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Take Off That Hat!

Time is at a premium these days, and jewelry store owners need
to consider which roles they can relinquish. Here are some pointers and possibilities.

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s anyone who runs a business knows, “store owner” means a multitude of things at once. If you’re a jewelry store owner, you might sometimes be surprised by how little time you actually get to spend out in the store selling jewelry. Besides phone calls that need to be made and emails that must be replied to, there are always a hundred little jobs you never imagined you were signing on for: fixing the toilet, finding the right shade of paint, dealing with a family of mice that just moved in.

Even when the tasks are more customer-facing or management-related, you can feel out of your depth. How many coffee orders are you taking every day? How many times have you listened to your top salesperson complain about her sister? Is this just how things must be?

Well, to a degree, yes. You’re the owner; the buck stops with you. But you have some agency here as well. You don’t have to wear every single hat at your store. Some of them can be farmed out to employees or contractors. Some you can just drop. To that end, let me present this overview of a few hats to consider hanging up for good. After all, in today’s world, anything we can do to reduce our stress a bit is a positive thing, right?

accountant jeweler

ACCOUNTANT

A jewelry store owner once told me he did not really do deep dives into the business’s finances, did not devote his limited, precious time to the ins and outs of the tax code to see where he might save money or garner some kind of advantage. “That’s what I pay our bookkeeper and our CPA for,” he said. Instead, the owner spent his time reviewing reports from the store’s CRM software, which gave him real, actionable insight into the rhythms and overall performance of the operation. Make sure you hire finance professionals you can trust, audit their work periodically, and consult another accountant if your gut tells you yours could be delivering better value. But hang up the green eyeshade and focus on gems, metals, and customers.

barista and bartender

Barista and bartender

My family’s downtown jewelry store is next to a local coffeehouse — there’s actually a big, visible open doorway connecting the two shops. So our salespeople just run over there if they want a mug of decaf or a customer would like a latte. Expertly brewed coffee is much tastier than a pot of Folgers and more earth-friendly than K-cups (which are so bourgeois anyway). If you can get a coffee shop to move in next to you, that’s the first thing you should do. If that doesn’t work, is it possible for your store to move in next to a coffee shop?

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As for alcohol (and I write this as someone who has consumed — and occasionally regurgitated — an outstanding amount of it), do you ever feel like it’s just a bit much? Like, does every guy who comes in shopping for an engagement ring need a cold bottle of craft beer? (Are there guys who sometimes go out pretending to shop for engagement rings and hit all the upmarket jewelry stores just so they can drink free IPAs all day?) Taco Bell serves booze now! Are we moving in the right direction as a culture? When I was growing up, you went to Taco Bell when you were done drinking! Buddhism’s fifth precept prohibits drinking, even if you have no trouble with alcohol, because seeing you drink might make things harder for folks who do. If offering libations has made a measurable positive difference in your sales, it’s hard to say you shouldn’t. But are sales everything? It’s OK for a jewelry store not to be a bar.

Social media savant

With Facebook and Twitter well into their second decades, it feels like we should have this figured out by now. Yet too many retailers insist on either continuing to treat social media like a fad (it’s an awfully popular and enduring fad, if so) or using it simplistically, posting pics of new products and the occasional smiling customer. The truth is, “social” remains a tricky fit for a lot of businesses. The biggest, text-driven sites are places where you need a clear point of view to stand out, and where customers and others can engage you, publicly and sometimes negatively. While the truth about “cancel culture” is more complex than the popular narrative might suggest (and, thankfully, outside the purview of this article), it is true that people can and do get into big trouble on the internet, and that it can have a palpable, serious impact on their professional and personal lives. It is also true that the impact often feels disproportionately harsh. Given that, it’s not off-base to conclude there’s more potential downside than upside to maintaining a social media presence.
With that in mind, here are a few guidelines to help you minimize the time and energy you spend worrying about the internet and your business:

  • Instagram is good because it is relatively controversy-free and the best online venue for showcasing photos and videos of products and customers. Pinterest too.
  • You don’t need to be on Twitter. Twitter is for (1) arguing about politics, (2) making jokes, and (3) humiliating yourself and going viral. No one is buying jewelry because of a tweet.
  • Your business should have a simple Facebook page, with contact info and vital updates about closures and the like. But if you spend money on Facebook ads, you need to really look at whether it’s consistently driving sales and visits.

DJ

DJ
You know what jewelry stores used to do, before the internet and iPods and Spotify came along and made many of us believe we were exceptional “curators of music”? Before that, jewelry stores just played the radio — lite rock (never “light”) — and it was terrific. So, you go out there and get on the FM band, and you twirl that tuner dial until you find the station that’s playing “Fields of Gold” by Sting, and then you never touch the sound system again, because you are set, baby. That’s your frequency. You’re welcome.

Buyer

You’re probably never going to remove this hat completely, to be honest — your product is your business, to a large extent, after all. But no single jeweler should be doing all of their buying, unless you’re running a very small operation. Your best salespeople should have as strong a sense as you do about the styles and pieces your clientele is interested in, and should be building the relationships that make it possible for them to go to a show and place orders.

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You know what jewelry stores used to do, before the internet and iPods and Spotify came along and made many of us believe we were exceptional “curators of music”? Before that, jewelry stores just played the radio — lite rock (never “light”) — and it was terrific. So, you go out there and get on the FM band, and you twirl that tuner dial until you find the station that’s playing “Fields of Gold” by Sting, and then you never touch the sound system again, because you are set, baby. That’s your frequency. You’re welcome.

HR specialist

The reality is that most small businesses aren’t going to be able to afford a full-time human resources manager. But is there an HR professional you could contract with part-time? Having someone familiar with employment law on hand can be mighty useful, and a seasoned vet might be able to streamline your hiring and onboarding processes. It’s also common for lines to get blurred at small businesses — managers and employers start feeling like “family,” boundaries get fuzzy, and hurt feelings can fester. Even a part-time HR person can help address these issues, and do so more objectively than the average owner.

lady running holding phone

Custodial engineer

There is something to be said for store owners who still take out the trash themselves. No one should believe they’re above Windexing showcases or vacuuming. But unless you’re a one-person operation, an owner shouldn’t be doing the bulk of the janitorial duties. Divvy up cleaning tasks among the entire staff, so that everyone bears a smaller part of the burden — after all, a tidy and well-maintained space is essential for all of you, if you want to make money. That said: This is work you must assign and manage. I know one retailer who grew increasingly resentful that her employees wouldn’t take it upon themselves to wipe down the restroom when it got icky, but she didn’t want to tell them to do it either — she wanted them to feel as personally invested as she was. That’s understandable, but not realistic. Set clear expectations and release yourself from excessive housekeeping responsibilities.

IT Department

“Computer stuff” is another set of duties that should be contracted out to an on-call professional, whether an individual or another local business. Resetting the Wi-Fi is straightforward enough (try turning it off and then turning it back on again), but unless you absolutely love tech, you should feel no shame about absolving yourself of responsibility for syncing content on iPads, or fixing the printer. (Why are printers just as touchy as they were 30 years ago? It doesn’t make any sense.)

IT guy

Event planner

Some people really love planning events, and if you are one of them, far be it from me to harsh your mellow. If you are not … well, I’m no scholar employed by a prestigious think-tank to concoct theories about the future, but it’s a good bet that once this pandemic is finally over and live, in-person mass gatherings are a regular thing again, just about every event planner in your local Yellow Pages will be looking for work at a very reasonable fee. For big events, hire one of them. For smaller deals, keep in mind my iron-clad rules for a successful party: Offer an open bar. Make sure there is real food, enough of it for the whole night. No guns allowed. And nobody ever went wrong jamming late-’90s, early-’00s pop, R&B, and hip-hop. (OK, I guess you’ll need to touch the sound system again for this.)

Marriage counselor

In the process of selling jewelry, and particularly bridal jewelry, I am told, jewelers may sometimes find themselves inadvertently playing the role of couples therapist, as what appeared to be a simple shopping trip turns out instead to be an opportunity for all manner of barely suppressed resentments and long-standing conflicts to come to the fore. Listen, you gotta go where the conversation takes you, and obviously, your objective is to sell a diamond, even if the resulting divorce proceedings may ultimately be more expensive than the wedding. But if you are going to dispense romantic advice, you should at least know what you’re talking about. My wife is an actual couples therapist, and she would tell your customers to first read Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch (I had to read it before she would marry me). John Gottman’s body of work is also excellent; a paperback of his Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work runs about $10 on Amazon. What if you bought copies in bulk and included them with every purchase of an engagement ring? Relationship crises aren’t your job to handle, but you can empower people to solve them without getting involved yourself.

Spiritual guru or therapist

On the popular “Ask a Manager” blog — which should be required reading for anyone working at or running a business — veteran manager Alison Green dispenses advice on work situations ranging from the mundane (“How do I set boundaries with an overly chatty coworker?”) to the salacious (“My coworker wants us to call her boyfriend her ‘master’”) to the absurd (“I had to prepare a meal and entertain 20 people for a job interview”). One theme Green has seen more and more frequently in the letters she receives: Employers who want to take an active role in managing employees’ mental health.
While that may sound benign enough, letter-writers describe situations such as being forced to go around a table sharing personal details about medication and trauma (in the name of “breaking down the stigma around mental health”) or being made to write emotionally charged personal poetry to read aloud for colleagues. No matter how good your intentions are, for the love of all that is holy, do not do this. You are not responsible for your employees’ mental well-being — you are responsible for setting clear expectations and giving them tools they need to meet those expectations (which may include a health care plan that provides access to affordable professional help). Asking them to treat work like a spiritual retreat, a confessional, or a therapist’s office is a giant boundary violation. If you’re wearing this hat, please remove it and never put it back on. Outside of how uncomfortable this kind of thing can be, you also risk re-traumatizing people who don’t want to think, much less talk, about their private issues at work. Even if employees claim they enjoy your interventions, keep in mind that the power dynamic might make them uncomfortable saying otherwise.

photographer

Photographer

I mean, everyone is a photographer to a degree, now that we’re all carrying cameras in our pockets. But just owning the latest iPhone doesn’t actually make anybody a pro. Jewelry is one of the trickiest photographic subjects, because photography is all about working with light, and jewelry is largely about highly reflective surfaces. All employees should be trained on taking pictures of pieces that come in for repair, but a practiced photographer should be involved in any images the public will see (even if that just means they helped set up a light box to capture pics of new merchandise).

Milliner

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This is a highfalutin’ word meaning “hat maker,” and in the unlikely event that you are filling this role, knock it off! We’re trying to leave you with fewer hats here. Come on.

 

HATS WORTH WEARING

A jewelry store owner can’t take off every hat, of course — and shouldn’t want to! Here are the hats we love to see on your head.

  • CHEERLEADER AND COACH
    Your employees should never doubt you’re in their corner. While you can’t make every sale for them or set every stone, you can be vocal about their successes and instructive about what they could have done differently when they don’t succeed. You recruit the best talent and write the playbook, and then watch them execute. As a coach, think more Phil Jackson than Bobby Knight. And as cheerleader, pom-poms are fine, but leave the flouncy skirt at home.
  • SPOKESPERSON
    Is anything more delightful than a business owner who’s also the face and voice of their business? Not every owner is cut out to be a spokesperson, and it’s OK if you aren’t, but if you have a sense of fun and a flair for public speaking, jewelers from Philadelphia’s Steven Singer to Tom Shane of Shane & Co. demonstrate just what a marketing coup taking on that role can be.
  • GRADUATE GEMOLOGIST
    It’s true that you don’t have to be an expert in gems and precious metals to run a thriving jewelry business. Maybe your bench jeweler has that knowledge, or your top sales associate. But there’s just something credible about a jewelry store whose owner knows their way around a stone.
  • PHILANTHROPIST
    Selling jewelry is, in part, about selling an image — and not just an image of the customer wearing their latest purchase. Your business should be seen as prosperous, warm, generous, a place that can afford to spread and share the wealth. You might not be able to honor every philanthropic request that comes your way, but it’s in your interest to respond to some of them.

Josh WImmer has been a contributor to INSTORE since 2006. He has coordinated the annual America's Coolest Stores contest for several years. The job mostly involves pestering jewelry store owners to start their contest entries, pestering jewelry store owners to finish their contest entries, and figuring out computer problems over the phone from hundreds of miles away.

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Retirement Made Easy with Wilkerson

The store was a landmark in Topeka, Kansas, but after 80 years in business, it was time for Briman’s Leading Jewelers to close up shop. Third generation jeweler and owner Rob Briman says the decision wasn’t easy, but the sale that followed was — all thanks to Wilkerson. Briman had decided a year prior to the summer 2020 sale that he wanted to retire. With a pandemic in full force, he had plenty of questions and concerns. “We had no real way to know if we were going to be successful or have a failure on our hands,” says Briman. “We didn’t know what to expect.” But with Wilkerson in charge, the experience was “fantastic” and now there’s plenty of time for relaxing and enjoying a more secure retirement. “I would recommend Wilkerson to any retailer considering a going-out-of-business sale,” says Briman. “They’ll help you reach your financial goal. Our experience was a tremendous success.”

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