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Real Deal

When A Competitor’s Going-Out-Of-Business Sale Lasts Four Months, A Jeweler Takes Action

For this retailer, the question is … to sue, or not to sue?

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It came as no surprise to local competitors last Nov. 15 when the signs went up at Glenwood Jewelers announcing their going out of business sale. Charles Glenwood had run the city’s oldest and most prominent fine jewelry store for nearly 40 years after taking it over from his father. His friends knew that he had been ready for retirement for some time, but just the thought of closing the fourth generation Southern store had him putting the decision off as long as possible. With their only child a pediatrician up north, no other family members interested and no outside buyers on the horizon, Charles and his wife had finally chosen to engage the transition sale company with whom they’d been talking since the beginning of the year. 

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

Dale Van Ander was not particularly happy with the timing of the sale. Only one strip center separated his store, Van Ander Diamonds, from Glenwood’s. He knew that it was smart of Charles to run his GOB sale over Christmas, but he hated that his sales would surely take a hit — with his store possibly finishing behind the previous year for only the second time since they opened in 1999. 

In fact, Van Ander Diamonds had long been a thorn in Charles Glenwood’s side. Though Glenwood’s was the “traditional” store and Van Ander’s the more contemporary and modern, Charles still saw them as fierce competitors. Rapid growth, numerous awards and a steady rise to local, state and even national prominence did little to change Charles’ perception of Dale and his company. He still considered them “tawdry newcomers” — a sentiment he was fond of sharing with both vendors and customers.

Despite their challenges over the years, Dale decided to take a philosophical approach to Glenwood’s sale. He and his team set what they believed to be reasonable goals for the season, and worked hard to put their best game forward, relying on their strong client relationships, unique designs, and (in his opinion) superior service and sales ability.

Glenwood’s transition company had done a great job getting the word out for the event, playing up the store’s long reputation for quality while advertising deep discounts, contests and other promotional efforts. Dale couldn’t begin to imagine what they must have spent on online and traditional marketing, banners, billboards, mass media and direct mail. At the end of December, despite their best efforts, Van Ander’s was off nearly 50 percent for the six-week season, and although they’d gone into November up six percent for the year, they finished 2017 two percent behind 2016.

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Dale and his team were not happy, but they knew that with Glenwood’s closing, they would get back everything they had lost during the sale and then some. Except that Glenwood’s didn’t close. The sale was originally advertised as “through Dec. 31 only.” In early January, however, they began promoting that the sale was being extended “by popular demand.” Shortly after Valentine’s Day, with the sale still running and his sales off nearly 40 percent year to date, Dale decided to take action.

He learned that city and state laws governing Going Out of Business sales contained very specific regulations designed to protect both consumers and other local businesses. According to the rules, businesses running GOB sales must secure a permit from the city. By state law, GOB events could not last more than 60 days (unless the merchant applied for a maximum 30 day extension), and could not offer new or supplemental inventory brought in specifically for the sale. In fact, businesses are required to post an inventory list with the state prior to the start of the sale. By Dale’s calculation, even if all of the other requirements had been met (and he was sure they hadn’t), the last possible day for their sale would have been Feb. 13. At the end of February, they were still advertising.

A call to the city’s records department confirmed that neither Glenwood’s nor the sale company had gotten a permit for the event and it seemed nothing was on file with the state either. Unfortunately, subsequent calls to the city solicitor, state’s attorney, attorney general, city police and sheriff’s departments proved to be nothing but a game of “pass the buck,” with no one wanting to take responsibility for the situation, even though Glenwood’s was clearly breaking the law.

On March 5, Dale took the city and Charles Glenwood to court, seeking a restraining order and cessation of the sale. Rather than shut the sale down, the city granted Glenwood’s the permit they were missing for the price of a small fine. Threatened with continuation of the lawsuit, Charles agreed to shut the sale down on March 15, remaining open “only for pick-ups and repairs.”

Glenwood’s did close, and since mid-March, Van Ander’s has seen somewhat of a rebound in their sales. The uptick, though, has not been enough to help Dale cover the nearly $300,000 in gross profit he lost during the four months of the sale. The loss has put Dale in a tenuous financial position for the first time in his company’s history.

The Big Questions

  • Is there anything Dale and his team could have done to better prepare for the impact of Glenwood’s sale?
  • Since the sale was illegal, Dale does have an opportunity to sue Charles Glenwood for loss of business, relying on a statute that has been untested in the state — but Dale is concerned about the expense with no assurance of success. Should he move forward and try to recover at least some of his loss?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Mark R. Seneca Falls, NY

Every business should get to know the “going out of business” laws for the state or locality. If the ads are not correct, call the jeweler and the city to complain right away. File a complaint with the state attorney general. Keep copies of ads or record commercials. We experienced the same thing back in 2011. We opted not to sue and weathered the downturn. 

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Drue S. Albany, NY

I think the best thing that Dale can do is to look forward and never look back. He must stand tall and not discuss what Glenwood did to his clients.

I understand his frustration; in our area, we had a jeweler do the exact same thing, our Christmas sales were impacted slightly and he decided to continue the sale until after Valentine’s Day. It all worked out in the end and we are stronger than ever. I will not work on the pieces that were purchased during the sale for repairs, since once you touch it, you own it.

So Dale, don’t acknowledge any of the jewelry from the sale and put your best foot forward by offering the great service and product that you have had for years. 

Marc F. Houston, TX

I’ve had this experience several times in the last 33 years. The best promotions I used were (and if it didn’t start to work in two days, I would switch them out)

“Going Out For Business,” “We’ll Be Here To Serve You When Others Fail,”

“Sell Us Your LOSING Lottery Tickets Today,” and “Free GIA Graduate Appraisals On Your Diamond Purchased From XYZ Sore Here.” All of these are traffic builders, and when you have traffic, you will have sales.

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Let’s remember it is a free market. If your neighbor fails, be kind to them, wish them well and thank them for the golden opportunity they are giving you! 

Buddy B. Merion, PA

My advice is move on. The store that closed did his best to close the store and perhaps he had more inventory left that he needed to unload. The fact that he did not apply for a license or permit in my opinion is noteworthy but should not be cause for a suit or legal action. There are some vague rules that differ from state to state and city to city, and most of them go unenforced. I would just suck it up, move on and look to the future. 

David B. Calgary, AB

I have had GOB sales around me many times over a 38-year history and they will happen again. They do hurt and they often last far longer than advertised. In some cases, I have seen them last a full year. Our city has no laws anywhere near as detailed as those in the story. One thing I learned from a very protracted litigation I was involved in was that you never want to litigate an issue in a courtroom. It is like rolling dice but far more expensive. Don’t send more money down the drain when you are already feeling the pinch. Now when I hear of a GOB sale, I use a strategy from a book INSTORE recommended: have a big sale of my own.

As an aside, I think one of the nastiest sales I had to deal with was a “Going Out For Business” sale. It lasted a year and was very misleading. 

Allison L. Rock Hill, SC

He should spend the money on advertising rather than paying legal fees. A great header would be, “We will handle it from here,” with a message that anything purchased from the closed store can be brought in for repair and inspections going forward and wish the owners happy retirement!

Never let ‘em see you sweat … and we are all sweating something! 

Kay D. Andover, MA

It is understandable that Van Anders would be unhappy over the impact and timing of the sale, but it is doubtful that it was intended to be intentionally damaging to Van Anders. Glenwood might not have known about strict state guidelines or permit requirements for a GOB sale, but the transition sale company should have known and discussed state regulations with Glenwood. Other factors extending the sale could have also been in play (e.g., staying open through the end of a lease). Even though the GOB sale damaged Van Anders’ bottom line, a lawsuit is risky for multiple reasons. Customers will find out and feel Van Anders is picking on those poor people who didn’t want to close a decades-old family business and may decide to purchase their jewelry somewhere other than the store conveniently located across the street. Van Anders might consider advertising an event welcoming new customers from Glenwood with a special discount; they may well make up all of their losses and then some. Might as well take the high road. 

Elysia D. Spencer, NC

I like to be ahead of the game. As soon as rumors of a sale hit the wind, I would have researched the laws and ordinances and made sure they were followed through from day one. I admire that Dale was insistent enough to follow through legally, but only after the bulk of damage was done. I would have played up repairs — quick turn-around sizings and signage welcoming his customers, maybe with a contest, like bring in your Glenwood’s receipt to win a gift card, spa day, whatever. Get bodies in, collect contact info then clientele (hey, Walgreens just did it with Rite Aid!). 

S. Maroskos Lynn, MA

Dale will probably lose more in litigation processing fees than he hopes to gain. Lawyers are expensive. Not to mention time away from his store and sheer aggravation. He will also lose potential customers that are loyal to Glenwood. 

Laura S. Indianapolis, IN

An attorney once told us that this type of sale has questionable tactics, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the money that a lawsuit will cost for an uncertain outcome. The state laws are only as good as the state’s appetite to allocate the resources to enforce them. In Indiana, the state is not hungry enough to take action. So, respectfully: suck it up and move on. Or as granddaddy would say, saw wood. 

Joe K. Lantzville, BC

They should have jumped on it way sooner; you snooze, you lose. Litigation will only put him further in the hole. I would just let it go and save paying a lawyer. Work on trying to get the closed store’s clientele by offering to service jewelry, bridal, etc. 

Marcus M. Midland, TX

This situation stinks. Sitting in Dale’s position, I don’t think there is anything you could have done to prepare. How could you know that they would continuously run the sale? And seeing that the city seems like it has a “good old boy” mentality towards Glenwood’s is even more maddening. Question is, do you let it go and move on, seeing that they did finally close? Or do you saddle up and ride their little red wagon? 

Bill U. Fayetteville, AR

Dale should sue, stressing the legal and ethical violation of Glenwood and Dale’s own ethical and honest conduct. This is Dale’s opportunity to polish his own ethics and conduct. 

Jim A. Salt Lake City, UT

At the first sign of the sale, go to the retiring jeweler and ask for an endorsement to his clients, to be deployed after the sale. In exchange, offer the retiree a piece of the action on first sales generated from his list. Now, he can do an “orphan” postcard campaign, letting people know that if they’ve lost their jeweler, he’s happy to “adopt” them.

Jumping on the legal action early may have alleviated the problem. Just asking him if he’d gotten the permit and was aware of the rules may have intimidated him into obeying the rules.

As for lawsuit, the company that did the sale probably knows the rules and since they do these things regularly, a suit against them — or the threat of going public with the complaint — may be enough to coax a settlement. Might not get it all, but get some.

Otherwise, ramp up the marketing and sell your way out of the problem. 

Patrick D. Little Rock, AR

Been there several times. Usually, none of the authorities are sympathetic to the jeweler’s loss. They only consider the harmed party to be a nuisance.

Suck it up, put on your happy face and make the best you can of a bad situation.

We have been harmed by many GOB sales. One jewelry store has gone out three times, reopening in a few months at the same location by the same owners.

Use your energy and precious resources to continually provide great service and quality in your unique manner and at excellent prices. 

Jim C. Fayetteville, AR

I despise lawsuits. I think it’s just pouting because you didn’t get your way or because you lost. It’s good info to know about the laws for a GOB sale. However, they could have offered a price match type of discount or built their own value better. In the long run, he should gain a whole lot of new clients. You have to prepare for those tough months and grind through them. We debunk the sales all the time though. Typically, the items are just marked up more to cover the discount. Especially if he was getting in new inventory. 

Rossi Jewelers Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, FL

Wow. It is clear to me, although very unfortunate, that Dale should move forward and let this go. If Dale takes the proverbial high road and moves forward as “the” jeweler in town, he will only gain more customers, more revenue, and much more goodwill in the town. He could even take it a step further and reach out to Charles Glenwood and acquire his mailing list/customer base. Then, start by marketing a special deal to get them in the store and win them over. So, he has the potential to have the best year ever in business. If Dale decides to sue for his losses (with no assurance of success), it will put the store in a bad light, the news will surely blast it out there and the town will see him as a bad guy. Again, very unfortunate, but I would let it go. Pamela Rossi, P.J. 

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

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

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Wilkerson Testimonials

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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Real Deal

When Nature Strikes, Should This Owner Take Care of Her Employees or Her Business?

A longstanding tradition of holiday bonuses and raises is threatened.

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ROBIN SAGER OF GULFSHORE Jewelers had worked with her mother and father for more than 10 years before their 2015 retirement, and she helped to build the business from a small repair shop into a regional powerhouse. Her dad had always talked about “taking care of those who take care of you.” He was proud of his longstanding friendships with a number of sales reps and of his loyal and long-tenured staff. Once she bought the business and took over day-to-day operations, however, Robin quickly saw that what she had always considered her father’s admirable loyalty was really just his way of avoiding difficult situations with vendors, customers and employees — all of which would need to be handled if Gulfshore Jewelers was to be restored to sustainable health. With a firm commitment to the future, Robin laid out her priorities and chose to deal with the issues decisively yet slowly to minimize disruption.

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

Within the first year of her tenure, Robin took on the problem of shrinking margins and obsolete inventory. In some cases, that required severing vendor relationships that her father had maintained for years and building new ones with suppliers of more current lines at more advantageous prices. She also re-evaluated the store’s pricing strategy, re-tagging existing inventory using consistent markups and eliminating large-scale discounting. As expected, several of Gulfshore’s older customers were unhappy when they could no longer claim their usual 30 percent “friend of Joe’s” discount. When the “regular” sales reps stopped visiting and new product started arriving, a number of employees were openly critical of Robin and of what they saw as a betrayal of the friendships that were so important to her father. Much of the grumbling subsided over time as the new product caught the attention of regular customers who recognized the fair pricing.

In 2017, Robin chose to address the issue of the store’s often inconsistent business practices. She worked with an industry consultant to develop an Employee Manual that clearly defined performance expectations and with her (somewhat reluctant) team to implement a mission statement and service standards based on a forward-thinking “extraordinary customer experience” philosophy. By the end of 2017, despite some lingering staff grumbling about missing Robin’s dad and the way things used to be, Gulfshore’s volume had stabilized a bit, and the bottom line was looking healthier.

Robin knew that the last big issue she had to deal with was the store’s payroll. It was clearly high as a percentage of gross profit and was out of line for the store’s volume. She looked at a list of eight employees who had all been with the company for 10 years or more. Each was paid a salary that had been automatically increased by 3 percent per year regardless of store performance to accommodate cost of living increases. They also got a Christmas bonus each year that ranged between $1,000 and $2,000 per person (based loosely on hours worked) because her father had always believed that honesty and loyalty should be rewarded.

There were no sales goals or productivity standards in place and no commissions attached. It was easy to see that some people worked harder than others. Some were really good at their jobs (jewelers and salespeople with solid relationships in the community) and some simply did a good job of being nice to the people who came into the store. Overall, they all got along well, though — and since it seemed that things were picking up a bit, Robin decided to leave the structure as it was for one more year while she worked on designing a new plan that would be fair to everyone, including the business. Everyone got their 2017 Christmas bonus and a 3 percent raise going into 2018.

Much to Robin’s delight, business continued to improve through the first half of the year. Traffic in the store and in the town overall was up, and everyone’s comfort level with the new product, policies and procedures seemed to be increasing steadily. It all hit a major stall in the fall though, when back-to-back hurricanes blasted through the region, creating major issues for local residents and wreaking havoc on the tourism industry in the area.

By the end of the year, sales had dropped nearly 30 percent, and the bottom line Robin had worked so hard to recover was decimated. Looking at the numbers in December, Robin realized that there was no way she could afford to pay out the usual Christmas bonuses. On one hand, she hoped the staff would understand, since they could easily see the circumstances, but on the other hand, she knew that they were all impacted by the storms as well and that they were likely relying on the money for their own families’ Christmas celebrations. She also knew that without a doubt, there would be no salary increases for the coming year, and that the base plus incentive compensation plan she’d worked to develop would be an absolute necessity.

Though she knew she could stand to reduce staff overall, Robin hated the idea of making life any more difficult for her people and was terrified with the prospect of damaging her reputation.

The Big Questions

  • Are there options that Robin is missing with regard to the holiday bonus?
  • Should she find a way to take care of her people and pay it as usual, even if it means borrowing more money from the bank?
  • Is there a way to change a longstanding (and generally unreasonable) compensation plan without losing long-tenured and community-connected employees?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Jillian Hornik
Jae’s Jewelers, Miami, FL

Are there options? Yes, she can openly address the current financial strain placed on the business due to the inclement weather. Meet with each employee to discuss the impact of receiving a bonus versus receiving a pay increase. From there, the employees should understand the reasons behind a pay change. In my opinion, she has to choose bonus or pay increase; can’t take away both.

Should she find a way? Not as usual, but yes, she should pay. Whether it is a bonus without a pay increase or no bonus with a smaller pay increase, it wouldn’t be too much out of pocket. If all the improvements increased business as stated, the store’s bank account will be healthy again in only a month or two.

Is there a way to change? Possibly. If those same employees were to look for a similar job now, they would see what compensation structures are currently available. If those other available jobs are all commission-based and more demanding, your employees will fuss, but most likely stay.

Carolyn Warnke
Gunderson’s Jewelers, Omaha, NE

Assuming Robin has already cut her own wage, she cannot currently afford the entire bonus payout this year. Recommend to her employees that they receive what she can pay, whether it be 30 percent, 50 percent, or 80 percent, and when the rest of the funds are available, she donate them toward hurricane rehabilitation efforts. This will help build rapport with the community and economic recovery as well, meaning there will be less delay in sales coming back into the store and making Gulfshore Jewelers a household name for consumers.

As far as the 3 percent increase to yearly pay, if Beth had not yet announced the reformatting of her bonus and wage system, now would be the perfect time. While everyone is struggling financially and emotionally due to natural disasters, having this as news would show there’s hope for the future and better times ahead for the town and the company.

Overall, these recommendations should at least pacify her workers, prevent layoffs and greater debt, and in the end, benefit the community to some degree.

Tim Soulis
Golden Classics Jewelers, Harrisonville, MO

A bonus should be contingent upon performance of the employee and the business — not guaranteed. Explain the challenge of a 30 percent drop in business, ask for buy-in to weather the storm.
US Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers shows inflation was 0.7 percent in 2015, 2.1 percent in 2016, 2.1 percent in 2017 and 1.9 percent in 2018. The historic 3 percent raises paid have outpaced inflation. Eliminate this expectation.

Manage employees according to performance or lack thereof. Employees who are not in alignment with the “team” and “business” may need to find new homes. Keep good faith, be honest. Lead with optimism and fairness. Evaluate performance, conduct difficult conversations, set goals and motivate the team. Convert to base plus incentive pay in lieu of automatic raises and bonuses going forward. Bonuses can be used privately to reward exceptional individual results.

Focus on employees who are generating the most revenue. Keep their buy-in, ask for more. Reward results. The community cannot run the business. Eliminate entitlement mentality. Complacency cannot persist. Take courageous steps now to be stronger when the whole economy sees recession.

Marc Foster
Plaza Jewelers, Houston, TX

When the “expert” was making the policy book, a section on “Emergency Preparedness” should have been included. We have had to respond to several natural disasters. Robin should call each employee and let them know the situation. Set a sales goal, and if they meet that goal, they will be rewarded with a bonus. This way, they will feel like they are getting something for hard work. She should not bring up the automatic pay increase; just address it privately if asked.

Valerie Naifeh
Naifeh Fine Jewelry, Oklahoma City, OK

This is Robin’s opportunity to do three things: inspire her staff, change the automatic bonus structure, and be a local hero. Don’t borrow any money. Share the news of the 30 percent drop in sales with the staff. Explain it‘s not possible to give the bonus; however, a bonus can be paid monthly or quarterly if the following happens: the sales staff calls clients every day about upcoming anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, wish list items and add-on sales, and these result in measurable sales at the expected profit margin. The jewelers need to complete repairs and custom jobs on time so delivery is not delayed. Robin can negotiate new terms for merchandise she can’t pay for. Most vendors will give extended terms with no interest or take product back with a minimal restocking fee. In the end, the staff who prove to be “rainmakers” stay and those who don’t are gone. Now the new bonus system is in place! You produce, you get a bonus! And the company survives.

Jennifer Farnes
Revolution Jewelry Works, Colorado Springs, CO

This may be the year for Robin to pick one versus the other … and to communicate transparently with her team. People understand numbers when It is laid out in black and white. Share a sales report of year-over-year numbers showing a profit and loss history, and give each team member the option of either a cost-of-living increase or a one-time bonus. If she truly can’t afford to do either, then it is time to make the decision to let go of under-performers or abstain from the wage increase/bonus altogether and let team members leave on their own. If they see and truly appreciate how much the business was impacted, she won’t lose anyone and they will band together to recover together. If the recovery is huge, she needs to be fully prepared to pay it forward to them all in the following year.

Robert Cohan
Craig Brady Jewelers, Montclair, NJ

Difficult situation; however, her team has been there for years and should know the facts as to the unavoidable downturn in business. It’s not a change of policy implementation without basis.

Her team needs to be introspective. They’re not being “punished.” Unless she makes some changes, the store’s future could be devastating, and that would affect them all, long term.

Her loss is their loss, inevitably.

The “winners” will stick around and fight to put it back in good shape, day by day. Their livelihood depends on their commitment to success.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

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Real Deal

When a New Competitor Enters the Store and Attempts to Poach Employees, the Owner Reacts

But should he retaliate?

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MIKE CALLAHAN WAS PLEASED with the way things were going. Since taking over Commonwealth Jewelers from his dad more than 20 years ago, his business had grown significantly, and he’d built a profitable in-house shop, employing five highly regarded jewelers who handled Commonwealth’s repair, custom and production work as well as a good number of trade accounts. Mike couldn’t help but think about how much of his time was invested these days in hiring, training and managing his current six-person team.

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

There was no doubt that his next hire would need to be a sales manager.

While out on the sales floor one day, Mike was a bit surprised to see a trio of well-dressed executive types walk into the store. When he greeted them, one of the men introduced himself as the regional VP for a major jewelry chain, the woman with him as the district manager for the area and the other man as the newly appointed manager for the freestanding store they were scheduled to open across town in two weeks. The RVP told Mike they were having lunch at the restaurant next door and decided to stop in to say hello to Julie McManus, one of Commonwealth’s top salespeople. Julie had been hired eight months ago by Commonwealth after taking a year off of work to care for her newborn daughter. Prior to her leave, she had worked for the chain for five years.

Mike welcomed the trio to his store and after explaining that Julie was at lunch, offered to show them around. He was polite and informative, telling them about his family’s history in town and about the capabilities of the Commonwealth shop. He let them know that he worked hard to maintain good relationships with his competitors, and he offered his trade shop services should they ever have need.

A short time later, after Julie had returned and joined the conversation, Mike went back into his office to take a phone call. He wasn’t concerned about Julie being vulnerable to their poorly disguised poaching effort, as she had made it very clear when she was hired that she had no interest in returning to the company and had commented on many occasions that she was beyond grateful for the opportunity at Commonwealth. She was making more money while working fewer hours with no nights or Sundays.

Mike expected the trio to be gone by the time he finished his call. Instead, he came back out onto the floor to see Julie with a customer, the RVP and store manager near the front door deep in conversation, and the DM handing her business cards to two of the store’s jewelers who had stepped out of the shop to go to lunch. He promptly interrupted the DM and asked her to leave — but not before letting all three of the chain managers know that he was disappointed and disgusted with their abuse of his hospitality and their blatantly unethical behavior. As soon they were gone, Mike talked with his jewelers and confirmed his suspicion that the DM had waited for them to come out of the shop and then approached them about coming to work at the new store. They assured her that they were not interested and that they were firmly committed to Commonwealth.

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The next morning, Mike drafted a scathing email to the CEO of the chain describing the incident in detail and asking what action the CEO would take to ensure that his company representatives would behave in a more respectful and professional manner. A week later, he had not yet received a reply.

The Big Questions

  • Was it appropriate for Mike to throw the competitors out of his store?
  • Was there a better way to handle the situation?
  • How can an employer ensure that associates are not vulnerable to poaching without bankrupting the business?
  • Should Mike make an effort to fill his new sales manager position by recruiting from the chain’s new store?
  • What (if anything) should the chain’s senior management do about the behavior of their field managers?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Jennifer F.
Colorado Springs, CO

Honestly, if an employee is unhappy and wants to leave, there is no way to keep them. But if they love everything about the business they work for, then “poaching” is a non-issue. Was it inappropriate? Absolutely. Did he have the right to throw them out? You bet! The best thing they can do as a team is have a meeting and get it out there … have the salesperson who once worked for them talk about why she is so happy now! Joke about it collectively and come to an agreement about how to handle it as a team next time.

Gabi M.
Tewksbury, MA

I’m assuming that the chain’s senior management advised the field managers to do exactly what they did. If not, Mike probably would have received a reply by now. He definitely should’ve thrown them out; they were rude and on his property! I think he should leave it alone and just focus his energy on growing his business and loyalty with his staff.

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Kevin P.
Newak, OH

I would do exactly the same thing. There is never a guarantee your employees will continue to work for you. Employees are on a path, side by side with you as long as that path leads in the same direction and is beneficial to both parties. When that is no longer true, you part company. If an employee is unhappy, they will look elsewhere and find another position. For a competitor to come into your store and solicit them is plain wrong and completely unethical. I had a goldsmith leave a month before Christmas. The competitor would only hire him if he left immediately. They let him go in February. Of course, he wanted a referral from me. All I would say is that I would not rehire him under any circumstances. Treat your employees as you would want to be treated, and employees, treat your employer as you would like to be treated. That is the best you can do.

Joel W.
Tulsa, OK

We had the same thing happen in our store several times over the years. After 15 years of this happening, they have taken two from me and both times it was a blessing. Richard Branson says train an employee so they can leave and treat them so they never will. I believe we have the best place to work in the country, and not everybody is cut out for that kind of environment, or sometimes they don’t deserve it. I am very protective of my staff, but I don’t own them, and when my competition is always after my employees, it lets me know that I am doing something right. You will always have a target on you when you are working to be the best!

Tom N.
Spencer, IA

I would most likely have done the same thing. What they did is unacceptable to do in his store, in my opinion. That being said, it does not surprise me that a) they acted in this way, as I’m sure their “corporate training” was a huge part of it, and b) the CEO never responded. That to me says quite a bit about that chain and that CEO.

It sounds as though he has loyal and pleased employees, though, so he should feel very good about that. I’m sure his employees would be very disappointed if they did leave for a corporate chain job.

Jim G.
Champaign, IL

I think asking people to leave the store was in line, as well as writing the letter to the corporate office. I would also advise my employees that a company that uses such tactics will continue to poach and will likely replace anyone they feel is not up to their expectations. A job with them is not secure and solid. I realize this method of finding employees is common, but it is not ethical, at least not the way I was brought up in the business world.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

It was not only appropriate but necessary for Mike to throw them out. And he was way more cordial about it than I would have been. I would have told them to leave the moment they walked in. He should have known what they were up to. I don’t know how you actually stop other companies from poaching employees because I feel like that happens a lot. Just build a culture within your store where your employees are happy and satisfied and hopefully won’t leave. Also, if I was Mike, I would not seek out hiring a manager from the chain store. You’re only asking to start a war when it’s not necessary. There are a lot of good businesses to draw a sales manager from that won’t result in a counterattack. As far as the chain’s senior management, I don’t think they would do anything, but if they had any respect and class, then they would condemn the actions of their management and apologize to Mike.

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William C.
Paterson, NJ

A photo of the individuals from the chain store while inside the jeweler’s store should be posted in the jeweler’s store with the caption: “Even our competition shops here while trying to steal our employees.”

Andrea H.
Chicago, IL

I think Mike’s behavior was professional and appropriate. When it became clear that the chain-gang was abusing his hospitality, he was right to ask them to leave.

The only way to reduce employee vulnerability to poaching is to create an exceptional work culture and environment. Pay fairly, offer ample opportunities to learn new things, be direct, professional, and kind to your employees, and praise liberally and often.

Also — run a good business. Employees know when they are working for someone who is running a good business and when they are working for someone who’s just phoning it in — and they like working for winners.

Jim A.
Salt Lake City, UT

You cannot prevent poaching. Businesses are free to recruit and employees are free to shop their services elsewhere. But you are certainly under no obligation to make the job of the poachers easier. I agree that the behavior of the chain execs was unprofessional and unethical. Throw the bums out! Sounds like Mike did it as well as it could be done.

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Real Deal

When an Employee’s Social Media Reveal an Enthusiasm for Marijuana, How Should This Retailer React?

Here’s how Brain Squad members responded.

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JANELLE AND TIM O’NEILL LOVED their hometown and took great pride in knowing that O’Neill’s Diamonds was one of few independent jewelers still operating in the area. In his role as marketing manager, the challenge of keeping up with strategies to attract the town’s millennial bridal customers while continuing to appeal to their long-established older customer base fell to Tim. After much conversation with industry colleagues and experts, he and Janelle decided to hire someone to handle the development and growth of O’Neill’s social media presence. Growth in the business had already created the need for additional help on the sales floor, so they chose to look for someone who could handle both jobs.

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

They were fortunate enough to attract several qualified applicants for the position, including Grace Matthews, the 21 year-old recent college graduate daughter of a family friend. She was articulate, bright and eager to learn, and most importantly, she was totally familiar with building a presence with Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Grace’s references checked out and she was brought on board.

Grace started strong. She was pleasant and personable on the sales floor, and she seemed to be learning quickly about the store’s products and services. She was also creative and enthusiastic working with the store’s social media. Her posts were generating interest within the first few weeks.

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About six weeks into Grace’s employment, Janelle held a store training meeting on the importance of demonstrating O’Neill’s core values — honesty, integrity, responsibility, professionalism and dedication to service — both inside and outside of the store.

She knew they had been fortunate in that they’d never had an issue with an employee creating image problems in town, but she also believed that regular discussion of the topic was part of the reason for that.

The day after the meeting, Linda Weiss, one of the store’s more senior employees, asked to speak to Janelle in private. She said that her son knew Grace casually through friends, and that he’d come to her several weeks ago with concerns about Grace working in the store. He was concerned that her public presence reflected badly on the store, since everyone in town knew she worked there. Linda showed Janelle an Instagram post her son had brought to her attention — Grace’s personal page. From every indication, in her personal social media world, Grace was a stoner, posting regularly about all things marijuana-related, including notes about paraphernalia, varieties, qualities and suggestions for where and how to buy the product. Janelle thanked

Linda for bringing the matter to her attention.

Later that day, Janelle discussed the matter with Tim, and they agreed that neither had noticed any indication that Grace was ever high while at the store. They also looked through her personal pages carefully and were sure that she did not mention being an O’Neill’s employee anywhere. They agreed that despite the fact that times were changing, in their state, marijuana possession and use was still a criminal offense (misdemeanor or felony, depending on quantity), and that they really needed to take some kind of action.

The Big Questions

  • Since Grace’s discussions about marijuana were limited to her personal social media accounts (to which, technically, Janelle and Tim should not have had access), can the O’Neills take action based on the content of those pages?
  • In the bigger picture, does an employer have the right to monitor and/or regulate what an employee posts online if the content has nothing to do with the store and does not violate client or business confidentiality in any way?
  • In a small town where everyone knows everyone else, does the employee have an obligation to restrict public behavior on personal time to conform with the conduct policy of the business?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Sue F.
New York

From a legal standpoint, this is a tricky situation. State laws vary on employee rights outside of work time, so one answer may not be valid in every state.
Situations like this underscore the need for Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI). A good EPLI insurer provides access to free consultative services with attorneys who can provide practical information about topics such as this. Your insurer also should provide access to a Workplace Risk Solutions Website where you can research your state’s legal requirements, find model workplace policies and forms, tap into a library of workplace-related articles, and access web-based training on topics such as preventing discrimination and harassment, as well as other employment issues.

Deric M.
Oceanside, CA

Janelle and Tim are not in a difficult situation here. What constitutes a PR problem is how it is received and Grace isn’t attaching herself to the store with her pro-marijuana posts. Janelle and Tim never appeared to have even asked themselves if the marijuana consumption is recreational or medicinal — an important distinction — and more information is needed.
Since cannabis appears to be illegal in their state for recreational use, however, Janelle and Tim should have a chat with Grace to tone it down because of how it could become a PR problem. If Grace is otherwise a positive influence on the store’s traffic and bottom line, this is an easy matter to resolve.

Joe K.
Lantzville, BC

First let me say that I am in Canada, and we have just legalized recreational use of marijuana for the entire country. I am also in British Columbia, where it has been said that pot is our largest cash crop. There is a right place and time to use pot and a wrong place and time; the same goes with alcohol consumption. I think monitoring your employee’s recreational behavior and online presence away from the workplace is a breach of her privacy. If she doesn’t come to work high or use pot at work, I don’t think there should be a problem, especially if she’s a competent asset and representative for the business. Having said that, we might be a little more lenient here, and attitudes toward marijuana will be quite different in the US Midwest.

Brenda R.
Honolulu

I would not want to be in that situation. There are risks involved with any kind of drugs, legal or otherwise. Does the company have a formal drug policy? One needs to know the local, state and federal laws and work policy to comply with. Was there a stated probation period to see if the employee “fits” with the requirements of dress, being on time, and client interaction? If there are red flags, the person may have to be let go.
What they do at home is their business and should never impact the requirements and expectations of the job they were hired for. Proceed with caution.

Stuart S.
Egg Harbor City, NJ

The employee needs to be taught how to transition from the fantasy fun land of college to the real world. As long as she is responsible and doing a great job, her personal life is not the store’s concern, but when her actions can potentially alienate any customers, it is. Any controversial posts need to be avoided and eliminated. The posts were obviously on her pages before being hired, so the potential repercussions were never considered. Teaching her about why they are no longer appropriate is more important than just having them eliminated. This is all about grooming her to be a valuable asset to the store, and just as importantly, teaching her to grow as a person!

Gabi M.
Tewksbury, MA

My family and I work in a small town, and I know we all watch what we put on our personal social media accounts (mostly political discussions) because we know that we represent our business 24/7. I think they simply just need to talk to Grace and tell her that her posts aren’t acceptable for someone who works for their business. It should be an easy solution, such as just making her accounts private to the public — and if she has a problem with it, then that’s a whole other underlying problem with having her as an employee.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

This is a tricky one. Really, an employer should not be able to judge an employee about what they personally post, as long as it doesn’t mention the store, her profession or have violent content. But at the end of the day, she does reflect the store no matter what, and they do live in a small town, so people know where she works. They’ll judge your store as they judge a person’s social media. Maybe have a chat with her and just ask that she consider how her post will look on her career and see if that helps. She’s obviously not very conscious of how her post about pot looks, or maybe she really just doesn’t care, so either way, it’s a bit of a red flag for me. I don’t know … maybe she’s just still young and immature and needs a little guidance, and I think that’s acceptable to give out.

Jane H.
Highland Park, IL

It does reflect upon the credibility and integrity of the business. Unfortunately, it appears that anyone can do anything and it’s their right, blah blah blah. Since Grace was already hired and during the interview there was no discussion of “life outside the store,” it may become a situation they will need to accept until something happens. There are plenty of employers that check out a potential employee’s social media posts (when possible) for any red flags, and in my opinion, this would influence the decision to hire or not. The jewelry business is based on trust and honesty, especially an independent brick and mortar store. One incident would be tough to overcome for the store’s reputation.

Also, unless you know the personality of someone when they’re “high” or not, the only way you might find out is from someone’s observation. If Grace is “selling,” you are giving her a ready-made customer base. Sorry if I sound extreme and tough, but it’s hard work and devotion to stay in the jewelry business. Grace should go.

Jim D.
Kingston, NH

Obviously an employee who engages in criminal activity would quickly become a former employee. While I know there are those who condone drug use, excuse it and work to decriminalize it, it is still illegal. A jeweler’s reputation is a precious thing and needs to be protected. How many repair clients would want to hand over their treasures to a known criminal? If followers of her social media start hanging around, it could lower the tone of the store, possibly bringing in undesirable elements. Worst case would be a front-page newspaper picture of an employee being taken away in handcuffs and your store-front in the background, after she sells some pot to an undercover police officer.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

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