need to grade them, because once they pass the quality threshold the company has established, they are all nominally of the same “high” quality. “We just took the view that this is a manufactured product and one of the advantages is it’s pretty consistent,” Coe says. “With mined diamonds you get a huge range of quality.” Each will be inscribed with the Lightbox logo beneath the surface, inside the stone.

Edahn Golan, an independent analyst who specializes in the economy of the global diamond industry, says De Beers won’t grade laboratory-grown diamonds because it wants to completely kill diamond terminology in relation to laboratory-grown diamonds. But Golan, who has seen the product, agrees that it’s consistently clean with a great color.

Mehta says transparency offered by grading is very important to the consumer. “They’re not all alike,” he says. “They do come in all colors and qualities.”

Robert Smith of EM Smith Jewelers in Chillicothe, OH, says De Beers has a history of taking a sledgehammer to their competition. “I’m good friends with several growers, and I don’t think they’re going to stand idly by and let De Beers destroy their businesses. If they start a war, it could get really ugly and everybody’s going to lose.” “I think their aim is clearly to drive the growers out of business and then control the laboratory-grown market themselves; a strategy they have used often in the past. The control that De Beers has had over the diamond market has been a huge benefit to jewelry retailers for generations, but their hostile approach to this new challenge may be the death knell for the diamond business as we know it.”Golan suggests De Beers has proved diamonds can be grown less expensively and that U.S. retailers would be wise to demand lower prices from their own vendors. In effect, Golan says, De Beers entered the market to drive down the price and take on the growers who have made laboratory-grown an increasingly important category in the diamond bridal business. “Basically, they disrupted the disrupters,” he says. “That describes their whole strategy.”They are betting that strategy will completely change the game, he says. Golan believes De Beers will win that bet.



Meanwhile, despite De Beers’ effort to disconnect laboratory-grown diamonds from the ideas of rarity, romance and permanence, retailers and other experts report that those often-unpredictable millennials continue to be intrigued with laboratory-grown center stones for engagement rings. Anecdotally, they’re buying them in droves. Says Shah of ALTR Created Diamonds: “She wants the largest and most brilliant diamond he can afford. We are telling her she doesn’t have to compromise.”Pat Henneberry, “The Jewelry Coach” and vice president of Global Training and Development for Hearts on Fire, says friends of her 27-year-old nephew often call her and ask about laboratory-grown diamonds. But she tries to redirect them. “I tell them that I think laboratory-grown is not what you want to be part of your bridal story. What I hate to see is when a customer comes in, and if their first question is ‘What do you think about laboratory-grown?’, immediately a sales associate walks them over to the laboratory-grown counter, even if they also sell natural. Let’s at least walk over to the natural counter first!”

David Brown, president of the Edge Retail Academy, says many a millennial prefers putting money toward a house and an exotic honeymoon rather than a traditional ring. “They’ll do their research online, and when they decide there’s nothing much wrong with laboratory-grown diamonds, they may go that route, as long as it’s being sold by a merchant who can demonstrate the value and show the trust and give them a quality product they can stand by.”

British jewelry designer and retailer Stephen Webster has found that young buyers are often attracted to the technology and modernity of laboratory-grown diamonds. Webster partnered with Swarovski to create a line of jewelry using laboratory-grown diamonds. “Because it’s Swarovski, who don’t mine things anyway, it certainly makes sense,” Webster says. “I have no problem with it as long as it’s defined. It’s very much like fur and synthetic fur. If you’re into fur, you’re not going to be into synthetic fur. But somebody who’s new to jewelry might be attracted to laboratory-grown diamonds.”

As Don Palmieri of GCAL Laboratories puts it, “the younger generation” is not afraid of the terminology “laboratory-grown” because they were raised with technology. “It’s not a negative to them,” Palmieri says.

Timothy Andre of Emma Parker, a retailer with a showroom near Seattle and a primarily e-commerce customer base, says millennials look at laboratory-grown as a solution. They’re in a tight spot if they want to get engaged and also buy a house, which in Seattle means an investment of at least half a million dollars. “Couples come to us, average age 28 or 30, and maybe finally they have a good job and even though they’re both making $90,000 or even $100,000, they’re staring at a tract house for $675,000. There is no point in paying for a natural diamond in this situation, like none at all.”“I’m super-practical,” he says. “If customers are open to laboratory-grown, we show them a 1-carat lab grown, a 1-carat Amora simulant and a 1-carat natural diamond and we’ll just let them pick.”So, in his world, laboratory-grown and other non-traditional centers make up an average of 35 to 40 percent of sales. When it comes to the value question, Andre is blunt. “I tell them if they’re investing in diamonds at all, they should go in another direction. Diamonds (mined or laboratory-grown) are a terrible investment.”



Retailers who have gone the laboratory-grown route and are able to explain it well to customers say they find little resistance.Jonathan McCoy of McCoy Jeweler in Dubuque, IA, realized the potential four years ago when he picked up half a dozen and they flew out the door. So far this year, 84 percent of center stones sold at McCoy are laboratory-grown. “We discuss the rarity of mined diamonds and lack of history of lab,” McCoy says. “Our whole presentation is offering options and showing stones next to each other.”

Brian Rouse, owner of Bay Area Diamond Co., Green Bay, WI, likes to use the term “above ground” diamonds, believing the term laboratory-grown is a little negative. “We want to have everything in the store that the market has to offer and let the customer decide. They look identical. And so, 90 percent of the time, clients pick the laboratory-grown diamond.”

Richard Bennett, owner of PK Bennett Jewelers in Mundelein, IL, says his first laboratory-grown sale was accidental. A couple came in looking for a diamond upgrade to a 2-carat or larger. “When we talked price, it was going to be hard to meet without going down in quality.” While he was searching, a laboratory-grown diamond dealer dropped in. “I asked him if he had a 2-carat radiant and he did, and it was very close to what these people were looking for and within their budget. The whole laboratory-grown thing, that didn’t matter to them at all. It was the beauty of the stone.”

Joseph Villarreal, owner of Villarreal, Designers of Exquisite Jewelry in Austin, TX, mentions the option of laboratory-grown only “as a last resort.” He doesn’t believe they’ll hold their value and he finds it unsettling that wholesale prices can vary widely. “I love the margin,” he says. “However, when I’m asked about the future value, I simply tell them I do not have a crystal ball.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2018 edition of INSTORE.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.



Wilkerson Testimonials

Cleaning House for a New Generation

At Komara Jewelers in Canfield, Ohio, Wilkerson handled all the aspects of its retirement sale just as owner Bob Komara’s children took over day-to-day operations of the business. They’d used other companies before, says Brianna Komara-Pridon, but they didn’t compare. “If we had used Wilkerson then, it would have been so much better.”

Promoted Headlines

Want more INSTORE? Subscribe to our newsletter.


Cover Stories

100 Things a Jewelry Salesperson Should Never Do

Don’t ask a customer their budget … and 99 more sales no-nos.




EVERY STORE and every salesperson is different, but some aspects of the jewelry business are universal. We suspect most INSTORE readers will agree with the bulk of the suggestions on this list (especially since the bulk of them came from INSTORE readers). No single salesperson will avoid all 100 of these “don’ts” every single day, but what matters is that they give you something to strive for. So read them, post them in the break room, breathe them, live them. Your customers — not to mention your coworkers and boss — will thank you.

1. Do not take longer than 5-10 seconds to greet a customer when they enter the store.

2. Do not greet the customer with “May I help you?” They’ll say, “I’m just looking.”

3. Do not greet the customer with “Are you looking for something special today?” They are. That’s why they’re in a jewelry store. Use an open-ended question: “What brings you in here today?”; “Where would you like to get started?”

4. Never write off a customer based on how they’re dressed.

5. Never ask a customer what their budget is.

6. Do not ask if you can show them something. Just show them.

7. Do not point or say, “Over there” when a customer asks where the engagement rings/pearls/designer cufflinks are. Walk them over to the case and take something out.

8. Do not ask a customer if they’re looking for white or yellow gold. That eliminates a chunk of inventory before they’ve even seen it.


9. Do not show them a lower-priced item first.

10. Do not ignore either half of a couple.

11. Do not treat customers differently from day to day. If you offered them coffee yesterday, offer them coffee today and tomorrow.

12. Don’t be pushy. Never give up immediately, but don’t make the customer uncomfortable either.

13. Do not go into a “selling” mode that is different from your normal personality. Have a natural conversation.

14. Never criticize a person’s taste in jewelry.

15. Never refer to a stone as “small” or of “poor” quality. You don’t know if the customer has a stone like that at home.

16. Do not interrupt a customer.

17. Do not one-up a customer’s story.

18. Never use profanity on the sales floor, regardless of the customer’s own language.

19. Don’t expect the jewelry to sell itself. Justify your existence.

20. Don’t tell a customer to “Take a look around” and leave them on their own.

21. But do not hover over a customer who has asked or signaled clearly that they wish to be left alone to browse.

22. Do not walk away from a customer you’ve started working with. Have a free coworker bring you anything you need.

23. Do not leave a piece of jewelry in the case when someone asks about it.

26. Do not start talking about a piece of jewelry and leave it in the case.

27. Do not show a piece of jewelry until you’ve learned a customer’s name and a little bit about why they’re in your store.

28. Do not put your fingers all over a piece of jewelry before handing it to a client.

29. Never take out more than one or two pieces at a time.

30. Do not guess a woman’s ring size. When you hand her the sizer, go a little larger than you suspect. She’ll feel better having to go down than having to go up.

31. Do not make a customer feel uncomfortable asking for the price.

33. Never steer a customer away from what they’re asking for just because you’d like to sell something else. Show them what they want to see.

34. Never inflate the price just so you can discount it later.

35. Do not rely on discounts to make sales. It’s lazy.

36. Do not offer a discount after another sales associate has already quoted a price.

38. Never let the price be the last thing you mention. Try something like: “It’s $395. Isn’t that oxidized silver such a striking look?”

39. Do not misrepresent a piece of jewelry, or exaggerate to make it sound more impressive.

40. Do not stop selling before the customer is ready to stop buying.

41. But do not keep offering suggestions when a customer has made up their mind. If they’ve found a ring they’re ready to buy, don’t keep showing more rings.

42. In the course of conversation, never bring up other, non-jewelry gift possibilities or expenses that could compete with your sale.

43. Do not talk a customer out of buying a more expensive piece of jewelry.


44. Never assume a customer is after only what they came in for. Simple battery replacements have turned into five-digit sales because the salesperson took a shot instead of letting the client aimlessly stand around waiting.

45. Don’t give up. If nothing you have in the case is what the customer wants, bring out some catalogs or get a quote from a supplier for a special order.

46. If you really can’t get what a customer wants, don’t give up then either. If they’re set on a certain line you don’t carry, advise them on where to go, and even call that store to see if they’ve got the item. The client will remember you.

47. Don’t forget to ask for a cellphone number, email address or other contact info. Ask for it in a natural way: “Can I email you, so you’ve got my information handy in case you have questions?”

48. Do not talk too much. The customer did not come in to hear about your kids or your mom or whatever. Shut up and listen.

49. Do not ever ask, “When are you due?” unless a woman has made it clear she is pregnant.

50. Never bring up a customer’s ex, especially when you’re selling something for their new partner.

51. Never text while you’re on the sales floor. Leave your cell phone on your desk or in your coat.

52. Do not use the phone in front of a customer if the call isn’t business-related.

54. Never, ever answer the phone while you’re already waiting on someone in person. People hate that. If you’re on the phone when someone walks in, end the call within 15 seconds.

55. If you are in the middle of another task when a customer comes in, do not complete it while they stand there twiddling their thumbs.

56. Do not start an unrelated conversation with a coworker while a customer is waiting. It makes the customer feel like a third wheel.

57. Never chew gum on the sales floor. Don’t use a toothpick either. And never pick your nose (especially with a toothpick).

61. Never bad-mouth another customer.

62. Do not neglect your personal appearance. You sell luxury goods. Also remember: In this business, people look at your hands — hands and nails matter for men and women.

63. Do not wear a piece of jewelry on the sales floor if the store doesn’t carry that line. That’s like hanging up an ad for something you don’t sell.

64. Unless you already have a relationship, don’t call a customer at home or work to make a sale.


65. Do not lean on anything. Stand up straight.

66. Do not yell across the showroom.

67. Do not refer to customers as “you guys.” Just plain “you” is sufficiently plural.

68. Never guess. If you don’t know something about a stone or metal, a store policy, or a repair, admit it. Then find out the answer.

69. Don’t get too technical when selling. Few customers are fascinated by the mechanics of jewelry design. Focus on the benefits that technical features convey.

71. Never say, “No problem.” The phrase you’re looking for is “You’re welcome.”

72. Never complain about anything. When you’re on the floor, Life is Perfect.

73. Do not tell customers that sales have been slow, even if they have.

74. Never bad-mouth a competing jeweler, even if the customer is complaining about them.

75. Do not turn a customer over to another associate just because a “better” prospect has walked in.

76. Never underestimate how long it will take to finish a job or get something in. Pad your timeline; when it comes in sooner, they’ll be thrilled.

77. Never sell jewelry as an investment. You’re making a promise you can’t keep.

78. Do not take in a repair without making clear, in writing — and with a picture if possible — exactly what is to be done. If additional charges pop up, call before proceeding.

79. Do not hand back a completed repair without looking it over in the customer’s presence. If there are still issues to address, both of you want to know before they walk out the door.

80. Do not ignore younger customers. The 12-year-old spending $25 today might be back for an engagement ring in 10 years.

81. Do not give customers paying cash 96 cents in change. What is this, a gas station? Round up.


82. Do not suddenly turn on the charm when you’re closing a sale. People will notice, and it will offend them.

83. Never tell a customer the store will be closing, to hint that they should hurry up and leave.

84. Never leave the sales floor if you’re the only one on it.

85. Never leave a showcase unsecured when you’re finished with it. And don’t leave your keys out.

86. Do not abide fingerprints or smudges on the showcases. If you’re free, wipe them down immediately.

88. Do not ask a woman if she likes the jewelry her husband bought her. It might not have been for her.

89. In fact, don’t bring up purchases with anyone except the purchaser. You don’t know whom it’s really for, or if it’s supposed to be a surprise.

90. To that end, do not leave voice or email messages that could spoil a surprise. Simply leave your name and number, and ask for a call back.

91. Do not forget to thank customers with a note or call. It’s not just polite; it’s your chance to do damage control if something went wrong.

92. Do not fail to keep good records. There are husbands and boyfriends out there who will love you for knowing what their ladies want.

93. Never forget to offer to gift-wrap a purchase.

94. Don’t be afraid to hop in the car and hand-deliver an item. That’s something customers tell their friends about.

95. Do not inconvenience a customer. If there’s a way to make their life easier, don’t dismiss it just because it’s not usually done.


96. Do not place blame. It doesn’t matter if it’s the goldsmith’s fault, or the supplier’s, or yours. Just fix it.

97. Never forget that some things are more important than money. Where death or other serious grief is involved, don’t be a stickler over store policy.

98. Never insult a customer or act as if they don’t belong in your store.

99. Never, ever, ever lie to a customer. Or to your boss or fellow employees, for that matter.

100. Do not read while you’re on the sales floor. Not even high-quality literature like In Search of Lost Time or Anna Karenina or INSTORE. (Oops! OK, put it down beginning … now!)

Continue Reading

Cover Stories

20 Ways You Can Deliver Jaw-Dropping Customer Service



JEWELERS DELIVER CHRISTMAS GIFTS in blizzards without the convenience of sleigh and flying reindeer. They whip up custom orders faster than the speed of a laser. They leap headlong into the role of emergency ring bearer. These tales are the stuff of company legend for independent retailers. But the Henderson family of Bend, OR, has a story that really stands out.

Annette Henderson had gone into labor in December at the same time that her husband, Ron Henderson, needed a finished piece of jewelry delivered to a customer.
“So he asked my mom to deliver it (the jewelry) on the way to the hospital and that he would meet her there,” says their daughter Natasha Henderson, manager of Saxon’s Fine Jewelers. Jewelry delivery made, Annette was driving over the railroad tracks on the way to the hospital when her water broke.

All was well, though, because the second “delivery” took place in the hospital. And the baby — Natasha — joined the family business and works with both of her parents at Saxon’s. “We even get along for the most part,” Natasha says. “And my mom didn’t kill my dad over that. She hasn’t yet, anyway.”
OK, they win, right!?

Beyond the heroics, though, what are you doing to deliver extreme customer service every day? And why is that so important in 2019?

Sometimes it seems there are not enough hours in the day to keep customers happy. Fifty seven percent of respondents to INSTORE’s 2018 Big Survey work more than 45 hours per week. Eric Ohanian of Eric Ohanian & Sons Co. in Boston is one of them. “I am meeting two customers on the way home tonight after working 11 hours,” he says. “We go the extra mile almost daily. I do believe it is the only reason we are still in business. Giving that extra level of service is all that sets us apart from the big box stores or the Internet.”

Besides devoting time to it, other keys to offering extreme customer service include making it personal, building relationships and developing a company culture focused on the customer.

Author and retail business strategist Bob Phibbs says simply that people who feel they matter buy more. If someone has made the effort to drive to your store, they expect to find something new and personal for them. Selling has to meet those needs and not be just about clerking or showing products.

Natasha Henderson with her parents, Ron and Annette of Bend, OR.

“To compete in 2019, you’ve got to make an emotional brand connection in your stores,” Phibbs explains. “If you have a ruthless attention to that, you’ll be fine. It’s time now to get sales training, to keep role-playing and to keep trying to figure out how to create an exceptional experience in your store.”
That means training for consistency.

“Most retailers think training is something you did already — like you changed your socks this morning. But training has to be a culture. When I work with great sales groups every day, there’s a focus; they’re looking at new products and role-playing. Instead of letting people sit behind the counter and talk about what happened on Game Of Thrones last night, keep a dialog going.”

The stakes are high because the customer experience — great or disappointing — has wider repercussions than ever before. “As soon as I walk out of your store, I can rave or rant about you,” Phibbs says. “Nobody had a microphone before like they do now.”

How to Make Someone’s Day

Consultant Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts says it’s the customer’s definition of extreme that matters — not yours. “Often,” she says, “the things we think of as over the top are really little more than what today’s experienced luxury consumer expects … and there’s nothing ‘extreme’ about simply meeting expectations.”

The standard for extreme service is most often set outside of the jewelry industry, she says. The consistency provided by high-end coffee brands or the experience of taking delivery of a new luxury car, for example, are good places to start looking for ways to surprise and delight your customer.

In other words, pay attention to good service you receive in all aspects of your life and let it inform what you do in your store.

Consultant Andrea Hill of Hill Management Group recently experienced amazing customer service at a restaurant in Tezza sul Brenta, Italy.

“I have some vendors visiting from London, and we all went out to dinner at a little local pizzeria. We got to talking and solving the problems of the world, and suddenly we realized that we were the only people left in the restaurant. For how long? Who knows! I went up front to pay, and the owner and his wife were sitting behind the counter looking very tired, but patient. I looked over at the door, and saw they had closed an hour and a half prior! They had cheerfully served more wine and checked in on us without once suggesting it was time for us to pack up and leave. Needless to say, I will be going back to that restaurant and bringing all my friends!”

Hill, in a recent blog post, outlined how important building a strong positive business culture is in providing that kind of exceptional service. Excellent customer service can be very difficult to find, even in the luxury sector, she says. In fact, it is one of the hardest things to do.

“You can’t automate it. You can’t script it or cookie-cutter it. You can’t ensure it with policy or rules. Excellent customer service is about people, and people run on motivation.”

To create a company culture that will nurture and serve customers, you must have a culture that nurtures and serves employees. That doesn’t mean coddling. Employees want to be treated as professionals, with dignity and respect. Study after study demonstrates that employees who are trusted and expected to perform admirably will rise to the occasion.

Andrea Riso of Talisman Collection, El Dorado Hills, CA, says her culture is to do everything possible to satisfy customers, including firing staff who don’t get it. “I’ve driven for hours, shown up at weddings, loaned jewelry when something is not done in time (rarely do I ever miss a deadline), give the jewelry for free if the customer had a bad experience with our staff, fired staff, taken calls and texts 24/7/365 (and I do mean 365), fixed things for free pre-wedding for people who are not my customers!”





Barry Moltz, small-business consultant, speaker and author, says online retailers are offering a kind of “faux personalization” that has become an expectation. When he signs on to, for example, the site greets him by name and knows what he’s bought in the past and what he might like to buy in the future. So, if you can’t remember all of your customers’ names and everything they might like or have ever wished for or purchased, collect all the information you can from your customers and get your POS system up to speed to do the work for you. “Amazon always remembers who you are, but does your local retail store?” Moltz asks.


John Carter, CEO of Jack Lewis Jewelers in Bloomington, IL, installed a “wedding-ring playground” — a custom-made bar-height table to display bridal sample lines from vendors. It allows engagement-ring shoppers to try out many different styles in a relaxed setting. “It’s helping start the conversation with the client,” Carter says. “It’s become a way to break the ice, hear about their likes and preferences, and then we can delve into all the options.”

At Jack Lewis Jewelers, shoppers are invited to play with sample rings at the wedding-ring playground.


Ensure the customer has a seamless experience no matter the channel they use. If you’re cultivating e-commerce and you have a full-time social-media or marketing associate, consider chatting — offering customers online help in real time. (This can also be outsourced to a larger company.) Helping a customer on your website used to mean providing an e-mail address or listing the company phone number, says Moltz, author of Bam: Delivering Customer Service In A Self-Service World. “Real-time chat is quickly becoming a requirement to help your online clients. Can video chat be far behind, for an even more personal touch?” If you offer live-chat support, list the hours on your website so that users know when they can and can’t contact you.


Daniel Pink, author of Drive, suggests a jewelry store version of the Apple Store Genius Bar. “Clueless customers — guys like me who don’t know their amethyst from their elbow — would flock to ask questions of your jewelry genius,” Pink says.


Some retailers have found a niche with appointment-only businesses, but it’s a nice thing to offer your favorite customers whatever your business model. Once you’ve established a relationship with a busy client, don’t leave your future availability to the chance your schedules happen to mesh. Let them make an appointment when it’s convenient to them and set aside time on your calendar to make the shopping experience special.


Martin Shanker, professional trainer and president of Shanker Inc. in New York City, says that many luxury buyers would purchase more if they could be less visible when making those high-end choices. But retailers often don’t factor in the need for discretion in the sales process. “Consequently, clients are making purchases online or in cities other than where they live,” Shanker says. “Luxury sales teams need to be extra sensitive in identifying these types of buyers and take steps to offer them increased privacy.” Consider inviting them to a more private room or viewing area, away from the selling floor. “The trend to be less conspicuous has not stopped the luxury customer from making large purchases. Therefore, sales professionals need to be cautious about misinterpreting a desire for privacy as a lack of interest in buying and unintentionally trading the business down.”


Take a close look at customer feedback and identify the main three to five recurring complaints, whether they’re delivered in person, by phone or in an online review. Then take steps to make sure they stop recurring. Consider the feedback you receive from your customers “free customer service consulting.” This is info of great value, not an interruption of your day, says What could be better than to get information directly from your customers? And yet, responding to it, reviewing it, acting on it can feel like an interruption of our work if we don’t carefully check our attitude.


It’s very important to have a qualified person with the right “diamond DNA” to make create a positive impression, says David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy. Research has shown the best diamond sales associates share similar traits: They are neither submissive nor aggressive, but tend toward slight extroversion, and their patience levels are in the median range (they can wait to close a sale without coming across as pushy). Once you have the right people out there, offer sales training, product knowledge and support, and make sure they are not spending their time changing batteries when they should be using their skills to greet customers and close sales


Chuck Kuba of Iowa Diamond in Des Moines, IA, came from a background in the performing arts before returning to the family’s traditional line of work and opening his own jewelry store. The two really aren’t so different: one is played out on the boards, the other in the imagination, says Kuba, who is a big advocate of using the “theater of the mind” to unlock a customer’s dreams, desires and aspirations. “Nothing can compare with asking a woman to close her eyes and imagine the perfect engagement ring and then describe it to you,” says Kuba. “It’s magic.”


Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Try out the role of counselor when selling or handling returns, if the situation calls for it. Say, “Tell me more.” It puts customers at ease, suggests author Harry Friedman in No Thanks, I’m Just Looking. And if they’re unhappy with a situation, it defuses the tension. If they’re not sure what they want, it will help them reach a conclusion.


“I want the client to dream his or her best dream, then I want to know the budget,” says Jo Goralski of the Jewelry Mechanic in Oconomowoc, WI. “I learned early on that if I design based on budget, no one wins. A young couple came into the studio. She wanted a yellow emerald-cut diamond in a split shank covered with diamonds, and a wedding band for him, and he had a $1,500 budget. Knowing the look she was going for, I found a semi-mount with melee diamonds. I found a killer soft yellow emerald-cut sapphire, and my shop hand-forged him a wedding band. With the sales tax, it came in at just under $1,500. They have been married over 10 years and have three kids, and they have always remembered we treated their dream with respect.”


“If they’re shopping together for an engagement ring, you need to ask her a lot of questions about style, fashion, what she’s seen, what she liked, if she has a photo on her phone,” says Shane Decker. “Too many people get defensive when they bring in a lab report from Blue Nile or James Allen or another online retailer. Say, ‘I’m so glad you did some research!’ If they bring that in, it means they haven’t bought it yet. The Internet doesn’t deliver an experience. So give them an incredible experience, get them talking about their engagement, their lives. This is something that’s among the top 10 most incredible memories of a woman’s life.”


It’s tough even to tell anymore who has money to spend. “They don’t just come in and say I’ve got 20 grand to spend on my wife,” says Bob Phibbs. “And they don’t dress like they did in the ‘60s to buy jewelry; they may come in in flip flops and shorts. Judging has to stop.”


“This is my favorite exercise to do with stores,” says consultant Joel Hassler of VonHasle Jewelry Advisers. “At a staff meeting, give each associate a piece of paper and have them write down as many things as they can about your store where your customer interacts with your business. Then, similar to the game Scattergories, go around the room and get a point for each thing you have on your list that no one else had. Put a $20 gift card on the line for the winner. The point you’re trying to make is that there are way more things than you might think of, almost an unending list. The door handles, the pens, the cases, the displays, the volume of your hold music, the fonts/colors in your advertising, the ceiling tiles, the burned out light bulb, the string on your bags, etc. It’s not so much about micromanaging, but over-managing everything that leaves an impression on your customer, subtle or not.”


The fact that customers want to be intimately involved in the creation of a piece of jewelry can be considered either an annoyance or an opportunity. Collins Jewelers in Dallas, GA, opts for the latter view, starting with taking the customer out to lunch to go over their renderings and then involving them in every step of production. “One customer wanted to pour his own gold, so we took care of all the details and made that possible, and he was ecstatic,” says owner Marty Collins.


“We open our doors to any of our customers who are involved with a charity and host a fundraising event at the store,” says Tracy Lewis of Glennpeter Jewelers Diamond Centre in Albany, NY. “We hire a caterer, bartender and cleaning crew. They bring their supporters, charge at the door and make money on raffle items.” They’ve helped raise $3 million for charity that way while establishing valuable relationships with clients and prospective clients.

At Von Bargen Jewelers, each location recruits a customer advisory board that provides valuable feedback.


At the Diamond Vault in Sarasota, FL, a concierge greets guests upon arriving, offers a beverage (beer, wine, champagne, coffee, etc.) and helps direct them to the appropriate person or area in the store — i.e. service/repair, vintage/estate jewelry, engagement rings, fine jewelry, etc. This approach can cut down on the “just looking” response since the concierge isn’t directly trying to sell them something. At the Diamond Vault, the concierge, who is a graduate gemologist, is also equipped with a computer and a phone and can easily answer customer-service questions, no matter how technical they may be.


Treat your customers as if you’re opening your home to them, says Elle Hill of Hill & Co., or as if you’ve invited them to a party. That means providing comfortable seating and offering them a drink, at least, along with a sincere welcoming smile and acknowledgment of their presence. Consider your level of hospitality. Would you offer your guests a glass of Champagne? Brownies on a silver tray? Wine and cheese? And consider the overall impression: Is the scent of your store inviting (cinnamon, cookies)? Or is it overpowering?


Shoppers feel special if they are included in a special sub-set of customers. Invite your best customers to join a VIP club, then invite them to exclusive trunk shows and offer special deals. Or put together an advisory board of well-connected customers who offer suggestions on what they’d like to see in your cases. For example, in Vermont, each Von Bargen Jewelers location has its own customer advisory board, made up of savvy, fashionable women, who meet quarterly to discuss inventory, merchandising and marketing. The store serves food and beverages, and participants receive gift bags, including $100 gift certificates to the store.


“No one should ever ask customers any question that will result in the answer, ‘Fine.’ That’s an acronym for Feelings I’m Not Expressing,” says Scott Ginsberg, author of How To Be That Guy And The Approachable Salesperson. “Instead, employees should ask only open-ended, passion-finding questions like, ‘What keeps you busy outside of work?’ and ‘What was the best part about your week?’ The question, ‘So, what do you do?’ should be outlawed completely. Because your job isn’t to learn what people do — it’s to learn who they are. Only then can you suggest the right jewelry to fit their individual truth.”

Continue Reading

Cover Stories

How to Know When It’s Time to Go



Author Seth Godin says strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations, while reactive quitting is the bane of those who strive and fail to get what they want. “And most people do just that, they quit when it’s painful and stick when they can’t be bothered to quit,” he writes in his book, The Dip.

In the case of retail jewelers, consultants say, some simply don’t have enough time to collect their thoughts, let alone devise a plan. Others may fear change.

If you’ve had enough, it may be time to call it quits and do something else. “Quitting is better than coping because quitting frees you up to excel at something else. All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy,” Godin writes.

Whether that something else turns out to be beach-combing in retirement, pursuing a hobby or reimagining a new way to do business, having a plan is a prerequisite to success. Jewelry store owners who do plan for the next phase of their lives express a strong sense of freedom, both before and after they activate that plan.

Consultant Bill Boyajian of Bill Boyajian & Associates has not run into any long-term jewelers who, deep down, don’t love what they do.

“That’s part of the problem,” he says. “They can’t envision what they will do if they leave their business. They haven’t had any free time to develop any hobbies. I encourage them to think about becoming a private jeweler, but being involved to a lesser extent.”

Josh Hayes, business analyst for Wilkerson, says retailers he’s worked with on retirement sales do want to stay involved with the industry. Many set up offices with a few display cases of sample lines and work by appointment. “It works out perfectly because you still have your customer lists from your store, so after your closing event, you can transition your old customers to your new endeavor. Then you have the flexibility to work as much as you choose.”

But even semi-retirement requires planning. According to David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy, 37 percent of jewelry store owners have no retirement plan at all; many just hope their exit works itself out. The key is to be in a position to retire — financially, physically, and mentally.

“Knowing that you can gives you answers,” Brown says. “Knowing that you can’t gives you stress.”
“Ask yourself, what options do I have: I can sell the business, close the business down, or I can groom the business so it runs without me, become an absentee owner and get a good income out of it,” Brown says.

On occasion, the millennial successor wants to speed up their parents’ exit, or in other ways would be an unpleasant or unsuitable business partner during a lengthy transition. In these cases, Boyajian advises the parents to liquidate most of their inventory in a sale to ensure they have money for retirement, and then simply let their kids take over the lease and the business and build up the inventory again.

Closing and retirement sales are regulated by law, and they can only be done once. Most of the store owners’ retirement income rests on the return from the sale event, so it’s incredibly important that the event is conducted properly. While Wilkerson can put together a closing event in about three weeks in an emergency situation, a year of planning will improve results, perhaps dramatically.

“Once the sale is complete, the new owner has lower inventory, minimal debt and can usually get some consignment inventory from vendors they know, and build up the store in the direction they intend to take it,” Hayes says.

Here are some examples of transition tales that show every indication they’ll be success stories.

Continue Reading






INSTORE helps you become a better jeweler
with the biggest daily news headlines and useful tips.
(Mailed 5x per week.)

Latest Classifieds

Most Popular