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The Big Story: 35 Best Bridal Tips Ever




They typically account for about 2 percent of the
customers who walk into your store
, but almost 50
percent of your sales. Yes, we’re talking the engagement-
ring buyer. He’s the guy the American jewelry
industry is built on. He’s often a little nervous, not
always willing to admit he doesn’t know much about
what he’s buying and often in need of credit. But treat
him well, ensure his first step toward a life of happily
ever after is a successful one, and he will ensure your
business thrives. To help you in this endeavor, we’ve sifted through 14
years of INSTORE editions, eight years of our sister magazine INDESIGN,
and the almost 2,000 daily tips we’ve sent out over the years to
find the best bridal ideas we’ve published, and then added a modern
spin. Sure, you’ll be familiar with many of them, but best practice isn’t
about knowing, it’s about doing. As we reach another proposal season,
embed these tips into your processes. And you’ll be saying I do to a
good last quarter of 2015.



Men Are from
Women Are
from FIT …

CLASSIC TIP: “Gender profiling”
is not a dirty phrase, at least
when it comes to engagementring
sales. According to The
Knot’s research, “stone quality”
is the most important attribute
for men when selecting
an engagement ring, while
for soon-to-be brides “style/
setting” is given priority over
other attributes. When it’s the
guy, talk about the quality of the
materials and construction. For
a woman, focus on the styling
of a ring.

MODERN SPIN: “When scoping
out new designers, check out
their Instagram accounts to see
what kind of following they have
and how on-trend they are with
end customers,” recommends
Cindy Edelstein of Jeweler’s
Resource Bureau.




Dump the Lab Report

CLASSIC TIP: Romance the
stone. This is the love business,
it’s about filling someone’s heart
with visions of a life spent with
their soul mate, not filling their
head with the numbers that
classify a dry commodity. Instantly
pulling out the lab report
whenever you show a diamond
is a romance-killer, “pure and
simple,” says Shane Decker.

MODERN SPIN: Promise yourself
that for the next month you
won’t bring out a lab report
when showing a diamond until
the deal is done or the customer
asks for it. Jewelers have to take
back their space and reclaim
their knowledge and their
skills, says Stephane Fischler,
president of the Antwerp World
Diamond Centre.




Build a Better Wallet

CLASSIC TIP: Let them touch. Nearly 100 percent of engagement
ring buyers do research on the Net, but only 10 percent
buy online. Why? Because it’s a product they have to touch.
What’s it mean for you? You need goods in the store. Bruce
Freshley of Freshley Media expressed dismay at the results of
our 2012 Big Survey, which showed the majority of stores stock
fewer than 10 1-carat-plus diamonds. “Even more shocking is
that the majority have fewer than 10 on memo,” he said. “You
simply cannot compete in bridal with a weak wallet. You’ve got
to have the right goods at the right price at the right time.”

MODERN SPIN: Memo up, although
do so
with an understanding
of the
carrying costs.
Be a hard-nosed
numbers guy
about this.



Aim Higher


CLASSIC TIP: Boost your average
ticket. Consumers are getting
older, wiser, and more cynical.
At the same time, if you give
them a good reason to trade
up, they will. “Most of us have
learned that the lowest price
isn’t always the best value,” says
Paco Underhill, keynote speaker
at the 2015 SMART Show. McKinsey
& Co. noted in a January
report what store owners have been telling us for the last few
years: “More people are trading
up from what
some consider to be
the standard 1-carat
diamond engagement
ring to 2, 3, or 4
carats.” This trend is
being reinforced by
the rising average age
of marrying couples
— they can afford a
more expensive engagement

MODERN SPIN: To be a player in
this market, you need to have
on hand a few aspirational
pieces, says David
Brown, president
of the Edge Retail
Academy. Even for
those regular customers
who can’t afford
a $100,000 bracelet,
it’s a thrill to try it on.
Start experimenting
with more expensive
bridal sets.



Aim Lower

CLASSIC TIP: A few years
ago, Torin Bales, owner of
Torin Bales Fine Jewelry
in Victoria, TX, realized
his store’s upper-end image
was scaring off young
customers and hurting his
bridal sales (at the time,
the segment accounted
for only 10 to 15 percent
of his business). So Bales,
with his ad agency, returned
to the mainstream
radio he had once thought
passé to broadcast a new
message: “Yes, young bridal
shopper, you can afford
to shop at Torin Bales.”
To support this theme,
he located vendors who
could make quality $1,200
engagement rings. And he
advertised his Wells Fargo
interest-free financing. He
also invested in social media
contests and provided
Blue Moon beer on tap in
the store. The results were
fast-coming and impressive.
The 200 rings in the
$1,200 to $3,000 price
range he brought in flew
out the door. “Having the
inventory as prepackaged
rings has worked much
better for us than semimounts.
Younger bridal
customers don’t understand
a semi-mount.” His
bridal business has nearly
quadrupled, to 40 percent
of his business, and margins
have never been better,
he says.

MODERN SPIN: Offer financing.
“If you go to any
mall store, they are really
selling a payment, not
quality or style. Once you
get them in, they’ll keep
coming back — for bridesmaids’
gifts, wedding
bands and anniversary
gifts, and they are sending
their friends and relatives,”
Bales says.



Shoot the Fish

CLASSIC TIP: Follow up.
For years we’ve been
preaching the need to
follow up on your engagement-
ring sales. But
only half of jewelers do
it, says David Liu, CEO of
The Knot. Speaking at the
SMART Jewelry Show in
Chicago, he said that according
to his company’s
recent research, just 51
percent of engagementring
customers hear anything
from their jewelers
after the big purchase.
This represents a tremendous
missed opportunity
when it should be like
“shooting goldfish in a
barrel,” he said. Including
wedding bands and
bridal party gifts, there is
an additional $3,000 in
jewelry to be sold after
the engagement ring purchase.
And then there’s
the lifetime value of the

out their wedding date
and follow up,” says Liu.
“Use the media and communication
these customers are
using. Follow them on
Twitter, follow them on
Facebook, send your
congratulations. This is
a generation that cannot
share enough.” At the very
least, send a hand-written
thank-you note— they
are still among the most
powerful tools available
for building a long-term
relationship, and it will
put you in a minority of
jewelers — only 40 percent
of couples receive
such a note.



Find Out What
He Really Wants

CLASSIC TIP: Ask the right questions. When a customer
asks for a specific diamond, say a 1.40-carat,
round brilliant, H, VS1, GIA-certified diamond, your
first thought should not be, Dang, where can I get one
of those? But, why? The ultimate answer will allow
you to provide the customer with what he really needs.
Did he cite those specs because that is what he really
wants or simply because it’s something he picked up
at a random site on the Internet or because that’s what
his best friend bought his fiancée? Or is he just trying
to compare your prices with the jeweler’s down the

job has changed from
dispensing information
to being a human solution
provider. If he just
wanted something different,
you’ve now created
the chance to show some
unique sizes and shapes
(rose cuts, old mine, organic
diamonds) that you
may have in stock.



Get the Sale?
Follow up Anyway

CLASSIC TIP: Don’t give up. The
next time a young couple comes
in and looks at bridal and then
leaves, follow up with a text
message saying “Do you have
any questions I can answer?”
urges Aleah Siegel, a sales rep
from Olympian Diamonds.
“This shows you care, plus
young people love texts,” she
says. They may well have had a
question they were too shy to
ask. “You will never know unless
you follow up,” Siegel says.

MODERN SPIN: Gallery of Diamonds
in Orange County, CA,
has a neat way of obtaining
customers’ email addresses:
If a woman likes a particular
engagement ring or other piece
of jewelry, an employee will
snap a photo of the ring on the
customer’s finger and then immediately
email it to her with
the ring’s information. In addition
to the key data obtained, it
keeps the piece and store top of
mind in the browser’s mind, and
allows her to easily upload it to
Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook
so her friends can see it, or
even forward it to her fiancé or





CLASSIC TIP: Be easy to find.
Today, every diamond-buying
mission starts with a URL.
Make yours easy to remember,
because your store won’t be the
only site that prospective customers

MODERN SPIN: Go to any of the
following and you’ll find a successful
jeweler. Mayfair Jewelers:; Alter’s:; Raymond
Lee Fine Jewelers: webuybigdiamonds.
com. What’s yours?



Stay Top-of-Mind

CLASSIC TIP: Advertise,
advertise, advertise. Being
a jeweler is like being a police
officer: nobody wants
to pay you much mind
until they need your help.
And at those times they
want someone they can
trust. That means your
goal should be top of mind
in your market — advertising
365 days a year, even
if it may be 3,650 days
before that engagementring
buyer needs you. But
at least by then he’ll know
where to go.

shotgun away. Pick one or
two advertising mediums,
based on their reach and
return on investment,
and stick to them. That
requires courage, perseverance
and — sometimes
even being bored with
your own ads.



Talk the Talk

CLASSIC TIP: Speak the
language of love. OK, no
need to overdo it but the
right descriptive phrase
can help bring out the true
beauty of that lump of
compressed carbon while
also infusing it with emotion
and igniting desire.

MODERN SPIN: At the start
of every engagement season,
give your salespeople
a homework assignment:
Come up with 25 phrases
that describe a diamond.
If they need inspiration,
they should watch QVC
for half an hour and write
down all the adjectives the
well-trained presenters
on the shopping channel



Jingle Bells,
Wedding Bells

CLASSIC TIP: Don’t rush the
sale. One of the cruel ironies of
jewelry retail is that the biggest
gift-giving season coincides with
the same month young men
feel most compelled to pop the
question. That requires a twospeed
approach to sales. “This
consumer is not preoccupied
with getting a package under
the Christmas tree, but rather
with making one of the most
important jewelry purchases in
their lifetime,” says Terry Chandler,
president of the Diamond
Council of America.

MODERN SPIN: Chandler recommends
training sessions
to prepare your sales associates
to effectively engage the
wedding-ring customer during
the season. Underscore the fact
that the bridal sale requires
a relationship. Train them to
change gears for this consumer
so he doesn’t feel rushed or



for Life

CLASSIC TIP: Get ’em back in the
store. Ensure every customer
signs up for a yearly cleaning
and prong-check reminder. As
with auto sales, the real value of
a customer often doesn’t come
from the initial transaction, but
after he or she walks off “the
lot,” as a result of future purchases,
repairs, and long-term
good will. An engagement is the
beginning of a beautiful relationship — and not just for the
married couple.

MODERN SPIN: In 2015, personal
data is gold. Set your calendar,
automate cleaning reminders,
personal notes, phone calls …
and keep in mind that when
you’ve been a central part of one
of the most important transactions
in their lives, it’s not cold
calling, it’s good service.




Knows Your Name

CLASSIC TIP: When it comes to
diamonds, friendly wins over
expert. People often lack confidence
when buying diamond
jewelry, so you need to ensure
that everything about your store
puts them at ease, starting with
staff. It’s crucial they express the
idea that they’re there to help.

MODERN SPIN: Hire the best.
Research has shown great diamond
salespeople share similar
traits: They tend toward slight extroversion, and their patience
levels are in the median
range (they can wait to close a
sale without coming across as
pushy). “It’s very important to
have a qualified person with the
right ‘diamond DNA’ to make
contact with customers and create
a positive first impression,”
says David Brown of the Edge
Retail Academy.




Men Spend

CLASSIC TIP: Encourage
proposals. De
Beers research
learned that when
women were
involved in the
selection process,
they picked
cheaper rings. By
encouraging surprise
proposals, De
Beers shifted the
purchasing power
to men, the lesscautious
And many men
could do with the
help. According
to a Men’s Health survey in 2011, 26
percent of brides
wished their proposal
had been
more romantic
and original.

MODERN SPIN: Next time a man
is wavering on
whether to bring
his intended in on
the selection process,
the joy of surprises
(Dave Richardson’s
booklet Pop the
Question is a good
place to start). And
don’t forget to ask
them to post their
ring selfie to your
Facebook page.



Theater of the Mind

CLASSIC TIP: Unlock their imagination. Chuck
Kuba came from a background in the performing
arts before returning to the family’s traditional line
of work and opening his own jewelry store. The two
really aren’t so different; one is played out on the
boards, the other in the imagination, says Kuba,
who is a big advocate of using the “theater of the
mind” to unlock a customer’s dreams and desires.

can compare with asking a
woman to close her eyes and
imagine the perfect engagement
ring and then describe
it to you,” says Kuba, the
owner of Iowa Diamond in
Des Moines, IA. “It’s magic.”



The Four Es:

Education, Ethics
and Experience

CLASSIC TIP: Get your facts
straight. The Internet today
does a lot of the preliminary
heavy lifting when it comes to
imparting knowledge about
diamonds. That’s good and bad.
For one, it means you need to
get your facts straight, especially
when it comes to the origins of
your goods. Consumers today,
especially millennials, already
know a great deal about where
their buys come from. “An item
as common as a banana can
be traced to its source. If I can
see where a banana was grown, what can you do for a diamond
ring?” notes Larry Johnson,
author of The Complete Guide to
Effective Jewelry Display

MODERN SPIN: Prep staffers by
placing “cheat sheets” (index
cards listing selling benefits,
origin info, and treatments)
near displays, says Johnson.
Keep in mind that this is not
just about playing defense; earn
a reputation as an aggressively
ethical jeweler and more young
consumers will seek you out.



Cut Trumps
Color and Clarity

CLASSIC TIP: One of the unacknowledged
truths of the jewelry
business is that no one actually
wants a “cheap” diamond.
They want the good stuff. “They
want quality, value and service,”
says David Brown.

MODERN SPIN: Search out superior
cut diamonds, possibly
giving thought to your own store
brand. “You have to have superior
cut diamonds — they are an
easier product to sell, and you
can get a bit of margin on them.
If you know how to sell cut — as
opposed to talking about clarity
and color — you can get a
superior price and learn how to
compete against the Internet,”
Brown says.



The Fifth C

your customers’ idea of
what engagement can be
beyond the four Cs, says
designer Todd Reed, who
incorporates rough and
opaque diamonds in his
works. “Be interested
in the diamond’s provenance.
Don’t emphasize
the four Cs, but rather the
fifth C — the character aspect
of it, and that’s pretty
priceless in a lot of ways,”
he says.

MODERN SPIN: For young
customers in particular,
having a diamond that
is different from “everybody
else’s diamond” has
become very important,
notes Reed, adding that
by stocking such unique
stones you will also be
adding a different kind of
client to your mix.



You Want Fries
with That?

wedding band with the
engagement ring every
time, urges sales trainer
Peter Canella. “I’ve been
using this technique for
25 years, and I can tell you
about 35 percent of the
time, the customer leaves
with both items.”

says customers will typically
say they’re just looking
for an engagement
ring. “If your client says he
is sure about the engagement
ring but is uncertain
about the wedding band,
politely inform him he
is free to change out the
wedding band if his fiancée
wants something different,”
he says.



Drop Hints

CLASSIC TIP: Get a commitment
on the bands.
The current state of young
people’s finances and the
cost of precious metals
means it’s important that
you hint at the cost of the
wedding band early in a
bridal sale, says Michael
Lebowitz, vice president
of Buxbaum Jewelry Advisors.

MODERN SPIN: “Today, the
typical wedding budget
is quite limited, and yet
everything — the flowers,
the cake, the photographer,
the venue — is
important to the bride,
especially if it is her first
wedding. If jewelers don’t
make that sale early in the
process, or at least point
out the need to keep Xamount
available for the
groom’s wedding band,
they will miss out.”



Make it Special

CLASSIC TIP: Buy a diamond
at Sissy’s Log Cabin
in Pine Bluff, AR, and the
following will happen. 1.)
It will be set while you
wait. 2.) It is brought out
for you on a silver platter,
along with champagne.
3.) Salespeople will gather
around to congratulate
you. And 4.) One staff
member will sing Tanti
in almost perfect
operatic Italian. That’s no
ordinary experience.

English version of Tanti
(best wishes)?
Nah, some things are best
left alone.



CLASSIC TIP: Play dress-up. Damas Jewelry, a leading
jeweler in the Middle East, has private rooms in its
stores and throws engagement parties for couples to
watch a show and try on rings and bridal jewelry.

MODERN SPIN: Consider installing a large mirror
with a bit of privacy, and inviting a bride-to-be to try
on jewelry while she tries on her wedding gown. “It’s
easier to get someone to fall in love with it once you’ve
gotten them to put it on,” Paco Underhill says.



Offer a "Selection"

from view that big tray
of plain wedding bands
that you pull out to
show all the different
sizes you have. Sure it’s
convenient, but that
simple tray makes it
too easy to undersell
your customers.

your prime jobs as a
retailer in a world with
too much stuff is to edit
the choices offered to
your customers. Follow
a rule of not showing
more than three rings
at a time.



Sales Stigma

CLASSIC TIP: Don’t discount, at
least not loudly. Engagement
ring buyers have a mental stumbling
block with the symbol of
their undying love being “On

MODERN SPIN: A better approach
is to stealthily reduce the
retail price and keep retagging
until it sells — and add a motivating
spiff for the salespeople.



There You Are!

CLASSIC TIP: Money and your
reputation are on the line when
you drop a diamond and can’t
find it. But keep calm and smile.
You’ve got this.

MODERN SPIN: Try this: 1. Turn
out the lights, shine a flashlight
and look for sparkle. 2. If that
fails, put a stocking over the end
of a vacuum cleaner nozzle.



Follow the Customer’s Lead

CLASSIC TIP: Organize the
merchandise in a way the
customer shops. Group
your rings into stands
and trays that follow the
flow of your customer’s
thought process and your
selling presentation.
“Make it easy for yourself
to make it special,” says
Johnson. It also means
you never have to get up
and leave the customer,
often a fatal sales mistake.

you’re dealing with one of
today’s heavily branded
items like Hearts On Fire
or Tacori where the name
is the draw, you should
sort by types — five primary
styles of mountings,
for instance — rather
than by brands. “If the
customer is interested in
a halo setting, why force
them (and your salesperson)
to move around to
six different showcases all
over the bridal section to
look at halos from six different
sources? Put them
all in one case and make it
easier on everyone,” says
merchandising expert
Sally Furrer.



Give it Space

CLASSIC TIP: The biggest mistake
in display, according to
Larry Johnson, author of The
Complete Guide to Effective Jewelry
, is hiding the good
stuff among the bad. Expensive
goods need air to breathe.

MODERN SPIN: Plan for it. Keep
your good items away from your
beads, chains and costume jewelry.
Not only will this help avoid
diminishing the appeal of your
best goods, but it will keep boisterous
younger customers away
from your diamond engagement
ring area. Your wedding customers
invariably want a tad more



Go for the
Gross Dollars

CLASSIC TIP: Don’t get fixated
on margins. Dollars get
banked, not margins. Industry
analyst Ken Gassman cites the
example of gold and platinum
semi-mounts. A gold sale will
invariably edge platinum in
terms of gross margin by a few
percentage points. “And jewelers
look at that and say, ‘No, I’m making more profit on a gold
mount’ — well they’re really
not,” Gassman says, noting that
platinum, with almost twice the
average sale, will result in a lot
more dollars flowing from a sale
into their account.

MODERN SPIN: Seven out of 10
brides opt for white gold rings,
but Platinum Guild International
says that according to its
research a lot of them would
prefer platinum. To make the
sale, you need to have the goods
in stock. The PGI says retailers
who stock at least 25 percent of
their inventory in platinum are
“much more likely” to close a
platinum sale.




Staying Power

CLASSIC TIP: Want to sell more
platinum? Demonstrate how it
dulls only a little over time but
still complements a diamond
as opposed to white gold, which
fades to yellow.

MODERN SPIN: Keep an old
white gold ring and an old platinum
one behind the counter
to show customers what happens
to the two metals after a
few years. One of platinum’s
strength’s is the durability of its
white color, which won’t fade
or change, similar to their marriage
(hint, hint).



Leave Love Notes

CLASSIC TIP: Always handwrite a sales slip for
a wedding purchase. It’s a personal touch that
allows people to know exactly what they have

MODERN SPIN: What to do in 2015? Much the
same as jewelers were doing in 1915. Write out
the details such as the size, color and clarity of a
diamond and its setting.



Some Shine

CLASSIC TIP: Let big customers
borrow some nice jewelry for
their wedding. It will ensure
their special day is extra special.
And it pretty much guarantees
they will tell everyone they
know what great service you
gave them.

MODERN SPIN: Tiny Jewelry Box
in Washington, DC, includes
this little extra as part of a cross
promotion with the local Ritz-
Carlton that also gives couples a
complimentary one-night stay
at the hotel. And don’t forget to
take care of the insurance.



the Loupe

CLASSIC TIP: Lend that diamond
browser your solid-looking
loupe and tell him to go shop
diamonds elsewhere. Not only
does it show trust but it’s a great
way to get that customer back in
your store.

MODERN SPIN: “Spend time with
the client explaining what to
look for in a diamond when using
a loupe,” says David Geller. “Then urge him to go elsewhere
to see if he can find a better
diamond, adding: ‘Just do me a
favor and bring it back.’”



Offer a Little Extra

One of the best ways to
show stand-out service is
with the little extras that
you give away with an engagement
ring purchase.


  • Buy a ring at Joyce’s
    Fine Jewelry in
    Uniontown, PA, and the
    store helps negotiate
    discounts from local bridal
  • Glennpeter Jewelers
    Diamond Centre,
    with three locations in
    Albany and Clifton Park,
    N.Y., presents certificates
    for beauty services to
    brides including free
    blowouts and manicures
    at a local salon to ensure
    they are looking their best
    on their big day.
  • Montica Jewelry in
    Coral Gables, FL,
    gives bridal engagement
    customers who spend
    $5,000 or more a
    “savings package” valued
    at $1,000 that includes a
    $200 gift certificate for a
    wedding band, the first
    year’s insurance, annual
    in-house appraisal,
    engraving and unlimited
    cleanings. “Conservatively,
    about seven out of
    10 engagement customers
    come back for their
    wedding bands with us
    because of the perceived
    value of this savings
    package,” says owner
    John O’Rourke.
  • David Fairclough
    Jewelers, Toledo,
    OH, partnered with
    a travel agent to
    send a lucky couple
    on a second honeymoon
    for their first
  • Wanna Buy A Watch
    in Los Angeles, CA,
    offers a complimentary
    one-hour relationship
    consultation with a
    licensed psychologist
    with the purchase of an
    antique engagement ring.



Women Well

CLASSIC TIP: The surprise proposal
is a nice tradition, but in
reality women are involved in
the decision two-thirds of the
time, doing research, talking
to friends and browsing stores,
according to TheKnot data. And
many say they are not treated
all that well when they walk
into a store alone. That’s pretty
shortsighted. “When they go
with their fiancés, they say they
feel much more comfortable,
they are paid more attention to
and made to feel special,” says
Kristyn Clement, researcher for
The Knot Market Intelligence.

MODERN SPIN: Offer brides-tobe
whatever is at your disposal
— time to browse, a friendly
smile, a seat at the espresso bar,
a glass of wine, a comfortable
chair, and they likely will return
with their fiancés.




How good are you at explaining what a
wedding ring means, what it signifies — you know,
that “once-in-a-lifetime purchase” thing — and
why customers should be open to exploring all the
possibilities, from diamond size to materials? Or is
your usual gambit “So, what did you have in mind?”
Here a few verbal plays from past pages of INSTORE
to help you on the sales floor.



“Wedding bands are
the real symbol of
commitment, more so than
engagement rings, which
symbolize a promise.” —
stylist Michael O’Conner on
the opportunity in bands,
especially diamond wedding


When chatting with
a potential customer,
lament how many dull and
dirty rings and pendants
you see out there, even
on the hands of women
with multi-carat diamond
pieces. Why? Because it’s
true, and shocking! And
reminding customers to
keep their jewelry sparkling
through both professional
(once a year at minimum)
and at-home cleanings will
keep them happy with their
purchase. And keep them
coming back to your store.
“Your customer will recognize
you as an expert, and
as her personal jeweler,”
says Kristie Nicolosi, CEO
of The Kingswood Co.


Invent your own terminology
for diamonds.
For instance, if a diamond
has strong light performance,
say it has a high
“scorch factor.” Not only
does such language lighten
the atmosphere on the
sales floor but it’s memorable.
What sounds more
interesting, “She’ll love this
ring” or “This ring will give
her jelly knees”?


Here’s the perfect
answer for when
your customer asks the
difference between two
diamonds you’re showing
(and you don’t want to slam
one). Diamonds are like
women … they are all pretty,
but some are prettier.”
That’s courtesy of Barry
Baxman of Baxman & Co. in
Denver, CO.


It never hurts to add a
hint of urgency to the
sale. Two suggestions from
Bruce Freshley at Freshley
Media: “I expect the bigger,
better diamonds will be
gone by Dec. 15.” or “If you
love it, you should consider
buying it because it may
not be here long.”


“Internal characteristics.”
That’s a way
better choice of words
when describing a less
than perfect diamond than
“flaws,” “blemishes” or
“inclusions.” “That’s like
saying the diamond has
cancer,” says sales trainer
Shane Decker.


Diamonds are a bargain
at $5,000 or more a
carat. Let your customers
know, urges Decker, adding
the trick is to focus on
“true value.” Value? Yes.
Let’s start with: 1) their
incredible rarity; 2) the
difficulty and expense of
mining them; and 3) the
high level of skill necessary
to cut a diamond. “Then
there is their toughness
(what else can you wear
every day for 1,000-plus
years?), and their enduring
value (especially compared
to other luxury products),”
Decker explains.


“It’s a good thing you
came in on (insert day
of the week) because we
have a buy-10-get-onefree
offer today” That’s
a favorite line of milliondollar
sales veteran Brian
Barfield when confronted
with a nervous young man.
“Depending on the vibe I
get I like to soften them up
with a joke to lighten the
tension,” he says. “It sets
up the friendship mode that
I am here to help you, not to
pull the wool over your eyes
or to try to get money out
of you.”



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Texas Jeweler Knew He'd Get Only One Shot at a GOB Sale, So He Wanted to Make It Count

Most retailers only have one GOB sale in their lifetimes. This was the case for Gary Zoet, owner of Shannon Fine Jewelry in Houston, Texas. “Wilkerson has done thousands of these sales,” says Zoet. “I’ve never done one, so it’s logical to have somebody with experience do it.” The result exceeded Zoet’s expectations. Wilkerson took care of everything from marketing to paperwork. When it’s time for you to consider the same, shouldn’t you trust the experts in liquidation?

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Cover Stories

Extreme Customer Service



Jewelers deliver Christmas gifts in blizzards without the convenience of sleigh and flying reindeer. They whip up custom orders faster than the speed of a laser. They leap headlong into the role of emergency ring bearer. These tales are the stuff of company legend for independent retailers. But the Henderson family of Bend, OR, has a story that really stands out.

Annette Henderson had gone into labor in December at the same time that her husband, Ron Henderson, needed a finished piece of jewelry delivered to a customer.
“So he asked my mom to deliver it (the jewelry) on the way to the hospital and that he would meet her there,” says their daughter Natasha Henderson, manager of Saxon’s Fine Jewelers. Jewelry delivery made, Annette was driving over the railroad tracks on the way to the hospital when her water broke.

All was well, though, because the second “delivery” took place in the hospital. And the baby — Natasha — joined the family business and works with both of her parents at Saxon’s. “We even get along for the most part,” Natasha says. “And my mom didn’t kill my dad over that. She hasn’t yet, anyway.”
OK, they win, right!?

Beyond the heroics, though, what are you doing to deliver extreme customer service every day? And why is that so important in 2019?
Sometimes it seems there are not enough hours in the day to keep customers happy. Fifty seven percent of respondents to INSTORE’s 2018 Big Survey work more than 45 hours per week. Eric Ohanian of Eric Ohanian & Sons Co. in Boston is one of them. “I am meeting two customers on the way home tonight after working 11 hours,” he says. “We go the extra mile almost daily. I do believe it is the only reason we are still in business. Giving that extra level of service is all that sets us apart from the big box stores or the Internet.”

Besides devoting time to it, other keys to offering extreme customer service include making it personal, building relationships and developing a company culture focused on the customer.

Author and retail business strategist Bob Phibbs says simply that people who feel they matter buy more. If someone has made the effort to drive to your store, they expect to find something new and personal for them. Selling has to meet those needs and not be just about clerking or showing products.

Natasha Henderson with her parents, Ron and Annette of Bend, OR.

“To compete in 2019, you’ve got to make an emotional brand connection in your stores,” Phibbs explains. “If you have a ruthless attention to that, you’ll be fine. It’s time now to get sales training, to keep role-playing and to keep trying to figure out how to create an exceptional experience in your store.”
That means training for consistency.

“Most retailers think training is something you did already — like you changed your socks this morning. But training has to be a culture. When I work with great sales groups every day, there’s a focus; they’re looking at new products and role-playing. Instead of letting people sit behind the counter and talk about what happened on Game Of Thrones last night, keep a dialog going.”

The stakes are high because the customer experience — great or disappointing — has wider repercussions than ever before. “As soon as I walk out of your store, I can rave or rant about you,” Phibbs says. “Nobody had a microphone before like they do now.”

How to Make Someone’s Day

Consultant Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts says it’s the customer’s definition of extreme that matters — not yours. “Often,” she says, “the things we think of as over the top are really little more than what today’s experienced luxury consumer expects … and there’s nothing ‘extreme’ about simply meeting expectations.”

The standard for extreme service is most often set outside of the jewelry industry, she says. The consistency provided by high-end coffee brands or the experience of taking delivery of a new luxury car, for example, are good places to start looking for ways to surprise and delight your customer.

In other words, pay attention to good service you receive in all aspects of your life and let it inform what you do in your store.

Consultant Andrea Hill of Hill Management Group recently experienced amazing customer service at a restaurant in Tezza sul Brenta, Italy.

“I have some vendors visiting from London, and we all went out to dinner at a little local pizzeria. We got to talking and solving the problems of the world, and suddenly we realized that we were the only people left in the restaurant. For how long? Who knows! I went up front to pay, and the owner and his wife were sitting behind the counter looking very tired, but patient. I looked over at the door, and saw they had closed an hour and a half prior! They had cheerfully served more wine and checked in on us without once suggesting it was time for us to pack up and leave. Needless to say, I will be going back to that restaurant and bringing all my friends!”

Hill, in a recent blog post, outlined how important building a strong positive business culture is in providing that kind of exceptional service. Excellent customer service can be very difficult to find, even in the luxury sector, she says. In fact, it is one of the hardest things to do.

“You can’t automate it. You can’t script it or cookie-cutter it. You can’t ensure it with policy or rules. Excellent customer service is about people, and people run on motivation.”

To create a company culture that will nurture and serve customers, you must have a culture that nurtures and serves employees. That doesn’t mean coddling. Employees want to be treated as professionals, with dignity and respect. Study after study demonstrates that employees who are trusted and expected to perform admirably will rise to the occasion.

Andrea Riso of Talisman Collection, El Dorado Hills, CA, says her culture is to do everything possible to satisfy customers, including firing staff who don’t get it. “I’ve driven for hours, shown up at weddings, loaned jewelry when something is not done in time (rarely do I ever miss a deadline), give the jewelry for free if the customer had a bad experience with our staff, fired staff, taken calls and texts 24/7/365 (and I do mean 365), fixed things for free pre-wedding for people who are not my customers!”





Barry Moltz, small-business consultant, speaker and author, says online retailers are offering a kind of “faux personalization” that has become an expectation. When he signs on to, for example, the site greets him by name and knows what he’s bought in the past and what he might like to buy in the future. So, if you can’t remember all of your customers’ names and everything they might like or have ever wished for or purchased, collect all the information you can from your customers and get your POS system up to speed to do the work for you. “Amazon always remembers who you are, but does your local retail store?” Moltz asks.


John Carter, CEO of Jack Lewis Jewelers in Bloomington, IL, installed a “wedding-ring playground” — a custom-made bar-height table to display bridal sample lines from vendors. It allows engagement-ring shoppers to try out many different styles in a relaxed setting. “It’s helping start the conversation with the client,” Carter says. “It’s become a way to break the ice, hear about their likes and preferences, and then we can delve into all the options.”

At Jack Lewis Jewelers, shoppers are invited to play with sample rings at the wedding-ring playground.


Ensure the customer has a seamless experience no matter the channel they use. If you’re cultivating e-commerce and you have a full-time social-media or marketing associate, consider chatting — offering customers online help in real time. (This can also be outsourced to a larger company.) Helping a customer on your website used to mean providing an e-mail address or listing the company phone number, says Moltz, author of Bam: Delivering Customer Service In A Self-Service World. “Real-time chat is quickly becoming a requirement to help your online clients. Can video chat be far behind, for an even more personal touch?” If you offer live-chat support, list the hours on your website so that users know when they can and can’t contact you.


Daniel Pink, author of Drive, suggests a jewelry store version of the Apple Store Genius Bar. “Clueless customers — guys like me who don’t know their amethyst from their elbow — would flock to ask questions of your jewelry genius,” Pink says.


Some retailers have found a niche with appointment-only businesses, but it’s a nice thing to offer your favorite customers whatever your business model. Once you’ve established a relationship with a busy client, don’t leave your future availability to the chance your schedules happen to mesh. Let them make an appointment when it’s convenient to them and set aside time on your calendar to make the shopping experience special.


Martin Shanker, professional trainer and president of Shanker Inc. in New York City, says that many luxury buyers would purchase more if they could be less visible when making those high-end choices. But retailers often don’t factor in the need for discretion in the sales process. “Consequently, clients are making purchases online or in cities other than where they live,” Shanker says. “Luxury sales teams need to be extra sensitive in identifying these types of buyers and take steps to offer them increased privacy.” Consider inviting them to a more private room or viewing area, away from the selling floor. “The trend to be less conspicuous has not stopped the luxury customer from making large purchases. Therefore, sales professionals need to be cautious about misinterpreting a desire for privacy as a lack of interest in buying and unintentionally trading the business down.”


Take a close look at customer feedback and identify the main three to five recurring complaints, whether they’re delivered in person, by phone or in an online review. Then take steps to make sure they stop recurring. Consider the feedback you receive from your customers “free customer service consulting.” This is info of great value, not an interruption of your day, says What could be better than to get information directly from your customers? And yet, responding to it, reviewing it, acting on it can feel like an interruption of our work if we don’t carefully check our attitude.


It’s very important to have a qualified person with the right “diamond DNA” to make create a positive impression, says David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy. Research has shown the best diamond sales associates share similar traits: They are neither submissive nor aggressive, but tend toward slight extroversion, and their patience levels are in the median range (they can wait to close a sale without coming across as pushy). Once you have the right people out there, offer sales training, product knowledge and support, and make sure they are not spending their time changing batteries when they should be using their skills to greet customers and close sales


Chuck Kuba of Iowa Diamond in Des Moines, IA, came from a background in the performing arts before returning to the family’s traditional line of work and opening his own jewelry store. The two really aren’t so different: one is played out on the boards, the other in the imagination, says Kuba, who is a big advocate of using the “theater of the mind” to unlock a customer’s dreams, desires and aspirations. “Nothing can compare with asking a woman to close her eyes and imagine the perfect engagement ring and then describe it to you,” says Kuba. “It’s magic.”


Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Try out the role of counselor when selling or handling returns, if the situation calls for it. Say, “Tell me more.” It puts customers at ease, suggests author Harry Friedman in No Thanks, I’m Just Looking. And if they’re unhappy with a situation, it defuses the tension. If they’re not sure what they want, it will help them reach a conclusion.


“I want the client to dream his or her best dream, then I want to know the budget,” says Jo Goralski of the Jewelry Mechanic in Oconomowoc, WI. “I learned early on that if I design based on budget, no one wins. A young couple came into the studio. She wanted a yellow emerald-cut diamond in a split shank covered with diamonds, and a wedding band for him, and he had a $1,500 budget. Knowing the look she was going for, I found a semi-mount with melee diamonds. I found a killer soft yellow emerald-cut sapphire, and my shop hand-forged him a wedding band. With the sales tax, it came in at just under $1,500. They have been married over 10 years and have three kids, and they have always remembered we treated their dream with respect.”


“If they’re shopping together for an engagement ring, you need to ask her a lot of questions about style, fashion, what she’s seen, what she liked, if she has a photo on her phone,” says Shane Decker. “Too many people get defensive when they bring in a lab report from Blue Nile or James Allen or another online retailer. Say, ‘I’m so glad you did some research!’ If they bring that in, it means they haven’t bought it yet. The Internet doesn’t deliver an experience. So give them an incredible experience, get them talking about their engagement, their lives. This is something that’s among the top 10 most incredible memories of a woman’s life.”


It’s tough even to tell anymore who has money to spend. “They don’t just come in and say I’ve got 20 grand to spend on my wife,” says Bob Phibbs. “And they don’t dress like they did in the ‘60s to buy jewelry; they may come in in flip flops and shorts. Judging has to stop.”


“This is my favorite exercise to do with stores,” says consultant Joel Hassler of VonHasle Jewelry Advisers. “At a staff meeting, give each associate a piece of paper and have them write down as many things as they can about your store where your customer interacts with your business. Then, similar to the game Scattergories, go around the room and get a point for each thing you have on your list that no one else had. Put a $20 gift card on the line for the winner. The point you’re trying to make is that there are way more things than you might think of, almost an unending list. The door handles, the pens, the cases, the displays, the volume of your hold music, the fonts/colors in your advertising, the ceiling tiles, the burned out light bulb, the string on your bags, etc. It’s not so much about micromanaging, but over-managing everything that leaves an impression on your customer, subtle or not.”


The fact that customers want to be intimately involved in the creation of a piece of jewelry can be considered either an annoyance or an opportunity. Collins Jewelers in Dallas, GA, opts for the latter view, starting with taking the customer out to lunch to go over their renderings and then involving them in every step of production. “One customer wanted to pour his own gold, so we took care of all the details and made that possible, and he was ecstatic,” says owner Marty Collins.


“We open our doors to any of our customers who are involved with a charity and host a fundraising event at the store,” says Tracy Lewis of Glennpeter Jewelers Diamond Centre in Albany, NY. “We hire a caterer, bartender and cleaning crew. They bring their supporters, charge at the door and make money on raffle items.” They’ve helped raise $3 million for charity that way while establishing valuable relationships with clients and prospective clients.

At Von Bargen Jewelers, each location recruits a customer advisory board that provides valuable feedback.


At the Diamond Vault in Sarasota, FL, a concierge greets guests upon arriving, offers a beverage (beer, wine, champagne, coffee, etc.) and helps direct them to the appropriate person or area in the store — i.e. service/repair, vintage/estate jewelry, engagement rings, fine jewelry, etc. This approach can cut down on the “just looking” response since the concierge isn’t directly trying to sell them something. At the Diamond Vault, the concierge, who is a graduate gemologist, is also equipped with a computer and a phone and can easily answer customer-service questions, no matter how technical they may be.


Treat your customers as if you’re opening your home to them, says Elle Hill of Hill & Co., or as if you’ve invited them to a party. That means providing comfortable seating and offering them a drink, at least, along with a sincere welcoming smile and acknowledgment of their presence. Consider your level of hospitality. Would you offer your guests a glass of Champagne? Brownies on a silver tray? Wine and cheese? And consider the overall impression: Is the scent of your store inviting (cinnamon, cookies)? Or is it overpowering?


Shoppers feel special if they are included in a special sub-set of customers. Invite your best customers to join a VIP club, then invite them to exclusive trunk shows and offer special deals. Or put together an advisory board of well-connected customers who offer suggestions on what they’d like to see in your cases. For example, in Vermont, each Von Bargen Jewelers location has its own customer advisory board, made up of savvy, fashionable women, who meet quarterly to discuss inventory, merchandising and marketing. The store serves food and beverages, and participants receive gift bags, including $100 gift certificates to the store.


“No one should ever ask customers any question that will result in the answer, ‘Fine.’ That’s an acronym for Feelings I’m Not Expressing,” says Scott Ginsberg, author of How To Be That Guy And The Approachable Salesperson. “Instead, employees should ask only open-ended, passion-finding questions like, ‘What keeps you busy outside of work?’ and ‘What was the best part about your week?’ The question, ‘So, what do you do?’ should be outlawed completely. Because your job isn’t to learn what people do — it’s to learn who they are. Only then can you suggest the right jewelry to fit their individual truth.”

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Cover Stories

How to Know When It’s Time to Go



Author Seth Godin says strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations, while reactive quitting is the bane of those who strive and fail to get what they want. “And most people do just that, they quit when it’s painful and stick when they can’t be bothered to quit,” he writes in his book, The Dip.

In the case of retail jewelers, consultants say, some simply don’t have enough time to collect their thoughts, let alone devise a plan. Others may fear change.

If you’ve had enough, it may be time to call it quits and do something else. “Quitting is better than coping because quitting frees you up to excel at something else. All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy,” Godin writes.

Whether that something else turns out to be beach-combing in retirement, pursuing a hobby or reimagining a new way to do business, having a plan is a prerequisite to success. Jewelry store owners who do plan for the next phase of their lives express a strong sense of freedom, both before and after they activate that plan.

Consultant Bill Boyajian of Bill Boyajian & Associates has not run into any long-term jewelers who, deep down, don’t love what they do.

“That’s part of the problem,” he says. “They can’t envision what they will do if they leave their business. They haven’t had any free time to develop any hobbies. I encourage them to think about becoming a private jeweler, but being involved to a lesser extent.”

Josh Hayes, business analyst for Wilkerson, says retailers he’s worked with on retirement sales do want to stay involved with the industry. Many set up offices with a few display cases of sample lines and work by appointment. “It works out perfectly because you still have your customer lists from your store, so after your closing event, you can transition your old customers to your new endeavor. Then you have the flexibility to work as much as you choose.”

But even semi-retirement requires planning. According to David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy, 37 percent of jewelry store owners have no retirement plan at all; many just hope their exit works itself out. The key is to be in a position to retire — financially, physically, and mentally.

“Knowing that you can gives you answers,” Brown says. “Knowing that you can’t gives you stress.”
“Ask yourself, what options do I have: I can sell the business, close the business down, or I can groom the business so it runs without me, become an absentee owner and get a good income out of it,” Brown says.

On occasion, the millennial successor wants to speed up their parents’ exit, or in other ways would be an unpleasant or unsuitable business partner during a lengthy transition. In these cases, Boyajian advises the parents to liquidate most of their inventory in a sale to ensure they have money for retirement, and then simply let their kids take over the lease and the business and build up the inventory again.

Closing and retirement sales are regulated by law, and they can only be done once. Most of the store owners’ retirement income rests on the return from the sale event, so it’s incredibly important that the event is conducted properly. While Wilkerson can put together a closing event in about three weeks in an emergency situation, a year of planning will improve results, perhaps dramatically.

“Once the sale is complete, the new owner has lower inventory, minimal debt and can usually get some consignment inventory from vendors they know, and build up the store in the direction they intend to take it,” Hayes says.

Here are some examples of transition tales that show every indication they’ll be success stories.

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Cover Stories

The 19 Contrarian Rules of Business

Don’t promise excellent service? Run annoying ads? Business leaders insist these counterintuitive principles work.




TO MAKE A POINT about how our brains operate, the American neuroscientist Gregory Berns likes to encourage people to close their eyes and imagine the sun setting on a beach. If you just tried it, odds are the image that arose was the clichéd one — a warm tropical island scene, most likely framed by the frond of a coconut tree, awash in orange, as opposed to, say, a dark, wind-whipped pebble beach off the coast of northern Scotland.

The brain “is fundamentally a lazy piece of meat,” Berns writes in his book Iconoclast. It needs energy to operate and has evolved to use it as efficiently as possible. As a result, it defaults to shortcuts as it can — past experience, other people’s opinions, common practice — to avoid the taxing effort of perceiving or imagining afresh.

There are, of course, people who make it a habit to buck convention, who have a knack of seeing something no one else does. Berns refers to these disruptive original thinkers as “iconoclasts.” Generally, they are probably better known as contrarians. These are the brave and often odd souls whose questioning of the conventions of society or their professional field have repeatedly caused history to change course or leap forward.

In business, entrepreneurs are often contrarian by definition — they see value and opportunity where others do not. The contrarian investor Bill Gurley notes that “you can only make money by being right about something that most people think is wrong.”

The idea of being an independent spirit appeals to many. In a recent Brain Squad survey, 58 percent of our readers identified themselves as contrarians compared to 30 percent who said they were conformists and 12 percent who said they were neither. Of course, by definition, it’s not possible for the majority to be contrarian, even more so in a tradition-bound industry like jewelry. We suspect the result reflects most jewelers’ thoughts of themselves as independent operators charting their own destinies in a world where most of their fellow citizens opt for the security of more regular employment.

It is not easy being a true contrarian. There is the risk of ridicule, having to live with constant uncertainty. Being contrarian for the sake of contrarianism is pointless.

There is, unromantically, much to be said for doing things the timeworn “best practice” way. We thus begin our exploration of contrarianism with a caveat — doing something differently is exciting, possibly liberating, often far more lucrative than the conventional way … and often dangerous. Go charging away from the herd with care. Ultimately, you want to choose the ideas — new or old, intuitive or rational, bizarre or conventional — that serve you best.

The customer is not always right

1It’s actually irrelevant if a customer is right or wrong. This is, after all, a commercial transaction, not a debate. Just because a customer wants, needs, or expects something does not mean that delivering it is the best thing for your business. Indeed, “keeping certain customers happy can be a horribly inefficient and downright distracting way to run a business,” note Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman in an article in the Harvard Business Review. It’s also not much fun.

As a business owner, you need to make decisions that best apply your company’s capital, intellectual energy, and product capabilities. Rather than customer satisfaction, the ultimate goal should be running a sustainable business. Have a written, legally defensible terms of service statement, warranties, guarantees, and a simple process to determine which clients or customers deliver the strongest ROI and which are actually costing you money. In some cases, it’s better for long-term growth (not to mention store morale) to jettison a high-maintenance client and focus on improving the quality of your customer base.

Ignore terrific opportunities

2One of the dangers of business success is that it leads to more opportunities. Pursue them at your peril. In business, there is always a trade-off. Doing one thing well invariably means you can’t do another at a high level as you spread yourself too thin. The result is a damaging mediocrity.

In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less, Greg McKeown cites studies that show the loss of focus is a key reason companies fail. The antidote? Spurning good opportunities. “Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well,” he says. “Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.”

Don’t give your staff the resources they need to fix a problem

3Constraints breed resourcefulness. This is an idea that has been gaining influence in business circles for the last few years. “Is there something in the nature of constraints that brings out the best creativity?” writes Scott Berkun, the author of Mindfire: Big Ideas For Curious Minds. Consider a good haiku or sonnet, and the answer is obviously yes: it’s precisely the limits of the form that inspire new ways of working inside them. In the workplace, that means no more “blue sky” brainstorming: if you want the best answers to a question, focus it narrowly; consider a time limit, too. Google sometimes puts fewer engineers on a problem than it needs; it inspires ingenuity. Behind all this is the counterintuitive insight that discipline and structure are often the path to freedom, not its enemy. See constraints as a game. Not only are games about fun, but they are distinguished by the rules that govern them.

Forget trying to fix your weaknesses

4In a series of bestselling books, the Gallup consultant Marcus Buckingham has made a persuasive case for a strengths-based approach to life and business: it’s both more effective and more enjoyable, he argues, than struggling to fix your weak spots. According to Buckingham, most people try to “plug” their weaknesses, while the really successful focus on exploiting strengths. You’ll rarely improve a weakness beyond mediocrity, argues Buckingham, not least because it’s hard to invest sustained energy in something you don’t enjoy. If you truly know what you’re bad at, you’re already ahead of the pack. Don’t throw that away by wasting your time getting slightly less bad.

Don’t believe in long work

5Few things are as American as the belief in the merit of hard work. The problem is too many small business people confuse work and progress. A day when lots of things get done, when you arrive home exhausted after holding six meetings with staff and vendors, clearing 300 emails from your inbox, and finally straightening those old files in the backroom, sort of feels like a productive day, but it’s unlikely to have helped your business take the next step forward. Marketer Seth Godin calls this bias for efficiency over effectiveness “the trap of long work.”
“Long work is what the lawyer who bills 14 hours a day filling in forms does.
Hard work is what the insightful litigator does when she synthesizes four disparate ideas and comes up with an argument that wins the case—in less than five minutes.

“Hard work is frightening because you might fail. You can’t fail at long work, you merely show up.”

The management guru Peter Drucker suggested the best way to address this issue was by constantly asking yourself the question, “What’s the most important thing for me to be doing right now?”

Think small

6In his 1994 book Built To Last, Jim Collins introduced the world to Big Hairy Audacious Goals, or BHAGs, his term for the ambitious long-term goals that he argued galvanized successful companies. And it seems the term is rolled out in every discussion of good business practice. But the problem is that the excitement, energy, and envelope-pushing boldness stirred up by such endeavors often dissipates quickly in the face of the day-to-day running of business. Worse, such big-picture thinking, telling yourself something is epic and of crucial importance, often leads to fear, resistance and ultimately inertia and disappointment. As the psychologist John Eliot writes in his book Overachievement, “Nothing discourages the concentration necessary to perform well … more than worrying about the outcome.” The marathon runner who’s reached a state of “flow” isn’t visualizing the finish line, but looking through a narrower lens, focusing on one stride, then another, then another. Like the formula for contentment (happiness = reality – expectations), it’s often better to forget the end goal, aim low and just focus on the process if you really want to get things done. This can apply to everything from setting low targets for salespeople (spurred on by achieving the goal, they will often break through and hit a higher number) to big projects. The young Jerry Seinfeld’s scriptwriting technique involved marking an X on a calendar for every day he sat and typed. His goal was an unbroken chain of Xs. If he’d aimed instead to write masterful jokes, he’d have been distracted and intimidated.

Forget audacious. Just go do it.

Get rid of the rules

7Too often, managers assume the key to improvement must be clearer procedures, more exactingly enforced. But the result is organizational structures that permit zero autonomy — and extremely annoying customer service (“Sorry, sir, our policy doesn’t allow you to …”). Perhaps even worse is that such management fails to capitalize on the talents of those lower down the hierarchy. Zappos’ contrarian founder Tony Hsieh made headlines a few years back when he said he was rolling out “Management by Holacracy,” which eliminates the traditional oversight role of the manager and instead relies on the employees themselves to decide how to get their day-to-day responsibilities completed on the basis that they probably know best. That may be too much for most business owners, but according to Harvard Business School research, “loose monitoring” of employees makes for higher profits as well as happier workplaces. Striking the right balance between autonomy and control is very likely the essence of being a good manager.

Give away your time

8Overwhelmed by work? Feel you are in a constant race against the clock to get things done? Try making some time for others. “While it might seem counterintuitive to sacrifice some of the very thing you think you don’t have enough of, our research shows that giving a bit of time away may, in fact, make people feel less pressed for time,” Cassie Mogilner Holmes, an associate professor at UCLA and Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard told the Wall Street Journal. Another hack to deal with time scarcity — erase a day from your schedule. Busy? Don’t schedule anything for Fridays. The work you didn’t get done will flow over, and you’ll finally knock off those to-do list items.

Hire more introverts

9On the surface, introverts don’t seem to have the makings of great salespeople or even managers. Social interaction tires them, they have trouble with insincere flattery, they don’t like to push people, and they don’t tend to contribute vocally to meetings or brainstorming sessions. But there are positive flipsides to all this: introverts tend to demonstrate a higher degree of sensitivity in emotional interactions, they are more likely to be experts in their field, they are less likely to be yes-men or women, and as for managing people, they do better than extroverts when the staff itself is full of self-directed go-getters. “Although extroverted leadership enhances group performance when employees are passive, this effect reverses when employees are proactive, because extroverted leaders are less receptive to proactivity,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Be last to market

10Among business gurus, few things are as unquestioned as the notion that innovation is the path to success. “Innovate or die!” goes one mantra. Yet if innovation were a surefire way for companies to achieve dominance, the world might look very different. White Castle, RC Cola, and Diners Club were all innovators, but think of fast-food, soft drinks and credit cards, and those are unlikely to be the first names that come to mind. The upsides of unoriginality are clear: imitators let others make the costly mistakes, and then incorporate the lessons learned into a far better product. (Exhibit A: the iPhone.) In his book Copycats, the management theorist Oded Shenkar argues we need “to change the mindset that imitation is an embarrassing nuisance.” Rather, it’s a “rare and complex” capability, one we could all do with cultivating, he says. In his book Zero To One, Peter Thiel argues that “it’s much better to make the last great development in a specific market and enjoy years or even decades of monopoly profits.”

Run annoying ads … often

11There’s a reason that grating TV ads work: the more they grate, the more you’ll notice them, and noticing — thanks to what psychologists call the “mere exposure effect” — leads to liking.

Depressingly, whatever we’re repeatedly exposed to, and regardless of any other reason to like or dislike it, we’ll end up growing fond of. According to Roy H. Williams, author of The Wizard Of Ads, there’s actually no way for successful advertising to avoid being irritating to some degree. “Ads that twist our attention away from what we’d been doing are always a bit annoying,” he says. But if you fail to get your audience’s attention, your ad has failed at the first hurdle. “Consequently, most ads aren’t written to persuade; they’re written not to offend. But the kinds of ads that produce results make us answer yes to these three questions: Did it get my attention? Was it relevant? Did I believe it?” Williams claims 98.9 percent of all the customers who hate your ads will still come to your store and buy from you when they need what you sell. “These customers don’t cost you money; they just complain to the cashier as they’re handing over their cash.”

Stop holding meetings

12Jim Buckmaster, chief executive of Craigslist, has a simple policy: “No meetings, ever.” There are several reasons why meetings don’t work. They move, in the words of the career coach Dale Dauten, “at the pace of the slowest mind in the room,” so that “all but one participant will be bored, all but one mind underused.” A key purpose of meetings is information transfer, but they’re based on the assumption that people absorb information best by hearing it, when only a minority of us are “auditory learners.” The key question for distinguishing a worthwhile meeting from a worthless one is this: is it a “status-report” meeting, designed for employees to tell each other things? If so, it’s probably better handled on email or paper. That leaves a minority of “good” meetings, whose value lies in the meeting of minds itself — for example, a well-run brainstorming session.

Drop some F-bombs

13The jewelry world is one of refinement, education and professionalism, not the place for profanity. Yet swearing, when done judiciously, according to various psychologists, boosts endorphins, promotes social bonding and makes people more persuasive. Periodically, let your staff and customers know you’re human.

Stop asking, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”

14Hiring employees who will challenge management is another staple of business advice, but everyone has probably worked with “yes, but” employees who basically oppose every new idea and approach. To find true contrarians, Thiel in his book Zero To One recommends asking the following question when interviewing employees: “Tell me something that’s true that nobody believes in.” (God, global warming and aliens don’t cut it.)

Don’t ask for the sale

15The traditional approach to selling says tout the benefits, close throughout, close with an assumption and then push for the add-on followed by another. You’re just efficiently taking the customer in a direction she wanted to go anyway. In contrast, the “slow sales” movement, which has been gaining ground for a few years, argues that there are intelligent, deliberate customers who prefer an almost “do-it-your self” zero-pressure environment. Granted, getting them to the cash register may take longer. But according to INC magazine, this technique alleviates the extra costs of post-purchase dissonance from returns, customer service time, negative feedback, and customer churn.

Look for mentors and staff who do it the “wrong way”

16Tim Ferriss has an interesting approach to considering contrarians: Be on the lookout for the anomalies, like the wispy girl who can deadlift 405 pounds. They’re performing with techniques rather than genes. “These iconoclasts show the differences in techniques and attributes,” he says. “If someone has become really good at doing something in a very nonstandard way, you can infer that the standard path isn’t necessarily the best methodology for learning a skill.”

Don’t promise excellent customer service

17Ask independent jewelers what is their point of competitive advantage and they’ll overwhelmingly say excellent customer service. But, something big corporations know (but never publicly say) is that delivering excellent customer service ultimately results in unhappy customers. Thus the field of “expectations management.” “If you want satisfied customers, it’s certainly wise to act in ways that will satisfy them. But it’s also wise to pay attention to (and, if possible, influence) their criteria for feeling satisfied,” writes Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian. Training customers, employees, and partners not to expect a “yes” in response to every single request might be crucial for preserving sanity. Far better to have a reputation as a jeweler who, for example, turns around a repair within three days than one who does it overnight — because in the latter case, as soon as you fail to deliver on that tight deadline, you’ll be seen as underperforming.

Ask customers for favors

18The “Ben Franklin effect” states that if you want to get someone to like you, you should ask him or her to do you a favor. The strategy, named for the founding father’s habit of borrowing books from opposing politicians to win them over, works because humans hate cognitive dissonance: we can’t stand a mismatch between our actions and thoughts. So if we find ourselves helping someone out, we’ll unconsciously adjust our feelings for them. The implications are striking. Don’t suck up to your customers — ask for favors or even just their opinions (“Where do you think the economy is headed?”).

Don’t be so professional

19We live in an era with more opportunity than ever to burnish the image we’re projecting, and more pressure than ever to do so. But in her new book, Cringeworthy: A Theory Of Awkwardness, Melissa Dahl makes a persuasive case for celebrating those times when “someone’s presentation of themselves … is shown to be incompatible with reality in a way that can’t be smoothed over.” Awkwardness pierces that facade, exposing the imperfect life behind it. Quoting the words of the philosopher Adam Kotsko, she says it creates “a weird kind of social bond” — a solidarity arising from seeing that behind the fakery, we’re all just trying our best to seem competent. The awkward you, then, is the real you, the one without the defensive performance. And people will like you for it.

Click here for 8 more Contrarian Rules, as well as the exclusive online article, “12 Contrarian Rules of Jewelry Retail.”

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