Courtesy, Success, and the Traveling Salesperson

It’s July, and the serious work for buyers and sellers has begun. The major retail selling season looms just ahead. The hard work of evaluating thousands of exhibitors’ products from the trade show circuit is well under way. One key to success for retail jewelers comes from relationships they’ve established with the men and women who represent the firms that supply them with goods. Despite the unfortunate and inaccurate portrayal of a salesman in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman, today’s jewelry salesperson rides on a lot more than a smile and shined shoes. These traveling ambassadors of good will, new products, innovative ideas, and valuable information often go unrecognized in an era when branding, dirty diamonds, and Internet selling grab the headlines.

Despite advances in information technology, the jewelry manufacturing world lags behind in providing sales reps with the information they need when they need it—when the salesperson is in front of a customer. Talk to any salesperson today, and you’ll hear horror stories about late shipments or about shifting commitments by home office personnel in prioritizing shipments to large customers at the expense of smaller ones. Sometimes a salesperson’s own company is the biggest obstacle he or she must overcome.

The competition has gotten tougher, too. Domestic manufacturing firms that are obligated to provide competitive wages and benefits and environmentally correct working conditions are competing against foreign companies that operate on single-digit gross margins, offer few if any benefits, and do not have comparable working conditions. Today’s sales reps also need to know diamonds, gemstones, and manufacturing techniques as well as marketing and merchandising trends. And if you think that’s the end of it, think again. Traveling salespeople are increasingly exposed to life-threatening confrontations with well-funded, well-equipped, and extremely violent thugs from South America.

Most salespeople in the jewelry industry are compensated on a commission basis. Their time is one of the most important assets they manage, and it becomes more precious as they head into the final months of the year. Voice mail has created huge barriers to direct communication, which is frustrating when you’re trying to make an appointment. A salesperson who visits a store without an appointment often is excoriated for bad manners and lectured on the store’s policy of working by appointment only, but the reverse is the ultimate in injustice and arrogance—inviting a salesperson to your store to review his line when you have no intention of buying anything. Trade shows are for competitive shopping. July through October is for serious buying.

Traveling sales personnel in the jewelry business have a tough job. They’re often away from their homes, families, friends, and colleagues. They’re constantly under pressure to solve customer problems and keep up with industry trends. They must watch over their shoulders for crooks while meeting their companies’ sales objectives. Their success comes from knowledge, courtesy, and the ability to solve problems. Remember that the next time one of these merchandising ambassadors visits your business.