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Real Deal

When a Charity Job Goes Wrong, A Jeweler Questions Her Continued Involvement

A project to assist elderly residents at a nursing home takes a bad turn.

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Carole waite always believed in giving back. She had been the store manager at Quinlan’s, an upscale store in a high-end Southwest city, for more than 10 years. It was the community involvement and philanthropic reputation of the Quinlan family and of Anne Quinlan, the store’s third-generation owner, that attracted Carole to the store in the first place, and over the years, the company had supported many of the service initiatives she’d brought to the table.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

About five years ago, one of Carole’s best customers mentioned that she and her husband had moved from their large home into a condo in Cliffs Vista, a highly regarded retirement village just outside the city. That conversation got Carole thinking. ‘The Cliffs” was an expansive, gated community with housing options ranging from independent living houses and condos to full-service nursing facilities. Knowing that there were a good number of Cliffs residents on the Quinlan’s customer list, Carole and Anne approached the community’s activities director with an offer to provide a weekly “concierge” service — free consultation and jewelry cleaning, as well as repair and appraisal take in/pickup and delivery — focused on residents in the assisted living buildings and others who might appreciate the added convenience of having a jewelry professional come to them. Their proposal was accepted, and Carole began donating three hours of her time each week to the project.

Response to Carole’s weekly visits grew steadily over the years as happy residents spread the word within the community. By 2017, the average number of repair and appraisal jobs taken in at the Cliffs each week had risen to just over 20 (though most were done at significantly reduced prices as a courtesy to the residents, and many were even free). In addition to the slight uptick in repair revenue though, Anne felt confident that Carole’s effort with the Cliffs community was an important contributing factor in the store’s consistent growth in sales and profitability.

In mid-May of this year, Carole ran into an especially challenging situation. Judith Gordon, a longtime Cliffs resident, brought her a strand of lapis beads in need of a new clasp. It was a fairly common request: replace the lobster claw with an easier-to-use magnetic ball fitting. The job was done to Mrs. Gordon’s specifications and returned a week after take-in. Carole took care to explain to Mrs. Gordon how the new clasp functioned and how to ensure that the magnet was secure when the necklace was on. It was working perfectly, and Mrs. Gordon seemed happy. The week after delivery, however, she brought the strand back to Carole again, complaining loudly that the magnetic clasp was defective and demanding that she have the original lobster claw re-attached. Carole could see that one side of the magnet had somehow been pulled from the clasp. She could also see that there would be no reasoning with Mrs. Gordon, so she refunded the amount paid for the repair (the store’s cost) and took the necklace back in as requested. It was returned the following week and it seemed that everything was fine.

In early July, Anne called Carole into her office and handed her a letter she had just received:

To the storeowner:

I falsely assumed, given a month, I would be able to overlook a grievous error made by your company’s Cliffs representative, but if you’re assuming I’ve overlooked it, you’re wrong. It still bothers me. I have not, as yet, shared my experience with other Cliffs residents and friends, since I consider it only fair that I share this unfortunate incident with you first.

I never had occasion to use your services until about six weeks ago when I met with your representative and left her with a necklace for which I wanted a magnetic clasp. When I picked it up a week later, it looked OK. She explained that I needed to “tip the magnet ball slightly” when attaching and removing. I tried the necklace on when I got home. Since some of my fingers on my right hand are bent due to rheumatoid arthritis, I could easily attach it, but had to have my husband remove it. When he did, following the “tilting” advice, the “magnetism” was no longer viable — obviously flawed. My husband immediately determined it was defective.

I returned the following week with the flawed magnet and explained what happened. Your representative said “interesting,” but she never apologized and acted as though we were obviously guilty of something. I gave her my necklace with the original crab closure to return it to the original condition and she returned my money.

Another week later, I returned and took my “repaired” necklace back home to try it on, only to discover: 1) The closure link is now two small links, making it very hard to work, and 2) the end pieces are twisted and don’t lay flat on my neck.

I have never considered myself to be mean-spirited and I am not one to “get even,” but I find your representative and your repair tech person to be guilty of a deliberate act of vandalism. I will now have to pay a real jewelry expert to repair the damage. I no longer have an interest in keeping quiet about this unfortunate incident with your store.

I am not asking for anything and will not have any further contact with your representative or your store. I just thought it fair to tell you this story first.

Both Carole and Anne were surprised and saddened by Mrs. Gordon’s rendition of the story, and they agreed that they needed to come up with a plan to resolve the situation. That conversation led to a discussion of the value of their ongoing involvement in various community and charity-related activities in today’s consumer climate. From the winner of the $3,500 designer diamond pendant in the hospital fundraiser raffle who demanded she be allowed to exchange it for something “more suitable,” to Mrs. Gordon and her accusations, it seemed that more and more people expected rather than appreciated the support of local businesses, and that the cost of giving back was starting to outweigh the benefits — to the community or to the store.

The Big Questions

  • Should Carole and Anne be concerned about Mrs. Gordon’s accusations and her threats to go public?
  • Is there a way for the store to resolve the situation?
  • In the bigger picture, are community service initiatives as valuable as they once were to businesses in terms of positive PR — or are customer “entitlement” attitudes creating diminishing returns?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Eve A. Evanston, IL

What a great, appropriate subject! All of us face this quandary!
First, as to donations, we no longer give jewelry. Wherever possible, we instead donate an experience: the winner of the charity auction gets an evening cocktail party for 8, at our location, where they can bring an item to be redesigned, or simply have our designer sit with them and create a design while they enjoy refreshments and a tour, or a variation of this. We also throw in a gemstone and a $100 gift certificate to the winner to get them started (date and time to be arranged).

Regarding Mrs. Gordon and her peers, you have to be proactive. The owner and Carole should go to her, warmly, admit they probably did not carefully notice exactly how her necklace was strung originally (with our cellphones, it is so easy to document a repair take-in!), and also let her know that they respect her. It was a simple error and should not result in World War III.

Karen M. Oneonta, NY

Carole and Anne should consider revising the service offered at the retirement community. By going so frequently (and at considerable expense to the business), the headache it created did not justify the return. Perhaps a better use of their energy would be to schedule a visit twice a year, bringing along a small ultrasonic cleaner, some small hand tools and a laptop or collection of catalogs. That way, residents could have their jewelry cleaned and inspected, browse current offerings and consult about their jewelry needs. Repairs and purchases could then proceed normally at the regular location. This keeps in the spirit of the service but invites fewer problems.

As for the grumbler, Anne should reach out personally to resolve the complaint, but not otherwise worry too much about a spoiled reputation. Most likely, the woman is a chronic complainer and her contemporaries will “consider the source,” before thinking ill of the business.

Jacque E. Bonner Springs, KS

I think one should always be concerned about accusations. However, I don’t think customer complaints carry as much weight as they used to. I feel it is the jeweler’s job to make the customer aware of any issues that could arise when work is being done on a piece and note the issues on the receipt. Personally, I always caution my customers when it comes to using magnetic catches. I don’t like to sell them, so I try to guide them to an alternative. I used to have a customer appreciation promo and would give away a custom-made piece during my Christmas season. When one of my customers won the piece, he told his wife he had it custom-made, but she didn’t like it because it was too dressy and told him to return it. Of course he couldn’t return it for a refund, so he told her I wouldn’t take it back. She went around town telling everyone not to come to my store because I have poor service. NO MORE PROMOTIONS.

Gordon L. Santa Fe, NM

Several things disturb me about this situation. You should be proud of what you do and never undercharge; it devalues what you do in the mind of the customers and leaves no margin if things go wrong. The journeyman IS worthy of his hire!

It sounds like the magnetic clasp was faulty (magnet came unglued) and at this stage, a fulsome apology and explanation was needed.

As to the bigger picture, the jeweler is picking up a bunch of trouble with this setup. Older folks’ jewelry is heavily overlaid with emotionally charged significance and at the same time usually worn out. You touch it, you own it! Find an animal charity to support as you have yourself a lose-lose situation with this one.

Lee F. Reno, NV

Unfortunately the word “entitlement” fits here joined with another word, “elderly.” The words mixed together are more volatile than you might suspect. My suggestion: count your blessings and get out while the getting is good. There will be more to come from others, I promise you (been there, done that). All too sad but true.

Marc F. Houston, TX

It’s hard to put a value on a project designed to generate good PR. However, it is easy to determine a profit from a marketing promotion. To determine the “worth,” it’s all about ROI (return on investment). Let’s say that the company increased outside sales from 20 a week to 40 a week. The question is how much does it cost to service this outside community and how many sales AND HOW MUCH REVENUE was generated. That would be the clear answer.

Now about individual issues (come-backs, charge-offs). In my store, our accountant sets up a 5 percent return/charge-off budget. So on $100,000, the total returns should not exceed $5,000. In this case, charging the customer cost is not good business. More to this particular issue, the customer is always right. A phone call, letter of apology and a $20 store gift card would be appropriate. And I would not accept jobs from her again.

Glyn J. Victoria, TX

It seems Mrs. Gordon and her husband may be on the verge of dementia and not able to follow instructions correctly. The jewelry storeowners should meet with the owners and operators of the gated retirement community and the Gordons and explain the situation to them.

Explain what services they have provided to their residents over the past years. Let them know that if the situation can’t be resolved, that the services will be terminated rather than have their reputation tainted by one displeased couple. Explain that they have gone overboard to try to keep everyone happy and have gone so far as to even lost time and money trying to do the right thing. It sounds as though the Gordons are taking advantage of a good thing. It is a very sad situation indeed.

David B. Calgary, AB

I am going to hazard a guess and say that you will hear many readers say they have experienced something similar. I recall mine was with a Rolex that I refurbished and it stopped working every time the elderly lady left it on her night stand for the weekend. I ate that one as a charity event. Some among us will say that it is the spirit of giving that counts. And I agree, but when you get kicked in the backside over and over, it is hard to keep the spirit of charity in mind. I can say that just recently, I had a client tell me the reason they purchased an engagement ring from me was because of a donation I had made five years earlier. In 38 years in business, that is only the second time I can positively say I had a return on the charity. However, I still give to charities. In a world with such great need, I cannot turn my back. I simply make my choices far more selectively.

Rob C. Laughlin, NV

I would post a copy of this article on the condo’s clubhouse, pool area, and on the mailboxes to explain why she is no longer able to provide this service, but that she will still offer a discount to anyone from the complex that wished to bring in a repair or to make a purchase from her store. Hopefully people will get the correct story about what happened before the rumors fly!

Stacey H. Lincolnwood, IL

Assisted living facilities and old age care homes often house people who are suffering from various forms of deterioration and mental health problems that are not necessarily easy to recognize at a casual encounter such as a jewelry repair. Impaired people can do an enormous amount of damage to a business’s reputation. Maybe if Carole and Anne want to continue to do this, they should get a member of the staff at the facility to witness all transactions in case this kind of thing happens again.

Cheryl B. Coeur d’Alene, ID

I am sorry to say that yes they should be concerned, but there is no fixing crazy. I have customers like this and in this world of speedy packages coming in the mail, it’s a bust. I usually give a redo like this for free. If they have no money in it, somehow it fades away.
We live in a town that always has its hand out. I do many things for fundraising and we do get some recognition for our business. I lately have gone to giving gift certificates. I know that the charity does help get the word out about our business. We have a signature piece that we also will give. It is well known locally and no other company can make it. So my answer is yes, it is still important to give when we can because the clients are off their phones and attending an actual event.

David H. NSW Australia

There will always be cases like this where through no intent, a client becomes aggrieved. It is important, however, to cost all business activities and charge accordingly. If they were making sustainable income from this venture, would they be more motivated to stay? Be very careful which services you wish to discount in the name of charity as “no good deed goes unpunished.” I’ve found “one off” charity donations are more pleasantly received.

Suzanne L. St. Petersburg, FL

Contact the customer and apologize for not replacing it exactly as the original and offer to show her that customer service is first and foremost (even if you have to eat a little, it’s worth it). As far as the recipient of the $3,500 necklace, I would explain this was a donated item and is final.

Marcus M. Midland, TX

Carole and Anne should not worry about Mrs. Gordon. She seems like an unhappy and hateful human being who has nothing better to do. And most people she would try to badmouth Quinlan’s to probably think the same thing. I would also doubt she has many, if any, friends to even complain to. Carole did everything she could to right the wrong and it’s still not good enough. I don’t think you reach out to this mean-spirited woman again. NOTHING will satisfy her, so I would say to keep doing what you’re doing at the Cliff’s Vista and let your solid work speak for itself. It’s tough now days to try to do good in the community. People are so entitled now and don’t seem to appreciate acts of kindness anymore. It’s disheartening, but what do you do?

Joe K. Lantzville, BC

I don’t understand why it took her a month to come forward; it sounds like an easy fix. It seems nice guys finish last. There are people that have way too much time on their hands that come up with these complaints. I would personally talk to her and make it right.

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net.

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Real Deal

An Employee’s Spouse Demands Another Employee Be Fired. How Should These Owners React?

If they don’t do it, they risk losing their top salesperson.

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SOME CHOICES ARE just harder to make than others. For the moment, Michael Rodriguez was feeling more like a dispirited King Solomon than the owner of a young, vibrant and growing fine jewelry store! Michael looked out his office door onto his sales floor and watched Ken Bishop, his good friend and top salesman, working with a difficult client as he considered his options.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

Village Diamonds and Fine Jewelry was a dream come true for Michael and his wife Megan. They started dating while in college, both working part-time in the mall for a large national jewelry chain. By the time they graduated — Michael with his degree in business management and Megan with hers in marketing — they had both developed a genuine passion for the jewelry industry.

When they got engaged the following year, they promised each other that they would someday have their own store. For the next five years, they saved every dime they could, banking their wedding gift money, Megan’s part-time paychecks and Michael’s bonuses while continuing to live the simple life they’d grown to love in their Midwest town.

In 2007, with the help of a sizeable inheritance from Michael’s grandmother, their dream became a reality. While visiting a downtown coffee shop, Megan noticed a Going Out of Business sign in the window of the Village Jewelers store. She snapped a picture of the sign and texted it to Michael. That afternoon, Michael made his way to the store and talked with the owner, who agreed to sell the store. They knew that the business itself had died a slow death, but they saw the opportunity to recreate something great out of the ashes. Michael left his position with the national chain and within a year, he and Megan had closed the deal, renovated the showroom, sold off the old inventory, and found the right vendor partners to supply the contemporary product lines they wanted. With the addition of one salesperson and the contracting of a trade shop to handle repairs, they were ready to open the new Village Jewelers.

Ken Bishop, their new sales associate, came to them with extensive retail background, but no jewelry experience. He had worked for over 12 years selling high-end sporting goods in a local store that was a client of Megan’s former marketing firm. Ken had heard about the Rodriguezes’ new venture, and when the sporting goods store was bought out by a large corporation, he gave Michael a call. Ken quickly became a highly valuable asset to the store, and as business grew, so did his skill and ability. Over ten years, through the building of just under $6 million in sales volume and the addition of eight permanent staff positions, Ken remained the stabilizing force on the sales floor and a great friend to Michael and Megan.

The Rodriguezes were supportive when Ken announced that he and his wife of 20 years were separating. Michael even loaned Ken his truck the day that Ken moved into his own apartment across town. Susan Bishop had also become a close friend of the family, making the situation more than a little tense at times, but the Bishops seemed to be keeping things amicable, and Michael and Megan did their best to stand by their employee without taking sides or allowing things to get personal.

Several months after the separation, Megan noticed that Ken seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time with Amanda Davis, the generally competent, very attractive and much younger office manager who had been with them for nearly two years. Michael asked Ken directly what was happening, and Ken confirmed that he and Amanda had, in fact, recently begun dating. He confirmed that his interest in Amanda was part of the reason for his separation from Susan. He indicated that he and Amanda were not at all serious, and that he was still hoping to reconcile with his wife. Michael and Megan were troubled by the revelation, but had no reason to question the performance of either of their employees and felt uncomfortable questioning their judgment.

About a month later, Megan noticed a marked difference in Amanda’s demeanor in the store. In talking to Amanda, Megan learned that she was no longer seeing Ken — that Ken had decided to make a solid effort to repair his marriage. The next day, Ken asked for a meeting with Michael and Megan. He told them that he and Susan had made the decision to get back together and were doing everything possible to work on their marriage. He was hoping to move back into their home the following weekend, but before that could happen, he had to see to Susan’s one non-negotiable demand: Susan would not take him back as long as he continued to work with Amanda. Ken made it clear that if Amanda continued to work at Village Jewelers, he would have to resign. He asked the Rodriguezes for a few days off while they thought about what would be best for their business, and asked them to get back to him when they were ready to talk.

The Big Questions

  • Should the Rodriguezes give up a top salesperson who has consistently produced in excess of 30 percent of the store’s sales volume, or should they give up a competent (but not extraordinary) office manager?
  • If they decide that Ken’s contribution is too significant to lose, is there a way to dismiss Amanda without crossing a legal line?
  • Is there any way to create a compromise that would work for everyone?
John M.
Seattle, WA

The Rodríguezes should recommend that Ken move on to a new career. They made two fatal mistakes in their employment of Ken. First, they mixed business relationship with personal relationship, and second, they allowed an employee other than themselves to control the success of their business. Allowing Ken to stay on puts them and their business in a compromising position. Their current dilemma clearly demonstrates this. Ken’s sales productivity and “friendship” with the Rodríguezes is controlling the success or failure of their business and confusing their ability to make a candid business decision. Moreover, this situation with Amanda will likely not end here. Most importantly, the Rodríguezes cannot allow any person other than themselves to control the long-term success of their business. There are many great salespeople to take Ken’s place, and the Rodriguezes will be better off for setting an example to all their employees that their interest is in protecting the business they worked so hard to grow.

Creighton W.
Yuba City, CA

While in an ideal world you could keep your top salesman and let go of a solid but seemingly replaceable office manager without hard feelings, the reality is you couldn’t do so without crossing moral, ethical, and legal lines. Both individuals chose to partake in an office romance, so both are responsible for any awkward atmosphere in the workplace, along with the right to be let go because of it. However, the manager should not lose her job because of the insecurities involved in Ken’s relationship, which is outside of the workplace, and what would be needed to mend it. It would also be difficult to justify her firing and would very likely lead to a lawsuit. With a business that’s still relatively new, it could bring bad publicity. The solution? If the owners are as close with Ken and his wife as they say, I say they bring her in and explain the logistics of firing Amanda and see if any other compromises could be met. If not, Ken unfortunately will have to resign.

Jim S.
Kapaa, HI

Goodbye Ken! Ultimatums are a deal breaker in any negotiation.

Karen M.
Oneonta, NY

An employee’s spouse does not make the hiring and firing decisions for the Rodriguezes’ business — only they do! So with all due respect to Ken as a friend and major contributor to the business, Michael and Megan need to let him resign. He has proven himself as a capable salesperson in more than one area and will land on his feet financially. And if he is sincere about saving his marriage, he needs to make a life change that shows this commitment. This will be the only long-term solution. Amanda, meanwhile, may perform better and more loyally in Ken’s absence. It is entirely possibly that working in his shadow has hindered Amanda’s performance up until now, and she will come into her own with his departure. In the meantime, this is a great illustration of why workplace romances are problematic! Mike and Megan may want to consider formalizing a policy about this to avoid headaches down the road.

Daniel S.
Cambridge, MA

Oh man, this is all on the owners. The in-store relationship should never have happened. When I had employees, we had a work manual everyone had to sign off on and it clearly stated that no sexual relationships were allowed between employees or between employees and suppliers. As soon as the owners found out about the relationship, they should have told them that one or the other had to go immediately. No option on ending the relationship because then they would just lie about it. One had to leave and then the two of them could decide which one. If it meant the top salesperson left, so be it, because it never should have gotten as far as it did.

Steve J.
Carefree, AZ

Ken created this situation by leaving Susan for a fling with a co-worker. Ken ditched the co-worker, causing a change of dynamic on the sales floor. Ken then pulls out the “I’m the most valuable employee” card. I’d call his bluff and let him go. The marriage is doomed for failure; better to cut off that wart now before it grows.

Marc F.
Houston, TX

This is where the regular reviews of performance take over and make the decision. In Texas, an employer can fire an employee for “cause”. The cause here would be “general reasons”. Of course, the office manager has to go. Salespeople make things happen, and it would be a big mistake to let your one-third producer go. However, I would not let the wife know the reason for termination.

Tina S.
Chicago, IL

They should fire both employees. What’s to keep them from doing it again, especially Mr. Bishop, who should have known better? Not good to mix your social life with work on that level; how dare him even ask them to choose.

Tim S.
Fairbanks, AK

First of all, Ken cannot be allowed to call the shots. I would let him know that he would have to make a decision to continue or stay, but that in no way would I make a choice between them. It sucks you right into their drama. As a matter of fact, I would lean towards letting him go. He needs to take care of his family, but not at the expense of someone else’s job. Second option is to let them both go.

Stacey H.
Lincolnwood, IL

It’s not Amanda’s fault, and sales staff does not get to decide who works at the store. Amanda stays, and if Ken has to go to save his marriage, so be it. You can’t reward an ultimatum, and while Ken has been a good salesperson, he himself is the one with the decision to make, not the Rodriguezes. He should not cost the store unemployment insurance upcharges because of his marital situation, and Amanda could sue the snot out of them for firing her with literally no reason. Ken needs to do what he needs to do, fine, but that isn’t a reason to deprive Amanda of her job!

Kevin L.
Naperville, IL

He finds a new job. He used his senior position to court the office girl. So she gets fired because he wants to try and get back. It most likely won’t work. Then what? They break up and he hits on another girl? If he loves his wife, he quits.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

Michael and Megan should have a meeting with both Ken and Susan (outside of the store) and remind them it is Michael and Megan’s store and not theirs. They cannot dictate who is hired or fired. If Ken decides to leave, so be it. In any event, Amanda should not be fired. I lost my best-selling employee many years ago — yes, it hurt — but not for as long as feared. I found out through the years that a store should never rely too heavily on one salesperson, unless it’s you.

Maya C.
Madison, WI

I think it’s absolutely wrong of Ken to basically ask his bosses to consider firing another employee because of the results of his lapse of judgment. If it was work-related, that would be one thing. But this is a personal issue. If Ken wasn’t prepared to face the consequences of his actions, then that’s on him and should not cause the other employee to lose her job just because of bad personal choices.

Mitsuko H.
Watsonville, CA

With my past forty years of running my jewelry company, having a good policy from day one, I expect each employee to always be a professional representing my company. No personal matters are to be brought in while on duty. Have a good store policy and make them sign it before employing them.

David C.
Traverse City, MI

Ken brought this whole situation on of his own choice. It is hard to let a valued employee go, but it was his choice to start the inappropriate relationship and his choice to end it. I commend Ken for ending the relationship and to work on his marriage, but I would personally have to allow Ken to walk. His leaving might actually inspire another salesperson to come from behind his shadow and step up into Ken’s shoes.

Andy M.
Williamsville, NY

Both employees must be let go. Neither employee used any common sense, and while doing so, put the business in danger.

David B.
Calgary, AB

For those that would say this is an ownership problem for not having a policy or protocol in place to prevent office romance, get real. Most of us probably spend as much time with our workmates as our partners. Always best to be truthful with Amanda. Tell her the demands made by Ken and that he is too integral to the company to lose. Then discuss a termination agreement. Typically, one month per year worked is generous, but in this case, offer her six months or even more with a nice recommendation and see where that heads. Most likely, Amanda is not comfortable in the current situation and would like a reasonable way out.

Nick F.
Woodstock, VT

This is business, it’s not personal! For the good of the company, and for Ken’s marriage, Amanda must go. To soften it, try to find her an opportunity with a fellow jewelry store. This decision keeps a marriage together and an indebted manager. Being young and with the owners’ help, it’s probable she will find a job in the industry and be happy.

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

There is nothing here that requires Michael and Megan to involve themselves. They dodged a potential bullet when their top salesperson started dating their office manager, something that would have left them vulnerable to internal theft. Ken made his bed (sorry for the pun), and his ultimatum means that it is his decision to leave Village Jewelers.

Drue S.
Albany, NY

I have had experience with this situation, and it did not come out great. For me personally, it was two great jewelers. One had a nervous breakdown, and the other ended up leaving anyway.

So since there is no reason to fire the office manager and no reason to fire the salesman, they should try having a conversation with the two of them. Having said that, you cannot allow an employee to dictate who does or does not get fired. I am sure there would be legal ramifications from doing so.

They were two adults deciding to start a relationship, and they should be adult enough to still work together. It’s totally out of place and unreasonable for Ken’s wife to place that demand on the business.

I say it’s up to the owners to have a conversation with the two employees involved and ask them what result they see as the best solution, asking them if there is a way for them to work in the same environment.

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Real Deal

When a Once-Happy Client Sends Back a Damaged Ring and Demands a Refund, What Should the Store Owner Do?

The ring is scuffed and dented after just a year’s worth of wear.

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JOSH WELLMAN AND Brooke Kerney were best friends back in high school. When they both moved back to their Midwest hometown and reconnected after 12 years of living on opposite sides of the country, their friends and family — most notably Josh’s mother — were convinced that a wedding was inevitable. With that in mind, she gave Josh, her eldest son, her engagement ring — a family heirloom that had been passed down through generations. The ring, a late Victorian design, was a 1.50-ct. old European cut diamond in a platinum filigree setting, with milgrain detailing and several accent sapphires.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

Josh finally proposed while on a trip to visit one of Brooke’s friends just after Valentine’s Day. Brooke had been close to Josh’s mom when they were younger and was more than honored to serve as the next generation’s custodian of the heirloom ring. It was just a touch too big, though, so Brooke suggested they take it to a custom jeweler in the city who had done some work for her the year before. The couple made an appointment to see John Anford, owner of Anford and Company Fine Jewelry.

Brooke knew John Anford to be a knowledgeable professional who delivered quality work at a fair price. She was referred to John by a friend when she lost an earring and needed to have a replacement made. The work was done perfectly and well within the time frame expected. Brooke was confident that John would take good care of her new treasure as well.

At the Anford office, John measured Brooke’s finger, then examined the ring carefully. He told the couple that while beautifully made and still wearable, the heirloom was showing the signs of its 100 years of experience. He pointed out areas of weakness and structural issues that he believed made the ring unsuitable for everyday wear, and he recommended that Josh and Brooke consider having the ring restored by a vintage expert. They left the ring for sizing and said they would think about it.

By the time they returned to pick the ring up the next day, Josh and Brooke had come up with another plan. They were both uncomfortable with the idea of restoring or altering the ring in any way and agreed that keeping it in original condition was more important to them than Brooke being able to wear it every day. With that in mind, they asked John to design a companion piece for the ring — a band that would be in keeping with the original ring’s design — in platinum filigree with milgrain trim and sapphire accents. Brooke said that her work as an executive for a technology company didn’t require any activity that would be especially rough on a ring, and she didn’t have any “heavy-duty” hobbies. They worked with John on initial concepts and agreed to stay in touch via email. Brooke made an appointment to come back in three weeks to look at the model and make a final decision.

Brooke and Josh loved the design of her new ring, and over the three-week period, signed off on the CAD rendering as well as various detail decisions and price. When she next visited John’s office and saw the resin model of her ring, she was delighted and confirmed the order. She and Josh returned in mid-April to see the finished product — and after a minor adjustment to a milgrain edge, were happy. Per his policy, John verified that his clients were completely satisfied with the ring, reminding them that they still had the option to cancel before taking delivery if the ring failed to meet their expectations in any way. They agreed that the ring was exactly as they had envisioned, and paid the $3,000 balance by credit card. The ring was shipped to Josh and Brooke’s Midwest home and was received on April 20, 2018.

About a year later, John received an email from Brooke containing pictures of the ring, significantly damaged with bends and dents in the metal and several broken sapphires. In her message, she said,

“Earlier today, I put my ring in an overnight package coming to your office. When I came to you last February, we discussed that my heirloom family ring was not suitable for daily wear, so we agreed to commission a custom ring that could be worn regularly. I approved the design for this ring, but relied on you to ensure proper materials and craftsmanship. You assured me that the problem with the milgrain edge we originally saw was a minor cosmetic issue and not a structural concern. Yet, less than a year later, the structural integrity of the ring has been severely damaged through nothing more than the ordinary use we discussed.

We’ve consulted with two reputable jewelers in our town. They both said that platinum was not the right metal for this ring — that white gold should have been used, given the design. Based on their opinions, and the significant damage that has occurred in just 11 months, I’d like you to honor the cancellation offer you made initially and issue a full refund for the piece so that I can use the money to get a ring I can actually wear every day.”

John noticed that the pictures were taken by one of the jewelers Brooke had consulted. He was tempted to contact the store to find out how they could have suggested that the choice of platinum was the issue here, but instead, chose to review his notes and talk with his craftsman as well as other trusted metals experts. He came away from his research with the thought that while there might have been a sturdier metal choice for the ring design, even 14K white gold would not have held up to the obvious abuse the ring had suffered.

John didn’t think he could afford — financially or philosophically — to send a check for the full $4,750 sale price of the ring, since what he received from Brooke was essentially scrap platinum. On the other hand, as a small custom shop in a highly competitive city, he also couldn’t afford scathing reviews across social media.

The Big Questions

  • Who is responsible for the situation and who should absorb the cost?
  • Should John have known that white gold might have been a better option, despite her heirloom platinum ring having lasted over 100 years? Should the contract craftsman who made the ring have been more proactive in presenting the right design characteristics?
  • What should John do?
John M.
Grand Haven, MI

Ouch. Hard to convince a customer it wasn’t a problem with your year-old band when her similar engagement ring lasted 100 years. And maybe with good reason. Did you make the band solid enough, or was it a flimsy shell because you cheaped out? Was it wide enough to keep its shape for everyday wear? You’re the expert who’s supposed to know platinum keeps its color, is tough, and chemical resistant, but scuffs, mars and bends easily. And hers is likely a hard die-struck piece, whereas your band is a softer casting. If your band was too lightweight, it’s not going to do the job she specifically tasked you with, and you need to take care of it. If the ring was beaten regardless of the metal or who made it, then point out the specific indicators, while also assuring her you want to help her resolve her situation. Your fault, offer to make a new ring in 14K white gold for free. Her fault, offer to make her one at cost.

Richard S.
Seattle, WA

She obviously abused the ring, but it sounds like between the client and jeweler, they did not resolve the original concern about daily wear durability. Regardless of metal choice, it does not sound like a good design choice. The jeweler needs to either recreate it, making the ring a little heavier and using a ruthenium alloy, iridium being much too soft for platinum casting, or make a new design that both parties can be happy with. But to simply give a refund is unreasonable, assuming he has had a conversation about her lifestyle and what could have caused heavy damage.

Jack Van D.
Wellington, FL

Offer to fix the ring the best way he can, at no charge. We’re not responsible for abusive wear to a piece we design and sell. They’re just trying to get something for nothing.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

These people are trying to take advantage of John, and shame on them. Platinum was a fine choice for a ring like this and should be more than durable enough to handle her said lifestyle. She obviously started working out with it on or it slipped down the disposal and took a spin (I’ve seen both be very destructive). Either way, something has happened and rings like this don’t self-destruct. I would offer to repair or remake it at my cost, but I would NOT give a refund. Stand your ground, John. You can treat her with respect and understanding and still keep your integrity. Letting them walk all over you is not the answer, especially when you and they know that this ring destruction was user error.

Sandi B.
Ocala, FL

Almost the exact thing happened in our store about two years ago. The couple had purchased a platinum radiant three-stone for a right-hand anniversary ring and was quite happy with it. A year later, they wanted to reset her wedding set into platinum with a bigger center diamond. It was made, loved and within one month, they did not like the “scratches” and dents on the bottom of the shank. It was an existing design that was just tweaked, so not completely custom. I talked with the manufacturer extensively about the platinum content, had it refinished, and the couple was still not satisfied.

I refunded the whole set and got a credit from the manufacturer, so it wasn’t a complete loss. Probably a little buyer’s remorse along with the softer metal performance. I would love to say they have purchased other things after that and it was a win-win situation; however, that is not the case. You win some, you lose some. Our reputation is still intact.

Daniel U.
Hamilton, ON

I think that the dealer got “played” by a person who abused her ring and then wanted a free ride to make up for her negligence. If she wanted to wear the ring “hard,” she should have said so at the beginning. My impression is that she got a suitable ring for her lifestyle, which she abused not just once, but several times. I believe that she knew she abused it, that she was morally wrong but that she did not want to accept responsibility for her actions.

The reason I believe these things is we have had clients who misrepresented their lifestyles and tried exactly the same type of scenario: to get a refund after they damaged something they could not afford. It is a measure of the solidarity of our clients that they stood together and denounced that individual as a liar and a fraud.

June M.
Aberdeen, MD

Since the customer indicated before authorizing the band that she did not do any heavy duty work in her employment or have any heavy duty hobbies, she could wear the ring every day. And she had worn it for a year or so. What DID she do that could have possibly caused that ring to end up in such a condition? I also don’t feel the store is responsible for the whole outcome of the finished ring. The craftsman is also responsible. Possibly also the customer.

Instead of a refund, the store could offer to replace the ring in a sturdier ring, possibly a heavier gauge for the filigree and the base plus a thicker band. That way, the cost for the store would be less than a refund.

Saro A.
Chevy Chase, MD

In the custom business, there are always cases when things go wrong either in design/manufacturing or by customer. I think Josh and Brooke should have at least given John a chance to make a new ring instead of asking for a refund. As bad as making a new ring would be for John, he should take the loss and never promise to give a refund on a custom made piece once the customer has seen and approved the wax model.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

I think that John should refuse to accept the package. Make the brute that beat up the ring come to the store to discuss any concessions to be made. And while she’s there, explain the abuse of the jewelry. I would NOT refund under any circumstances.

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Real Deal

A Vendor Raises an Item’s Memo Price After It Is Sold. What Should This Store Owner Do?

The ring was sold for less than the vendor now wants for it.

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GUILD AND STONE WAS a second-generation, high-end store in the Pacific Northwest. Store owner Dean Callen had used his 28 years as the company’s general manager to expand on the strong reputation his father built with an extensive vendor network and a local client base that included most of the town’s VIPs.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at kate@performanceconcepts.net

Back in April, Sharon Sanderlund, president of a local construction company and one of Guild And Stone’s best customers, came in to talk with store manager Jennifer Lee about finding a pendant to match the fabulous Art Deco citrine earrings she had just inherited from her aunt. Since there was nothing workable in the store’s estate collection, Dean recommended that Jennifer contact Ed Ansell, one of the store’s regular estate vendors who specialized in vintage colored gemstone pieces. Jennifer spoke with Ed and he agreed to memo several pendants for her to show.

The day the package arrived, while it was sitting on Dean’s desk waiting to be opened, Jennifer received an email from Ed letting her know that in addition to three citrine pendants, he had also included a number of other pieces in the shipment, all from an estate he had recently purchased and all on memo to the store. Since the lot was very well priced, he thought she and Dean might want to keep a few of the pieces for stock.

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When Dean opened the package, he was surprised to see that it contained a total of 13 pieces. As he checked them in, he had to agree that the prices were great, but he was further surprised to see that there was one item in the package — a vintage aquamarine and diamond bracelet — that was not listed on the memo. He contacted Ed immediately to report the error. Ed apologized and emailed an updated memo within the hour.

Later that week, Sharon Sanderlund came in to look at the pendants. She chose a beautiful art deco citrine and diamond pendant from the memo and a vintage chain from the store’s collection for a total of $4,550. While she was still in the store, Jennifer remembered the additional items that Ed had sent and brought them out of the safe to show Sharon. Sharon was immediately drawn to a Victorian sapphire and diamond ring — a cushion-shaped sapphire surrounded by 13 Old European Cut diamonds in 18K gold. Jennifer checked the memo and saw that the store’s cost for the ring was $3,500. She checked with Dean, who assigned a retail price of $6,100 to the ring — then promptly sold it to Sharon.

The next day, Dean sent Ed an email reporting the sale of the two items, adding a list of three more pieces from the lot that he wanted to keep for stock and asking for an invoice. Ed called back an hour later to let Dean know that there had been a mistake on the memo. He said that he had mixed up two rings from the estate — that the sapphire in the ring Jennifer had sold was unheated and that the actual cost for the piece was $7,500, not $3,500. He told Dean that the invoice would reflect the $7,500 price. Dean struggled to remain calm and rational while he very clearly explained to Ed that the ring was sold based on the memo price, and that was the price he would pay. The conversation got rather loud as Ed suggested that Dean contact the customer to get the ring back — something Dean flatly refused to do. The call ended with Ed insisting that the ring would be invoiced at the $7,500 price and subtly suggesting the possibility of legal action if Dean chose not to pay.

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Dean remembered thinking that like the rest of the lot, the ring was a great value at $3,500 cost, but he did not believe that price to be unreasonably low for an estate item. In an effort to be fair and to preserve a vendor relationship, he called Ed back the following day and offered to split the difference — to pay $5,500 for the ring. In his view, since the ring didn’t need sizing, that would leave him with a small profit once he paid Jennifer’s commission. Unfortunately, Ed refused to move off of his demand that Dean pay the invoiced amount for the ring. Dean hung up when Ed mentioned that as a professional, Dean should have noticed that the price was not right for a ring of that caliber in the first place.

The Big Questions

  • What should Dean do?
  • Is it reasonable to think that Ed might be right — that someone at Guild And Stone should have noticed that the price was too low for the ring?
  • Should Dean contact Mrs. Sanderlund and explain the situation in an attempt to either recover the ring or to re-sell it at a higher price?
Kevin P.
Newark, OH

When you write down a price on paper or write it in an email and send it, that is your responsibility to be correct. Once a vendor or a retailer gives a price, it is a done deal. In 40 years, I have never backtracked on a sale. A few times, I made mistakes in my calculations, once using per carat instead of net price to figure my cost.

In this case, I would call back the vendor and reiterate your offer to pay the $5,500 for the ring, as well as the second item and buy the three additional items. Remind him of the business you have done and may do in the future and ask him if he is willing to forget that. If he does not agree, I would send the amount he is asking for the two items and return the rest, and ask that your account be closed. There are other vendors who will behave in an honest and straightforward way with integrity.

John T.
Atlanta, GA

It was the vendor’s mistake and the vendor’s responsibility to catch and correct it before the sale was completed. The offer to split the difference from the jeweler was more than fair. Pay the memo price, and not a penny more, then find a new estate dealer; this one is crackers.

Oscar V.
Chicago, IL

Pay what is on the memo.

Stuart T.
Bel Air, MD

I always try to be fair with my trade partners, BUT in this case Ed is being unreasonable. Dave made a very fair offer to split the loss, and Ed refused to bend at all. Dave could have kept the Aquamarine and diamond bracelet but he was too honest to do so. Ed doesn’t have a leg to stand on, so let him sue, and loose a customer as well.

Michael J.
Port Charlotte, FL

I know the fine print on most memos says items are not to be sold until invoiced, but this can be argued since virtually no company actually holds to these words, so precedents have been set. The fact that Dean offered to split the cost at all was more than fair to the vendor, and in my opinion, should have been accepted without hesitation, especially if he had any desire to salvage the business relationship. The fact that Ed vehemently declined the offer means it should be rescinded and a check mailed for the price on the memo.

Albert D.
Fords, NJ

This is cut and dry. The store would only be liable for the original invoiced price. The fact that they were willing to give more was a very generous. I think the original vendor should have accepted their offer, considering that they know the ring was sold.

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Colleen Z.
Hershey, PA

Ed is absolutely in the wrong here. It’s his duty to correctly identify and price his merchandise — and to eat the loss if he makes a mistake. If he ever wants Dean as a customer again, he needs to honor the original price on his memo. Dean should absolutely not let his client know what’s going on — it’s not at all her responsibility to deal with and it ruins the magic of the purchase. If he ends up having to pay the full cost so she can keep her ring and he can avoid legal action, then so be it. However, he should never work with Ed again. Dean went above and beyond to compromise, and Ed clearly doesn’t value the relationship in the same way. If his customer service is this poor, I wouldn’t trust Ed with other items. Dean should contact his lawyer for advice to handle the situation but above all else — keep Sharon out of it!

Jay S.
San Diego, CA

The retailer tried so hard to be fair. The supplier made the mistake and should live with it. When the supplier was not willing to work with his customer, I would have told him to sue me, and then I would have told him to pound sand!

David B.
Calgary, AB

When is a deal a deal? On both ends. Dean cannot go back to his client and ask for more. It makes him look unprofessional. It may even cost him a client. His offer to eat some cost was very fair. The consignor showed no professionalism. And getting an offer to split the difference was very fair. When I was a traveling salesman, this situation happened to me. I did not go back and ask my retailer for more money. I ate the loss and practiced better accounting. Further, the consignor making threats about court action is ridiculous. I know a fight is expensive, but where do you draw the line? Retailers get kicked in the backside at every turn, and even when it is a clear mistake, why are we expected to make it right? Dean needs to hold his ground.

Stewart P.
Lansing, MI

It is truly unfortunate that we all make mistakes in a variety of different ways. With 45 years in the trade under my belt, I can honestly say that I have paid a small fortune for the errors in judgment that I have made in an attempt to retain or strengthen the integrity of my business. I could have paid much less if I had chosen to place blame on others and refused to accept the responsibility. In the instance described, the error was clearly in the vendor’s corner. The retailer was completely blameless and should not be punished. We cannot function if we cannot rely on quotes and estimates from our vendors as written or stated.

Joe K.
Lantzville, BC

A deal’s a deal. The cost on the original invoice is all that should be paid. Looks like Ed is a little lackadaisical in his invoicing. Suck it up, Ed.

Jim G.
Champaign, IL

The ring as invoiced stands correct. If they had picked up the phone and told the new price before the ring was sold, then the new price would be in order. Too bad for the vendor.

Rex S.
Houston, TX

It is basic contract law. The items were sent out on consignment to be shown to a retail customer and allowed to be sold to retail customers based on the offer price listed on the memo. The retailer sold the item to the retail customer based on the price that the vendor sent to the retailer in good faith. It should also be noted that the vendor had previously told the retailer that this lot was an exceptionally well-priced estate lot; therefore, the retailer was reasonable in not questioning the pricing of the items. The retailer absolutely should not be asked, nor should they contact the retail customer, as that customer bought the item in good faith from the retailer and this has no duty to resend that sales contract. In short, the “memo” is in fact an offer to sell, and the retailer accepted that offer.

Norbert M.
Nairobi, Kenya

Especially in gem and jewelry trade, the customer is always right and therefore should not be bothered. Also, why should the initial seller want to unscrupulously transfer his error to his jewelry broker friend? This is wrong! He should accept the loss as his mistake and use the mishap as a future strength-point! Going to a court of law will only break their wonderful business association. Furthermore, 1) the untold truth is that estate jewelry is often bought at extremely lower price to exploit the owners and to sell off fast to make a quick buck! 2) the money involved is too low to cause the fuss considering the long-term business relationships. In a nutshell, for all the parties, let it be what has already been and move on. Hope I don’t sound too blunt!

Jim S.
Kauai, HI

Dean in good faith sold items based upon a written memo price. That the wholesaler made a mistake is not his fault. His offer of a compromise showed integrity and fairness. Ed’s response showed a lack of both.

Dianne H.
Eldon, MO

They must leave the satisfied customer out of the deal. That part is finished. The customer did nothing wrong. Neither did the jeweler. Carelessness by this supplier shows as the one bracelet was not even on the original invoice. Now the jeweler should prepare to get legal advice and not be bullied by the supplier! $10 payment per month FOREVER!

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

Dean should not pay a dime over $3,500. That is the price listed on his memo sheet, and if Ed tries to take any legal action, then Dean has the proof of the price Ed originally gave him. This is Ed’s mistake and should be his loss, not Dean’s. Also, Ed should probably realize how much money Dean was about to send him and be happy that he could probably recoup his mistake. If I was Dean, I wouldn’t do a bit of business with Ed again. There’s lot of estate dealers out there; go find another one who is more professional. And there is no chance I would call a great customer and ask her for the ring back or to pay more money. You would lose her for good if you did something like that.

Joel M.
New York, NY

Estate jewelry is tricky on value. We receive from our dealers and trust them to value the pieces. Thus, the store owner is not liable and his dealer should have taken the offer to split the profit.

Stuart S.
Egg Harbor City, NJ

This is an estate ring and could have just been an amazing value. Dean was very generous to split the difference. If the ring had not been sold, I’m sure Dean would have either returned the ring or agreed to the price. I feel bad for Ed that he made the mistake, but he has nobody to blame but himself. Ed no longer deserves the benefit of the split. Obviously Ed does not have the same respect for their business relationship as Dean!

Jon P.
St. George, UT

Ed’s mistake. Ed should eat the difference.

Tom C.
San Marcos, CA

You live with your mistakes. An error in pricing is the sender’s fault, not the buyer’s. It may affect any future dealings, but so what? If you can’t trust the sender’s memo pricing, what good is it to solicit goods from them?

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

Dean is required to pay the $3,500 plus applicable taxes. Anything greater than that requires a visit to his lawyer. When the dust settles, Dean should let Mrs. Sanderlund know the incredible deal she received and offer his services to appraise the item. Mistakes happen to all of us, and Dean’s offer of $5,500 was overly generous. Once rejected, I believe a judge would rule in Dean’s favor.

Valerie S.
Champaign, IL

If I’m not mistaken, this was fictionalized based off of my post on the Jewelers Helping Jewelers Facebook group. Fortunately, the wholesaler honored their memo price and we all moved on.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

Let me see if I understand this correctly … The memo said one price, the vendor changed it (doubled), and then Dean offered to meet Ed halfway. Dean is a mensch; and Ed is a _______! (fill in the blank as you deem appropriate). I would send a check for the memo price — I would not buy the other three pieces that looked good and probably not buy anything else from Ed.

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