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Smooth Seller: Jay Holtorf

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“My secret weapon for selling is making a friend to begin with” says Smooth Seller from Houston, TX.

[h3]Jay Holtorf [/h3]

[h5]General manager, I.W. Marks, Houston, TX [/h5]

[componentheading]Smooth Seller Bio[/componentheading]

[dropcap cap=A]lthough Jay Holtorf, 60, has reached the pinnacle of his field, he insists it’s not “rocket science” for anyone to be able to follow his example as a top seller. Be yourself, loosen up and get to know your customers, he says. “If I met someone on their very first day in jewelry sales, I’d tell them, be nice,” Holtorf says. “There’s no trick to this. There really isn’t. Just take care of people.” Holtorf moved to Houston in 1977 to escape the Midwest snow, and discovered not only that he had a knack for jewelry sales, but that it was a lot of fun. He started with Sweeney’s, a division of Gordon Jewelers, and never doubted he was in the right field. He has worked for 20 years at the high-profile, family-owned I.W. Marks in Houston, where he has been general manager for the past 13 years. Since the flagship store’s latest expansion in 1999, he has presided over 100 showcases in more than 10,000 square feet of space. He sells brands including Rolex, Lagos, Charriol, Mikimoto, Stephen Dweck and Jude Frances.— EILEEN MCCLELLAND [/dropcap]

[componentheading]Smooth Seller Interview[/componentheading]

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• My secret weapon for selling is making a friend to begin with. People are going to shop where they’re comfortable, where they trust your judgment.

• Do I have a favorite type of customer? Absolutely. 50-plus and male. That group is generally successful at that point in their life. They have the wherewithal and desire to make that kind of purchase. I also have several customers who are extremely generous with gifts for their staff and business associates; that’s been a great part of our business.

• I think everyone in sales of any form has had a slump. You shrug it off and start over because you can’t change what’s past.

• I’m not a big proponent of cold-calling the customers. I’ll do some calling of customers I’m very well acquainted with to invite them to events or to let them know something is ready for them.

• My best sales day? I’ve sold around $190,000 a couple of times, some with diamonds, some with watches.

• My short-term goal is increased sales for the store. My long-term goal is a comfortable retirement.

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• I do have a favorite customer. And the reason he’s my favorite customer is not only the amount he spends on a regular basis, he’s just a super-generous individual. He has a lot of volunteers working with him and he makes sure everyone gets a very nice gift.

• The mistake I catch myself making most frequently is telling my longtime customers too much about my political opinions. After so many years they become friends and sometimes I talk a little too much. And occasionally, I’ve had adverse reactions. I think you’ve always got to remember that they are customers first and not social acquaintances that you can be completely open with.

• I most enjoy selling loose diamonds, without a doubt. Because there’s so much detail to them. There’s a romancing the sale with the importance of the diamond, specifically for wedding jewelry. And I try not to get too deep into the technical detail of the diamond, unless asked. It’s still primarily an item of romance.

• The ideal salesperson is friendly, knowledgeable and sincere. Phony is easy to spot.

• You’re able to make a lot of contacts that will be important to you throughout your entire life. Be patient and build your personal trade. It takes time but it makes your life easy. Start that customer book from day one.

• I know a sale is going south when they will not communicate. There are times when people are just quiet, and I can’t draw anything out of them. That’s the time to turn over to another salesman. A lot of times it takes a different personality.

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• A lucky charm? My diamond tietack. I’ve worn that for 20-odd years and get a lot of comments on it.

• In looking back on my early days in retail jewelry sales, I can see I was too stiff and formal, thinking that was the correct approach. And I quickly found out this is a fun business. Your customer should have fun, and I try to carry that through.

• My favorite annual promotion is the winter sale, without a doubt. ‘Tis the season. You’re busy, constantly. It starts the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. It’s the most tiring, but definitely the best time of year. I probably work best under pressure.

• The first piece of jewelry I ever owned was a lapis ring. I enjoyed being able to purchase it and reward myself. It’s now a proud possession of my second son. My oldest son, David, has been with me, working here for the last 10 years.

• The thing that bugs me the most is when customers will not communicate. That is the toughest part. You’re not able to draw any information out. That generally will be with a couple, and it might have something to do with the two of them and you are caught in that situation.

• A sales mantra? No. I know what I have to do, I come to work and do it. It’s not rocket science. I think you need to have an appreciation of the value and beauty of what you’re selling.

[blockquote class=orange]I insist upon turnovers if a sale is not being closed, and cooperation between all the members of the staff. Teamwork is vitally important.[/blockquote]

• I have a lot of e-mail communication with vendors. However, e-mail is becoming irritating at best because of all the spam, so I don’t use it with customers.

• Enjoy what you do. This is a privileged business. There are not a lot of people who are able to work in the jewelry business. We work with beautiful, valuable items and get to meet people who are interested in them.

[span class=note]This story is from the March 2008 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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