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Real Deal

When a Young Jeweler Becomes the Target of Bullying by a Competitor, What Should She Do? Retailers Answer

How can this retailer put an end to the time- and energy-wasting harassment?

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Robyn Reed had always been one of the “quietly respected” kids … a talented artist whose work most appreciated or even admired. All through school, she had a tight circle of like-minded friends, and despite the typical challenges of adolescence, she managed to avoid being a target for the ever-present bully contingent. She had a hard time understanding why all that changed more than 10 years down the road, shortly after she realized one of her lifelong dreams. It wasn’t until she opened The Artisan’s Den, a custom design studio in her Western hometown, that she learned how nasty bullying on an adult level could be. 

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

After graduating from college and spending another two years as a lapidary apprentice, Robyn moved back to her hometown, built a small workshop in her basement and opened a trade shop specializing in gemstone sourcing, re-cutting and repairs. It wasn’t long before she became the “go to” in the surrounding area, taking in work from more than 20 local jewelers, including Amelia Dean, a large, well-known store on the outskirts of town. Several years into her relationship with the store, Robyn had occasion to collaborate with the store’s lead goldsmith, Alex Suarez, on a significant project for a prominent client. It was an intricate inlay pendant that featured a complex cut center tourmaline that Robin fashioned to the client’s precise specifications. Over the months of working on the piece, Alex and Robyn developed a strong professional respect and became friends. 

Two years later, when a prime space became available in the downtown area, Robyn decided she was ready to take the step she had been planning for some time. She began the process of turning her home-based gem and lapidary business into the custom studio she’d always envisioned. Once both the lease and her financing were secured, Robyn knew that the next step was to hire a craftsman who would be the perfect complement to her design skills and gemstone expertise.

She knew from numerous conversations that Alex was miserably unhappy at Amelia Dean. Robyn invited Alex and his wife to dinner and proposed that Alex come to work with her at The Artisan’s Den. For Alex, the decision was an easy one.

Alex gave Amelia Dean a month’s notice before leaving, and he thought his departure was amicable. He and Robyn both agreed to continue doing trade work for Amelia, handling production of her custom designs until she could find a way to bring the process in-house. One Friday afternoon shortly after their grand opening, Alex received a registered letter from an attorney stating that he was prohibited from working at The Artisan’s Den because he was subject to a non-compete agreement that was part of the Amelia Dean employee handbook. Alex knew that he had never signed a non-compete agreement. After a weekend of angst, Robyn’s husband checked with their attorney and learned that non-compete agreements were not permitted in their state under any circumstances. Robyn had the attorney draft a response letter on Alex’s behalf, and they both severed their trade relationship with Amelia Dean. 

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About two months later, a letter arrived for Robyn, stating that a photo on her website’s portfolio page was of an Amelia Dean design, and demanding that they immediately cease and desist using the image. It was a photo Robyn had taken of the first project she and Alex had worked on together — one that was a great example of Alex’s metal skills and Robyn’s inlay and faceting work. Another call to their attorney taught them that in their state, the person taking the photo owns the image. The Artisan’s Den was well within rights to use the image — especially since Alex had created the original design. Nonetheless, Robyn agreed to pull it from the site, but had her attorney send a letter revoking Amelia Dean’s right to use the image on her own store’s site. 

Around the same time, Amelia hired her daughter Jillian to help run the store and, it seemed, to help fuel the fire. The Artisan’s Den began getting calls from Jillian at least monthly. Robyn was accused of stealing a design, posting fake reviews, and using the Amelia Dean name in her online ads. Every call ended with, “I’ve recorded everything!” Eventually, Robyn bought a new phone system that allowed the store to block spam phone numbers. They added every number Jillian called from until the calls stopped. Shortly after, Jillian showed up at Alex’s church and stopped him and his family in the parking lot to tell him that God was watching. 

Last week, Robyn got a call from a repair customer who was in Amelia’s store when she called. She had gone to the store to sell a ring Alex had repaired. Robyn could hear Jillian in the background coaching her, telling her to say Alex used the wrong head and that the store was responsible for breaking her diamond (the customer knew it was chipped when she left it with Robyn, and it was noted on the repair slip), and that The Artisan’s Den should buy the ring from her. Robyn asked the customer to come in so she could take a look. The customer told Robyn that Jillian had made an offer on the ring — but when the customer told Jillian where the repair work had been done, she started going off about shoddy craftsmanship and cheap parts. 

Robyn felt certain that jealousy over her rapid growth and the success of The Artisan’s Den was at the root of the issues with Amelia and her daughter. Their lawyer said that while Amelia and Jillian’s behavior was childish and annoying, there wasn’t much reason to attempt legal action since the activity was sporadic and they never actually threatened harm. 

The Big Questions

  • What can Robyn do to put a stop to the time and energy wasting harassment?
  • Robyn recently interviewed another former Amelia Dean employee; should she hire the candidate and risk more of Amelia’s wrath — or should she pass on a promising applicant to avoid the hassle?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Mark R. Loveland, CO

Robyn and Alex should document (record) all interactions with Amelia or Jillian. Sooner or later, they will do something actionable. At that point, they should come down on them hard.

As far as the prospective employee is concerned, hire them. Good help is hard to find, and it may provoke actionable response. Bide your time; karma will prevail.

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Frank J. Birmingham, AL

Ignore these small-minded competitors unless it comes to outright character defamation. Character defamation is a serious charge that deserves a seriously-worded letter from an attorney. Other than that, block their calls and focus on doing what’s best for your business without regard to anything they do.

John P. Winter Park, FL

It is best in cases like that to stay away from the pettiness. It becomes a waste of time and energy that can be best spent on shoring up relationships with customers. In time, those customers will realize that Artisan’s Den is the better store. Customers sense these things.

Definitely hire the other former employee. It sends the message that this is the better place to work. In a small- to medium-sized town, word will get around.

Mary J. San Diego, CA

How are Robyn’s blood pressure and digestive tract doing? If they are OK, I would definitely consider “rescuing” another employee from her competitor. 

Regarding her unpleasant competitor, she should take the high road and refuse to bad-mouth Amelia and Jillian. She should watermark any photos used in media to make sure her work is not being misused. And she should perhaps consider offering her lawyer special deals on jewelry or custom work as quid pro quo.

Lisa M. Fort Worth, TX

This sounds like junior high school. Don’t take the bait. Shut her down tactfully and professionally. Ignore the silly behavior, and if she escalates her crazy threats or behavior, get a cease-and-desist order or restraining order. Also take what the customer said with a grain of salt; customers will lie.

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Hire who you want to hire. People don’t leave jobs; they leave bad managers. Focus on your business, not drama. Ignore Amelia and her B.S.

Elysia D. Spencer, NC

If Amelia focused as much energy into her business as she did her bullying, she wouldn’t have so much time to be bitter. Employees and customers come and go. But just like anything, we only want the good ones. If she lost a good employee who was ready to leave before a new position was even created, then that’s on Amelia. She needs to have a better grasp on what is going on in her store and the happiness of her staff. If a customer is willing to listen to a bunch of nonsense about another jeweler without any basis, then she can have that customer as well. Our reputation is one of the few things we have to build on… we all have bad days and we make it a point to never bad-mouth our competition. We value our customers’ time even if they also shop elsewhere, and cutting someone else down only makes you look like a douche.

Debbie K. Lafayette Hill, PA

It would not hurt to request a meeting with Amelia Dean and Jillian. Apparently, the exit from her store and the initiation of a new store nearby hurt her. Acknowledgement and an apology for any insensitivity is in order. A request for a plan to work in peaceful coexistence would be helpful.

If the harassment continues, try silence, at first. It speaks volumes. If there are more attempts to tarnish her reputation, Robyn’s lawyer should send a legal “reminder.”

The employment of another former employee of Amelia Dean would be very incendiary. 

Marcus M. Midland, TX

It sounds like Amelia and her daughter have nothing better to do other than act like A-holes. If their business was good, they wouldn’t even have the time or energy to waste harassing Robyn and Alex. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amelia Dean’s store goes out of business. People like that always get what they deserve. And I don’t know how you stop the harassment, which is unfortunate. I would tell Robyn to hire whomever she’s going to hire, stay in her lane and just ignore the losers.

Shevvy B. Louisville, KY

I wouldn’t hire anyone else from Amelia’s store. They might be a plant to cause trouble. It seems Amelia and Jillian are immature people. I would check into a restraining order and get an attorney to write a cease-and-desist letter. If the problem continued, I would take them to court to be compensated for libel. I would not let these petty people ruin my business. I would also feel they owed me an apology.

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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