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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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.

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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

This Big Watch Sale Was Lost in the Final Moment … How Could It Have Been Saved?

When another client suddenly weighs in on a customer’s purchase decision, the sale is lost.

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Wilson Matthews & Co. is a well-established and highly regarded full-service jewelry store in a large Northwest city. Two years ago, Paul Matthews completed what he considered his crowning achievement — the major renovation of his store, including the addition of a modern Fine Timepiece Gallery. Paul had begun his career as a watchmaker in his father’s store, and he was delighted to get back to his passion and trade as he turned day-to-day management of the company over to his son Jack after the gallery grand opening.

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

One afternoon, Jack was working with Anne Cahill, the new CEO of a growing tech company headquartered nearby. She was referred to Wilson Matthews when she needed a bracelet repaired shortly after moving to town just over a year ago, and had recently purchased several items from the store. During her last visit, Anne mentioned that a new watch would probably be next on her list, so Jack made sure he invited her in for a preview the day the new season’s Rolex order arrived.

While Jack and Anne were discussing watches at the Rolex case near the front of the gallery and Anne was trying on different models, a young woman Jack recognized as Amy Hart, the daughter of a longtime client, entered the store and went to the repair counter around the corner from the showcase. She was assisted there by another sales associate who delivered the vintage rose gold wedding band that she had left for sizing the week before.

Anne had selected a particular gold Rolex as a favorite, and the conversation between her and Jack was progressing nicely toward the close when Amy turned from the repair counter and decided to peek into the gallery before leaving the store. She had been standing several feet away looking at a fashion brand collection before Anne noticed her. Jack felt Anne was about to commit to her choice when she impulsively turned to Amy and said, “May I ask … what do you think of this watch on me? Is it too big?”

Amy replied, “Well, I don’t think it’s too big — and it is nice-looking, but I could never spend that kind of money on something like a fancy watch, especially with all the suffering going on in the world today and all the people struggling just to make ends meet — right here in our own town. It seems like there’s just a lot of more important things to think about and better ways to spend money. In fact, I just picked up my grandmother’s wedding band that I’ll be using as my own rather than buying a new one.”

Anne was a little surprised and just said, “Oh!”

It all happened so quickly that Jack could barely react. He composed himself, left the watch with Anne and told her to give it a little more thought, and stepped around the case to begin talking with Amy about her father and her wedding plans as he gently led her toward the front door.

When Jack returned to Anne a few minutes later, the watch was on the counter pad. Anne said, “You know, maybe she’s right. I don’t really need this watch. I should probably think about it a bit more.” She thanked Jack for his time, said she would be back and left the store.

The Big Questions

  • Should Jack follow up with Anne? If so, what should he say?
  • Could Jack have handled the situation differently?
  • Are there policies that could be put in place in a store to avoid situations like this?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Jon L.
Columbia, SC

Jack could call Anne and say that he will donate a percentage of the sale to a local charity of her choice. I would also explain to her that she has worked hard to get to where she is, and with her success, she should purchase nice things for herself. The economy depends on successful people like her to function. Without these purchases, stores like his fail, and then there is a domino effect. This market-based economy is how this country functions and how we get the taxes to pay for our infrastructure, police and fire departments, etc.

Corey E.
Bettendorf, IA

This has come up before with clients and my response is that this piece of jewelry represents your hard work, your education, what you accomplished in life, the struggles and the rewards. There is nothing wrong with buying an expensive car, living in a nice house or having a nice piece of jewelry; you earned it! Enjoy the rewards for making good decisions, and for those others less fortunate, give generously.

Etienne P.
Camden, ME

Jack’s experience at Wilson Matthews & Co. is not uncommon in today’s world of tremendous wealth disparity. Disposable income can be spent to do good or to show off one’s wealth. You might ask as a jeweler, how can I say such a thing? Well, if Ann were looking at a handmade one-of-a-kind piece of designer jewelry, it would be one thing, but this is a mass-produced Rolex that does not keep time any better than a timepiece that sells for 1/100 the cost. The main function of a gold Rolex watch is to show that one has the resources to buy a very expensive watch.

You never know what another customer is going to say. I am afraid we live in a time where ostentatious displays of wealth are frowned upon by many. Remember the days when women wore furs?

Stacey H.
Lincolnwood, IL

Jack should call and tell Anne that he was grateful that she came in to look at his watches, that he couldn’t help but hear the conversation between Anne and Amy, and that he too is very concerned about local poverty. He could invite her to his next gala charity at the store, where a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit a local food pantry or orphanage. He should also invite Amy so she can see that we in the luxury goods industry are part of the solution, not the problem!

Kenn K.
Syracuse, NY

I would have engaged them both in conversation immediately. I would have pointed out that the true worth of an investment, whether charitable or personal, is not always obvious. I would have talked to Amy about her use of the family heirloom and how wonderful that is. Then I would draw Anne into the conversation with an anecdote about how fine watches typically stay in families for generations. I might have pointed out that Amy’s grandparents may have made a choice about their financial sacrifice for her beautiful rose gold band but the value of it to her (Amy) certainly validated that expense. I then would have talked to Anne about how the relative cost of long-term investments such as a watch are often mitigated by the years of use. Along with it becoming a part of her family’s history, just like Amy’s band.

George K.
Delray Beach, FL

Remember these key words: the sale begins when the customer says no. He never should have let her leave the store without asking the following: “Do you know how many people this Rolex watch feeds, from the production in Switzerland to the stores in the U.S. and worldwide? It is a quality product. You work hard and deserve it. Would you like to take it now or give me a deposit?” We are in a business that is the epitome of conspicuous consumption. Let’s give them a reason to purchase and feel good about it!

Laurie Zellhofer
Towson, MD

Jack should absolutely follow up with Anne. The momentary guilt very well may pass. There’s really no policy that you could put in place to avoid it. It was customers interacting with each other—it’s difficult to dismiss someone else’s opinion gracefully. Perhaps pointing out the difference of where two people are in their lives: a new bride without much money who wants the sentimental investment of a family piece versus a mature, established client who’s looking to make that investment that will last for generations. There are points to be made that could help the watch customer to realize that it’s not a selfish decision to spend her hard-earned income on herself as she sees fit.

Troy L.
Irvine, CA

Follow up and tell her, “You know, Rolex timepieces are made to be passed down to your next generation, cherished for multiple lifetimes. Just like Amy’s grandmother’s ring.” You see, if her grandma had had that same attitude, she wouldn’t have had that cherished heirloom to pass down to her next generation. In sales, you have to be ready for anything that comes your way, and practicing different situations like this with your staff will be the best way to be prepared when something like this arises.

Gary W.
Richmond, VA

She is a CEO, and CEOs have to look like CEOs. Their employees expect it. He should emphasize all the charitable programs that he and Rolex participate in to help erase the impact of the negative feedback Anne received. He could also partner with Anne’s company on some of her company’s charity events. There are ways for those with means to do a lot of good in the world. Self-denial helps others very little.

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

Town Hopes to Immortalize Local Jeweler and Watchmaker with Sculpture

This Virginia jeweler had an amazing impact on his community.

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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.

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

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.

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.

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Gene the Jeweler

Video: Gene the Jeweler Sells a Diamond — and Gets Back a CZ

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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