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Smooth Seller: Tonia Ulsh

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This Pennsylvania Smooth Seller blows her customers away. How does she know? Because she won’t stop serving them until they tell her she has blown them away.

[h3]Tonia Ulsh[/h3]

[h5]Mountz Jewelers (three PA locations) [/h5]

[componentheading]PROFILE[/componentheading]

TONIA ULSH
Age: 37 
Years in jewelry sales: 21 

[dropcap cap=T]wenty years before she was born, Tonia’s father, Marvin Leitzel, opened Leitzel’s Jewelry Store in Millersburg, PA. Her earliest memory of helping with the store was sitting at home making the bows that Leitzel used on his holiday packaging. At age 16, when “The Four C’s” meant nothing more than a passing grade to her fellow teens, Tonia began selling jewelry at Leitzel’s. “I believe people are born with the instinct to sell, or they’re not,” she says. “For me, it comes naturally. I enjoy selling and I enjoy people.” In 1989, she began working for her brother, Ron, at nearby Mountz Jewelers. Today, she’s the company’s chief operating officer.[/dropcap]

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MOUNTZ JEWELERS
Location: Central PA (three stores)  
Employees: 52 
Annual sales (2005): $2.7 million

In addition to having more certified gemologists on staff than any other area retailer, Mountz carries many of the world’s most prestigious jewelry brands, and was the area’s first to showcase debut lines by Scott Kay, John Atencio, and Diana by Couture.

[componentheading]INTERVIEW[/componentheading]

• My customers trust me because I am a very open person. I give my honest opinion every time. I’m not selling to make a one-time sale; I’m doing it for the relationship. It may sound trite, but my clientele are like a family — I know as much about my customers and their lives as I do about my friends. Having that kind of intimate knowledge makes it fun for both of us when we work together. When you build that type of relationship, they naturally trust you.

[blockquote class=orange]I can’t remember my biggest sale ever, because honestly, size doesn’t matter to me. [/blockquote]

• Two things I love about my job: making people feel good about their life celebrations, and being a part of those events. I love running into a customer who remembers me because I was an important part of their celebration. Recently, a woman stopped me in the street and asked if I remembered her. I said, “No, I’m sorry, can you tell me your name?” She held out her hand and replied, “Maybe you’ll remember this!” She was wearing the ring I’d helped her and her husband create 15 years before for their ten-year anniversary — they were now celebrating their 25th! I hadn’t seen her since the day they bought that ring, but she obviously loved it.

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• I treat customers like old friends. In fact, we had a wedding-band show about a month ago. A couple was in the store looking at rings, and we were having a really good time with the whole process. When they left, the other salespeople in the store asked me, “How do you know them?” They assumed I knew the couple, but I’d never met them before in my life! It’s a great job when you can make new friends every day.

• I don’t track my sales any longer — they all go toward the team total. Our salespeople don’t work on straight commission, but they do earn a team-based commission. I believe that has been crucial to providing the excellent service we’re known for.

• I’ve always been a person to share responsibility on the sales floor. No one has fun when one person is doing all the selling. People are in this business to sell, and when only one person is doing most of the selling, it brings down the morale of the entire team.

• It’s almost like a party when I’m helping a customer. I always bring staff out to look at what the customer is trying on. It gets everybody pumped. If we’re not busy, I get as many people out there as possible. It just energizes them and motivates them to work their client list. You can’t expect salespeople to treat customers well unless you do it yourself.

• I absolutely love the holidays! If you have a salesperson who doesn’t, they shouldn’t be on your sales floor. The energy, the excitement — it’s like a drug, almost. The holidays are the ultimate high for a salesperson. It’s not as challenging as the rest of the year, but it’s fun! The weak salespeople love it because they can sell, and the strong ones love it because they can sell up.

• Christmas Eve is the one day that feels the same every year. You feel proud of what the team has accomplished over the year, and that you’ve made it through the holidays without anything crazy going on. I would never want to miss working on Christmas Eve. Everyone feels the same — it’s the perfect way to end the year, and it makes you feel complete. We always break out a bottle of champagne, and our employees don’t leave right away. We sit for a while, talking about which customers we’ll be thinking about on Christmas Day, and how excited they’ll be when they see what they’ve received for Christmas.

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• In looking back on my early days in jewelry sales, I can’t believe I used to be afraid to sell bigger. I limited myself. It’s a hard thing to overcome, but you can’t expect your clients to be as limited as you are in purchasing jewelry. You can’t sell your product or your store short. The more I was exposed to jewelry and the industry as a whole, the more I realized that the world wasn’t as small as I thought.

[blockquote class=orange]You never know when a customer will buy that $90,000 item — or if they don’t, but you show it to them, it makes that $50,000 item seem much more reasonable! [/blockquote]

• One of my most memorable sales
happened on Christmas Eve. We were sitting on the floor after hours, drinking champagne and talking, all the lights in the store were off. A truck pulled up across the street, empty. A man got out and knocked on our door, so we turned on the lights. He’d been selling Christmas trees out of his truck, and he pulled out a wad of cash (not a very big one), saying that he had two sons, a daughter, and a wife, and he needed gifts for all of them. Between myself and another employee, we went through the store and gave him everything we could, from free gifts to a locket for his wife that we engraved for him on the spot. He left with two full bags. Do you think he’ll ever forget us?

• For each and every customer, I always do more than what they expect. How do I know I’ve done it? I keep going until they tell me. People don’t keep that sort of thing to themselves — they tell you when you’ve really blown them away. If they don’t, you haven’t done it yet.

• My favorite customer is a happy one. I like people who are positive and like to have fun. We have a great time trying on jewelry. Life’s too short not to enjoy it.

[blockquote class=orange]Every customer has a story. You feel like a bartender sometimes. [/blockquote]

• I once met a couple that was celebrating their 10-year anniversary. They came in separately — he was buying her a bigger diamond ring, she was buying him a watch. But I was the only one who knew three surprises were happening that night — besides the two gifts, she was telling her husband that she was pregnant! They’d had some difficulty having children, so this was incredible. I wanted to be a fly on the wall so badly! Their daughter is 12 now, and her father comes in to buy her jewelry now.

• When I’m feeling sick or tired, I just come in to work anyway. I may feel that way at home, but when I get here, it just happens. Calling from home to check in just isn’t the same. Most of the time, I wouldn’t even tell someone I wasn’t feeling well. You have to be positive in this business, especially if you’re in a position of leadership.

• I can’t just take a day off. I’m a planner. I plan everything. I schedule my vacations around everyone else’s. I’m married with two children, and I do volunteer work and sit on the board of a non-profit, so it’s a lot to handle. But I never just take a few days vacation on the spur of the moment. When I feel frustrated, I figure out where I can give in a little, in such a way as to least affect my family and my life.

• The mistake I make most often is being too honest. I’m a very strong-minded person. I have an opinion. If I’m showing a person a piece that I don’t think is right, I’ll tell them. It may not be the greatest short-term move, but it’s the best thing for them in the end.

• I know a sale is going south when everybody’s quiet. My sales are never quiet. If it happened, I would quickly pull someone in to help salvage the sale. It’s like going to a party where no one is talking — who wants to go to that party?

• The unwritten rule I hate most is “he who speaks first, loses.” I hate it, but I abide by it. I’m a very determined person. I will wait it out, but it’s not fun.

• If a customer is shy or nervous, I don’t talk about jewelry. You talk about them or the person they’re buying for, and let them bring up jewelry when they’re ready. After all, that’s why they’re in the store, so they’ll eventually get to it. Make them more of a friend, get on their side, and let them know you’re there to help them and make the experience fun.

• If I could tell a new salesperson one thing, I’d tell them to relax and have fun. Everything else — your education, etc. — will come. If you’re not enjoying it, you’re never going to sell anything.

[span class=note]This story is from the May 2006 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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