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Real Deal

When An Unhappy Support Staffer Releases Confidential Pay Rates, A Retailer Is Dumbfounded. What Would You Do?

An unhappy support staffer takes aim at an owner by releasing confidential information.

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As an office manager, Carrie Hannah was competent. As an employee, she was difficult and inflexible. As a team player, she was … well, she wasn’t.

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

Carrie had been with Jack Marcus Designs for almost ten years. Carrie started as a part-time salesperson, but was moved to the bookkeeping position in her second year when it became clear that Jack could no longer handle the day-to-day office operation along with the design part of the business. It was also clear early on that Carrie’s detail focus was greater than her sales ability.

Jack appreciated Carrie’s loyalty and her ability to keep the store’s paperwork in order. Over time, he trusted her with more and more of the details of the business as he focused on growth and expansion. She always managed to get the job done, but her general attitude had been an ongoing problem. At the root was a simple premise: Carrie hated — and, Jack thought, feared — change in any form. When a new person was hired, Carrie was the first to be critical and challenging. When Jack chose to install a new POS system, Carrie resisted every step of the way. When they moved into their much larger, very cool new location, all she did was complain about things that didn’t work properly and the additional 10 minutes she had to drive to work every morning. He knew that in most cases, she would eventually come around if he just gave her time to adjust, but he also recognized that as the years went on and Carrie got closer to retirement, age wasn’t making the adjustments any easier — and their “spirited discussions” seemed to be getting louder and more frequent.

Things came to a head several months ago when Jack decided to shift to an incentive-based compensation system that would allow all of the company’s employees to benefit from the continued growth at Jack Marcus. Under the new system, salespeople would be paid a base hourly rate plus a percentage of their individual gross profit production, and support staff (including Carrie) would be paid an hourly rate and would earn incentives based on the total company’s productivity vs. goal each month. Support staff incentive percentages were set so that overall, everyone would earn the same as last year if the store produced the same gross profit dollars. Going forward, increases in income would be tied directly to increases in business. 

Jack knew that Carrie already thought she was worth more than she was being paid (she had been grumbling about it for several months in advance of her annual review), but he underestimated the vehemence of her reaction. She was furious over not getting the substantial base pay increase she had expected and was even more annoyed with the fact that part of her income would now be incentive-based. 

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During their conversation, Carrie complained about being undervalued and underappreciated, and she made it clear that she was expecting a lot more. The conversation ended with Jack holding firm but asking her to consider the numbers (as the company was still on a strong growth trajectory) before deciding that the new system wouldn’t work for her. He committed to meeting with her again the next morning to answer any additional questions she might have.

Carrie spent the rest of the day angry and sullen, working at her desk and avoiding any interaction with Jack or anyone else. At 6 p.m., she took care of her usual closing duties and left without a word. When she and Jack met the next morning, she very calmly told him that the new structure would not work for her and said that unless he was prepared to offer her a base increase of 20 percent, she would have to resign. Jack felt he had no choice but to accept her resignation. He told her he would see that her last paycheck was mailed to her home, escorted her back to her desk, let her pack up all of her personal items and walked her to the door. 

That evening, Jack picked up an email from Dennis Healey, his top (and highest paid) salesperson. Dennis forwarded a message that had been sent to all 16 of the company’s employees by Carrie. It said, “As of today, I am no longer a part of the Jack Marcus team. Since you are all having to deal with the impending changes to your pay, I thought I might offer this one last favor before I go. Here’s how you stack up relative to your peers.” She then provided a list of every employee and his or her current hourly pay rate.

Jack was mortified. He had never made any rule about keeping compensation confidential, but he couldn’t believe that anyone thought it was OK to actually discuss pay rates. He didn’t have a fixed standard for hiring, and over the years, he most often just paid what it took to get the people he wanted. That philosophy had worked pretty well for him, as most everyone typically delivered to his expectations — but he couldn’t deny that there was a wide range represented in that list, and he was certain that a number of his people would be more than a little upset.

The Big Questions

  • How should Jack respond?
  • Should he send an email to all of his employees, or should he wait until morning to face them?
  • What is his best course of action with regard to his team going forward?
  • Does Jack have any legal recourse with regard to Carrie’s actions — and if so, is it worth the expense and effort?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Denise B. Waynesboro, PA

Sorry Jack, but you should have seen it coming. You should have nipped this attitude issue in the bud years ago. A certain amount of flexibility is required from any employee, and that needs to be made clear from the get-go. Coddling this woman for years on end just allowed her to think she had every right to dictate her terms as an employee. I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t comment on the “legal” recourse. Having said that, the “emotional” ramifications are huge. Why should two people doing the same job (at the same level of quality) be paid differently? Eventually, they will find out and somebody is going to be resentful. Give them all the chance to earn well and be up front about their worth as an employee. If the company does well, reward the people who made that happen. If the company tanks, so does their job. People understand that.

Valerie W. Kingston, NY

I would call a staff meeting with all the employees. One, to inform them that you are looking for her replacement, and two, that she left angry and you understand she compared salaries and compensation to each of you. You may also explain that salaries are based on time, individual skills and performance.

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Also, I would set an individual meeting with each employee to hear their personal response and if they have questions as to how they can increase their pay scale. I always value the team working as a team and removing any sore feelings they may have towards each other and you as their leaders.

Bruce A. Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada

Last question first: Do not initiate legal action. Middle question: Talk directly to his team! This is not an email situation and it deserves his complete and personal response.

Jack should have dealt with Carrie years ago. One team member acting like a petulant child could have been far more destructive to other team players. Jack got off lightly for his resistance to not deal with the issue years ago!

Marcus M. Midland, TX

Oh boy! Carrie was a cancer that Jack knew about years before this happened and he allowed it to grow. And he gave a lot of access to a person that he knew from day one wasn’t a team player? No bueno. If I was Jack, I would wait until the morning and take on any issues and questions then, but I would be prepared for a war. I don’t know exactly what I would do because you don’t really expect things like this to happen. As for legal action, I would definitely look into it. If you have some ground to stand on, then I would pursue it. Carrie sounds like a conniving human being and she did you a horrible injustice. I would make her pay (literally) if there’s some merit behind it.

Ralph H. Richmond, IN

The “boss” needs to be the boss. It appears that Carrie’s attitude has been a problem for a long time. It and she should have been dealt with years ago. Call a store meeting, soon, but not tomorrow. Call your lawyer to cover all bases (follow his suggestions, maybe have him at the meeting). Get an employee manual prepared; everybody signs, including the boss. Deal with discussions of “equality” of pay and that pay level is not discussed. Bring employees into the pay discussion, but decide and live by the choices. Carrie violated informal policies, but likely no liability (an old farmer’s joke about “kicking the cow pie” applies). This is an example of “success” from larger operations bringing larger complications along with larger revenue. If you want the “big store,” be professional about the complications; if not, go back to small! Treat everybody fairly. Do not confuse friendship and employment; they are disparate concepts. As an aside, this applies to customers as well. Don’t be unfriendly, but don’t forget the difference.

Stacey H. Lincolnwood, IL

Jack should have offered her the opportunity to stay at the same pay scale OR choose to opt into the new “package” within the next 2-3 months based on her observations about how it would affect her pay. That said, she quit and violated his trust, and she undermined his position with 15 people he employs, so now he has to fear that the rest of the staff may mutiny. He needs to call a meeting to explain that he will be discussing the situation with a lawyer and let the staff know that if they are unhappy about their pay, he will speak to each person individually about their concerns. He should be prepared to lose the five lowest-paid employees and replace them; they’re sure to leave in the aftermath. The employees who stay should be asked to keep peace by keeping quiet when new hires start. The next bookkeeper should be told that the books are not hers to discuss with anyone else, and that confidentiality is vital.

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Dennis P. Johnstown, PA

What a can of worms. I would approach the bookkeeper with the same attitude as I would someone accusing me of “switching” a diamond. Have an attorney review the issue and determine if any financial damages resulting from the malicious breach of information could be attributed to the bookkeeper. If there is cause, I would litigate for any untimely compensation increases that had to be given for the continuity of the store. Definitely put safeguards of written confidentially agreements in place.

Marc F. Houston, TX

The damage is done for Jack. He should first change all employee emails to prevent further damage. Second, call each team member to understand their mindset, then have a company meeting as soon as possible. In the meeting, he and his accountant should show and demonstrate how this plan was designed with their best interest and the income projections for the company as a whole. The team will either be on board or not and there could be a shake-up; that’s what happens when you just go and flow with key employees like Carrie. Now the learning part: what have you done to maintain control of company communications? What fail-safes do you have to block unwanted transmissions from internal/external actors? Do you have an employee contract addressing confidential company information? Sounds like a good New Year’s resolution!

Cammie M. Ocala, FL

Wow, I’m always amazed as a business owner how you can be so good to your employees and how quickly they can turn on you. I’m glad she was let go; bookkeepers tend to be so controlling because we trust them with everything.

I definitely would meet with the entire staff face to face ASAP, and you’re probably going to have to make adjustments to hourly pay because of her. I’m not an attorney, but I would try legal action for sure, even if it cost you! I would be curious how it was handled and to know Jack’s plan of action to replace her.

Ira K. Tallahassee, FL

Jack’s biggest mistake was not letting Carrie loose a long time ago. Too bad we can’t go back in time. That said, he probably can’t do anything legally, but he could check with his attorney. As to the staff, have a group meeting tomorrow explaining that by working as a team, everyone will make more money. Follow that up with a one-on-one with every member of the crew. Let them vent as they will and explain your old hiring policy. The new way WILL WORK to everyone’s benefit.

Glyn J. Victoria, TX

Jack should send an email to each of his employees and hold a general round table discussion with all present. He should explain why this incident took place and get feedback. Jack should tell his employees that if they were dissatisfied with the way the operation was being handled, they are free to turn in their resignations. They should all remember it is his operation and he makes the rules. He can’t make everyone happy, but he should allow feedback without any repercussion.

Jonathan L.Draper, UT

I would send an email to all the employees and let them know my vision for the future and the fact that they should all make more than they were before based on growth. I would have a follow-up meeting as a group and then individually as needed. You may lose a few employees, but those that see your vision will stay. Anytime you change things, people will not see it your way. That is OK because you need to have unity on the team, and real team players catch the vision of the future. You will find people who fit and will thrive. Change is hard, but if you have a good plan, you can win in the end.

Mark R. Ottawa, Canada

Carry on like nothing happened. Call all employees for a meeting with coffee and donuts. Thank all for being associated with you. Ask each employee in the presence of others if they are happy with their present employment and pay rate.

Listen carefully, and if needed, adjust pay/conditions to the rate of performance. Thank all again and carry on like nothing happened. Make sure the TEAM is happy.


Kate Peterson Tells the Rest of the Story

As many of our Brain Squad members were quick to point out, this whole situation could have been avoided if Jack had dealt with Carrie’s behavior issues early on.  Like most business owners, though, Jack came to rely on the “good side” of a problem employee, and waiting out her bouts of resistance seemed to be much easier than finding, training and trusting someone new.

Jack’s first move was to talk with his attorney.  He learned that it’s a violation of free speech to restrict employees from talking about their own compensation.  Carrie’s distribution of confidential company information might have been actionable, but since she was not under any sort of contract, attempting legal action would likely have been a costly and ultimately unproductive adventure.

Jack’s approach with his employees was an effective one.  In an attempt to avoid escalating emotions, he sent a brief note to everyone that night apologizing for Carrie’s disruptive actions and asking them to reserve judgment till they could all meet the next morning.  Once he had everyone together, he explained, as Valerie Whitworth suggested, that individual pay rates are based on a variety of factors, but that he has always, in good conscience, tried to be fair to everyone.  He also explained that the new system was specifically designed to allow each one of them to share in the success of the business, giving them all essentially unlimited earning potential.  Further, he offered to meet privately with anyone who wanted to discuss the matter or their individual circumstances in greater detail.

What he learned in the meeting surprised him.  He found that despite a few rough spots, the people who were upset were upset with Carrie for her betrayal – not with him.  As a group, they made it clear that they felt that he – and they – had put up with her childish behavior for too long and that they were glad to see her go.

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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Gene the Jeweler’s Rule: Never Buy the Same Piece Twice
Gene the Jeweler

Gene the Jeweler’s Rule: Never Buy the Same Piece Twice

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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