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

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

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Questions

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

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Jillian H.
Miami, FL

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

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

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

Carolyn W.
Omaha, NE

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

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

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

Tim S.
Harrisonville, MO

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

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

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

Marc F.
Houston, TX

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

Valerie N.
Oklahoma City, OK

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

Jennifer F.
Colorado Springs, CO

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

Robert C.
Montclair, NJ

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

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

Her loss is their loss, inevitably.

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

What’s the Brain Squad?

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

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

A Vendor Raises an Item’s Memo Price After It Is Sold. What Should This Store Owner Do?

The ring was sold for less than the vendor now wants for it.

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GUILD AND STONE WAS a second-generation, high-end store in the Pacific Northwest. Store owner Dean Callen had used his 28 years as the company’s general manager to expand on the strong reputation his father built with an extensive vendor network and a local client base that included most of the town’s VIPs.

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

Back in April, Sharon Sanderlund, president of a local construction company and one of Guild And Stone’s best customers, came in to talk with store manager Jennifer Lee about finding a pendant to match the fabulous Art Deco citrine earrings she had just inherited from her aunt. Since there was nothing workable in the store’s estate collection, Dean recommended that Jennifer contact Ed Ansell, one of the store’s regular estate vendors who specialized in vintage colored gemstone pieces. Jennifer spoke with Ed and he agreed to memo several pendants for her to show.

The day the package arrived, while it was sitting on Dean’s desk waiting to be opened, Jennifer received an email from Ed letting her know that in addition to three citrine pendants, he had also included a number of other pieces in the shipment, all from an estate he had recently purchased and all on memo to the store. Since the lot was very well priced, he thought she and Dean might want to keep a few of the pieces for stock.

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When Dean opened the package, he was surprised to see that it contained a total of 13 pieces. As he checked them in, he had to agree that the prices were great, but he was further surprised to see that there was one item in the package — a vintage aquamarine and diamond bracelet — that was not listed on the memo. He contacted Ed immediately to report the error. Ed apologized and emailed an updated memo within the hour.

Later that week, Sharon Sanderlund came in to look at the pendants. She chose a beautiful art deco citrine and diamond pendant from the memo and a vintage chain from the store’s collection for a total of $4,550. While she was still in the store, Jennifer remembered the additional items that Ed had sent and brought them out of the safe to show Sharon. Sharon was immediately drawn to a Victorian sapphire and diamond ring — a cushion-shaped sapphire surrounded by 13 Old European Cut diamonds in 18K gold. Jennifer checked the memo and saw that the store’s cost for the ring was $3,500. She checked with Dean, who assigned a retail price of $6,100 to the ring — then promptly sold it to Sharon.

The next day, Dean sent Ed an email reporting the sale of the two items, adding a list of three more pieces from the lot that he wanted to keep for stock and asking for an invoice. Ed called back an hour later to let Dean know that there had been a mistake on the memo. He said that he had mixed up two rings from the estate — that the sapphire in the ring Jennifer had sold was unheated and that the actual cost for the piece was $7,500, not $3,500. He told Dean that the invoice would reflect the $7,500 price. Dean struggled to remain calm and rational while he very clearly explained to Ed that the ring was sold based on the memo price, and that was the price he would pay. The conversation got rather loud as Ed suggested that Dean contact the customer to get the ring back — something Dean flatly refused to do. The call ended with Ed insisting that the ring would be invoiced at the $7,500 price and subtly suggesting the possibility of legal action if Dean chose not to pay.

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Dean remembered thinking that like the rest of the lot, the ring was a great value at $3,500 cost, but he did not believe that price to be unreasonably low for an estate item. In an effort to be fair and to preserve a vendor relationship, he called Ed back the following day and offered to split the difference — to pay $5,500 for the ring. In his view, since the ring didn’t need sizing, that would leave him with a small profit once he paid Jennifer’s commission. Unfortunately, Ed refused to move off of his demand that Dean pay the invoiced amount for the ring. Dean hung up when Ed mentioned that as a professional, Dean should have noticed that the price was not right for a ring of that caliber in the first place.

The Big Questions

  • What should Dean do?
  • Is it reasonable to think that Ed might be right — that someone at Guild And Stone should have noticed that the price was too low for the ring?
  • Should Dean contact Mrs. Sanderlund and explain the situation in an attempt to either recover the ring or to re-sell it at a higher price?
Kevin P.
Newark, OH

When you write down a price on paper or write it in an email and send it, that is your responsibility to be correct. Once a vendor or a retailer gives a price, it is a done deal. In 40 years, I have never backtracked on a sale. A few times, I made mistakes in my calculations, once using per carat instead of net price to figure my cost.

In this case, I would call back the vendor and reiterate your offer to pay the $5,500 for the ring, as well as the second item and buy the three additional items. Remind him of the business you have done and may do in the future and ask him if he is willing to forget that. If he does not agree, I would send the amount he is asking for the two items and return the rest, and ask that your account be closed. There are other vendors who will behave in an honest and straightforward way with integrity.

John T.
Atlanta, GA

It was the vendor’s mistake and the vendor’s responsibility to catch and correct it before the sale was completed. The offer to split the difference from the jeweler was more than fair. Pay the memo price, and not a penny more, then find a new estate dealer; this one is crackers.

Oscar V.
Chicago, IL

Pay what is on the memo.

Stuart T.
Bel Air, MD

I always try to be fair with my trade partners, BUT in this case Ed is being unreasonable. Dave made a very fair offer to split the loss, and Ed refused to bend at all. Dave could have kept the Aquamarine and diamond bracelet but he was too honest to do so. Ed doesn’t have a leg to stand on, so let him sue, and loose a customer as well.

Michael J.
Port Charlotte, FL

I know the fine print on most memos says items are not to be sold until invoiced, but this can be argued since virtually no company actually holds to these words, so precedents have been set. The fact that Dean offered to split the cost at all was more than fair to the vendor, and in my opinion, should have been accepted without hesitation, especially if he had any desire to salvage the business relationship. The fact that Ed vehemently declined the offer means it should be rescinded and a check mailed for the price on the memo.

Albert D.
Fords, NJ

This is cut and dry. The store would only be liable for the original invoiced price. The fact that they were willing to give more was a very generous. I think the original vendor should have accepted their offer, considering that they know the ring was sold.

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Colleen Z.
Hershey, PA

Ed is absolutely in the wrong here. It’s his duty to correctly identify and price his merchandise — and to eat the loss if he makes a mistake. If he ever wants Dean as a customer again, he needs to honor the original price on his memo. Dean should absolutely not let his client know what’s going on — it’s not at all her responsibility to deal with and it ruins the magic of the purchase. If he ends up having to pay the full cost so she can keep her ring and he can avoid legal action, then so be it. However, he should never work with Ed again. Dean went above and beyond to compromise, and Ed clearly doesn’t value the relationship in the same way. If his customer service is this poor, I wouldn’t trust Ed with other items. Dean should contact his lawyer for advice to handle the situation but above all else — keep Sharon out of it!

Jay S.
San Diego, CA

The retailer tried so hard to be fair. The supplier made the mistake and should live with it. When the supplier was not willing to work with his customer, I would have told him to sue me, and then I would have told him to pound sand!

David B.
Calgary, AB

When is a deal a deal? On both ends. Dean cannot go back to his client and ask for more. It makes him look unprofessional. It may even cost him a client. His offer to eat some cost was very fair. The consignor showed no professionalism. And getting an offer to split the difference was very fair. When I was a traveling salesman, this situation happened to me. I did not go back and ask my retailer for more money. I ate the loss and practiced better accounting. Further, the consignor making threats about court action is ridiculous. I know a fight is expensive, but where do you draw the line? Retailers get kicked in the backside at every turn, and even when it is a clear mistake, why are we expected to make it right? Dean needs to hold his ground.

Stewart P.
Lansing, MI

It is truly unfortunate that we all make mistakes in a variety of different ways. With 45 years in the trade under my belt, I can honestly say that I have paid a small fortune for the errors in judgment that I have made in an attempt to retain or strengthen the integrity of my business. I could have paid much less if I had chosen to place blame on others and refused to accept the responsibility. In the instance described, the error was clearly in the vendor’s corner. The retailer was completely blameless and should not be punished. We cannot function if we cannot rely on quotes and estimates from our vendors as written or stated.

Joe K.
Lantzville, BC

A deal’s a deal. The cost on the original invoice is all that should be paid. Looks like Ed is a little lackadaisical in his invoicing. Suck it up, Ed.

Jim G.
Champaign, IL

The ring as invoiced stands correct. If they had picked up the phone and told the new price before the ring was sold, then the new price would be in order. Too bad for the vendor.

Rex S.
Houston, TX

It is basic contract law. The items were sent out on consignment to be shown to a retail customer and allowed to be sold to retail customers based on the offer price listed on the memo. The retailer sold the item to the retail customer based on the price that the vendor sent to the retailer in good faith. It should also be noted that the vendor had previously told the retailer that this lot was an exceptionally well-priced estate lot; therefore, the retailer was reasonable in not questioning the pricing of the items. The retailer absolutely should not be asked, nor should they contact the retail customer, as that customer bought the item in good faith from the retailer and this has no duty to resend that sales contract. In short, the “memo” is in fact an offer to sell, and the retailer accepted that offer.

Norbert M.
Nairobi, Kenya

Especially in gem and jewelry trade, the customer is always right and therefore should not be bothered. Also, why should the initial seller want to unscrupulously transfer his error to his jewelry broker friend? This is wrong! He should accept the loss as his mistake and use the mishap as a future strength-point! Going to a court of law will only break their wonderful business association. Furthermore, 1) the untold truth is that estate jewelry is often bought at extremely lower price to exploit the owners and to sell off fast to make a quick buck! 2) the money involved is too low to cause the fuss considering the long-term business relationships. In a nutshell, for all the parties, let it be what has already been and move on. Hope I don’t sound too blunt!

Jim S.
Kauai, HI

Dean in good faith sold items based upon a written memo price. That the wholesaler made a mistake is not his fault. His offer of a compromise showed integrity and fairness. Ed’s response showed a lack of both.

Dianne H.
Eldon, MO

They must leave the satisfied customer out of the deal. That part is finished. The customer did nothing wrong. Neither did the jeweler. Carelessness by this supplier shows as the one bracelet was not even on the original invoice. Now the jeweler should prepare to get legal advice and not be bullied by the supplier! $10 payment per month FOREVER!

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

Dean should not pay a dime over $3,500. That is the price listed on his memo sheet, and if Ed tries to take any legal action, then Dean has the proof of the price Ed originally gave him. This is Ed’s mistake and should be his loss, not Dean’s. Also, Ed should probably realize how much money Dean was about to send him and be happy that he could probably recoup his mistake. If I was Dean, I wouldn’t do a bit of business with Ed again. There’s lot of estate dealers out there; go find another one who is more professional. And there is no chance I would call a great customer and ask her for the ring back or to pay more money. You would lose her for good if you did something like that.

Joel M.
New York, NY

Estate jewelry is tricky on value. We receive from our dealers and trust them to value the pieces. Thus, the store owner is not liable and his dealer should have taken the offer to split the profit.

Stuart S.
Egg Harbor City, NJ

This is an estate ring and could have just been an amazing value. Dean was very generous to split the difference. If the ring had not been sold, I’m sure Dean would have either returned the ring or agreed to the price. I feel bad for Ed that he made the mistake, but he has nobody to blame but himself. Ed no longer deserves the benefit of the split. Obviously Ed does not have the same respect for their business relationship as Dean!

Jon P.
St. George, UT

Ed’s mistake. Ed should eat the difference.

Tom C.
San Marcos, CA

You live with your mistakes. An error in pricing is the sender’s fault, not the buyer’s. It may affect any future dealings, but so what? If you can’t trust the sender’s memo pricing, what good is it to solicit goods from them?

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

Dean is required to pay the $3,500 plus applicable taxes. Anything greater than that requires a visit to his lawyer. When the dust settles, Dean should let Mrs. Sanderlund know the incredible deal she received and offer his services to appraise the item. Mistakes happen to all of us, and Dean’s offer of $5,500 was overly generous. Once rejected, I believe a judge would rule in Dean’s favor.

Valerie S.
Champaign, IL

If I’m not mistaken, this was fictionalized based off of my post on the Jewelers Helping Jewelers Facebook group. Fortunately, the wholesaler honored their memo price and we all moved on.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

Let me see if I understand this correctly … The memo said one price, the vendor changed it (doubled), and then Dean offered to meet Ed halfway. Dean is a mensch; and Ed is a _______! (fill in the blank as you deem appropriate). I would send a check for the memo price — I would not buy the other three pieces that looked good and probably not buy anything else from Ed.

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.

Continue Reading

Real Deal

A Teenage Girl Steals Silver From a Store, But the Owner Recognizes Her. What Should He Do Next?

He’s concerned about offending past and potential clients if he pursues her.

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OVER NEARLY A century in business, Wheeler’s had become an institution in their small-town community and a fixture in the growing downtown shopping district. Like his mother and his grandfather before him, Ross McGovern enjoyed his role as “the jeweler” in his hometown and was committed to both the traditions that sustained them and the innovations that would enable future growth for the business.

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

Ross and his sister Nicole worked hard to maintain merchandise that was moderately priced yet fashionable enough to keep town residents shopping locally. In addition to a strong bridal business, they’d built a significant fashion presence that included a variety of national brands across a broad range of price points, and had introduced some trendy fashion items directed at young women in the community. Most Wheeler’s customers had been doing business with the store for at least two generations.

In the past year, Ross had overseen the completion of two major projects for Wheeler’s. First, after several years in development, the new Wheeler’s website had launched the previous February. The new site offered a full range of “bells and whistles,” and, thanks to the advice of his 16-year-old daughter, was fully e-commerce enabled. While they hadn’t yet sold much from the site, both Ross and Nicole were pleased with the increase in foot traffic. More significantly, Ross had spearheaded a long-overdue renovation of the store interior that was finally finished in June. Designed by a local architect, the new store included an updated layout and showcase design, a state-of-the-art, visible-to-the-public-shop for his three jewelers, and a good amount of “experience space” for lower-end product that customers could touch and try on without help from a salesperson.

One particularly busy Saturday morning, Ross was working with a couple at the engagement ring counter, Nicole was in her office meeting with a diamond vendor, and their two salespeople were tied up with repair customers when three teenage girls came in. Ross acknowledged them, and they asked where they could find the silver and gemstone necklaces they’d found on the Wheeler website. Ross directed them to the tabletop display across the store from where he was working. They clustered around the table, trying on several necklaces and bracelets.

Trying to keep an eye on things while not distracting his diamond customer, Ross looked up and thought he saw one of the girls slip a piece of jewelry into her purse.

Ross was just at the point of closing his sale and the other two salespeople were still tied up at the service counter when the girls abruptly turned to leave. Rather than derail his diamond sale and make a scene over the $100 item that might have been stolen, Ross decided to deal with it later. He was sure he recognized one of the young girls (not the thief) as the daughter of a regular customer and golf buddy, and thought that if there really was a problem, a simple call to her father would easily remedy the situation.

After the store closed for the day, Ross and Nicole sat down to review the security video. As he suspected, one of the girls did, in fact, drop a silver and amethyst necklace into her purse, along with the matching bracelet. Ross was sure that he’d met one of the other girls at the club with her father. Nicole also recognized all three as classmates of Ross’s daughter and her son at the local high school, though she didn’t know their names. They went home with a plan that had Ross contacting his golf buddy in the morning.

Once he got home, however, Ross began to have second thoughts about the plan. He wondered how he might react if a store owner called him with the same kind of information about his own daughter and her friends, particularly if she denied any knowledge of the situation. He considered showing the video to his daughter and nephew, asking them to identify the actual thief, but then considered the consequences associated with putting them in such an awkward position. Talking to school administrators to get an ID was a possibility, but involving them would most certainly get the girl at least suspended from school and get him labeled as some sort of villain among parents. Of course, he could go directly to the police, but if he was going to be honest, he’d need to identify the girl he knew, running an even greater risk of creating a difficult situation with her family.

He found himself torn between the desire to do the “right thing” — deal with the theft directly to recover the merchandise and avoid the label of an “easy mark” — and his concern over the possibility of putting his kids in a difficult position and offending a social acquaintance and longtime customer of the store along with countless other parents in the community. He finally fell asleep that evening wondering if he should just let the incident go, thinking that there was no way this situation ended well for his business.

The Big Questions

  • Should Ross approach the father of the girl he recognized and tell him that his daughter has been hanging out with a thief?
  • Once he knows who she is, is it appropriate for him to contact her directly?
  • Should he involve the school or the police?
Ila  S.
Block Island, RI

I had similar situation. I contacted the girl privately and let her know exactly what was on camera. In an effort to HELP HER, I told her to bring back what she took and it would stay between us — no police, no parents, etc. I treated her seriously, but kindly. We met the following day.

She did return the item and we had a good talk at the ice cream shop next door (my treat).

This was a turning point for this kid; we are on good terms years later.

Steve L.
Irmo, SC

Contact her father and ask for him and his daughter to visit your store after hours to discuss a matter. Show them the video and let dad take over. We actually had this happen on a $5,500 piece about 15 years ago with a teenage young lady whose family shopped with us. We knew the family well, and they became even better customers after this. The young lady matured into a wonderful woman, and we later sold her fiancé her engagement ring.

Ralph H.
Connersville, IN

If there is no question that the camera images will identify the thief, the store owner should call the girl he knows and perhaps the father. Ask them to stop by, as there is something they should see. Let the tape speak for itself. They would know that their friend stole the items without the owner making the accusations. Just say, “I need some help here. If the items are returned within 24 hours, I’ll consider the case closed; if not, I really have no choice. Any help would be appreciated.” Everyone gets a “way out,” even the thief. Maybe you keep a kid from a life of crime? Oh, and put the darned jewelry back in locked showcases (don’t ask how I know this).

Jim G.
Champaign, IL

Have the police view the camera video. Let them handle the whole thing; they are the law. The school will allow them to identify and push the girls to confess. This type of shoplifting must be dealt with now. If left to go on longer, it becomes a serious problem for retail and society.

Chris J.
South Milwaukee, WI

As a jewelry store owner and a father of four kids who are often in the store, I would contact the police to report the theft, provide them with the video and what information I could, and let them contact the parents. If my children were involved in such activities, I would want to be made aware and take action before the scenarios worsened. We’ve all seen the unattended and undisciplined wiping their noses on our glass cases!

Kevin P.
Newark, OH

I would contact the school administration. I would show the principal the video, then identify the student. I would then ask the school to announce that a student took jewelry from a local jeweler, and the jeweler has video of the incident. I would offer that if the student returns the jewelry within one week, no charges will be filed, and the student’s name will not be revealed. Otherwise, the authorities will be contacted and they will follow up as they must.

This way, the student(s) can learn from the situation without the harsh consequences of the legal system, the other students all realize they cannot get away with stealing from Wheeler’s, and the customer relationship is preserved.

Pushpa R.
Marrero, LA

In this incident, I would talk to the girls directly and let them know of their behavior. Tell them you have video of this incident as solid proof, and to kindly return the jewelry within three days. If not, turn in this recording to police. In the future, these girls won’t have sticky fingers.

Jim W.
Fergus Falls, MN

Your fault since the merchandise was not secure. It was a temptation to the young girls. Just write it off as mysterious disappearance. You can’t win going after the girl. Forget it.

Janne E.
Cocoa, FL

Take the video to the police and let them track down the thief. They’re the ones with the resources to identify people. That way it’s not “personal”; it’s a store owner recovering stolen merchandise and making sure future potential thieves will think twice.

Stan G.
Charlotte, NC

I would get a positive ID on the perp and send her parents an invoice for the stolen jewelry along with a thumb drive of the video of her “in action.” A nice note saying you’d rather not get the police involved for a petty juvenile crime, marring her record, but need to recuperate the loss incurred at the hands of their daughter.

I have a feeling they send the daughter in there personally to “settle” the transgression. Oh, and make it clear only a payment will suffice. No worn and returned jewelry will be accepted.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

Ross needs to do what is right and that’s find the identity of the thief and call her out. If he does nothing, he’ll beat himself up over this for years. More importantly, he’ll be doing this young girl a disservice. If she doesn’t get called out now and pay the price, then what’s next? He has a chance to possibly right her ship here, and he needs to put his worries aside and do what’s right. I don’t think there is a need to call the police and school, but he needs to call her out directly and make her parents aware of it as well. Our nation is losing its civility and it’s because of kids like this getting let off the hook. Hammer down and make her pay for her actions. She’ll thank you — maybe a ways down the road — but she’ll thank you.

Glyn J.
Victoria, TX

I believe the owners should ask the father and daughter to the store to view the video. Then explain he would like to have the property back and all would be forgotten. The father might be very upset with you, but explain the results that could take place if this was left unattended. Do not mention the future happenings that could take place if the stealing continues unchecked.

Bryce H.
Emeryville, CA

Ross should first try to identify the girl by going through their kids. Once he has that info, he should reach out to the girl directly to ask her to do the right thing and return the items. If she denies or refuses, he can show the video footage, but at that point, he needs to escalate by contacting the school. He should also find some way to secure the “play area,” just in case something like this happens again. This is a good lesson, for Ross and Nicole and their children.

Troy L.
Irvine, CA

Do the right thing, or this behavior will continue. I would show my kids, so they know who they are not allowed to hang out with and can help me identify them. Once I know who it is, I would call the parents or guardian and explain the situation and how they have her on video and that they please have a chat with her and to return the item promptly. If that fails, go to the police, as then the parents need a lesson!

Daniel S.
Cambridge, MA

Police. He should go to the police with the tape, show it to them and let them deal with it. The girl needs to be taught a lesson, and she isn’t going to jail over this. It also keeps him away from all of the personal stuff. He can just say to anyone who asks that he didn’t know/recognize the girls and that he gave it to the police to handle. They weren’t there during school hours, so it isn’t truly a school issue. But it is a police issue. If the girls were over 21, would he be worried about going to their college administrations?

J. Dennis P.
Johnstown, PA

I would contact my insurer, ask their thoughts and explain that my plan was to contact the parents. Full disclosure and transparency are necessary here. There’s a life lesson here for all three girls involved, which in itself would be valuable from here on out.

Stacey H.
Lincolnwood, IL

Ross should show his daughter the security video and ask her to tell him the girl’s name and get her phone number. He can call the perpetrator and tell her that he has video of what she did, and to come back in immediately to return what she stole, or else he will call the dad and show him the footage in front of the police. If she refuses, he should call her dad, ask him to come in to see the video and pay for the theft. (Leave out the police.)

Buddy B.
Wynnewood, PA

This is a dammed-if-you-do and dammed-if-you-don’t situation. I would show video to local police and get their opinion. It’s a shame to soil a teenager’s reputation and shame her, but if you do the crime, you do the time. The police will be a good source of information and may have had this happen before. If you handle it yourself, you risk an outcome that you might not like.

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Real Deal

A Client Wants a Refund and Their Trade-In Back — But It’s Already Sold. What Should the Owner Do?

The client is threatening legal action.

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JEFF MILTON, OWNER of Infinity Jewelers, loved his new location. Just eight months ago, he and his brother Andrew moved their third-generation store from its 25-year home in a dying mall to a great corner spot in their town’s newest outdoor lifestyle center. Though a number of their longtime customers flatly refused to make the move with them, the new location came complete with great visibility, walk-by traffic and exposure to a whole new clientele.

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

Jeff and Andrew worked hard to make the most of their new visibility and took care to create attractive vignettes in the display windows that dotted their storefront. Since the move, they’d actually made several significant sales to first-time customers whose interest was drawn to Infinity’s windows on their way to the coffee shop on their left or the women’s fashion clothing store on their right.

One morning in early July, Joel Greer, a prominent local attorney, stopped at one of the windows as he was walking past the store and looked at the magnificent ruby and diamond ring Andrew had just put on display. Mr. Greer had never shopped with Infinity before, but he was impressed by the bright, rich color of the ruby and he thought the ring would make a perfect 25th anniversary gift for his wife. When he went inside to take a closer look, Jeff explained that the ring was 18K white gold, and that it contained a 2.10-carat Burmese ruby accented by two oval cut diamonds, both G color and VS2 clarity, weighing 0.75 carats each.

The price on the ring, $27,700, didn’t seem to bother Mr. Greer, but he did ask if Jeff would consider taking an 8.00-carat diamond bracelet his wife no longer enjoyed wearing as a trade-in. Jeff agreed to look at the bracelet, and Mr. Greer brought it in the next day. The bracelet had been purchased at a reputable local competitor and was in keeping with Infinity’s quality standards, so Jeff agreed to take it in trade for a $6,000 credit toward the ruby ring.

A bit concerned about his wife’s track record of not liking his jewelry gift choices, Mr. Greer asked about Infinity’s return policy. Jeff explained that it was Infinity’s policy to take the best possible care of their customers — and that if Mrs. Greer were unhappy with the ring for any reason, he could bring it back for a refund or exchange. Satisfied that he was making a good choice, Mr. Greer left the bracelet, paid the difference and took the ring home.

Nearly five months passed, and it was just before Christmas when Mr. Greer and his wife came back into Infinity, complaining that Mrs. Greer was not at all happy with her ring. The diamonds looked dull to her and the white gold mounting had begun to yellow. She had taken it to another local jeweler (the one who had sold her the bracelet that Infinity had accepted in trade), where she was told that “good quality white gold” should not be changing color, especially so soon after purchase. She was also told that the reason for the diamonds’ dull appearance was that they were inferior in color, and the manufacturer failed to polish the setting under the diamonds. In addition to all of that, Mrs. Greer really did miss the diamond bracelet her husband had traded in. It was a present for their tenth anniversary, and though it was much smaller than the jewelry she typically wore lately, it still held a good deal of sentimental value for her. Though she and Joel had discussed the possibility of trading it in before he bought the ring, she really wasn’t ready to give it up. She wanted her bracelet back.

When Jeff explained that the Infinity return policy covered the purchase for 30 days, Mr. Greer reminded him of his stipulation during his sales presentation that if Mrs. Greer was not happy with the ring, he could bring it back for a refund. He noted that there was no mention of a specific time period associated with the refund policy, and since he was given nothing in writing to spell it out, his request was well within the bounds of reason.

Jeff felt that he needed to defend the quality of his merchandise, especially after learning in conversation that Mrs. Greer did wear the ring daily, including during the two hours she spent each morning swimming in the health club pool. In addition to discussing the impact of chlorine on gold, he also had to explain that Mrs. Greer’s bracelet had been sold out of Infinity’s estate showcase several weeks ago.

In an attempt to resolve the already dicey situation, Jeff offered to take the ring back and refund the Greers the full purchase price by check.

The Greers were not at all interested in Jeff’s explanations or his offer. All they wanted was to return the “inferior quality” ring and to get their money — and Mrs. Greer’s old bracelet — back. Mr. Greer stated emphatically that Jeff had no right to re-sell the bracelet, as his offer of a refund was left wide open. He demanded that Jeff contact the customer who purchased the bracelet and get it back, threatening to marshal his resources in legal action and in community influence if Jeff did not comply.

Stew B.
Natick, MA

And this is why I have my return policy on an 8 x 11 engraved plaque, clearly printed on my receipts and printed under the signature line on the credit card slip. Had the store done this, they’d be able to point to the agreement the client signed. Now it’s “he said-she said.” But, the scenario got me thinking. I have to develop a written policy to reflect the disposition of trade-ins used as tender and print that on store receipts as well.

Barbara W.
San Diego, CA

I am so sorry, Mrs. Greer, that you are not happy with the purchase and trade-in deal your husband worked out five months ago. I wish you had brought it to my attention sooner.

Let us make a new setting in platinum. The metal will not yellow and we will let you look at the mounting before setting the stones to ensure it is up to your standards. Please feel free to come in at your convenience for inspection and cleaning of the ring whenever you feel like it, as diamonds are natural oil and dirt catchers. Even hand lotion can dull a stone. I was not aware you were a swimmer. What a great way to exercise.

Secondly, as there is nothing we can do about the bracelet since it has been sold, I would love to get similar bracelets in to look at, so you and your husband can pick one together. I will work out the financial aspect with your husband. We both want you to be happy.

Ira K.
Tallahassee, FL

The sale is gone.

Joel and his wife are unreasonable to think that the trade-in will sit in a vault forever, and Jeff’s offer for a full refund is as good as it will ever get. In fact, it’s more than he had to do.
In the future, when buying off the street (and yes, trade-ins are considered a buy by the police), the owner signs off the rights of ownership when the jeweler fills out the proper paperwork.

Stan G.
Charlotte, NC

No obligation of a refund here. One bad “customer” isn’t going to ruin their reputation. As far as a repeat situation goes, I wouldn’t do anything differently to avoid that. Touchy situation with the trade-in (and resold) bracelet, but:

1) If someone threatens legal action, I would say “see you in court, now please leave my store.”

2) Five months passed … what do the Greers expect? If she really loved the bracelet, the idea of a trade would never have happened or she would have been in the store to recover it immediately if he had acted without her knowledge.

If the Greers were decent people, I’d bend over backwards to “rewind” the deal and offer a premium credit or refund to the buyer of the bracelet and get it back. Since they are not decent people, anyone they know probably already realizes that and I’d let three generations of happy customers stand up for my reputation versus one miserable couple.

Drue S.
Albany, NY

First and foremost, they must have the return policy printed on their receipts. We do and that eliminates any customer coming in after 30 days. If a client is being very difficult, we may allow an exchange after 30 days, but only if the piece truly was not worn. We stipulate that on our receipts also.

In this case, I think it’s unreasonable for the purchaser to expect the store to hold the bracelet indefinitely, and unfortunately, since it’s been sold, now what? The owners put together another bracelet and give the money back? Also, since the ring shows wear and tear, the clients are being unreasonable.

This one is a puzzler! And one that may require a lawyer. Do any of us get to borrow a car or any other large purchase for six months?

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

This issue pivots around the sales receipt provided to Joel Greer at the finalization of the original sale. It should have indicated the two distinct parts of payment, cash and credit for the bracelet, with the latter succinctly covered by stating that it was now the property of Infinity Jewelers. Jeff is being more than reasonable with his offer of a full refund, well over what his state may require under their consumer laws. Worrying about defending the quality of his merchandise is a battle not worth fighting; however, battling this unreasonable customer is! If it means a day in front of a judge, Jeff should step up to that plate. If it is the Better Business Bureau, his very reasonable offer will stand him in good stead, as will a social media response if the Greers choose to go that direction. He needs only to tell his incredible offer in the same reasonable tone that he has employed thus far.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

Jeff is not obligated to refund these animals and there is no way he can save the sale, but he can definitely save his reputation. This clown “Mr. Greer” is an unreasonable bully who is using his attorney power to intimidate Jeff. Jeff should stay firm in his return/exchange policy and with the sale of the bracelet to another customer. This jerk is trying to get him to cave and Jeff needs to show some backbone and stay strong. FIRE THE CUSTOMER! Mr. Greer might threaten a lawsuit, but I really don’t see how he has much ground to stand on. From now on, though, Jeff and Andrew are unfortunately going to have to put everything in writing. It stinks that this is what business has come to, but it’s because of bullies like Mr. Greer.

Barbara P.
Conroe, TX

Oh, how many scavengers are out there today. In my opinion, Jeff has no obligation whatsoever to refund anything to this man who touts that he is an “attorney.” The ring has been worn for five months, whether she swam in it or stuck it in a box in her closet. It can no longer be sold as new. And as far as the bracelet, he had no obligation to sit on merchandise that was traded in, as he has to replenish his merchandise as well.

I would not accept the ring back. I would not offer to try to sell it for him because it’s a losing situation. If he knew his wife loved the bracelet so much, he should have just bought her the ring and left the bracelet at home.

I would tell the guy, “I’m so sorry you made the decision to bring in your wife’s bracelet to trade. I was not required to hold the bracelet, and that was not in writing, either.”

Alan P.
Wilmington, NC

He messed up by not explaining the return policy. He will never forget it again. He should make a new bracelet and offer to give that to her or try to buy back the old one ASAP.

Joe D.
Columbus, OH

Unfortunately, the retailer sounds like he’s going to eat this one. He made an exception to the standard return policy as a condition of the sale. So he is right to take the ring back. As far as the bracelet is concerned, however, I think you could easily argue that they accepted the bracelet’s value as part of the sale as well, and there was no promise of returning it as part of the return. So writing them a check for the full sale amount (including the trade-in value of the bracelet) is correct. They might want to contact the buyer of the bracelet and offer to replace it with a new one of comparable quality at no charge to get out of this mess, but depending on what they sold it for, that could be an expensive remedy, just to save themselves from the bad reviews.

Buddy B.
Merion, PA

The customer is always right. However, in this case, the client is dead wrong. There is no jury that would find the jewelry store liable; I would defend to the end.

Gregory I.
Johnson City, TN

The receipt must have in writing the return policy. Also, a clear dialog with the customer about how long they will hold the trade-in piece in case the purchase is returned; usually the length of the return timeframe.

Gabi M.
Tewksbury, MA

If there isn’t a return policy and no customer signature on said return policy, then there is no argument. Even when a business has a perfectly clear policy list, customers still try to find loopholes. There’s no excuse to not have one in this day and age. If I was in Jeff’s position, I would do my best to get that bracelet back, issue a refund, and take the loss. After that, I would create a thorough policy list and make sure it gets printed and signed with every future transaction.

Dennis F.
Poughkeepsie, NY

Jeff cannot go back to the purchaser of the bracelet. Did he refund the original price of the ring less the $6,000 credit for the bracelet or the full amount? Jeff should request the matter go into mediation. If that fails, he should get a good attorney. This is a classic example of balancing giving a customer too much information versus not. He definitely should have discussed and written his return policy and made it clear that the bracelet was going to be resold.

Tim W.
Yorktown, VA

I believe that the store owner was well within his legal rights to sell the traded bracelet. It was obviously held long enough to cover any normal return and sold to recoup the money that was not paid for the ring. We would have returned the entire purchase price and this was right thing to do.

Now, he could find a diamond bracelet that was equivalent to the quality that was sold and offer it for a price that would not generate much profit to try to satisfy the new client and try to keep it close to the traded value. The customer could use the traded money received to buy it back. In the end, he was refunded more than what was paid, so there is not any loss on the customer’s behalf. We would never contact the estate customer and ask to buy it back.

Steve W.
Clearwater, FL

Obviously, the jeweler in this case did nothing wrong and the client is being totally unreasonable. For him to expect the jeweler not to sell the trade-in bracelet is unreasonable, and furthermore, no one would ever contact the client that you’ve already sold the bracelet to and ask for it back. I think he went above and beyond just to refund the ring after six months. On his receipts, he should have his return policy clearly printed out.

Ralph H.
Connersville, IN

The key word here is “attorney”. Hire this bozo to file a major libel suit against your competitor and make that part of the deal. He’s already given you all the evidence you need to prove financial loss and loss to your reputation (and the competitor lied). Whether or not you are required to comply with these ridiculous demands depends on the law in your state and how much of a fight you want. The bigger the sale, the more important the “notice of policies.” Better put up signage, and add your “policies” to stationery, sales slips, repair envelopes, etc. and have customers sign them, especially on a big sale. Of course, this is not “right,” but we all screw this up sometimes; hindsight’s 20/20. Oh, and can this customer mess you up in court? You better believe it. Good luck; maybe this is not such a friendly town after all.

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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