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Smooth Seller: Robin Johannes

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This Colorado “Smooth Seller” see jewelry as … good analogy! … soul food.

[h3]Robin Johannes[/h3]

[h5]Johannes Hunter Jewelers; Colorado Springs, CO[/h5]

[componentheading]PROFILE[/componentheading]

[dropcap cap=R]Robin Johannes started in the jewelry business straight out of high school — deciding to work out of her parents’ store because she knew she was “too much of a party animal” to go to college. Nineteen years later, the 39-year-old former “party animal” is the owner and primary sales associate at the family business, and in 2004, personally sold $2.9 million in jewelry. She estimates her closing rate is 30% for first-time customers, with 60%-70% for repeat customers.

Johannes Hunter Jewelers is a family-owned and operated business, located in downtown Colorado Springs, CO, that offers a distinctive variety of high quality jewelry. The store specializes in high-end jewelry and does a lot of custom work along with a heavy emphasis on jewelry with colored gemstones. Last year, the store did $5 million in sales.[/dropcap]

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[componentheading]Smooth Seller Interview[/componentheading]

The best sales advice I’ve ever received is very, very simple. Just because you [the salesperson] can’t afford it [a piece of jewelry] that doesn’t mean the customer can’t. This advice was given to me from my mother when I was making $17,000 a year. It really helped put things in perspective for me. 

My favorite type of customer is a woman making a self-purchase. Mostly because they’re at that “I am woman hear me roar” self-congratulatory phase in their lives and they want to give themselves a gift. For some women it’s their first major non-service purchase. Within that group I really enjoy women that are making such a self-purchase for the first time. It’s just fun. They’ve reached a place in life where they can give themselves a little soul food. And that’s what jewelry is — soul food. 

[blockquote class=orange]My step-father says I missed my calling as a shrink. I make myself very available for people’s needs.[/blockquote]

• Men like it when I call them [about jewelry]. At first they act like they don’t like it when I call but when they appear as the hero with their loved ones they take all the credit. 

• My worst customer was a guy who threatened to blow up the store. There was a customer in his 40’s who was dating a woman for about 10 years — she’s been a client of ours for quite a while. They finally decided to get married and he came in to buy an engagement ring. After five or six months the engagement was broken off. That’s when he came back in to the store to return the ring, which was long past our return policy. I told him “we guarantee jewelry, not relationships”. That’s when his exchange with me got more heated. I kept my cool and held my ground. But he just got more heated and made that threat. Eventually he left the ring on the counter along with a few hundred dollars in cash to cover other work done in the store. As far as the store was concerned his accounts were cleared so I mailed the ring to his house. It belonged to him. Eventually the two got married but the man died. Years later, the wife brought the ring in and had it made into custom jewelry. 

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• I got into the jewelry business through nepotism. My mother was in the business. When I graduated from high school I knew I’d be too much of a party animal for college and thought it would be a waste of my time. So I went directly to work for my mother.

• One of the best salespeople I know is my “personal shopper” at the Nordstrom’s in Denver. She’s really not my “personal shopper” per se. But she’s a clothing saleswoman who does take good care of me. She lives by the old Nordstrom philosophy about customer service. She told me that when she started she was a little apprehensive about working there as she had heard customer service at Nordstrom’s “wasn’t what it used to be”. But she joined them and eventually became my personal shopper. She’ll call when new stuff comes in she thinks I might like. In other words, she works the phones much like we do in our store. 

• My most phenomenal sale was a 5.0-carat round diamond I sold to a gentleman from Wisconsin. I’ve had bigger sales, but this sale was phenomenal because the way it all happened. My “personal shopper” at Nordstrom’s in Denver referred me to the Wisconsin gentleman’s daughter who lives in Fort Collins, which is about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Colorado Springs. The [Wisconsin] woman’s father wanted to buy an important diamond for his wife. So, the daughter came in to the store and we selected a short list of diamonds. Then we got her father on the phone for a teleconference. The three of us talked about the diamonds but the father and daughter eventually made the final choice. She selected the diamond at the store and the father sent the check later. It was a $145,000 sale. 

• My homework consists of reading the trade magazines for starters. I sometimes read conflicting reports in the trade magazines, so I call my vendors to get a balance of information on important industry issues. I also get out in the market and to the trade fairs to talk with vendors and to get market updates, trend forecasting as well as other information. 

• I also belong to a Scull group [Scull and Company, a retail consultancy firm]. My Scull group is made up of 17 jewelers from all over the US. The stores are similar in that we’re making sales ranging from $1.5 million to $8 million annually and have similar views on business and store management philosophies. I belong to a phenomenal group of store owners, two of which are the most creative marketing people I know and another man who is a store owner in Texas and is away from his business about 90% of the time. We meet twice a year, once at the Scull headquarters in New Jersey and another time at another group member’s store where we do a store critique. We meet for 4.5 days twice a year. 

• As a store, we do a lot of calling. We work wish lists pretty hard as the bulk of our customer outreach. For me, I’m on the phone about one hour a day or 20% of the time. Other [salespeople] in the store are on the phone slightly more ? perhaps 20% to 30% of their day is spent on the phone. We do a lot of custom work which requires a lot of calling to set appointments with people to check waxes, approving a quote on a piece or calling to order a piece of jewelry. 

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• Our store has an official dress code and that is everyone wears a suit. In fact, one of our interview questions is “do you have or do you have access to a suit wardrobe?” We’re professionals at what we do and professionals go to work dressed like professionals. We know that our store looks expensive. And we also know how we dress, combined with the store’s appearance, may make people think we’re snobbish. But once they come in and get to know us customers soon figure out that we are warm, real people and that our dress code is for the staff, not our clients.

• My step-father says I missed my calling as a shrink. I make myself very available for people’s needs. 

[blockquote class=orange]In our store, when we close a really big sale we do a ‘happy dance.’ Each salesperson has their own little jig they do.[/blockquote]

• If I weren’t selling jewelry I’d be a motivational speaker. I just like the idea. I know I would be only making a temporary impact on people’s lives, but it would be about helping people to be more positive and upbeat. 

• In our store, when we close a really big sale we do a “happy dance”. Each salesperson has their own little jig they do. No, they don’t go to the backroom. Each person has to do it in the showroom in full embarrassment of everyone — including the customers. The customers usually ask what it’s all about. It’s all in good fun. 

• With my mother planning to leave the family business in about six years to work on a more limited basis, one of my long-term goals is to make sure the secession goes smoothly. I want to make sure our relationship remains stable throughout that process and when all is said and done.

[span class=note]This story is from the February 2005 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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