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Real Deal

When a Longtime Employee and Family Friend Steals from a Store and Vanishes, How Should the Owners Handle It?

Should he report the theft to the police and risk losing an important friendship?

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Ron Aldrin had worked in his family business for most of his life, even spending two years at the bench after he made it through college and GIA. His real love was the sales floor, though, working with clients and focusing on building the store’s vintage and estate department. Jim Aldrin, his father, made it clear to Ron and his sister Lori (who had the same education and experience, but a much better handle on the “back of the house” effort) that Aldrin’s would be their business to run when he retired in a couple of years. For the moment, Ron was content in his role as sales manager, and Lori was doing a great job as the office manager and controller.

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

Jim Aldrin was one of the first in their town to dive into gold buying and estate jewelry in the mid-2000s. The company’s longevity and reputation for integrity in the community helped propel them to the forefront of that very lucrative market and kept them there even when the rush of customers selling had slowed.

Early on, Jim established a tight protocol for buying that ensured compliance with all regulations and control over cash, inventory and scrap. There were only five people in the store (including Ron, Lori and himself) trained and authorized to buy. Each transaction was carefully processed and documented by the person handling the customer. Purchased items — re-saleable and scrap — were weighed and placed into separate bags, sorted by metal type and purity. The weight of the items in each bag was written on the outside of the bag and initialed by the buyer. All of the bags associated with a buy were placed together in one larger bag along with a detailed worksheet and copy of the seller’s ID. Buys were placed in a designated area of the vault where they were kept for 30 days. After the mandatory hold period, Jim would go through the buys, verify weights, identify pieces that would be refurbished for the estate department, and process scrap for dispatch to the refiner.

The process worked perfectly until six months ago, when Jim started to notice discrepancies between the weights written on some of the bags and his verification weights. At first, it was just a few bags of scrap and small amounts that he was willing to attribute to a combination of busy, distracted and careless. One Thursday, though, he came across a bag containing a large estate purchase that appeared to be short in weight by more than 10 grams. When he matched the buy to the detailed worksheet, he found that a 20-inch 14K gold chain and an 18K pendant were missing. Much to his dismay, the initials on that bag — and on nearly all of the other problem bags — were Lori’s.

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Jim called Lori into his office and showed her his list of discrepancies, along with the bags bearing her initials. He was careful not to accuse his daughter of deliberate misdeeds, but he was firm in reprimanding her for what he believed to be careless and serious mistakes. Lori was both surprised and indignant, as she knew she had always been meticulous about checking and re-checking weights before completing any transactions. She was certain that something else must have been going on after the bags were put into the safe, and she brought Ron into the conversation. Ron immediately jumped to the defense of his team, insisting that he had full confidence in the integrity of everyone working for him, while carefully avoiding the implication that Lori was responsible. Jim asked Ron to set up a staff meeting for the following Monday and told him and Lori not to mention the issue to anyone, but to be extra vigilant in the meantime. That evening, after everyone else had left, Jim had his security company come in and install an additional camera, focused directly on the safe where the buys were kept.

As Jim was about to begin Monday morning’s staff meeting, he noticed that Anna Colter, a 12-year employee, who had been off for the weekend, was not there. Ron tried to reach her, but when she didn’t answer her phone, he assumed she was on her way and the meeting went on. When Anna had still not arrived by the time the store was open, Ron became concerned. As he was about to try her phone again, Jim called him into his office and showed him a recording from the new camera, clearly showing Anna in the safe on Friday afternoon, apparently looking for specific bags and putting them into her pocket. They did a quick inventory of bags matched to the buy logs for the previous 30 days and found that there were three missing bags totaling just under $2,200 at cost — all of which had been taken in by Lori.

Ron felt sick. He had known Anna since they were kids and had trusted her completely. Her parents, who still lived in their town, had been close friends with Jim and his wife for longer than Ron could remember. He asked his dad for an hour to see if he could find her before they made any decisions or took any action. He left the store and drove to Anna’s apartment, where he learned that she had moved out just two days before, leaving no forwarding address.

The Big Questions

  • Should Jim report the theft to the police and risk his friendship with Anna’s family?
  • Should he try to find her through her parents and friends?
  • Should he be concerned about the reason behind Anna’s attempt to cast suspicion on Lori?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

David G. Atlanta, GA

I had exactly the same situation, but only with product. I had a rich customer who wanted to work part-time. She had already spent $40,000 with us; no reason to suspect anything wrong. Things started missing, then big things. I called a pawn shop down the street and asked, “I’m missing this, have you see it?”

Yes! I bought that and others.”

Turns out she was a kleptomaniac. Big family in town. I had her arrested and her attorney asked me, “How do we keep a 32 year-old woman and mother of three out of jail?”

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She paid everything in full retail. Otherwise, I would have taken her to court.

I would have her arrested, don’t enable her.

Mike B. Duluth, GA

Jim absolutely should report this to the police; this is stealing! Let the police track her down and recover his merchandise or the monetary equivalent. If Jim chooses not to involve the police, then no, he should not contact her family. This is either a legal matter or it’s not; there is no in between.

As far as risking his friendship with Anna or her family, I would ask what friendship? Anna stole from him, so obviously she doesn’t respect whatever friendship they have or had.

Bruce A. Sherwood Park, Alberta

This is super easy! 1. Call the police. 2. Mention it to the police when they arrive. 3. That is the job of the police. Still time for coffee!

Mary J. San Diego, CA

Anna’s attempt to shift blame to Lori makes this reprehensible. Yes, call the cops; also you might separately let Anna’s family know what’s going on—at least that Anna has not shown up and you are concerned, not what you suspect she has done.

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Steve L. Meridian, MS

What is the right thing? The right thing to do is to first question Anna. Her family should not be involved in store or legal business. If enough evidence is there to press charges, then charges should be pressed and followed through.

If you can’t find Anna, then proceed with prosecution if the evidence is clear.

Eric P. Elk River, MN

Unless I had a really close relationship with her parents and was confident they would support holding her accountable, I would quickly do an audit to determine exactly what was missing and go to the police with all of the facts I’d been able to establish. I’d then notify my insurance company. Without serious intervention, this young woman will repeat her behavior, damaging another business and eventually destroying her own life.

Confronting this situation is gut-wrenching, but failing to confront it is unconscionable on multiple levels. Each time this young lady repeats her offense, she will damage another business and become more entrenched in a life of crime. The only reason for not acting is fear of what others’ reactions may be. So take some deep breaths, pray to the Lord for guidance and strength to do what is right, and don’t look back.

Drue S.  Albany, NY

What a distressing situation. Unfortunately, over the last 43 years of being in business, I also have had trusted staff take materials and even cash.

It’s extremely important that the police are called and that the employee is prosecuted. This sends a clear message to the staff, community and your family that this is a business that knows the difference between right and wrong no matter what happens. I did lose a very close friend when her son, who was my bookkeeper at the time, stole from me. So understand that being honorable comes first; those that matter will respect you for standing up to your morals and convictions.

Joyce B. Centereach and Port Jefferson, NY

Absolutely contact the police! 100 percent!

This was a serious criminal act, as well as the fact that she tried to implicate a co-worker!!!!!

P.S.: This has happened to us. The person was taken into custody and an agreement was made for return of items with restitution. No charges filed!

George F. Lockport, NY

In our town, if you report it to the police, that report appears in the local newspaper and on our local radio station. Customers may feel uncomfortable about leaving their valuables with us if we can’t demonstrate that we have trustworthy staff.

Obviously she knows what she did. Family and friends will always believe her side of the story. It’s better not to say anything to them unless she went public with a conflicting story. I would accept the loss and use the experience as a painful lesson. Trust but verify.

Jake J. West Des Moines, IA

Do you involve the cops for a “friend” stealing from you? OF COURSE! Your beef is with Anna, not her family.

Ben G. Houston, TX

Move on. Write it off as a bad debt. With the new security camera, security has been updated. Everyone in the store will be ever vigilant.

Denise O. La Grange, IL

This is clear-cut theft. First, they have a video of Anna stealing. Second, because she jumps ship, it was orchestrated and premeditated. Call the police and file a report; you have the proof that she is guilty and the records of what is missing. It is unfortunate this took so long to discover, but it won’t take long to resolve. Criminals are dumb. It may take a few months for the cops to catch up, but she will use credit cards or call home, etc.

Her family are collateral damage of poor choices. Want to let her off so she can do it again to someone else? Now to approach her parents with a courtesy warning and an explanation of the situation after a police report. I think that is appropriate considering they are family friends, but that wouldn’t stop me from pressing charges. If Anna’s parents could get her to return the goods, would you call “no harm no foul”? That’s the bigger question.

Joel Z. Harrisburg, PA

This happened to us but a thousand times worse. We chose to recover as much jewelry and cash as we could. Our employee moved away and we found out she paid cash for a new townhouse. In hindsight, we wish we would have prosecuted because we feel horribly taken advantage of even ten years later.

Ralph H. Richmond, IN

Family, friends, customers, employees. Was something going on between Anna and Lori; was Ron “too defensive”? Did Anna just abscond with the loot, or had she been working with someone else? Too much is unknown.

The amount seems too small to risk a career, but it may have been enough for her. The camera is a good idea; it should be in Jim’s unique control, perhaps with a feed to his computer. The big risk: if the offender is still there, will customers’ items be next? Monitor more closely, photo all incoming items. Emphasize that Jim trusts his people, but must protect integrity with customers. Likely not worth pursuing Anna (but keep the evidence!). Set and follow policy, then back to work without looking over each other’s shoulder. You’ll know soon. Another will leave, someone’s behavior will change, or all is well.

Welcome to family business. Be careful when you mix the meanings of those four top categories (good luck with that one).

James D. Kingston, NH

Call the police? Do it fast before the thief has a chance to liquidate her ill-gotten gains! I am sure they have plenty of pictures of the miscreant, and hopefully she will be in cuffs soon. Hopefully the local district attorney will consider grand theft worthy of the fullest prosecution. After all, she is on video, red-handed. Once she is caught, I would also sue for return of the value of the goods she stole and alert other stores not to hire her.

I do not care why she did it; that is just an excuse. Luckily she didn’t steal a client’s piece. Five to 10 years in jail will teach her.

Todd T. Bowling Green, VA

Go to the parents first and locate her if possible, then hope to find out her reason for stealing. Take it from there. Obviously she must be fired, but she may need help and that’s what we’re supposed to do. It may come with punishment.

Alexander R. Brockton, MA

We are a team. We work together. If I did not prosecute a miscreant, it

would undermine everyone else’s commitment to the team. We prosecute.

Warren L. Baltimore, MD

Definitely tell the family of your suspicions. Tell them that it has nothing to do with their friendship of many years and that you would like to remain friends.

Ron, who has known Anna since childhood, might want to know if she is okay. Obviously, the flight from her hometown might mean she is under duress.

As far as the theft, it is water under the bridge. Consider the $2,200 a fee for 12 years of good service and a termination fee. But I would not give her a good recommendation for future employment.

Marissa S. Modesto, CA

Jim should definitely report Anna to the police. Jim is running a business and has clear evidence that she is in the wrong. It will make things awkward with Anna’s family for a little while, but if they are good enough friends, they will understand and move past the issue.

Lauren P. Philadelphia, PA

Why is it even a question whether or not he should report the theft? Trust is imperative in this business and there have to be consequences when that trust — and the law — is broken. Anna made the choice to ruin the family friendship, not Jim.

Marcus M. Midland, TX

If I were Jim, I would contact her parents first and see if they can provide a new contact number for her. I would also tell them exactly what is going on so they know about their daughter’s wrongful misdoings. If they don’t give Anna’s new contact info, then I would tell them that I had no choice but to get the police involved. And I would do that immediately. I get it: she’s a family friend, but she’s also a thief. I would give her and her family one chance to make this right, and if they hesitate or clam up, game on with the police. She’s done it once, she’ll do it again unless confronted and stopped.

Rex S. Houston, TX

The crime absolutely needs to be reported and prosecuted. Failure to prosecute a proven thief is likely only to produce further victims later on. I might try to find her through family or friends, only so far as to say there was concern for the sudden disappearance of an employee, but I would not give any hint of knowing about wrongdoing. Let law enforcement address those issues.

Ira K. Tallahassee, FL

It’s not worth chancing a relationship over $2,200 for a long-term employee/friend. Just let it go. It’s one of those non-reoccurring (hopefully) expenses we all have every so often.

William S. Franklin, VA

I would absolutely report it to the authorities because Anna was obviously stealing and trying to hide it from Ron and also trying to hang it on Lori. Right is right and wrong is wrong, however you slice it — and if it upsets her family, so be it. If they are protecting her, they are only enabling her in the long run! Whatever problem she has, she didn’t have to steal — end of story.

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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Real Deal

Town Hopes to Immortalize Local Jeweler and Watchmaker with Sculpture

Town hopes to immortalize local jeweler and watchmaker with sculpture.

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EACH YEAR, OUR DECEMBER REAL DEAL tells a story that helps bring to mind the amazing privilege afforded us by our industry, and that reminds us why we do what we do. This year, we are honored to share the story of Stanley Caulkins, a Leesburg, VA jeweler and watchmaker, and the amazing impact he had on the people in his community of Loudoun County.

We’ve all heard the story — many of us firsthand from fathers, grandfathers or uncles. It’s the story of the dedicated American hero who fought valiantly for our country in World War II, came home, and with the benefit of the GI Bill, learned a trade that would become a vocation, a livelihood, and in some cases, a hometown institution. Such is the story of Stanley Caulkins — aviator, jeweler, watchmaker, civic activist, icon of humility and true community leader.

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Stanley was born in 1925 into a Baptist preacher’s family in Maine. At the age of 12, the family — including Stanley and his three brothers — moved to Leesburg, VA, the home of his father’s new church. He quickly became a familiar face in his new hometown, working to earn spending money through high school as a bellhop at the local hotel. While Stanley’s brothers went off to college (eventually becoming a surgeon, an engineer and a preacher), the self-described “black sheep of the family” chose a different path.

Five days after his 17th birthday in 1942, Stanley enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He became a radioman, assigned to the 96 Bomb Group, 338th Bomb Squadron and spent a good part of his time during World War II flying food drop missions over the Netherlands. During an emotional 2012 video interview for Loudoun Laurels, a tearful Stanley recounted that time in his life, adding, “I have had ladies in my store who told me they were eating grass till we started dropping food there.”

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), with Caulkins at a Veterans Day event in 2015.

After the war, Stanley returned to Leesburg with the goal of learning a trade. He chose to follow the path taken by his maternal grandfather, who had been a watchmaker and goldsmith in Brunswick, ME. With the help of the GI Bill, Stanley enrolled at Peter’s School of Horology in Washington, DC, and began laying the foundation for a Virginia retail institution. After his training, he returned to Leesburg and went to work as a watchmaker in a small shop in the back of a local clothing store. In 1956, when a spot around the corner became available, he went out on his own, opening Caulkins Jewelers in the downtown Leesburg location he would operate for decades. His brother Roger — the engineer — joined Stanley in the business in 1970, making Caulkins a true family affair.

When asked about the secret to his long-term success, Stanley said, “There’s nobody that works for me that I wouldn’t give the keys to. I have trust. I have people who love me and I love them.”
Diane Canney, owner of Sunset Hills Vineyard in nearby Purcellville, VA, and friend and customer of Caulkins for over 20 years, says, “The old question is, ‘Who could you trust with your mother’s wedding ring?’ Stanley was my sure answer. Also, he had time to talk. You could come into Stanley’s shop six times, not select anything, and he wouldn’t chase you out.”

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While operating the store, Stanley took a leadership role in a wide range of community groups and civic activities. According to a Loudoun Progress blog post, Stanley was a “member of the local VFW Post, the Leesburg Town Council, an active Rotarian, a source of ‘reliable gossip,’ a voice of reason and man of action in local affairs.” He was a founding member of the Leesburg Airport Commission, and in 1962 helped lead the push to build the original Leesburg Airport. Later, Caulkins helped establish the currently used larger facility, where the terminal building today bears his name. “We built it with blood, sweat and tears,” Caulkins recalled of the effort. “I saw it as an economic tool for the town, the county and the region,” he said. “I was just a dumb watchmaker — but we built it.”

In 2015, a fire forced the Caulkins brothers to move their operation to a new location in the Virginia Village Shopping Center. Roger’s death and Stanley’s health challenges precipitated the store’s closing in the summer of 2017, after 61 years of operation. In the months that followed, Stanley crossed items off his bucket list at a pace few people half his age would contemplate. He spent time on the firing range, toured the Loudoun countryside in a motorcycle sidecar, took flights over the county, and hosted a constant stream of daily visitors and well-wishers at his home. With accomplishments that could easily have filled three lifetimes, Stanley Caulkins passed away Jan. 12, 2018, just three months past his 92nd birthday.

Sculptor Jeff Hall works on the life-sized clay bust of jeweler Stanley Caulkins.

The news of Stanley’s passing left many throughout Leesburg and Loudoun County feeling the sting of grief and loss. For Diane Canney, that loss felt very personal. She began looking for a way to honor the man who had touched her life and the lives of so many and who helped build a community. On the day before a public memorial service, Diane had an idea. She put pen to paper and began to sketch what she believed would be a fitting memorial. Her sketch depicted a bronze sculpture of the Stanley everybody knew sitting on a bench near his original store, with room for others to sit beside him. “Stanley would always make the time to sit and talk with people,” says Canney. It seemed like the ideal way to memorialize a man who did so much for so many.

Canney brought the sketch with her to Caulkins’ memorial service and showed it to his many friends. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the idea came to life. The next challenge was to find a sculptor worthy of the undertaking. Friends of Leesburg Public Arts, a local non-profit organization, connected Canney with Lovettsville, VA-based artist Jeff Hall, a world-renowned sculptor. Hall apprenticed at the National Cathedral with sculptor Frederick Hart and has made his mark with works found in the Cathedral, at the U.S. Capitol and in other notable public and private spaces. He began the project by crafting a life-sized clay bust created from photographs, and a small clay model of Stanley seated. Hall will work these clay elements into a finished ensemble that will be cast in bronze at a foundry.

Hall has worked hard to incorporate different elements that were important in Stanley’s life into the bronze sculpture, including his signature jeweler’s loupe and penny loafers. He will hold a pocket watch to symbolize his beginnings as a watchmaker, an airplane in his lap for his work forming the Leesburg Executive Airport, and emblems representing his military service, the VFW and Rotary Club. A plaque on the bench will share Stanley’s life story, from his service in World War II to his stint as a Leesburg councilman.
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The last challenge to the Stanley Caulkins Memorial Project is securing the balance of funds needed to complete the sculpture. “We have raised a fair amount of funds to make this happen, but need more,” says Canney. The jewelry industry is the one large component of Stanley’s life that has not yet weighed in. For more information on the sculpture project and to donate via PayPal, go to leesburgpublicarts.org. Checks may also be made out to FOLPA and mailed to Stanley Caulkins Memorial Project, 312-F East Market St., Leesburg, VA 20176. Donations are tax deductible.

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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.

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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.

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. 

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.

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. 

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