Finding Good Salespeople

Good help is hard to find, according to the majority of independent jewelers polled nationally by JCK in April. Three out of four say that’s it tougher now to find good employees, especially salespeople, than just five years ago.Yet JCK‘s survey also found that most jewelers wait passively for potential employees to find them, depending on recommendations from others, job seekers who come in, or even hiring their own customers. That strategy is wrong, or at least incomplete, say veteran jewelry job recruiters Suzanne DeVries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions, and Dave Richardson, head of the Richardson Resource Group. Both urge jewelers to go “people shopping,” rather than hope that good salespeople will walk through their doors.

There are plenty of effective methods for finding good jewelry store employees, especially salespeople, say the experts—and many jewelers surveyed by JCK agree. Here’s their advice.

Standard sources.JCK‘s survey revealed that jewelers use few of the usual means to find employees. The one most used is the newspaper: One in four (22%) place “Help Wanted” ads in local papers. However, notes Richardson, “Most people who read want ads are already out of work or dissatisfied with what they do”—not necessarily the best groups from which to draw jewelry salespeople.

In addition, a jeweler’s ad is only one among hundreds. Both Richardson and DeVries suggest jewelers put their ads on the fashion pages, where they’ll get more attention from people a jeweler wants. Another good ad spot is the sports section, especially closer to the holidays when more part-time help is needed.

DeVries advises, “Don’t generalize [in the ads]. Be specific about job requirements and salary.” Richardson suggests having applicants fax their résumés, rather than reply by phone or come to the store, so the jeweler can review them first.

According to the survey, few independent jewelers make use of organizations or companies that specialize in helping businesses find new employees. Only 3% have used the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) or its Career Fairs—even though, says DeVries, “that’s where you’ll find the jewelry business talent”—and only 1% admit to using an employment agency or search/recruitment firm.

Casual networking. An overwhelming number of jewelers (more than 80%) use informal networking and casual—even circumstantial—methods to find potential staffers. Three out of five (59%) polled by JCK say they rely on recommendations or referrals from family, friends, staffers, and occasionally “outside” sources (such as suppliers or jewelry instructors at local vocational/technical schools).

One in five jewelers (21%) have hired customers, especially repeat customers and those “who love jewelry.” But while that has worked for some jewelers, both DeVries and Richardson warn of pitfalls.

“I’ve seen it work both ways,” says DeVries, who has 30 years of jewelry sales and management experience. “Hire a customer as an employee, and you lose a customer. Fire that person, and you’ve lost both an employee and a customer.” And as Richardson points out, a love of jewelry isn’t enough to make someone a great salesperson. “Do they know how to sell jewelry, how to pick up a phone and call customers about it?” he asks. “Do they know how to reply to consumers who say they can get jewelry cheaper elsewhere or on the Internet? In these competitive times, a jeweler needs good salespeople who do such things. And jewelers are often reluctant to fire someone who’s a former customer—meaning they’re stuck with someone who’s dead weight.”

Some jewelers say their best hires have been “walk-ins”—people who were referred to the store or knew its reputation and came seeking work. Underwood Jewelers in Jacksonville, Fla., has a waiting list of people wanting to work there “because of our reputation,” says owner C. Clayton Bromberg. A St. Louis jeweler keeps “a file of information of people who come in interested in working here” and refers to the file when there’s an opening.

Sales and service. An easy source for salespeople, say some jewelers, is another local jeweler, including independents, department stores, and mall stores. One in 10 (11%) tell JCK they’ve poached on other jewelers’ territory for their top people. However, there’s a downside, warns Richardson. A top salesperson recruited from another jeweler may become “a prima donna and difficult to integrate into your store’s team.”

Far better sources, say DeVries and Richardson, are non-jewelry retailers and service organizations, because their people must be service- and sales-oriented and usually work on commission. “Jewelers should look for salespeople where people really have to sell and know how to sell,” says Richardson.

Jon Parker, senior vice president, DJP Executive Search Inc., Virginia Beach, Va., agrees. He says a good hire “could be a salesperson at a cosmetics counter or a bank teller.” Other examples include upscale apparel stores like Victoria’s Secret, shoe stores, menswear shops, waiters and waitresses, and hotel service desk staffs. Stores that sell eyeglasses and cell phones also are good sources, says DeVries, because their training programs “teach [employees] how to work with customers, add on sales, and do multiple sales.”

Key employees of Racine, Wis., jeweler Bill Sustachek include a former travel agent and a one-time waitress. Judy Rusconi, in Eureka, Calif., looks for “anyone patient who’s working in a service industry, like retail salespeople, waitresses, or floral designers.” Bill Nusser in Iowa City, Iowa, “regularly shops higher-end stores, soliciting salespeople who do extraordinarily well in providing sales and service,” while David Mazer in Landenberg, Pa., is “alert for people in retail selling who give superlative service.”

“You want a person who understands the business of selling,” stresses Richardson. “You can always teach them what they need to know about jewelry.”

Making contact. When the jeweler finds a prospect, “don’t just hand that person your card and say ‘Call me sometime,’ ” Richardson advises. “Introduce yourself, say how impressed you are with how they made a sale or worked with a customer, and ask if he or she has considered a career in selling jewelry.

“Tell him or her where your store is, give your card, and invite the person to come by today when finished work—or make an appointment soon— ‘so we can talk further about your opportunities.’ ” Such an approach significantly increases the chances the person will come to see you, Richardson says.

Parker suggests asking some questions on the spot, such as “Are you always this happy? What drives your positive attitude? Why do you like to make others happy?” If the answers indicate a positive outlook on life and not just a one-day occasion for joy, consider pursuing more specific questions such as, “Do you work full- or part-time? Are you in college? What are your thoughts regarding a career? Do you like jewelry? Have you ever thought about a career in jewelry?”

DeVries also suggests “writing a thank-you note to someone who’s impressed you, saying, ‘It was great meeting you. Let’s have lunch and talk further about a career with us in jewelry sales.’ That gets you to meet the person again and increases the chances he or she will come to your business.”

Job prerequisites. What do jewelers look for in a potential jewelry salesperson? Surprisingly, it’s education: Three out of five jewelers (59%) polled by JCK put a high school diploma or college degree at the top of their list. Professional training, on the other hand, ranks far down the list. Less than one in 10 cite GIA education as a prerequisite, though a few say they enroll salespeople in GIA after they hire them.

Sales experience, though cited by only two out of five (41%), ranks second. Coming in a distant third (19%) is prior jewelry business experience. Characteristics of effective salespeople—for example, good “people skills,” an upbeat attitude, enthusiasm—are at the bottom of the list (see chart).

However, according to Richardson and DeVries, sales skills, presentation, and good old-fashioned “people skills” should be among the top “must-have” criteria.

“You want someone who focuses on the customer,” says DeVries. “Do they greet you within five seconds of entering the store or their section? If they’re busy, do they acknowledge you immediately and say, ‘I’ll be right with you?’ If you say, ‘I’m just looking,’ do they leave you alone—or do they try to get some merchandise into your hands to see, feel, and try on?

“Jewelry retailing is an image business,” she continues, “so how does that person dress and present himself or herself? Do they make eye contact? Generally, people won’t buy from someone who’s sloppy or downbeat. They want someone energetic and passionate about what they’re doing.”

Richardson adds, “Look, too, at how people relate to customers. Do they have a nice smile? Do they listen? Are they pleasant, outgoing, and know customers’ names? In this competitive era, jewelry stores must establish close relationships with customers.”

The degree to which someone in a non-jewelry business knows his or her products is important, too, notes DeVries. “I want someone who understands what they’re selling and can present it well. If I’m in a shoe store, I want to know why a running shoe is a better buy than competing brands, why it uses the materials it does, and how it affects my running.” A salesperson who knows how to present another product can transfer that skill to selling jewelry, she says.

The right questions. On-site evaluations are only part of the process in finding potential salespeople. The job interview is important, too—though as JCK‘s survey found, many jewelers are vague about their criteria.

“You must have a clear idea of what you’re looking for,” says DeVries. “So, first make a list of your top 10 hiring criteria.”

“Don’t be dazzled by a candidate with a big smile who’s well-dressed,” warns Richardson. “Keep in mind in your interview that they must sell you on hiring them.”

He also advises having a set of specific questions for job candidates, in addition to a formal job application.

“Many jewelers hire the wrong employees—people who may be nice but can’t sell or pull their weight—because they didn’t ask the right questions in the job interview,” he notes. “Those should be tough, practical questions—not hypothetical ones—that tell you about the person.

“For example, ask about their current job and what two things they would change about it, if they could. Ask about their most difficult sale and how they closed it. Ask them to tell you about their current manager, and how—if they were manager—they would do things differently. Ask about their biggest mistake on the job and what they learned. Ask how they get add-on sales, if they have a ‘customer book,’ and how often they call customers or invite them in.

“Remember, you want someone who understands this business of selling,” says Richardson. “Someone with those skills can always be taught about jewelry.”

DeVries also asks candidates about what she calls “clientelling.” “I ask them to tell me about customers they turned into repeat customers and how did they that. I ask how often they contact them, what items they buy, and how much they spend. I ask them about their customer lists and how they use them. I ask what drives them as a salesperson. If they don’t say ‘money’—because making money should drive a salesperson—then they’re not right for the job of salesperson.”

Always looking. Don’t wait until someone leaves to go “people shopping,” say the experts. Too many jewelers do that and then hurry to find someone—anyone—to fill a vacancy. “Be continually on the alert for good salespeople for your store,” says Richardson. “Always be recruiting, always be looking,” adds DeVries. “When someone impresses you, always get their business card or résumé, and keep a bank of information for use when you need it.”

Get all the store’s employees involved in this ongoing search, says Richardson, who suggests using financial rewards. “Tell them, ‘If you recommend someone I hire and they stay with us at least six months, you’ll get a $500 bonus plus 1% of their sales for those first six months.’ That keeps your staff always looking specifically for people who sell well.”