It’s All in the (Retail) Details



It’s the start of the busiest time of the year in the jewelry industry. And we know most retailers are busy fine-tuning the endless nuances of merchandising, marketing, and operations in preparation for December’s sales blitz. It’s easy, in all the hubbub, to lose sight of the valuable methods and motivators that elevate the retail experience—for ­customers, owners, and employees alike. Which is why we’ve asked a clutch of ­veteran retailers to offer up their best advice—and anecdotes!—on everything from no-fail ­promotions to nightmare sales scenarios. Here’s hoping their stories and tips will fire up your imagination this ­holiday season.

Q. What is your single best money-saving business initiative?

“Buying our building many years ago was a [huge] expense, but now it’s appreciated so much that we don’t have to pay rent because we own it. That was a long-term cost-savings.”
—Alan Friedland, owner, Ream Jewelers, Lancaster, Pa.

“Finding out who was stealing from me saved me $100,000.”
—Debbie Fox, owner, Fox Fine Jewelry, Ventura, Calif.

“Selling out of the showcase, selling what we already own. We very rarely have to special order or memo anything in the store. Our staff is great on knowing our inventory and being persuasive in suggesting what we already have in stock.”
—Randy Mitchum, co-owner, Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, Mo.

“The best way to save money is by buying correctly and ­taking advantage of discounts from suppliers.”
—Jerry Bern, owner, Marshall Pierce & Co., Chicago

“We do what we can to control discounting, and we constantly reorder fast sellers. We keep products that turn over in stock. We limit special orders to grouping them weekly—versus daily—so we’re not paying tons of shipping charges.”
—Breanne Demers Wittrock, vice president, Gunderson’s Jewelry, Sioux Falls, S.D.

“I have a Visa card that I’ve had for 26 years. I have spent hundreds of thousands on this credit card and don’t have benefits [like air miles or gifts]. The moral of the story is that we get these things and we keep them forever, and we don’t keep checking what the new benefits are and how can we save money. You can call up and get a better rate.”
—Susan Eisen, owner-president-designer, Susan Eisen Fine Jewelry and Watches, El Paso, Texas

“Streamlining advertising. In the past, we had a shotgun technique. Now in the last year we’ve worked hard to pick one local radio station and two local print publications that work well for us. We’ve really concentrated on building up our presence and customer recognition on those instead of spreading it out and doing one ad once a month or once a quarter.”
—Lesa Hocutt, administrative manager, Ora Designers/Fine Jewelers, Raleigh, N.C.

“Something small right now I’m doing is quality ­controlling the jewelry. Proper inventory management and taking a little bit of extra time to get the best deal possible is important. A lot of people have a relationship with one company. If they took the time to shop around, they would find they could get it for a lot less. A lot of wholesalers will match or beat prices.”
—Marcus Orduña, general manager, Libutti Diamond Jewelers, Huntington Village, N.Y.

Q. What has been your most memorable sale?

“The day after Christmas—kind of a dead day in the store—a gentleman came in dressed very modestly. He asked, ‘What’s the most expensive stone in the store right now?’ I brought it out and he bought it—a 5 carat pear-shape diamond. It turned out he was a top attorney at a huge firm, but was off for the week and so he was just in his country look. He came back looking like a million bucks in his suit.”
—Jerry Bern, owner, Marshall Pierce & Co., Chicago

Perpetual Day-Date “Sertie” in 18k Everose gold, 18k white gold bezel with 60 baguette-cut diamonds, and carousel dial in pink mother-of-pearl and 18k white gold with 217 diamonds; price on request; Rolex, Geneva; 800-36-ROLEX; rolex.com

“It was a $63,000 Rolex. Bought by a very good client who spends a lot of money with me. He bought it in five minutes.”
—Jonathan Epp, owner, Independent Jewellers, Winnipeg, Canada

“We had a longtime, loyal customer that was on her death bed, and one of her last requests was to come in and pick out a piece of jewelry for her daughter’s ­wedding—she knew she would not be around to see the wedding. We sold her a beautiful [citrine] and diamond ring, to be presented to her daughter on her wedding day.”
—Randy Mitchum, co-owner, Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, Mo.

The Alison Kaufman citrine, mother-of-pearl, and diamond ring that Mitchum Jewelers sold to a “longtime, loyal customer…to be presented to her daughter”

“Bryce and Lexie are their names. He was in the Air Force. Bryce proposed to Lexie over Skype. He had called Lexie’s father to make arrangements so that Lexie’s father and mother would be at the house when he proposed. Lexie’s mom actually submitted the video to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The ring used was the one bought from our store.”
—Breanne Demers Wittrock, vice president, Gunderson’s Jewelry, Sioux Falls, S.D.

“Last summer this older couple, who were probably over 80, came in and you could tell they were so happy but didn’t know each other too well. They were dating! They bought a little Pandora charm. I asked how they met and it turns out both their long-term spouses passed away recently. Maybe two weeks later and they came back again and they were definitely closer—we sold them a bird Pandora charm. Two months later they bought a ring. It was a full year before they got married.”
—Debbie Fox, owner, Fox Fine Jewelry, Ventura, Calif.

“I sold an antique necklace that looked like a gold globe hanging on a long chain. It opens up into a cross that just falls out. Inside are all these secret engravings from the Masons. It came from Germany during the war, when you weren’t allowed to be in the Masons. You couldn’t wear the cross because you had to wear the swastika. A woman asked about it and I said, ‘Oh, no! It’s not for sale.’ She said she had just written a letter to her son because she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She showed me the letter and I sold her the cross—which he wears all the time. What could I do?”
—Cathy Calhoun, owner, Calhoun Jewelers, Royersford, Pa.

“We had a client who was new and she wanted a ring with a 5 carat diamond. Nothing was exciting her. Then we remembered this one ring we’d seen that our dealer owned. He brought it in and—though I was waiting on somebody—I eavesdropped on the conversation and she said, ‘I was hoping I’d love it.’ I knew that ring was going out of the door. The way she commented on it was the most memorable.”
—Mark Auerbach, owner, Mark Allen Jewelers, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Q. What one advertisement or promotion elicited the biggest response and why do you think it worked?

“My largest annual promotion is an Oscar party. It’s not held in my store—I actually have the Oscars playing on the big screen in a famous movie theater. One year, I had all Hearts On Fire jewelry displayed and professionals modeling it. We have an open bar all night. The theater seats 850 and we sell out every year.”
—Cathy Calhoun, owner, Calhoun Jewelers, Royersford, Pa.

Getting ready to “Dig for Diamonds” at Swalstead Jewelers

“We have done a benefit for the American ­Diabetes Association for 26 years called Dig for Diamonds. I have a horse trough full of sand that I put [in front of] my store. For a $1 donation to the ADA, friends and customers can dig in to the sand, which is filled with diamonds and cubic zirconia and colored stones. Whatever they find is theirs.”
—Elliott Leavitt, owner, Swalstead Jewelers, Orlando, Fla.

Rolex is always a big hit at Independent Jewellers’ yearly watch event.

“We do a once-a-year watch event. It’s a private event and a way to engage your customers. You get all the guys who love watches. All our reps come out. We bring in other vendors and have music. It gets people talking about you. Anything to get in front of a customer is good.”
—Jonathan Epp, owner, Independent Jewellers, Winnipeg, Canada

“We create our own holiday book where we feature stories about our customers. We get the best response from that because it’s personal. We produce it once a year and distribute the new one between October and December.”
—Jerry Bern, owner, Marshall Pierce & Co., Chicago

“SEO [search engine optimization]. Period. We cut everything else out. When you’re looking for a business, you go to Google. I want your mom and dad to come in here, but my longevity is based on 20-year-olds coming in. That’s why SEO is for us.”  
—Mark Auerbach, owner, Mark Allen Jewelers, Santa Rosa, Calif.

“Every summer we have our Anniversary Event at our store—a one-day event that’s a fun family day. We have a barbecue, big inflatables for the kids in the parking lot, and prizes and giveaways all day. We have a big balloon [pop] with discounts in each balloon and a chance to win a free half-carat diamond. We usually average about 300 people and most of them are buying.”
—Randy Mitchum, co-owner, Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, Mo.


Mitchum Jewelers sets up a photo booth and posts the pics on Facebook. Whoever gets the most likes wins a store gift certificate. (pictured: the Dyer family)

A crowd-pleaser at Mitchum’s annual anniversary event: “big inflatables for kids in the parking lot”

“In 2009, right after the economy tanked, when it came time for Valentine’s Day, I thought, ‘No one is buying anything—what am I going to do? I should give away necklaces.’ So I [advertised] that I was giving away 100 necklaces and the newspaper did a tiny blurb. By the time I got to my store the next day, people were lined up down the street. It was a tremendous promotion. What I found was that people didn’t want to get it for free; that was embarrassing. So I got these necklaces that were marked at $80 and sold them for $20. But if you couldn’t afford them, they were absolutely free. People loved it. I sold over 300 necklaces, which is huge for me.”
—Debbie Fox, owner, Fox Fine Jewelry, Ventura, Calif.

“We do a lot of back-end covers in magazines, and we always make sure we get editorial space too. We try to establish close ties with account representatives and create opportunities to have the editor in the store. The editors’ opinions are valued because the editor is ­picking out the pieces. Editorial space brings in the most promotion.”  
—Marcus Orduña, general manager, Libutti Diamond Jewelers, Huntington Village, N.Y.

“I was introducing a line of peace jewelry and I threw a hippie party. I had a live band in the parking lot and a school bus painted up like a hippie bus. We gave out a best-dressed hippie award. I had 1,500 brownies and cheeseburgers. It was a riot. We sold all the peace ­jewelry—about 400 pieces.”
—Cathy Calhoun, owner, Calhoun Jewelers, Royersford, Pa.

Q. What nightmare scenario did you turn around to save the day?

“During a busy holiday season, we had a very important package get thrown away. By the time we realized what had happened, the trash service had already come. I contacted the company and they stopped the truck and had it go straight to headquarters. I arrived and geared up to look through some trash. It was a miracle. I located the UPS box right away and opened it to reveal three 3 carat princess-cut diamonds, valued at $100,000 together.”
—Randy Mitchum, co-owner, Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, Mo.

“I got a call from a bride who had tracked me down. They had forgotten to pick up their wedding bands. It was a Sunday. The store was closed and they were getting married that evening. I don’t know how they got my cellphone, but someone came out on the golf course and said, ‘This couple needs their wedding bands!’ I drove down to the city, picked them up, and dropped them off where they were getting married. She was in her dress.”
—Jerry Bern, owner, Marshall Pierce & Co., Chicago

“Most of the time we just pay the customer. We don’t argue with them. The customer is always right. That’s very important to us. No matter what it means, you just have to make them happy.”
—Susan Eisen, owner-president-designer, Susan Eisen Fine Jewelry and Watches, El Paso, Texas

“I threw away a diamond ring that belonged to a customer. A 2½ carat diamond, and it was her ­grandmother’s, and I remember I had it in my hand and I threw it in the trash can. There was no turning back, so I called the gal on the phone, and I had to tell her, ‘I threw it away, and I don’t even know what to say and whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it. A diamond, whatever you want.’ She said, ‘You pick out a diamond and make another ring.’ I was able to duplicate the ring. She ended up becoming a friend. If she calls up, she says, ‘This is the girl whose diamond you threw away.’ It’s a big joke.”
—Cathy Calhoun, owner, Calhoun Jewelers, Royersford, Pa.

“One time we had a customer order a ring and it took a while to come in. And we only had 18 karat white gold, but she wanted platinum. So I mounted the diamond in one of our gold rings until their platinum one came in. I then took the diamond out of that and put it in the platinum one they ordered. It ruined the gold ring, but made the customer very happy.”
—Alan Friedland, owner, Ream Jewelers, Lancaster, Pa.

Take it from Mark Allen Jewelers’ Mark Auerbach: “Diamond halo earrings” are always a “really nice gift.” (pictured: A. Jaffe’s Light of My Life double halo rose gold cushion frame diamond earrings; $2,940; ajaffe.com)

“We got in a band from a company, but it didn’t match the engagement ring properly. It came back in the second time, and it still didn’t match. The customers got a bit discouraged. We turned it around by going over the top with a really nice gift: matching diamond halo earrings.”
—Mark Auerbach, owner, Mark Allen Jewelers, Santa Rosa, Calif.

“We chipped a client’s diamond—the tip of a pear-shape diamond. We were straightforward and honest with them. They were happy with our honesty. We said, ‘We can recut it, reset it with the chip as is, or we could replace the diamond.’ People have a hard time getting upset at you if you’re straight and honest with them.”
—Jonathan Epp, owner, Independent Jewellers, Winnipeg, Canada

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Don’t fall in love with your inventory. That one has always stuck with me.”
—Jonathan Epp, owner, Independent Jewellers, Winnipeg, Canada

“If you’re making a 3 carat ring, make sure it’s 3.1 or 3.2,” says Jerry Bern of Marshall Pierce & Co. (This Tacori platinum semi-mount, $15,900, holds a 3.5–4 ct. center.)

“Always give them a little extra. Over-deliver. If you’re making a 3 carat ring, make sure it’s 3.1 or 3.2—not 2.95. If you say it will be done Friday, get it done Thursday.”
—Jerry Bern, owner, Marshall Pierce & Co., Chicago

“Be honest no matter what. If you can’t repair something or if it’s not worth repairing for the customer, be honest about it.”
—Cathy Calhoun, owner, Calhoun Jewelers, Royersford, Pa.

“My dad always told me to tell people when they ask, ‘How’s business?’ to always tell them, ‘Business is great,’ then welcome them in the store. Even if things aren’t quite going well, keep things positive with your clients; people want to do business with a growing business.”
—Randy Mitchum, co-owner, Mitchum Jewelers, Ozark, Mo.

“Work hard and take care of your customer, and your customer will take care of you.”
—Elliott Leavitt, owner, Swalstead Jewelers, Orlando, Fla.  

“Never lie to people. You can never remember your lies. If we make a mistake, we confront it. We let them know.”
—Mark Auerbach, owner, Mark Allen Jewelers, Santa Rosa, Calif.

“Delegate responsibility as much as possible.”  
—Debbie Fox, owner, Fox Fine Jewelry, Ventura, Calif.

“If you love what you do, it’s not work.”
—Alan Friedland, owner, Ream Jewelers, Lancaster, Pa.

“Everything happens for a reason and it’s usually a good reason. That’s helped me through a lot of times when you really want to be negative and upset about something that happens.”
—Susan Eisen, owner-president-designer, Susan Eisen Fine Jewelry and Watches, El Paso, Texas

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“Never sell,” advises Libutti Diamond Jewelers’ Marcus Orduña. Think about the story behind these pearls.

“Never sell. People hate being sold. I like to think of myself as a storyteller and teacher—that’s all I want to be. I run a multimillion-dollar store. But ask me what I do, and I say I tell stories and I teach.”
—Marcus Orduña, general manager, Libutti Diamond Jewelers, Huntington Village, N.Y.

“Always treat people with honesty, integrity, professionalism, and give the highest level of customer service. We have a high level of integrity and trust, our products are good, people are trained, and we have people with credentials in place. When customers walk through the door, I think it’s very clear to them.”
—Breanne Demers Wittrock, vice president, Gunderson’s Jewelry, Sioux Falls, S.D.