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Smart Managers: Debbie Lang

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DEBBIE LANG, a grandmother of eight, came to the jewelry business at age 50, after a career selling furniture. Brian Toone, CEO of the Jewelry Design Center in Spokane, WA, hired her in sales, albeit somewhat skeptically. Within a year and a half, though, Lang had more than proven herself. “I started watching her good judgment and decision making as well as the ownership she took in the best interest of the company,” Toone says. Eight years later, she’s the general store manager. “Our company has grown exponentially under her watch,” Toone says.

THE MORE YOU EMPOWER the staff and train them and teach them, the more they handle on their own. So they come to me with fewer small questions. I don’t do a lot of micromanaging.

I USED TO THINK I had to pull someone into my office to tell them they did a good job. But it’s just as effective to tell them in the hallway or a corner of the  office. It saves me time.

I MOTIVATE the staff by empowering them. We give duties to people and they are motivated when they have a say in what they do. So, on the sales staff, someone will be my liaison for John Hardy or Hearts On Fire, and they will have a say on what I’m going to buy from that company.

MY PARENTS taught me to lead by example. I would never ask the staff to do something that I wouldn’t do. I like the glass kept clean in the store — and we have a 12,000 square foot store! So, if I’m not busy I clean the glass. I’m rarely in my office; I’ll help at the front counter, I’ll take in repairs, buy gold. It motivates them to see there is a manager who works like they do.

MY MOST MEMORABLE SALE? When I was brand new, I’d probably been working here only two months, and I wasn’t even that trained in diamonds, I had a customer who was an engineer. And I had to go through every step, the cuts, the charts, everything, It was a 2-carat diamond, and I closed it and he has become a lifetime customer.

WHAT DO I LOOK FOR in sales staff? You need a high energy level because in sales you have to be up and on all the time. You can spot people who don’t have a lot of energy and they won’t make it in sales. Being self-motivated is huge. It’s too much energy for a manager to always have to motivate somebody. And a strong work ethic is the other thing I look for.

THE BIGGEST MISTAKE I’ve made is hiring someone and not letting them go soon enough. We have found that you can’t really change people, not their basic character. It makes it painful for everybody the longer you keep someone who’s not fitting in.

I GET UP every morning and exercise at 5 a.m. I work 11 hours a day and run circles around 30-year-olds. I don’t think I understood when I started managing that people do have different energy levels.

IF WE’RE NOT TOO BUSY, we have an earlyout program, so employees can leave at 4 p.m. The program is very motivating to the staff.

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

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